Monthly Archives: August 2016

Gathering early bits and pieces- Summer Surprise

The most exciting phone calls I remember as a young girl came not for or from a boy, but from my Dad.  As I mentioned he owned a Hardware Store in our small Midwest town and to accommodate the farmers, he stayed open until 9:00 on Saturday nights.   It was an economic necessity for us , but it made for a very short weekend!  He usually came home for supper from 5:30 to 6:00 on Saturday nights.  But two or three times a summer while my brothers and I were growing up, the phone would ring shortly after he’d gone back to work.  Without suspecting anything we would answer and he would say, “Ask your Mom if she can be ready to go camping by 9:00?”

We knew what it would involve, it would be work for everyone, especially for Mom.   However, Mom wouldn’t miss a lick, she’d smile and say, “Tell him, we’ll be ready.”  Then we four would switch into high gear!  Mom would have to go to the grocery store, because camping food required a special menu.  My little brothers would run out to the shed and start wrestling our heavy canvas tent out to the driveway so it could be put in the trunk when Mom got home with the car from the grocery store.  The boys ranged between four and twelve in those days.  I’d get the picnic basket out from under the bed , our house was small so we stored where we could.  I started counting out the silverware, glasses, plates, cups, spatulas, coffee pot, hot pads, and so on.  The boys would then patiently get the lantern, check the kerosene can , line up the tackle boxes, the axe, and the small pistol that Dad kept unloaded by the bed plus the box of ammunition.  They stacked it all up along the side of the house so that when Mom came back they could help her carry in the groceries, then they would load the car quickly.

Because my father was crippled with Polio, my brothers learned how to do things capably at very early ages.  Dad trained them, so they knew how and what to do.  By the time John was 7 or 8 he could “straw boss” the packing pretty well.  Mom and I went to work in the house while the boys were outside, we lined up the food, the bedding, towels, and bathing suits.  We added a flashlight and my Dad’s pride and joy, the short-wave radio!  Since Dad owned the Hardware Store we had one of the best short-wave radios in town.  We never went camping without that, it was our highway to adventure in the night.

Even now I can see the kitchen table piled high with the necessities.  The screen door would slam as the boys ran in and out carrying things to pack into the car.  The moths and bugs came in with the boys, attracted by the light, but Mom didn’t fuss.  She knew Dad was probably “full up” with the he store  and anxious to get into the ‘great outdoors’, as he always called it.  To facilitate life for him required loving tolerance on her part.  Dad had grown up in Nebraska on the shores of the Ponca River and he never really did get enough “outdoors” after he became a bookkeeper, then a Teller in the bank, and finally a store owner. But he knew all the tricksof how to put up the tent.  He would position it, the boys would lay it out according to his instructions, then he would crawl around to pound the stakes in, because he used the back of the axe and he was afraid they’d get hurt.  However, they were very capable and careful and it wasn’t long until they could put up the eight person 70 pound tent by themselves and dig a trench around in case of rain.

When the Mercury was loaded, it would be almost 9:00.  We three kids would crowd in the back seat with our feet carefully placed around and on things, then our 80 pound dog would join us in the already crowded backseat.  Oh well, such is love, we didn’t fret about his bad breath, big feet, or crowding!  The adventure had begun.

We would stop by the store and pick up Dad, he was ready except he would change out of his good work clothes when we got to our site.  Our camping spot was on Rosebud Indian Reservation land down by a river called the Little White.  There wasn’t really a road in to ‘our’ spot, it was more of a trail and I can remember  after the 90 mile drive, seeing headlights shine up into the tree leaves as the car bumped over the trail.  “with luck boys”, Dad would say, “you’ll have the tent up and the beds made by the time I have the fire started and the coffee perking.”  The nights stars looked big and gorgeous in the sky- it was so different from the view of the night sky in town.

Actually, they would have to scout wood before they started putting the tent up, but usually there were some dried pieces along the river and with Frisky along we weren’t too afraid of snakes.  Then Dad would fix the fire ring by clearing brush and putting stones in a circle , while Mom got out the frying pan and other essentials for hamburgers at midnight.  Dad always made coffee in an old percolator when we camped and I can hear the wonderful sound now of that pleasant little “burp”, “burp”, “burp” against the background of the river rushing by.   Dad usually sang a few bars of “I want to drink my coffee from an old tin can, while the moon is riding high.” Dad rarely sang, so it meant he was feeling happy and free.  The Stars were low overhead, above the tree tops and it seemed, nothing could be more wonderful than the five of us and Frisky out there in the middle of the ‘great outdoors ‘.

