Minnesota Memories (1 of 4)

1. Wild Rice

Barn and Canoe
By the lake

(This post was written as part of a series. Start  here and continue to link 2 of 4, etc. to read.)

Johnny took the small canoe that was leaning against the barn and placed it on the ground. He had his choice of three different canoes, but he liked the smallest one. It was faster and more maneuverable than the others, which were built especially for carrying cargo such as the wild rice that Johnny and his brothers used to harvest.

Johnny wouldn’t be harvesting much wild rice anymore. Gone were the days when he and his older brothers Chet and Morrie and their friend Cliff would spend weeks at a time canoeing the lakes and rivers of Northern Minnesota, searching for that wild grain prized for its dark color and nut-like flavor.

His brother Chet even had an article about their wild-rice adventures published in a major newspaper.

But there just wasn’t much money in it now that the government was controlling the harvest, and requiring people to get wild rice harvesting permits.

Canoe and Minnesota wild rice by esagor, on Flickr
Wild rice on Minnesota lake.

Johnny thought about selling the larger canoes. Maybe some tourist from the Twin Cities would buy them once summer arrived. His dog Skippy jumped into the canoe as Johnny was dragging it to the edge of the lake. Just as he was about to launch, his mother called out.

“Johnny, here’s a list of some things I’d like you to get at the store in town. Just have them charge it to my account,” she said, bringing him a scrap of paper.

“Sure Mom, no problem. I should be back before dark.”

Johnny hoped he wouldn’t forget to do that errand for his mother. He had a lot on his mind that day. He looked at his mother as she walked away and thought about how Alfred, her husband and Johnny’s dad, didn’t have much longer to live. Alfred had purchased their small farm after retiring from his job as a street-car operator in Duluth. However, a year after retirement, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and wasn’t expected to live much longer. Johnny moved to the farm after purchasing it from his parents. He was a bit surprised that the Farmers Home Administration approved the loan since he didn’t know much about farming. He’d just have to make a go of it.

His Dad’s upcoming death troubled Johnny. He’d seen death close-up on the battle ship U.S.S. New Mexico. Men right in front of him were killed when Japanese gunfire hit their ship. One time he even saw a man’s head blown off. That man ran around the deck like the chickens Johnny used to butcher at home. It was bad enough to watch chickens run around the barn yard with their heads chopped off, but to see a fellow human being running around without a head was nearly too much to handle. Johnny tried hard to keep that image out of his mind.

Battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40) by Konabish ~ Greg Bishop, on Flickr
USS New Mexico

But his dad’s approaching death was different. Every day he would fade away a little more, ounce by ounce; he looked to weigh only about eighty pounds now. Johnny always wondered, whenever he was gone from the farm, if he’d come back to find his father dead. Please don’t let it happen today, he prayed as he pulled the canoe to the shoreline.    (To be continued.)

 

Wild rice on Minnesota lake by Eli Sangor.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  esagor  

 

USS New Mexico by Greg Bishop

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Konabish ~ Greg Bishop

Minnesota Memories (2 of 4)

 Time to settle down

20080204 Minn 005 by richmanwisco, on Flickr
Ice fishing in Minnesota

(This post was written as part of a series. Start at Minnesota Memories 1 of 4  and continue to link 2 of 4, etc. to read.)

Johnny launched the canoe for what would probably be his last trip of the season, as ice was starting to form on the lake. Soon it would be frozen over, winter would arrive, and people from town would be out on the lake setting up their shacks for ice fishing.

That’s how Johnny first met Maxine, his girlfriend. She had come to the lake with her parents to do some ice fishing. Johnny had never seen Maxine in town, and found out that ever since she had caught tuberculosis while studying nursing, she had been confined to a TB sanitarium in Minneapolis. She would occasionally come home for visits, and that’s when she met Johnny.

