BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
Contributed by James Stenhouse
Dec. 8, 1892, Pastor Andreas Sixtus Nielsen alighted from a passenger coach of the old Wisconsin Central R.R. in Withee, Wis. With him were two of his parishioners of the Danish Trinity Church of Chicago, Peter Frost and Jens Jorgensen. Grandfather Nielsen had been the pastor of this church for 14 years and wished to go into retirement. He was 60 years of age and rigors of this large church plus that of the rapidly growing city of Chicago had taken its toll. He had come to this country many years earlier, settling in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to establish the Danish Church in the Midwest. This he had accomplished with great success even to the point where he was invited to return to Denmark and was knighted by the king. Numbered among his many friends were Jacob Riis and the Norwegian Violinist Ole Bull who had both come to this country after grandfather’s arrival.
Withee at that time was hardly impressive. The first settler had built a shack beside the township road in 1870. In the ensuing twenty two years many of the towering white pines in the immediate area had been cut and the vista that greeted grandfather and his friends was rather desolate. Acres and acres of burned black pine stumps covered the area. Withee, at that time, had three inhabitable residences the same number of stores, a ‘small school, a station house, hotel, two saloons, a blacksmith shop, and a number of small shacks. Surrounding the area, however, were groups of small farms, grubbed from the rich soil and supporting the owners of various nationalities. One particular group of Canadian-French had settled about a half mile to the west and this group of farms was called French Town. Other nationalities were also represented such as Polish. Finish, German and Irish and a few Danes. Many had started in the lumber camps and saw mills, but the majority were men of the soil and turned to their farms as soon as possible.
W. S. Tufts had come to the area as woods superintendent for lumberman N. H. Withee. D. J. Spaulding had been the original land holder as agent in the area and it was he that had encouraged grandfather to establish a Danish colony here. W. S. Tufts now had the largest general store in the county. It was with him that grandfather and his friends had much conversation as well as with the Danes who were already there. A Dane was the owner of the local sawmill and lumber yard. So many of his parishioners had come directly from Denmark and sought a community that offered an immediate chance for livelihood as well as a companionship with other Danes and, of course, a familiar church. As time went on many of them longed for their well kept farms, and feel of good soil under their feet. Information had been received that this particular area of Wisconsin, following a tremendous logging operation, would be ideal for farming. The soil was deep and rich and the climate not unlike that which the Danes were accustomed to in their home land. Pastor Nielsen returned to Chicago convinced that this area held a great deal of promise for a Danish colony. He and his family, along with the same two parishioners and their families returned to Withee in April, l893 to start the trek of Danes to the area. "Neenah" Hansen with his family was one of the very early settlers who had sold his farm near Neenah, Wis. and come to Withee with farm machinery, cattle, hogs, and seed grain, and furniture. His grandson, Emil Hansen, was to become a close boyhood friend of mine.
In the next ten years Withee had grown and prospered and the area boasted a population of 600 townsfolk and farmers. The majority of them were Danes who, in their gregarious nature had gathered around their church and minister. Grandfather died in 1909 a few months before I was born. I did receive his name. However, it was shortened somewhat as mother thought it was too much for a small baby to carry and the first name was shortened to Andre. As a baby, my father started calling me the affectionate name of "Bunny" and my uncle who lived nest door called me "Mugsie". This confusion was too much for Norman Andersen who was about four years older than I and he called me Bumpsie. I was Bumpsie until I was about five and then shortened to "Bumps" which stayed with me until I left Withee at 16.
The story to follow is the life of a boy growing up in this backwoods community of Withee. My father was the local doctor who had come with the family. It was hardly the status as a country doctor that he should have enjoyed, as he probably deserved a much more rewarding position in his profession. All this will be explained later. But possibly fate was kind to him. My simple words could never evaluate his revered position in the hearts of the people of this community. I know that Dad was happy only in helping others. His mark was indelibly made on this community and his success was the fullest, but by no measure in dollars and cents. He gave that all to others!!
