Tag Archives: Family

Timber! To an Era

Today’s post comes from Clyde of Mankato

My last guest blog asked you to look closely at grass. This time I want you to examine two slides taken by my mother in 1954. They capture an end of one era in the forest and the beginning of another.

First I apologize that the horse’s head is at the semi-exposed end of the roll. Adeline and I long bemoaned that bad luck. We both recognize the photograph has family and larger significance. Today the ratty right end strikes me as appealingly quaint.

End of one era: the horse for one, which you probably realize. In 1955 it was rare to see horses used for logging, but more than my father were still using them. However, the images also show the tail-end of old growth trees in northeastern Minnesota. Look at the size of the those birch logs! How long had they lived? You perhaps think they were sawed into birch lumber. In 1954 it simply was not done. Birch was then a difficult wood to manage as lumber. Today those logs would be worth as fortune.

I feel an affinity for those logs. First because they are birch wood, as am I, being a German birchwood. Secondly because I spent the next eight years using pieces of the logs as chopping blocks, before which I spent many an hour swinging an axe. I was well acquainted with that birch tree before it was felled. Its grandeur appealed to me. For my father it was a massive temptation to cut down. Because of the girth of the stump, he did not attack it, not having a proper two-man whip saw to do the task. Then along came that yellow chunk of steel in the other image.

Logging 1

Beginning of another era: our nearest neighbor Floyd (man on your left) was a full-time time lumberjack (cutter of trees for lumber) and gyppo (cutter of trees for pulp wood). He was a famously surely tough old bastard, older than he looks in this photo. A couple years later while cutting pulp by himself in the Superior National Forest, he broke his back when a widow-maker fell on him. He had to crawl out to a road to get help, which took two days and nights. Three months later he was back in the woods alone. His personality made working solo a necessity. Being a bachelor, Floyd could not have made a widow.

A few days before these pictures were taken, he stopped at our house to show us his new prized possession, the chain saw. They had been around, but now they were mass-produced at a level that made them affordable for professional cutters. Also, they were dependable. They were still very heavy, nothing like today’s light-weight wonders. Yet even at that weight, a new era swept the woods, for one thing allowing old birds like Floyd to earn real money cutting alone.

The moment my father saw the chain saw before him, he pictured that birch tree. And down it came, my mother coming along, after the fell deed, it seems, to photograph the results.

What you see are only the two bottom lengths of the trunk, minus the two butt pieces on which I am standing, which became the chopping blocks. It took several loads to bring up all of that tree. My father knew how to coax every piece of firewood out of large trees. How long it must have cooked our meals and heated our house! You may wonder by what means the logs made their way onto the sled. My father and I did it alone. How that is done, I will leave a mystery.

If you had those birch logs today and could pay the cost, what use would you make of them?

So Fine A Saddle

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa


grandadIn the mid 1970s my grandfather, my father’s father, gave me his beloved saddle that he had bought in Montana in 1913. He was in Montana to work for his uncle who had homesteaded in the Judith Basin southeast of Great Falls. My grandfather had hoped to settle there as well, but he was engaged to my grandmother, who refused to move to Montana. So he brought his saddle, he had bought from an out-of-work cowboy, back to Minnesota. The saddle was custom-made by Hamley & Company, maker of “the finest saddles man could ride.” No matter where he lived and farmed, my grandfather had horses and his saddle.

number_stampRecently, I researched the saddle. Hamley & Company is still a thriving business in Pendleton, Oregon. An identifying number is stamped on the back of the cantle, and the saddle also bears the imprint of a lost brass plate that had indicated who it was built for and by whom. With this information, I asked Hamley to search their records. They were kind and helpful, but unfortunately all records prior to 1918 had burned in a fire. They could, however, confirm by the number that it was built in or about 1913.

Mack_PattersonAttached to the back of the saddle cantle, a leather bag with a metal plate is engraved with the name, “Mack Patterson.” Mack is likely the cowboy who sold the saddle to my grandfather. Doing research on Mack, I found his draft registration from Bozeman, Montana in 1917. He died in 1944 in South Carolina, where he was born. I wonder if he ever had so fine a saddle again.On_horseback


For one of my grandfather’s birthdays in the late 1970s (he was born in 1891 and lived to 91), I gave him my ink drawing of his saddle.

What family heirloom do you treasure?

A Very Happy Birthday

Today’s post comes from Jacque.

I found my perfect communication medium when I discovered texting. I was not an early adapter, but once I tried it, the medium became mine. It is succinct and I can look at it when I want to and respond (well maybe, usually). That is all I want from most communication, especially when simple things are involved.

And then there are the emoticons. I realize that many folks abhor those little ditties, but I adore them. This morning I saw a girl wearing a T-shirt displaying emotion-identifying emoticons labeling the emotions in French. How engaging! And clever. And sappy, but I don’t care. I love them.

