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.
January 14th…“DID YOU HAVE A SWEETHEART WHILE ATTENDING BATTLE GROUND HIGH SCHOOL? HOW DID YOU MEET?
Her voice was rife with each tersely tossed invective. My fellow 8th Grade classmate, in the row of student desks next to mine, pleaded for the return of her belongings from the obnoxious assailant sitting behind me. The tall and gangly culprit, named “James”, had reached across the aisle and swiped something of value from her desk top. Being new to this town and recently enrolled in this school, I quietly observed as the young woman’s decibels of voice came in subdued tones so as not to attract Mr. Torstenbo’s unwanted attention while he attempted to teach us History. Unknownst to me, at the time, this young lady and “James” had known each other since Grade School days at Glenwood Heights Elementary School. Glenwood was located at the south end of our large school district and was one of the many schools that funneled its students, eventually, to Battle Ground Junior High and Senior High School.
Longtime classmates, or not, I saw the behavior of “James” to be rude, crude, lewd and unacceptable. Sensing a “damsel in distress”, I quietly twisted my torso, in the student desk, to face “James” and said, “Why don’t you just give her back what belongs to her and quit buggin’ her.”“What’s it to you KID??!!”, blurted back my hormonal combatant. I once again restated my directive to the boisterous bully, to which he retorted, “Ya wanna step outside in the hall? Ya wanna fight?”. I responded, “There’s no need to fight, just do as I ask!” Even though “James” was easily a full head taller than me, and likely could have pounded me senseless, I stood my ground and re-addressed my demand for the return of the poor girl’s belongings. Having called his bluff, he said to the young lady, “Awww, you’re no fun!!” and gave her back what was rightly hers.
The verbal “jousting match” ended with perfect timing as the hall bells loudly clanged their sounding of the end of this class. Our classroom was on the second story of the ivy-covered Old East High Building, so I knew I had better get going to be on time for my next class. Like Pavlov’s dog, those bells made me automatically bend over and gather my textbooks. I exited the classroom for the stairwells that would take me to ground level and across campus to Mr. Storie’s Shop Class. A feminine voice behind me said, “Excuse me? My name’s DerraAbernathy and I wanted to say thank you for getting my things back tome in History Class!” “You’re very welcome! Glad to have helped out!”, came my reply. Now, she could have just walked on to her next classroom and dropped the incident in the portals of straying life occurrences, but instead, that day, a new friendship was born between a lonely, former farm-boy and this lovely young lady named Derra. Per chance could you say I had become her Norwegian “knight in shining armor”?
Now I didn’t feel so all alone there in that gigantic school campus with the many hundreds of students milling about from class to class. As each day went by, Derra and I enjoyed getting to know each other more and more. We felt so comfortable with each other that it was only natural that we even exchanged phone numbers. “Puppy Love” yearnings gained a foothold as we began seeing each other as often as “free time” would allow in between classes or at lunch. Over time, it was easy for all to see that we were “a couple”, “going steady”, or whatever terminology that young love could be labeled by. Even lunch time could be “romantic” when we stepped off campus to frequent “Bea & Don’s Grocery Store”. There we’d purchase a “Mug Rootbeer” and one yummy Maple Bar. While walking back onto the school campus, Derra would take a bite from her end of the Maple Bar and I’d enjoy a bite from my end. Back and forth we’d partake until there was only one bite left in the middle……..with that last bite, we’d KISS!! 😉
With each passing school year, there at Battle Ground High School, Derra and myself looked forward to the football season. Here would be another scenario of our creative wills to be together with each other and allow romance to blossom all the more. It was easy for me to attend the games, since our brand new home was just up on Hawthorne Street at the north side of town. For my young lady, though, it was a different story; she’d have to beg n plead for her grouchy dad to drive her the six or seven miles into town. With fragrances of Fall in the air, and with our “Tiger” Stage Band playing in the Stadium, I’d be on my tip-toes, in the crowd, as I’d strain to see Derra being dropped off in the parking lot. There she was!!! Hand in hand, we giddily made our way up to the very top bleacher seats inside our relatively new football stadium grandstand. From the “Press Box”, suspended in the Stadium’s rafters, old gravel-voiced Mr. Martin (another teacher on the High School Faculty) would call the football plays happening down on the field. Neither one of us being much for football itself, we attended the game as an opportunity to cuddle n coo with each other. Warm we were as we snuggled against the chill Fall winds that roared in along with many a rain storm that turned the football field below us into a player-churned mud pit. Oh sure, when one of our “Tigers” made a touchdown, we’d jump up and down to cheer the team on; but, mostly, our rendezvous was intended to relish the company of each other.
