November 28th…“WHAT IS ANOTHER WISE SAYING THAT YOUR MOTHER EMPLOYED AS YOU WERE IN YOUR YOUNG FARM YEARS OF MINNESOTA DAYS?”
“Awwww, Mom, why do I hafta take my jacket along today? I don’t wanna! It’s hot outside so I don’t need it.” So said immature Elliott child as our family was getting ready to go on a daylong outing for a picnic with relatives and friends at a forested park along one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. I can still see Mom give me one of her concerned looks. One could almost see her motherly wheels turning inside her loving heart as she jostled with the idea within her own thoughts, “Do I MAKE him take a jacket? Or do I allow him to make his own decision on this and have him endure the consequences?” Here are her wise words that she shared that day and those words have been embedded in my conscience ever since. “Elliott, it is better to HAVE it, and not NEED it, rather than to NEED it, and not HAVE it.” With that said, she allowed me to make my own decision…….my jacket stayed at home.
Personally, I am of the persuasion that our beloved mother’s wisdom started far back in her young life. Born in 1919, and being the eldest of four, it seems only natural that there were many times in her growing years that she was assigned to watch over and after her two brothers and little sister, Beverly. Life lessons passed on down from Clarice’s own mother must’ve sharpened her to what would and would not work in getting along with each other from day to day. In my immediate instance of the jacket scene, and my decision to NOT follow my mother’s wisdom……..I eventually found out, after the sun settled into the west, that I was getting downright COLD in the chilly evening weather. When I found mother sitting at a picnic table and complained about my shivering situation, she had little compassion on her little boy that didn’t listen to her and she repeated her wisdom for emphasis…….“Now you know what I mean by it’s better to HAVE it, and not NEED it, than to NEED it, and not HAVE it!, ya?” With poose gimples (goose pimples) all over my arms and body, I acquiesced to her wisdom. 😉
“Heeding Mother’s Wisdom” by N. Elliott Noorlun
My mother’s wisdom, Gleaned from God,
While on life’s journey, Upon this sod,
Started from, Her childhood days,
In watching o’er, Her sibling’s ways.
Then came youth, With all it’s trials,
And lessons learned, Down country miles.
More wisdom came, From elder sources,
And also from, Her school room courses.
Young woman now, And soon to be married,
With blessings now, Of babies carried.
Her knowledge so far, Was put to the test,
To raise her children, For the best.
Now came the time, For her little boy,
To learn from her wisdom, And enjoy,
That, it is better, To make the habit,
Take extras along, That way you’ll have it! 😉
I’m so thankful for the mother God gave to this Norwegian Farmer’s Son!!! ><>
November 27th…“PLEASE SHARE WITH US SOME OF THE ADMIRABLE QUALITIES OF YOUR MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER.”
In Russia, in 1894, Nicholas II became the new reigning Czar (king) of that land. But, here in America, that same year, in the State of Iowa, there was born “the queen” of our family tree into the Norwegian family of Ole T. Rogness. Our “queen’s” name? Amanda Margaret Rogness. I am confident that, collectively, our various family members could write an entire book about this grand lady’s life and her manifold blessings to our immediate and even extended family. Nevertheless, I am going to venture an effort to share with you some of my own personal observations of this sweet soul of a grand Norwegian woman.
Using a bit of poetic license, my grandmother’s name means, “a pearl worthy of love”. For you see, Amanda Margaret comes from two sources…..the Latin word “Amanda”, meaning “worthy of love” and, from the Greek language, the name “Margaret”, meaning “a pearl”. In my humble opinion, Grandmother Amanda truly was a shining pearl worthy of love.
