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Memories of Rustee Rustad


Michael Rustad

I was a researcher for Wellesley College's Center for Research on Women in the 1980s. I worked with Joseph Pleck a social psychologist and senior scientist. One of our most cited findings was that fathers spent so little time with children. Our method was to rely upon time diaries of the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. Work/family interference is likely related to problems of child development and ultimately to child maltreatment. Our research confirmed that the single most important variable in family life was the father's active involvement in child development. Not surprisingly, fathers who spent more time with children had happier wives!  

I was struck by the active roles of fathers in Swedish families when I lived in Southern Sweden in the Summers of 2000 and 2002. Sweden, unlike the U.S., has made a conscious policy decision to give father's paid leave as well as mothers. It is not surprising that there is a more solid paternal role with fewer resultant social problems. There is pretty solid research on the American family structure that confirms that fathers spend too little time with children. In the Rustad kids early years, our Dad worked at 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet. I think that the father figures on the Carrigan side were all very strong role models. The Carrigan in-laws were a particularly strong group of men with good family values. I think that Jim and Mike very much appreciated that their sisters married such good men. I recently spoke with Mike and he told me how much he enjoyed his inlaws. I think that the thrust of comments made by my cousins reveals a universe feeling that our fathers and uncles were all such good men.

The purpose of this little missive is to write a little about the struggles that my Dad had in the early years of marriage in making a living. I think that the memories of my Dad as a funny, caring man were memories after 1961 when he assumed the role of Postmaster in Humboldt. Prior to the early 1960s, Dad had a very difficult time making a living. One Winter he managed Grandpa Carrigan's pool hall in Stephen. My memory was that the television reception was good. In our apartment above the pool hall, you got CBS, NBC, as well as ABC. That was big time because in Humboldt we could only get ABC and the CBC. I remember well when we had visits that winter from the Boatz family and other friends from Humboldt. We also got together with Jim and Lois Stewart Clark who had a boy my age, Greg Clark. My most abiding memory was the continual smell of cheese burgers and second-hand smoke from the pool hall/cafe. Dad had a number of odd jobs. in 1955-56, he worked on the Humboldt school building. He was one of men that was not afraid of heights and helped to shingle the old school building as well as the new one. Dad always had two or three jobs during that time. Another memory I had was when my Dad was diagnosed with a serious skin disease and had to go to Rochester's famed Mayo clinic for treatment. I inherited my Mother's tendency to worry and always worried about my Dad's health and well being. The skin disease was stress-related and certainly excacerbated by the difficulties of trying to make a living on a too-small tract of land. Dad was resourceful though. Do any of the cousins remember that our cows drank out of bathtubs. Dad loved auctions and yard sales and was resourceful in managing his farm on a limited budget.

Dad and Mom had a business of hauling water during the late 1950s. One of the ways Dad compensated for his lack of time was to bring one or more of the kids when he hauled water. He would fill up his water tanks in Pembina, Emerson, or Hallock depending upon the locatiion of the customers. A full tank cost Dad 3 or 4 dollars and he sold the water for $8 or $10. It was a very hard way to make a living. Dad would use the water hauling route as a way of talking with us. Like Grandpa Carrigan, he sange with great enthusiasm, but off-key. My sister-in-law Alanna, who is a great musician in her own right (Tony's wife), once made the accurate comment that there is nothing more jarring than the Rustad family singing Happy Birthday. One of Dad's favorite songs was the Red River Valley, which was his song like Grandpa C's KKK Katie!. Tony and I would have ride together in the truck and we considered it a great advanture.   

Dad did not have a lot of time for us because he was also responsible for managing our farm. I assumed the responsibilities for caring for the cattle and sheep around 1958. One of the things about children on a farm is that they were economically useful. Children were not typically annoyances who consumed. They produced. Thank God the pharmaceutical industry did not develop Ritalin in time for our generation. We were active but we were focused on tasks. I became a very strong law student and Ph.D student thanks to the work ethic. I was more oriented to doing my jobs on the farm, because my family depended upon me. Hard work was one of the greatest functional equivalents to Ritalin. We were used to hard work on the harm. I played basketball and ran track in high school. It did not matter whether I was tired or injured. The cows had to be milked every morning and every night. Dad entrusted me with watering and changing the beds of the farm animals at age 9 which was quite a responsibility.  

