My grandmother, Opal, instilled a love of life in me and, I think, the ability to say (in writing) what I want to say. She’s been gone almost 8 years, but I am the proud and fortunate owner of the first few pages of her life story that she started and never finished. Here’s those pages for the world to read if they so choose.
“I am Opal-the second daughter of Bernard and Alice Johnson. I was born when my folks lived on the 40-Homestead land. It was November 11, 1921. My dad’s aunt O. Lena acted as a mid-wife and Aunt Agatha-my dad’s sister helped her too. I was named after them. Opal for Olive and Agnes, my second name after Agatha. Our dad had nicknames for all of us. My nickname was Susie. Our neighbors called me that for years. The only one that called me Susie after I was grown up was Bob Hanschen-my cousin, and our former neighbors, Otto and Harriet Crandall.
We lived around the Milnor and McLeod area until I was married in 1940.
About the first I can remember while we lived on the forty was Swede August sitting on a tin pail in our kitchen. I don’t remember just who he was. But he was there somehow. And the birth of our baby sister, Mary. Mrs. Bill Lowden was sitting by the old kitchen cook stove giving her a bath. And I also remember my folks said she was sick. John Hanschen, Grandpa Johnson and dad-maybe someone else-took her to the doctor. They came home without her. I remember I was looking for her in John Hanschen’s car. Grandpa and Pa told me she had died. I had a hard time accepting that as I really didn’t know what it meant. She was born after Edith. First, Eleanor-Opal-Edith and Mary. She lived 11 days. Then Lauris was born about 9 years later. We lived north of Milnor then. How proud my folks were to have a boy. He was a cute little fellow-brown eyes and hair-coloring like our mother. We all thought he was really something special and he was!! He was sick at first. It seemed they couldn’t find milk to agree with him. Finally he was put on Eagle brand and that seemed to be right.
I remember Dr. Emanuel from Milnor came out and put some powder in Lauris’ milk. I think he was drugged. He slept all day long. I can still see those powders they were called-they were about one half the size of a stick of gum-looked like they were wrapped in wax paper. He gave them to my mother too, whenever she was sick. It seemed she wasn’t very well-she had diabetes. At that time I don’t think anyone realized the seriousness of it. She had to boil a syringe and give herself three shots every day. She would run out of insulin. Sometimes my dad had to wait a couple of days before he went to get more. When I think of it now-how awful it was!
We were small children during the depression years-the dirty thirties!! It was so hot and dry. No grass hardly for pasture or hay. We usually had about five or six horses and some milk cows. My dad liked horses and he was one person that really enjoyed milking cows. I do not think there are many that really liked it like he did.
We always had some chickens and a couple hogs. My dad always liked to plant garden-potatoes and watermelon were his favorites. My mother was never well enough to do much garden work. She used to help milk cows though sometimes. Until Eleanor and I were old enough to help. We were not very old when we started-we also learned to harness horses. We stood on a pail to fasten the horse collar. We helped in the hay field-Toots (Eleanor) would mow and I would drive the hay bucker-(I think Toots did too sometimes) and my dad stacked.
We had such tame horses-Maude and Florey and Trixie were the tame ones. I remember one time I was driving them in the bucker. Sometimes the bucker teeth would stick in the ground and we would have to back up. We had to walk behind the machine most of the time. Anyway, this time I guess I was getting exhausted-I made the horses go ahead when we got stuck. It tipped over with the bucker in the air and all the hay fell on the horses. I think the horses were exhausted as I-they just stood there! First, dad was surprised-then he started to laugh and said “We better quit now.”
Edith wasn’t quite old enough to help with the haying-but it wasn’t long before she had to help herd cows. Oh, how tired we got of that job. We would say our prayers and pray for rain. But we had to herd cows for a long time and pump water by hand. That, too was a tiresome job. I can’t see that it hurt us any! We were so thankful for the days we didn’t have to watch the cattle. On Sunday’s, we would usually put them in the pasture.Many Sunday’s we usually spent at Grandpa Johnson’s. It was always fun to go there. Everyone was glad to see us. Aunt Myrtle was an excellent cook and baker. Sometimes I stayed there with her. She was good and showed me how to do things; Aunt Olive and Aunt Nora too. Sometimes when our mother was away and sick, they would come and stay with us. It was Nora mostly who babysat, but they all helped out whenever they could.