With a Winter’s blanket of snow, I can almost hear the sleigh bells on the teams of horses as they gallantly pulled sleds of family and guests towards Lime Creek Lutheran Church located in Winnebago County of northern Iowa on December 24th, 1917. Oh, and to be sure, there likely were a mixture of sturdy Ford Model T cars churning the snowy roads in the entourage that day, too. Amanda Rogness had said, “Yes”, to Clarence Sletten in agreeing to be joined together in the bonds of holy matrimony. To enhance the moment, I ponder that the delicious pine fragrance of the church’s Christmas tree must’ve lent to the holiday festiveness of this marital union. Amanda and Clarence were eventually blessed with four fine children. Firstborn from their union was our cherished mother, Clarice Arlone, then Robert Shirley, then Marcus (Del)maine and then their youngest child, Beverly June. I can easily envision the cooing and giggling of each precious new baby into the Sletten family as they each enjoyed the tenderness of their mother Amanda, our dear Norwegian matriarch.
Special family occasions would bring a happy giggling gaggle of girls, of the Rogness clan, together at the handsome farm home of Esther “Rogness” Bidne. Esther, and her prankster husband, Oscar, were blessed to live on a most elegant farm acreage near Emmons, Iowa. Their handsome two-story home easily housed many a family gathering of our clan over the years. I would venture to say that love and good times were had by all as food, fun and family fellowship would be celebrated in the sun-sheltered shadow of the large shade trees that surrounded their picturesque home.
Without a shadow of a doubt, my mother, Clarice, cherished any time she could find to be with the sweet woman who had given her the gift of life back in 1919. Even when it came to the mundane task of washing the picnic dishes, our Mom took it as a chance to snuggle and chat with the mother she absolutely adored. Clarice admired and sought to emulate her mother, Amanda, with every nuance that her life energy could to afford to give. Because of the muggy Minnesota summer weather, it was quite common for families to take picnics in local parks by a lake, or just the sweet shade of the trees on a family’s home farm. On some picnics, Grandma Amanda, in tandem with our mother and Aunty Beverly, joined in a gleeful fun time of being enticed to have an arm fat wiggling contest. Good-natured, as she was, when we kids asked what that extra fatty skin was under her upper arm, Grandma Amanda would hold out her arm from her body and begin jiggling her arm fat back and forth in a flapping motion. We kids would howl with laughter and roll on the ground as our mother and her sister, Beverly, would join in on the fun, too.
The chill of Fall, in 1965, was already in the air when our family made the journey to Austin, Minnesota to visit our mother’s sister, Beverly, and family. During that Summer, I had experienced a growth spurt and a new phenomenon transpired between myself and my beloved grandmother. For the first time in my young life, I was actually taller than an adult…..and that adult was Grandma Amanda. Wooohooo!!! 😉 Being the darling that she always was, Grandma Amanda used the occasion to bolster my young ego with fun encouragements like, “Ohhh myyy goodness, Elliott, you’re getting so tall!!” I just loved the attention and it placed my maternal matriarch on an even higher pedestal in my valuing of her kind words to me. I may have been inches taller than our petite grandmother now, but, to me, she was a “giant” when it came to her quiet, tender and loving ways she lived her life.
June of 1966 came rolling around and it was time to celebrate Grandma’s 72nd birthday at their quaint cottage there on Abbott Street in Albert Lea, Minnesota. True to her Norwegian heritage, there were various tasty delicacies already waiting for our clan to enjoy on their little kitchen table. Lefse (a Norwegian potato pancake/tortilla) were rolled up on a plate with salted creamery butter nearby to slather on them. You’d first unroll the Lefse to its rounded glory, butter it heavily, then sprinkle the Lefse with a thick coating of sugar (like I would do) then re-rolled them and ate them in a voraciously happy manner. You could see another Norwegian tasty treat on the table in the form of Kringle. These were a type of cookie that were rolled and then formed into the shape of a pretzel. You could butter the underside of the Kringle and eat it that way. Or, some of the family would even spread jam on top of the butter……yum, yum!
As much as all of us would’ve loved to have had our grandmother go on and on in blessing our lives, her earthly life was brought to a close by cancer in the Summer of 1967. From the Book of Psalms Chapter 116 and Verse 15 it says: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” For our most beloved grandmother, she could easily have echoed her own life sentiments from II Timothy Chapter 4 and Verse 7 & 8 …..(7) “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith: (8) Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the LORD, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also who love His appearing” Even with our mother’s devastation and mourning at the loss of her own mother, we all could, and still do find comfort in the Christian faith that was the guidepost of our matriarch Amanda and still is for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
November 26th…“WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF LIFE THERE ON YOUR FARM IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA?”
