Memories From A Dakota Farm

Perhaps last nights summer storm rekindled youthful memories of a simpler time on our prairie farm. When grandma’s cotton apron meant wholesome family meals.

My Grandma’s old farmyard stove,
Decorated with pitted strips of chrome.
Fueled by wood from the apple grove
That flavored our family’s home.

That old cast iron range
Moved from house to porch.
Tied with the seasons change
And temperatures that would scorch.

For a constant fire the tinder box
Was everyone’s chore to keep filled.
Splitting wood dragged home by ox
That was too small to be milled.

Those 19th century recipes
Of simple German fare
Fueled our family legacies
With bratwurst, kraut and beer.

When the wind would howl and hover
And the frost snuck in long ago
We’d wrap ourselves in patchwork covers
And watch the red embers glow.

– Clarence Holm

Hey – I Know That Kid!

Dorothy & Lucille Holm Holding Their Little Brother, Clarence

Dorothy Holm Storbeck & Lucille Holm Kunze holding their little brother, Clarence Holm circa 1917 (Evelyn Holm Grant and Walter Holm were born in 1918 & 1926)

Yesterday I received a postcard from the Carver County Historical Society of Carver County, Minnesota announcing a rebuild of their website along with news of the addition of fully indexed online library of 15,000 photographs held by the society. I was excited because my family has a long history with the county.

My paternal family had immigrated to Minnesota from Sweden in 1850 making them one of the earliest settlers of the territory. My Great Grandfather was born in Carver County and grew up to be one of the original members of the town council of Cologne, MN. His first born son was born in Carver County and moved with him as he homesteaded in Cuba, North Dakota, in 1886. My grandfather was raised in North Dakota, was married and raised a family on the prairie. My father was born near that farm in 1917. I was raised on that same farm (Now owned by one of my cousins) and lived in North Dakota until 1990 when I coincidentally moved to a small town near Carver County too start a career in Insurance.

I knew my family had relatives in the area, but knew nothing about the county or the people in it. I became interested in my family tree and began a 25 yearlong investigation of my family’s history with one of the first steps beginning with research at the Historical societies in the area. Thousands of hours were spent pouring over microfiche and index cards that contained newspaper information that had been indexed and computerized.

So, while I was very happy to hear about the new service, I was not expecting too much in the way of new information. You see I had been associated with the society for nearly 20 years during which time I had researched well of 40,000 individuals associated with my family, mostly in and around Minnesota and North Dakota and thought I had mined the source completely dry.

Imagine my surprise to enter my family name into a search engine only to discover a long lost photo of my father as a baby being held by his older sisters taken nearly 100 years ago. I can only surmise that my Great Grandparents had sent a copy of the picture to one of the cousins who still lived in Carver County many years ago.

Obviously I have ordered a duplicate of the photo to share with my brothers and sisters. I am sure they will cherish the photo as much as I.

I maintain a membership in a number of historical societies and have always been amazed at the dedication and sacrifice displayed by their memberships to maintain, catalog and display our history. Over the next few years I will be retiring from my insurance business and am looking forward to many hours of volunteering at the society to repay those people who have given me so much.

The Lambs of the Prairie

As a child my mother spoke gently of her family’s story and those that went before. She spoke of a special recollection of young children buried way too young on the plains of North Dakota. Her haunting stories spoke of the children buried beneath the plain white markers embossed with fading lambs representing their youth. The Prairie Rest Cemetery is solitary remembrance dedicated to the youngest lambs who died while establishing our state many years ago.

The Lambs of the Prairie

– Clarence Holm

Beneath the broad Dakota blue
On a hilltop kissed with morning dew
Were the silent lambs on prairie old
Lying peacefully, a family’s tears consoled.

Soundless sentinels endlessly resting
Reverent callers gazes arresting.
Their fading faces don’t betray
Machine etched stones, long in decay.

An eternal place of gathering,
Sweet memories in stone are offering
Old stories lost and gone
Waiting together for their eternal dawn.

The Western Meadowlark in Me!

-Clarence Holm

I appreciated my youth on the broad plains of North Dakota, unbounded by a horizon that rose before the dawn and dipped beyond sun. Much of my time was spent in solitude on the open prairie, tracking clouds as they journeyed across the sky. I loved to lie on the sweet pasture grass and feel the cool earth beneath my back, as the sun baked my face with it brilliant glory.

I’d listen to hear the sounds of the prairie; the whistling breeze running through the barley. I spent hours watching the dancing waves of grain as they bowed to the pulse of the wind. I’d feel the melodic rise and fall of a song that would be punctuated by the plaintiff call of the meadowlark, repeating an encircling melody for his mate.

As the hush of evening approached, the song would be returned in the distance, almost reflective in its tone. Then another would take up the song, repeating it back and forth until darkness descended, covering the earth with a blanket of calm.

And I would sleep deeply in the Dakota night.

Dakota Winter Morning Walk

Dakota Winter Morning

A break in the storm, time to travel!

-Clarence Holm

Engine left to idle, heater placed on high
Another blizzard warning, another storm foretold
Bag packed, added provisions, should north winds start to cry.
Highway’s calling – must be going, through weather uncontrolled.

A frigid winters’ sunrise, grips the frosty air,
Cold light spills past the vista, releasing sun dogs for a run.
A frozen landscape speaking, challenging wanderers with a dare
The sun is up, ignore the cold, – today’s work must be done.

Postscript to picture

by Jack Holm

“I froze my butt more than once when I was a little kid walking that path with dad when he walked back and forth from our house to milk cows at Grandpa Holm’s. The picture is taken from the east side of the home place facing Calnon’s where Vernon Grant now lives. The trees on the left are the stand of Chinese Elms and to the right is the tree claim across the road from our house.

