I may be only one oat seed in a field of millions, yet I have a story to share of beginnings on our beloved farm in southern Minnesota and beyond to life as I've seen it to this point. Famous? No. Gifted? Unlikely. Yet, I want to leave a legacy to my children and grandchildren of who this gentle Norwegian man was. My happy times, sad times, successes and failures. Someday, those who are tiny now, will have this volume to come to and get to know this Norwegian Farmer's Son.
February 12th…..“HOW DID YOUR PARENTS, RUSSELL AND CLARICE, COME TO MEET EACH OTHER?”
Clarice’s clement and youthful footsteps could be heard against the country gravel road beneath her. The sultry summer of 1938 had her on a mission, that day, to purchase milk for her Sletten family table there in the tiny hamlet of Scarville, Iowa. The village, named after a pioneer known as Ole Scar, nestled within the northern boundaries of central Iowa and was a mere mile, or so, from the Minnesota border. Being just a year out of school, since graduating with the Scarville Class of 1937, Clarice’s slender Norwegian frame enjoyed the journey to the K.M. Knutson farm just outside and down the road a bit from her hometown’s city limits.
As if cheering her on towards her task at hand, a myriad of Meadowlarks fluted their happy songs to Clarice from the pastureland on one side of her and reciprocated to the green and vibrant cornfields that stood at attention upon the other side of that country lane. Meadowlarks were a favorite among many country folk because of their brilliant yellow breasts that could only be outdone in color by the summer sun that radiated above Clarice as she walked along. Coupling their winged-beauty with their bright song; these little harbingers of joy must’ve made Miss Sletten’s walk all the more pleasant as she approached the handsome farmstead of Mr. Knutson and began to relish the cooling shade of his tree-lined driveway.
In her possession that day was a metal, capped, one gallon milk can with a bail handle for carrying her “white delight” back home to their house in Scarville. Stepping through the Knutson barn’s “dutch” doors, Clarice caught the fragrance of alfalfa being fed to the herd of Holstein cows. Reminiscent from the days when her family had their own farm, another familiar sound could be heard down the line of bovine bodies. It was the sound of someone hand-milking a cow. A liquid-metallic zinging sound could be heard as the “hired hand”, Wilford Ulve, shot milk from a firm squeeze on one cow’s teat and then the other. Pretty soon, that liquid-metallic zing just became a creamy zlosh, zlosh, zlosh, zlosh as that milk level climbed higher in the milk pail that he had firmly placed beneath the large, milk-laden cow’s udder.
Wilford Ulve (and his lovely wife, Alice) was a “hired hand” that worked for Mr. K.M. Knutson on his farm there. Since being widowed, and now alone, Mr. Knutson needed and appreciated the youthful strength and companionship of the Ulve’s to keep his farm going. Clarice had come to know Wilford and Alice as good friends, over her many trips there for milk, and she enjoyed Wilford’s teasing ways as they’d banter back and forth with every visit. Today’s visit was to be enticingly different. “Heyy, Clarice, I’ve got this handsome cousin by the name of Russ Noorlun. He’s really nice, too! How’s about meeting him, blind-date style, and you two can go with us to a free movie night they’re having in Leland, Iowa?” Well, free was a good price, in those hard days of the 1930’s, and if this cousin was as good lookin’ and fun as Wilford was…….sure, why not! Mom’s answer was, “Sure, sounds fun!!!”
The magic date night had arrived when, banking into the Knutson farm driveway, a 1929 Chevrolet came rolling to a stop in front of the farm house. Out of the driver’s seat stepped a fellow Norwegian by the name of Russell Conrad Noorlun. Wavy dark hair, combed to a curled perfection, graced the head of this handsome young man. He was bedecked in a white shirt and tie, up top, and bell-bottomed corduroy slacks that made for a handsome spectacle of possibilities in the new friend/romance department.
Their blind date is no longer blind, now that introductions have been made by the host and hostess, Wilford & Alice Ulve. Full of good spirits, it was time for the four of those young folk to climb inside that ’29 Chev and enjoy the late afternoon drive through the gravel roads and croplands down to Leland, Iowa for the free movie night.