Back to texting, though.   I am the first to admit that texting is not worthy of communicating about more complicated matters. The issue of more nuanced conversation set aside, the following text sequence between my son and I occurred recently (backstory—he has ADHD and struggles with organization. If asked to do so, I will help):

Son: I would like to rent a car for a week. Are you available to help me out tomorrow evening? I also need help with the upcoming move. Need a mover and cleaner.

 Me: My birthday is Friday. If I do this then I want LOTS of attention, a very large gift acknowledging that I am the world’s best mother, as well as undying gratitude and my say forever. Those are my terms.

 Son: Sounds reasonable enough.

 Time passes. Said services are arranged.

Thursday afternoon at 2:00 pm there was a knock on my office door. When I answered it standing there was this:


The balloon bouquet is 8 feet tall accompanied by the following card:


I was happy. He was happy. Texting rules.

What is your favorite mode of communication which does not occur in person? (Hint: Alpine horns, Scottish pipes, smoke signals, yodeling and drums all count).


Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

I was helping my mom clean out her bedroom closet the other day, and we came upon an envelope with pages she had jotted down in pencil between 1949 and 1951. I was the elder child, and “got her to myself” for four years before I was de-throned, and she had time to do this:

Autumn 1949 (age 1½)

Sang “Ho Ho Ho” (Up on a Housetop) when she heard Mother singing. Puckered up lips till she looked like a fish.

Heard soap opera [on radio] in which someone was crying “Oh, No, No!”, so she had to say “No No” for about two minutes straight.

Her first movie “Adventure in Baltimore” when actress said “up there” emphatically. Barby thought she was saying “upstairs”, so she said it too (ah-dee).

First time she attended church service, good for the first half hour, then started crawling under the seat. Began to dance to the organ music when we walked in.

Runs along behind me and laughs when I’m wiping off clothes lines.

Found a wash cloth and started dusting the furniture with it, wood, upholstery and all. I thought it was plenty smart of her till I picked her up and she wiped my face with it.

One day when I took her upstairs for her nap, I put her in the rocking chair while I changed the sheet on her crib. When I was almost through she jumped out of the chair and walked downstairs as fast as she could, chuckling all the way.

Threw her toy doggie down the basement stairs, then went down after him, saying all the way “Hi Dizzie.”

Winter ’49-’50 (20 months)

Found her down on the floor saying “Hi” to a box-elder bug.

After watching me peel potatoes one day when she pulled a chair up to the sink, she tried putting the peelings back through the peeler.

Decided a graham cracker cookie tastes better if she pulls it apart, licks off the frosting and throws the cracker on the floor.

Winter 1950-51 (age 2½)

Asked where Grandma Sterling was, and when I said “In Sioux City” she said “No, she’s in da picture”. I guess Grandma can’t be both places at once.

Her prayers at age 3: “Now I lay me… God bless Mommy and Daddy and Grampa and Grandma Britson and Grampa and Grandma Sterling and all da people in da world, and da babies and da chickens.”

Sings and plays: “do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do”. Her repertoire: nursery rhymes, Christmas songs, Frosty the Snowman, Here Comes Peter Cottontail, I Love You a Bushel and a Peck, Zing Zing Zoom Zoom My Little Heart Goes Boom.

An oldest child may also find more photos of themselves than the younger children.

What evidence or memory (yours or someone else’s) exists somewhere that you were a toddler?


The Joy of Adventure

Today’s guest post comes from Crystalbay.

Finding adventures in the suburb was my third child’s greatest joy. It’s often said that kids these days have little desire to actually go outside and find something active to do. TV, video games, computers, and social media consume them.

The art and respect for actual conversations seems lost on this generation. I’ve told my teenaged grand kids that they’re welcome to the lake, but not if they bring their Iphones.

I haven’t seen them since.

Steve, now 44, was by far the most precocious kid I’ve even known. I think that rather than try to capture the activities he dreamt up as a story, I’ll just bullet point them:

  • built a zip line in a public preserve
  • made a straw into a dart gun that would send sewing pins through the air. (Unfortunately, his first dart ended up in the school bus driver’s cheek.)
  • went skateboarding in the city’s underground storm sewer system wearing a minor’s flashlight hat
  • took girls to the top of a water tower and swam in the tank
  • built a 3-story A frame from a large hole he dug
  • when confined to a downstairs bedroom as punishment for sneaking out of his upstairs bedroom, put hinges on the storm windows to make them into doors
  • made a large dummy called “Fleed”, complete with a wig and clothing, then would toss him onto the road just as a car neared. I guess that he just wanted to see the driver’s reaction thinking he’d run over a person
  • learned the months of the year by using a dozen Playboy Magazine covers he found in a dumpster
  • dug a hole in a very thick book into which these pictures fit so that he could show them to his school friends (he got caught for this one)
  • almost blew his thumb off seeing what would happen if he hit a nail gun bullet with a hammer
  • hid a couple of girls behind the knee wall which he outfitted with sleeping bags, strobe lights, and music
  • put his sister’s goldfish under her covers because he thought they were cold
  • created a giant Johnny Jump Up out of two garage door springs and a seat. Jumping from a tall tree branch, this thing went 20’ feet up and down (this one ended badly when a spring broke and gashed a kid’s scalp)
  • collected lunch money from other kids by selling a hidden stash of candy

This is just the partial list of Steve’s adventures. It’s amazing that he lived through his capers and that his parents were more amused than angry. He also went on to teach himself the 12-string acoustic guitar and learned all of Leo Kottke’s music.

