Thursday, November 7, 2013

It's been a long time since I've posted to my blog. But that's only because I've been busy writing other things. So here I am, getting back in touch through this site.

My new book, "Feed Sack Dresses and Wild Plum Jam - Remembering Farm Life in the 1950s," is selling well. I've enjoyed talking about it at several events.

If you're interested in buying a copy of the book, it's available on and can be down-loaded to electronic readers.

One of the main reasons I put together this new book is that so many people have told me the newspaper columns I write about farm life in the last century remind them of their own experiences. I'd love to have you respond in this blog by adding your memories of those long ago, simpler days.

As winter closes in around us, I hope you have lots of time to relax in a comfortable chair and read.

Friday, October 26, 2012

People have been asking about the specifics of the presentation of my play. The times are as follows: 7:00 p.m. on Dec. 6,7,8; 2:00 p.m. on Dec. 9. The play lasts about one hour. All presentations are at Marion Auditorium on the Mt. Marty Campus here in Yankton. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children. All proceeds will go to cover expenses and to support the Children's Theatre company. Jane Bobzin, who composed the music, and I have not asked for any payment as we want this to be our gift to the community. We do plan to try to sell it to a publisher later.

Tonight (Oct. 26) the cast will do its first read-through. I'll be attending.

More later.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I have a special reason to look forward to the Christmas season this year. My children's play, "A Christmas to Remember," is being produced by the Yankton Children's Theatre Company on Dec. 6-9, at Marion Auditorium on the Mount Marty Campus. It's the first play I've ever written, except for those I wrote for my students when I was a teacher.

The play is based on a true incident that happened in Yankton in the late 1940s. It's about four sisters who lived with their mother in a small house that still stands in our town. They were very poor. As Christmas approached, they knew they wouldn't be receiving gifts, and they were all right with that. But they just couldn't see how they could have Christmas without a Christmas tree. The oldest sister finds a solution to their problem, and that's part of what the play is about. It's also about the desire of the girls and their mother to be independent in spite of their situation and the oldest sister's desire to help create good Christmas memories for her younger sisters, such as she has from the days when their father was still alive.

Jane Bobzin, a music teacher here in Yankton for many years, wrote five beautiful songs for the play. They add a lot to the warm atmosphere of the little drama.

In the next weeks, I'll report on how a play is produced. The auditions were held last week. Rehearsals start soon. It'll be a busy time for the cast and crew and for Jane and me as we try to attend as many of the rehearsals as possible and help in any way we can.

I'm excited about this new experience in my writing life. Thanks for sharing it with me.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Winter in South Dakota

As winter wanes (we hope!), I have remembered a particular late winter day about 53 years ago. I hope you'll enjoy this episode from my past. 

I love my home state of South Dakota, but even I have to admit that it’s not at its most beautiful in late winter. Especially if there isn’t a blanket of pristine white snow spread out over it.

It was an especially dreary early March Sunday afternoon way back in 1959 when my husband-to-be Bud and I drove across the prairie from my parents’ farm near Scotland to a small town (which shall remain nameless in this article) west of Mitchell. Bud had just finished barbering school and needed an experienced, licensed barber to take him on for a one-year apprenticeship.

We drove under cloudy gray skies past field after brown field with only patches of crusty, dirty snow to break up the monotony. Scraggly scrub cedars and clumps of weeds swayed in the cold wind. Not a bird or rabbit could be seen.

Then we entered the town, and things went downhill! There had been a huge fire on the main street of the town just a few weeks before. It left a charred and gaping hole. Because it was Sunday, all the stores were closed. It looked as though no one lived in the town.

Is this to be my future home, I wondered, a feeling of gloom settling over me. But, if Bud could get the position, he would have to take it, and we would have to start our married life there.

We found the barber shop in an old building on Main Street. The elderly barber welcomed us and did a short interview. He agreed to let Bud work with him for a year starting after our wedding in  June.

