....And an Electric Chair

 


Gen, Karen and Casey Miller, in front.
Marlene and Ann, standing.

 

... AND AN ELECTRIC CHAIR
By Marlene Miller Kundel


for Casey and Gen Miller's 50th Anniversary

copyrighted 1986

HOME ON THE RANGE


The huge tractor tires threw clods of gumbo in all directions as Dad slid his way across the greasy, wet South Dakota prairie. We were moving! Leaving Dupree!  All of our possessions had to be hauled three miles by tractor to the Cherry Creek Highway because the moving van couldn't get across the soft muddy roads. It was March 1950, the ground was thawing, and the roads had become impassable. The Black Hills, 120 miles west,  sounded more exciting than anything we had ever experienced.   I was 12 years old, my sister Ann Miller was 9 and our little sister Karen Miller had just turned 6.

Growing up on a farm surrounded by loving family and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins had been a rich, wonderful way to begin life. It instilled in us the value of hard work as well as the warmth and fulfillment one gets from a large family. However, life on a farm had limits; and we all dreamed our own visions of what life was to become. What an exciting adventure for three young girls who had never known anything but farm life at Dupree!

This story really began sixteen years earlier with Dad's courtship of Mom. It was a long fourteen mile horseback ride across the seemingly endless prairie to get from the Miller farm south of Dupree,  to Gram and Gramp Olson's farm near Lantry. Because of the distance, their courtship usually consisted of everyone going to a dance and pairing off after they arrived. Mom's best friend Bessie lived only a half mile away from her. Dad's horse Sox must have reached his limit by then, for they usually stopped in to see her on the way.

Sox was an important part of Dad's life in other ways, too. He had trained Sox to "shake hands", "bow", and shake his head "yes" or "no". As well as winning many races for Dad, he was a very gentle horse. He would stand perfectly still, hiding Mom and Dad from Gram and Gramp's watchful eyes while they sneaked a goodnight kiss. Since Gram's geese would nearly honk their heads off whenever anyone came into the yard, they needed Sox's help. After they were married, Dad gave Sox to Mom. Feeling broke one day, he sold the horse to Uncle Cully Miller. Tragedy struck a short time later during a blinding blizzard when Sox walked off a high cliff and was killed.

Needing to economize during those Depression years, Mom and Dad decided to elope the weekend of a basketball tournament in Mobridge. Dad had to haul his younger brothers Donald and Buck Miller anyway as Donald was on the team. The three young men and their girlfriends piled into Dad's brown Model A Ford sedan. Halfway between Eagle Butte and Timber Lake, one axle broke. A kindhearted man pulled them into Timber Lake where they were able to get it repaired. By that time, they'd missed the game and poor Donald caught heck for not playing. Dad drove them back home that night, still single.

When they did elope a couple of months later, they had Mom's Aunt Margaret and her boyfriend along. She was applying for a divorce, so once again one trip served two purposes. Dad was so nervous, he forgot to shave! He had a little trouble picking out a wedding ring since there were only three from which to choose. The one he bought was too loose so Mom didn't dare wear it often. The family joke was that he bought it large on purpose so he would get more gold for his $2.98.

Mom had been living in the teacherage of a country school with her Aunt Margaret the year they were married. She had to promise to stay until school was out because Margaret was afraid of the husband she was divorcing. That was a much shorter trip for old Sox, and they were able to spend weekends fixing up the old black tar paper covered house that would be their home. Dad decided to paint the kitchen himself as a surprise for Mom. Unaware that he didn't have enough of the ghastly green paint, he began working. By the time he realized he had a problem, he had a wide strip of wall painted. Un­daunted, he thinned the paint and continued. That strip was a little lighter shade of green as was the next one after he had to thin it again!

The day finally arrived when the house was ready for them to move in with their three pieces of furniture. Mom discovered an old wooden chair in the yard and varnished it with the dab of varnish left in the bottom of the can. Later when Dad decided to bathe, he sat on the wet chair in his birthday suit.

The roof of that green kitchen leaked like a sieve. Eventually, Dad and Gramp Olson tore it down and built a smaller room out of the lumber. They lived there until the fall before Ann was born, five years later. At that time Dad bought a larger two story yellow house which was moved into the yard. This house was not much better, but it was larger.

Since my parents were so poor when they married, they were not able to afford a honeymoon. Besides, Mom still had to finish the school year with her aunt. After being married about a year, they drove out to the West Coast and called the trip their honeymoon. Uncle Art and Aunt Verna's house had recently burned, so they'd had to move in with Mom and Dad. They would be able to watch the ranch for them while they were away.

Thinking they might want to stay out west, they packed nearly everything but the old cook stove in a trunk. Dad built a platform on the back of the old car, lashed down the trunk, and off they went. Since there was no feed for the animals, Dad had sold most of his horses. They had all of their worldly wealth precariously perched on the back of the car.
 

They worked in fields, picking hops and harvesting grain, tried their hands at picking fruit, and worked so hard, but they could see they were as well off at the ranch. Mom canned one hundred quarts of fruit before they headed back home.

Social life in those early days of marriage was limited by both money and distance. They rode horseback to see Grandma and Grandpa Miller who lived three miles across the rolling prairie. They were easily lured by the homemade ice cream regularly made by Grandma. There were trips to Lantry to visit Gram and Gramp Olson and visits with the other relatives. They would occasionally go to town when Dad played baseball on a Sunday afternoon.

How excited they were when they'd finally saved enough money to buy a small battery operated radio. It was  powered by a car battery that always seemed to need recharging during the worst winter weather. Then it was saved for news and weather forecasts only. Once the battery was charged, there were several programs  to provide entertainment. In spite of the drought, grasshoppers that ate the curtains, the depression, and the hard work, they were happy. No one had any money during the 30's. How did they get the nerve to marry and raise families? Being young, they didn't give the situation much thought and  managed in spite of hard times.


BUNDLES OF JOY


About two years after they were married, Mom's and Dad's lives were disrupted, never to be the same again. Doc Cramer predicted a boy, but I arrived as a 9 pound girl instead. On the day I was to make my
grand entrance into this world, my parents drove into town about 8:00 o'clock in the morning and went to Aunt Verna's house. They were so nonchalant that Verna thought they were going to Lantry to visit Mom's grandparents. When Mom calmly replied, "No, we are going to the hospital"; Aunt Verna was no longer so calm. She said, "For heaven's sakes! Don't sit here visiting. Hurry!" I didn't arrive until about four that afternoon. My later visits to Aunt Verna's and playing with my cousins were highlights of my early life.

Three years later Aunt Verna was on hand to lend her support when Ann was born. Because there was no telephone and no car available while Dad was working in town at the court house, he would take Mom and me to spend the day with Verna. There Mom waited the last few days before the stork visited.

Verna made fantastic doll clothes, complete with garter belts and garters to hold up little doll stockings. One evening the girls let me take their big doll home for the night. In the middle of the night, Mom realized it was time to head for the hospital. Naturally, I had completely undressed the doll and left the clothes strewn around the house. It seemed hours before they found all of the items and had the doll and me dressed to go to town. Even though she had three small girls of her own, Verna kept me the ten days all new mothers had to stay in the hospital back in those days.

Karen's arrival three years after Ann's was not without its special memories. Dad had bought 25 Leghorn chickens that spring and had to keep his prize pullets in the house where they would stay warm enough. On the day the stork chose to arrive, he took me to school while Mom bathed and dressed Ann. The oval, white bathtub was too heavy for Mom to lift, so she left it for Dad to empty when he returned.

As though programmed to do so, the chicks chose that moment to escape from their box. Three year old Ann, all dressed up in her red and white checked taffeta dress, became very excited at the chicks running in all directions and backed into the tub of cold water. Mom chased chicks and redressed Ann between labor contractions and was ready to leave when Dad finally arrived. They headed for town over the sticky gumbo road, with the car overheating all of the way. At the edge of town, Dad slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the car and ran across the field yelling, "Jewell's mare has had her colt!" After checking on the colt, he came back to the car and they continued on their way to the hospital. Fortunately, the stork was patient. I was so excited when I later learned that I had a new little sister.

AIN'T THE CITY GRAND!


The ranch "at the end of Dupree's Main Street" was actually seven miles down a narrow gumbo road. Just traversing those miles during summer rains or winter snows was an adventure in itself. Dad would step on the gas, Mom would gasp, and we three girls would hang on tightly as we skidded and slid through the bad spots. With Dad at the wheel, we rarely became stuck. The Christiansen Hills always proved thrilling because they collected drifts of snow that had to be rammed. There was always danger that we would slide off the road and down to the bottom of a steep gulch. The ditch beside the road as we passed Leonard Birkland's farm seemed as deep as the Grand Canyon was said to be. We always heaved a sigh of relief when we'd survived another trip through that stretch of road, for Dad had told us many stories about the accidents that had occurred there earlier. Driving that same road as an adult, after being gone many years, was a surprise. Either the ditch had changed considerably, or a child's eyes made it seem much more treacherous than it really was.

Dupree, a tiny town of less than 450 people, sat alone in the middle of the prairie. With its four blocks of actual Main Street dotted with stores spread out along the dirt road and complete with wooden sidewalks, it could have been used for the set of a western movie. There was no need for traffic signals and speeding wasn't much of a problem except for an occasional chase by the sheriff after a Saturday night dance. There were two grocery stores where the ranchers traded eggs to help pay for the staples they couldn't raise themselves. It seemed we were quite self-sufficient except for flour, sugar, and some baking supplies. Ann can still remember her first taste of "store-bought" bread. It was quite a treat - almost as good as a piece of cake. Being the oldest, I was responsible for the younger girls when we would go to town. We felt quite grown up as we went into Art Hurst's drug store to buy an ice cream cone or our favorite candy, unaided by  adults. We would peek into the pool hall and remember we had been told what a bad place it was. Throwing aside all warnings and caution, Ann and I decided to go there one day to sell some pop bottles we had found. The dimly lit room with the strange men looking at us was so frightening that we decided we would never be very rich if that was what it took to make a few pennies!