During our three years together, we had even reached a point in our relationship where marriage was an option we were entertaining. But, then came a day when this Norwegian “knight” fell from his “white charger”. Instead of protecting her heart, I had allowed words to wound her. Unintentional as they were, yet they were said. Now, my armor no longer shined and instead began to chink and rust away. Many decades have passed, since those golden days of that high school love. Even in my human frailties, I am now, and will always be grateful for those warm memories and, even though momentary, the knightly times of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
January 13th…“SHARE ONE OF THE WAYS YOU EARNED MONEY AS A TEENAGER IN YOUR NEW HOMETOWN OF BATTLE GROUND, WASHINGTON.”
The ghastly clatter-banging of an old-fashioned alarm clock jolted shock-waves into my teenage ears. I had been happily locked in a melatonin-laced trance of hormonal hibernation when that hideous contraption had the gall to shock me into a 4:30AM reality of being awake……..like it or NOT! And, as if adding salt to the wound of this morning calamity, I should have been able to sleep in for I was now out of school for Summer Vacation. Why in the world would a teenager ever want to get up at this inhuman hour?? The answer? Making some money by picking strawberries. Reluctantly, I groggily swung my young legs out of the bed and managed to get dressed. The heady aroma of great cooking led me to our family kitchen where I proceeded to scarf down some of Mom’s yummy breakfast while she made me a sack lunch for that day’s work in the fields.
The destination for my hopeful monetary multiplicity was at least 20 miles to the north of our town of Battle Ground, Washington. Being a teenager under the age of 16, and unable to drive a car yet, I wasn’t about to walk that kind of distance. Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to. I was about to become a “soldier” in the Summertime “army” of an industrious, agricultural family by the last name of Tsugawa. Over their many years of farming, the Tsugawa Berry Farm had acquired a fleet of old school buses that were dispersed each morning to various embarkation points around Clark County. In a public relations campaign, George Tsugawa published berry bus schedules in many of the county’s newspapers so potential perky picker people (and their picker people parents) could know of and catch one of the berry buses for the trip up north to the Woodland, Washington flat lands near the Columbia River. To the end of Hawthorne Street (now NW 9th St.) I hiked and caught the 6:00am bus ride north.
After picking up a bus load of other pickers along the way, our old, squeaking, yellow-metal “banana” rolled into the strawberry fields and we filed out for a berry back-breaking day. Yes, even though we possessed the supple bodies of young teenagers, in those days, we had to bend over for hours on end to reach the low-lying rows of the berry crop as we picked a gazillion strawberries. Filing past the Field Boss, we “soldiers” were instructed to pick up an empty “flat” (shallow wood or plastic tray). Inside each flat were 12 empty “hallocks” (small containers that held about a pint each of strawberries). The goal for each of us was to pick those tasty, red strawberries and fill as many flats as possible each day. Memories become foggy over the years, but I seem to recall that we each had a punch card with our names on it. For each full flat of berries, the Field Boss would use a paper punch to cut a number out from around the rim of the card. It may have been less payment than I think, but I gather that we were paid about $1.25 for each flat of berries picked.