The story of Dr. Nielsen as a surgeon and also a horse and buggy doctor would be a fascinating story that might be related at another time. But is a story of his son, a son with many less accomplishments and without the intelligence of his father. A story of a son who inherited his father and mother’s love of nature. A son with a burning desire to record those happy years of a youth growing up in a world far removed from that of the present. These were years when nature was raw, cruel and biting, but again beautiful, fresh and lovely. Man, in some cases, had made it temporarily ugly, but had again worked by the sweat of his brow and with the bountiful help of nature and restored a beauty of another kind. That was the beauty of luxurious farm land, bright with new farm barns invariably red and snug homes, usually white; however brick homes were not uncommon. The very early settlers, prior to their pulling burning and dynamiting the stumps on their land, sowed clover and timothy among the stumps so that forage might be provided for their livestock. Cutting, drying and storing it for winter use had to be done with a hand scythe and wooden rake, as the use of horse drawn machinery would be impossible. Red clover flourished beyond anyone’s expectation. In later years this particular area of Wisconsin was known as the "Clover Belt".
Dr. Christen S. Nielsen, my father, built a large frame three story building on Withee’s main thoroughfare. The name thoroughfare hardly fits the present day connotation of the word as it was a dirt road, a sea of mud in the spring filled with wagon ruts, covered with dust in the summer, but very accommodating to the sleigh in winter. Dad’s building was to house the local drug store and his offices on street level, with the second and third floors as our home for fourteen years.
One of Dad’s older brothers had built his home immediately to the North on a large plot of ground. In the front end of this street side home he opened a watch repair shop and jewelry store. He was Edmond E Nielsen and, in a way, a second father to me. His plot of ground was bout three lots wide and half a block deep, resplendent with many Maple trees. There was a communal lawn for the two families and the rear 50 feet adjoining the alley, furnished the area for our separate vegetable gardens, Uncle Ed and Dad were the only two of a family of eight children to remain in Withee for the rest of their lives. Uncle Ed had no children and had attended medical school in Chicago, but never graduated He had returned to Chicago one fall to begin his third year and contracted typhoid fever. He always claimed it was drinking water from a small stream while on a fishing expedition, Most of the water in streams and rivers on their early arrival had been perfectly safe for all purposes, but the advent of the farm and many more people had already begun to cause local contamination. Uncle Ed never returned to medical school and following other business ventures, secured training in watch making and repairing. He married and then started his new venture. He was always interested in education and became a member of the school board almost at its inception and continued until the last years of his life.
It was in 1908 and Ed mentioned to his wife, "Wait until Christen sees the new school teacher we hired today. Her name is Glyde Luhrsen and will teach English and Mathematics in the High School. "Well what about her", his wife, Alva, questioned, "She is a beautiful girl of 21 with snapping black eyes and certainly will turn Christen's head" was Ed’s only reply. Dad was a man of action and usually got exactly what he wanted regardless of cost or inconvenience to himself. He did meet Glyde Luhrsen and courted her dressed to the hilt in his English walking coat. Glyde Luhrsen had taught in other schools for two years prior to her present appointment. These had been rural schools and she was happy for the opportunity to teach in high school. Five weeks after starting this new position, on Sept 2nd she was confronted in the hallway one morning by the principal who greeted her with a good morning Miss Luhrsen, and By the way, will you meet me in my office after you remove your coat and hat"? Somewhat frightened she agreed. In a few minutes she was in the principal’s office with a great deal of apprehension running-through her mind, particularly when she was asked to sit down and the door to the office was closed.
