Categories
View Teri Hjelmstad's profile on LinkedIn
 

 
Archives

Archive for the ‘52 Stories’ Category

52 Stories #20–Strong Women

Challenges and hardship can shape people. Have I seen examples of this in my own family? Of course. These women, my ancestors, lived through and overcame obstacles that I cannot imagine facing, yet they survived.

  1. Olive Dunbar Riddle (1823-1902), my great-great grandmother. She was born on Cape Cod and spent her early years there surrounded by a large extended family. Her Hall and Dunvar forebears had lived in that state for 200 years, so it surely felt like home. Her father worked as a saltmaker. Olive likely envisioned that she would make her life in the area where she grew up, but life had other plans for her. The salt trade dried up before she was 10, and the parents decided to relocate to the country’s interior. They sold everything and moved to Ohio, taking young Olive with them. Shortly thereafter, Olive’s father, Benjamin E. Dunbar, died. Olive lived with her widowed mother until she married John D. Riddle when she was nineteen years old. After their marriage, Olive sold land she had inherited and the couple moved to Mendon, Michigan. There they bought a farm and had a family of nine children. Olive likely worked had as a farm wife, but things did not turn out happily for her. Her husband lost an eye, and they lost a grandchild in a fire. Several of her children moved far away to homesteads in Nebraska. As the years went by, the sight in John’s remaining eye failed, and they relied heavily on the help of their eldest son, Isaac Newton Riddle. By 1896, John greatly feared blindness and poverty. He took his own life, leaving 73-year-old Olive a widow with a farm to run. Olive spent her remaining years on the farm with her son, scratching out a living. She passed away six years later after a hard life of trekking twice through the country to build a new home, raising a large family, and surviving tragedy. Her family remembered her as a kind and sweet woman, so she must have borne it all with grace.
  2. Anna Petronellia Sherman (1865-1961), my great-grandmother. Petronellia never knew her mother. The family story tells us that this German woman died shortly after the birth of her child. Petronellia spent her early years as a virtual orphan in her paternal grandmother’s Illinois home. Her father Thomas was often away on blacksmithing jobs. When Petronellia was six, a step-mother named Mary came into her life for a few years. Perhaps Petronellia was fond of her step-mother; she adopted Mary’s Methodist faith. Yet by the time Petronellia reached the age of fifteen, Mary was gone, and her father was marrying again. This time, Petronellia definitely did not like her new step-mother, Alice. Petronellia left the stormy household as soon as she was able and promptly married a much older man. Samuel Harvey Reed already had two surviving daughters, 13-year-old Anna and 11-year-old Clara. Eighteen-year-old Petronellia became a step-mother herself. She and Samuel moved to southern Missouri to begin a new life away from Samuel’s disapproving family, and she had seven children of her own. By all accounts, it was not easy to get along with Petronellia. She and Samuel divorced in 1904, and Petronellia later said she had married him because she liked his big, white house in Ashmore, Illinois. She had not known it actually belonged to his father, Caleb. After her divorce she married a former Confederate officer, John Coffey. That did not last long. After their divorce, Petronellia resumed used of the Reed surname and kept it the rest of her life. By World War I, one of her sons, Robert Morton Reed, worked on the railroad in southeastern Wyoming, so she took up a homestead there as a way to make a living on her own. She was in her fifties, and the first year she managed to grow only a bucket of potatoes. She disliked the dry, windblown prairie, so she sold out when she proved up the homestead. Her crustiness had seen her through. She returned to the gentle landscape of southern Missouri. Finding strength in her Methodist religion, she remained there and lived to be ninety-five years old. She is buried in the churchyard of her beloved Methodist church in Huggins, Missouri.
  3. Laura Riddle (1853-1933), my great-grandmother. Laura could write her name but not much else. She was not much of a student. Born on a Michigan farm to Olive and John Riddle, she became a farmer herself. By 1880, she was a single mother of three sons, two of them disabled. Without much opportunity in Michigan, she moved to Nebraska near McCook to homestead alongside her older sister, Theodocia. A few years later, Laura’s eldest son left home, and Theodocia’s family moved on to Hyannis, Nebraska. Laura herself elected to settle on a new homestead near Palisade with her two younger sons, Louis and Joe. Eventually, she had another child, a daughter this time (my grandmother, Grace). Life on the homestead was hard, and Laura finally had to send Grace to live with Theodocia. When the chance for a larger homestead arose a few years later, Laura and the boys took it and moved on to Haigler, Nebraska. Throughout forty-five years of homesteading, Laura managed to care for her two sons and keep a farm. When she was in her 70’s, she finally gave up her homestead and retired to Palisade with the boys. Described as a strong and robust woman, she lived to be eighty years old. The money from the homestead sale provided her a living for the rest of her life with a little left over for her four children. Despite a life of terrible hardship, Laura had never given up.
  4. Sofie Sivertsdatter (1878-1966), my great-grandmother. Sofie was born at Valfjord in the county of Nordland, Norway. It must have been a sad household. At least five older siblings had died. Living in a home with elderly parents taught Sofie to be a hard worker. From an early age she contributed by caring for livestock for a relative. Eventually, she made her way to the town of Stokmarknes to work. There she met and married Ole Jorgen Bentsen. Life with him was not any easier. Almost immediately, he left for America, leaving her behind until their first child was born. The next year, traveling alone with a newborn, she made her way across the ocean to meet Ole in Minnesota. They scrimped and saved for two years until they had enough to settle on free land in Montana. Twice they homesteaded there, first on a 160-acre tract and then later on a 320-acre tract. After two more children had joined the young family, Sofie spent one winter virtually alone on the homestead while her husband lay in town ill with typhoid fever. Sofie nearly ran out of supplies and would have starved to death had not a passerby butchered a calf for her. Happily, Ole recovered and returned to her. Eventually, Sofie had another two children while she and Ole continued to manage their homestead and acquire more land. They were proud that they never borrowed against it, not even during the Great Depression. In 1952, they decided to retire to the town of Plentywood, Montana, and they sold their land to their son, Otto. Sofie developed a degenerative illness, but she carried on keeping house for Ole and attending events at the local Lutheran church. Despite her illness, she made fattigmand every year at Christmas time. By 1966, she became too weak to continue, and she passed away at the age of eighty-seven. She is buried in a prairie cemetery at Redstone, Montana, not far from her farm.