His wife threw a “Man Shower” just before their baby was born. My contribution to this event was a booklet, complete with illustrations drawn by his nephew,  sharing Steve stories.

I entitled it; “Things Your Daddy May Not Want You to Know”.

What adventures did you create during childhood?

J.B.’s Expectations

Today’s guest post comes from Verily Sherrilee

Living with other people’s expectations stinks.

My dad was a terrible student. He was brilliant but never could buckle down to teachers’ expectations. He ended up flunking a few grades, but then skipping grades in between; he just barely made it through law school, graduating in the bottom quarter of his class. He was always disappointed that he hadn’t achieved higher grades or a better standing

And as often happens, his expectations for himself fell directly onto his children and manifested themselves in what my middle sister and I always called the “What Next Syndrome”. Every achievement was met with “That’s nice, what next?” What grade will you get next semester, what level class will you take next, what goal are you setting for yourself next? It made it seem as if no achievement was ever good enough in itself – only as a stepping stone to whatever was “next”. My sister got out from under this weight by blowing off school, blowing off grades and blowing off my dad whenever he got blustery. I went the other direction, excelling at school and working hard on all my next steps.

By the time I began to look at colleges, my dad’s expectations were starting to wear me down. He came home with a big fat reference book of all the colleges and universities that listed all their SAT and Achievement Test scores; he announced that I could only go to a place that had really high scores as their norm.   JBExpectationsVennAs a lover of Minnesota and Wisconsin, I promptly announced that I would only go to a school in one of those two states. If you love Venn diagrams, you can guess that the intersection of our two announcements wasn’t too large!

We both got our way. I ended up at Carleton; it was in his book and it was in Minnesota. Of course, as these things usually go, it wasn’t a fairy-tale ending. I didn’t like it all that much and ended up dropping out, not getting my degree until I was 39! I’ve always wondered if I had gone to a different school (read “with more social life than just studying”), I would have been happier and stuck with it. I guess I’ll never know. I do know that I’ve worked really hard over the years to not settle MY expectations about school and grades onto my child. And it’s been hard.

When have expectations tripped you up?

The Family Vegetable

Today’s guest post comes from Jacque.  

Some families have distinguished, ancient crests with lots of regal history; other families have members who have accomplished great things which allows their relatives to bask in the glory of all that star-dust; and some families, like mine, have a very real and symbolic vegetable. It is a vegetable worthy of a family crest.

My maternal grandparents, bearing the last name of Hess, lived on a farm near Pipestone, MN where they raised eight children during the Great Depression. Grandma and Grandpa grew most of their own food to feed their large family. The vegetable garden was immense, even after the children left to start their own families and gardens. Each spring they planted a row of carrots and a row of kohlrabi for each of the eight children. The child was to seed the row, thin the seedlings, weed it, then harvest it, meaning he or she could eat the carrots and kohlrabi any time he or she wanted.

These eight children produced 39 grandchildren (I am number 20), Grandma and Grandpa continued the tradition of planting many rows of carrots and kohlrabi for the grandchildren. The grandchildren trained each other to love this veggie. During a summer visit to the farm when I was about 8 years old, my cousin Jean Marie,*** who was age 7 and who lived right there on the home farm, taught me about the joys of kohlrabi. She led me to the kitchen to swipe one of Grandma’s many salt shakers, then we sneaked out to the garden.

“Don’t let Grandma see us,” Jean Marie instructed as she yanked 2 kohlrabi out of the dirt, stripped the leaves from it and broke off the root. “Grandma will be mad if we leave the salt shaker out here. And we are NOT supposed to eat these!”

I took this seriously.  I did not want to be in trouble with Grandma.

Then Jean Marie headed for the row of peonies which were large enough to hide both of us. There she demonstrated how to peel the thing with her teeth, salt it, and eat it like an apple. It was a delicious secret treat, crisp, delicate and salty. I wanted another. I crawled behind the peonies to the nearest kohlrabi row where I imitated Jean Marie’s techniques of pulling, leaf-stripping and peeling.

Years later I told Grandma about this. She knew. Of course she knew. She knew all of us did this. That was why she planted them—to get us to eat vegetables. She knew they were sweeter if we thought they were stolen.Family Crest 1

When family reunions roll around, a cousin or two arrive with a bowl of home grown kohlrabi harvested the morning of the reunion, a half dozen paring knives for peeling, and salt shakers.   We snack on sliced, salted kohlrabi all day.

If I was to create a family crest it would include the family slogan, “One Mell of a Hess” and include a regal kohlrabi. Like so.

***Names have been changed to protect the family members who have not agreed to have their names included!

What would you include on your family crest?