We had all been born at the two-bed maternity ward presided over by old Doc Cramer. He was a typical country doctor whose response to "How much do I owe you?" was often, "Oh, a dollar will be plenty."

Dad knew everyone in town and it was fun to tag along when he made his rounds.

Dupree, being the county seat, had the County Court House where Dad and Aunt Florence (Donald Miller's wife) worked for the Department of Agriculture. We loved to go to town with Dad and visit "Daddy's Quart House". The two story building seemed like a palace with its large open stairways and marble floor. It had a distinctive smell, a mixture of cigar smoke and disinfectant. It sat alone in the middle of the block on a large manicured lawn, an unusual sight in Dupree where most people didn't even attempt to grow a lawn. It even had indoor plumbing and water fountains. Ann and I both were impressed watching Aunt Florence at work; her fingers flying over the typewriter keys. We would watch in awe, for she was an excellent typist.

Dupree did have a few stop signs of questionable need. When very young I told Dad, "I stopped for the longest time, but nothing happened so I just ran across the street as fast as I could!" While learning to shop all alone, I made one special trip to Ruth Hurst's variety store where I spent my nickel on a heavy, bright blue hairnet. I don't recall ever wearing that monstrosity, but I thought it was quite glamorous. I also experienced the heartbreak of losing the ice cream out of the cone as I ran across the street from the drug store. Fortunately, Dad came to the rescue with a nickel for a replacement.

On one particularly lucky day, Ann received a quarter from someone. Dad had told us to spend our money wisely, so she was too ashamed to admit that she had bought 25 pieces of bubble gum. She hid it in the basement when she got home; but when Mom questioned the huge cuds of gum she was finding everywhere, Ann finally had to confess what she had done. Since we had been unable to get bubble gum until after World War II, it was quite a treat. The way it made our jaws ache to chew it, I am quite certain it wasn't available earlier because it was needed to make airplane tires!

We learned our homemaking skills by watching and working with Mom, but in those days the neighbor women would gather at each others houses and have sewing bees.    We learned to quilt and sew from the older women as well as refining our needlework.   Anytime there was a need, the women would gather and make baby clothes  or knit warm hats and mittens and the young girls would work with them.  The boys of the family would follow the men as they did their chores and as they became old enough would be of great help.  



READIN', WRITIN', AND 'RITHMATIC


Ann and I began our school years at White Swan School a mile or two across the prairie from our home. The name "White Swan" conjures up mental pictures of a beautiful white building with graceful arches and maybe a clear blue pond nearby. In reality, it was white. There any resemblance to the mental picture comes to a sudden end. It was a tiny one-room building, not much larger than my living room
today. It had a little entry tacked on one end to hold our boots and coats. There our lunch boxes were dutifully deposited on the shelf as we arrived each morning. When the weather was especially cold, we brought everything into the school room as the entry was not heated. Coats and snow pants would be hung on hooks in a corner near the stove and the boots lined up under them where we hoped, in vain, that they would dry before they were needed again. Our mittens would be draped over a band of metal that stood out near the bottom of the stove. They continuously gave off a wet wool smell as they were drying. If we left them too long, they would begin to smell like scorched wool - and look like it too!

Our feet would often feel icy from the long walk to school or playing outside during recess time in the winter. Once inside the building, we would remove our shoes and stockings so we could warm our icy toes on the metal band. Instant pain and a large blister were my reward the day I accidentally touched my toe to the hot stove. When cold winds accompanied the winter storms, the teacher would have us pull our desks around the stove to keep warm. This was always an exciting time for us, for we felt so cozy and also discovered it facilitated visiting with our neighbors.

Our desks had wrought iron legs and wooden seats that folded up when not in use. They came in assorted sizes as did the students. On Ann's first day of school, all of her new books slid out of the desk and onto the floor. A "damn" escaped her lips which prompted the teacher to admonish her in front of the other students. I was properly embarrassed at her slip. We girls had spent a lot of hours with the men working on the farm, and had learned...... but weren't supposed to use, such language.

Near the teacher's desk were desks with wider seats where each class, from one to four students, would sit for recitation time with the teacher. All eight grades were taught in the one room where it was expected that the rest of the students would quietly do their assignments as each class was given its individual time. As the older students would practice memorizing their poetry, we would listen and partially learn it too. In my first grade year, I was one of six students, mostly cousins.

A large, well used blackboard covered most of one wall. It was here that we learned how to do math problems, where we practiced spelling words and where the teacher wrote down assignments. It was considered extremely daring to take advantage of the teacher's long trip to the outhouse by drawing a stick picture and writing "teacher" under it. The trick was to get it erased and be back in one's desk before she returned. We also played tic-tac-toe, hangman and other games on the board when it was too cold to have our recess time outside. It was an honor to be chosen to clean the blackboard or to go outside and beat the erasers together to clean them of the chalk dust.

The teacher would have us raise one finger, or two, to specify how long we would be staying when we raised our hands for permission to go outside to the toilet. She had to keep track of eight individual classes inside and at the same time remember who had gone out so we wouldn't be able to sneak a social meeting with the one who had gone out previously. Writing our names on our all-purpose blackboard helped with traffic control. We had a well equipped school with separate little white houses for boys and girls. Our girl's outhouse was large enough for all of the girls to run into and lock the door when the boys were chasing us during recess time. Many secrets were shared sitting in that cold little building. In the spring, we would try to be excused for a trip so we could find and eat the wild onions that grew in the school yard. The teacher objected to the bad breath she would be subjected to during reading class in the close quarters. She could always tell when our hunts were successful. As the temperatures dropped in the winter, so did the number of requests for a trip to the outhouses.

We played games on the rough, grassy area outside the school. Tag, hide and seek, and baseball were our favorites. We were quite resourceful in making up for the lack of toys and equipment, such as the time we found some broken cups. We sat near an ant colony and proceeded to make them a city with the broken pottery pieces. To our dismay, the ants discovered the open cuffs of our pant legs and the boys had to be rushed into the school building so we girls could shake out the infested trousers. Field mice also made interesting pets and would occasionally end up in the teacher's middle desk drawer, much to her chagrin. Garter snakes were useful for scaring the more fainthearted classmates. Ann succumbed to a dare in first grade and put a mouse (presumably dead but probably just in a coma from rough play), in the teacher's desk. The teacher found out who did it (rat-fink cousins) and slapped her hand with a ruler.

Our drinking water was hauled to school by Uncle Cully and poured into a large stone water cooler with a spigot at the bottom. During the winter months we had cold water to drink and when the weather was warm, so was the water. We were each to bring a cup from home. Mine was a fancy collapsible one, but we usually just drank from the cup that was most handy.

The floor of the school had wide, oiled boards with large cracks in between them. The only way to settle the dust was to cover the floor with a layer of sweeping compound which was a mixture of sawdust and oil. When this was swept up, it would contain most of the dust. If we fell on the floor, Mom would have to scrub the knees or seats of our jeans with homemade laundry soap to get out the oily grime. How wonderfully clean that sweeping compound smelled. It evokes memories even now when something similar is smelled.

Our first two teachers lived many miles away, so they stayed with one of the families who lived along the highway. These teachers each stayed with the school only one year. The next teacher was a little older and more experienced; consequently, she managed to survive a three year tour of duty. She lived in town but had no car, so she chose to live at the school during the week and when roads were impassable during the winter. There was just space enough for a single bed in one corner and a few shelves on the wall for personal items. We would sit on her bed, hidden by the big maps hanging from a portable stand, and giggle and whisper when we were supposed to be doing geography. Once we heard more giggling than usual from the older girls. During recess, they confided they had taken a pinch of the teacher's coffee grounds to chew as tobacco. My, we thought that was evil!

This particular teacher loved cooked cabbage and would put a big pan full  on top of the stove so it could cook while she taught the last class before lunch time. How we hated that smell! The odor would permeate our small building and was almost enough to discourage the rest of us from eating our lunches. Before her three years were finished, several of the neighbor men built a small room, called a teacherage, onto the end of the school building. It was crowded, but she must have appreciated the extra space and privacy. We went in by invitation only and there was no more opportunity to chew her coffee grounds. Much to our distress, her cooking was still done on the stove in the classroom, so we were not spared the smell of cooking cabbage.

We had all of the basic subjects plus art and music. How thrilled we were when the school was given an old crank Victrola and some records. I can still hear the mournful sounds of "Roaming In the Gloaming" played at a speed matching the energy of the person at the other end of the crank. How I disliked that song! My favorites were "Oh Susanna" and some of the other peppy songs we had. How we would crank to keep up the speed of the records!

Ann and I would walk the two miles across the prairie when the weather permitted but when winter arrived, our transportation varied. When I was the only one going to school, I would sit behind Dad on whatever horse needed riding to keep it gentle. He would warn me to sit properly; for if I bent my knees so much my feet poked into the horse's flanks, it would promptly deposit us into a snow bank. With my short legs, it was no simple task to straddle that big horse and not bend my knees. Other than a few aborted attempts, we must have worked it out to the satisfaction of the horse; for I don't remember being thrown. When the snow drifts were too deep for the horse, Dad would lead the way on foot, breaking trail. We also had some exciting rides in the horse-drawn sleigh. Not content to just ride, I would lie on my stomach at the back of the sleigh and make trails in the snow. More than once, Dad had to stop the horse while I retrieved a mitten that had been pulled off. To drive the car, Dad would have to break through the cut he had shoveled, but which would drift shut each night. The big snow bank by the dam would nearly hide him as he drove fast as he could and still managed to keep control of the car. I didn't mind when the car became stuck in the snow, for then I would get to drive while Dad pushed. Thinking back, we marvel at Dad's perseverance. The energy he expended just to get us to school! Mom was no passive bystander in the daily adventure. She would feed and dress us, pack a delicious lunch, and pray and worry as we left.