If Clarice would have her druthers, she likely hoped for seeing a movie that starred her two favorite movie idols……Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. Projecting on silver screens across the nation, in that summer of 1938, was the musical, “Girl Of The Golden West”, starring Clarice’s favorite duo. During that film, Nelson Eddy, being empowered by his masculine, baritone voice sings the song, “Who Are We To Say?”. Whatever the free movie that night may have been, there is pondering, on my humble part, that maybe Clarice and Russell may have asked themselves, “Who are we to say? Maybe this friendship will lead to something more!” Like the old adage says, “To make a long story short”…………a friendship was sparked from that first date that eventually led to marriage for Russ and Clarice and the birth of four little Norwegians…….one of whom is this Norwegian Farmer’s Son! 😉
February 11th…..“DID YOUR FATHER EVER BUILD SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR ONE OF YOUR SIBLINGS WHEN YOU LIVED ON THE FARM NEAR KIESTER, MINNESOTA?”
It’s possible that her Prince Charming (alias Daddy) sensed the susurration within the quiet heart of our little sister Candice Lynn ( we all knew her then, and now, as Candi ). Somehow Dad discerned that he would appropriate time and resources, from his busy farming lifestyle, to build his little princess a “castle”. It is a bit of a mystery as to the source of the inspiration that brought our farmer father to the point of deciding to building our little princess her very own playhouse there northwest of Kiester, Minnesota. A possible variable in our dad’s decision could have stemmed from the time when our elder brother, Lowell, had commandeered one of the small chicken houses on the farmyard and had transformed it into his very own clubhouse. It was an exclusive male-dominated hideout for big brother and his buddies. Another plausible genesis to this tiny castle idea may have come from our beloved “other grandpa”, Mr. Harry Bauman. Although Harry was not related to our family by blood, he was just as entwined in our hearts for as much as we all loved him.
“Grandpa” Harry was the possessor of a deeply generous heart. Even before our sister, Candi, entered the world in 1955, Harry often gave of his time, care, love and even his car when our young family had a need. There was the occasion when our mother wanted to visit her brother, Robert Sletten, and family way up in the northern Minnesota town of Mahnomen. Dear “Grandpa” Harry offered his reliable Ford as a chariot that safely hauled them all to northern Minnesota and back home again.
When our sister, Candi, came upon the scene in 1955, “Grandpa” Harry was just thrilled as he watched her grow and grow. He noticed that our little sister was just “as sharp as a tack” when it came to arithmetic and dealing with dollars. He marveled at her ability to “make change” with any dollar amounts given her. I, for one, surmise that “Grandpa” Harry, to show his love and esteem for Candi, teamed up with our father to make it a joint effort in creating a darling little playhouse “castle” for our sharp little sister to call her very own. What made this endeavor even sweeter is that Candi, being a tender heart, had never made an issue of even asking or badgering our dad for a playhouse. That youthful and honorable character trait is what made the creation of said dwelling that much sweeter.
So impressed was “Grandpa” Harry with our sister, Candice, that he once told our mother, Clarice, that if he were still alive at the time of our sister reaching college age, that he wanted to help put her through college. What love, what a heart of kindness was shown by this dear man!
Day by glad day, Dad and Harry gathered materials and began building our little sister her very own castle. Oh sure, cows had to be milked, and field work had to be accomplished, but, whenever time allowed, you’d find the Norwegian (Dad) and German (Harry) “Dynamic Duo” out there just north of our family home banging away on this cute creation.
All the accouterments of modernity graced Candi’s “castle” playhouse. An elegant feature was a “Living Room” bench that had a lifting lid that revealed toy storage underneath. Stylish vinyl flooring greeted one’s entrance. New, metal-framed windows were installed that opened and closed by latches. They even possessed screens to keep out the summer bugs. There was even a sweet little metal awning over the windows for shade or inclement weather. Somehow a precious munchkin-sized cabinetry was found to house all of our sister’s empty food cans, condiments and silverware. The midget cabinetry was just the right size for a little lady to turn on her imagination and play the day away there in the shade of the maple trees just north of our family home. It was a delightful time for not only Candi, but also for girl cousins who’d come by for visits. She even allowed this brother of hers to grace the doorway of her “home away from home”.