Alright, alright, I’ll confess! Earning Summer spending money, picking berries, wasn’t the only reason that I allowed that alarm clock to assault my ears at “Oh Dark Thirty” each morning. Being a twitterpated teenager and happily infected with the “love bug”, my main reason for picking berries was to be close to my High School girlfriend, Derra Joan Abernathy. With both of us being too young for a driver’s license, we felt it was a way for us not to be separated for the entire Summer. Derra rolled in each morning on one of the berry buses that serviced the south-central areas of the county. Together in “our row”, we could chat the day away (and steal a kiss or two) while we picked strawberries and enjoyed the fellowship of other “Tigers” from Battle Ground High School that worked in those fields, too.
With the playful sprightliness of young people “in love”, our work times, for Derra and myself, sometimes evolved into teasing tussles of happy heckling of each other. Boredom, plus a little hunger would set in during the days and we’d end up eating some of the strawberries that should have gone into our picking flat. On one such occasion, Derra had picked this monstrous strawberry and had it up towards her mouth to eat it. I quickly grabbed that red, bulbous berry and smashed it all over her chin. Squeals of laughter erupted between us as we enjoyed the moment. The cute result of this “smashing” incident was that Derra’s chin was stained a pretty pink color for the rest of that day. As we boarded our respective buses for the trip home that day, I bequeathed my young lady with the new nickname…..PINKY!! In loving retaliation, the nickname “DIMPLES” was given to this strawberry-picking Norwegian Farmer’s Son. 😉
January 12th…“CAN FARM ANIMALS BE DANGEROUS? DID “PORKY PIG” EVER GET NASTY ON YOUR FARM NEAR KIESTER, MINNESOTA?”
Privy to the process of his perambulation, Dad caught the prominent pungent porcine perfume percolating from our farm’s piggy palace. On most occasions, our farmer father, Russell, got along well with our porcine princes and princesses……till one day. Male pigs, called boars, could reach up to 650 pounds in weight. Their immensity (along with their loads of testosterone) made them hard to handle as far as showing them who was “The Boss”. A particular boar of ours even had a set of long and ugly tusks (vertical teeth) protruding upwards from each side of his drooling snout. “Mr. Power Pig” had been “visiting the ladies” in our sounder of sows. His romancing and “pitching the woo” (for the next generation of little pigs to come) was over and it was time for Dad to separate him from the sows and into his own private pen.
This story was relayed to me second-hand, so, in that sharing, I’m told that Dad was pressing a hog board (plywood board with handles) against the boar to move him in the direction he had to go to get to his private pen. Any and all protection, for a farmer, was essential in dealing with these porky power pushers. To begin with, boars are known for their aggressiveness, and this boar was getting more and more perturbed with every push of Dad’s hog board against him. For whatever reason, our daddy took his eyes off this nasty nemesis for just a second or two when the boar caught Dad’s “hog board” with his tusk and flipped it out of our father’s hands.
Caught off balance, and now at the mercy of that gargantuan grunting beast, Dad was knocked over as the boar charged at him. The pig’s powerful snout tossed our father’s body like a toy. In all the higgledy-piggeldy of the fear-filled moment, Russ saw that the only way of his surviving this attack was to make a beeline towards the split-railed fence of the pen. Quickly regaining his stand, our father shot towards and through the railings just as that boar was about to charge him again. Thankfully, those wicked tusks had not made ripping contact with our dear daddy’s flesh. We were thankful to the Lord above that bruises and being shook up were the only injuries that had to be dealt with by the father of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
January 11th...”DID YOUR IGNORANCE ABOUT SOMETHING EVER RESULT IN SOMEONE ELSE BEING INJURED?”
Ignorance is not ALWAYS bliss. Especially when my extent of automotive mechanical knowledge is putting gas in the tank, saying a prayer, and hoping the fool car starts when I twist the ignition key. Another old adage comes to mind when I stroll back into the “humble pie” history files of my life; there is a saying that goes, “Be careful for what you wish for, you just might get it!!” Not only was I gonna “get it”, but another co-worker was really gonna get it when he became involved with me in a mishap one day on the job.