Beyond the farthest twinkle of a star, there are baby-blue folds in the clouds where there resides Heaven’s Nursery for bouncing baby boys. From that sparkling repository, I “popped out” and into this earthly life, in 1954, just a howlin’ for milk and all the attention everyone could afford to give to this newborn Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
Each of us are given an amazing computer between our ears that begins storing memories within its database at different times for different individuals. I’ve spoken to some folk who cannot remember the faintest part of their childhood life previous to their teenage years. For me, though, memories began early. Our brains are true miracles of God as we traverse life’s chapters and glean some choice, golden memories that we grasp and maintain for life. On the other hand, some of us experience events that are either horrific or transient and those incidents are discarded by the brain as superfluous. As a defense mechanism, some of those tortuous happenings are eradicated from our memory banks out of need to survive and move on in life.
Being born in a blizzard, as I was, my first baby body sensations, beyond Mother’s cuddling arms and the warmth of our farm home, was the frigid weather of our Minnesota winter. I’m not sure what magical mandate was in play this one day of my babyhood, but we were going to leave the blissful warmth of our farm house and travel in our car somewhere……car?, what’s a car? 😉 I remember Mother wrapping my tiny infant body in the mandatory diaper, one-piece pajamas and then layer upon layer of blankets that swaddled me tightly in a cocoon of warmth. As loving mothers do, she cradled my wobbly head as she scooped me up from my crib and and proceeded to carry me out the back porch door. As the icy wind whipped around the corner of the house, intent on stealing my baby breath away, Mom took my yellow, quilted baby blanket and tossed it over my head for protection. In the blink of my eyes, the brilliant white of the snow-saturated world around me turned into a gentle yellow hue beneath this quilted dome of protecting love. Just before Mother cocooned me under that yellow quilt, I saw something that was big and long and green.
Flying blind, in her arms, and literally under-cover, I could hear her rubber boots crunch the snow with each motherly gait until the shrieking of wind subsided. The now muted sounds of the blizzard were quieter because Mom, with me clutched in her arms, had slipped inside this cavernous, caliginous, clanking collection of parts of what I later learned was something called a car. Of course, it wasn’t until later years that I was cognizant of that contraption actually being our 1952 Chevrolet.
My next captured memory of tiny life occurred in the arena of a dairyman’s main stage…….our giant barn…..well, it was giant to ME, at least. As my first nine months of life unfurled, I began to perambulate as best as I could at my age. The motion is commonly called, crawling 😉
Our sweet mother, Clarice, had carried me in her arms to our barn. Like any good farm wife, our mom was always there for our farmer father and had set little me down on the barn floor so she could assist our dad with some milking chores in what we called the “Milk Parlor”. (To quiet the super-sensitive readers here, I was within her eyesight at all times in this episode). I hypothesize what those Holstein cows must’ve thought of this miniature human that sat on the floor and crawled on “all fours”, just like they walked on their “all fours”.
Secured within their locked stanchions (neck holders), I crawled alongside these behemoth monsters of MOOOOdom. At times, those mountain-tall creatures would look at my crawling presence and bellow forth with those crescendoing, almost honking MOOOOOO sounds. From where my tiny being crawled or sat, I could see Mom and Dad at a slight distance there in our Milk Parlor. At the intersection of the Manger Aisle, I looked down the alleyway where our feeding manger was for our fifteen head of milk cows. That stretch of the barn seemed to go for a mile in my mini perspective at floor level.
With early memories as the subject today, I leave you with a little poem:
Gray matter, gray matter, Between our ears,
Amazing the memories, You store o’er the years.
Some times are vivid, Others are blank,
But for them all, My God I thank!!! ><>
Happy memories are the best says this Norwegian Farmer’s Son. 😉
November 25th…“WHAT WAS ONE OF THE WISE SAYINGS YOUR MOTHER TAUGHT YOU WHILE GROWING UP ON THE FARM?”