Strong women, all of them. I cannot imagine surviving some of the difficulties these ancestors faced. They survived pioneering, brutal farm labor, family tragedy, disabled children, and debilitating illness. If not for them, I would not be here. From their legacy I learned that complaining does no good. Find a way to keep going.

52 Stories in 52 Weeks no. 19—Remembering Grandma

I remember both of my grandmothers so well—the Homesteader and the Flapper. They could not have been less alike, but I thought they both were great. Neither lived in the same town as me, so I looked forward to their visits. They usually stayed at our house at the same time for a couple of weeks in the summer and a couple of weeks at Christmas time.

The Homesteader

My Dad’s mom, Grace Riddle (1896-1976), was born on her mother’s Nebraska homestead. When she was about four, her mother could no longer care for her, and Grandma Grace went to live with an aunt. This woman had already raised her own family, and Grandma probably provided a good deal of help around the ranch her aunt and cousins ran. When the aunt died, she left Grandma a portion of her estate equal to that of her own children.

Grandma Grace seemed quite elderly to me even when I was a small child. Having grown up on a homestead at the turn of the last century, she was very old-fashioned. She wore housedresses and hose supported with ring garters. She never wore makeup. She had no television or telephone at home and did not understand how they worked. Nor could she comprehend why anyone would need them. She had no checking account and paid for everything with cash. Grandma liked to read, and she read every word of the newspaper every day.

Whenever Grandma Grace came to visit, we always eagerly asked whether she needed help unpacking her suitcase. We knew it was filled with trinkets for us. She delighted in collecting small items to give us each time she visited.