I’m sure none of us could imagine how life could be better than it was then.  The folks never told us to go to bed when we were camping.  After we’d eaten hamburgers and fresh fruit, and topped it off with a candy bar, Dad would tune in the short wave, accompanied by lots of static, of course.  He’d tune in “far away places with strange sounding names” and he’d talk about the wonderful age we live in.  “someday you will travel and see these things.”  He would say to us.  One night in particular I remember we listened to Mozart’s sonatas from a live broadcast in Germany on the BBC and he said , “Someday you’ll hear them live in a great concert hall and remember this night beside the Little White River in South Dakota.”  We have indeed all three grown up to travel internationally, something my Dad could only dream of doing.

Finally, one of us kids would think about swimming or fishing in the morning, and slowly we’d peel away into the tent.  Mom and Dad would sit up even later and talk and drink coffee and stare at the fire and just be glad to be alone together, with us!  The next morning we’d slip on our suits and go swimming in the river.  Dad’s only rule was that there had to be at least two together, so we worked it out.  We had wonderful games with “rustlers” sneaking up on us and peeking over the bluffs, or Indians about to attack, however, we were always warned in time by our faithful dog Frisky that danger was near!  Oh, the games we played In that shallow sandy  bottomed river.  We’d dig deep holes and bury each other and, it was a giant playground that makes Disneyland seem mild in comparison.  Eventually, the wonderful smell of bacon and coffee would get us out of the water and we’d all have breakfast together.  The folks would wash up and then luxuriate over the Sunday paper.  Later while Dad cut up the vegetables and meat for his famous ‘camp stew’, Mom would come swimming with us.  She knew all kinds of rhymes and songs that added  to the sunny free feeling of the day.

We camped in kind of a draw on very sandy soil.  A real death trap should there be a flash flood upriver, but when it was dry there was no problem.  If it rained much we would leave early, but if it was just a sprinkle of rain, we would linger, swim, fish, then eat Dad’s famous camp stew and fresh bread.  Just before dusk we would head home, because Dad had to open the store early Monday morning.  There would be a sandy mess for the rest of us  to contend with but such a glorious time was well worth it.

Laterwhen I was dating, my boy friends liked to go camping on the Little White with our family too.  In fact I sometimes wondered if I was the total attraction or if they just liked being on our family outings?  “Well”, my Dad would say to Mother, “it’s better than leaving them in town and the current beau can help out our boys.”  If I had a boyfriend along, we took two tents and he slept with my brothers in theirs.  It seemed our family was special and the town boys liked the freedom, the swimming, the eats, and the target practice.  They had never experienced anything  like late night ‘cruising’ on the short wave and the conversations around the camp fire that it occasioned.  I guess it was Dads answer to teen-age temptations.  Neither my brothers nor I had much desire to get into trouble, there was just so much to do.  There were always those exciting phone calls to anticipate on weekends and one year Dad called and told Mom to get ready, he had heard there was a free concert in the Park in Denver, Colorado on the 4th of July.  That was 10 hours away, but what a 4th of July that was for us.  After the concert and fireworks we drove a couple hours  and camped in the Rockies.  My Dad was a master of surprise entertainment for his wife and kids.

When John was about ten Dad bought a reasonably priced, folding canoe which added to the delight of all!  Though it made work for my brothers, it was fun! There was a creek nearby our camping spot and it could be carried there and was great for boat rides and fishing. Before I knew it those years were over and it was time for me to go to college and see what “attracting” I could do on my own.

Many years have gone by and I have received many phone calls since then, but they have not compared with the delightful unexpectedness of my Dad’s voice suggesting a late night camping trip.  Sometime soon, My Heavenly Father’s voice will call me, perhaps unexpectedly, with the suggestion of the greatest outing yet, only this time He will call me to the Jordan, and my heart will beat high  with excitement knowing that I’m already prepared, as I rush to answer His call.

