December 15th…“WHAT DID YOUR PARENTS DO TO PREPARE YOUR FARM AND FARM HOME FOR WINTER THERE IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA?”
Sagaciously savvy to the wicked ways of Winter’s weather, our stalwart parents were steeled against whatever Jack Frost and his hordes could dish out. Having gleaned Winter survival tactics since 1918 and 1919, Russell and Clarice Noorlun both grew up in Norwegian families that acquired the will to survive and thrive in the white hinter-world of connecting the dots and seeing the continuum of daily activities carry on in farmlife. No matter what white wildness was cast in their directions, our parents had procured the strength and forethought to prepare for what frightful frigidity inevitably would transpire anytime between late October and what felt to them to be a millennia until Winter’s spell was again broken by the relentless warming of Spring.
Naked tree limbs, surrounding my childhood home, reflected the overall naked world in Winter that had been stripped of all cover, color and warmth. Most birds flew south to escape the bleak months ahead. Various wild animals burrowed deep below the frost line and settled down for a long hibernation to escape the killing cold. For us human beings, it was layers upon layers of clothing and stoking furnaces or fireplaces to make our abodes more hospitable while white rage swirled around us outdoors.
We Noorlun children were the grateful inheritors of our father and mother’s wisdom when it came to securing a warm home for our family to be cozy within each Winter. One way our parents showed how to maintain warmth was to create multiple rows of straw bales and pack them tightly around the base of our house walls. This helped to shield our home’s water pipes from freezing in what often were drops in temperatures from zero degrees to as much as 30 below zero.
With storm windows battened down tight and straw-bales in place, the next phase of protection of life and family was laying in a supply of fuel oil for our furnace that warmed the home and also our hearts. My little sister and I both recall a coal bin down in our root-cellar (called a basement nowadays) for supplemental heating, if necessary. Vital to our surviving comfort was a single furnace in the Living Room and our combination wood and propane stove in the Kitchen. No fancy duct-works or blower fan systems, it was just simple emanating heat that radiated from the furnace and stove outwardly to us. That was it, for heating our home. The only way the two upstairs bedrooms received any heat at all was from an open metal grating in the ceiling of the Living Room. Since heat rises, some of that heat from the furnace would meander upstairs to our bedrooms…..very little as it was. To keep our fuel supply nearby, our farmer father would use a tractor to pull a wagon load of coal or wood right up next to the house. That way, it was easier to fill the coal scuttle and/or wood bin directly from the wagon or shovel the commodities through the root-cellar window at ground level and store it in respective bins in the cellar.
With the tenacity and grit of a Marine attacking the beaches, our father, Russell “manned the guns” of attacking the enemy called “COLD” that invaded our other farm buildings each Winter. With his immediate family now safely warm inside our home, Dad had to be sure his animal “family” were cared for also. Oftentimes, our father’s blowtorch had to be fired up to thaw frozen water pipes in our barn so thirsty cows and livestock could stay hydrated in the cold weather. But, one Winter, Dad was dealt an almost deadly blow by Old Man Winter, himself. We lost all electrical power!!! So, even if he COULD thaw water pipes with his blowtorch , there was no electricity to pump the water.
To solve the immediate crisis of watering our animals, Dad called me over to him and said, “Elliott, I need your help loading these empty milk cans onto the “lowboy” hog trailer.” “We’re going down toBrush Creek for water.” Riding on the “lowboy” trailer (only a foot or so off the ground) with the milk cans, Dad pulled us with his tractor down the snowy gravel road to the bridge that crossed over frozen Brush Creek. Upon arrival at the bridge, our father took his axe and slid down the embankment to the frozen creek’s edge. As he made his way down the slippery slope, I tied a rope to the bail of a five gallon bucket and lowered the bucket to Dad below. With flailing axe, our patriarch eventually pierced the ice and broke through to the water beneath. Trading places, father came up to the wagon on the bridge while I went to the icy water’s edge and dipped the bucket into the water. Up, up, up he pulled the rope and the bucket went to the bridge level where Dad began filling the milk cans for watering our animals.
Dad knew that if this crisis went on for too many days, lifting countless water buckets up from the hole in our creek would be rigorous torture of his arm muscles over time. It was then that a light-bulb went on in our Norwegian daddy’s head. The widow of a neighboring farmer, Mrs. Faith Parks, possessed the royal blessing of a year-round artesian well that bubbled forth a tasty continuous flow of delicious water. Back at our farm home, Dad picked up the party-line phone receiver (making sure not to interrupt someone’s conversation) and gave Faith a phone call. She graciously gave us permission to go just a wee bit more distance of a tractor drive to their farm property and help ourselves to as much flowing water as needed to fill our milk cans and water our animals. Mrs. Parks truly saved the day for us all!