My memories of the 1950s was that our family did not have enough money. I remember that each school year Mom would order 2 pair of slacks and 3 shirts for the year from Sears. We did not have huge grocery bills as many food items were home grown. There were years when our grocery bill for an entire year was $300 or less because we produced almost everything on the farm. I was responsible for milking the cows and using the separator to separate the cream from the milk. It was critically important to keep everything clean and often difficult. One of my favorite sayings that I sometime use in teaching law school classes is about milking an entire pail of rich milk from Hereford or Guernsey and then having them step in it! The milk, of course, would need to be dumped. I use this rough analogy about making a legal argument. Don't put your foot in it. After you've made your most persuasive argument, stop!     

As cousin Peggy notes in her e-mail, farm life was tough. As Thomas Hobbes the English philosopher stated: Life was short, nasty, and brutish. Farm life was very tough. My Grandfather Rustad miscalculated in his decision to farm only what he personally could farm in the 1920s and 1930s. By the time my Dad married Mom, it was quite clear that a quarter section of land was insufficient to feed a family. My Mother experienced a cultural shock when she married my Dad and moved to a town without indoor plumbing, paved streets, and outhouses. I think all of the Carrigans were quite good humored about the circumstances of Pat and Rusty during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It must have been quite a shock for my Mother to deal with chamber pots. I think that her experience in her early years of marriage were quite a cultural shock.

My Dad was a life-long Democrat and it was the Democratic party that gave him his first real break. In JFK's "landslide election" over Nixon, the change of Administration led to his being appointed as acting Postmaster in Humboldt in 1961.

The incumbent was Hilson Stewart, a Republican and one of Dad's best friends. Hilson and Dad remained close friends despite the political machination that led to Dad's appointment. Dad loved his Post Office and it was perhaps the most unique Post Office in all of these United States. He had his Post Office filled with Indian artifacts and his glass displays of airheads and scrapers. I often wonder what the Postmaster Inspector must have written in his reports after seeing the way my Dad converted his Post Office into a museum. I say that it was his Post Office because Dad owned the building and charged rent as well as drew his princely salary. I remember that in the 1960s that he earned $5,000 and consider himself a very lucky man. Dad was truly the happiest man in his domain, the Post Office. Dad converted the Post Office to Humboldt's communication center and social center. College kids would stop by the Post Office before they would even see their own parents. If an elderly patron did not pick up their mail, my Dad would investigate why. Mick Boatz, Cynthia Baldwin, John Hunt, Ray Hunt and too many others to list, considered Dad to be not only a Postmaster, but a friend. Dad thought the best of people. That was his motto and he meant it. I think those Postmaster Inspectors may have bent the rules a little when they got a measure of this man!

Rustee Rustad was the best civil servant anyone every heard of. He was a psychologist to the town's kids and a legend in Humboldt. When he died in 1986, my sister succeeded him as Post Mistress which was an event that would have made him very proud. Dad's mission was to keep his Post Office classified as a Class III Post Office. Shortly after Dad's death, Pearl's Inn closed and the town of Humboldt seem to devolve into a downward spiral. Although his death was not the causal variable in the decline of this town, it was the last straw. When Dad was Postmaster he sold as many stamps as Post Offices did in much larger cities. I remember Uncle Jim and Aunt Bev Carrigan would buy stamps from him and helped him convince his superiors that Humboldt deserved its full-service Post Office.. The Post Authorities did not down-grade the Post Office until after Dad's death. The Post Office Building was relocated to my sister Janine's farm. Dad succeeded in keeping Humboldt's class as a Post Office long after it rightfully should have been classified.

I see Dad's appointment as Postmaster as a key variable in his life. He had the financial security to relax and enjoy life after becoming Postmaster. The younger cousins remember him as fun-loving and relaxed. I think that his persona and role was partially the result of him being in a job that he truly loved. I think that the Postmaster job gave Dad the time and the opportunity to be an involved father. My younger siblings note that frequently that he was a confident and friend. I think that he minimized work/family interference in those later years. The e-mails from the younger cousins confirm that my Dad had his happiest years after being appointed Postmaster.