Tag Archives: Family

Baboon Redux – About The Barn

This guest Blog by Madislandgirl was first posted in 2010

I love digital cameras, because you can just shoot and shoot and not worry about wasting rolls of film that when developed show a nice out-of-focus art shot of the back of someone’s head. My son prefers taking shots of interesting images as opposed to the documentary shots I grew up with (“here we are at Mount Rushmore!”).

A little while back, discussion on the Trail was about wabi sabi. There had also been a bit of talk about old barns and how they are disappearing from the landscape. This got me thinking persistently about what once was my grandfather’s farm.

Grandpa’s Barn

And so it was that one weekend, the son and heir and I headed out to Scott County with the express purpose of taking pictures of my grandpa’s old barn. I figured this might be our last chance, as the family who currently own the place will be selling in a year, and I feel certain the barn will be coming down at that point. An electrical fire destroyed the farmhouse about 5 years ago, so this abandoned barn is what remains of “the farm” as I remember it.

A Tree Grows Through the Fence

The teenage son of the current owners was in the yard when we got to the farm, which solved my quandary about asking for permission to roam around the barn. He acquiesced to our request to take pictures in a way that made it clear that he thought we were nuts, but probably harmless.

I was seldom allowed near the barn as a child, I’m sure it was considered too dirty and dangerous for a “town girl”. My son wanted to go inside. It looked pretty stable, so I let him. We both managed to resist the siren song of the ladder into the hayloft, barely.

The Beckoning Hayloft

We had a great time shooting that barn, trying to figure out how some of the old equipment must have functioned when this was a working farm. My nostalgia for a past I could never recover lifted. This was An Adventure!

We were on a roll, so I decided I would try and find an old family cemetery on the other side of town. It is a corner of a cornfield and completely unmarked. I had been there exactly once before, 10 years ago with a toddler and I was not driving. Still, I was feeling cocky.

We headed out-of-town on what I thought was the right highway. I kept scanning the landscape for something that “felt right”. We came to a little town that I remember hearing of as part of the family lore and took it as a good sign, but had we gone too far? Kept driving. As we were driving, I thought I saw a little gravel track at an odd angle to the road-maybe? I decided to turn back and give it a try. The track was pretty well washed out. I parked near the highway and decided to hike in. If I got stuck out there on a fool’s errand, I would never hear the end of it.

My son elected to stay in the car with the cell phone to call the authorities if the farmer who had posted all those No Trespassing signs decided to mistake me for a pheasant-I had 20 minutes to get there and back or he was calling 911!

I hiked around the bend, thinking this was nuts, when I saw up ahead a small grove with something in it.

I had found what I was searching for.

Sellnow Cemetery

What vanished place do you wish you could go visit?

Hummel, Hummel-Mors, Mors

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

Clyde’s recent posts about DNA and birch logs made me think about these little carvings I have that came from my mother’s family from Hamburg, Germany.  

The crabby water carrier and the farm animals and other figures were in my house all throughout my childhood.  Mom would never let me play with them. I think some of them were children’s toys. Mom said she thought that some of them were sent from Hamburg by family in thanks for the food packages my grandma sent them during the war.  She was pretty vague about it.  She couldn’t even tell me  how long she had them, or why she had them instead of my grandmother or other family members.  

She also couldn’t tell me much about the water carrier. She said he had something to do with Hummels. I always thought she meant the porcelain  child figures designed by the nun, Sr. Maria Hummel.  

Well,  That isn’t quite the whole story.

I now know that the water carrier figure was a real person who worked as a water carrier in Hamburg in the mid-19th century and who was noted for his nasty temper. He was given the nickname “Hans Hummel”.  The word Hummel sometimes is used to refer to a bumblebee. Hamburg children would follow him through the streets as he carried water, yelling “Hummel Hummel” and he would respond with “Mors Mors” which is low German slang for “Kiss my a**”.  

People from Hamburg often greeted each other this way long after Herr Hummel went to meet his maker. The water carrier is a popular symbol for Hamburg.  Now, why didn’t my mom tell me this? How did those cute child figures get mixed up with this?  I don’t even know if mom knew the whole story. If that is the case, why didn’t her mother or her grandparents tell her the story?

Since my parents have both died I find I have lots of questions that I will probably never get answered. I wish I could go back in time and ask my great grandparents and other ancestors just what is up with all this stuff.  Husband and I are tentatively planning a May trip  to Bremen and Hamburg, so maybe I will find some answers.

What question would you ask your ancestors?

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?

Krakatoa 2

Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee

You’ve all heard me say I don’t want more dogs after my current dogs are gone. So when Young Adult called me from the Humane Society, I fought valiantly but after an hour of arguing on the phone, I just couldn’t envision any win/win. Although she did cave to my request that she wait 24 hours, when the time was up she came home with Guinevere, otherwise known as Krakatoa 2. Or The Little Terrorist. Or Troublemaker. Or – well, you get the gist. So now, despite my protests, there are three dogs and two cats in the household.


Zorro, my elder cat has somehow managed to maintain his “alpha dog” status, although I’m not sure how. He’s the smallest and with no front claws, the most vulnerable in the household. I have seen the puppy put her mouth on Zorro, but then stop. Maybe Zorro has a special muscle twitch that makes K2 back off.

The baby kitty Nimue (although she’s not really a baby anymore at 3) gets a good deal of tumbling. She refuses to get out of the way, so is a natural target for the galumphing puppy. She bats out, makes a great deal of hissing noises, but apparently isn’t using her claws or her teeth in defense. I can only guess that she is either A) absolutely convinced that she can’t cede her space one inch, even if being tortured by a puppy or B) she kinda likes it!

Rhiannon ignores the puppy most of the time, however if K2 gets in her face (or near her food), there is a great deal of snarling and growling and barking on both sides. As with the baby kitty, it doesn’t appear that anybody is using teeth in these pitched battles. No scrapes, no crying, no blood.

Thorin is my hero. He loves K2 and they play and play and play. K2 is really rough, but all that white fur of Thorin’s seems to protect him well enough. Eventually Thorin wears out and he’s had a few nights on which it’s clear that he’s a little stiff and sore, but it never stops him from chasing after the puppy the next morning.

Of course, I am the main one who still wishes we didn’t have a puppy. When she’s quiet and calm, she’s pretty cute and I don’t mind her, but she’s not quiet and calm very much. I did make Young Adult sign a puppy contract with a lot of points but the one I’m already looking forward to is the “You can’t move out unless you move to a place that takes dogs”!

How does everybody get along at your house?