Our world changed with the coming of spring and the thawing of the snow and gumbo. Since our only possibility for using the car was to leave it on the graveled highway near the school, we had to walk the two miles each day. As the ice and snow would thaw, the little creeks and dry gullies would fill with water and flood. On a late afternoon as Ann and I were walking home from school, we discovered the flooding was quite severe. With my heart in my throat, I walked across some thin ice that already had water running over it. I hoped I could get Ann to quickly follow before the ice broke through. She was afraid and refused. I crossed, than had to go back for her. This was repeated several times as she timidly refused to follow. My overshoes were filling with the icy water which was getting deeper and deeper as the ice sank a little further at each crossing. Finally after much coaxing, she came behind me. She was very frightened, (so was I); but I felt so mature as well as relieved for rescuing her. We were out of sight of home with no way to signal someone to help us. As we grew older, we became more competitive and both of us remember a few arguments that culminated with a sister landing in a bed of cactus as we walked home from school. Nevertheless, we were the first to come to the rescue if a sister had a problem.

As the weather warmed, the prairie pushed up its treasures of beauty. The pastures became green, and walking home from school took a lot longer as we watched for the early May flowers. When we spotted the flowers and heard a meadow lark sing, we knew spring was here to stay. Bluebells grew in the prairie and were a favorite both for their glorious smell and for the sweet nectar we would suck out of the neck of the little bell. Red-orange geraniums, purple ladyslippers and wild roses grew on the prairie, too. I would pick a fat bouquet, clutching it tightly as I walked home. Soon I would begin to feel the pulsation of my blood flowing through my hand which felt alarmingly like a wriggling snake. Even though I knew it wasn't, I had such a respect for snakes that I usually checked just to be sure. A real treasure was finding a snowy white gumbo lily growing along the white patches of alkali soil where nothing else would grow. We loved to bring home a bouquet of wild flowers to Mom. The prairie also had a few unpleasant weeds. One of these was a smelly flower we called "wet-pants" because of its odor, and we tried to avoid cactus and sticker bushes that would catch onto our clothing.

School was not only the place of learning, but played an important part in our social life as well. The farms were all too far apart for us to get together to play, so we only met at school. Other than the outhouses which ranked at the top of places to play and hide, we loved to play on the barn where the horses some of the kids rode to school were kept.  It sat along the edge of the school yard. The roof gently sloped away from the school which made it a perfect place to hide. We would climb up there and lie on our stomachs just close enough to the edge to watch for Teacher or late arrivals, but back far enough so we could not be easily seen. When Teacher would catch us, she would end the game. In the pasture, not far from the school, was a hole which had been the cellar of a house that had burned many years previously. There were a couple of rusty bed springs that made great trampolines. Sometimes we would sit in the cellar hole so the teacher couldn't see us and pretend we didn't hear the bell she was so frantically ringing. Another time we played on the ice at Uncle Cully's while Teacher stood on the hill ringing that little bell with all of her might! After losing a few recesses, our hearing improved.

Each year at school we had two big social events. In the winter, we had our Christmas program, complete with a visit from Santa. We would work so hard on the Christmas piece each of us had to memorize and would sing carols and exchange gifts. We would draw names among our classmates, but everyone would bring a gift for Teacher. The school board would donate enough money for candy for everyone to share when the families and neighbors all came to see us perform. We would even be allowed to light the real candles on our pretty Christmas tree. With the dry evergreen needles, the oily wooden floor, and the crowd, it's a wonder we never had a tragedy.

The second big event was a money-making social which would provide funds to buy something special for the school. At the card parties, we would play a card game called Whist, with prizes going to the person with the highest score. One year I won a prize, even though it was just the booby prize! At the end of the evening, each woman's pie would be auctioned off and she would share it with the man who bought it. Other people from the community would come, so we always worried about who would buy our pies. Even though we didn't dare tease our teacher, we always felt so smug when the bachelor who lived down the road bought hers. As we grew older, our younger teachers would let us have dances instead of the card parties. We had a lot more fun at the dances where we could show off the steps Dad had taught us. We would have a local fiddler provide the music and people from miles around would crowd into the little school house to have a good time. The little brothers and sisters would also come and when they could no longer keep their eyes open, they would sleep on the desks which had been pushed against the wall.

Sometimes instead of auctioning pies, we would have a box social. Each girl would have spent days decorating the shoe box which would hold the sandwiches and dessert for two. We would eat the lunch with the highest bidder which we hoped would be one of the young single guys who had come. I can still remember how grand I felt at the last year's dance. I had a new dress with a black velvet bodice and red plaid taffeta skirt with a big bow at the waist. What a lovely swishing sound it made as I danced! Ann remembers being so proud as she danced with Dad like a real grown-up.

Each spring we would enter the County Field Day activities in Dupree. In the second grade I won my only athletic award - third place in the ball throwing contest. The next year the ball slipped out of my hand. I was mortified as I watched it fall beside me, just a few feet away! It was a good thing Dad's self-worth wasn't tied to my athletic prowess. Ann used to win the foot races, probably the benefit of chasing the milk cows when Dad wasn't looking.

In the fifth grade, I entered the county spelling bee. I had practiced so hard at home hoping I could beat the town kids whom we felt looked down upon us. A girl from town and I were unbeaten and had several spell-downs in the attempt to break the tie. I felt tired and hot, but wanted so badly to win. However, I misspelled "college" and she won. In spite of the disappointment, I was relieved it was over. The next day I broke out with measles. I had exposed kids from all over the county the day before.

During those years, Karen was the baby at home. We were so proud of her and felt no one had quite such a clever little sister. We taught her to read from "Dick and Jane" until we came to the word "and". She would always say, "End, bottom end" and giggle. We eventually gave up! We took her to school one time to show her off. We'd spent hours before,  priming her with good manners so we wouldn't be disgraced. She did very well all day until she accidentally stepped on Cousin Maggie's toes and said, "Thank you" instead of "Pardon me". Disgraced!
 


MUSTARD SUNDAES AND OTHER TALES


We had such fun at home during those early years. Sliding down the hills on the huge snow drifts was a favorite winter pastime. We would plop belly-down onto the sled and fairly fly down the hill until the sled would hit a soft spot and come to a sudden halt. Sometimes we would careen on down the hill sledless, noses getting scratched from the sharp ice crystals, as we plowed the snow. In spite of the minor wounds, it was still a lot of fun. Dad would shovel enough snow off the frozen dam to make a skating rink, and people from town would come out on a Sunday afternoon to enjoy the skating. Mom always had treats for everyone to eat. One man in particular really liked her homemade goodies and would eat huge amounts. We all chuckled the day he piled his ice cream high with butterscotch sauce, only to discover he had the mustard instead!

Dad built us an igloo after we had learned about Eskimos and igloos in school. First he found a deep snow drift, dug a hole in it, and then he built a top from the huge blocks of snow he had cut. We played in it until he decided the smelly pig would have to spend the rest of the winter in it for shelter from the storms. So much for our igloo!

Before we had a refrigerator, the uncles and Dad would put up ice in the winter. They would saw ice from the dam into large blocks, put them on a sled, and drag them to the ice house. The ice house was a huge hole dug into the ground and covered by a pitched roof. The ice was carefully stacked and then covered
with clean straw to keep it from melting as the weather warmed. Pieces would be brought in to keep the ice box cool enough to prevent our food from spoiling. We would also use it to make homemade ice cream in the old crank freezer. We would take turns  turning the handle until the ice cream was too thick for us to crank anymore; then an adult would finish the job. Licking the dasher, the blade that stirred the ice cream, was a favorite treat for us kids. We felt really fortunate if the ice in the ice house lasted long enough for our frozen treat on the Fourth of July.

Much of our time during the winter was spent indoors trying to keep warm by the coal stove in the living room. In earlier years, Mom cooked on an old kitchen range, or cook stove as we called it. The hungry monster had to be constantly fed from the wood box in the corner. On one end was a reservoir which held our hot water. At the age of three, while rocking exuberantly in my little rocker, I tipped backwards and hit my head on a corner of the reservoir. I still have the scar from the deep gash in my scalp. The stove also provided a lot of heat when the oven door was opened. Grandma Miller would let us sit on her oven door when it wasn't too hot, but Mom didn't want the hinges bent or the door wouldn't close tightly for baking. She relented and let us sit on it once in awhile anyway. We loved to hear Dad as he came in stomping his feet to get the snow off his overshoes. His face would be bright red from the cold and white frost would hang from his bushy eyebrows. More than once his ears, hands, and feet were frost­bitten. These were the times he would talk about moving to the Black Hills where the climate was much milder.

When it was too cold to play outside, we would listen to the radio or the phonograph. Mom taught us to embroider and crochet by the light of the kerosene lamps while we listened to "Innersanctum", "Fibber Magee and Molly" or "Amos and Andy" on the radio. Dad taught us to dance to the music from the crank phonograph. Having everyone in the house, toasty warm and sitting in the glow of the lamp light while the wind howled and blew the snow into huge drifts, gave us a feeling of peace and contentment. The cookie jar was always full and the folks would tell us stories of the "olden days". Mom would read "The Teeny Weenies" which had been a gift from one of her grade school teachers. A special treat was toasting marshmallows on a fork over the lamp chimney, but we had to be very careful to not touch the chimney with either our fingers or the gooey treat. If we lost the marshmallow inside the lamp, it would break the delicate mantle and there would be no light. Mom had a small kerosene lamp that was usually brought out just for the occasion. How good those marshmallows tasted! If we carefully ate off just the browned outer layer, the center could be toasted for a second treat.