There must be a wisdom warehouse located in the clouds of Heaven’s “MommaLand”. Before starting their life, here on earth, future mothers must go to the pink, upholstered warehouse shelves and pull off wise sayings that they’ll take with them in their earth-bound luggage to instruct their own tiny ones with to grow by someday. That sure was the case with our precious mother, Clarice Arlone “Sletten” Noorlun. No matter what the topic was that life dished out to us, Mom would pull a saying out of her repertoire just as fast as Marshall Matt Dillon’s greased-lightning six-shooter flew out of his leather holster on the old Western cowboy television show called “Gunsmoke”. Being the slow learner that I was, though, sometimes her sayings were “over my head” as far as understanding their application to my specific life happenings.
One of Mom’s wisdom quotes came into play during the summer after my 5th Grade school year. Here is how her wise saying went….”TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING IS NOT GOOD!” Now, just how could that be? If something smelled good, tasted good, sounded good, or felt good, it must be ALL good, right? That motherly wisdom really baffled me! How could something good, be NOT good? I was soon to find that missing link of understanding in just a short while.
As I have alluded to, in earlier stories, I only received 25 cents every Saturday night for spending money when our family went to Kiester to shop and take part in the “Lucky Bucks” drawing in town. Any extra dollars that were hoped for, I had to earn on my own. Trapping Pocket Gophers was one of those means of garnering extra money by taking the claws of my kills to our neighbor farmer, Charlie Heitzeg. He was the County Agent for Faribault County (where we lived) and paid me bounty money for those gophers. Now, I had my own cash to enjoy. It wasn’t much, mind ya, but it was my money to splurge on as I chose to.
My time of reckoning and Mom’s wisdom came to fruition one fine day that summer. After weeks and weeks of trapping those gophers, I had dollars jingling in my pockets and it was just a burnin’ and a yearnin’ to be spent. With our family loaded into our car, we headed to Albert Lea, Minnesota to visit my mother’s parents. Bouncing along in the back seat, I’m feeling like a rich man with “bucks” in my pockets. After our time of visiting Grandma and Grandpa Sletten, we all headed to uptown Albert Lea for our folks to do some shopping before heading back to the farm for evening milking and chores. At our house, orange marshmallow peanuts were a sometimes candy in our farm home, but Mom was frugal with us as to how many we could eat. In the local Woolworth’s Store that day, I found me a big bag of those tasty confections. This scrumptious kid delicacy also sometimes sported the name of “Circus Peanuts”. Since I was now the “John D. Rockefeller” of gopher millions, I decided to buy my very own large bag of that orange ambrosia all for my selfish self. After using my own money for the purchase, I asked permission to go back to the family car while the rest of the clan continued shopping. Permission was granted and I headed back to the Noorlun chariot with my tasty treasure in the bag.
Climbing into the back seat, I rolled down the rear passenger windows to enjoy the afternoon breezes as I hastily ripped open my very own bag of magical, orange, sugared delight. I began to scarf down that entire bag of orange marshmallow peanuts into a waiting stomach that anticipated an illustrious sensation of euphoria. My initial gluttonous giddiness soon turned into a “green around the gills” sensation because all that orange opulence, now churning in my gut, was making me sick to the point of changing my name to “The Duke Of Puke”!!!!
Eventually, my folks and little sister came strolling back to our car from their shopping. Mom peeked in through the rolled down back window of the car and saw her son laying there, holding for my stomach and about ready to get sick all over the car (which, thankfully, I didn’t). There I was, with an empty bag of what used to be candy, and a belly full of hurt. With her all-knowing wisdom she repeated her saying to me. “Now you KNOW what I meantwhen I said, TOO much of a good thing is NOT good!”. I replied, “Yes, Mom, Iunderstand NOW!” Her loving teaching impressed me then and has always stayed with this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
November 24th…“WHEN DID YOU FIRST EXPERIENCE THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE IN YOUR FAMILY?”
