Anderson Family History

Arvid and Blanche Anderson Family Memories

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Up to the 1930’s, life was arduous but reasonably good for my parents on their mortgaged  Ramsey Township farm, midway  between Center, SD & Montrose, SD 6 miles north and 2 miles east of Salem, SD. The folks were supremely confident they’d soon be able to ‘lie back & kick up their heals’  letting their two sons, Vincent and Maynard  take over. There’s money in the bank. Daughter Frances Verda might marry a son of a similarly accomplished neighbor-farmer and live close-by. The State of the Union, government said was never better. How high could stock prices go?

Improved farm prices and prospects of rain were the buzz on the new party line telephone just installed. That’s how the news was spread. There was no dial on the wall-mounted telephone box; rather, there was a crank that one turned to ring whomever you wanted.  When a person called any other person with a telephone on the same line could listen in to the party line. One knew who was being called by the ring. Two long rings/three shorts was our phone number. News also came via Center Store where milk was sold after processed through our huge whirling contraption separating cream from skim-milk. Other news came on Sunday when farmers conversed after Center Church at Swede family gatherings.. Official news came from the weekly Salem Special. delivered RFD (Rural Free Delivery) or from Dad’s new device: a radio. It consisted of a large speaker atop a huge box connected with wires to two batteries, one the size of an automotive battery. Both weaken after only short duration so usage was reserved for special occasions like FDR’s fireside chats. One day we might have hojme-made electricity from a Delco plant on the farm and have electric lights like Uncle Carl. Cousin Laurel Howe claims in town he even saw a Christmas tree with glowing electric lights, not candles and wax catchers such as we use.

One day followed another with Model T cars rattling past the farm on the Valley Road to Montrose, sometimes several a day, along the east fork of the little Vermillion River interspersed with a team of horses or even an occasional Indian tribe wandering on pony. The old folks had used oxen to break up the prairie but now oxen were replaced by horse or even a tractor..
Then, as the roaring 1920’s drew to a close, the 1930’s entered in with more than a few surprises:

1.        Mom tells Dad an unexpected family addition will soon arrive. ry
2         Banks tell Dad that banks have closed & his live-long savings had been ‘dispersed’.
3.        Farmers’ Almanac foretells reocurrence of the past few year’s droughts.
4.        Wall Street succumbs to irrational exuberance; farm prices tumble sharply.
5.         Son Vincent says he’s going to Orland for school; forget farming.
6.         Winds whip up dust clouds that make day seem like night.
7.         Locusts/ grasshoppers strip the last of the dried up small grains & cornfields.
8.         Dad’s farm mortgage has been sold to another lender AND will still fall due.

One night we came home from Church to find red foreclosure signs pinned to our fences. Mom can’t understand what they are. Dad says “Can’t you see, woman, WE’VE BEEN POSTED! Our life-savings and inheritance is all gone.”
The only thing I recall about the foreclosure was my father crying as his team of horses
were auctioned off to the highest bidder to pay the mortgage. Dad never put a cent in the banks again; always paying cash even after moving to Palo Alto, CA and starting a bicycle sales and repair business.

Moving from the farm was a trauma for all. I’d begun school in a one-room schoolhouse familiar to me since Dad did all the  needed repairs. He’d often take me there over the years to play on the swings while he did such things as fix the pump on the well. I became fascinated with its mechanism, consisting of cups on a chain over two sprockets driven by a hand crank.  We had an outside toilet, of course, but we now had running water in the house thanks to a pump Dad installed in our kitchen. When I see hot water today running from the kitchen faucet I think how difficult it was to get hot water: 1.Gather the wood. 2.Build a fire.  3. Heat water on the wood-burning stove. 4. Presto, in an hour you have a quart of hot water

On the farm my 1st grade class had consisted of only one other student,  neighbor Tina, who walked me down the road hand-in-hand teased by my siblings. I told her I stole a can of Hershey’s chocolate for us hidden away if she could figure out a way to open it. In town I’d have to start school in town of many kids. In town we’re informed I must start anew in something called ‘kindergarten’ since I was not six at the start of the school year. In my first week I failed to write with my right hand even after a ruler-wielding teacher repeatedly whacked my left hand to correct me. By the second week, I could struggle to write with my right hand but wrote my name backward (NALLA) which the teacher showed to the class as a example of farm-boy talent. By week three I failed to march in time to the music we each made from beating on an oatmeal container ‘drum’ strung around my neck; moreover,. I failed inspection at the start of class by not having a handkerchief on which to display my hands & nails. The last blow came when failing to answer teacher promptly I began to stutter, a condition which plagued me for years thereafter. I became the only person I ever heard of who failed kindergarten, a class I have yet to complete, a failure at 6.