She liked to play with me. We made mudpies together, and we shared tea parties. When I was small, we took naps together on hot afternoons. She fell asleep easily while I continually asked whether she was still awake.

Her favorite household chore was washing dishes. That was my job at home, so she liked to help me. We had great conversations as we cleaned up the kitchen. She was interested in everything I did—school, choir, piano lessons.

Grandma Grace had six children, and she knew how to talk to kids. She shared little about herself, instead asking questions to draw us out in confiding in her. I was fortunate to have her for a Grandma.

The Flapper

You would never have known that my Mom’s mom, Martha Mattila (1906-1977) was the child of immigrants from Finland. Although she had spoken only Finnish until she started school, she spoke perfect English by the time I knew her. She had gone to college and taught elementary school.

Grandma Martha was a city girl from Minnesota. She had come of age in the roaring 1920’s. Grandma Martha loved shopping, dressing up, getting her hair done, and makeup. As a girl, I was fascinated with her morning routine of choosing a stylish outfit and “fixing her face”.

Grandma Martha enjoyed gossip. As soon as she arrived at our house, she would settle in, light a cigarette, and proceed to tell us the news of our extended family. She knew the dirt on everyone and did not hesitate to share it. Memories of these conversations really helped me reconstruct my family tree when I became interested in genealogy.

Grandma Martha encouraged me in things a girl should know. She exhorted me to continue with my piano lessons when I became discouraged. She helped me with embroidery projects. She taught me to play card games. She bought me thoughtful gifts that I remember after all these years—a leather-bound Bible, a bonnet-style hairdryer.

She liked jewelry and wore a lot of costume pieces. When she tired of something, she gave it to me. I still have some of her necklaces and bracelets. I wore one to my youngest son’s wedding in memory of her.

Their Legacy

I remember both of my grandmothers as being very supportive of me. I knew them equally well even though they lived in other states. I loved when they came to visit, and I always begged them to stay longer.

Both expressed the wish to live long enough to attend my wedding. They both made it! One of my favorite wedding photographs is of my groom and me standing with my grandmothers.

Each of them contributed in her own way to the person I am today. From Grandma Grace, I have a love of reading and a frugal nature. From Grandma Martha I learned life skills. From both these women, I hope I learned to be a good grandmother.

 

 

52 Stories #18—Stories of the Old Days

My mom used to tell us stories about her childhood on the Iron Range of Minnesota. Her mother, Martha, had grown up there, too. In the first half of the twentieth century, both had a multicultural upbringing even as they lived in a close-knit Finnish family.

Some tales I remember:

  1. Grandma Martha’s immigrant family and relatives were all Lutheran, but many of the neighbors were Roman Catholic—Italians, Poles, Bohemians. When my grandmother was a small child, she heard the Catholic Bishop was coming to the community for a visit. Grandma did not know what a Bishop was, but all the neighbors seemed to be in a frenzy about this. When the big day finally arrived, Grandma decided to protect herself by hiding under the bed. “And I wasn’t even Catholic!” she exclaimed.
  2. When Grandma grew up, she and her family lived in a house built by her carpenter father. It was next door to her parents’ house, and the two residences shared a clothesline. Trouble ensued because Grandma and her mother had different laundry day practices. Grandma always left the clothespins on the line to be used next time she hung out her wet laundry. My great-grandma, Ada, always collected the pins when she took in her laundry, leaving none on the lines for Grandma to use. The controversy over this had come to a boiling point when my grandfather finally settled the matter. He painted all his wife’s clothespins red so Ada would know they belonged to my grandmother.
  3. During the Depression years, many families raised a little livestock to provide food. My mother spoke of the neighbors directly behind them who would wring and pluck chickens while Mom’s family ate dinner and watched from their kitchen window. Another family kept a goat to provide milk for their daughter. My uncle was known to sneak over to their property and milk the goat. The same uncle also used to help his grandfather make (and drink!) dandelion wine.
  4. One day the circus came to town. Unfortunately, an elephant died during its stay. What do you do with an elephant carcass? Hibbing officials buried it beneath the main street of the town. My mom always wondered if any record had been kept. Perhaps some future builder will discover the bones and wonder how they came to be there.
  5. School days were not always dull. One time, the boys in Mom’s class put stinky limburger cheese in the classroom radiator. When the heat came on, the room became quite smelly, provoking the teacher.
  6. The Finns in the community regularly visited the public sauna. Often my mom had to accompany her grandmother. She dreaded these visits because she disliked sitting in the nude with the elderly women in the sauna. They all spoke in Finnish, which Mom could not understand.
  7. Mom enjoyed other outings with her grandmother. The grandparents owned some land at the edge of town and used it for foraging. Mom often went with her grandmother to collect berries and mushrooms. Her grandmother told her the land would be valuable someday because it was located near the Hibbing airport.
  8. Mom enjoyed spending time with her grandfather, too. He used to carve little wooden toys for her. He took her downtown on Saturdays. He often let her buy some candy although it took her forever to make up her mind on what she wanted.