We are so spoiled by the modern conveniences of today’s world. As one of four offspring of our wonderful parents, there will always be a grateful heart inside of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
December 9th…“WHAT WERE SUNDAYS LIKE IN YOUR FARM HOME AND THAT OF YOUR CHURCH AND VILLAGE OF KIESTER, MINNESOTA?”
Church bells, in our village of Kiester, Minnesota, communed with one another on a crystal-clear Sunday morning. From one house of worship to another, these bright, brass beauties, from their respective bell towers, called faithful flocks of Christian believers to come praise God each Sunday, the weekly day of rest. From our farmyard, which lay three miles to the northwest of this farming community, the harmonic symphony of those chimes drew my morning stroll to our front lawn area. I could look to the southeast, across the fecund, rich black croplands and hear the beckoning of those massive brass instruments of clarion wonder.
Our matriarchal monarch, Clarice Arlone Sletten Noorlun, faithfully saw to it that her little Norwegian cherubs were properly rubbed, scrubbed and dubbed ready to be slipped into our “Sunday Best” outfits. This weekly ritual had us at the pinnacle of preparation to head to morning worship at our Grace Evangelical United Brethren Church there in our town. Blessings to her heart and memory, our precious mother was determined that we, the next generation of Noorluns, would be trained up in the ways of the Lord. Her spiritual pinning in our lives was foundational as we each made our decisions for Christ and served our Lord in various ways to His glory over the years. Looking back, I actually enjoyed the unique aura of Sundays. With certainty, I’m sure I wormed and squirmed over the process of bathing off my layers of boy dirt. And, of course, there was Mom’s sometimes painful manicure of finger and toenail clippings. Yet, once that weekly “mother mauling” was over with, I enjoyed dressing up for the special occasion of Sunday School and Church.
When the patriarch progenitor of our family needed Mom’s help with a farm chore on a Sunday morning, or when mother wasn’t feeling well, herself; in stepped our “third Grandma”. Genevieve Mutschler (and her husband, Wally) were so loved by our family, that they were revered as another set of parents for our mom and dad, and, like a third set of grandparents for us Noorlun youngin’s. All Mom had to do was give a phone call to Genevieve, whose farm lay just north of ours, and ask her if she could run us kids to church. “Be glad to!!!” chimed Genevieve over the phone to Mom. “I’ll roll up to the end of your driveway in a fewminutes.” said our lavender limousine lady. Out to the end of the driveway sister and I walked in our Sunday morning finery. We looked to the north along our county gravel road. Sure enough, Genevieve’s brand-new handsome, lavender 1960 Ford Galaxie would come rolling over the hill and stop right in front of us. What a delightfully cheery church chariot ride we had.
Something that always touched me on these Sunday mornings was the palpable feeling that our farming village truly did have a day of rest. Very few businesses were open on Sundays. The greatest majority of the population in our quaint town were either at church or at home with family taking it easy. What a great Heavenly Father we have who, even though He is complete in His omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience, still set His loving example for us that is found in Genesis Chapter 2 and Verse 2: “By the seventh day, God completed the work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done.” How loving He was to set an example for His children so that they can rejoice, restore and rejuvenate for an entire day before starting another chapter of life’s routines and work.
Within those hallowed walls of Grace Evangelical United Brethren Church, our local Body Of Christ met and fellow-shipped weekly. We sang praises from the great hymns of our Christian faith, we were nurtured and fed by our pastor from God’s Holy Word, too. Over the years, I was blessed by so many dear saints who ministered to us youngsters in teaching Sunday School each week and many happy and godly memories were inculcated to us with the enjoyable times of Vacation Bible School in the Summers.
I am rich, in so many ways, for having been raised in a godly and loving family. Rich for having had the joys of growing up around a town of kind and tender neighbors who looked out for each other in times of joy and times of need. And, foremost, I’m rich for having been watched over by our loving Lord who knows me intimately and has planned my life from before time began. I find that it’s not just Sunday that is a day of rest, but I can put my full trust in Jesus Christ and rest in Him, knowing that He has only the best planned for this Norwegian Farmers’s Son.
December 8th…“AS A FARMER BOY IN YOUR FARMING TOWN OF KIESTER, MINNESOTA, WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE FARMER STORE TO BROWSE IN?”
Wrapped in the arms of agriculture since I was a babe in the shadow of a barn, I have always been in awe of the tractors our father used to cultivate and glean abundant harvests from the onyx-black soils of our fertile part of the world.
