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.
May 25th…“DID ANY OF YOUR ELDERS EVER SAY SOMETHING THAT, AS A CHILD, MADE NO SENSE?”
During World War I, John P. Madsen was a soldier in the “Battle Of The Spruce”……..trees, that is. As a young enlisted Army G.I. of that Great War, John was deployed from his Home State of Minnesota to the destination that his “Uncle Sam” sent him to almost 2,000 miles west to Fort Vancouver, Washington to work in the Spruce Lumber Mills on that base.
The thousands of fighter aircraft used during that war needed a strong, yet light, wood in their construction. So, rather than fight in the trenches of France, these young soldiers, alongside John, “fought” in the forests and lumber mills to cut, saw and send that Spruce lumber to factories for those planes to be built. When peace finally returned to the world in 1918, John Madsen was released from military service and returned to his treasured Home State of Minnesota.
Quaint are the ways of the dear generations who came before us and we were about to witness that gentility first hand. You see, our “Grandpa” John was one of those tender souls who we enjoyed, loved and admired for his effervescence and joy for life. Even in the midst of his senescence, John Madsen held the joys of youth within him even as his mortal body succumbed to poor eyesight and the common maladies of old age. In John’s mid to later years, he had helped out as a hired hand with our father on our farm there near Kiester, Minnesota. With time, we became so enamored with him, as a family, that he was revered and adopted into our hearts unanimously.
Having served his nation in World War I, John, in his encroaching senior years, was able to take up residence at the Minnesota Old Soldiers Home in Minneapolis. While health was still with him, and now being well into the age of his 80’s, “Grandpa” John would put on his thick, “coke bottle bottom” eye glasses and point his handsome 1953 Chevrolet in the direction of our farm for many a happy visit.
As if it were yesterday, I can still see “Grandpa” John’s green Chevy banking down into the graveled north driveway of our farmyard. With his driver’s window rolled down, I could see John’s thick, “coke bottle bottomed” eye glasses looking down to grab his columned gear shift and place it into a lower gear as he circled around to the backside of our home for parking near our back pantry door of the kitchen.
We all loved this sweet man for his youthful exuberance for life, even though, at the time, he was well into his 80’s as far as age. In the mornings, after a hearty farmer’s breakfast, I’d be watching him do some arm swinging calisthenics to limber up for the day. With food in our tummies, Candi and I’d step out the back door of our home with ol’ John to accompany him for one of his walks. Having taken a few steps into the morning’s fresh air, John would lift up his arms (as if to God Himself) and say out loud with gusto to the world in general, “GOOD MORNING!!!!” It was just us and John, but he enjoyed life so much, he just wanted to tell the world around him how grateful he felt for another day of life!!! 😉
On one of those daily strolls, we noticed that John had stopped in the middle of our farmyard and perplexed our little minds with what he said next. “You children wait herefor a little bit while I go visit “mrs. jones” in the woods.” Now the woods John was referring to consisted of the deciduous trees that made up our farm’s windbreak that sheltered us from Winter’s blast of wind storms and snow. Sister Candice and I had explored those woods thoroughly during our childhood and had never seen a lady that lived out there. In our innocent ignorance, we had no idea that John was referring to the outdoor family outhouse (toilet) that was in the form of a tiny building next to our chicken house. That tiny building had a deep hole dug into the ground under it and we all sometimes went in there to “doo” our “dooty” (to say it gently)….hehehe 😉 Operating out of the paradigm of his earlier generation, John must have thought it too crass for our young ears and minds to simply say he was going to GO POTTY!! Instead, he chose to gently separate himself from us in order to answer “nature’s call” and then would return to continue our walk together. In retrospect, I surmise that old John must have suppressed a giggle or two as I pressed the issue regarding his departing our company. I asked him, “Can we go, too, with you and meet “mrs. jones”??? To which “Grandpa” John wisely replied, with a smile, “No I don’t think so………she ONLY talks to me!!”
Reminiscing about the ways of learning life still create a smile for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son 😉
May 24th…“DESCRIBE A VERY PROUD MOMENT IN YOUR MINNESOTA CHILDHOOD.”