These stories and more made the life of the immigrant community more real to me. Both Mom and Grandma had a hard time leaving Minnesota after WWII when my grandfather decided to change careers and move to the West. For the rest of her life, Grandma always avidly read the Hibbing newspapers sent by her younger sister. She never forgot her younger years in Minnesota, and neither did my mom.

52 Stories #17–Mom and Me, Oil and Water

How were my mom and I alike? How were we different? Even today, so many years after she passed away, I find those questions difficult to answer. I do know that we did not get along well. Were we too much alike? Too different? Perhaps the long lens of time will allow me to look back to answer these questions better than I could have while she was still living.

Personality-wise, we had some things in common. She and I both occupied the same family position—eldest child. A lot goes along with being the big sister. The eldest daughter does a larger share of the housework and childcare than younger siblings do, so we had that in common. We both turned out to be responsible, reliable, diligent people.

Both of us also could be called sequential (as opposed to global) learners who approach problem solving as a step-by-step process. We both were good students, and she was even valedictorian of her high school class in Hibbing, Minnesota. I went to one of the country’s best law schools. We both belonged to the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

After that, many of our similarities ended. In adulthood, I have tried to be a life-long learner by reading a lot and taking classes. I join organizations that provide some mental stimulation—genealogical, political, and cultural clubs. In contrast, my mom always said she had read enough in school and did not want to do it anymore. She preferred solitary, repetitive pastimes like sewing and gardening. She loved celebrity gossip.

She tried to share her interests with me, but it did not take. I detest using a sewing machine, and in the garden I have a brown thumb. I do not follow celebrity news, and in fact I do not know the names of many of them. I would prefer discussing the issues of the day to discussing the lives of movie and television stars.

Why didn’t we get along? I am probably too close to the relationship to provide an objective answer. We did not enjoy doing the same things, and we found little to talk about when we visited one another. Each of us was critical of the other. We did not have a close mother-daughter bond, and in that we were alike. She did not get along well with her own mother, either.

We had personality traits in common, but we did not have the same interests. As mother and daughter, we were like oil and water.

52 Stories #16–Home

They say “home is where the heart is”, but in some ways home simply means the place I live now. My heart has remained in my Wyoming birthplace during my lifetime, although I have lived in Colorado for over thirty years. Perhaps I have two homes.

I came to Colorado willingly in the 1980’s with a job transfer. My dad had grown up here, and a couple of his brothers still lived in the Loveland area. I also had extended family all up and down the Front Range at that time. I had visited Colorado as I grew up, and I liked it. The weather was good, and there was more economic and cultural opportunity than in Wyoming.

When we arrived, my husband/tech advisor and I settled into a nice, two-story house in what is now Centennial and began raising our family. We put down some real roots and enjoyed our life. We loved our house and the beautiful yard we created. We got involved in church, politics, Scouting, and the genealogical community. We began to feel more at home.