As we made our way back home, I tried to sound enthusiastic about the situation, but I couldn’t help feeling I would rather not live in that desolate-looking little town. I wondered what kind of apartment we would find. Would I be able to get a teaching position?

A few weeks later, Bud received word that the barber in that little town had died suddenly of a heart attack. The feeling of relief which washed over me was certainly tinged with a little guilt, even though I knew I had nothing to do with the man’s death. 

Bud launched a new search for a barber to give him a year’s supervised experience and found Charlie Branaugh in Yankton. And so it was we were able to start our life together in this beautiful town along the river. 

Yes, it gets a bit brown and dingy-looking here sometimes in February and March, but after almost 53 years of living here happily, we know March fades into April, and that always brings the promise of spring and all its beauty. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Remembering Cisterns

Most farm houses had cisterns when I was a girl. Instead of using water from a convenient faucet, supplied by a public utility, we had to go to the cistern to get water needed for household use. 

To make a cistern, a hole about ten feet deep and about six feet across was dug, usually on a high spot near the house. Cement applied to the sides and bottom of the hole kept dirt from falling into the water.

On top of the hole, a wooden or cement platform held a device for drawing up water.  Sometimes it was a metal box-like structure with tin “cups” on a chain going down into the water. It could be wound and unwound with a handle.

On our farm, we had a big round top which I remember being made of some type of pottery material. It had a tin top with a door in the center. We opened the door, dropped a pail attached to a rope down into the water, and hauled it up. No easy pump for us!

Usually, we used rain water to fill the cistern. Dad would wait a few minutes after the rain started to give it a chance to wash the roof. Then he’d turn a crank which opened the end of the eaves trough. Water then drained through a metal box filled charcoal and on into the cistern.

If we had a dry spell, Dad would buy a tank of water when our supply ran low. Before the water was pumped into the cistern, Dad would clean it. He’d go down into it using a ladder and scrub the walls and floor. I remember seeing pails of muddy water being lifted out during the process.

Even with Dad’s efforts to clean the roof before catching rain water and scrubbing the cistern once in a while, I often wonder how clean the water actually was. We didn’t have any problems with illness caused by our water. Maybe we were just more immune to germs in those days.

We children were cautioned to stay away from the cistern. However, when my parents weren’t looking, my younger sister and I used to open the lid on top and shout down into it just to hear the echo. We ignored the danger of falling in, but my husband Bud can prove that danger was real.

When he was just four years old, Bud and his five-year-old sister Kay were playing on top of the cistern beside their house. The wooden top gave way and Bud fell into the cistern.

Luckily, their cistern had a pump on top to draw up the water. Bud grabbed onto the pipe  leading from the pump down into the water - a few feet above the actual water level - and held on while Kay ran for help.

One neighbor lowered another man into the cistern, holding onto the straps of his overalls, and the man pulled Bud up. He received only a bruise on his hip and a scratch on his arm, but I don’t think Bud needed any more warnings to stay off the cistern.

I’d never give up the convenience of clean, running water coming out of a faucet, but I treasure the memories I have of cisterns. They were an important part of growing up on a farm way back when. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Appreciated

We have some reasons to be especially thankful this November, in spite of the fact that we'll be spending Thanksgiving Day in Rochester, MN, where my husband Bud will be in the hospital, recovering from surgery planned for Nov. 21. He has cancer in his left kidney, and that organ will be removed. So how can we be thankful with something like that facing us? Well, we're thankful for the wonderful doctors, technicians, and facilities connected with the Mayo Clinic. We've both benefited from the vast expertise of that institution over the years. We'll also be thankful for the many prayers which will be said for us.

Here's an article about Thanksgivings of the past. I hope it brings back some happy memories for you.

