Norwegian Farmer’s Son…April 11th


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Christmas cards were the way to Elliott getting a new bicycle.

Tell me, does this add up?…….Christmas cards + 90 degree Summer heat = new bicycle.  Well, it added up for me back in the Summer of 1965.  Dreams are quick to course through the imaginative mind of a young boy when you’re 11 years of age.  A major desire was ignited for me by the arrival of a Christmas greeting card catalog that landed in our old metal mailbox out by the gravel road that passed by our farm.  Along with the greeting card catalog was a second catalog that contained all the wonderful array of prizes that could be earned by selling just the right amount of boxes of those cards.  The bigger the prize you desired, the higher number of boxes of cards you would have to sell to achieve that prize.  It was the card company’s way of rewarding your efforts to sell their cards.  It didn’t take too many turns of the prize catalog’s pages before my eyes LOCKED ON to the fabulous photo of a handsome, red, three speed bicycle.  My little 20″ bike, there on the farm, had only one speed……ME…..huffing n puffing as fast as my legs could peddle.  But this marvel of bicycle engineering would allow me THREE whole speeds and 26″ tires to shift into for lightning speeds (or so I imagined).

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Elliott thought of how he could make his dream come true.

Now, the logistics of achieving that bike would take some doing.  First, I’m sure I whined my poor mother and father’s ears off into acquiescing to this young lad’s fortuitous hopes of selling enough cards to earn that bike.  The next step was who could I sell those cards to, and how many boxes to each customer?  The next hurdle was a timeline.  How fast could I sell those boxes of cards and get them back in time for the holiday season that fall?  And, IF I sold the required number of 65 boxes…….how fast could I get my new bicycle?  The great British statesman, Winston Churchill, once said, “Success is walking from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm”  …..THAT was how I took the “no thank yous” from people that summer because I wanted that handsome bike in a big way!

#65=Elliott on Little Lady with Morton Holstad, 1963
Elliott’s beloved pony, “Little Lady” would be his vehicle to success in traveling the local countryside and to Kiester, Minnesota as he sold Christmas cards.  The former Landlord of our farm, Morten Holstad, holds the Shetland’s reins with Elliott “on board”.

The next step was, how will I reach my potential customers?  We lived three miles out of town in the farm country and even our next door neighbor’s farms were a half mile and even farther away from our farm.   “Shank’s horses” (my own two legs) would take forever to walk those kind of distances!!!  Hmmmm…….thinking, thinking, thinking………..YES, of course, of course!!!!  I would saddle up and ride my trusty steed, “Little Lady”, who was our gentle Shetland mare.  It has been common knowledge, over time, that Shetland ponies, in general, are known for their mean/angry dispositions, but not our dear lil filly!   Happily, we were blessed with a sweet little equine angel, so therefore, she was christened as “Little Lady”.   So, sales materials were now loaded into a satchel that could be hooked over my pony’s saddle horn, then it was foot to the stirrup, up on the saddle and off we’d go, “Little Lady” and I, on the gravel roads of our farming community seeking customers.

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Elliott’s hometown was just about a mile or two from the Iowa border.

If I had been rich, I would have bought and brought along one of those new-fangled cassette tape recorders with me that hot summer of selling Christmas cards and here’s why.   Normally, Christmas, in our part of America, was associated with frigid temperatures and a blanket of thick white snow.   To the households I visited that summer, it seemed completely incongruous to the lady of the house to have a youngster selling Christmas cards in the boiling, 90 degree Summer heat of July.

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Elliott knocked on so many doors that summer as he tried to sell Christmas greeting cards.

I would faithfully rattle off my sales pitch of how lovely these Christmas cards were, and how that they could be “personalized” with the family name and any message they’d like to have printed on each card.  Inevitably, the lady of each home would ask the same question after my sales pitch.  “Young man, it’s July and it’s 90 degrees out today!!! Why are you selling Christmas cards in July?”  Like a “human tape recorder” I would then have to repeat and repeat and repeat the reasons, to each household, why I had to sell the cards in July………THAT’S why I wish I would’ve had a tape recorder along 😉

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Elliott’s goal was finally achieved and money collected!!

Eventually, through perseverance and many generous neighbors and family, I finally achieved my sales goal.  Mom counted the customer’s money (cash and checks), and then wrote out one check (from our family’s checking account) to pay for the large order.  She then graciously filled out the grand official order form to the “Junior Sales Leadership Company” (or whatever that business was called).  When she finished all that, I literally ran the order form out to that old metal mailbox at the gravel road and wished that Mr. Kabe, our dear mailman, would come fast!  True to their word, the card company sent us a big, cardboard box full of the lovely and festive Christmas cards that everyone had ordered.  Each box of cards were handsomely embossed with each family’s names and personal greetings.   With fall, now having arrived with its wet weather, Mom and Dad and I piled into our 1956 Chevy to deliver all those cards to the farm families, town folk and relatives that had ordered cards from me.  They all were pleased and it was a fun moment for this little salesman to see!

It was late Winter/early Spring of 1966 before my cherished and greatly anticipated new bike came from the card company rewards division.  I rode that handsome set of wheels with great pride for it was the concrete evidence of a valuable life lesson of hard work for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.

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Elliott’s village of Kiester, Minnesota had many generous people who bought his cards and helped him achieve his goal of a new bike.  In these days, the town had a population of over 700 people.

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