I don’t know about other little boys, but ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I would do anything to please my father. I categorically idolized my dad, Russell Conrad Noorlun. He was that handsome Norwegian patriarch who helped bring to me the very gift of life and inclusion into this fine farmer family. To me, in my innocent childhood frame of mind, Dad was like “Paul Bunyan”, “John Wayne” and “Clark Gable” all rolled into one very handsome man who saw to it that we had food, clothes, shelter, and above all, a desire to have us live out, like he did, an honest and integral life among those who knew him there in our village of Kiester, Minnesota.
Impressed I was, from the stylish way Dad combed his hair to how wonderful his “Old Spice” cologne emanated from his masculine frame whenever our family would be on outings together. Then, of course, there was the awe of seeing how strong he was in the manly art of farming each day there on our 120 acre agricultural realm. All these attributes and more combined to make our father my everyday hero. In my adulation, it is without a doubt that I was constantly “on his heels” and an ever present little shadow to his coming and going whenever I possibly could. And even though he was the Prince of Pranksters, when it came to teasing everyone of us, I still thought that there was nobody more suave and debonair than our fabulous father.
With the above paragraph as a setting to my feelings, I traverse, in my time machine, back to the Summer of 1965. I’m now 11 years old and Dad is teaching me more about the care and daily grooming of my lovely Shetland pony, “Little Lady”. Even though at times, I had my failings in her daily upkeep, I truly cherished that sweet little mare with her mild mannerisms and heart of gold. Those very equine attributes are what brought us to bequeath her with the title of our “Little Lady”.
In our father’s wisdom of growing up with horses in northern Minnesota, he decided that my little Shetland pony had the potential to possibly glean some degree of winning a ribbon at our local Faribault County Fair that Summer. In the months prior to the popular event, Dad would spend time in the evenings with me training “Little Lady” after routine chores and the milking of our dairy herd was completed. The expansive, graveled yard between our farm home and the barn took on the amber tones of the setting Minnesota sun as father would show me how to lead this little equine princess around the yard and to make her take and hold certain posing stances that beneficially would show off the best of her dappled brown coat that was complimented by her luxurious white mane and tail.
Each Summer to just attend the Faribault County Fair, was like going to “kid heaven” as far as I was concerned. And to think that THIS year (of 1965), I not only had the joy of attending such fun-filled festivities, but I had the added thrill of registering our pony to take part in competition with others of like category.
The expansive fairgrounds were located in the city where I first saw life at the local hospital there in Blue Earth, Minnesota. As our 1956 Chevrolet pulled off the highway and into the front gate, the inspiring scene, to me, resembled a frame from the classic 1946 movie musical “State Fair”. My anticipation of boy-related adventure was almost overwhelming as we were surrounded by sights, sounds and smells of agricultural wonderment and the delicious scents of tasty opportunities of food and fun. I could hardly wait to climb outta the car and begin my wanderings.
After my initial boy joy explorations of the fairgrounds, it was time to put the fun of the fair aside for awhile and focus on trying to win that blue ribbon of FIRST PLACE. With our little equine “queen of the hour” safely in her horse barn stall, it was time for our family team to begin the dressing up of our blue ribbon contender. Out came the brushes, curry combs, rags, lotions, etc. to make “Little Lady” look the very best that she possibly could.
Dad had witnessed what Amway Shoe Spray could do on the family shoes to make them sparkle. So, here at the fair, he had a brainstorm that happily intrigued me. He felt that we should use this new product to help enhance our pony’s looks for competition. “Little Lady’s” hooves were all sanded till they were smooth and uniform all around. Next, Dad sprayed that clear shoe polish on that little horse’s hooves and the result was amazing!! The spray not only left them glistening, but also brought alive the natural marbled coloring of the hooves. She was a real princess now! When finished with treatments, “Little Lady” looked like she had just graduated from the Army Boot Camp for horses in the way she sparkled from head to hoof.
The moment of glory had finally arrived as we led our Shetland into the outdoor arena where the great “spotlight” in the August sky could bring out all the luster our little mare could offer. Serious faces were worn by the judges that day as these time-tested horsemen would now scrutinize this little mare to see if she would qualify for any recognition before the crowd that had gathered in the County Fair Grandstand. Being obedient to the way Dad had taught me, I led our Shetland pony to perform whatever the judges required of me. That little beauty, at the end of my lead rope, seemed to be able to read my mind and will in how well she responded to each command given her. This little doll, who’s ancestors originated from the Shetland Islands of Scotland, behaved perfectly for me that day as I knew inside myself that she would.