My first 13 years of life, on our farm in southern Minnesota, gave me a great love of diggin’ in the dirt and seeing what I could accomplish with my own two hands. Upon my family’s arrival in the Pacific Northwest, in 1967, I guess that farmer’s blood just kept coursing through my veins as I learned to enjoy seeing what I could do in helping with the upkeep of our yard’s landscaping there in our new hometown of Battle Ground, Washington. I relished the opportunities to attend Home & Garden Shows in nearby Portland, Oregon and just loved our family’s excursions to numerous landscape nurseries in our Clark County area as we bought and planted more lovely flowers and trees for our yard. When I eventually took over the Head Custodian position at Glenwood Heights Elementary School, in July of 1976, I jumped into the joys of turning the surrounding school flower beds and lawns into, what I felt were, the best looking grounds in the entire District. So, when a job opening presented itself, in 1981, to take over the Lead Groundskeeper position for our Battle Ground School District, I thought……..”Here’s my chance!” NOT!!!!
Taking care of flower beds was truly my forte. And, being the idealist that I was, I thought I could really showcase my talents in this new position…….as well as make some extra dollars. In my greenhorn ways, though, I completely overlooked an important aspect of moving into my new working scenario with the District. The greatest majority of our equipment, from tractors to trucks, was motorized and prone to break down, from time to time. And yes, it was part of my responsibility to fix those mechanical monsters…..if at all possible, before asking for a mechanic’s help. How could I have been so naive as to not face the reality that I was, basically, illiterate in those facets of work life??!!!!
On one of those fateful days, as Lead Groundskeeper, I was to drive a, District-owned, mid-1970’s Ford pickup into an area of Vancouver, Washington to pick up some parts for a piece of equipment that had broken down. Now I knew that that pickup had dual fuel tanks, but what I didn’t know, was that there was a dashboard switch AND a floor mounted twist-lever valve switch for the second fuel tank. Sure enough, on my my way into Vancouver, my Ford ran out of gas as it sputtered dead while I rolled it to a stop alongside the highway. “Oh”, I thought, “I’ll just flip this dashboard switch over to the second tank and be on my way, right?” WRONG! No matter how many times I twisted the ignition key for the engine to try to run…..it refused….. no life. I was stumped. Cell phones, in those days, were basically either non-existent, or a luxury of the rich. So, I ended up hiking for over a mile, or more, till I found a phone and called the District Maintenance Shop to send Ron Yates to find me and fix my truck.
In his younger days, Ron Yates had led a very rough life. He was almost like a local version of the Hell’s Angels, to me, but I could also sense that a tender heart resided inside that almost toothless mouth (most of his teeth had been knocked out in drunken barroom brawls). After walking all the way back to the dead pickup, I waited until Ron showed up on scene. Granted now, he’s ASSuming that I actually know what I’m talking about, mechanically……..that made both of us an ASS as time went on.
Poor Ron. He popped open the hood and played with this and he played with that. He even ran over to the local parts store and bought a new fuel pump and installed that. STILL no start! Remember now, he also ASSumed that I had already turned the gas floor valve in the ON position, which ,at that time, I didn’t even know existed. We both walked about a half mile to a local gas station and found an empty glass Coca-Cola bottle in the trash. Filling the bottle with gas, we hiked back to the “sick patient” on four wheels. Climbing up into the engine compartment, and hovering over the carburetor, Ron was going to “prime” the carburetor by pouring gas directly into the device while I cranked the engine. Dooofus me was about to pull a doofus stunt!!! While Ron is pouring dribbles of gas into the carburetor, and I’m cranking the engine, I notice this unmarked valve handle on the floor next to the truck’s door. “Heyyy Ron, I wonder what this is for?” (as I then turned the switch valve).
Unknowing, I had innocently turned on the gas flow from the second tank and KAHPOWWW!!! An enormous ball of flame erupted right into poor Ron’s face. The explosion literally blew him out of the engine compartment and into the nearby field! His eyebrows had been burned off and part of his massive beard was on fire. Knowing of his past, wild, motorcycle lifestyle……I was scared stiff that he would rise up and kill me, for sure!!! As he’s slapping his face to put out his beard fire, I came out of the pickup truck to profusely apologize for what I had unintentionally just caused to happen. Other than some VERY colorful language, Ron allowed me to live another day. Such were the UNmechanical adventures of this Norwegian Farmer’ Son.
