7th Grade: A New Life

As I sped down the hill on my new black Schwinn bicycle, a new assurance gave me an overwhelming joy. I was saved and I had a place reserved for me in heaven. This new assurance had come to me a few months prior, at a church camp, when my camp counselor explained to me from the bible how I could be saved. And then I knelt down beside him in his cabin, and prayed that Jesus would come into my life and take control of my life. Instantly, after my prayer, I received a new peace, that after I die, I would go straight to heaven. From that point on my life was changed, not because of anything external or because of changed circumstances, but because I had a changed heart due to a new life inside of me. I had Jesus in me and He had given me a new peace, a new assurance, and a new attitude about life. I felt new and clean inside. In reality, at age twelve, I really did have a new life!

We had recently moved from our Montevideo farm to a house in the city of Montevideo. I don’t remember anything about the move, or about the house we moved into, but I do have a few memories—besides my salvation experience at camp.

One of my clear memories was when I was on the wresting team in 7th grade. I always thought I was a good wrestler, since I always beat my brother. But I found out different. Either I was really bad, or the guys I wrestled were really good—probably a little of both. Anyway, I had a rude awakening.

Another clear memory was of the city swimming pool, which was only a few blocks from our house. It only cost 10 cents, and for that one dime you could swim there all day if you wanted. And some days I did just that. It was so much fun. There were two slides and also two diving boards—a lower one and a high one. The high dive was scary, but I did try it a couple times.  It was in that pool that I learned how to swim. Mom insisted that we take swimming lessons, and we all did.

One other good memory of that place in Montevideo, was playing baseball with all the neighbor kids in a nearby park. I remember how easy it was to get a game together. We just walked, or ran, down the streets and yelled out something like, “Who wants to play baseball?” We seemed to always get enough kids to play. We played for hours at a time. And now that I think of it, we also played football. That was a little rougher, but I loved it. Those were the days!

Next post: 8th and 9th Grade: New Challenges

On the Farm: The Farmhouse and Surroundings

This is our tractor and barn in the background. I don’t know some of these people, but I think that’s my sister behind the tractor steering wheel. She looks to be about two or three, so that would put me at one, or maybe not even born yet.

My most pleasant childhood memories, up to about age 12, was my life on the farm. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we moved around a lot as a family, so it has been hard to keep all the memories straight in my mind, as far as how long we lived at each place. But the farm near Montevideo, Minnesota was the most memorable to me. And I think we lived there at three different times: from my birth to about age thee (which I don’t remember at all), then from age 7 to 8, and then also at a later time when I was about 11 or 12. In between those times we lived at 3 or 4 different houses. Don’t ask me why. But the farm near Montevideo was by far the best place, the best farm.

The Montevideo farm house and buildings were located in an area where, they say, use to be an Indian camp. If you were to look down from above on the area, you would see the farm house and buildings in the middle, surrounded by a winding creek. Then, beyond the creek, in a larger circle, the elevation steeply rises until it reaches the top, where it levels off into beautiful alfalfa and oat fields.

Actually, the creek only goes three-quarters of the way around, to leave room for the long narrow driveway which went out to the main gravel road. To the right, a little way down the road there is a bridge, under which the creek runs. To the left of the driveway the road sharply ascends and then branches off to the left and right to other nearby farms. (I should explain that none of the buildings, including the house are still there. I’m not sure about the driveway, but I’m pretty sure the creek remains. Yes, the last time I looked at a satellite map the creek was still in the same general area.)

The large, dirty white house was built on a small hill. The area was level in front, but lower in the back. It was a two-story house, but in spite of its size it didn’t have many rooms. The kitchen and dining area were all one room. The rest of the main floor was open with just one small adjoining room, like maybe a pantry or a sewing room.

And there was no bathroom in the house, but we had a three-hole outhouse outside; and in the wintertime we used a large pot with a toilet seat on top. We put Lysol in it to cover the stink. Nobody complained.

We also didn’t have running water. Oh, there was plenty of water, but not in the house. We had to walk down by the barn to get it from an artesian well. Hauling the water was usually my job. For a little guy, it was a big chore, especially since it was a long way to go, about 60 or 70 yards.

The second story of the house was where us kids would sleep. It was a large open area. Okay, I guess it was really the attic. The rafters were showing and nothing was painted; it was all bare wood. I suppose for a country house it was normal. Anyway, in the winter time it was cold up there, with only one small vent to let the warm air come up from below. I remember in the morning, after getting up, we would huddle around that opening to get warm.