But, just like in the song, “Puff The Magic Dragon”…….”Jackie Paper came no more”. The year 1967 brought the end of our chapter of life on the farm there in southern Minnesota and our sister’s little castle had to find a new home because we were soon to leave on our journey to Washington State. Thankfully, during our farm auction, on July 22nd of that year, our big brother’s mother-in-law (Alpha Braund) bought Candi’s “castle” for her little grand prince and grand princesses to play in. In a way, Candi’s playhouse “castle” still stayed in the family of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
February 9th…..”DID YOUR MOTHER BECOME MORE TRANSPARENT, IN HER LATTER YEARS, REGARDING TOPICS LIKE MAY/DECEMBER ROMANCE, ETC.?”
The mellifluous mechanization of Father Time’s clockworks are lubricated by the tender viscosity of ever-increasing transparency as each of us travel down life’s path. I found this to be my observation in the life of our beloved mother, Clarice, who was the firstborn into her family back in 1919. From that juncture in history, till her passing into her Heavenly Home in June of 2017, I caught sight of her ways from stories that were shared from others (and herself), and also from the witnessing of my own parallel journey alongside her since I popped into the world in 1954.
As many firstborns will attest, a number of parents tend to heap great loads of responsibility upon the shoulders of their firstborn child. These progeny are oftentimes expected to “toe the line” of performance and obedience that, to the contrary, second and third-born children sometimes are allowed more forms of leniency.
It is only natural then, as I surmise, that along with that heavy burden of responsibility, a firstborn, such as our dear mother, would learn to please her elders and control her tongue, over the years, to protect and enhance the quality of every day life in her family and of those around her.
Another trait that I saw in our mother, as well as other firstborns, is the positive merit of holding someone’s feelings or emotions in strict confidence. Every family will pass through dark clouds of despair, from time to time, but a firstborn child, like our mother was, was always a stalwart fortress to hold one’s feelings in confidence; protecting those she loved and cared for by being a bastion of care for that person, whoever they may have been.
As years, and then decades, began to pass though, I noticed that the gears of Father Time’s clockwork were being lubricated with a more tender viscosity of transparency for our beloved mother. What used to be locked up within her, for the sake of those firstborn standards of earlier life, were now giving way to a gentleness in revealing her more candid thoughts on issues and people. For instance, as a little boy in our farm days in Kiester, Minnesota, I had run across a large bundle of love letters that our father had written to our mother back in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Out of her firstborn tendencies of respect and responsibility to our daddy, we were denied access to what was inside those letters, yet, in her latter days, she gently and willingly became more transparent to us and read a number of daddy’s love letters. It was a sweet moment to capture a glimmer of her and our father’s intimate love expressions to each other.
On a more humorous side of our mother, I found her transparency, in her latter days, caught me off guard and has given me a smile ever since. On occasion, I had the privilege of giving our mother transport to some of her doctor appointments. She had sold our family car and no longer was able to drive herself to various shopping and doctor visits. While driving through the lovely countryside of Clark County Washington, and to pass the time, I told her of the last Civil War widow in America. Her name was Alberta Martin. In the mid 1920’s, her first husband was killed in a car accident, leaving her a widow, all alone in the world, with a child to support. Life was very hard in those days, so, as a matter of survival, for her and her tiny child, she befriended and then married a Confederate Civil War veteran by the name of William Jasper Martin. Mr. Martin received $50.00 a month for his service during the War Between The States and that income would be a staple of security for Alberta and her child. Another child was conceived from this May/December marriage before Mr. Martin passed away in 1931. Alberta then married Mr. Martin’s grandson (from a much earlier marriage in his life) and they were a couple for more than 50 years.