Having completed the drills, and breathless in anticipation, I could only stand there in that sunshine spotlight and pet my equine pal on her lovely white mane as it floated regally on the winds of that August Minnesota afternoon. After what seemed to be an interminable amount of time, the main judge approached the various ponies and owners who had received some sort of recognition for their efforts. One pony received an “Honorable Mention” ribbon. Another, the “Third Place” white ribbon and then there was the recipient of the “Second Place” red ribbon to another smiling owner. Lo and behold, the awarding judge approached myself and “Little Lady” to offer us the beautiful “First Premium” BLUE RIBBON for having WON the Junior Exhibition Class!!! I seemed to be actually floating on air as I told the kind judge, “Ohhh THANK YOU, SIR!!!”
Turning from the show ring, and with lead rope in hand, I led our little winner over to where Dad was standing. Tears of joy were welling up in his eyes and spilling over onto those chiseled and tan farmer cheeks of his. Haltingly, with great emotion, the first words to come of his mouth were, “Ohhhhh, if only Grandpa Ed were still alive and could have been here to see this horse judging today!!!…..He would’ve been SO PROUD of you, too!!!”
You see, my Grandfather, Edwin A. Noorlun, had done all his farming with horses over the years while my father was growing up in northern Minnesota (and later in northern Iowa). My dad and his father were true kindred spirits when it came to working the land and they both harbored a love and appreciation for the horses that provided them power for farming in those days. Dad knew that Grandpa Ed would have deeply appreciated seeing “the next generation” working with horses, too. Our dear Grandfather Noorlun had died only a couple years earlier (in 1963) and I could sense that our father was still in mourning for the loss of his beloved father. The special moment with “Little Lady” may have been a bittersweet time for my Dad, but it was a very proud moment for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
I felt that rather than bring up names from my past, it was better to share heart here via the gentle communication of poetry so that our children and grandchildren can learn to shun this weak link of the human existence. So muses this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
May 21st…“WHAT WISDOM AND LIFE LESSONS DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR BIG SISTER BOTH ON THE FARM AND LATER IN LIFE?”
Even while my infant lungs were drawing their first gasping breaths of life, our big sister, Rosemary Arlone Noorlun, was already a seasoned veteran of 8 years of experience on this here earth AND a knowledgeable Second Grader at Kiester Consolidated School, in Kiester, Minnesota.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that big sister loved me to pieces and was like a little mother to me in many ways. For instance, when I reached school age and had to be transported from farm to school on that big yellow bus, it was Rosie who stood up and got everyone’s attention that first day of school. She let it be known to everyone on that bus that if ANYbody messed with HER little brother and made him cry, they’d have to answer to HER!!
Our elder sibling sometimes became the adjudicator of issues between myself and younger sister, Candice. Those life lessons could get downright painful with Rosemary wielding her power of being our immediate elder.
For instance, there was the Winter day when I took a mean advantage over my little sister and was pummeling Candi with snowballs to the point of her beginning to cry. With the stealth of a lioness, Rosemary had come upon this scene of injustice from behind me, so I wasn’t aware she had witnessed my cruelty. With my attention focused on the “target” of my little victim, I didn’t notice that big sister is now quickly creating and loading an entire arm length of snowballs with which to mete out the justice I so richly deserved. With her “Gatling Gun” of snowballs in the “gun web belt” of her arm, elder sister engaged her blitzkrieg flank attack. Without warning, she’s now “machine-gunning” snowballs at me with lightning rapidity. I can still feel the icy impact of each snow “bullet” as that frozen white stuff is rammed up my nostrils and my Winter cap is “shot off” my head!!! All during her attack, I can hear her yelling at me, “THERE HOW DOES THAT FEEL? IS IT FUN NOW? HOW DO YOU LIKE IT???” Of course, now little sister AND this mean widdo kid are both bawling our heads off and a major lesson was learned about being more compassionate to smaller siblings who aren’t as quick or as strong as you are.
