Note to readers from Kristina Gray: This six part series encompasses the reminiscing of old timers in their own words or according to my University of Minnesota, Crookston students' interviews and writing up what their grandparents told them. The first part includes my own aunt's words as she wrote up her memories in a shaky scrawl. She died last year in Mesa, Arizona at the age of 96. She furthered education and studied to be a nurse at the Deaconess Hospital in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She served in the military as a nurse during World War II. Her perspective of her childhood foretells that being a nurse was her calling, she had an empathy for those who suffered physical pain. In addition to the six-part series which will continue once a week, join me on a look into the past in the Crookston Daily Times' 2013 Community Connections special edition, which publishes on Friday, April 26.
By Eleanor (Torkelson) Hem
"I can remember my first day of school. I was so excited because I would be on my own; and not have my two younger sisters to account for all day. There were three each two years apart, I am the oldest. We lived on a farm in Northwest Minnesota. The schoolhouse was two miles from our home. We had one teacher for all eight grades. My father was District Clerk of our "Cottonwood Shelter School."
There were two other members on the school governing board. They did all the business including hiring and firing the schoolteacher. It so happened the year 1920-1921 school year they only had one six year old; they decided they would start the five children as a kindergarten class early in the spring. We were all ready for the program.
We started after Easter vacation. My big problem (to a 5 year old) was that I had to ride in a buggy driven by one of the classmate's older brother. They were our neighbors. My frustration was that I was to sit in the middle of the two brothers on the outside. I utterly refused the first day, but they were afraid I would fall out of the buggy. My Dad got that problem all straightened out!
I had met two of my other classmates, as their father was one of the officers on the board. They were twin brother and sister. The fifth student was another red headed girl the same age as me. We shared the same birthday month. The five of us really learned to cope with each other remarkably well; especially since neither of us had the opportunity to know each other at a younger age.
We had a good teacher. We kept her busy as she had a one-room school enrollment of 29 students grades 1 to 8 grades. I think of the tolerance and the strong control of character and perseverance Miss Wise had to keep her dignity and be able to teach these students so they would be in the scholastic standards of the District, county and state. I salute every one of them.
Page 2 of 3 - She was not only teacher but she consoled a child that was ill or hurt during the recess periods; Housekeeper to have the room presentable for the following day and most of all to keep order and dignity of the school. I have thought many times of some of the accidents and injuries that happened during play period. If someone got hurt playing ball or became suddenly ill, she would delegate one of the upper grade students to run to the neighbors to call the parents of the child. I recall one of the middle grade boys fall and fractured his arm. It not only affected the injured child, but the whole school. She kept patient and calmed the students as well.
The following year my older brother 3 ½ years older than I left home at the same time in my parents horse and buggy. I guess my parents thought it best that I had supervision. Emmet, my older half-brother, had been riding our little Shetland pony to and from school before I started; anyway it all worked out fine. I only had to sit in the middle if one of the neighbor boys couldn't get to school that day.
Everything really wasn't without incident. One day I guess Emmet had a bad day at school. It was mid-December and chilling cold I was trying to get all my winter clothes, boots and mittens on and he told me I should get out to the buggy in a hurry. Well I hadn't had a really bad day with my teacher. She was different than the one I had the first year.
I hurried as fast as I could ran out over the snow bank and Emmet was ready, the horse backed up to the buggy, I was having trouble with my mitten. I couldn't get it on right but stubborn me, I didn't tell Emmet. We got in the buggy sleigh and took off for home two miles away. Lady (our horse) wasn't the fastest and she was facing a strong northwest wind. It was so cold I still couldn't get my mitten on after Emmet had wrapped us up in the big horsehide blanket. We made it home.
My mother knew something was wrong when I walked into the kitchen. She took off my boat and my fingers were white on my left hand. They got them thawed out somehow. She called the doctor as to what to do. He told her if they turned black to call him and they may have to be removed. A bad night – she kept them dressed; she wrapped them daily with gauze and something. The nails came off from two of them and everything turned out all right.
Everybody was sorry for me and I got a little extra attention. I went and acted in our school Christmas play. I still wore bandages but I was contented I could act. Grade school days came and past year after year.
Page 3 of 3 - As we grew each year, our home chores increased. I had to learn to cook and sew and clean the house. Mother taught all of us. Not only did we do a lot of housework, baking, cleaning, sewing, we had to help do the outdoor chores. Feed the livestock, cows, hogs, horses, it was before everyone had tractors.
In the morning we would milk three of the cows, feed the calves, push hay down form the haymow in the big barn. When that was done, we would clean up for school, have breakfast and off to school with the horse and buggy. I graduated from the 8th grade by taking State board elementary school exams. I think it was four days.
I was then qualified to get my high school degree. The Depression was upon us. Mother was not in good health so I stayed home and helped a full year of farming until a later date. Country school in 1920s was really History. But I am glad I did it."