January 10th…“DID YOU EVER RIDE A COW ON YOUR FARM NEAR KIESTER, MINNESOTA?”
Our dusty, old barn radio was belting out the new 1964 hit tune by Petula Clark called, “Downtown”. Only thing is, I was the antithesis of that song title as my young 10 year old body strode through the dutch doors and I was “downbarn”, instead! 😉
My 4th Grade school classes in Kiester were done for the day and our good old school bus had recently dropped us off along the gravel road that ran past our lovely little farm (well, at least to US it was lovely). Like Superman outta the phone booth, I ran upstairs and was transformed, as far as clothing goes, from “mr. fancypants” to “nitty gritty farmer kiddie” there in my bib-overalls and farming clod-hopper boots.
Jumping into the afternoon I realized that, even though our wonderfully giant Lilac bush was in wondrous bloom during that time of Late Spring, those delicious blossoms just couldn’t quite compete and reach the confines of our barnyard. The overpowering aroma of cow doodoo and pig peeyoo emanated from our busy farm life. But, as Daddy used to say, “That’s the smell of money,Sonny!!”……so it was a perfume that kinda grew on ya, over time. Dad’s philosophy on the smell of a farm even has a Biblical parallel. In the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs tells us in Chapter 14 Verse 4….”Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes from the strength of the ox.” So, to keep up the strength of our “oxes” and “oxettes”, it was one of my chores to grab buckets and “bushel baskets/tubs” and begin feeding out corn silage, grain and special meal supplements to our various livestock.
Bovines, like humans, each come equipped with their own personality traits. Some Holsteins in our barn were real fussy females that were easily startled and jumpy. And, when you get over a thousand pounds of “jumpy” happening around you, you’re either gonna get stepped on or squished by their big bodies as they’d push together against you. For me, I always gravitated to stall number 15 in our barn. There lived a sweet cow we all called, “Angel”, because of her gentle disposition about life there in our barn world. The stanchion (holding device) she was held in was at the very end of the line of cows. Along “Angel’s” right side were railings made up of strong 2″ galvanized piping. Sister Candice and myself petted this sweet cow daily. She seemed to enjoy the attention.
On television, I had seen cowboys ride the backs of bulls at rodeos. And, like any kid, I had seen cowboys ride on the backs of horses. “Hmmmm, thoughtI, I wonder if “Angel” would allow me to sit on her back?” Since our dad, Russell, was the boss of the farm, I asked him first if I could try my stunt. He just cautioned me as to what MIGHT happen if she didn’t like me on her back……I MIGHT just get bucked off!! So, using those side-rail pipes as a ladder, I climbed up to where I could gently throw my leg over “Angel’s” back and sat down gently on top of her. Low and behold, she didn’t seem to mind a bit having a 10 year old little Norwegian as a new resident upon her back. I was a good little rider. I didn’t jump, or dig in my heels. I just sat there up high with a new perspective of barn life down below. I will say though, that her sharp backbone cut right into the backside of this little Norwegian Farmer’s Son!! 😉
January 8th…“DID GREAT GRANDFATHER EDWIN NOORLUN SHARE STORIES ABOUT HIS YOUNG DAYS IN NORTHERN MINNESOTA?”
