Beatrice Sylvia (Larson) Boyum
6th Grade 1993, Tri-County School, Karlstad, Minnesota
Kittson County Historical Society Genealogy Essay Contest
I'd like to tell you a little story about my Grandma "B". She was born in Stephen, Minnesota on March 10, 1920 to Ludovic and Gunda Moe Larson. She and her twin sister only weighed 4 lbs. each at birth and it was said they could fit in shoe boxes. The name given to her was Beatrice Sylvia Larson, but to me she'll always be my "Grandma B."
The family lived for a brief time in Stephen where my great grandfather worked as a bookkeeper. Hearing about cheap land in the Mud Lake area east of Holt, the family moved there, built a small house and were true pioneers. Their stay there was not a long one, as the government took over the area, paid the land owners a small amount of money to resettle some other place. This is the present Agassiz National Wild Life Area east of Holt, Minnesota.
This brought my Grandma B. to a farm owned by my great great grandfather. After spending a few years there, she moved with the rest of her family nearby to a small "house in the woods." They had loaded their belongings in a horse drawn wagon. The horses names were Fanny and Flory, a faithful team, they said. This is where the family lived for many years. There were six children besides her parents in a house with two rooms downstairs and one big room upstairs. Grandma B. always said it was small in space but big on fun and love. She can still picture the place. There were big box elder trees in the yard, and they shaded the picnics, ball games, berry cleaning, pea shelling and many other events.
Inside the house, the black "Home Comfort" wood stove stood along one wall. Having the right kind of wood seemed to be a problem, my Grandma B. said, but the stove gave off heat, and there was always hot water, not from a faucet, but from the attached reservoir. There was no oven temperature gauge, so baking was done by experience, and hope, I guess. On ironing day, there were three sad irons that were heated on the stove and Grandma said they'd take the irons, put them back on the stove and use the next one - quite a job in the summer! On wash days, Grandma said they would heat water in a big copper boiler on the stove, use home made soap, and scrub the clothes clean on what they called a scrub board - kind of a corrugated board, and rinse them in big tubs. She said they would have big barrels to catch rain water so it would be soft water. (I guess they had to strain it through a cloth to take out the larvae from the mosquitoes that would gather in the barrels.) In winter, they would melt snow.
The leather covered davenport with wooden arms must have been well made to stand the test of time in spite of hard use. A library table was their study. The wooden rocker was great grandpa's favorite spot for rocking the fussy babies or for just reading and relaxing, Grandma said.
They always had cows to milk so they would have milk and cream and would churn their own butter with a home made churn. They milked by hand, sitting on a three legged stool and hoped the cows tail didn't get them in the face. The cream separator must have been quite an invention. It would separate the cream from the milk, and each one would come out the right "spout" after the separator was in speed by the hand turned crank. My grandma said one big job was washing the 30 disks after using. There were no milking machines or pipe line milkers.
Grandma B. said there were no indoor bathrooms. Bath time was a time when water was warmed and put into a wash tub usually on Saturday night for the weekly clean up. If you had to go to the bathroom, it meant going outside to a little house called the "backhouse." That wasn't so pleasant when it was 40 degrees below zero, the path was drifted over and there was sometimes snow where one was going to sit.
Of course, water wasn't piped in - - it had to be carried in pails, and every house had water pails to keep filled and what they called "slop pails" to keep empty.
Farm work was done different from the way it is today. Machinery was horse drawn. It's hard for me to believe how they used to plant and harvest crops. Grandma said the horses would pull what they called a binder that would cut the grain and put it in bundles. Then they had to take those bundles and put them in a big machine called a thresher. It would separate the grain from the straw, so every farm had a big straw pile. It took a lot of men every time they threshed and they helped one another.
Grandma B. remembers when peddlers and gypsies used to stop to sell or beg. That was kind of scary when she was a child. Her mother usually tried to treat them well so they wouldn't get angry.
My grandma had to walk two miles to a country school that had all the grades in one building. Rain, snow or shine, it didn't make any difference. She said everyone seemed to get along well. Schools were very different in many ways. To get drinking water, some of the older ones had to walk to a neighbors and bring the water. It was poured into a big crockery jar with a spigot on it. One time the teacher forgot to empty it at the end of the week, and the water froze and cracked the big jar all to pieces. A big round stove stood in the corner of the room. There were double desks that had "ink wells" and everyone had a pen to use for penmanship. Sometimes, my grandma said, some naughty boys would get a hold of the girls's (who sat in front of them) long braids and dip them in the ink well.
They had a car called the Brisco in the 1930's. It was its own kind of "convertible" complete with side curtains. What a change from the horse drawn wagon or sleigh! Of course the sleigh was still used in winter, and it was necessary to bundle up. If they walked, they had to wear such heavy socks, home knit, and home knit mittens and scarves that covered faces so only the eyes showed.
There was no electricity in the house where my grandma lived. She told me about the kerosene lamps in the house the lanterns used outside and in the barn. A daily chore was to wash the lamp chimneys and fill the lamps and lanterns. It wasn't a very good light, but it was the best they had. I guess it was pretty nice when electricity came to the country.
Church was always important in my grandma's family. Even in coldest winter the horses would be hitched to the sleigh and they would go to church. Christmas time was a special time and sometimes they would all hold hands and sing carols around the Christmas tree. Grandma B. said that in her family, her mother and father sang many songs. They sang without an organ or piano, some religious songs and some fun songs.
My Grandma has many stories to tell about life in those days. It is fun to visit with her because sometimes it's hard for me to really believe how it was in pioneer days. She is married now to my Grandpa Kenny, and she is glad for the many conveniences they have now. They have four children, and my mom is one of them.
The information in this report was received from my grandma, Beatrice Sylvia (Larson) Boyum.