Mr. James cleared his throat, leaned back in his chair and placing the fingertips of either hand together said, "I'm sorry to hear you are leaving us so soon" Glyde blushed and replied, "Well, I don't know what you mean, Mr. James. I know that I'm rather young, but has my work been so bad that you are asking me to leave"? "Not at al1, not at all" was Mr. James reply. "In fact we feel you are an excellent teacher, but have you not been seeing Dr. Nielsen recently?" "Well, I did see him two days ago on Sunday, I believe, but I don't understand was Glyde’s questioning reply. Mr. James produced a broad smile and said, "Dr. Nielsen was in to see me yesterday and announced that you were to be his wife and that you would be leaving the high school in two weeks. He had already been to the school board members and secured their approval. Let me add, knowing Dr. Nielsen as I do , I don't think it was a matter of securing their approval but of his telling them of his intentions and demanded their immediate approval. So be it with Dr. Nielsen. Has he not spoken to you of marriage?" Glyde’s face was aglow by this time and her very flustered reply, why yes, yes, we did talk of getting married but this is so soon. I've only been teaching for five weeks and he was going to talk to my father and, and,- Mr. James interrupted, If I don't miss my guess, I would say that the doctor has already talked with your father and most likely has secured his approval! I would say, Miss Luhrsen, that you and "Dr. Nielsen will probably be married within three weeks and I do hope you have agreed. "Oh yes, I have agreed, but there are so many things to do", Glyde replied, "and you won’t have a teacher and there are so many things". "Don’t worry about a teacher, Mr. James interrupted, "the doctor and I talked about this yesterday and Mrs. Barker, a retired teacher, has already agreed to help us out until we can get someone else". Glyde offered a dimpled smile for the first time and moved back on the chair she was barely sitting on through the discussion and said, "Well, I guess I've found a man of decision and as you say there is little that I can do about kit. I wish that he had at least told me of his immediate plans. I hardly know what to say to you, Mr. James, but I suppose you understand." "Yes, I do, Miss
Luhrsen, and I must say that you are a most lucky young lady to have a man like Dr. Nielsen. Let me offer my congratulations as I know you will have a most happy life".
Glyde left the principal’s office, her head spinning and went to teach her first English class that was about to assemble. Her opening remark was, we discussed Hamlet yesterday and today we were to speak of his statement, ‘To be, or not to be, that is the question’. I think we will go back to Act I and discuss his statement, ‘Frailty, thy name is woman!’. With this, Glyde smiled at her class and sat down at her desk in complete confusion.
This was mother’s introduction to the Nielsen family Dad and Mother were married on Oct 28th and I was born in the following year. My very early memories are certainly distinct, but my age or the date of incidents are vague. I have heard of people who claim memory of crawling before they could walk, to their mother's long skirts and pulling themselves up by the pleats! This I doubt unless these people did not learn to walk until three or four, or that my early memory is far inferior to theirs! Be that as it may, my early vivid recollections did not start until the age of possibly four. In my later years of reading American history I have always wished that I had been born in the 1880s to experience the early development of our great country. But fate decided it should be about thirty years later and with that I am happy.
In Withee, Wisconsin they still speak of Dr. Nielsen although he left this world some fifty years ago. There are but few of his generation still around. The words that they and their progeny speak of him are always touched with a tone of reverence. He was a country doctor, not only of great ability as a physician and surgeon, but also with great compassion, human understanding, and love for his fellowman. This is probably not an extremely rare combination but certainly not found in all doctors 'of his time nor, might I add, at present. He probably deserved a much better station in life than that of a harassed country doctor. He was a brilliant man who was never content with the meager knowledge of medicine and surgery taught him in college. He constantly read of all the new developments in his, profession and applied what he knew and learned with artistry of an artist, which he was, and precision mechanic. . It may be unfortunate that fate brought him to this backwoods community at the turn of the century, as he probably would have risen to unknown heights in his profession, particularly surgery had he had the facilities of a large city hospital at hand. The latter is not said in idle speculation as it was confirmed in comments of many well known doctors of his time. I proudly posses a letter from each of the doctors Mayo, Charles and Will, congratulating him on surgery he had performed. A question arises in my mind that I am quite sure no one could answer - Was fate kind to him? My simple words could never evaluate his revered position in the hearts of the people of this community; nor could I begin to estimate the value that the Good Lord would mark on his success chart as one of his children, So many times success is measured in dollars, but I am sure that all of us can find fallacies in this criteria. I know that Dr. Nielsen was happy with his fate and with his many accomplishments, so I will leave it there. This is not the story of a country doctor. His many early experiences, trials and tribulations would make a fantastic story. He was a horse and buggy doctor that Dr. Hertzler so aptly described in his autobiography.