His yellow ’49 Ford banked easily off the gravel road and into the south driveway of our farm there near Kiester, Minnesota. In the sultry afternoon sunshine of Summer, I could see lazy swirls of gravel dust behind the car. They were rising in curlycews that seemed to trumpet a quiet fanfare in the arrival of our patriarchal Grandfather Edwin A. Noorlun. As he rolled the Ford into the driveway, with a foot to the clutch, Grandpa Ed slipped the manual column shift down into second gear so he could climb the small knoll that bent to the right and saw him bring that quaint Ford to a stop by our back porch door.
Bedecked in his customary farmer’s bib-overalls, Grandpa Ed slowly emerged from that gentle chariot of his and gave a stretch to his lanky frame. Being born in the State of Wisconsin, in 1888, Edwin was the first generation of Noorluns to be born here in America. Edwin’s father, Arne Noorlun, had immigrated from Norway to America in the mid 1800’s sometime. Along with Grandfather Ed being our first generation born here, 1888 also brought some other “firsts” to the world. The Eastman Kodak camera company was founded that year. Another “first” for that year was the inception of the National Geographic Society along with the magazine by the same name. Being so young, at the time, I had no knowledge of my grandfather’s early years of growing up in Wisconsin and eventually farming in northern Minnesota. What I DID have knowledge of, though, is that I perceived my paternal grandfather to be a quiet man with gentle mannerisms to match.
Even as a young boy, it was easy for me to discern the great adoration that our daddy, Russell, had for his father, Edwin. You see, Russell was the only one of the five Noorlun boys who decided to follow his father’s footsteps into farming. I sensed that that common bond between father and son garnered a very close camaraderie between Grandpa and Dad. In the late afternoon sun, you could often see their silhouetted bib-overall frames as they’d saunter, side by side towards our orchard discussing matters of agriculture or livestock care.
With Grandpa Ed as our guest that day, Dad completed the milking of our herd of Holstein cows and wrapped up his other daily chores as another Minnesota sunset filtered through the windbreak treeline. It was then that three bib-overall clad Noorluns (Grandpa, Dad and yours truly) followed their noses towards our farm kitchen and the delightful aromas of our mother’s excellent cooking. I treasured these times when we were all seated around our small dinner table for supper and listened to Grandpa Edwin and Dad share stories of the long ago when farming in northern Minnesota. Being a smoker, Dad’s pipe sent its smoke curls spiraling upward towards the kitchen ceiling light as he hung on every word his beloved father spoke. Grandpa Ed was an excellent storyteller. I was an eager audience to hear those stories and, in a sense, via those stories, was a witness to what had transpired in the heritage of our family history and life happenings.
Sadly, when Grandpa Edwin’s health began to fail, so also did his ability to live in the present. In modern terms of today, his diagnosis would likely have been Alzheimer’s Disease, but, in those days, folks called his condition “hardening of the arteries” or “old age dementia”. Due to his declining health, Grandfather Edwin now needed a more constant form of special care and attention. As a boy, I remember our family driving to the town of Lake Mills, Iowa to visit Grandpa in what appeared to be a care home in someone’s residence. There, from his bed on the second floor of that residence, Grandfather would talk to my father as if our dad were still a teenager and still living on their family farm in northern Minnesota. “Russell?!” he’d say. “Yes, Dad”, Russell replied. Grandpa Ed gave a directive….“When you finish milking the cows this evening, you’d better start the plowing on that north 20 acres.” With an understanding gentility towards his elder, our daddy responded with respect and said to his beloved father, “Sure thing, Dad, I will.” I could easily see the great sadness in my father’s eyes as we witnessed the fading mind of the Norwegian father he loved so much.