The barn (pictured above) was a great place to hang out, especially in the morning when the cows were all in their stanchions, eating hay and being milked. Ah, to see those contented cows gave me a feeling that all was well in the world. Our dog brownie and the cats hung out there too, waiting to get some fresh cow’s milk. Everyone was happy in the barn, and busy. The cows had to be milked and fed; and later, after they went out to pasture, the gutters, full of manure, had to be cleaned out—scooped out and hauled outside. We had nothing fancy. We just wheeled it out the barn door into a wheel barrel and dumped it outside in a big pile. Later we loaded some of it up in a manure spreader and spread it around on the fields. We even used it on the garden—and boy did that work. We had the best watermelons you ever saw—until the pigs got into it. But that’s another story.

As with most farms, we had a silo adjacent to the barn, which we used mostly to store silage. When it was empty, sometimes we climbed up the ladder on the silo, even though we weren’t supposed to. I don’t think any of us ever got all the way up; it was a long way up.

Above the lower part of the barn, where the cows were milked and fed, was the hay loft. It was a great place to play. But I can’t remember playing there much; we had too much work to do—the chores! I will get to that later.

I want to tell you about the other places. Sort of across from the house was a shed we called a grainery, where oats were stored—mounds and mounds of oats.  Sometimes we would jump around in there and get buried up to our waste. And sometimes we would see mice in there, crawling around in the oats. I never liked seeing mice…anywhere, except in a mouse trap.

Between the house and the barn, we planted a large vegetable garden. My dad and mom planted it, and it was my job to pull the weeds. Some days I worked at it for hours. I didn’t mind it too much, but my mom would feel sorry for me. I remember one time she said to me, “Oh, you’re such a good son, you’ll get your reward in heaven.” From that point on I started to think a lot about what heaven might be like. My mom probably wasn’t aware of it, but her words at that moment became a turning point in my life; and in just a few years I would give my life to Christ.

From the garden going toward the creek was a muddy pig pen—where I remember one time my sister jumped in and was coated with black mud from head to foot. I don’t know why she did that. And she was the smart one! Next to the pig pen was the chicken coop with chickens, and then down the hill to the left was a large rickety sheep barn. At one time we had, I think, over 500 sheep.

Well, that’s enough for this post. Next time I will tell you about the chores, mainly my chores.

On the Farm: First Grade in A One-Room Schoolhouse

My school looked almost identical to this one, except there was only one door.

Life on the farm was far different than life in the city. I don’t remember too much about my life in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The main thing I remember is that I went to kindergarten there, and there were paved streets and sidewalks. I don’t recall moving to the farm near Montevideo, but I remember first grade. The little schoolhouse was white and there were two outhouses in the back on each side, one for the girls and one for the boys.

The inside of the schoolhouse was all open—one big room. And it had a large wood burning stove or furnace near the front. That’s funny, I don’t remember ever having to get wood for the furnace. I guess the teacher did that before all the kids arrived in the morning, and maybe she added wood during recess and lunch breaks. Who knows? But I know she never called on me to help. Maybe because I was only a kid—in the first grade.

I vividly remember what the inside of the school looked like. There were about four or five rows of student desks. I’m not sure how many grades of kids there were, just that there were three in my grade: Rollie, Cheryl, and me. Cheryl sat in the middle of our row and Rollie and me were in the front and back. I know that because I remember how me and Rollie would always be poking Cheryl and pulling her hair. I would pull her hair from the back, and then when she turned around to hit me, Rollie would get her from the front. But it was all in fun!

You know, I don’t remember ever getting in trouble, at least not in the first grade. I really liked the teacher. I think everyone did. I wish I cold remember her name. I do have a very old picture of her. She looks to be about 25.

I learned a lot in the first grade: how to read, write and do arithmetic. And then after the first grade I have no memories of school until 7th or 8th grade. It’s all a blank. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because as a family we moved a lot. From age 6 to age 13, I would say we moved about six times to different houses and schools. So, I had so many different teachers and class mates. I really can’t tell you what happened to me, but my guess is that all the mental confusion of moving, along with family troubles, caused me to just shut down.

I do have one school memory—a very unpleasant one. I can’t tell you what school or grade it was, but I was sitting, looking out the window, and the teacher came over and grabbed me by my ear and almost pulled it off.  She didn’t like that I was day dreaming instead of paying attention to her teaching. So, I have a feeling that that was what my school life was like all the time: sitting in class, but wishing I was somewhere else, anywhere but school.

Oh, one more thing I remember about first grade. Walking there. I don’t remember ever getting a ride to school. The three of us kids always had to walk. My sister Diane was two years older than me, and my brother Mark was one year younger. Anyway, it was a long way to walk for us kids, more than a mile I’m sure. It was a gravel road all the way, and rarely would we see cars on the road. So we usually just walked down the middle of the road. I don’t know why I did it, but I can remember picking up rocks from the road and throwing them toward, and even at, my sister. I guess at that age I didn’t have much of a sense that little rocks could actually hurt someone. I know I wasn’t especially close to my sister, but still, throwing rocks at her was a terrible thing to do, and I regret it.