They were a striking couple: Johnny, the tall and handsome former high school basketball star and ex-Marine who kept in shape by working hard on the farm, running a trap line, and paddling canoes; and Maxine the high school valedictorian, a petite pretty girl with dark brown hair. She had always been thin, yet shapely; but the tuberculosis had taken its toll on her body and there wasn’t much of her.   Maxine was out of the sanitarium now, her health was improving and she had a part-time job at the Bigfork movie theatre. That’s where she would be today; he would catch her between the mid-day matinee and the evening showing.

Ice on Pond by andyarthur, on Flickr
Ice on pond

Johnny pushed off, hopped into the canoe, sat down and started to paddle off. The thin ice cracked and parted as the canoe moved forward. It made him think of when he was a merchant marine on a ship delivering much-needed supplies to the Russian port of Archangel in the White Sea, the winter of 1943.

The Russians had carved a path through the frozen port with their icebreakers, so that the ship Johnny was on could have its cargo unloaded. That job was handled by prisoners of the Red Army who were so like the “walking dead” that, to ease their hunger, they would break into the cans of food they were unloading. Johnny often wondered how these desperate men opened the cans without knives or can-openers. Did they somehow open the cans with their teeth?

Johnny spent nearly four months stuck in that port. It was too dangerous to leave because the Germans were attacking ships in the North Sea. As they waited for an armed escort to protect their ship on its way to England, the ship, now loaded with lumber, sat ice-bound and motionless in that frozen sea.

One day Johnny threw a large garbage can of food scraps and frozen potatoes out onto the ice surrounding the ship. Quickly a large crowd gathered to fight over the garbage.

But that was a different place and time. The war was over now and Johnny had had quite enough excitement in his life. It was time to settle down. (To be continued.)

Winterland by Alexander Kozlov, on Flickr
Frozen port. Arkhangelsk, Russia

 

 

Ice fishing in Minnesota
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  richmanwisco 

Ice on pond
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  andyarthur 

Frozen port
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Alexander Kozlov 

Minnesota Memories (3 of 4)

 Bigfork, Minnesota

loons in the mist by Steve took it, on Flickr
Loony loons

(This post was written as part of a series. Start at Minnesota Memories 1 of 4  and continue to link 2 of 4, etc. to read.)

As he paddled away, Johnny glanced up at the farmhouse and then out to the lake. A loon was making its usual strange noises, earning its moniker, “crazy as a loon”.

The trip into Bigfork wouldn’t take too long. It was only about two miles. He paddled around the peninsula they called Piney Point as it was covered with virgin pine trees that were never cut down for their lumber. This was quite surprising, since the trees stood so near to the lake. It would have taken little effort to harvest them and float them down the Rice River to the saw mill in Bigfork. Johnny had heard that the pines still stood because the peninsula used to be a burial ground for Chippewa Indians who had inhabited the area. Johnny would often walk through those woods looking for Indian artifacts, but without much luck.

He paddled past the point, and into the slow-flowing Rice River that would take him into Bigfork. Although this would be his last canoe trip of the season, once the river froze over he could ice skate from his farm into town, but that mode of transportation wouldn’t last long once snow starting piling up on the frozen river.

As he entered the river, he saw a small otter dive underwater. Skippy barked loudly and wagged her tail profusely.

Skippy guides the way.
Skippy guides the way.

“Settle down, girl. We’re not going after that one,” Johnny said softly as he paddled near where the otter had plunged beneath the surface.

Skippy had always been valuable to Johnny, especially when he used to have a trap line to catch animals for their fur. Skippy would run up to wherever a trap was set, and bark near the trap until Johnny either would pick up the dead animal, or if the trap was empty, he’d set and re-bait it. Without Skippy’s help, the traps would be a lot harder to find. Skippy made the trapping more efficient, plus Johnny enjoyed the companionship.

However Johnny didn’t have the heart to trap anymore, ever since he’d found a leg of a fox, stuck in a trap, where the fox had chewed it off to save itself. The bloody trail of a three-legged animal leading away from the trap had made Johnny sick that day. He unchained the trap from the tree, and went to pick up the others. His trapping days were over.

In the past, he might have made a note about the location of the otter, and set a trap to catch it, but now Johnny was glad he wouldn’t be back for the otter. He even hoped no one else would try and trap it. Besides, the fur looked just fine on the otter. He’d miss the extra money the furs would bring in, but he’d sleep better at night.