In an anti-climactic vein, our mother even tells about how a tractor was almost the cause of my near death as a toddler. Being the tiny tike I was, I was blithely oblivious to the danger at hand as I saw my daddy coming back from the fields to our yard on his tractor. I loved Daddy and I loved tractors, so I put my little legs a runnin’ and headed straight for my dad. When Mom looked up from her work, there I was, running towards my father who was rolling into our farmyard pulling a load of hay with his tractor. With arms flailing the air above her head, my mother streaked after her toddler in jeopardy. Unable to see me, in his blind spot out in front of the tractor, Dad could have easily crushed me to death. Guardian angels must’ve given our mother, Clarice, extra loud screams that scared Dad and got his attention to stop just in time and,……. here I am, still alive to share these stories with you 😉
All it took was for Dad or Mom to lift my tiny being up and place me in the seat of a tractor and I was “hooked”. Like a happy addict, I just couldn’t get enough of tractors and was a fan of the highest degree.
I was magically entranced by these massive metal monsters so gigantic in size, yet able to be tamed by the prowess and know-how of my farmer father or big brother who possessed the knowledge to push on foot pedals, pull levers and yank gear shifts accordingly to call this mechanized marvel to do their bidding.
International Harvester Company made a small utility tractor called the Farmall B. Big brother, Lowell, became so adept at operating that tractor that it was amazing for this little brother to watch what my elder brother could accomplish. One day, in the very muddy Springtime, Lowell had managed to get the “B” into the cowyard and hooked it up to a very full, and heavy, manure spreader implement near our barn. When he let out the clutch to start pulling the manure spreader, those chevron-treaded tractor tires began to spin in the slime and were getting buried in the mud. Keeping his cool head, big brother made use of the independent left and right brakes on the tractor. By alternating left brake, then right brake, Lowell was able to let each tractor tire grind down to solid ground beneath and he, in essence, “walked” that manure spreader right out of the mud and it followed him out to the field so he could spread the load of “moo goo” for fertilizer on our fields.
There were, and I’m sure still are, tractor loyalties from farm place to farm place back home in our Minnesota days. For the most part, our father, Russell, was loyal towards and preferred to farm with International Harvester brand tractors. During that era of agricultural history, the “IH” Company had a model of tractors called the Farmall. For our family, we owned a small Farmall B, a bit larger tractor called the Farmall H and our muscle tractor was the big Farmall Super M. Dad owned an older Farmall F-20 that he kept inside his two row corn-picker and we also owned a Massey Harris Model 44 tractor. Teasingly, it may sound almost sacrilegious to other Farmall owners, but Dad, at one time, even owned a John Deere Model 70 tractor, too. So, with the ownership of a “green machine”, this is where the story today takes on the sharing of my enjoyment of where I enjoyed shopping in town during that era.
During the tenure of time when Dad owned that John Deere 70, he’d occasionally need parts or supplies. Those were the days when I’d literally beg our father to allow me to go with him into our grand little village of Kiester on one of his buying trips. “Sure, Son, come on along!”, Dad would respond to me. Excitedly, I’d run over to our old ’50 Ford pickup and jump in. Windows rolled down, pickup engine purring; Dad let out the truck’s clutch pedal and away we rolled towards Kiester and the well-known business called “Sime Equipment Company”. Along the way, Dad would light up a “Camels” cigarette and had it captured between his first and middle fingers that draped over the top of that black steering wheel. There was a manly “coolness” to observe Dad’s cigarette smoke being trifled with by the wind in the cab as we drove along. Other farmers, approaching us on the road, would meet us heading to the west (as we headed east), my dad rendered the traditional country courtesy of a two or three finger wave to fellow farmers as we drove along with the Summer wind flowing through the truck cab to cool us.
In a short while, we arrived and parked in front of the stately building where John Deere green was KING!!! As we climbed out of the Ford, I could feel a magnetism pulling me towards my farmer boy utopia, my “kid heaven”. The entry bell over the door jangled as we stepped inside “Simes”. I asked permission to split company with Dad as he was heading for the parts counter. MY “counter” was made up of a wide shelf that ran the entire length of the store’s giant picture window. On that shelf, just waiting for my boy toy imagination was just about every conceivable John Deere toy tractor and accessory toy you can dream of. I was on a veritable “Cloud 9” of childhood ecstasy and began making “putt, putt, putt” sounds as I touched as many of those fun-time toys as time would permit me. I hoped that Dad’s business lasted hours so that I could “overdose” on fun here.
Nearby the toy window, at least one or two full aisles were stocked with John Deere toys that were for SALE, too!! In my little boy heart, I imagined how magnificent it would be for my dad to purchase all of these amazing toys for me to take home and play with! But, alas, money was not easy to come by for folks who tilled the land for a living. Dad and Mom had taught us about the priorities of life in feeding our family, caring for our farm and other essentials. Even though Dad could see the whimsical wishes on my yearning face to own every John Deere toy ever made, he also had taught me the value of obedience. And true, I was grateful that I had so much fun playing along that broad expanse of toyland along that picture window. Yet, when our father said, “It’s time to go, Son.” I knew that obedience superseded toys any day for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.