The harsh winter meant so much hard work for the adults. The drains would freeze. Water had to be carried into the house in buckets year round, and now in the winter it had to be carried out as well. Since trips to the outhouse in the howling storms were dangerous, we children used a white porcelain chamber pot that was stored under the bed and which the adults had to empty. The fire had to be constantly attended for both heating and cooking, and wash day was a major undertaking. Water for baths and washing clothes had to be pumped into buckets at the well, carried into the house, heated, and then poured into the washer or the big bath tub which would be brought into the living room near the stove. Each piece of laundry had to be hand washed on a scrub board, wrung out, and hung out on the line where it would freeze stiff as a board. It was then brought indoors and draped over furniture to finish drying. Mom's knuckles would be cracked and bleeding from the difficult job. It was a tremendous help when she got a new washer with a gasoline engine!     When the new house was built and laundry could be hung in the basement, the task was eased a little more. Dad did the outside work with Mom's assistance from time to time. During winters with so much snow that the cattle couldn't graze, he would hitch a wagon to the tractor and take feed to the cattle that had been moved to a hilly area for protection. I felt so grown up when I was occasionally allowed to go along to drive the tractor for him. In the early spring, newborn calves would be brought into the house for warming before they could rejoin their mothers. Dad would drape a calf over the saddle in front of him and once inside, tenderly rub the baby and encourage it to stand as it warmed in front of the old wood stove. Mom would fill bottles with milk to feed those that needed it. We girls thought this was all quite exciting, but it must have been so difficult for our parents.

We played in the basement of the new house in later years. One day after Mom had given Ann and me permanents, we were running through the laundry while playing tag. Ann caught one of her metal curlers in the neck strap of an apron. When Mom later removed the curler, she was horrified as she watched all of the hair fall out into her hand. She was afraid the permanent had caused all of the hair to break at the scalp and she would have a bald daughter! She was relieved to learn it had just been one curler of hair torn during a rowdy game.

Grandma Miller would order baby chicks each spring and share 25 or so with us. Because they would arrive before it was warm enough to put them in the chicken coop, they would live in a box in the corner of the kitchen. We were fascinated by the tiny yellow bits of fluff that seemed to peep continuously. They had to be fed and their box kept clean, but the worst problem came when they grew large enough to escape their temporary shelter. The spring we were living in the basement of the new house, we shared our living quarters with the chickens while the upstairs walls were being plastered. Somehow, water ran down from where the men were working above and began to fill the little chicks' box where it sat on the warm oven door. Mom quickly rescued them, but not before a few drowned. Being unimpressed with the low survival rate of chicks she gave Mom each year, Grandma began giving them to Ann to raise, instead. I'm not sure she was any more successful, but Grandma probably was more patient with her.

As the snow began to thaw, the creeks began to flow into the stock dam next to the house. It in turn would overflow into the spillway which emptied into the milk cow pasture. It was an exciting event when the water would take hundreds of Bullhead  fish (Catfish!) with it. We would walk through the shallow water, pick up the fish that were flopping around, and put them into cream cans to be taken home. We thought they were delicious! People would come from town to fish this easy way. I can still recall the pain of stepping on the sharp dorsal fin of a Bullhead and having it cut my toe. The water must not have been too icy by then as I remember the feel of the water and the spongy grass under my feet.

The anticipation of spring was further enhanced by the prospect of being able to shed our long, brown stockings and the maze of elastic forming the contraption that held them up - the garter belt. No matter how smooth those stockings looked when we put them on, they soon relaxed into a series of droopy folds from the knees to the ankles. Ann and I hated them and felt we were too old to have to wear them to school. Our cousins didn't wear them after first grade, and Cousin Lewie Miller had even gone outside barefooted one snowy day. He didn't die of pneumonia! Mom would remind us that in her youth she not only wore long stockings, but Gram Olson gave them a dose of sulfur and molasses with a chaser of castor oil each spring. We were impressed, but it didn't lessen our dislike for those stockings. More than once they were shed on the way to school and hidden in a coat pocket until we were half way home in the afternoon.

I also felt I had another heavy burden to bear - sitting each morning while Mom braided my long hair. I would have given anything to have long curls like Cousin Adella Potter. Cousin Lewie Miller would threaten to dunk the ends of the braids in his ink bottle at school, or he would tie them in a knot during recess time. After one schoolmate's father  let a man stay overnight at their house, they learned he had head lice. The kids got them and  promptly shared their new acquisition with everyone at school. My itching head kept me awake a few nights before Mom discovered my new pets. I spent many hours sitting in front of her while she tried to rid my hair of the nits without cutting off too much hair. We used a special shampoo which killed the lice as well as removed part of the scalp.  Finally she had Dad cut off my long hair which made the whole experience worthwhile in my eyes. Dad and my uncles had always traded haircuts and did well on men, but he wasn't too experienced with women's styling. The first day back at school with my new, short haircut, one of my cousins asked why I had stair steps on the back of my head. I didn't care.

Dad was appreciated for many things, but haircuts for the women in the family were not included on the list. I can remember back to that first black tar paper house. Mom was looking in the mirror crying while a pile of curls lay on the floor. Mom always cut Dad's hair after we left the ranch. For years Ann believed the reason for his receding hairline was because Mom had killed his hair by cutting it too short.  Dad cut our hair clear into high school, and although we love him dearly, he has never been forgiven for some of his "styles".

Summers on the prairie brought on a whole different kind of hard labor for our parents. Mom would have to fix food for the threshing crews that helped Dad harvest the grain. We thought it fun to have so much company, but it was terrible work for Mom indoors and equally back breaking for Dad outdoors.  Mom spent much of her time baking bread, gathering vegetables from the garden to eat or to can for winter, and fixing those huge meals. When we were old enough, we could help a little with the big pans of dishes that were left; but all three of us were too young to be of much help. The summers were as hot as the winters were cold. The house would get so hot and uncomfortable from all of the cooking, and we had no shade trees or electricity for a fan.

Ironing was another dreaded summer job, for we  wore starched cotton dresses. Perma-pressed fabric wouldn't come on the scene for many years yet.   Mom used a gas iron which often brought a little excitement to an otherwise boring task. If it had too much air pumped into the gas tank, it would shoot out a ball of fire.

We always had several cats and kittens around that Grandma Miller had given us. A few would get in the way of the wheels of the car, but the barns were always full of cats. Since Mom sewed doll clothes for us, we could dress up the cats until they would rebel and hide. We would also give them rides in our doll buggy. When we would go to the barnyard while Dad was milking, he would squirt milk into our kitten's mouths and very often into ours too. Dad didn't like dogs for they would eat eggs in the hen house and ruin plants. We had very few of them, but once Dad did relent when a neighbor insisted he take a puppy from a new litter. The precious iris bulbs John Francis had brought the folks from Minnesota were dug up several times the first day, ruining a few each time. The pup disappeared and we didn't learn until several years later that Dad had taken it away. We were certain it had become lost. We also had a pet furry gosling which we named Gugenheimer. Three year old Karen couldn't pronounce it and called him Boogerhanger. He lived in an empty hog house where he would be protected from the weather. After returning from town one day, we found him lying on his back in a puddle of water. We were all very sad at losing our pet.

 Dad wanted us to have a small pony to ride, so he bought a Shetland pony which I gave the original name of"Shet". He was ornery and would try to bite our bare toes. Consequently, he didn't stay with us for very long. Old Babe was a huge but gentle horse I rode, however Ann's favorite was Uncle Fred's Rosey. We would ride them both bareback, but the only way we could mount was with adult help or by climbing onto the car or corral first. Both were lazy, so we would kick and kick trying to coax them into something other than a slow plodding walk. Top speed, a rough trot, was enough to shake our teeth loose. We would dig in our heels while clinging to the mane to stay on. It was a relief when the slow walk would be resumed.

Ann would ride quite a distance from home and when Rosey would decide to graze, Ann couldn't hold on at that extreme angle and would slide off the horse's neck and onto the ground. Being too short to remount, she would have to lead Rosey all the way home. Mom would have some anxious moments when she would see her little girl in the distance, coming home leading the horse.

We spent many summer hours riding horses, graduating to better stock as we got older.

We all tagged along with Dad as he fixed fences and checked livestock. Sometimes he would let us drive the team of horses, and later on, the tractor. We would want to help milk cows, so he taught us how. We felt quite talented when relatives from eastern South Dakota came to visit and commented on our milking skills.  One summer evening Karen decided to milk our favorite cow, Elsie. Being too young to know better, she approached Elsie from behind and attempted milking from between her hind legs. Elsie objected and kicked her in the nose. We took our crying and bleeding little sister in to Mom. During the cooler weather, Dad milked in the barn where we would follow to play with the calves. We had been to rodeos and Ann thought she knew how to bulldog calves. Dad had to put an end to the fun after one calf nearly suffered a broken leg and limped for days. There were some mysteries of cows that the younger girls couldn't quite understand. How could black cows give white milk? Where did the chocolate milk come from?

We learned early in life to respect the snakes, regardless of the kind. While very young and before she knew much about snakes, Ann took a short twig to prod a sleeping rattlesnake. Fortunately the snake was sluggish from the hot sun and Dad was near enough to grab her before the snake could strike. While accompanying Mom to the garden one warm summer day, I discovered some baby rattlers. I had seen Dad kill large snakes with a big rock so figured pebbles would kill the babies. Mom discovered my project, much to her horror, and claims that incident was responsible for her first gray hair.

Our most exciting summer was the year a teenage male relative came to visit. He entertained us with stories of shoplifting, running from the police, and other exciting experiences from his life in the big city, thus the reason he'd been sent to the farm for the summer. This was a whole different world from the quiet country life we had led! While giving Ann and I a ride on the bike, he tipped over and dumped us in a thistle patch. We played rodeo, and he  let the calves get out several times. Dad would have to stop his work and round them up again. Our horseback riding extended to areas generally out of bounds and gave our parents many worried moments. One hot summer day as Mom and we three girls were sitting in the living room, we were all startled by the sound of a rifle shot. Our guest had borrowed Dad's .22 which went off just as he rode past the door. Though Dad was patient and trusting, he was never quite convinced it was an accident and there were limits even for him.  Our parents  seemed quite relieved when summer ended and the young man went home for school.