Bigfork
Downtown Bigfork

Once he got into Bigfork, Johnny pulled the canoe to shore under the pedestrian bridge that linked the downtown area with the high school, and then secured it with a rope to a small bush.

“You’ll have to stay here Skippy. I’ll be right back. Sit! Stay!”
(To be continued.)

 

Loons in the Mist by Steve Wall
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by  Steve took it 

Minnesota Memories (4 of 4)

I Do

p-60-a-002 by NeenahHistory, on Flickr
Cooking on a wood-burning stove.

(This post was written as part of a series. Start at Minnesota Memories 1 of 4  and continue to link 2 of 4, etc. to read.)

Johnny took the grocery list out of his shirt pocket. He knew there wouldn’t be much on the list as they were already well stocked for the winter season. His mother was a great cook. She had worked as a camp cook for lumberjacks before she married, and afterward, she cooked for her seven kids. It was no exaggeration when Johnny told people his mother spent half of her life in front of a cook stove.

For the long winter, Johnny’s mother had canned wild blueberries, choke cherries, tomatoes, cucumbers, wild strawberries and rhubarb. The root-cellar was filled with potatoes, squash, and wild rice. Fresh eggs would come from the chickens, milk and butter from the cows, fresh fish from the lake, and Johnny would kill some deer to supply meat.

Hunting season would start soon, but a lot of the locals didn’t pay attention to it. As long as you used the game to feed your family, the game warden usually left you alone.

Johnny’s neighbor, Claus Olson, always kept deer hanging in his barn during deer season. And all those deer weren’t there to put food on the Olsons’ table.

Claus had extra deer for the so-called hunters that came from the Twin Cities to get drunk, and luckily for the real hunters, spent all their time in camp drinking. About all they hunted for was a can-opener for their beer cans. So that they wouldn’t go home empty-handed, they would buy deer from Claus for $100 each, which was no small sum for those days.

Deer Hunt by Prairie Home Images, on Flickr
Minnesota deer hunters.

Johnny looked at the shopping list: sugar, baking powder, salt, and some blackberry brandy.

At the Piggly Wiggly grocery store Johnny picked up the requested supplies, plus some bones for Skippy.

“Are you ready for the winter?” the store manager asked as Johnny approached the cash register.

“I don’t know if I’m ever really ready for winter,” Johnny responded, “maybe as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Say hello to your mom and dad for me. I miss seeing them in the store,” the manager commented as Johnny headed for the door.

“I’ll do that.”

Johnny walked out of the store and to the movie theater, which wasn’t very far, since Bigfork only had five hundred residents. Maxine was inside stocking the snack bar when he walked in.

“You almost done?” Johnny queried.

“Yeah, sure. I just have to be back in a couple of hours. ‘Mighty Max’ is showing, and we’ll probably be pretty busy. What’s up?”

“Oh, I just thought you might want to go down by the river. I canoed in, and Skippy’s down by the canoe waiting. I bought her some bones and I’d like to feed them to her.”

“Sounds good to me. Let’s go.”

As they walked down to the canoe, Skippy started barking and wagging her tail, but still didn’t move from her position. Johnny and Maxine sat down on the river bank. He opened the bag of groceries and pulled out the bones and threw them near Skippy.

“Go get ‘em!” Johnny shouted, and Skippy bolted toward her treats.

Johnny and Maxine held each other tightly, to warm themselves, as they sat on the river bank watching Skippy enjoying her cow bones. The river gently flowed past, moving the reeds and making that special sound that rivers make, soothing and almost hypnotic. They sat in near silence as Johnny picked up pebbles and threw them in the river. Plop. Plop. The sound of the pebbles hitting the water echoed underneath the foot-bridge.

“You’re quieter today than usual,” Maxine commented as she snuggled closer to Johnny.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about something pretty important. Maxine, will you marry me?”

I do
I do

 

 

Cooking on a wood-burning stove.
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  NeenahHistory 
Minnesota deer hunters
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Prairie Home Images