North of Milnor, where we lived, there were so many pocket gophers. Pa showed me how to set traps for them. I was seven years young. We were paid ten cents per tail. I got pretty good at it-I caught many of them! Toots and Edith were afraid to set traps or something. They didn’t do it much. My mother didn’t appreciate my dirty hands though. She was always making me scrub my hands! There were so many North Dakota striped gophers too! They were three cents per tail! My cat, Muzzy was a good mother cat and hunter. One Sunday, she caught seven gophers prior to ten o’ clock! We were going to Grandpa’s that day. I didn’t want to go because I wanted to see how many she would catch that day and I could cut the tails off. But I had to go along. It was very hard times those days!! Soooo anyway, we could make a little money!! We thought it was pretty good. Pa told me if I was good at it I could make pretty good money. I sold for a few dollars that summertime–$9.00 worth!
Edith and I played together whenever we could; making mud cakes and pies; jacks-a table game with a little ball and ten jack-stones to a game-piece. We were pretty good at that too! We didn’t have many toys but enjoyed playing with what we had.
In the evenings, Pa always read bible stories to us. Sometimes Pa would tell us about when he was little and his folks and sisters and brothers and grandparents. Mother would tell of her childhood and family-we enjoyed that more than anything else.
Otto and Harriet Crandall were our neighbors-they came over more often than anyone else. They had so many dogs, cats and goats and they had a name for everything. Each chicken, cow, horse, goat, dog, cat-everything! One time they gave my dad a dozen eggs–on each egg was a name of the chicken that laid it and the day it was collected from the nest. They invited us over to their place for Thanksgiving dinner one year-they raised turkeys! They were going to prepare the turkey. My mother made pies, bread and some other food to take along. We got there around noontime. When we got there the turkey lay on the floor with all the feathers on. Harriet told Otto to go out and “rustle some brush”. That was her way of telling him to chop wood. My mother started to pick the turkey while Pa went out and chopped wood. He was a good wood-chopper; he made a big pile of wood. I can’t remember ever tasting that turkey. Edith and I went to sleep before it ever got done. It was night when we arrived home. We still had cows to milk and chores to do. Pa said that was the last time we were ever going over there for a meal. They always had some ghost stories and strange happenings to tell us about. We liked to visit with them, but they never paid attention to the time!
It was Scouville Township we lived in and went to Scouville School. We lived in three different places in that township; the Kemple Place, the Crease place, and the one Pa bought and built on.
My mother got sick the first part of May, 1933. She was only 34 then and they said she had pneumonia. I am certain a part of it was uncontrolled diabetes. She was moved to a home in Milnor and was there only a few days before she died. We didn’t cope too well at that time. We were all called to see her the last day after we’d gotten a call that she was very low. We went into the room to see her when we arrived, but our great aunt told us to leave the room. My mother didn’t seem to be able to talk to us. Anyway, I managed to sneak back in because I wanted to try and talk to her. She was gasping for breath as Pa stood beside her. That bothered me all that summertime. Every night I would see her face. I didn’t want to tell anyone what was bothering me. I finally got over it, but it took an awful long time.
Lauris was nine months old then. Our neighbors, Bob Thompsons, and our teacher, Elwin Sanders and his wife, Mabel took care of Lauris that summer. That fall Lauris went to Casselton to live with Grandma Barnes while the rest of us stayed at Grandpa Johnson’s and went to McLeod school. The following year, Toots and Edith went to Casselton school and I stayed at Grandpa Johnson’s.
I helped to care for Aunt Myrtle when she was invalid with crippling arthritis and later on, Edith did too. Myrtle suffered a lot. Later, Uncle Billy too had such crippling arthritis.
Anyhow….time passed by. We were growing up and liked to go to dances in McLeod. Toots married Edwin Gulland a few years prior to my marriage. Sooooo, it was Edith and I always wondering which one of us dared to ask Pa if we could go to a dance. Sometimes, he would say, “get that fool idea out of your head right now” and hit his fist on the table, so we wouldn’t dare say another word. And sometimes, he’d let us go pretty easy.