One project even little Karen could join in was mud pie making. We spent hours and hours making fancy creations and letting them dry in the sun. The tops would be decorated with sunflower petals and pebbles. We could even convince Karen they were delicious and get her to taste them occasionally. On a few occasions, the devil would convince us that if eggs were good in Mom's cakes, then they surely would improve ours. We would steal an egg or two from the hen house. It was especially serious because eggs were used to pay for part of our groceries at the store. Another time we "borrowed" some ripe tomatoes from the garden and took them to the basement where we made tomato soup in an old coffee can. When we were finished, it was necessary to hide the evidence. We pushed the can far under the stairs and promptly forgot about it. A few days later, Mom's nose began to tell her there was a problem in the basement. It took awhile, but she finally found our rotten soup and didn't fully appreciate our creativity. At Grandma Miller's house when we would all gather for a special family get-together, our cousins helped us make mud pies. Cousin Bob was quite young and would make us angry by eating the whole pie! I am still not sure if he was just being ornery or if he really thought our beautifully decorated pies actually tasted good.

When I was eight years old, I FINALLY got a bike. I had wanted one for a long time but didn't realize bikes were not available until after  WWII ended. I still remember the day in town when I saw Jackie Nesland with his new bike - and new glasses. I wondered how anyone could be so lucky! He even lived in town and had a piano! My new bike was a gorgeous blue girl's bike with a light on the front fender and a horn built into the tank. It wasn't as easy to learn to ride as I'd imagined, especially on the narrow, bumpy paths across the yard. I ran into a log near the hog house and crashed. The light flew apart. Dad fixed it again, although a good bump would make the cover fly open each time. Shortly after learning to ride, Uncle Cully  and several of the cousins put their bikes in the back of their homemade pickup and stopped on their way to Grandma's house. I was so thrilled to be able to take my new bike along to ride down the short but steep hill that led into her farm.

Never had I ridden so fast. Why, we fairly flew down that hill! Unfortunately, my feet and pedals parted company on the way down and never did get back together during one trip. I couldn't put the brakes on for the ninety degree turn at the bottom, so I ran into Cousin Lewie and his bike. I remember thinking maybe I was dead. Upon closer inspection, we discovered the kick stand had punctured my leg all the way to the bone and left a ragged hole that bled enough to earn quite a bit of sympathy. It developed infection and wasn't healing well, so Dad took me on one of our infrequent trips to see Doc Cramer in Dupree. Dad had to lift me up onto the examining table because my sprained wrist from another bike accident couldn't support my weight.

Hauling passengers and riding in the loose dirt of our country roads was hazardous. Cousin Eliza broke her collar bone trying to ride down the same hill at Grandma's a month later. Having learned to ride shortly after I did, Ann would go riding across the yard with Karen in hot pursuit trying to keep up with her. One day Karen got in the way and was knocked to the ground by the bike, resulting in a split lip.  She told everyone that Ann rode over her lip with the bicycle.

Karen must have become tired of being the littlest one, unable to keep up with all the things Ann and I could do. She had quite an imagination, much of it about "when I was big before I was little..." As I sat polishing my shoes, she told me another episode of her former life. She had made the mistake of polishing her white shoes with black shoe polish. When she went to school, all the kids called her "Streaky Cat". Poor Karen, who was only 3 was called Streaky Cat by her two sisters for a long time. She would lose her temper and threaten to run away from home. After packing all of her treasures into a little doll suitcase, she would sit on the front step trying to decide if she really wanted to leave or not. On one occasion, Ann packed her own suitcase to go seek her fortune in the world, walked about a mile from home and discovered it was soon to get dark. Never did that one mile back home seem so long!

Karen was always our special little sister. Being six years older than she was, I felt very protective. Ann seemed more of a contemporary and I assumed she could take care of herself. She was a tomboy; so as she grew older,  self-defense was sometimes necessary. However, both of us liked to fuss over Karen. Being young, we would also play tricks on her or put her up to mischief. One day Ann called sweetly, "Come here, Honey...". Not being too certain the colorful worm she'd found wasn't poisonous, she had Karen pick it up and bring it to her. Karen didn't drop dead, so they played all afternoon with the big worm until it tired of the play and went into a coma.

Fierce lightening and thunder storms would come up after a hot summer day. To me they were exciting, but the men worried that the lightening would start prairie fires. One night the whole sky was aglow with fires on three sides of us. Our Grandparents, Uncle Buck and Aunt Eva, and Uncle Donald and Aunt Florence with her coffee cans of change, came to our house to spend the night. The women made coffee and visited while taking care of the children. The men were in and out all night reporting on the fires. Grandma Miller climbed into bed with us  and told us stories about when she was a little girl. She told how they would have to sneak to where the Indians were camped to retrieve their run­away cats. They also had dangerous fires in the summer. She told of a cow they owned that kept jumping the fence to get away from a fire. We children had visions of the cow's standing in one spot, jumping back and forth across the fence.  Her stories of her childhood in the late 1800's were treasures. 

The long night finally ended. Our farms were all saved though many acres of grass were burned., The men spent several days watching and putting out flames that would erupt from the smoldering trees along the creek.

 

TO GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE WE GO


Going to Grandma's was a special treat for us. The three miles across the prairie was too far for us to go alone, but Dad drove us over often.  Uncle Fred, who lived with them, always grew brightly colored Indian corn.  We would line up on the long bench behind the kitchen table to string necklaces of corn. Everyone gathered in the kitchen unless there was a huge family reunion at which time we would over­flow into the seldom used parlor of their three room house. Grandpa had a wind charger and batteries, so they were able to have the luxury of a single electric light bulb that dangled from the kitchen ceiling. We would play solitaire with Fred's cards and fight over the new platform rocker. Uncle Fred loved to tease us. He also watched just enough when we played solitaire so he would catch us if we tried to cheat to win.

Grandma didn't have many conveniences, but in later years had a small kerosene refrigerator. A few days after it had been installed, Dad drove into the yard in time to see her emptying the ice cube tray into the weeds. When asked why she was doing that, Grandma explained that the only time the refrigerator ran was when it froze the ice cubes and she didn't want it to stop working. She couldn't use the ice fast enough. Everyone had taken it for granted that she would understand this newfangled contraption. Her children decided to buy her a bottle-gas stove so she would not have to feed wood into her old cook stove. It also wouldn't make the kitchen so sweltering hot in the summer. Grandma was afraid that the gas would explode, so rarely used it. She had a hard life, but she and Grandpa did a wonderful job of raising their nine children. She had few material desires. When someone would give her a new dress or robe, she usually gave it away. Grandma was also very patient with her grandchildren. While the men would visit, she would let us brush her long, gray hair. She never objected when we would wind it up on a comb, but would sit patiently until we were done. We were always begging to stay overnight. When our parents did allow us to stay, we would cut paper dolls from her Sears catalog. Someone should have written to Sears to suggest that their models all pose the same way so we would have had a better selection of clothing. We were really pleased when the catalogs began to have colored pages. Ann always wanted to sew on Grandma's old treadle machine and more than once sewed the needle through her finger. Grandpa would patiently pull the needle out with  pair of pliars and Grandma would douse the finger with turpentine, her cure-all.

On one trip to Grandma's house, the team of horses was lunging to get through some especially deep snow drifts and tipped the sleigh. Mom  lost interest in the trip, so Dad uprighted the sleigh and took her back home before we continued our trip.

The outhouse at Grandma's seemed to beckon us at family gatherings. It was a good place to hide from the boy cousins because we could lock the door. We would spend a lot of time looking through the catalogs and loved it during canning season when the peach wrappers were recycled. They not only smelled good and were pink, but they were softer than the Sears catalog. We did use store-bought paper at home in the later years, but this was our first colored and scented toilet tissue! Any improvements were appreciated.

Grandma's toilet was only a two-holer, but they were adult sized holes which were more of a challenge to balancing. Ours at home was a three-holer, taken from an abandoned school; and it had two smaller child sized openings. When we played house and balanced our dolls over the holes, a few of them slipped through our fingers and met an untimely end. That's what happened to my favorite Boogey-doll. After Ann accidentally dropped a kitten down, Dad had to fish it out and give it a thorough scrubbing. The outhouse served as a good place to hide the evidence a couple of times when I was afraid of being scolded for breaking one of my toys. One of the saddest moments in my life occurred in our outhouse on Christmas Day when I was six years old. One of my cousins informed me there was no Santa Claus. I didn't want to believe her, but later Mom confirmed the devastating news. Our modern bathrooms are much nicer, but they will never provide the memories of the little house at the end of the path.

We girls developed a "colorful" vocabulary from hanging around the men while they branded and dehorned cattle or tried to break a wild horse. Mom did not appreciate the language if we used it and would surprise us with a dipper full of cold water when we slipped. The most effective deterrent was the BIG THREAT - we couldn't start school if we cussed. Ann remembers sitting under the kitchen window trying out a newly learned set of words when Mom came charging out of the house with a fly swatter to end it. She couldn't figure out how mothers knew things they couldn't possibly know. She didn't realize the kitchen window was open.

Dad taught us all to drive at a very early age. We girls began driving the car through gates while Dad got out and held them open. I remember hitting a fence post and bashing in a fender. Another time Dad's patience was tested as he struggled to get the barbed wire unhooked from the fenders. I'd followed his instructions to "stay near the fence" just a little too closely. After our mishaps, he would simply pound out the dents and not mention the incident again. Mom let me drive through a gate when I was six but decided to ride on the running board in case I needed help. I drove too close to the post and almost beheaded her as the car door began to close. She decided to leave the driving lessons to Dad. Poor Grandma almost fainted the time I drove Ann and myself over to her house. Dad needed to take a horse over to her place to leave, so he had me drive with strict instructions to wait for him at the top of each hill until he'd caught up with us. Since I was only eight or nine, she probably couldn't see more than two pair of eyes peering out of the car. Nearly hitting the windmill as I tried the U-turn that Dad always made probably did nothing to calm her.

Dad became the proud owner of a used Allis-Chalmers tractor  and would let me drive "Alice" occasionally. I was thrilled to be able to help once in awhile by driving while he fed cattle in the winter. Dad was standing in front of Alice one day as I tried to start her without taking her out of gear. If not for his great reaction time, Dad would have been run over as the tractor lurched forward.