After our children grew up, they and their families moved into houses nearby. Our family grew. We resumed frequent child care with another generation, and it became more difficult to find time to maintain the big yard. We did not like having so many stairs. We began to think about moving to someplace with less upkeep once we retired. We liked the idea of a patio home but thought a move remained a few years in the future.

Then the City began an undesirable construction project too close to our property. Trying to reason with them went nowhere. We felt the need to leave, but were we ready for retirement-style living?

If the answer was “no”, we probably would need to move twice—once to an interim place, and later to the long-intended patio home. We realized that because moving is both strenuous and expensive, once would be enough.

That winter five years ago, we sold our house and moved into a wonderful patio home just two miles south of where we used to live. We felt fortunate to be able to stay in the same vicinity that we had come to identify as home—keeping the same familiar shopping areas, medical facilities, and church.

We met wonderful new neighbors and became involved in a new community. We have nested by doing several home projects.

Our house truly feels like home now, and perhaps Wyoming feels less so. My dad has moved back to Colorado, and my mother-in-law is selling her place to move into assisted living. In the years ahead, we will have less of a reason to visit Wyoming. Close family members who helped make that state feel like home will no longer be there. Our children and our future lie in our adopted state, and we are content here. Our hearts will always have a soft spot for Wyoming, but increasingly Colorado is home.

52 Stories #15—Places I Have Lived

Like many Americans, I have moved around a bit:

  1. I was born in Laramie, Wyoming. My parents and I lived at a place on Rainbow Street—a house? an apartment? Of course, I do not recall. We stayed there only a month or two after I arrived so that my dad could complete his college degree at the University of Wyoming.
  2. After his graduation, my dad remained in Wyoming for some job training while my mom and I went to live for the summer with my grandparents in Rapid City, South Dakota. I was baptized at the Lutheran Church there. I do remember my grandparents’ address, 232 St. Andrew, because I used to write letters to my grandmother at that address as I grew older.
  3. When my father completed the training phase of his career as a petroleum landman, he took an assignment in Bismarck, North Dakota. There we moved into an upstairs apartment owned by the Fossum family. We did not stay long, but it was an ideal location for our young family. Without a car of our own, my parents could walk anywhere they needed to go. The Red Owl grocery store was across the street in one direction, my dad’s office was kitty-corner, and the Lutheran Church was across the street the other direction.
  4. My brother arrived 20 months after me, and by then we needed to move to a larger place. My folks located a rental house on 16th street in Bismarck. We occupied the ground floor, and another family lived in the basement apartment.
  5. In another year or so, we moved up in the world again. We rented the house at 1300 N. Fourth St. in Bismarck, right across the street from the North Dakota Capitol Building. A place all to ourselves! My mom put in a garden, bought a house full of Ethan Allen furniture, and joined a bridge club. We got our first television set and another baby brother arrived. I started school.
  6. When I was in the middle of the first grade, my dad was transferred to Sidney, Nebraska. We rented the ranch-style house at 1332 23rd Avenue. It was bigger than our previous home, and I had my own bedroom. Of all the places we lived, I think this house was my mom’s favorite. But my dad did not like Sidney, and he kept his eye out for another position within his company.

    His chance came 15 months later when management consolidated the field offices into the Casper, Wyoming office.