Toots and Eddie lived near Leonard. Eddie was working for a big farmer there. They lived in a separate house about a half mile from his boss. His boss, Harold Bird and his wife, Elsie needed a hired girl so I went to work there. I was there for 2 years. We attended a community school picnic while I worked there. At the picnic, I met Elmer Sandvig of Sheldon. We were married December 26, 1940. We lived on the old Sandvig farm.
My dad remarried about 30 years ago after all us girls were married. He worked at the Veteran’s hospital in Minneapolis for many years. He met Ruby Swafford at the church he attended there. They lived at St. Paul for several years and then they lived in the Delamera area for several years before they sold their place and moved to Almora, MN. It’s close to Henning and Parker’s Prairie. Dad lived to be 92. He died December 14, 1984 at Twin Valley nursing home. Poor old fellow-he was so sick and I was there with him. We have many wonderful memories of him. He never gave up his faith and trust in God.
My step-mother, Ruby, still lives in Almora. I want her to sell and come to Fargo where I live. I hope she will do that.
On the 22 of May 1942, our first son, Roland, was born in Enderlin, North Dakota. He was no nice; big blue eyes, long eyelashes, and weighed about seven pounds. Four years later, April 2, 1946, Arlo was born at Saint John’s hospital in Fargo–he was the king of the babies there at 10 pounds and 2 ounces. He was no easy to take care of and a good baby!
They grew and reached school age and went off to school at Sheldon.
Rolly liked to play baseball. his schoolmates liked to have him on their side because even though he was short, he could run so fast-they called him Chub.
Arlo liked football. He was a big fellow so didn’t get hurt so much, but he was left with a shoulder that would dislocate very easily and he was bothered by it for many years.
The year of 1958, we sold out of the farming business at Sheldon and moved to Leonard. Roland and Arlo graduated from Leonard, North Dakota high school.
My husband, Elmer, died June 29, 1972 after a painful bout with cancer. After his death, I went back to Leonard to run the Leonard Cafe. The business was good, but the more customers, the more help I needed and the profit wasn’t that great. I enjoyed the people, though. I cooked for the Leonard Lions Club for 9 years and hauled dinners to the golf club many Sundays. It was fun, but it got to be too much!
After a couple of years, I remarried, but that turned out to be a disaster and it didn’t last long. I found out there are worse things than living alone. Since that time, I’ve been working for different people. The last place was the Lenz brothers of Barney. That seems like home, too! I’ve been there 11 years off and on. They have been good to me!
Rolly went to work for the North Dakota Highway Department. In 1965, he married Sonia Nygard of Leonard-a very nice girl with pretty red hair. Then, they moved to West Fargo and they are still living there. Roland has been with the West Fargo Police Patrol for the past 14 years. Sonia is teaching school there. They have two sons; Jay will be a senior this fall. He will be 18 January 25 next year, and another son, Chris who will be 13 next October 13. Both are good boys; excellent hunters and fishermen. And very handsome too!! Just like their dad and mother.
Arlo first worked at Scheel’s hardware in Moorhead, MN and later at Overvold Motors at Fargo. Then, he had his own business at Kindred A & W Motors for 12 years. No, he is General Manager at Nereson’s at Detroit Lakes, MN. He married Deanna Gullekson at Beltrami, MN on October 28, 1967. Deanna, too, is a pretty girl. She has worked all her married life at Dakota Clinic, where she is a secretary for the pathologists.
Arlo and Deanna have 2 children; Rodney, who is at his second year at Moorhead State. He will be 21 next January 14. A handsome fellow-he likes hunting, water skiing, and target shooting.
And then there is my only granddaughter, Julie. Beautiful girl. She will be 18 on August 22. She likes drama, speech and some other things. She will also be attending Moorhead State this fall.
My brother, Lauris and his wife, Irma, live at St. Paul, MN. They have 3 children; Sharon, Eleanor, and Charlie. Laurie has been working at the same place for the past 12 years. I always forget the name of the place but I do know he runs a forklift.
I am now living in an apartment in North Fargo. This brings us up to date for the present.”
June 10, 1988