Although we trailed Dad a lot in those years, Mom was always there to comfort us after a hurt, to sew all of our clothing and to cook delicious meals. I can still smell the freshly baked cookies, bread and pies; and I can hear the sound of the metal lid on the cookie jar. I don't ever remember the jar being empty or the cookies stale. We all grew up with a ring around our arms from reaching inside so often. Our favorite treat was lefse. Mom would roll and bake the large flat potato pancake-shaped treats just as fast as she could, but we could devour them just as quickly. Her job was a little easier because Dad didn't like "shoe soles" as he called them.

Mom also helped several of the aunts when a new baby was born. My first memory of her babysitting was when Cousin Bob Miller and I hid under the bed and lit matches. He was younger and ended up with a burned thumb as a result. We were fortunate that that was all that burned!

Mom kept Cousin Susie Miller when she was born. Carefully, we were allowed to hold the new baby. We enjoyed having Susie stay a few extra days after Aunt Eva went home for further recovery. Susie slept in a toy chest which had been converted into a bassinet. Dad, coming in from chores with his red face and icy hands, heard her fussing. Not wanting to startle her with cold hands, he picked up bed and all and danced around the room with her, singing until she went back to sleep.

The ranch was closer to the edge of the Cherry Creek Indian Reservation than it was to Dupree. Other than our grandparents and Uncle Cully's farms, our closest neighbors were some Indian families. We would tag along when Dad went to see them and he hired them to help at harvesting and branding times. While riding to town with us one day, Felix called Dad "brother" and commented that he looked like one of them with his straight nose, high cheekbones and darkly tanned skin. They would say something that sounded like, "How kola lakota wachinchela" to us, which meant "hello little girl", (very loosely translated!) When we would walk in town with Mom, they would point and say "Casey Miller, Casey Miller". I remember being touched by stories of their high mortality rate from tuberculosis and their poverty. Our parents attitudes gave us an interest and compassion for the Indians and we feel fortunate to have grown up with people of a different culture.
 


HOLIDAYS


Mom always made sure that our holidays were special for the family. Dad's birthday was always celebrated with gusto. For years we believed that the whole nation was celebrating because it was his birthday - the Fourth of July! His cakes usually had a patriotic theme, often decorated to look like the flag. In later years, his grandsons threatened to use firecrackers instead of candles on the cake so Grandpa would be surprised when he lit them. How did Ann fail to think of that all those years? I had one special birthday party where Mom's gift of hospitality was challenged. I had invited all of our relatives over for my fourth birthday celebration but didn't bother to tell her. To make matters worse, I didn't feel well that day so she not only had a house full of relatives to feed, but had a crabby daughter as well.

 All of the relatives would gather at Grandma's for Thanksgiving, at our house for Christmas, and at Aunt Verna's for New Years. The holidays were wonderful with so much family around. The aroma of fruitcakes, cookies and candy would fill the house for weeks ahead of the occasion. Mom's Scandinavian cooking talents would really shine! We would play with the new toys indoors and skate on the frozen dam. One year Santa brought my first pair of roller skates. I was so thrilled, I wanted to take them to bed with me as we always did our new dolls each Christmas. We were living in the basement of the new house then, and I wore much of the paint off the floor going around and around.

Santa's actual arrival was especially exciting as it is with most kids. He may not have had a helicopter in those days, but he always managed to make the trip in whatever snow was available. The first Christmas I can recall was the year Dad and I sat in the dark stairway waiting for Santa to arrive while Mom finished supper dishes. After waiting for what seemed an eternity, we finally heard the sleigh bells that signaled his arrival. I was so excited as I ran to see the toys under the Christmas tree! I did happen to notice that Mom was still in the kitchen doing dishes. She hadn't seen Santa. In fact, she denied even hearing the bells!

Another Christmas Eve, Dad took us three girls over to see the grandparents but Mom stayed home. When we returned, Santa had been there but Mom had fallen asleep on the couch and hadn't seen a thing. We could never understand how a mother, who knew things she really couldn't know, could miss anything so exciting! We didn't waste much time wondering because there were always the new toys to distract us.

The year Florence and Donald lived with us, it was too snowy to drive to town for the Christmas Eve service. We hid in the basement hoping Uncle Donald would hurry to finish his bath so he wouldn't scare Santa away. Ann and Karen were sure they saw Rudolph's red nose as he ran past the basement window, heard the sleigh bells, and hoped Donald was finished since he and the little tub were near the tree. When we ran upstairs, we discovered Santa indeed had been there, but Donald missed seeing him. This was many years after my cousin's revelation in the outhouse, so I knew what was really happening. It was as much fun playing the game for Karen as it was when I still believed in Santa myself. One of the advantages of being enlightened was having the privilege of playing Santa. Several times, I would be the one to forget something as we were leaving to go to church and would have to run back. How I would scurry around getting the brightly wrapped packages put under the tree! Karen never questioned, probably because I was usually the last one to go out the door when we left for church at other times.

At the Dupree church, we always had a special Christmas Eve offering. It was the job of the Sunday School Superintendent, Mrs. Jones, to take the money home until the bank was open on Monday. One year Karen watched quietly as she was putting the offering into her purse. "Are you going to take the money home?" she asked. "Yes," was the reply. Karen whispered confidentially, "That's O.K. I won't tell anybody." Of course Mrs. Jones could scarcely wait until the next time she saw Mom to tell her.

Mom taught Sunday School and was active in Ladies Aid. Dad was also actively involved in the church. We children were taken regularly and participated in Bible School and all of the programs. Right before we moved, they gave us a going away party and a beautiful picture of Christ. Our church family meant so much to us that we willingly rode standing on the tractor just to get to the car which was parked two miles away on the highway to get to their party for us. What a strange sight we must have been - five people clinging to the tractor and dodging wet gumbo missiles as we roared across the prairie!  The winter of 1949 had been one of the worst in history, extremely cold and incredible amounts of snow.   We moved that spring, fighting the breakup of all of that snow.



- AND AN ELECTRIC CHAIR!
 

Our parents did the best they could do to modernize without having the one most necessary ingredients -electricity. We were probably the first family in the community to have a kerosene burning refrigerator to replace the old ice box. And, I can remember the excitement as we watched Dad assemble the redwood storage tank he had ordered from Sears to enable us to have running cold water. After building it inside a little shed next to the well, pipes were laid below the frost line in the ground. Next, he installed faucets outside and at the kitchen sink; but there was no way to heat water or pump it up from a heater. Because the well and tank were on a little hill, gravity provided enough pressure for the cold water. We then graduated to the bottled gas stove and refrigerator. This was quite a change from the earlier years when food was stored in a root cellar and the ice box kept food cool in the house.

The root cellar was inconvenient and usually harbored lizards or snakes. Because I never did like creepy, crawly things, I obeyed Mom and stayed out of it. The cellar did provide the backdrop for many nightmares as well as a place of shelter during a number of severe storms which threatened to blow away the house. In the raging winds, we would all climb down into the damp, spooky hole with only a flickering lantern to provide light and our parents to provide comfort.   There you would wait out the storm.   Although it was an exciting adventure, I was always ready to go back to my warm bed in the house.

Ann and I spent an afternoon with Mom, dreaming about what we would like to get her if we ever did get electricity. Of course, we would get her  an indoor bathroom. I had wanted a potty with a chain for years after seeing one while visiting Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Art  Farstad in Minnesota. We dreamed of hot water in bathtubs and other luxuries. Ann suggested one electric thing that maybe could help Mom. An electric chair!   She wasn't quite sure what it did, but had visions of a rocker that provided the pleasure with none of the work.    Yes, let's buy mom an electric chair!  

Although none of the farms had telephones, we had seen them in use at Daddy's "Quart House." When Mom was in the hospital many miles away, Dad took Karen into the office with him when he called Mom. The conversation between Mom and Karen was extremely brief;  the moment Karen heard her voice, she dropped the phone and began looking under the desks. She couldn't figure out where Mom was hiding and was further puzzled by the laughter of the secretaries. My first experience with a phone came during a visit to Aunt Verna's after they'd moved to North Dakota. We were left unobserved for a short time and began playing with the telephone. When I picked up the receiver, I heard a voice say "Operator" plus other background noises. I had visions of someone being operated on at a hospital and thought they might come get me for playing with the phone. My cousins' lack of concern helped allay some of my fears, but I left the phone alone after that.

After World War II ended, the decision was made to build a new house on the hill overlooking the big spring-fed dam. The five of us with all of our possessions moved into Uncle Fred's one and one half room trailer house which had been hauled into the yard. Life went on pretty much as usual for Ann and I although we now had a new activity to supervise. We watched as the men tore down the old yellow house to use any salvageable materials. For Karen, it was much more traumatic. Since the trailer was too small to set up her crib, it was dismantled and stored under our parents' bed. For several nights she cried because her "bed boke" and she had to sleep with them. Dad had his usual chores, caring for the animals and harvesting, and now he also had the additional carpentry. Mom had all the usual tasks of cooking and cleaning for the family as well as cooking for the carpenters and threshers. She did all of this plus canning our winter's supply of food over a two burner kerosene stove. Her patience must have been sorely tried when we had to play in that crowded trailer on rainy days. Finally came the day when we could move into the basement. We lived there for a year while the main floor of the house was being finished. It seemed luxurious!

As I approached adolescence, country life began to represent mostly hard work and loneliness. I dreamed of moving to town to be around other kids my age and dreamed of my Prince Charming, who of course would live in the city. When Dad would talk about moving to "The Hills", I had hope. My two other dreams were to play the piano and maybe the saxophone in a dance band like the ones I listened to on the radio. I would attempt to play people's pianos every chance I had. I studied the hymnal one day and decided that when the notes on the page went up, I should play a higher note on the piano. As I checked out my theory on a piano at church, I overheard a woman ask Mom if I'd taken lessons. Either I hit a few notes close enough so she could guess what I was attempting to play, or she was going to tell Mom that she might as well save her money. I'd been told my long fingers were just right for playing the piano, so it would take more than a comment like that to discourage me. Since Mom had said we would get a piano and take lessons if we ever moved to town, we had another reason for wanting to leave the ranch.

