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A Motherless Child


Everett Hughes


Some children grow up without once leaving the warm securityof the family circle for even a night. My grandmother, Mary Ellen Jiggins,moved back and forth between two countries and lived with many familiesbefore she was even 18 years old. She experienced things that those whodid not grow up in the early Red River Valley can only read about.

My grandma was born August 4, 1904, in Winnipeg, Manitoba,Canada. Her mother died when she was 14 years old. She was two and onehalf years old when she moved to the United States.

Her father had come to the United States to find work. Grandma was left in Winnipeg until he found employment here in the States.

The lady that Grandma's father left her with when he cameto the States was thought very much of by her friends and all who knew her. Her name was Mrs. Frank Russell. She was an Indian, and was very smart.She used to doctor people with cancer. Her method was making poulticesand applying them to the sore. This had been a proven practice becauseshe had several preserved in alcohol. She used herbs that the Indians usedfor medicine. Mrs. Russell was known also in the Neche vicinity.

The first place Grandma's father worked when he came tothe States was for John Otten, Jr. The place was called "SmugglersPoint" at one time.

Then he went to get Grandma and bring her over to the Ottenfarm where she stayed until she was about four years old.

Then Grandma's father went to work for a couple named theWillie H. Martin's, so Grandma had to go along. That farm is the JohnnieFoxen farm today.

Grandma's father grubbed land on that farm for $1.50 aday to help pay for Grandma's board.

Times in those days weren't like they are today and therewasn't as much money. People had to be careful to make ends meet.

Then came the day that Grandma started school. She startedin the fall at what was called the Thomas Cook School, about six miles westof Neche. Her first teacher was Lizze Ryan from Bathgate, North Dakota.

Grandma had whooping cough, and had to quit school forthe fall term. She started again in the spring and went to summer schoolin Hyde Park, which is now called Park Center. Grandma's teacher therewas Frances Reynolds. She was a sister to the Mrs. Rielly that taught inthe Langdon school. Grandma really thought a lot of her because she wasso motherly.

Grandma stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Chambers, the parentsof Hugh Chambers of Pembina, North Dakota. She took care of him when hewas little. Later, his father and mother moved back to Ontario. Then Grandmastayed with Hugh's grandmother, Mrs. Johnston, until that term was completed.

It was a real change for Grandma from the country schoolto the town school. Grandma remembers, "As you know, when you comefrom the farm you're just a country hick amongst the city slickers, andthe boys used to laugh at my clothes." Grandma was in the second gradethen and her teacher was Annie Slagerman of Bathgate, North Dakota. Shewas one of the finest teachers Grandma had ever had. She loved her verymuch.

The school Grandma went to during the summer session isthe school which has been moved to the "Pattons Isle of Memories"on the Wilber Patton Farm near Neche. This is well named as there are daysin that old school Grandma will never forget.

Grandma was left handed, and the teacher would pound herhand with the long pointer to break her from writing left handed. The oldsaying "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," was theslogan and Grandma succeeded. Today, Grandma writes right handed but doeseverything else left handed.

Grandma attended school in the same place until 1918 whenshe had the flu. That was a year that will long be remembered by many ofthe older people as the year a big flu epidemic stuck the Valley.

Grandma was out of school for some time. She went to Canadato be with the Martins again. They had bought land up there so she wentthere for the summer months. When her father had built a home, Grandmacame back to Neche. It is part of the house they live in now.

During Grandma's school years, she stayed at 12 differenthomes for the nine months of school. Some were so kind and others werenot.

One of the fears of her life was what would become of herif anything happened to her father. Grandma's father would go to the MinnesotaLumber Camps when fall work was done to work all winter. Grandma wouldgo to the depot with him to see him off, and when the train would pull outshe would stand and cry, thinking how it would be if he never came back. To this day and age whenever the wind howls and the tea kettle sings, itbrings back those days and the loneliness she feared as a child.

When Grandma got older, she worked for different elderlywomen and would make edgings for hankies and sell them for 5 cents a yardto make some spending money. In this day and age, five cents would notbuy very much but at that time it paid for a large bag of candy.

Then the time came in Grandma's life when she began tochange, and her thoughts changed from those of childhood into a woman. Grandma went with the man of her choice for two years. She got marriedto Roland Hughes on February 15, 1923.

Roland drove the mail route then and they lived in Nechewhich is still their home.

There were six children born to them. There was a son,Roland Frederick Hughes. He died at the age of two from a fall and subsequentbrain fever.

Then the following October 11th, a daughter, Dorthy May,came to be with them. She is now Mrs. Buster Kneeshaw of Pembina, NorthDakota. Then sixteen months later another daughter was born. She was DeloresArlene, now Mrs. Wallace Miller who lives in Grand Forks. Eight years later,another daughter Nora Ione, who is now Mrs. Leon Benson of Vesta, Minnesota,was born. Later, they had a son, my father, Darwin L. Hughes of St. Vincent,Minnesota. Their third son was born three years later. He was named CharlesRoland Hughes of Neche, North Dakota. Both of Grandma's living sons workat Controlled Environment in Pembina, North Dakota.

Grandma's happiest times were raising her family, becauseshe had "someone to share body with" as she says.

Grandma lives in Neche with her husband, Roland Hughes. She is 69 years old. Grandma was married for 50 years on February 15,1973. She said, "It seems such a short time, but there have been alot of things happening in that span of life."


Hughes, Mary Ellen, Interview, Neche, North Dakota, December,15, 1973


Hughes, Mary Ellen, Interview, Neche, North Dakota, December,15, 1973