Gathering Early Bits and Pieces, Humanity Love

I remember that when my father was Mayor of our small city, he often rode on patrol with the policemen at night.  In third grade we had a very clean, pretty young teacher from another part of the state.  Also that year we had a number of Indian children who attended the Public school rather than the reservation school.  The teacher had them sit in the back of the classroom.  I noticed that they often fell asleep and couldn’t or didn’t answer the few questions she asked them.  One night I talked it over with my father.  (Mom had already given me her view, which was pretty much conventional wisdom in the town at that time, “Indians are just inferior, no use wasting too much time or energy on them since that only grow up to drink and live on government hand outs anyhow.”)  My father took my worries seriously however, “You are asking complicated questions,” he said.  “I’m not sure what answers to give you.  The Government supports them so most of them don’t work for their money.  That caused them to treat it casually because they know more will automatically come next month.  It’s not a good system, but that’s the way it is now.”

“If the government gives them money, why don’t they have to bring money for milk break, like the rest of us do?”, I asked.  My Dad looked at me seriously.  “they don’t pay for their milk because their parents don’t have any money left over from their own spending on liquor and other items.” He told of riding around late at night in Indian town with the police and seeing the one and two rooms houses, with kids asleep on the floor under the beds ,  while adults were up fighting and drinking until all hours.  “The teacher puts the kids in the back because they are dirty, they have head- lice , they are tired, and when they get into a warm room they will fall asleep, especially after they’ve had milk break at recess.  It’s probably the only food they’ve had so far that day,” he continued. I knew that sometimes they fall asleep at their desks with their heads on their arms, so I accepted his simplistic explanation-adequate for an eight year old.

But even then I wondered why other people didn’t know what my Dad knew?  There were other differences between my Dad and his friends.  For example Dad always knew Indians by name, but few others in our town did. One example will do:  The night before Christmas one year, an Indian man came into the store with a quilt, it was thin, certainly not a treasure like those that many ladies make today.  It was not color coordinated nor did it have a design, but he asked my Dad to take it on trade for toys so he could have Christmas for his three kids.  He knew if anyone in town would do it, it would be my Dad. Dad did!  Our oldest daughter still has that quilt, patched up and passed down.  Tolerance and concern for human beings is tied up in that quilt and it will always remind me of Dad and his ability to look at each person as a person with needs and feelings just like his own.  In a very human way he modeled for us the love of God.  My father did not claim to be a Christian, but because he was handicapped and a farm boy he had lived with his grandmother in town during the school year.  She was a believer and read the Bible a aloud every morning.  Saved my father was not, but the moral teachings had their influence on his later lifestyle.

After we had talked about the Indian children I made up my eight year old mind to make friends with some of them.  John Long and Ruth Milk became school friends of mine.  Although I observed that each year there were fewer Indian children on our class, my particular friends stayed on.  We spent the next five years of grade school with an ongoing relationship, not close because of the nature of our society at that time, but we were always there for each other on the daily school level.  It worked for us.  Ruth had a lovely smile and was gentle and kind, John was nice too; he was the biggest boy in our class and was always picked to be on any team.  Because of his athletic ability he got along fine with the boys, but  Ruth was shy and the other girls didn’t include her in anything willingly!  She and I spent noon hours together sometimes and shared my lunch.  I ate at school in most weather  because of the difficulty of getting up and down school steps with braces and crutches.  Everyone else went home except the country kids, who usually ate in their cars with their older brothers and sisters.  Ruth told me she had nothing to go home for because things were quite at her house until later in the day.

What that might indicate I had no idea, but I accepted her evaluation of the situation and we simply shared my lunch when I was there.  John and Ruth both graduated from eighth grade, but did not go on to High Schoool in town.  John was large for his  age and went into the military as soon as he could lie about his age and enlist in the Navy.  My Dad told me John had stopped by the store one day because he wanted to  let me know he was leaving.  He told Dad that he had lied about his age and enlisted. “It could be worse.” my Dad said, “He can make of it what he will, at least he’s away from tribal region nfluences.”  By then I had a pretty good idea of what kind of influences my Dad probably meant.

That same year on Easter Sunday morning, we attended the Sunrise Service.  As we drove down Main Street, very  early I saw a person laying on the ground in front of one of the stores.  There were always several Indians passed out near the Liquour Store on Main Street so I was not surprised.  But that day one of the bundle of rags sat up and staggered on down the street near Dad’s store.  It was Ruth!  She was  obviously pregnant, I couldn’t believe it.  I made my Mom stop and I called to her, “Ruth, Ruth Milk, but she was in bad shape, she glanced at me bleary eyed and staggered on.  I had understood that she had gone back to the reservation to high school, but it was not so.  She went on to become a local sight, I don’t know at that age what I could have done for her, but I knew that if the time came when I could do something to help American Indians, I would!