In those days, girls could teach school, work in an office or be a nurse. The latter appealed to me the most. Because one of Mom's friends was a nurse, she knew that the job was a lot of hard work and encouraged me to be an x-ray technician instead. Mom always talked about WHEN we went to college, not IF we did. Mom had not had the opportunity herself, and dreamed that all of her girls would become trained in a profession.

Ann's biggest dream was to someday own a piano. She loved to visit Inga Birkland and touch the keys of her piano. She thought if she played it louder, surely a song would come out. 


A TOWN KID AT LAST!


After the incredibly hard winter of 1949, Dad  decided to move to the Black Hills! We girls couldn't believe our good fortune even if we were reluctant to leave the relatives. We were scared but exhilarated over the unknown adventure ahead. The only thing I was sure of was that I was going to be a town kid at last. After getting our possessions through the mud to the van at the highway, we drove our car to Spearfish, and arrived late at night. We hadn't been away from Dupree or the small nearby towns around it very often, so each new sight was thrilling.   We had never been to the Black Hills.    Ann vividly remembers seeing the lights of Spearfish and feeling it must be the largest city in the world! All of the evergreen trees were new to us, and there were real mountains after growing up on the flat prairie!

We arrived at our new home at last. Since the moving van hadn't arrived yet, we spent the first night sleeping on the floor. We were exhausted from the trip but too excited to fall asleep easily. The next day we explored the house and discovered a little door off an upstairs bedroom that led to the main electrical wiring for the house. Mom warned us never to go in there as we might be electrocuted. Naturally, it became Ann's favorite hiding place. She would take Karen in with her, shut the door so it was dark, and warn her not to move. Karen always managed to escape after the first couple of ghost stories. The kitchen had roll-up doors on the cupboards which we thought were fantastic. Karen wasn't yet school age, but Ann loved the adventure of a new school and meeting friends.  I was older and shy,  and the  transition was difficult at first, but I was so happy to finally live in town! Since both junior and senior high kids shared the same school, this was a totally new experience and no comparison to our one room country school. Lockers, music, gym, and all of those kids made an impression on me immediately.

Ann soon found friends who shared her sense of adventure. A favorite way to pass a long summer's day was to hike up Lookout Mountain with her special friend, Judy Black. On one trip they found a dump and long, large package. Nearby was an old suitcase and something that had "Dr. Scholl's" printed on it. Having read too many Nancy Drew mysteries, Ann fell victim to her imagination. She and Judy were sure there was a body in the long package, and probably it was the good doctor himself, walking along with his suitcase when he was accosted.    They hurried back to town to tell the police .......... and lastly home to tell our embarassed mother.       

Dad traveled during the week with his new job, so Mom was left to settle the family and help us girls put down roots in our new surroundings. We eventually moved to a new house the folks had built near Spearfish Creek. Our first house was sold months before the new one was finished, so we spent the summer back at Dupree. We lived in Uncle Fred's same little trailer  that we'd occupied while the ranch house was being built. This time it was parked in Uncle Buck and Aunt Eva's farm yard. It was fun to be back with the relatives again, but before long I was ready to go back to Spearfish and my new friends. Cousin Eliza returned with us to begin her first year of high school. As usually happens with a new house, ours would not be ready until a month after school had started. We gathered up only the bare essentials and the six of us moved into a tiny two room cabin for the month. During this time, Mom not only saw to it that we had all of the necessities for school, but also canned our winter supply of pears on a little stove. It was hot and we were crowded, but we survived. Dad was fortunate to have a job that required him to be gone during the week!

We moved into the new house and that fall we all took lessons on the newly purchased piano. Mother never did have to remind us to practice. Ann played by ear and Dad would sing along  while I would be helping Mom do dishes. She didn't need to be told to practice either.... especially at dish time!   I took several years of classical piano lessons and played for church and accompanied at school.   Ann took chord piano lessons and she played in local dance bands during high school.    

The next fall in Spearfish I would finally be in band with the saxophone I'd received for my birthday! Life was great.

The first holiday after leaving the ranch left us feeling a great loss without all of the family. Mom still liked company and loved to cook, so we would have friends and neighbors over for holiday meals. On one Thanksgiving, we left Mom to finish cooking the feast while we went to the Deadwood Hospital to get Karen. Since she'd had her tonsils removed the day before, her throat was still too sore to eat. As we sat at the table laden with scrumptious food, Karen looked around and exclaimed, "Humph! Not even any peanut butter!"

Two and a half years after moving to Spearfish, Mom felt ill and discovered the high altitude was bad for her heart. We moved to Sturgis where we lived in a rented house until our new home was built. Karen was in third grade, Ann in seventh, and I was a sophomore in high school. A year later, Dad became an office manager for the ASC and no longer had to travel. Mom began working for the optometrist, Doc Hines. Since Dad was home, we had a car which I was allowed to take frequently. Often Ann was a part of the deal, but I usually didn't mind. We roomed together at home and fought as sisters will; but when we were away from home, we got along quite well. She did embarrass me in front of some boys on one occasion when she asked where the muffler belt was on the car. Younger sisters!

When I first started dating, we would walk to the high school games or to a movie, stop for a coke afterwards, and then walk home. While saying goodnight to my date one evening, I accidentally leaned on the door bell. I nearly died of mortification and went in quickly when Dad answered the door! My sisters diligently attempted to put a crimp in my "good nights". Ann would watch from her bedroom window and we would hear her giggling. Karen knew that we would be able to see her peeking if she stood in the picture window with the lights of the room on behind her. She thought she would be invisible if she stayed behind the drapes and just poked her head through the slit where they met. One night as I came home with a date, we saw her innocent looking face, well illuminated by the street lights, peering out at us. Karen was also on hand when Ann's first date came to the door to take her to a movie. She took one look at him and horrified Ann by running into the kitchen screaming! I felt Ann deserved all the harassment Karen gave her! Ann couldn't understand why our parents were so upset the night she and a group of boys and girls from the church youth group didn't get home until four o'clock in the morning her freshman year. They had been driving around after the church party, stopped for something to eat, and the time got away from them. The folks had been frantically taking and making calls to all of the parents who hoped their children hadn't been killed in a car accident.

Our high school years seemed to fly by. Favorite events were the band concerts and school sports. Ann and I both worked at the theater until she became a car hop at the A & W drive-in and I began clerking at the dime store. Mom and Dad supported us tremendously and never seemed to doubt that we would all amount to something, someday. They saw that all three of us had the opportunity for further education by sacrificing their own desires for material things to pay tuition. Mom should have won all the awards for writing that we girls won, as she spent long hours helping us complete papers and speeches. Dad would go to the games with us, and took Ann to some of the town dances when Mom felt she was too young to go alone. How proud she was to go with him. He could really dance! Of course, he'd had all of that practice with us back in Dupree on those cold winter evenings.

When it was time for me to go to college in Brookings, we made a family vacation out of the trip. We all spent a couple of days at the State Fair which none of us had attended before. It was fun, but I could scarcely wait to get to college. Mom had spent months sewing clothes for me. They had been carefully packed in the new dormitory trunk which had been sent on ahead. College was fun, but there were so many times I wished I could have a chat with my parents and had their help in making a decision. None of us made collect calls home except in an emergency in those days. Trips home were so special that I made as many as I could. On my first visit home, Mom made my favorite meatballs in mushroom gravy. They tasted so good, I ate until she worried that I would explode! Mom had just had major surgery the spring of my freshman year, but she made the long trip to be on hand when I was honored as one of the top ten freshman women. How she must have guarded her incision as we shared the sagging bunk bed for a couple of nights!

On one trip home, I decided to surprise the family by not telling them I was coming. Arriving late at night, I rang the doorbell and waited and waited. Finally a very sleepy Dad came to the door, looked at me with his one half-open eye and exclaimed, "Mom, it's Marlene!" With that, he closed the locked door and went back to bed. I rang the bell again and he came back quickly with a sheepish grin on his face. Usually I could only find rides as far as Rapid City, thirty miles away. There I would usually find Dad dozing in a chair of the hotel lobby as he patiently waited for me. On the night our car broke down on the way home, he had an unusually long wait!

Having found a ride at the last minute, I surprised the family with another visit. When I called late at night for Dad to pick me up at the same hotel, I frightened him half to death. Unknown to me, Mom again was in the hospital having surgery and he thought someone from there was calling with bad news. I was happy to be able to help for a day or two although the family seemed to be faring quite well. Dad knew how to use a can opener and fry eggs or hamburgers. We used to tease him about all of the eggs we ate the first time Mom went to the hospital, but we never went hungry. The biggest clue that Mom wasn't in charge was finding the salt and pepper shakers in the refrigerator.

During one Christmas trip home, Mom and I went shopping for a Christmas tree. It was very late in the season and the few remaining were far from first quality. It didn't take long to pick out our scraggly tree, but we had high hopes. With a saw and some wire, we began working to fill in some of the gaps. When we finished, it was shorter but didn't look bad at all with an abundance of ornaments hanging from the branches. We had shared so much laughter and fun over that silly tree.

In 1958, two years after I had started college, Mom, Dad and Karen drove Ann to Denver and left her to work as a maid for a family and attend business college. Ann reported the same emotions I had felt as she watched them drive off, leaving her to face the world alone for the first time. It was a growing time, though. The folks helped her once,  to stop a bill collector from repossessing her piano. Those were happy years. Ann wrote home often, using napkins, toilet paper, or anything else that was handy. Once when there was really no news at all but she felt like chatting with the folks, she counted the tiles in the ceiling of the boarding house and duly reported the number. During this time, Karen was still at home attending high school.


RINGS AND DIAPERS
 

In July, between my junior and senior years in college, I hopped on a Greyhound bus to go see Ivan. It was at a picnic with his sister and brother-in-law that he surprised me with a beautiful diamond ring. I'm not totally coward, but I was relieved when he decided to drive me back to Sturgis to tell Mom and Dad of our engagement. They acted appropriately surprised and pleased, but I always had the feeling it really wasn't much of a surprise to them at all.