This is likely from the late 40’s. I remember a bull dozer coming out to plow a path to the hay stacks in late winter. We hauled hay in the winter using a hay wagon on runners pulled by horses. My part was stomping down the hay so dad could get more on the wagon. In the spring, a wall of ice and manure had been formed from the barn to the pump house where the cows had walked single file from the barn for water compacting the path as the snow accumulated. Dad had quite a battle to keep the stock tank insulated and clear of snow so the cows could get water twice a day. We had a hand pulled sled mounted on skis to carry skim milk in five gallon buckets to the hogs that were almost a hundred yards from the barn. Of course, we had to walk up hill with the full buckets. Cherished memories and good motivation to go on to college.”

Who Am I to Judge?

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

-Proverbs 13:24

“Go get a switch from the Plum Orchard” my mother instructed me.

I moved slowly, trying to delay the inevitable pain of the spanking I had earned for my conduct at church that Sunday morning. At the plum grove, I selected a tender branch, (the smallest I believed my mother would accept) to be used to deliver my sentence. Leaving the decision of which switch I would choose added to the anticipation of the penance.

Life had a rhythm on the farm. As a child too young to really work in the field, I spent most of my days playing with my younger brother in the fields around our farm house. In the evening, we would join my older brothers and sister in family games of baseball or hide and seek. Saturday early mornings were special as we were allowed to watch cartoons on the old black and white television we had on the farm. Sundays were reserved for church and rest.

Each Sunday began with us dressing in our best clothing, being taken to church and then being marched as a group down the center aisle, pausing to genuflect before entering our pew in our rural church. The next hour (half during harvest) we would stand up, sit, and kneel in time to the chanted Latin of the Catholic Mass. It was a solemn time, punctuated by the choir singing, the priest delivering his sermon and the occasional child, being dragged out of church by a red faced parent under the watchful eye of the congregation. The child knowing his fate would be whimpering and pleading for mercy, while covering his behind with his hand. It would be to no avail, as we all knew the sound of the church door closing would soon be followed by a whack and the immediate return of the sniffing child to his mother.

I never really knew what impious mischief I did that would guarantee my secular punishment. Perhaps it was my dropping of a toy I had smuggled into church, or maybe it was the coloring of a songbook page. Whatever it was, the look delivered by my mother told me justice was coming.

After church we were loaded into our car and were driven home. If punishment were in order, we were expected to go to my parent’s bedroom to wait as mom and dad decided our fate. The punishment would be most likely an easy quick spanking with an open hand, but could be escalated with a hair brush or wooden spoon if the occasion demanded. The fetching of a switch was the ultimate punishment.

Whatever correction was administered, the pain was momentary and was followed by Sunday dinner and life would go on. As far as I knew, the same scene happened every Sunday in every home around our farm. Sunday morning – get up, get dressed, go to church and then come home and get beat! It was nothing to be excited about, simply part of our lives and the duty of a loving parent.

Stories of corporal punishment from my generation are told with the same reverence as walking uphill in a blizzard to (and from) school or having to wear hand me downs that my brothers (and sisters) all wore. The stories are remembered almost fondly as part of our colorful fabric of our lives.

It was with that history, that I read the story last week concerning Adrian Peterson and his alleged abusive punishment of his children. I hadn’t heard the word “switch” for many years, but knew exactly what it meant. I was a little startled to find out the practice had survived to this time, but I guess it didn’t surprise me that much. I was even less surprised that Adrian Peterson was totally shocked to learn that the behavior was now considered a form of torture and his career and reputation was ruined.

I understood his behavior. Isn’t discipline part of love? I had spent many years as a parent struggling with that issue. I however spent most of my adulthood around parents who believed in “sparing the rod” and considered corporal punishment horrible. But if I had lived in Peterson’s neighborhood, I could have easily gone the other direction and taken up the switch.

I truly believe that he loves his children as much as my parents loved me. Does love justify his actions?

In this case I don’t know- I just don’t know. What I do know is that it is not up to me to cast judgment on Adrian Peterson’s actions. It is my duty to live my life as best I can and leave the decision of his intention to his Lord.

My Mother and Beowulf

Clarence and His Mother Hermione, His Grandmother Gertrude Nicoli and Great Grandmother Henrietta (Wolski) Koehn

Clarence and His Mother Hermione, His Grandmother Gertrude Nicoli and Great Grandmother Henrietta (Wolski) Koehn

-Clarence Holm

My mother first read Beowulf to me when I was about 6 years old. She had returned to college that summer to work on an additional minor in drama. One of the courses she was enrolled in was a class called Oral Interpretation. To practice she decided to present the entire story of Beowulf to me by reading it aloud.

In hindsight, a case may be made that the story was at the very least rated “R” for violence (Not to mention the incestuous heritage ascribed to tragic Viking mythology) but I would argue that Wiley Coyote was subjected to far worse treatment on a far greater number of occasions. – Besides I was allowed to close my eyes when she recited the gory passages.

Now to a casual observer, there could be no more pastoral scene then a mother sitting on a blanket next to a gooseberry bush with her son on her lap. The rapt attention I paid to the slaughter of Beowulf’s men in the hall was only eclipsed by mother’s rendition of Beowulf ripping Gwendolyn’s arm off and using it as a club.

As a young man I devoured the story and reveled in it. Later, during an afternoon nap, I dreamed that I was a hero, a true giver of rings.

Actually, now that I think about it, I should be glad that my mother decided not to share the arrow scene from Deliverance with me that same summer.