Dr. Nielsen’s story might be related at another time, but this is the story of his son; a son with many less accomplishments and without his intelligence, but a son who inherited his father's and mother's love of nature and blessed with burning nostalgia and desire to record those happy, happy years of youth in a world far removed from that of the present. Those were years when nature was raw, cruel and biting, but again, beautiful, fresh and lovely except in the cases where man made it ugly. The latter was, however, temporary and in many cases nature and man would work together to restore other beauty. Nature had provided through hundreds of years a tremendous growth of beautiful white pines. They were valuable to a growing population to be sure. After man removed them, the stumps and rocks and then, by the sweat of his brow, tilled and plowed the soil, nature again responded with luxuriant farm land that proved to be a bountiful provider. In retrospect, the memories of those days must be recorded, if only for my own personal pleasure and satisfaction.
Those years were not too early as, in my reading of American history; I have always thought how wonderful it would have been to be born in the 1880s. But fate decided differently and brought me to the light of day in 1909. Living in this small Wisconsin community predated my early memories about ten years as compared to one who lived in the more affluent and, should I say, culturally and economically developed cities of that era. Oil lamps, lanterns, wooden sidewalks, and the back yard facility, a three holer, were all part of my early life. The first automobile was an experience never to be forgotten. Little did I realize that the hitching posts, watering troughs and sleigh bells would someday be a thing of the past. That the search in the morning for the button hook for our shoes would also come to an end!!
Although I have rambled for a few pages, I must come down to a most important part of this book. That is the introduction of a fourth member of the Nielsen’s immediate family. His name was Duke, a black and white dog. No, not an ordinary dog, but one who was constantly referred to as "Duke, the Wonder Dog". My wife, whom I met many years later is always amazed by the comments of my boyhood friends, whom we meet on rare occasions, but who always make reference to that wonderful dog of mine. So at this early stage I must introduce you to Duke as he will accompany me through so many of those early years. He was not conceived until I was eleven years old and I unfortunately missed his companionship in the earlier years. I say Duke was conceived for two reasons. First, he was naturally conceived by the mating of a male and female. But secondly, that conception was somewhat prearranged.
The local postmaster, Art Miller, was a veteran of the first World War who had a chronic and rather serious problem with his inner ear. As a result of being literally blown into the water of the cold North Atlantic when on a troop ship bound for the European theater. His problems persisted and he was treated from time to time in army hospitals in Europe. He became part of the army of occupation in Germany, and befriended a young female German shepherd dog that he called Mitzie. Art received an early medical release from the army of occupation and when he returned home he was allowed to bring Mitzie with him. Mitzie grew to be a beautiful specimen of her breed and much admired by dog lovers of Withee including myself, As years passed Mitzie grew somewhat short of temper and to my surprise found her one day chained in Art's backyard. This shortness of temper, I doubted very much, and grieved at the thought of Mitzie being chained. She certainly was a loving pal and friend-of mine, On my next visit to box 144 at the post office, I talked to Art about it and found him equally unhappy. At ten years of age I probably did not understand why anything like this had to be done, but Art explained that there had been a complaint to the Withee constable that Mitzie was mean and had to be chained. A local family had complained. I remember I felt that this was not due justice, with but one complaint, as Mitzie to me was a beautiful and gentle dog. I talked to my parents about the incident and to my Uncle, who was Justice of the Peace. At that early age I learned that the law is the law, and not filled with sympathy for dogs that are mean. My tears were of no avail.