Breviloquence was Grandfather’s hallmark in life. Born in 1888, Edwin A. Noorlun was usually a man of few and gently spoken words. That mindset of Grandfather’s was cemented into reality for me when my father, Russell, shared the following scene. Early in the 1930’s, as a young teenager in their farm home near Fosston, Minnesota, Russ witnessed his mother, Marie, the “live-wire” of the marriage, attempt to engage Grandpa Ed in an argument. There at the family’s dinner table, Grandfather Edwin would be quietly ensconced behind his newspaper reading, while his rotund wife, Marie, would be in a tirade about something that had transpired that riled her matronly shackles. All the while he was behind that newspaper, Grandpa Ed knew full well of Grandma Marie’s intentions to get him embroiled as a participant in her ravings. So, as my dad would later relate to us kids, Grandpa Ed slowly lowered his newspaper and said to Grandma Marie (in Norwegian), “Ya sure, you’d just like me toargue, wouldn’t ya?!” At that instant, up would go the newspaper in front of his face, and he’d return to his quietness while Grandma Marie exploded in an ever heightened fit of rage!!! 😉
There were the times, though, when grandfather’s quiescent jaws became lubricated whenever he and our father, Russell, came together for father and son fellowship. You see, our dad was the only child (out of 8 siblings) of Edwin’s that followed his paternal parent’s vocational footsteps, as far as becoming a farmer like his daddy was. Of course, without a doubt, I am of the conviction that Edwin loved ALL his children dearly, yet, there was an extra level of kindred spirit that I sensed, even when I was a little boy, that whenever Grandpa Ed came to visit our farm near Kiester, Minnesota, there was a special glow between Ed and Russ. From the moment his yellow, 1949 Ford pulled into the farmyard driveway, I could pick up on the mutual camaraderie of father to son and farmer to farmer as those two Norwegian kinsman walked and talked together.
It was on one of those special farm visits by Grandfather Edwin, that I was a transfixed participant to one of his story-time moods. While the sun settled to the horizon, and with Grandpa by his side chatting away, our dear farmer father finished milking our fifteen Holstein dairy cows. After the milking machines had been sanitized and put away for the night, fresh straw bedding was fluffed up under our milking “ladies” and this mini-farmer watched Dad snap off the lights in the barn as the three of us made our way up to the house for supper while the black silk of evening wrapped around our agricultural world. With a Mange Takk (many thanks) to mother for her fine victuals, pipe smoke and/or cigarettes were lit up as a type of menfolk dessert after the meal. The blue, curling ascension of pipe smoke rose in dream-like mists towards the ceiling light of our farm kitchen. The very ambiance of that smoke embellished the story telling of our father and grandfather as they visited their respective remembrances of life in northern Minnesota in the old days.
Father and myself listened while Granddad began to share of when he was a young buck. He had ridden his horse into town to a meeting, with other farmers, at the local Grange Hall. By the time the meeting had adjourned, the sun was beginning its last descent into the edge of the world, casting long, golden shadows as Ed rode along the gravel road towards home. To his left, and down in the very high grass of those shallow road ditches, there was something loping alongside Ed as he, and his faithful steed, rode along. It was a creature of some sort, yet it was only a silhouetted shadow between the setting sun and Ed. Whatever it was, it was breathing hard. If Ed slowed the horse down, the massive creature slowed down, if Ed chirruped the horse to a trot, the shadowy creature, partially hidden in the shadows of the tall grass increased in speed as well. All the while, the frightening silhouette even rivaled the nostril-ed snorts of Ed’s horse.
Grandpa Edwin perceived that his horse was becoming very agitated as it sensed the danger that lurked down in those ever-darkening high grasses of the ditch. Ed was not about to be attacked by whatever lurked below in that ditch so with heel digs to the horse’s sides and a loud, “Heeyaaah!!”, Ed urged his mount to a full gallop as they sped away from the area and the safety of their farm home a few miles or more down the way. Now safely home on their farm and far away from whatever was in that ditch, Ed pulled the saddle from the sweaty horse, rubbed him down for the night, and headed into their house. The family’s radio was playing in the Living Room (no television in those times) as Ed settled his nerves with some supper and a newspaper. A news broadcast came on the air saying that a nearby circus had suffered the escape of one of their gorillas. Was THAT the creature that Ed and his horse had encountered that evening???? Who knows??? I’ll tell ya one thing though, that story sure got the attention of THIS Norwegian Farmer’s Son!!! 😉