February 25th…….”HOW DID A MOVIE IMPACT YOUR MOTHER’S YOUNG LIFE AS A CHILD WHILE GROWING UP ON THEIR FARM NEAR SCARVILLE, IOWA?”
The year 1921 brought the delightful squeals of “Aunt Etty! Aunt Etty!” which came from the happy face of a little toddler, Clarice Arlone Sletten. Her still unsure, two year old legs brought her wobbling on a run from their farm house near Scarville, Iowa. “Etty” was actually Esther Rogness, the youngest sister of Clarice’s mother, Amanda Margaret Rogness Sletten. Born a mere ten years earlier than Clarice, in 1909, Esther became more of a “sister”, in heart, to her tiny Norwegian niece rather than her official title of aunt. With a bow in her hair, and a smile a mile wide, the now 12 year old Aunt “Etty” ran towards her pixie of a niece and swept her up in her big girl arms for a smothering of kisses as they settled to the lush green grass under the shade trees on that perfect Iowa day. Timothy grass and alfalfa fields, freshly cut by Grandpa Martin Sletten’s team of horses, lent a perfume that floated on air and wrapped about them as Clarice and Esther exchanged loving cuddles there on that lawn of the family farm near their village of Scarville.
A camaraderie and kindred spirit flourished between these two Norwegian young ladies that melded and welded them close through those foundational years of little Clarice’s life. Yet, like the passage of time itself, the only thing consistent in life is change. With passing years, Esther was now blossoming into a very lovely young woman and eventually garnered the attention of a local young man by the name of Oscar Bidne. As Esther grew in her courting friendship with Oscar, she became acquainted with his immediate and extended family. Some of the Bidne family girls, that she was building a relationship with, were similar in age to young Clarice. Little Miss Sletten, though, not receiving the regular adoration of Aunt “Etty” that she had been accustomed to, felt slighted and those feelings brought her to the conclusion of telling herself a sad story. Amanda, Clarice’s mother, was drawn one day to the sound of a little girl wailing. Standing at their bedroom doorway, Amanda confirmed that it was her little Clarice, laying on her bed and flooding her pillow with tears. Noticing her matriarch nearby, she ran to her beloved mother. Short-statured, Clarice buried her face in her mother’s apron and sobbed, “Aunt Etty won’t love me anymore now that she has those other girls to be friends with”!!! Amanda comforted and stroked the hair of her eldest child as she lovingly gathered some of her apron to wipe away those little girl tears. Mrs. Sletten, in that tender moment, assuaged her daughter’s fears and assured her that Aunt “Etty” would always have a special place, reserved in her loving heart, for her tiny niece, Clarice.
The years, like water, flowed by until mid-summer of 1929. Esther, now Mrs. Oscar Bidne, once again cemented in Clarice’s young heart just how much she relished their special familial heart connections by inviting Clarice, now 10 years old, to a movie with her and Oscar in the big city of Albert Lea, Minnesota. As newlyweds of only two years, the Bidnes rolled into the Sletten farm yard on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. Before the dust could even settle around their Dodge, Clarice burst out of the family’s farm home in sheer and abundant joy as she bounced around the Bidne car.
Any time, in that agrarian Norwegian culture, it was customary, out of love, to invite guests arriving at your farm home to come in for some coffee, sandwiches and maybe some lefse before bidding them “God Speed” on the next leg of their journey. With hugs all around, food in their tummies and well wishes, Oscar fired up that ’27 Dodge Sedan while Clarice received permission to climb into the back seat. The Sletten’s herd of dairy cows must’ve sensed something special, too, as they trotted alongside the barbed wire fence as the Bidne car picked up speed on the gravel road which would, eventually, lead them across the border into Minnesota. With each bump of the gravel road, summer winds fluttered profusely through the open windows of Uncle Oscar’s car. Zigzagging through the gravel roads of beautiful farm land, the three musketeers eventually crossed the State Line and entered Minnesota. Now it was the short jaunt up the highway to Albert Lea and see the recently released movie called, “Noah’s Ark”.
The majestic Broadway Theater had been built in 1903 and lauded itself as “Southern Minnesota’s Most Beautiful Theater”. Originally, plays and musicals had been performed on its stage, but now, with the advent of film, movies were shown upon the massive screen to enjoy. The actual film that Clarice and the Bidnes were about to view took place in two time periods. It began with a story based around World War I (One). The film though, did a flashback into the time of Noah’s Ark. Actors and actresses took on double rolls from the modern World War I story and then those same players played the part of Noah and other Bible characters of ancient times. Toward the end of the epic film, those biblical characters once again returned to their modern counterparts as they saw World War I coming to an end and thus the grand finale of the film itself.
In the first book of the Bible, from Genesis Chapter 5:32 through Chapter 10:1, Clarice had heard the story of Noah’s Ark from her family Bible readings as well as her Sunday School times at Lime Creek Lutheran Church. As she sat transfixed in the movie theater that day, it wasn’t the World War I segment of the movie that captured her 10 year old heart. It was the vivid and terrifying scenes of the film where people who had rejected God, and His servant Noah, were left outside the Ark to drown in the ever increasing flood waters around them. Clarice’s tender spirit was forever impressed that she, too, wanted to be like Noah; to be obedient to her God and to be saved safely on the inside of that ark of rescue and “not left outside that door”. Eighty years later, now in her 90’s, our beloved mother STILL would produce tears and her voice would quiver with emotion as to the amazing impact that movie had on her life as a Christian way back in 1929. What a gift of inspiration Aunt “Etty” gave to her Clarice, the mother of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.