Thanksgiving Appreciated
These days, as we gather for our Thanksgiving celebration, it’s just a few of us adults around the table. How different from when I was a child, and both my grandmas’ houses bustled with dozens of cousins as the extended family gathered to celebrate.
We always had two Thanksgiving dinners - one with each side of my parents’ families. One gathering was on Thanksgiving Day and one the following Friday. It couldn’t get much better than that!
Since my mom’s family was large, we had to eat in shifts. The men ate first, followed by the children. Then the women sat to the table for a leisurely meal and lots of talking and laughing. 
We children were sent to the basement to play. If we got too loud, we would be allowed to go to the movie - which was our goal anyway. We must have made quite a sight as we entered the movie theater over twenty strong, older cousins with little ones in hand.
It was different at my paternal grandma’s house. We could almost all fit around the table. Of course, the ladies held back to do the serving. I suspect they never did get any white meat from the turkey!
I don’t suppose I fully appreciated the wonderful food those days. Most of the side dishes - mounds of creamy mashed potatoes, buttered corn and other vegetables, salads, pickled beets and cucumbers - would have been made from produce grown by my aunts. My mom’s specialty was nut pudding, a pure white concoction of chopped walnuts and whipped, sweetened vanilla-flavored cream from our own cows. Mom decorated the top with walnut halves and maraschino cherries. After the meal, the aunts spent hours in the kitchen, washing dishes and cleaning up. They didn’t mind. They enjoyed the chance to visit.
I’m thankful for those days when most extended families lived close enough to get together for the holidays. I grew up knowing my cousins, aunts, and uncles well. How I wish my own children had that advantage. We try to keep them close to the rest of the family with reunions every other year. But that can’t compare to the richness of seeing all your relatives every holiday. Next year, as I join the small group of adults at a quiet Thanksgiving meal, I’m going to give special thanks for those I experienced as 
a child. They were really something for which to be thankful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


When I was a child, I celebrated Halloween a bit differently than most children now days. Hope this brings back some memories for you.

A Different Kind of Halloween

Can you imagine Halloween without Trick-or-Treating? When I was a girl growing up in a rural area about sixty years ago, Trick-or-Treating wasn’t part of Halloween for me or my friends. That doesn’t mean we felt left out of that holiday celebration. On the contrary, we spent weeks preparing for it in the one-room country school I attended.
About a month before October 31, the boys and girls in the upper grades began to plan - seriously and secretly. Decorations had to be designed; food had to be solicited from moms, and disgusting tricks had to be arranged to horrify the littlest children. Getting to be big enough to be part of that delightful, secret planning was a major goal of my first years in school.
About a week before Halloween Day, the basement of our school building became off limits for anyone not in on the preparations. Corn shocks from the field beside our playground were hauled down and set around the room. Considering the basement housed a coal-burning furnace, that was certainly a scary idea. It amazes me now that the school board wasn’t worried enough about fire to forbid the corn shocks, but they never did. The carved pumpkins with real candles burning inside didn’t seem to bother them either. Apparently, they trusted us to be careful.
Black and orange crepe paper streamers festooned the entire ceiling downstairs. Pictures of Jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts and bats which the little children colored were taped to the walls. The windows were covered over with paper so the room would be suitably dark and spooky.
Our teacher allowed us to have an entire afternoon for the party. Part of that time was needed for donning our costumes. For weeks, we had planned just what we would be. Our parents couldn’t afford store bought costumes, so we had to make them ourselves using whatever we could find. We usually spent part of our meager allowances on masks since homemade masks didn’t hold up very well.
Games included blindfolding the little children and making them feel eyeballs (grapes), intestines (cooked spaghetti), and other gross items. We always had a big galvanized tub of water to bob for apples, an activity I hated. Maybe that’s because I never could get an apple.
The last event of the afternoon was the lunch provided by some of the moms. We stuffed ourselves on orange-frosted cupcakes and cookies, orange drinks, candy corn, and popcorn balls.
I suppose we’d heard about Trick-or-Treating in those days, but, after our half-day party at school, we were satisfied that we’d celebrated Halloween about as well as it could be celebrated. My memories of those special days bring back feelings of joy even though I still prefer getting my apples from my tree or the store.