January 24th….”PLEASE TELL US ABOUT ONE OF YOUR PATERNAL UNCLES. WAS HE HANDSOME? WHAT WAS HIS EARLY LIFE LIKE IN NORTHERN MINNESOTA?”
A midwife, bundled against the frigid, northern Minnesota winds rushed into the farm’s warm kitchen. She arrived that night as an angel of mercy and help to the rural farm home of Edwin A. and Marie Louise Noorlun. That farm lay near the town of Mahnomen, Minnesota which resides within the White Earth Chippewa Indian Reservation. For that time in history, the town sported a healthy population of 989 stalwart souls who clung to the wildness of that wooded land.
The snowy chill and whiteness of that day on December 10th, 1925 was not about to hold back the drama and warmth of a tiny, new life that was about to be brought into the world. That new life, complete with a set of loud lungs, was my paternal Uncle Erwin Maurice Noorlun. Being born the sixth, out of eight children, this handsome little boy child was about to begin a very remarkable life. In a smiling, poetical sense……..Erwin was destined to find that he would mimic the definition of his hometown’s name; for you see, Mahnomen, in the Chippewa tongue, means “wild rice”; and Erwin was going to have some fun in life sewing his own……”wild rice” 😉
Not only was my Uncle Erwin a very handsome Norwegian boy, but he was as sharp as the proverbial tack, too. School came easy for our uncle who often excelled in his studies to the point of garnering championships in the local school’s Spelling Bee competitions. Erwin was also faithful in lending his youthful, muscular prowess in helping with the family chores there on their farm in the big woods of northern Minnesota.
The Noorlun family had been raised in the Norwegian Lutheran Church. It appears to make logical sense (at the time) that the church elders desired to preserve the cultural heritage of Norway. So, to provide for the senior saints in their midst, who still spoke mostly Norwegian, there would be one worship in English and one in Norwegian. Grandpa Ed and Marie concurred with that edict, so Erwin and his siblings were required to attend not just one, but TWO worship experiences every Sunday. One worship time was in the English language (for the younger crowd, perhaps) but then, Erwin and his antsy siblings had to stay seated in those long, hard pews for a repeat worship, only this second time around, the experience was all in Norwegian. Therefore, when the occasion arose for four of the Noorlun brothers to have their photograph taken one Sunday, before leaving for the double morning worship time, it’s no wonder that they all showed themselves sour-faced about what they were about to endure that morning at church! 😉
Horses played a prominent role in the farm life of the Noorlun family. All of those good looking Norwegian siblings were adept at riding a horse. My father, Russell, even spoke of being so comfortable with the giant draft horses, that he’d climb aboard their broad backs and fall asleep on lazy summer days while those equine leviathans gently foraged in their pasture land.
In kin with his brother Russ, one of Uncle Erwin’s early employments was to deliver mail to many Mahnomen area farmers. Like a repeat of the storied “Pony Express” riders of western legend, Erwin carried out this task on horseback in that same proud tradition of faithfully getting the mail delivered.
In 1935, when Erwin was a mere 10 years old, his quiet-mannered father bartered a deal to trade away one of their handsome teams of horses in exchange for procuring the Noorlun family’s very first car. That 1928 Model A Ford sure didn’t whinny like a horse, but there were plenty of “horses” under that hood. Now, true to fact, our Grandfather Edwin had never driven a car before. From his birth in 1888, to that day in 1935, Edwin’s life was spent with horses; either riding on top of them or driving a team from behind them. Was he gonna “bronco break” this metal hombre, or would the metal hombre “break” HIM? Edwin Noorlun was a horseman through and through. Yet here he was, now the master of a metallic, mechanized marvel that happened to be pointing towards their shed that day. Erwin’s dear daddy crawled inside this new-fangled “animal”. Edwin managed to bring the beast’s engine to a coughing, sputtering life and somehow even popped it into gear. Only problem was, there were no leather reins to pull to control the “horses under the hood”. The Model A was on a roll, picking up speed and heading right for the shed. Grandpa Edwin started yelling, “WHOA!! WHOA!!!”, as if he was still talking to his team of horses. Thankfully, and in the nick of time, Ed found the brake pedal on the floor and stopped the Ford just before he crashed into that wooden structure. Erwin’s mother, Marie, began a hearty laugh at her horse-farmer husband who kept yelling, “WHOA!!” at the car!!! By this time, the whole family joined in hysterical laughter at the happy ending of what could have been a crashing experience.
As if right out of the pages of “Little House On The Prairie”, a few more years down the road of life passed by when our Uncle Erwin (along with his family) saw a prairie fire erupt and consume their family’s barn in horrific flames. For a farming family that relied on horses to help them till the land of their farm, thirteen-year-old Erwin could only stand by and suffer the trauma of seeing several of their precious horses burned to death in that fire. His father, Edwin, had valiantly tried to coach the animals out of the burning barn, but the confusion of the smoke and mayhem around those fine horses was too much for them to bear and they could not be led to safety. This left Edwin no choice but to save himself and get out of that conflagration before he, too, would be killed. Yet, even in such sadness, every cloud has a silver lining, and thankfully, as was the noble norm for those times, many friends, family and neighbors came together to re-build the Noorlun family a brand new barn to house their remaining livestock.
An old saying goes like this: “The only thing consistent in life is change” Even though the death of those fine horses touched Erwin deeply, it was time to celebrate those that survived and prepare for the inevitable change that comes with a new chapter of life. To capture that thankful moment, Erwin led out one of the survivor horses, while Mr. John Kinney carefully coached the mare’s little colt alongside. A photograph was snapped and a new beginning commenced.
Thank you, Lord, for the fine life lived by the uncle of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son………(to be continued) 😉