  7. In Casper, my parents could not locate a suitable place to rent. They finally decided to buy their first house at 1544 So. Beverly (now Fairdale St.). Several of my dad’s co-workers purchased homes in the same neighborhood, so we had a ready-made community of familiar faces. Again, I had my own room. I passed it along to my baby sister a couple of years after she was born. My dad built a new room for me in the basement. The elementary school was around the corner, and my parents never dreamed we would still be in Casper when it came time for us to attend junior high. To their surprise, all of us graduated from high school in Casper.
  8. From there, I followed in my parents’ footsteps and attended the University of Wyoming. For a couple of years, I lived in the Women’s dorm, White Hall. My high school chum Karen was my roommate. Then I married, and my husband/tech advisor and I moved into married student housing.
  9. After graduation, he took employment in Austin, Texas. Over the Christmas holidays, we moved into the Pepperwood Apartments at 6710 Burnet Lane. He commuted to work on a motorcycle while I drove our only car to work at a Lutheran Pre-school and Day Care.
  10. After a year, we wanted a dog, so we moved on to the Dawnridge complex of townhouses in Austin. Our closest neighbors were cockroaches. Robbers found us.
  11. We hoped that buying our first house would offer us more security and perhaps some freedom from nasty bugs. A new subdivision of starter homes called Lamplight Village was going up north of Austin. We purchased the property at 13003 Powderhorn and watched as the house was built. When it was completed, we settled in, and our first son was born.
  12. Within a couple of years, however, we had had enough of the sweltering Texas weather. We decided to return to Wyoming for its cool summer nights and proximity to our families. We bought a bi-level house at 118 Jonquil in Casper and began improving it. Another son was born, and we planned to stay put.
  13. Life had other plans, and I was transferred to Colorado with my oil company job. We bought a two-story house on a large lot at 5526 E. Hinsdale Circle in Centennial. Our boys grew up there, and we stayed 26 years. By then, Centennial had really grown. Noisy traffic streamed past our house. The city allowed a 40′ cell phone tower to be installed close to our bedroom window. We decided the time had come to move on.
  14. Now we live in an adult community surrounded by green belts and open space. We have friendly neighbors. This neighborhood is ideal for us, and we hope to stay here a long time.

52 Stories #14—My Home Town

Most people have a home town. Usually we think of it as the place where we grew up. We went to school and church there, we knew the neighbors, and we often had family members who lived nearby. Memories of a home town bring us a sense of familiarity and belonging.

So where was my home town? I think I know. Although I was born in one place, and I lived in three other localities before I went off to college, my family stayed only a short time in a couple of those places.

If I must choose a home town, I would have to say that I spent most of my formative years in Casper, Wyoming. We moved there right after I had completed the second grade. I lived there until I was graduated from high school ten years later.

Casper was an oil town in those days, and my dad worked in the oil business. Many of the neighbors did, too, so I had that in common with the other kids at school. After I had grown up and completed my education, I returned to Casper to work in the oil patch myself.

My husband/tech advisor (also from Casper) and I resided in Casper for about four years when our children were small. We enjoyed those days where we were surrounded by familiar places and people. We continued the outdoorsy activities we had known growing up—camping, hunting, fishing. We thought we would always stay there.

Yet life had other plans. The oil business in Casper dried up, and we moved on to Colorado. After many years away from Wyoming, our kids would call our new state “home” although we would not. To us, Wyoming, especially Casper, is our home town. We return there as often as we can to visit our siblings.

When there, we try to visit the old, familiar places. We attend the church where I was confirmed and my picture is on the wall. We go snowshoeing on Casper Mountain. We camp in the Big Horn Mountains and in the Snowy Range. We go swimming at the Thermopolis Hot Springs. We hike along the North Platte River and visit historic sites like Independence Rock and the Oregon Trail ruts. We love Wyoming with its stark beauty and sparse population.

No matter how long we live somewhere else, Casper will always feel like home to us. Even after so many years living elsewhere, we still know our way around Casper. Family members who have gone before us are buried in the local cemeteries. We attend our high school reunions there and re-connect with old friends. Whenever we visit, we feel at home.

We will always be Wyoming Cowboys. The Wyoming state song sums it up for us:

Wyoming

 

In the far and mighty West,

Where the crimson sun seeks rest,

There’s a growing splendid state that lies above,

On the breast of this great land;

Where the massive Rockies stand,

There’s Wyoming young and strong, the State I love!

 

Chorus

Wyoming, Wyoming! Land of the sunlight clear!

Wyoming, Wyoming! Land that we hold so dear!

Wyoming, Wyoming! Precious art thou and thine!