Grandfather Edwin A. Noorlun left this earthly life on the day after Christmas in 1964. My family and I attended the viewing and visitation at the local funeral home there in Lake Mills, Iowa. Even at the age of 10 years, I was still too young to comprehend the depth and gravity of what death really was. It was surreal to me. There, in the funeral parlor Viewing Room, I witnessed various family members as they poured out their mourning for Grandpa Ed in complete sobbing, while others just sat there teary-eyed with heads hung in sorrow. Grandmother Marie Noorlun was too weak from the stress of emotions in the death of her husband, so two of my aunties escorted Marie by each arm as they walked to the casket that was open for viewing Grandpa’s body. At the rim of Grandpa’s coffin, Marie lowered herself to kiss Edwin’s pallid forehead one last time. Their’s had not been a perfect marriage by any means, but I saw this as a final and tender farewell to the husband that had blessed her through their years with a thriving family of eight living children and two that had died at birth/infancy.
Imprinted in my memory was the Winter day of the burial. It was starkly cold with a bleak, stiff wind bristling through the evergreen trees that encompassed the grounds of Sion Lutheran Church located some miles to the east of our grandparent’s town of Lake Mills, Iowa. To me, even the naked branches of the deciduous trees mourned in the wind with all the rest of us at the laying to rest of our beloved Norwegian Patriarch Father.
November 23rd…“WHAT WAS THE MAILING ADDRESS OF YOUR CHILDHOOD FARM, THERE IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA?”
Our father’s name was our mailing address. As for the innumerable farming families near and far from our own farm, their own imprinted legacy upon the soil they cared for was enough of an address for the days and times of my parent’s generation. I truly am of the mindset that the agrarian strength of family bonds has been the major backbone of our nation over its long tenure of existence. Each farm address was a matter of heart.
Proverbs Chapter 22 and Verse 1 says, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold”. A good name; that is how farm families were recognized and found in the sprawling, cubical land sections of southern Minnesota in those days. Intersections of graveled country roads sported no street signs of any kind. The reason for that was because generation upon generation of farm owners, and their ancestors, had lived in the same area for so long, everyone knew where everyone lived. Multi-generational farm families like Mutschler, Heitzeg, Lorenz, and so many others were caretakers of their beloved farms for as much as 75 to 100 years. That kind of longevity made a natural mental picture to all other local farmers as to where “so and so’s” farm was located. The only thing our parents, Russell and Clarice, had to do was mention a neighboring farm family name and immediately, our farmer’s “GPS” (Great People System) knew exactly how many country blocks one had to drive to reach that farmer’s home place and “address”.
Take our own farm, for instance. At least two generations enjoyed caring for those ebony soils before our parents began farming (via renting) the acreage in 1946. In those days, other farmers would’ve known the “address” of our home place as the Santmaier or Holstad farm and they would’ve automatically known how to get there, too. Our Landlord was Morton Holstad (from whom our parents eventually bought the farm). Morten’s wife was Tina “Santmaier” Holstad. It was Tina’s parents who likely homesteaded the land back in the 1800’s.
What an awesome “address” to have for my first 13 years of life. I became intimately acquainted with every acre of land and every nook and cranny of every building on our dear family farm. Formative, as youth is, this sacred soil held magical moments for me in my span of life then, and still does up to this very day. For on this soil, and within these buildings, I learned of life with family. Then there was an enrichment of knowing the birth, life and death of the many animals under our care. And, most importantly, there were the joys of being “rich” as farmers. Oh, not like dollars in your pockets “rich”, for we were monetarily challenged like the majority of farmers around us. Yet, for me, in the blissful positivity of youth, I felt we were just as rich as the folks on any neighboring farm in the sense that I never went hungry and I had plenty of clothes to wear. And ohhhhh, how rich I was for the luxury of our beloved mother’s heavy quilts on our beds to shield us from the bite of Old Man Winter at night. Also, at this “address”, I got a gift for my birthday and even a gift for Christmas. What more can any kid, at any address, ask for.
When 1963 rolled around, although farmers still knew each other’s “address” well, the local postal system developed an address for our farm and tagged us as Rural Route 1. At the same time, a new fan-dangled system of faster U.S. Mail delivery began, as well. It was known as the “zip code”. So, on top of being Rural Route 1, Kiester, Minnesota, there was added the zip code for our town which is 56051. There’s a happy part of my heart that will always live at that address of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
November 22nd…“WHERE AND WHAT WERE YOU DOING ON THE INFAMOUS DAY WHEN PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY WAS ASSASSINATED IN 1963?”