After reflecting on what I had just shared with her, our dear mother gave me her “two cents” on the issue of a May/December romance. In her opinion, Alberta’s marriage to the elder Civil War veteran was not only a matter of survival but was a more acceptable union. What our mother, Clarice, said next caught me off guard and was an interesting point of transparent wisdom I had never heard. “It’s far better to bean old man’s darling, than a young man’s fool!” Quite a gal we had for the mother of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
February 7th……“SHARE WITH US HOW YOUR PATERNAL GRANDFATHER USED HORSES TO CUT, GATHER AND STORE GRASS HAY ON THEIR FARM EAST OF LAKE MILLS, IOWA.
Gentle equine snorts, from “Sugar” and “Cane”, fluttered their soft, hirsute nostrils in the amber glow of dawn’s light filtering through the barn windows. Weighing a full 2,000 pounds each, these massive Belgian draft horses rippled with muscles, yet their hearts were reciprocating the tenderness of the approaching master horseman (our grandfather, Edwin A. Noorlun) as he rolled aside the track-type barn door and entered that livestock repose to begin another day on the Ingebret Tollefson farm five miles east of Lake Mills, Iowa.
While Edwin harnessed “Sugar” and “Cane”, that resplendent Iowa sunrise was made even more illustrious by the happy cackle of an immense flock of chickens that gathered round Kjerstie Tollefson (Edwin Noorlun’s mother-in-law). That battered old galvanized bucket she carried was magic, as far as those feathered fowl were concerned, because from it, our great grandmother brought out handfuls of golden grain and broadcast it to the ground in the yard of their much loved farm. Those feathered friends of hers clustered near her as if she was the Pied Piper of Hamelin town.
The reason my grandfather was helping on the Tollefson farm, was because Ingebret and Kjerstie were no longer the young, Norwegian newlyweds that had begun farming that lovely land back in 1890. Both of my grandmother’s parents were in their winter years now, especially Kjerstie (who required a more constant health care), and needed someone’s assistance in helping to maintain that grand farm. My grandparents, Edwin and Marie, rose to the need of their clan and sold their family farm near Clearwater, Minnesota. In love and service to their elders they came to Iowa and moved into the Tollefson’s elegant two-story farm home as they began living out the Bible verse of 2nd Corinthians 1:4 by “coming alongside” Marie’s parents in their time of need.
Bedecked in the unison of their impressive leather harness, “Sugar” and “Cane” stepped lively now from that classically-styled barn. With heads high and energy fresh they were a handsome pair and ready for work. Walking behind his team, Edwin had gathered the reins in his sinewy hands while he “steered” those draft horses to the Sickle Mower by pulling more on the left reins (for a left turn) or pulling more to the right reins (for a right turn) of the team. With voice commands and a gentle, even pull, “Sugar” and “Cane” were obedient to their master and backed up to the Mower. Edwin hooked up the implement, climbed aboard the steel seat and drove the team out to the grass hay field for mowing.
Like Nature’s starting gun, a handsome, scarlet-feathered Northern Cardinal gave its shrill high whistle as our Grandpa Ed dropped his mower’s sickle blade to ground level. Our grandfather made a chirrup, clicking sound with his mouth and his handsome team pulled forward to begin the work. As the mower’s wheels went round n round, gears were activated that transferred a back n forth motion of the knives on the cutting bar. Like falling asleep, swaths of grass immediately laid down flat from the cutting action of the bar as Edwin rolled along the field. After many swaths later, the hay field was now completely cut and would lay a day or two in the sun to properly dry the grass in anticipation of the next operation.
Being a blessing to the Tollefsons was a family affair, so our young Uncle Gaylord Noorlun was put to work a couple days later with a draft horse team named, “Trixie” and “Dixie”. Gaylord hooked up the team to a device called a Dump Rake. This farming machine consisted of a long row of spring-steeled tines that were shaped in a giant curve form. Those tines were attached to the axle of the rake and could be raised and lowered by the operator. Gaylord set the tines to ground and slapped the reins to the backs of his horse team. They then pulled the implement across the field till the tines were full of the grass hay. It was then that Gaylord would “dump” that load of hay and begin again. Back n forth n back n forth he went, dumping the new batches of hay in alignment with what he had done previously. When finished, the field now had neat lines (also called windrows) of hay waiting to be harvested from the field.