Wyoming, Wyoming! Beloved state of mine

 

52 Stories #13—Childhood Homes

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, when your dad worked in the oil business you moved around a lot. The petroleum companies liked to give people some experience in their various field offices, so they transferred people every couple of years. My dad, a petroleum landman, needed to acquire knowledge of the various oil fields operated by his company. Our family packed up and moved several times to accomplish that.

Dad took a job with The Ohio Oil Company in 1954, right after he graduated with a degree in business from the University of Wyoming. They sent him to Casper, Wyoming for training, and my mom and I moved in with my maternal grandparents in Rapid City, South Dakota for the summer. I was still an infant.

That fall, my dad began his first assignment in Bismarck, North Dakota. Our little family took up residence in an upstairs apartment across the street from his office. I have a couple of vague recollections of living there, but we did not stay long.

Soon my brother was on the way. We moved to larger accommodations, the ground floor of a small house. Another family lived in the basement. Again, I sort of recall the place, and again, we did not stay long.

When I was 2 ½, we began renting a house all to ourselves. Constructed a few years earlier for a raffle, this house was known locally as “The Dream House”. It sat across the street from the North Dakota capitol building and had two bedrooms, a living room, a small kitchen, and a basement. My brother and I shared one of the bedrooms and slept in bunk beds. The house had a nice, fenced yard where we spent many hours playing with the neighbor kids. Another brother arrived while I was in kindergarten.

All too soon, the time came for my dad to move on to another assignment. We relocated to Sidney, Nebraska while I was in the first grade. This time we rented a 3-bedroom house. I had my own room, and my brothers shared a room. We quickly made friends with the kids at school, but my dad did not like Nebraska. He requested a transfer almost as soon as we arrived.

We moved again, to Casper, Wyoming, when I finished the second grade. My parents looked for another house to rent. Nothing seemed suitable. The situation became more and more desperate as the company wanted us settled and the start of a new school year loomed. Finally, my folks decided to consider purchasing their first house.

The Ohio Oil Company had rebranded itself as Marathon Oil by that time, and several other “Marathoners” were buying newly-built homes on the east end of Casper. My folks joined them, and we moved into our new house amongst all the other oil people just before school started. My mother did not really care for the house, but she thought it would be temporary quarters for just a couple of years. Little did she know.

The company philosophy had changed by then, and people stayed in one place. My parents lived in that house for the next 23 years.

The ranch-style house, located half a block from the elementary school, had three bedrooms, 1 ½ baths, and dirt for a yard. My parents got to work right away planting grass and a couple of saplings. They had earth moved to flatten out the lot. They installed clothes lines. My mom disliked the salmon-pink exterior of the house and quickly prevailed upon my dad to repaint it blue.

I occupied the smallest bedroom and again my brothers shared another. My mom decorated my tiny room in a way she liked but I hated. She painted three walls pink and put fussy, floral wallpaper on the fourth wall. She installed a puffy, white curtain on the window and put a canopy over the bed. I lived in that overly-feminine room until I started junior high.

By then, I had a baby sister. When she outgrew her crib in our parents’ bedroom, she moved into the pink room. I helped my dad build a new bedroom in the basement and moved down there as soon as it was completed. I was thrilled with my good fortune.

I kept that room until I married eight years later. I loved its big window, large closet, and double bed. Best of all, it had privacy and space away from my mothers’ cigarette smoke. I spent hours down there reading, listening to music, and playing my guitar.

Of all the bedrooms I had during my childhood, I liked that last one best. I had it to myself, and the décor pleased me. I do not recall doing much to personalize it, but I did get to choose the floor tile, the wallpaper, and the bedspread. That was enough to make me happy in a room of my own.

52 Stories #12—My Career as a Genealogist

Have I had a career? I have had jobs, but I never stuck with a single line of work through my adult life. The only activity that would count as a career for me has been my study of genealogy and family history.

