Categories
Unique Visitors
23,402
Total Page Views
493,620
View Teri Hjelmstad's profile on LinkedIn
 

 
Archives

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.

Leave a Reply