While others schooled, I scooted around the block in my red coaster wagon thinking about all the fun I would have if only I were still on the farm. On the farm, exciting things had happened: Vincent once bundled me up for a trip to the barn to see the newborn calf, Peanuts. Mom & I would hike out to the fields to bring Dad lunch except when we were chased by the bull. The best fun was racing to a storm cellar as tornadoes approach or watching Canadian Geese land in a field of corn or seeing  wheat wave in the wind like an ocean. The best excitement was trying to watch Mr. Meader, who had come to ‘buchar hawgs’  That was excitement . Canova was boredom…

In town, my folks ran a tiny store-gas station, a modest success. Somehow Dad got it named the “Ford dealership” (no cars & no sales, except for a 1936 Ford V-8 he bought as part of the deal. The only car we ever had; moving in it to Palo Alto CA, in 1943 via L.A.)  Mom rented out her 80-acre inheritance of rich bottom land on the Vermillion River, homesteaded by Grandpa Wicklund in 1880’s.  I suspect proceeds of that let us survive, economically. Mom took over running the ‘mini-mart’ while Dad hunted for a similar venture in Mitchell, with its 18,000 people, the 3rd largest town in the state, famous for the World’s Only Corn Palace which attracted Lawrence Welk, Wee Bonnie Baker, Paul Whiteman and other top performers of the day, including myself. (Yes, I played a piano duet on stage with my arm in a sling since my cat severely scratched me.)
When we moved to Mitchell I started school for the 3rd time. Mom ran the store and Dad worked, when work was available, in the Rock Quarry or driving a truck to pick up dead farm animals for the Mitchell Rendering. We boys slept in the basement of a rented 2-bedroom home across the street from our ‘mini-mart’. People couldn’t pay cash for gas or groceries so Mom took their sad stories & long-promises in lieu of payment. I recall a nightmare after having overhearing my parents whisper Texaco was coming to lock up the store and my Daddy was going to get ‘canned’, whatever that was. My vision at the time was of a huge can, a derrick, a rope, a ceremony, and all. Well, Texaco did padlock the business; but Dad not only survived, he became a full time employee of Mitchell Rendering Co; I loved going with him on Saturdays. He had a loop route from Mitchell towards Platte to Crow Lake to Gann Valley to Wessington Springs and home. We’d watch for and pick up pop bottles to sell, hunt pheasants for food and shoot jackrabbits for skins to sell. At farms we would give away promotions, such as potholders, yardsticks, kitchen match holders. etc. This fun partially compensated for sadly having to put down ailing farm animals and haul them away for free to the mean men in the rendering works which I never was allowed to see. Instead, I would carry the pheasants down Main Street to home certain that people would think I’d hunted by myself, although I carried no shot-gun. A beautiful bird; sounds terrific taking off.