Blessed with strapping sons, our Grandpa Ed enlisted at least two of those boys on the big day of haying. The hay field had been cut, then dried, then raked. Now, it was time to harvest that “food” for the many animals on the Tollefson’s farm that depended on our farming family to keep them alive during those long and bitter Iowa winters. “Sugar” and “Cane” were hooked up to the wide Hay Wagon (sometimes called a “Flat Rack”) , which, in turn, was hooked up to a tall implement known as a Hay Loader. The motion of the Hay Loader’s wheels created a gear-driven, syncopated movement of long arms that had “fingers”, so to speak, that grabbed and moved the hay upwards on the elevated ramp from the rotating tines down at ground level. Ed, and his proud team of draft horses, straddled the windrow of hay. As the straddled wagon wheels passed over the windrow, the rotating tines of the Hay Loader raked the hay up and towards the syncopated, fingered arms. The mass of hay then traveled up, up and over the top and then fell down onto the Hay Wagon where Ed’s boys used forks to move the hay around on the Flat Rack till it was mounded high. Someone then jumped off the wagon and unhitched the Hay Loader. It was now time to head for the barn and put this load up in the Hay Mow (the “ow” in the word sounds like OW….as when you get hurt).
While out in the field, loading the hay, our uncles had slung/thrown a series of ropes across the wagon at various depths of the hay load.
With the wagon now full of hay, Grandpa and his sons enjoyed the ride back to the farm yard to unload. Once the wagon of hay was in position at the barn, those ropes (mentioned earlier) then became what’s known as “slings” that would be used to pull large portions of hay up and into the Hay Mow.
“Sugar” and “Cane” now had a new job that day. They were unhooked from the Hay Wagon and re-positioned at the corner of the barn. The back “evener” of their harness was now attached to a strong, thick, VERY long rope that traveled inside the barn, around various pulley wheels and, eventually up to the Hay Mow and out the large, open Hay Mow door.
Starting with the top layer of hay on the wagon, those rope slings (mentioned earlier) were now brought up from the two sides of the wagon as Grandfather tied them into a knot that hooked to the tracking system above him. One of Edwin’s sons would then take the reins of “Sugar” and “Cane” and slowly drive them forward as they pulled on that long, heavy rope. The resulting pull on that rope began to pull that entire layer of hay up into the air till it connected with the iron tracking system at the top of the Hay Mow door opening. You’d hear a “click” as the tracking system now took the pile of hay horizontally into the barn’s Hay Mow. Another worker inside the Hay Mow watched the traversing hay as it “flew” down the track. At the proper spot, the worker yanked on a trip rope which released the load of hay from the slings and let it fall to the floor of the Mow. A weighted return rope was instrumental in helping to bring the slings back outside to repeat the process again and again till the Flat Rack was empty.
In the shadows of that evening, when the last load of hay was in the barn, not even the sad cry of a Mourning Dove could dampen the spirits of all the hard workers that day that came together in a quiet rejoicing to have been a blessing to our great grandparents in seeing all that grass hay harvested. The grateful ladies of our clan would make the call for “Come and get your supper!” A line of bib overalls and smiling faces bellied up to the wash basins and sinks to scrub off the day’s sweat and soil from their well-worn bodies. With caps off and hair combed, these “knights of the land” sat themselves down for a feast fit for a king. Many of you folks might remember how lavish a farm kitchen table can be when it’s laid out with every tasty morsel from A to Z. Although this all happened before my birth in 1954, it would truly have been a fine day to be proud of being a Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
February 5th………“WHAT IS A DELICIOUS MEMORY YOU HAVE ABOUT GROWING, EATING AND STORING SWEET CORN ON YOUR FARM NEAR KIESTER, MINNESOTA?