I saw Herman Bartholomy making his way to the pump house the following day to fill the local water tower to over flowing. I say overflowing as that was about the only way to tell it was full. Only on still summer days could you follow the line of condensation up the outside of the large metal tank, exactly 100 feet above ground. Herman was another village constable. He was a big man to us, the children of the community, and admired for his position as the chief and only law officer of Withee. That big bright star on his shirt or mackinaw was awe inspiring and fearful in a way, but admirable in that it represented to me the criteria of law and order- even above my Uncle who was Justice of the Peace who never wore a star!! (I believe this story was never finished and that Duke was born from the mating of the female Mitzie and as I always understood, a male English Bull, probably belonging to Herman Bartholomew).
The phone rang at five this winter morning and, awakening from a sound sleep, I heard dad's end of the conversation. "Yes, Jens, I can hear you. How often is she having pains? About every 25 minutes? Yes, I’ll be there in about 45 minutes. Have a good sized bucket of water on the stove and get it boiling, and don't forget a pot of coffee."
I heard dad shake the kitchen range and put in a few sticks of wood. I then heard him far back in the bedroom and mother asked, "Who was that?" Dad said that Jens Beck's wife is going, to have another baby. The next I heard was mother in the kitchen and the familiar rattle of the percolator and the coffee grinder in operation. This was a new kind of grinder that held about two quarts of whole beans in a hopper, and was fastened to the wall over the flour bin.
All you needed to do was turn the crank and an iron cup filled with ground coffee. The roar of the newly kindled fire going up the chimney and shortly the slow beginning perk of the coffee pot got me out of bed. I went to the kitchen and mother was at the big black nickel plated range. "Well, said mother, "What are you doing up at this hour?" I noted that the kitchen table was set with the inevitable Danish ' sweet rolls and a few Napoleons (sic)? I explained that I was wide awake and wanted a Napoleon. I loved them with all that creamy custard, particularly with a glass of milk. I believe I was also stalling for time to see if I could get dad to take me with him, as I knew the Becks and their three Ted, Jens and Peter. Peter was just my age. I knew dad would hitch up Romeo and take the cutter and "Dinty" would not be along to drive so there would be plenty of room for me.
"Dinty" Ryan had cared for dad’s horses for many years, fed them and kept the barn clean. Although dad had many horses through the years, never more than three at a time, there was presently only one. Dad came out of the bedroom at that moment to go to the kitchen sink to shave. He’d be using that new kind of razor and could shave real fast. It was called a safety razor and saved all the time of stropping the straight edge. Dad was always immaculately dressed and clean shaven. It was very seldom that I saw him otherwise. There was always the stiff collar, carefully tied cravat, as he called it, resplendent with a favorite stickpin, coat, vest and most certainly matching trousers. I don't believe that dad owned what might be called lounging clothes except possibly for a well fitting "smoking jacket" that he would wear around the house on Sunday afternoons. He inquired as to my being up at this early hour and I thought I had better broach the question immediately so that I would have time to get ready. I said, "Dad can go with you, can go with you?" Mother immediately said "old tin can"! I knew that was her way of training me to say "may" rather than "can"! I corrected myself! Mother said, "It’s really quite cold, but it's clear and there seems to be no wind", with a slight question in her voice.
Dad went to the window where the bracket lamp was hanging, scraped some inevitable frost from the pane and announced "five below". Mother clinched it for me saying that it was only about three miles to the Beck's farm and thought it would be all right if I was dressed warmly. Dad added his agreement and by that time I was half way to the bedroom for my clothes. There was a hurried breakfast and I was completely decked out in rubbers, leggings, the heavy red cardigan, my new mackinaw, tassel cap, heavy knit mittens and scarf. Dad had his high top buckled overshoes with pants tucked in the top, the buffalo robe coat, sealskin cap and heavy leather finger gloves with gauntlet top that came well over the bottom of his coat sleeves. The back of the gauntlets were covered with some kind of closely clipped cured brown fur. I remember dad holding the fur up to his face to keep it warm when there was wind blowing.