There’s the proverbial saying, “Time Flies!”, and that sure was the case in 1964 when our darling sister celebrated completion of her High School years there in our sweet hometown. It wasn’t long after that, that sister married and our Lord blessed her with a beautiful family and a full life of activities and friends to love.
To help support her growing family over the years, our grand sister worked for a number of banking institutions as a teller/clerk. I was soon to learn another life lesson from that precious sibling while we sat and enjoyed some refreshments one day. What she shared next with me, I found, has had a beautiful parallel in my spiritual life, as well. I asked her, “Rosie, how do you, as bank tellers, know when someone attempts touse counterfeit currency at your bank?” Her answer was quick and confident. “That’s easy”, she said, “In the banking business, we are taught from the very beginningto only study authentic currency (the REAL dollar bill, for instance)!”“The bank never lets us see a counterfeit bill, if they can help it!” “By always focusing, memorizingand KNOWING what a REAL dollar bill looks like, then any fake dollar bill easily “jumps out” with a “red flag” to us if it comes across the counter in atransaction.” That was so simple, yet so powerful!
Our dear sister Rosemary’s wisdom on that topic has often spilled over into my musings on the spiritual journey or walk that each of us, as Christians, travel each and every day. So many in this world are vying for our attention, time, devotion and following. Some of those sources of attractants are benign or even of a good nature, yet if I devote my time to the study of the one Book of books………the REAL and AUTHENTIC Word of God; I will then know, automatically, when any counterfeit person, item or subject arises. How will I know? Because that “red flag” will pop up saying, “This does not match God’s Holy Truth from His 66 love letters (the Bible) that He penned just for us, as His children.
Our precious sister bid a “good night earth and good morning Glory” in July of 1989, yet I am daily grateful to the Lord for the big sister of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son!!! ><>
May 20th…“WHEN COUSINS CAME OVER, WHAT KIND OF GAMES DID YOU PLAY AND WHAT TYPE OF ACTIVITIES DID YOUR FAMILIES ENJOY TOGETHER?”
Uncle Gene careened that blue Bel Air beauty into the north entrance of our farm’s U-shaped driveway. Aunt Beverly and their three daughters waved at me as the gravel beneath their tires gave off a happy sound of their arrival at our home for a day of fun and visiting. Even as a kid, I mused upon the thought that our uncle must have had some magic invention that could keep that car so sparkling clean even after driving over the gravel roads that led to our homeplace.
It wasn’t much longer before excitement built up once again as Uncle Del’s handsome 1959 Buick Electra rolled around to the back of our home and came to a standstill as his three sons poured out of their family coach for fun and games at Uncle Russell’s farm near our sweet hometown of Kiester, Minnesota. Our guest list for that joyous day was topped off by the gentle arrival of a beige 1956 Pontiac Star Chief that found its place among the other metal chariots and, upon opening of their doors, revealed our dearest maternal grandparents of Clarence and Amanda Sletten. It was a given that, when we and our cousins, plus 120 acres of farmland were put together, well, anything wunnerful could happen, and it usually DID!! Families living relatively close, in those days, had many happy benefits; and that was the case with my mother’s brother and sister and their families coming to visit often and with much enjoyment by all. Mom’s other brother, and his family, lived up in northern Minnesota near the town of Mahnomen, so it just wasn’t conducive to have them drive clear across the State for only a day visit.
There were times when our clans would gather together to collectively accomplish a common task AND, eventually, to enjoy playtime. Such was the case when our father, Russell, would plant two rows of sweet corn on the outside edge of his field corn (that he fed to our livestock). I’m guessing that those two delicious rows of tasty corn ran for almost an eighth of a mile, or more, in length. On that certain occasion, the families gathered at our farm and we’d all follow Dad as he drove our 1950 Ford pickup truck out to the cornfield. Those two rows of corn were right alongside a smooth field of alfalfa, so Dad could drive the truck right next to our rows of corn to be harvested. Dad installed high boards on the truck box so that we could fill that truck sky-high with delicious golden sweet corn. Everyone pitched in as we’d rip the ears off the stalks and toss the ears of corn gently into the truck bed. Move the truck, pick some corn, move the truck and pick some more corn. Soon, there was a mountain, so to speak, of yummy corn filling up that Ford.
