July 27th…“WHAT MADE A FAMILY VACATION SPECIAL TO YOU AS A CHILD IN YOUR MINNESOTA DAYS?”
In the placid darkness of early morn, the fragrant aroma of Dad’s “Old Spice” cologne was emanating from his clean-shaven face as his sinewy arms reached around and under my little sleeping body. He gathered me and all my blankets in one loving lift as my toddler head now rested on his shoulder. Even though still blissfully in the holds of Dreamland, I could feel my flaccid body float as it became airborne while Dad bore me to our family’s black, 1950 Buick Super Fastback that sat outside the back door of our humble farm home. The Buick’s Fireball engine was already purring and the car’s heater sent that warmth inside to the back seat where Dad gently poured me into my spot and closed the car door while he went back upstairs to gather my little sister, Candi, in the same tender manner.
Our loving parents had already loaded the backseat of our car with some of our favorite toys, coloring books, crayons, etc.. As sweet little sister, Candice, was cuddled into the backseat with me, we both drifted peacefully back to sleep in the o’dark thirty hour that it was. The pleasant drone of our parent’s voices joined us as they slipped into the front seat and our vacation chariot rolled out of our gravel driveway and pointed north.
Vacations were SO SPECIAL in our Minnesota days because, as a farmer, our hard working father had to milk our 15 head of Holstein dairy cows twice each day, 7 days a week for 365 days of each year. In order to take any type of vacation, it was not only going to cost our parents the price of gas and food on our journey, but it would also cost them the money to hire someone to come in to milk our dairy herd and take care of the other animals on our farm while we would be gone. Those types of expenditures usually made vacations few and far between. This is totally opposite to what today’s vacation culture is like. Most employers today provide an employee with two, three or more weeks of a PAID vacation to enjoy each year. Not so for our farming family. That made this vacation extra special………among other things 😉
On this joyous vacation, our family car followed the compass needle that always points north. In this case, that northward pull would take us to the northern reaches of our Home State and our father’s childhood hometown of Mahnomen, Minnesota. The word, Mahnomen, is from the Chippewa Indian language and it means “wild rice”. The town is actually located within the boundaries of the White Earth Indian Reservation.
Dad guided our shiny black metal chariot over the local country gravel roads and then we eventually caught the paved highways that drew us northward towards our vacation destination of Dad’s hometown. The golden rays of dawn sprang up from the eastern horizon as if to “catch up to us” as we rolled along. Those fingers of sunlight tickled awake the sleepy eyelids of sister and myself. As we lifted our heads to the backseat window level, we saw open farm country whizzing by. The arrow-straight rows of corn and soybean fields flew by so fast, in their rippling visual effect, that it was almost dizzying to watch.
Two or three hours farther into our journey, I happened to look up from the book I was reading and looked out the backseat window to see how the landscape had changed dramatically from our home area in the south central regions of this “Land Of 10,000 Lakes”. Birch and Pine forests now encroached themselves right up to the ditches of the highway itself. I began to feel a sense of claustrophobia from the looming trees that hovered over the roadways like wooden behemoths waiting to fall upon us.
As that reliable Buick of ours rolled into Mahnomen, I could only conjecture what our father may have been musing in his mind. Recognizing landmarks and memories, he may have said to himself, “Sure is good to be back home again in my old stomping grounds!” This is where our dad had his beginnings. Born near this berg in 1918, he suited up in bib overalls, like his fellow schoolmates, and had to walk three miles to and from school. Even through the snows of Minnesota winters, he still had to trudge those three miles round trip each day to get his education. I recall him sharing how scared he’d be in the evenings on his trek home when he’d hear timber wolves howling in those Birch-treed forests.
We soon arrived at the family farm of my mother’s brother, Robert Sletten. Farming life had a flavor all its own here in the northcountry woods of Minnesota. For one thing, Uncle Bob used Oliver tractors instead of the Farmall tractors that were common in our region near Kiester. This farmer boy enjoyed the Oliver tractors for their bold color contrast of red wheel rims, green body and yellow grill work. Another difference on uncle’s farm was the kind of truck he drove. We used a Ford truck on our farm and yet, here, Uncle Bob favored a late 1940’s model Dodge.
When it came time to scrub off the dirt n grime of farming, there was another difference of this farm family we were visiting. Uncle Bob, and his family, favored using “Lava Soap”. I loved the rough, gritty feel of the lava pumice that was incorporated into this cleansing bar. The pleasant fragrance of that bar soap was an experience I looked forward to each time we came for a visit.
Our northern kin were always so happy to see us arrive at their farm that was tucked into the those wooded lands. Quiet Uncle Bob and his gregarious, outspoken wife, Doris, treated us like royalty. Meals were so delicious and plentiful. After the meals, with cups of hot coffee in hand, the adults of our two clans then spent many an evening reminiscing about dear days gone by. Oh for the pleasure of listening to all those family stories that would be rehashed in those times of visiting. Laughter would peal from that quaint farm house like celebrating bells from a cathedral. Auntie Doris, taking in all this joviality, was renowned for her raucous belly laugh that capped every happy vacation evening like whip cream on a dessert. How delightful this all was on this special vacation time of a Norwegian Farmer’s Son.