EXPLOSIONS of sweet-corn ambrosia flooded my young farmer boy’s mouth as my juvenile incisors ripped mouthful after mouthful of golden delight from each corn cob. Ooozing, sweet, creamery butter, that was soaked into that sweet-corn, would glide happily over my chin in a glissando of gluttony and boyhood joy. You’ve maybe heard of having a “square meal”? When it came to my collegiate corn crunching credentials, my end product culminated in a completely square corn cob devoid of kernels and residual juices. My square corncob had been literally vacuumed dry by my mouth, in latitudinal rows, till there wasn’t even a trace left of those tantalizing morsels.
In the Spring of that year, our parents had the grand idea to provide sweet-corn, not only for our family’s delight, but to bless the whole clan of our relatives that lived in the southern Minnesota and northern Iowa area. In the past, there was a time in the life of our farm, as a side form of income, that our father, Russell, used to sell seed corn to other area farmers. I’m wondering if he might have been able to secure a bag or two of actual sweet-corn seed from the company he represented? However he procured it, there was enough seed for one or two full rows of our sweet-corn delight. When it came to the major usage of our farm acreage, the dominant type of corn that Dad planted on our farm was what’s called, field corn. It’s the type that matures to a hard, dry kernel and is then shelled, ground and would provide feed to our animals, especially during the cold Winter months. On this occasion though, our dear daddy loaded up one or two seed canisters on the right side of our corn planter with those yummy kernels of sweet-corn seed. As his Farmall H tractor pulled the corn planter down near our alfalfa field, Dad dropped the planter into that luscious black soil and saw to it that those two sweet-corn rows went into the ground right next to the edge of the alfalfa field. This way, when it was time to harvest, later in the Summer, all we’d have to do is drive our pickup truck alongside that first row or two of sweet-corn and start picking. That way, we didn’t disturb the rest of his acreage of field corn.
During the remainder of that Spring and early Summer, while enjoying family visits and telephone calls, Mom let it be known that this particular Summer was going to be “extra sweet”, in a way. When our corn harvest day finally arrived, grand-looking family “chariots” started to roll into our U-shaped farm driveways. There were Chevrolet Bel-Airs, Buick Electras, Plymouths, Fords and even our grandparent’s 1949 Mercury Monterey came to an elegant stop at our farm as they parked their cars in the wide expanse of our graveled farmyard. After initial hugs and greetings among the family, out came the work gloves and a garrulous gaggle of loving laborers clambered aboard our 1950 Ford F-100 pickup truck for the ride out to the alfalfa field and our two rows of adjacent sweet-corn.
With a twist and a downward snap, off popped each full ear of sweet-corn still in its husk (outer green wrapping). Each ear then was gently placed into our pickup truck bed……we didn’t want to damage those tasty kernels inside. Even with sideboards on the truck, our happy pickers just about filled that truck bed to the hilt with a mountain of sweet-corn grown to perfection.
Under the lush, cool canopy of shade trees, back at our farmyard, came the next stop in this green adventure that yielded yellow treasures for all. Out came the tables, sharpened knives and any other utensils necessary to begin to prepare this mountain of sweet-corn for our families to take home. Dad carefully backed up our Ford pickup under those shade trees so that we could stay cool in this grand process of food production. Nearby Meadowlarks and Red-winged Blackbirds were the perfect musical symphony to accompany our army of corn cob cutters.
Cooling, brisk prairie winds coursed through our shaded reverie as an assembly line of love saw corn cut off of uncountable cobs and fall to the trays or cake bowls below. Nimble fingers popped open a myriad of freezer boxes from their flattened shipping containers. With freezer boxes lined up like soldiers in a row, hard working hands moved mounds of golden sweet-corn from the slicing area and hand-packed it into those freezer boxes. Not only do “many hands make light work”, but also there were the joys of families fellow-shipping the day away as those full freezer boxes of corn were stacked higher and higher. “Naked” corn cob and husk piles grew higher and higher, too. We had some mighty happy pigs that evening, as, what seemed to be, “tons” of empty corn cobs and husks were thrown over the fence into their exercise area near our hog house. They were deliriously giddy with porcine prancing as they feasted on their own version of corn.