Now we all headed back to the farm yard and parked the pickup under the refreshing coolness of our giant shade trees. As a clan, we shucked off the husks of the sweet corn and then cut the corn off the cobs to put into freezer boxes for all the families to take home to grace their dinner tables in the coming Winter months. The whole process was made almost delightful by the brisk prairie winds that whisked past us all, cooling our brows from this worthwhile endeavor.
Now, it was playtime!!! Under the sun-sheltering canopy of those same trees, my guy cousins and I would set up our own play farms in the fine, soft soil that had been pulverized by our feet dragging under the airplane tire swing that hung from long ropes tied to branches above us.
When I say airplane tire swing, that’s exactly what it was. Our dad’s brother lived nearby and flew a Cessna Piper Cub aircraft that had some over-sized tires. When those tires had worn down, he gave a set to our father and he created this awesome swing for us all to enjoy. With assisting boosts from behind, we boys flew the spectrum from one flying arch of that swing to the other. Sometimes we thought we’d tangle ourselves in the branches above by the wildness of each swinging movement.
On those happy days of family, we kids enjoyed playing a game we called, “Annie I Over”. Half the cousins on one side of our farm house and half on the other. The ball got thrown up and over the house to see if someone on the opposing team could catch it before it hit the ground. If they did, they’d race around to the side of the house where it was tossed to chase and tag the thrower to bring them over to their team. I’ll bet that dear old baseball must’ve closed his eyes and held on to his stitches as we’d fling that poor sucker wayyyyy over the house top and down to the team on the other side. I’m sure there are many ways to play this game, but we had a LOT of fun blowing off our youthful energy that way. With seemingly boundless exuberance, we cousins exploded from one childhood adventure to another and as the sun began to fade into late afternoon, we’d just shift gears for another type of playtime……after dark.
With dusk approaching, the sunset had bid us all goodnight, but rather than have the fun come to an end, the darkness just brought another chapter of further fun for us kiddos.
All of a sudden, a tiny light bulb flew past our eyes, blinking on and off. Then another, and another. For a second or two, we cousins thought, “Heyyyy, what’s going on!!???” Then it dawned on us……….they were FIREFLIES!! Excitedly, we all scurried into the house to ask my mother, Clarice, for some glass canning jars so each of us could have our own sparkling bug light show “under glass”. Fire Flies preferred the tall grasses that grew in the wide, shallow ditches of the gravel road that meandered past our farm. In those grasses lived thousands of glittering Fire Flies (also known as “Lightning Bugs”). We’d all capture a jar-full of those lil’ blinky bugs and then have our group sit down on the cooling grasses of the now dark front yard to watch those bright little dancers inside put on a sparking show for us. Crickets chirped their song to us in the Summer moonlight while we’d ooogle in awe at the “living light show” inside those cylindrical “glass stages”.
Being of a Norwegian heritage family, there was always coffee brewing for the adults. So, like a perfume to our olfactories, the aroma of evening coffee and cake floated out the front door of our farm home and signaled us kids that there was still time for at least one more game…………HIDE AND SEEK…….in the dark!! One of the cousins would put their head to the corner of an outside doorway and begin the “hide count”. With gazelle intensity, my powerful young legs launched my body across our expansive lawn and towards the gravel road that paralleled our farm property. I remember racing down into the shallow ditch with such speed that upon reaching the almost vertical upgrade to the gravel road surface, my momentum caused my little boy body to go airborne with legs still churning as I’d land down upon the gravel road and then leap into the tall-grassed ditch on the other side. With the “hide count” completed, the “IT” cousin cried out, “READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!!!”.
Now on my belly and hidden in the tall grasses under the cloak of darkness, only the Fire Flies knew where I was as they’d blink “hello” to me with their built-in light bulb bodies. Like a cat watching her mousy prey, I could see and hear the “IT” cousin hunting and chasing the others as they’d squeal and were now trying their darndest to make it to “homebase” and safety without being caught. When the “IT” cousin had moved far enough away from “homebase”, I’d spring up from my belly position in the grass to make my move. Using the darkness as my friend, to cover me with its shadows, my legs flew me like the wind itself as I made a mad dash for “homebase” and was one of the winners who would not have to be the next “IT” person.
Here in adulthood, I may not be the “brightest bulb in the box of life”, but I can tell you that memories of childhood days are some of the most glowing enjoyments for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.