My coming-of-age years paralleled the movement for women’s equal rights. During my childhood, no one’s mother worked for money, and I never expected to either. The idea that having a job was somehow inappropriate and undesirable for women never left me. I liked the idea of staying at home, answering to no one, setting my own schedule, and pursuing my own interests, namely genealogy. This appealed to me more than any job ever could.

But times were changing, and as I entered adulthood, women needed to enter the workforce just to stay even with the sort of life my parents had. I went to college and on to law school. From there, I followed my dad into the oil business where I did contract and land title work for a major oil company.

This interesting, challenging work provided a good living, but boy, was the work environment a pressure-cooker. I spent hours at the office, longing to spend more quality time with my young boys, only to arrive home just in time to give them dinner and put them to bed. What an impossible schedule! It was a relief when my company closed the local office and left for Houston, a place I knew I did not want to live. I resigned my position. I had gleaned what I needed from that job—a good financial start and a much better understanding of all the legal documents a genealogist must discover and analyze.

I spent the next several years at home, happily raising my kids and beginning my genealogical research in earnest. I learned my way around the Denver Public Library genealogy collection, the Denver branch of the National Archives, and my local Family History Center. I joined a genealogy club and attended conferences and seminars.

In the meantime, the boys grew older, and they wanted to participate on sports teams. Each year required more and more team travel with more and more expense. The time came when again I needed to find a paying job. I resurrected my old teaching certificate and began substituting in the school libraries.

A few years later, I hired on part time with the public library to get a regular schedule. Working there just half-time allowed me to continue with my genealogical research while getting paid to learn valuable computer and reference skills. I stayed there for over a decade and never again took a full-time job.

Today, I am at home again, and I devote as much time to genealogy as I can. The other jobs I have had enabled me to pursue this, my true passion. I have documented the lives of generations of my family and preserved the information for posterity. This is the happy, fulfilling life I wanted for myself, and I will never retire from this career.

 

 

52 Stories #11—My First Paycheck

Everyone remembers their first job. These work situations provide us with places to learn basic workplace skills such as reporting on time, following directions, and getting along with others. Then we get that great reward—money of our own. Many of us feel real dismay when we realize for the first time just how much of our hard-earned cash goes straight to Uncle Sam.

I found my first job when I was seventeen years old. I worked that summer at the front counter of the local Tastee Freeze fast food franchise. There I waited on customers by preparing frozen treats like ice cream cones, malts and milkshakes, sundaes, and floats. I also took orders for hamburger and chicken meals. We had no cash registers and accepted only cash at the Tastee Freeze, so I learned to add up a ticket quickly and to make change correctly. One day someone handed me a one-hundred-dollar bill, the first time I had ever seen such a thing.

A married couple owned the Tastee Freeze, and they worked alongside the teenagers they hired. She was pretty nice to all the high school students who worked there, but he was not. In fact, I remember choosing him as my subject a few years later when I had to write a school paper about the worst boss I ever had.

He shouted at us when he did not think we worked hard enough or did not focus on the job. In the evenings, after it got dark, he often sat outside in his car, watching us through the restaurant windows to see if he could catch us doing wrong. One night after the place closed and our crew prepared to go home, we stopped to check the work schedule for the next day. Our boss had erased several names from the schedule, in essence firing people in that way instead of speaking with them directly. He said they had not shown proper respect for his expensive equipment, and he seemed to have no interest in re-training them or giving them a second chance. I thought him very unfair.

I stayed at this job through the summer, disliking the work environment more and more as the weeks continued. I left shortly after school started that fall. I had made enough money that summer to save a bit and purchase desired items I would not have had otherwise. I knew I would miss a regular paycheck in the coming months, but I would not miss this overbearing boss.

Working at the Tastee Freeze did provide me with some fundamental job skills. At subsequent jobs, I put them to use, and since then I have had a great appreciation for kind supervisors. I worked much harder for them than I ever did for my first boss.

A pleasant workplace became a real priority for me, and late in life I left another job because of another difficult boss. During the intervening years, when I had employees to supervise, I hope I treated them better than the Tastee Freeze guy treated his first-time workers.