Dad lit the lantern and we made our way to the barn. Romeo stirred and snorted as we cane in. Dad picked up a pan of oats from the oat bag as we went to Romeo's stall. The pan of oats were put in the feed box and the horse nuzzled and chewed them enthusiastically, snorting and occasionally offering a whinny of approval. By the time dad had the harness thrown over him, cinched and buckled, the oats were about gone. The bridle and bit were next and this made Romeo a little nervous as he still had a bowl full of oats left in the pan. Dad talked to him, slapping his neck a few times and then led him to the cutter in the center of the barn, hitched him and after throwing in three robes, we were ready to go. Romeo was off to a running start after the robes were well tucked around us, I inhaled the smell of the robes as I snuggled into them. It was a nice smell largely that of horse mingled with the clean smell of hay. It seemed all robes and blankets used in those days had exactly the same smell. It wouldn’t be right if they didn't.
It was cold all right, and you could still see the stars sparkling in the sky to the North and West, but would not see the sun before we got to the Beck's. In the darkness you could see an occasional light in the distance from a farm house lantern or barn windows, but generally the landscape was rather ominous in the dark, particularly as we went through wooded areas with many towering pines beside the road, Romeo kept up a steady pace pulling the light cutter. You could see the steam spouting from each nostril as he moved along. The runners of the cutter made a delightful swishing noise as they slid along the snow covered road. If the horse would reduce to a walk, which was rare, the runners would squeak on the cold frozen snow. Romeo had reduced to a walk in one particular wooded area and I could barely see him put his ears forward and toss his head at one point. Dad, I could see, was alarmed and pulled off his right gauntlet and his hand went to his pocket and pulled out a bright and shiny Iver Johnson revolver which he laid on his lap.
My eyes were as big as saucers as I had never seen a revolver before. "Why do you have the gun, dad" was my next excited inquiry. Dad's answer was rather slow and deliberate. I really don't think he wished to alarm me or answer the question about the gun but knew some explanation was in order. "Romeo has smelled something he does not like. Frank Belknap told me some weeks ago that he had seen a pack of timber wolves running not too far from here" he said calmly. "Iwant to be prepared should that be the case. Don't worry about it, as dad always has the situation well in hand." By this time I was standing in the cutter peering into the semi darkness. Romeo, at that moment, picked up his running pace and we continued to glide through the night. This was excitement that I had not anticipated and wished I could see the wolves. A great deal was running through my mind including a picture of the wolves attacking and dad firing his revolver into the pack to drive them off. My next question was logically, "Would the wolves attack us, dad, if they were out there?", still standing and peering into the darkness. Dad replied immediately, No, I don’t think so. If they are out, there they were possibly attracted by the smell of Romeo. There has been a lot of snow this winter and the wolves are probably hungry. Ordinarily they would not be around here as there are too many people and wolves do not like the smell of people and would be frightened. If they could find a horse or cow in an open field they might kill it to get food, but with us around they would be afraid to come close to Romeo. Some people say that if they are desperate for food they might attack, but I doubt it. Should there be a pack of wolves near us I’m sure Romeo would be quite frightened so I have the gun to protect Romeo rather than us.
This was somewhat reassuring but a great number of pictures were building up in mind, and in a way, I felt it would be exciting to see a pack of timber wolves. I could tell Peter all about it when we arrived. My imagination starting building a scene with about eight large timber wolves attacking through the swirling snow, their backs bristling and with teeth bared. They would go for Romeo’s throat and dad standing up in the cutter, revolver in hand, with Romeo rearing on his hind legs and dad firing at the wolves would kill some just as they were about to pull Romeo down. I had been quiet for some time, and dad asked me what I was thinking about. I replied "wolves" and reminded him of the picture in the big book called, "world life" of wolves attacking a wedding part in Russia. Dad laughed and said that was just someone’s imagination, and we should forget about wolves and such as we were about at the Beck’s.