As an escapism, I gazed out of the upstairs windows of my 4th Grade classroom and towards the branched tips of the tall majestic shade trees that bordered our school property. There were still a few stubborn remnants of Maple leaves clinging to their branch stems, as if to feign still having life within them which, in reality, was all but gone. Their dried destiny awaited one more frigid November gust of Minnesota wind to rip them from their moorings and cast them to the piles of their peers waiting below.
My first eight times of life around the calendar saw each November 22nd to be cold. But this ninth November day, November 22nd, 1963, brought with it an ominous frigidity that sustained a quivering to the very bones of this little Norwegian farm boy. There was something extra chilling in the air that day, and I was soon to discover that a facet of that day, once revealed, was to prove that it would be more than just the weather that would be chilling.
To set the stage, our beloved Grade School, being of classic Americana construction, had been built in the 1920’s as the first High School of our fair community. The wooden floors throughout the two-story structure had their own language of creaks and pops as hundreds of young adults and then children had tread over those wooden ways in the decades leading up to that same building now housing our Kindergarten through Sixth Grade classes. Beautiful, small pane windows in the classrooms allowed for lovely natural lighting and the old fashioned classroom doors were adorned with small pane windows, as well. The multiplicity of so much wood in the building’s construction allowed us to hear, not only the cacophony of our own classroom’s educational goings on, but you couldn’t help but notice footsteps in the halls, too, of either a single person, or a herd of kids coming.
The normal day of my classroom routine was about to change abruptly. Down those wooded, echoing hallways, that I alluded to earlier, came some heavy adult footsteps in an almost thunderous cadence till they reached Mrs. Leland’s 4th Grade classroom door. Those overweight footsteps and hard, matronly-heeled shoes belonged to our Principal, Mrs. Ellen King. Mrs. King grabbed for the wobbly door knob of our multi-windowed door. As she gave it a pull, the very hinges creaked eerily on their hinge pins and every student spun in their desk to see who came in. Mrs. King’s portly face was pale with emotion as she steadied herself on the frame of that old wooden door. Her utterance of these words stunned us all, “Mrs. Leland, boys and girls, our President, the honorable Mr. John F. Kennedy has just been shot in Dallas, Texas!” With that horrific proclamation still sinking in to our little hearts and minds, she then continued on her morbid journey to each and every classroom until all the staff and students knew of the unfathomable occurrence that had just befallen our country’s highest leader.
Now even at the tender age of only nine years, I was already quite cognizant of President Kennedy’s heroic service during World War II. As the Skipper of the PT 109 boat, Lieutenant Kennedy had valiantly guided his men to safety on a nearby island after their PT (Patrol Torpedo) boat had been cut in two by a giant Japanese destroyer ship. Having lost only two crew members (killed at impact with the Japanese ship), Kennedy’s tenacity and wit kept spirits high among the remaining crewmen as they managed to survive, not be captured by the enemy all around them, and eventually were rescued by friendly natives and allies.
Little nine year old boys, and this one in particular, tended to take life quiet literally as it happened around them. In my immature schoolboy mind, I surmised that if someone shoots our President, that must mean we’re going to WAR……….with someone!!! As our teacher, Mrs. Leland, led our class to the cafeteria for lunch that day, I remember stiffly marching, as if I were a soldier. In my little boy ways, I was prepared to fight for and seek vengeance against whoever would have the audacity perpetrate such an unspeakable deed against our dear President and nation.
As adults, we oftentimes are guilty of not respecting the intuition, awareness and insightful abilities of children. I was still too young to discern what the differences were between Democrats and Republicans, but this I DID know. I liked the man, John F. Kennedy! I had watched him conduct many interviews on our television set, during his short tenure in office as our President, and I sensed a true heart who loved this country deeply. Altruistic innocence of a child? Maybe. I just knew, in my heart, that this good man’s life had touched mine with his willingness to serve our nation at her highest office. Whatever his human failings were, President Kennedy was one of the heroes of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.