After all that work of loading freezer boxes for the families, it was now time to have a feast on the some of the biggest and best fresh sweet corn that was harvested that day. Boiling pots were kept busy preparing each batch of gold delights. Needless to say, there was an endless supply of that golden enjoyment, smothered in real creamery butter from our own local Kiester Co-op Creamery Association. Plastic corn cob trays and skewers were put to good use as we all ate and ate and ate till we about burst from the delicious joy of it all.
As the sun winked goodbye to us over the cloud-banked horizon that evening, our beloved families rolled out of our farm’s U-shaped driveways. Some honked goodbye as they rolled northwards out of that driveway and some honked and waved as they rolled out the south driveway. Everyone went home with having had a fun time, good memories and enough sweet corn to carry them through the coming Winter and into next year. It was a delightfully tasty day to be a Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
February 4th……“WHAT WAS A COZY, YET AT TIMES MESSY, EXPERIENCE WITH BABY CALVES DOWN IN YOUR BARN ON YOUR FARM NEAR KIESTER, MINNESOTA?
With pint-sized pandiculation, our baby calves were stretching themselves awake just as I entered and sought the warmth of our barn. The fearsome frigid winds, of that winter’s night, had blown me clear across our graveled farmyard and, in the process, nearly sucked the life-giving breath right out of my young lungs.
Those baby bovines were, like any “child”, full of happy energy and welcomed any attention that you could muster in their direction.
Those happy, hirsute Holstein “babies” were thoroughly enjoying the heady fragrance of the clean, golden oat straw bedding that Dad had laid down around them there behind our dairy herd. Tethered to the barn wall by a leather neck collar and rope, they could only move around just so far, as not to impede Dad or myself from getting around them on the walkway as we milked those fifteen head of lovely Holsteins.
The Bible even speaks to farmers, just like our father, Russell, when God shares in Proverbs Chapter 27 and Verse 23: “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds.” Our hardworking daddy loved his animals and did just that. Knowing which calf belonged to each cow, he knew their respective young ages and that some of these little ones, under his care, still needed their mommy’s milk. Those four-legged, tiny “energy pills” could sense that it was their time to nurse and were literally jumping for joy as Dad approached them to release and guide them over to their mother for nursing. With ravenous sounds of strepitous sucking, those eager bovine babes were a voracious vacuum as they head-butted their mother’s udder bag in hopes of getting that last drop of nutritious milk.
Under my dad’s wise leadership, he knew when the time was right to begin weaning the calves away from suckling their mother’s milk and, instead, drink from a pail of milk or water. Our farmer father helped me learn the “trick” of letting the calf first suck on my fingers and then, with him still sucking my fingers, lower his head into a pail of milk that I was holding. It was oftentimes a comedy of errors to partake of this learning experience. The cute calves loved to suck my fingers (and clothing, etc.), but when I’d lower their snout into the bucket of milk, they’d sometimes suck milk up their nose and sneeze it out in explosive white charges of liquid that shot all over me and the calf’s head. It was hilarious!!! Here was this young animal so thirsty for milk, but making a mess of himself and me in his vain attempts at learning this new order of life for him.
With feeding time behind us, it was now time for me to get down on the same level as our baby bovines in the straw piles. That thick, golden mantle of oat straw, that cozied round each calf, had a warming effect just like the thick quilt, that our mother made for us, that awaited us in our bedrooms. I can still see some of the calves still intent on sucking the ears of their little buddies beside them, but, for me, this particular little bovine beauty laid his head on my leg and began to drift off to sleep as I stroked his soft head and neck. The menacing winds of Old Man Winter scoured the outer walls of our barn that night, but within this bulwark of warmth rested two……….a tiny Holstein calf, with his tummy full of milk, and this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.