A slight pull of the reins turned Romeo up the Beck’s driveway and he then walked us into the yard by the back door. We saw the door open and Ted came out followed by his father who was explaining in Danish that the Dr’s horse should be put in the barn. Dad, with his satchel in hand, went into the house with Mr. Beck just as Peter was coming out with another lantern. Peter and I stood beside Romeo as Ted unhitched him and started him on the way to the barn. In the dim lantern light you could see clouds of steam rising off Romeo as we walked along behind him. Peter said,, "You must have run him most of the way out here as he sure is sweating". I replied that dad had let Romeo run his own pace and that he had walked very little. We were then entering the barn and you could see frost around the horse’s nostrils and along his flanks. "Sure would have to blanket him if he had to stand outside", Peter continued as Ted led him to a stall. "I’m glad you could come along with your dad and that it’s Saturday and no school. My father said we should stay out in the barn for awhile and then we can go in the house. I’m supposed to see what eggs I can find and want to show you a mink that I trapped on Wednesday".
Peter started for the section of the barn where the chickens were kept and caused quite a commotion among the hens coming in with a lantern that early in the morning. He went through a series of nest and retrieved about a dozen eggs and put them in the bottom of a milk pail he had me carry. I followed him to an attached tool shed and there Peter showed me a beautiful black mink he had trapped down by the creek. It was dead and probably should have been skinned immediately after it was caught, but Peter wanted to take it over to Fireman Hansen’s so that his son could show him how to "case" the hide. Certain animal skins have to be "cased" while others are dried flat. Casing requires that you only cut the skin from the roots (sic) of the tail and partly down each leg far enough so that you can pull the bone and flesh from the skin. A cut must also be made so that the trail bone can be pulled from inside the tail. You then pull the skin inside out over the head and front paws. This whole process has to be carefully done to produce no tears. The skin is then placed over a shaped board to dry.
"What do you think I could get for it?" Peter said. "It’s sure prime fur and a good sized mink", he added, stroking the fur gently hoping to enhance its value with his comments, I'm sure you could get ten dollars at least" was my opinion, and Peter added, Maybe fourteen as Taylor Fur Company offers that much for a large black mink. I'll ask Raymond when I have him show me how to skin it this afternoon or tomorrow. He catches lots of them." "Boy, Raymond sure has a wonderful job as a clown and then does nothing all winter but trap. That's the kind of life to live", I said with a touch of envy in my voice.
Fireman Hansen was a fireman on a Soo line engine. That in itself was exciting enough for a young boy. I might add here that his real name was Hans Hansen, but was called fireman" to differentiate him from five or six other Hans Hansens that lived in this immediate area. A few others were "Superior" Hansen as he had come from Superior, Wis., "Frenchtown" Hansen because that was where he lived, "Restaurant" Hansen because that was his business and so on. Although this was a small community of about 320 people, including those in nearby farms, the presence of five or six Hans Hansens could be confusing in conversations unless the exact identity could be immediately recognized by a definite defining name. Fireman Hansen’s youngest son Raymond was the point of our admiration.
