Today’s guest post comes from Clyde of Mankato
“Mr and Mrs. Harold White were the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Einar Rasmussen on Friday night. Mrs. Rasmussen served Swiss steak with pineapple upside-down cake for dessert. After dinner the couples drove into Wadena for dancing at the American Legion club.”
Hot news that story, is it not? Such items were once the staple of small town newspapers. As I recall, they were called “social notices.” Anything to fill space around the ads and the legal notices. (More on the legal notices later.) Who does not want to see their name in print?
My parents spent much of their childhoods and early married life in the central Minnesota town of Sebeka, home of the Sebeka Review, to which my parents subscribed after they moved away. Each Thursday they would read the paper and tell us stories, fully augmented by imagination, about the people mentioned, the kind of tales a newspaper would never tell. The Review published social notices by regions, one of which stood out in our childhood—Blowers Township. My sister got a kick out of the name, “The Blowers News,” which as a joke we always pronounced as you are pronouncing it now, unless you are up on your Otter Tail County geography. It is not bloo-wers, as in people who blow, but blau-wers, as if you were expressing pain with the ow, “oooww.”
Every week my sister read the Blowers social notices aloud. Over time we became acquainted with most of the few residents of this small very rural township. My sister plotted out friendships and feuds. She drew scandalous unfounded conclusions about what the notices really meant.
As for the social notices on our town, my parents’ comings and goings were hot news almost every week. The wife in the couple with whom my parents were socially active was the reporter of such tidbits. A common item would read “Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Birkholz were the guests of My and Mrs. ______________. After a dinner of chicken and dumplings several games of smear were played.” Mrs. ______________ was a devoted fan of passive verbs. In social notices women were always Mrs. His-First-Name Something, as if they had no first name.
If you do not know what smear is and how to pronounce it (Schmear), then you don’t know Northern Minnesota.
Another long gone item was a legal notice, the property tax reports. Each household was listed, by the man’s name of course, unless the woman was in some form single. After each person’s name was the amount of property taxes assessed and if paid or not. My father relished the anger he could express at how much more property tax the few farmers paid than the high-paid citizens in town. The newspapers made good money from printing those long reports.
Doing a bit of research, I learned something new about Sebeka. It is the birthplace of one-time Twins pitcher Dick Stigman, which I knew, but is also birthplace of Kenneth Arnold, the pilot who made the first widely reported sighting of a UFO, or a flying saucer as he called it.
Have you ever been newsworthy?