The rest of the summer was spent planning an early spring wedding. There were numerous details that had to be decided  before I left for school. I found a picture of a gorgeous wedding gown that I wanted and headed back to school with Mom left to figure out how to copy it. She did a fantastic job, and spent many hours sewing on the lace and seed pearls. She also fashioned a tiara of pearls for the veil. Even Dad got into the act by making a wire hoop for the petticoat, as well as paying the bills. After finishing my gown, she still had to make bridesmaid's dresses for my sisters and dresses for the two little flower girls.

The April weekend finally arrived and the weather couldn't have been better. Since all of us came many  miles from across the state, we had to wait until Saturday morning for the rehearsal. Mom and I barely got to the church on time for we had been driving all over town to see if the flowers had arrived. They had and we finally got to the rehearsal.   Since I needed to be sure the aisle was wide enough for my hoop skirt, Dad, and myself, I slipped the petticoat on over my jeans for a trial run. When I had determined we all would fit, I dropped the slip to the floor and continued with the rehearsal. The ring bearer, Ivan's five year old nephew, Gary, later told his mother that the bride's skirt fell off in the alley. Being unsuccessful in his attempt to bring his new toy rifle to the wedding, he decided to have a little fun and repeatedly invited Ivan out into the church yard to fight with him. When Ivan declined, Gary kicked him in the shin so hard I was afraid he wouldn't be able to hobble down the aisle! During the wedding, Gary was so nervous he jiggled and squirmed. While all was quiet after the minister asked if there were any reasons we shouldn't be joined together, Gary gave a loud sniff and wiped his nose on his sleeve. He provided enough humor and distraction to calm the butterflies of the rest of the wedding party. Mom fed the wedding party lunch and had all of the relatives in for the evening meal. How did she survive!

Ann and Don eloped about a year later, but only after calling the folks and getting their permission.  When she and Don went to get the marriage license, Ann put on the brakes at the door.  Don gave her a push which propelled her up to the surprised clerk who asked, "Are you sure you BOTH want this license?" Ann called home again to be sure she would still be able to raid the folk's refrigerator once she was married. Mom and Dad decided she must be a little nervous about the big step. Ivan and I lived near Denver where she was living at that time. On the day of the wedding, our car broke down, so we regretfully missed the big event.

Karen chose to go to Black Hills Teacher's College in Spearfish. She ran up some big  phone bills as Mom helped write college papers over the phone. It was a fun year, but she decided she would prefer to go to beauty college in Rapid City the following year. She earned her license and worked for awhile in Rapid City. After about a year, she moved in with Ann and Don in Pueblo, Colorado where she would seek her fortune. She worked there another year and met Ed whom she later married. There Ann was able to retaliate for Karen's shenanigans when Ann was dating during her high school years! Being accustomed to a large family and their antics, Ed was not easily discouraged. When they eloped in New Jersey (with permission), none of us were able to attend.

Next came the years of stork chasing. Mom went to Denver to assist at the time of Ken's birth..... to Grand Junction, Colorado to help Ann bring Scott into the world properly...... to Omaha to greet Tim..... and back to Grand Junction for Steve. Evonne was born in Illinois while Mom rode herd on her older brothers. Later, Mom and Aunt Marie met at Ann's in Pueblo when Teena was born. The stork-mobile ran out of gas at this point since the rest of the grandchildren were born thousands of miles from Sturgis. The trips had become too difficult, so she missed Steve and Sheri's births in New Jersey. Ann and I were there for Sheri's birth though, and we have always claimed her as half ours. Ann and Don were in Alaska when Todd was born. Aunt Marie stayed nine weeks before his birth to help Ann. She had never had children of her own so when the baby actually came home, she was scared to death of him. As Ann lifted Todd by his feet to change his diaper, Aunt Marie nearly fainted. Later, she confided she thought his legs would come off!

As we raised our young families, it was rarely possible for all of us to get home for Christmas at one time. The one year we did manage to, we brought husbands and four small grandchildren. It was a fabulous Christmas with ALL of us acting like kids again. Mom decided to stay home with babies during the Christmas Eve service but the rest of us went and filled an entire pew. We were all given small candles to keep until the end of the service when we traditionally sang "Silent Night" by candle light. Ivan solemnly held his during the service and the heat from his hand caused it to droop. Someone started to giggle, and pretty soon the entire pew was bouncing up and down as each of us would try to regain our composure. The pew would rest quietly for a few seconds before one of us would again lose control. With a ripple effect, each would begin silently shaking and the pew would begin to bounce again. Before the service was over, Ivan's candle was pointing due west while ours pointed straight north. We all had sore abdominal muscles from thirty minutes of swallowing giggles. Mom was glad she'd stayed home, but Dad, sitting on the shaking pew,  never said a word - he just grinned.



MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH...
 

As Dad approached retirement, he dreamed of going back to the ranch to live. Most of his family had moved away, but he still felt the call of the wide open spaces. Shortly after he'd put in his last day with the Department of Agriculture, they rented out the Sturgis home and began the long process of moving - one pickup load at a time. Dad, balking at moving Mom's collection of "Better Homes and Gardens" and other sundry magazines, and encouraged her to get rid of all that junk. Being an avid recipe reader and having lived out there before, Mom knew she would need these treasures that she'd so carefully saved over the years. Because Dad was actually doing more than gently encouraging her, she carefully packed her magazines and books into cardboard boxes and marked them "fragile" or "glass". They were very carefully moved. Dad couldn't understand why her dishes suddenly seemed so much heavier. By the time he discovered her trick, his aching muscles had recovered and so had his sense of humor.

Life on the ranch was a little easier than when they had left some twenty years earlier. With electricity, they could have hot and cold running water - and an indoor bathroom. Even a telephone hung on the wall. A snowmobile facilitated chores and meant they were not totally isolated during the long winters. One thing Mom never did get was an electric chair! It still wasn't her favorite place to live, but Dad was in heaven riding horseback on the prairie again.

Maybe it was the long, cold winters or the hot, dry summers that caused our parents a temporary lapse of sanity. Whatever it was, Ann and I were delighted when they invited our four boys to spend not one, but much of two summers with them. That first year, the boys were five, six, seven, and eight years of age and thrilled with the idea of being cowboys on the ranch. My older son teamed with Ann's younger one, which left the other two boys for the other team. The war was on! They played together often, as well. Mom soon learned that the time to worry was when they joined forces for a new adventure. They rode horses and caught snakes to play with as well as use to scare "hal" out of Grandma. Occasionally one of the little angels would climb the windmill to spray an unsuspecting adversary with urine. Dad let the older boys drive his pickup just like he'd let me drive so many years before. He even remembered how to pull out dents when they ran into the fence posts. They collected bugs and frogs. Ken enthusiastically performed surgery on a bull snake to see if he could rescue the baby birds it had eaten. One pet garter snake was allowed to stay in the house, in its container, until one day the lid mysteriously loosened. Too late, Mom saw the snake slithering under the refrigerator. When it was finally retrieved, a new law was put into effect immediately. Snakes had to stay outside where they would be assured an adequate supply of fresh air!

At the end of the summer, Ivan, Evonne, and I picked up Grandma Kundel to go out to get our cowboys. They held a rodeo which was to become one of the highlights of their lives. All four still talk about it. With Dad's help, each rode  calves and tried his hand at roping. Dad enjoyed the affair as much as his grandchildren did.

After four years at Dupree, the folks moved back to Sturgis. Karen, Steve and Sheri moved into a mobile home in their yard. Ed and Karen divorced and Ed was to give the family more than enough excitement over the next few years. Finally, to escape the harassment, Karen and the children moved to Alaska where they lived with Ann and Don. There Karen worked at a bank and later for a pipeline company. She  spent a summer managing Ann's  ice cream parlor in a historical  park. She said the  looks of anticipation on the little kids' faces brought back memories of going to Hurst's drug store for ice cream cones so many years before.


EPILOGUE


There is no final chapter to this story. Our parents' love and inspiration will always be a part of our lives. They have helped us all tremendously through the years by buoying us up when we were down, or encouraging us when we found the road of life too rough. They have flown to our homes to help in times of crisis or helped us get "home" when we were homesick. We are a lucky family because we have never had any kind of problem that caused a rift in our relationships. We are closer now than when we were kids at home. We value the advice and help they have given, and they have been our moral example. They taught us to love the Lord and to let Him rule our lives. Because of them, we have dared to be bold and attempt projects we might otherwise have been afraid to pursue. They have given us confidence in times when we ourselves lacked it and needed their words of encouragement to proceed. Their values will last for several generations as they have instilled their ethics in their grandchildren also. The grandkids  look on their grandparents as pillars of morality, common sense, and love. Both Mom and Dad have always worked too hard and continue to do so. The dream of their three daughters is that they will take these remaining years of retirement to fulfill some of their life-dreams, just as they have helped us attain ours.

With these hopes and our grateful love, we wish them a most blessed and joyful 50th wedding anniversary!

 

 


Mom and the three girls



Old Yellow House
 


Ann & Marlene

Dad shoveling to get girls to school - 1949!

Mom and Dad with
Kundel Grandkids

Mom & Dad 1937 with
new baby Marlene

Marlene and her doll.

 


Dad with baby Karen

Dad & Girls

 

 

.
Ann at 2 years.

Grandpa and the four
boys, Ken & Tim
Kundel, Scott
& Steve Dennis.
Genevieve Olson Miller Family Memories

50th Anniversary
1986

Casey and Gen Miller celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1986.   Twenty One years later, 2007,  they are still living in their own home and are the ROCK of the family, adored by their  family of 3  daughters, 9 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandson.    Dad is 96 and Mom is 88!  (Ann)

Postscript:  Casey passed away in March 2007, and is GREATLY missed!  He was 96.

 

  

DON DENNIS AND ANN (MILLER) DENNIS

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Don's Army Service

Delbert Miller

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