Unusual as it may be, coming from a community as small as this, Raymond was a circus clown. He was no ordinary clown but a clown with Ringling Brothers Circus!! We all knew that this was the greatest circus in the world. It had five rings and none of us ever dreamed of seeing it as it only went to very big cities. But Raymond was in it and a very accomplished man, in our estimation. How he became a Ringling clown was unknown to me, and I think most of the people in the area. It bothered me that dad or mother and others whom I knew so well did not have the answer. In later years I met Raymond on a number of occasions, but never had the gumption to ask him as such a question I felt, would be embarrassing to him. At any rate, Raymond was a sort of an ideal and besides, he was a trapper of reputation. This to a small boy was in itself an accomplishment of merit. Although I do not know the facts, Raymond probably trapped bears and, without question, wolves. As Peter and I were admiring the mink, I told him of my experience with the "probable" wolf pack on the way to his house. Peter being a country boy, who saw an opportunity to impress a boy from town said, "Aw, that's nothing. We see their tracks around every day". My excited reply was, "Did you ever see one?" "Non Peter replied. "They always come out at night and it's too dark to see them with a lantern, but I've heard them howl many times. "You didn't hear them last night, did you? was my immediate question, hoping to add fire to the flame kindled a few hours earlier. "Naw, I sure didn't; besides if a pack of wolves were stalking they're not supposed to howl, only when they're alone and looking for other wolves. Letts go in the house as it's getting cold out here and besides I'm hungry.
We squeaked along the path to the house, with the pail of eggs and Peter with the lantern which was unnecessary now as the light from the eastern sky lighted the entire farmyard. You couldn’t see the sun as it had come up in a low lying cloud bank. "It seems to be getting colder since we went to the barn", I said and Peter replied, "It’s always colder just at dawn when the sun comes over the horizon." This little fact of nature I already knew and offered no reply as we walked up the back steps and opened the door to the kitchen.
The Beck’s kitchen was large, as in all farm houses and equipped for complete family living, except sleeping. Farm kitchens are always the center of activity, particularly in winter, as the kitchen wood range is the main source of heat for the entire house. The dining room adjoining the kitchen had its pot bellied stove or airtight heater, but is not kept going unless necessary. I must add that there are corners that escape circulation and, particularly on a windy winter’s day, are no place for house plants or water in any kinds of containers. The bedrooms, if on a second floor above, usually had to profit alone from the ceiling registers in the kitchen and dining room. As we went into the kitchen, I could hear a baby cry and Peter said, "I guess I have a baby brother". I did not question his statement. Peter poured out two glasses of milk and sliced two thick slices of bread that was standing on the kitchen table. There was also a large crock of butter and quart jar of jam of some kind. We both buttered our slice of bread and Peter offered the jam and said "wild strawberry we picked last summer. The fresh home baked bread was good as was the jam. Peter offered to cut all we wanted. You could hear footsteps above and voices through the ceiling register as we sat at a big round oilcloth covered table. A very short time later we heard footsteps on the stairs and Mr. Beck entered the kitchen. Mr. Beck was carrying a bundle of blankets and dad a coffee cup. Mr. Beck smilingly announced, "Well, Peter, you have a baby sister. Won’t that be nice for your mother? She can help her with the house work. I have three boys to help me with the farm." Peter and I got up and went over to look at the baby and Peter asked what her name was. Mr. Beck replied, "Anna. Don’t you think Anna Beck sounds nice?" Peter agreed and we went back to the table to finish our bread and jam. Dad, in the meantime, had been washing his hands in the tin basin in the kitchen sink. He dried them on a roller towel and went to the range and poured himself a cup of coffee and brought it to the table.
Mr. Beck had put the baby in a crib in the corner of the kitchen and brought a cup of coffee to the table himself. "Well, doctor, I cannot pay you now, but when I get the next milk check I’ll bring the money in". He then added, looking at the clock, "Peter, you better get out to the barn and help Ted and Jens with the milking as I will not be out this morning. Tell Ted to hitch up the doctor’s horse as he will be leaving in about ten minutes. Peter rather reluctantly got up and went to the sink to wash the extra jam from his face and offered his goodbye to me and said he would let me know how much he would get for the mink. "I’ll see you in school Monday" he added as he went out the door. Dad and Jens talked Danish for some time, only part of which I could understand. Dad finally got up and shaking Jen’s hand said, "Don’t worry about the "penge", you can bring it in when you can". Dad and I were into our coats and I could see through the window that Ted had brought Romeo and hitched him to the cutter and was standing there holding the bridle.
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