The only gun I ever shot, was my neighbor’s, Mr. Wilfred Johnson, owner of  Johnson Garage which also housed the tiny ‘mini-mart’ my parents ran. My job was to pump by hand gas up into the top glass portion of the pump so that when a car came for fuel, gas could drain by gravity through the hose into the gas tank. Mr. Johnson recruited me for a more exciting job. I was to sit in the driveway of his house in the evenings to shoot at a rat that had been in his chicken-house. I sat some distance away and watched, rifle in hand. Zip, a rat races by. I freeze. Soon, the same thing happens. Wait ‘til next time!  When the rat zips by again, it was his last trip for eggs. Alarmed neighbors poured out of their homes.
Johnson observed my folks were good people; too bad, they were Swedes. He repeated that shaking his head making me ask why. He answered in verse “Ten Thousand Swedes Tore Through the Weeds…Chased by ONE Norwegian.”
My next job I got paid for. We moved one block down Highway 39 to rent a shared house of a widow across the street from a park. At this house, boys slept in the attic. I became pals with an elderly man who worked caring for the park. He gave me money for helping him carry hoses and turn off water after he went home.
For amusement a kid in the neighborhood, Paul Arlton and I would stomp on used quart oil cans we found at the rear of Johnson Garage. Made of metal in those days, they would clamp around the instep of our shoes to clang something awful as we went. His dad, a professor at the Dakota Weslyn University nearby, became a source for various laboratory hoses, nozzles and connections which we fashioned into a fire-fighting apparatus. This we employed to douse any fire Johnson lit to burn up his trash at the rear of his garage. We became equally popular with the State Highway Department by damning up the drainage channel which ran alongside Highway 39 to create a pond of ice to skate on with our shoes.
We moved next to a house on South Duff Street, again shared by a widow who I never saw out of her upstairs bedroom. The house’s only other bedroom went to my sister. Mom and Dad slept on a let-down Murphy wall bed in the dining-room. That left the basement for my brother and I, Vince having gone off to business school in Sioux Falls. When Grandpa came to visit he also slept in the basement .He’d take me fishing bullheads in Jim River.  One day Uncle Ben came and took cousin Merland and I to the Circus. I got lost and thought I would have to spend the rest of my life in the circus.
In the summertime I sold ice-cream door-to-door but did not earn enough money to buy the three things I wanted in the Sears catalogue: a Daisy Air Rifle (Sorry, you’ll shoot yer eye out), an accordion (Sorry, you need to take piano lessons first) and wind-up train with 8 pieces of track that you could make into a circle or an oval (One out of three was OK in the Depression). We had no money for fuel to heat the house, let alone extravagant toys. To heat the house we burned tires or walked the railroad tracks to pick up coal that a coal-tender car had inadvertently dropped. With astonishment, we neighbor kids watched one homeowner receive a truckload of coal for the winter. When asked my parents explained that they were rich since he worked for the City and wore a suit, tie and hat. That would be nice, someday!
Tommy Miller and I spotted a toy we had to have. It’s mechanism was much like that pump at my first school but this lifted dirt up to drop into my dump truck The trouble was we had no money. Sister Verda had a wooden bank with just enough money for it. I stole her money to buy the toy. An inquiry into the theft and subsequent appearance of a new toy somehow fingered me. I lost both toy and  privileges but went back to working for money, In shopping for a Christmas present, I bought a bottle of lotion for Mom’s red hands and a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco for Dad. Mom worked washing the floors at Severen’s Hotel. I never met but liked Mr. Severen; his wife gave the Sunday School free tickets to rides on the midway during Corn Palace Week. Merland would come to visit and ride with me; then I would go to Salem to visit him and ride their Festival Week rides with $2 given me by Dad. On the 1st day, I lost my money and came crying  to Auntie Mayme that something awful happened. Fearing a dreadful accident to her son she frantically tried to get me to say anything other than “Something awful happened”. Finally she learned that the something awful was Merland still had his money and was happily spending it.
On Saturday night, we would park on Main Street and for excitement watch the window decorators change displays in Gyerman’s Department Store. We never bought anything at Gyerman’s, just looked. I attend school with Suzanne Gyerman, a nice girl with dark black hair. I wondered why she always had a special project to work on in the library, instead of participate with all the other school kids in rehearsing for the annual Chirstmas Program? Nobody seemed to have an answer for that or the other questions that plagued me at school: Why at recess did all the kids who wanted milk have to pay for it except for me?  Why didn’t Dr. Maybe charge Mom for taking my tonsils out in his office or why did I go to the dentist for free after a school check-up? We went to ‘Monkey Wards’ where I saw records being purchased for a new song by Gene Autry “Rudolf, the Red-Nose Reindeer”.
On South Duff Street, Mom worked for Mrs. Hurry cleaning her home. Mr. Hurry owned the neighborhood Hurry Grocery Store. I went to work for him on a regular basis for $3 a week, filling/delivering telephone grocery orders, sweeping, stocking shelves, putting up signs, and the like. The Hurry’s had no children and kindly Mr. Hurry took me to the movies and to Father and Son banquets where I disowned the kind soul as not my real Dad. He took time to show me that egg plant and eggs are not the same, that there is a difference between lettuce and cabbage when I filled orders and how to cut liver, always giving a slice to the cat as pay for patrolling the place at night.  To make a little extra money, Merland and I bought hot popped popcorn down on Main Street and went to the park to sell it on band concert nights. Nobody ever complained the popcorn was cold.
Ah, those were the ‘good ol days’ when homes had no keys, kids walked to school, learned U.S. history and the Golden Rule and how politeness is to do and say the kindest thing in the kindest way, recited The Pledge to the flag, sang the National Anthem, celebrated the birthdays of our Presidents, played together in our neighborhood, folks shared what little they had with others, families ate together, parents not only didn’t mind but wanted a neighbor to report it if their child was observed misbehaving and government didn’t CONTROL but HELPED by exchanging aid for work. That’s why I looked so mystified when the student asked me to help him with a High School assignment by telling him about the Depression with its strikes, street battles between the army and the citizens, race riots, civil disobedience, war hysteria, etc, etc.   Twasn’t like that!

By Allan D. Anderson, 2005.

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