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'I Make The Rounds, 1938' by Lois Flansburg Haaglund

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The article below is a chapter from Tough, Willing, and Able by Lois Flansburg Haaglund, published in 1997 by Mountain Press Publishing Company of Missoula, Montana.  Lois is a native Montanan who grew up in Clinton, Montana during the great depression era. She graduated from St. Patrick School of Nursing in 1951.  


I Make The Rounds, 1938

            I was never bored. My company was Rex, my little brother six years younger, and occasional visits with the little Dawley girls, Fern, Rosie, and Tee Wee (Violet), whose folks had bought Dad’s Old Place in Clinton.

            For the most part I was a solitary child; yet I was never lonely, for there were so many fun things to do around our place. If no errands needed running, or the garden didn’t need planting or weeding or picking, or if the woodbox had enough cookstove wood in it to last the afternoon, there were oodles of things to do by myself, like cutting out paper dolls or movie star’s pictures or playing solitare.

            Or I make the rounds. I amble out past the back of the shop. Its big sliding back door is open, and Dad is in his mechanic’s skullcap working on some piece of machinery with greasy black hands. He sees me and sings out, “How’s my good girl?” and I grin, give a little dancey step and answer, “Fine!”

            I go by the bus garage, which had once been the old Ravenna schoolhouse where Mom taught a few months, back when I was “on the way,” as Mom called it. There is a blackboard in it yet, and some chalk and an eraser, but I don’t stop. Today I am headed for some real excitement.

            I stand a moment in the door of the empty little log barn to let my eyes get used to the dark, and I savor the earthy smells of horse manure and harness and hay. Then, ever so quietly, I tiptoe to the oats bin back of the cow stalls and - quick! – I throw open the lid and watch the mice skitter for cover. They live happily and in plenty out here, and undisturbed until either I or the cats come around.

            I climb over the corral poles (gates are for old folks) and make my way to the headgate that lets in our irrigation water from the Big Ditch. Here yellow-and-black water snakes sun themselves in the mists along the water-soaked boards. Even though I am on the lookout for them, I yip and jump straight up when one slices across my path. I throw big rocks and kill as many as I can, watching in morbid fascination as they writhe and die and turn their gray bellies to the sun.

            Ice chips would taste good. I wander back from the ditch bank to the icehouse. I crawl up into the cool darkness and, like a dog digs with his front paws, I dig down into the old, dark red sawdust to a block of ice. With an old table knife I keep there for the purpose, I chip away and get several slivers. I wipe off the sawdust on the front of my bib overalls, and suck on ice chips as I sit and dream and relish the cool comfort of my spot while outside it is hot.

            Our icehouse is made of untreated railroad ties spiked together, one on top of another. Last winter I watched Dad and Chub Swartz take turns sawing blocks of ice with a single-handed crosscut saw on the Big Ditch Pond below our house. As the blocks came loose, the men snagged them with the ice tongs and loaded them onto a sleigh. Fan and Big Kneed Nell pulled the sleigh over to the icehouse. There the men packed all sides of each block with ancient red sawdust so they wouldn’t stick together when they were taken out to either cool our icebox or to make a batch of ice cream.

            Mom says we’re going to have ice cream after supper. As I sit sucking on my lovely piece of ice, Dad comes in to get a block. Together we dig down around one until Dad can get the ice tongs on it. It comes out easily. He carries it in the tongs over to the side yard to the pump and pumps a bit of water over it to get the sawdust off. With an old axe he chops the block in two and puts half of it in Mom’s icebox on the back porch. The other half he chops into smaller chunks, puts them in a gunnysack, and crushes the ice with the flat of his axe.

            Mom comes out the back door carrying the canful of ice cream makings she has put together – cream, eggs, sugar, junket, vanilla, and a dash of salt. Making sure the can lid is on tight so that salt won’t get in and spoil the whole batch, she fits the can of makings into the bottom of the wooden ice cream freezer bucket and fastens the crank on top. Dad begins to fill the bucket, alternating a layer of ice and a layer of rock salt clear to the top. Then he begins to turn it.

            “Can I do it?” I beg.

            “Have at ‘er!” he says, knowing that as soon as it begins to harden I will just as eagerly want to give the job back to him. I watch the cold, salty water drizzle out of the hole in the bucket’s bottom as I crank. Dad adds more ice and salt as it melts. Whenever Dad is too busy to do the ice-and-cranking job, he has the hired man to do it. Mom packs it and cranks it herself sometimes, but Dad or a hired man always gets the ice out for her.

            Little three-year-old Rex has just joined us from his important business in the sandpile. As he grows older he will transfer his construction and logging business to “the mountain” (the top of the root cellar), but this afternoon he trundles his little red wagon over to the ice cream site.

            Rex and I sit and watch the turning and wait for the dasher to come out. “Don’t scrape off too much!” we say, and with spoons we slick the dasher clean. So good! Mom replaces the can lid, repacks the bucket with more ice, tucks the gunnysack over the top, and our ice cream awaits dessert time.

            Dad takes a rare rest. He sits with his back against the pump and has himself a smoke of a Velvet roll-your-own while he waits the few minutes till supper.

            “Supper’s on!”

            Mom has fixed venison steak, mashed spuds, milk gravy, green beans with bacon and onion bits, and pickled beets. Dessert is ice cream served in mush bowls with crushed strawberries on top – as much as you want. “Whoever happens to be here at suppertime joins us, and Dad sings out, “Well, tie into ‘er!” All the vegetables come from our garden. Creamy provided the milk for the gravy, us kids’ milk to drink, and the adults’ coffee cream. The bacon was once one of the pigs in the pen out by the barn. The venison steak grew up as a deer in the hills behind our place and grazed in our pasture on moonlit nights.

            In those days of the ‘30s everyone ate venison. Nelle Hughes said that the women who brought sandwiches to the doings at the Clinton Club House would say to each other as they sampled their neighbor’s sandwich, “My, this is good. What is it?” “Ham” or “chicken” or “beef” would be the answer. They were all venison, and everyone knew it. Later on in the ‘40s the classic government official was a forest ranger who came to count the two cows you were turning out in the hills, but in the ‘30s the egghead government man was always the game warden. Hunting out of season was no sin then, for survival is not always strictly legal.

            Trusted friends share our venison supper tonight, so Dad tells the one about Chub Swartz and the game warden:

            “The word’s out that the game warden’s nosin’ around Clinton. When Chub got the tip, he an’ Catherine were right in the middle-a cannin’ their deer up in a boiler. So while Catherine an’ Eunice were out tearin’ down the woodpile and pokin’ jars in and coverin’ ‘em up with cordwood, Chub grabs the hot boiler offa the stove, jars’n all. He shoves it in his rumble seat and starts runnin’ up’n down the road with it. He glances back and there’s steam a-rollin’ up outa the back of his car!”

            Everybody roars.

            “He pushes the boiler into a culvert and drives off. Comin’ back down the road he sees steam pourin’ outa both sides of the culvert! So he jammed it all back into his rumble seat an’ just kept runnin’ up’n down the highway till it cooled off an’ the coast was clear.”

            Dad shakes up and down with laughter at the ridiculous picture. Then he says, “Turns out the game warden was after somebody else!” And everybody laughs some more.

            Conversation flows nice and easy, and similar stories are told this typical summer evening. Life is good. I am nine.



Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 17:11