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April 19, 2005 - Tuesday, 3:38 p.m.

Summer - 1971

Summer always arrived with a tangible anticipation. The days would get longer and hotter and all I could think about was the school year ending and the summer yawning out before me. I know it must have always been the plan, but to me my grandmother’s arrival at our house was always a pleasant surprise. It meant that I was going to be making my way to North Dakota for most of June, until my parents arrived for the 4th of July celebration in Velva. Summer vacation meant plenty of time to swim in the river, ride my bike and climb trees, but for my mother it was the beginning of a long summer with five kids running around the house all day and night. Grandma was the relief. Even one less kid was a help to my mother. In June of 1971 my grandma arrived to pick me up. Mom had spent some time washing clothes and packing for me, and grandma would stay for a bit and then we’d head out from our home in Anoka, Minnesota for the farm just north of Velva, North Dakota.

That particular summer Camille had turned 8 years old and desperately wanted to come with. She alternately begged my mother and grandmother to let her go, assuring them she’d be good and she wouldn’t get homesick. My mother finally gave in and packed up dirty clothes for Camille, my grandmother assuring her it was no trouble for her to wash them once we got to the farm. We headed out mid-afternoon and didn’t get very far towards Fargo, when we went by a sign that advertised a flat of strawberries for a very reasonable price. The catch? You had to pick them yourself. We stopped and picked two flats worth. It was approaching dark when we finished loading up and we drove into the night to get to the farm. Camille was in the back seat, most likely asleep after dark. I sat in the front seat and talked to my grandma. We sang silly songs like “Six Little Mice” or “Ladybug” and ate Lifesavers to stay awake.

We arrived at the farm at what felt like the middle of night and settled in for our visit. We climbed the stairs and Camille and I shared the green room at the top of the stairs to the right. The rhythm of life at the farm was different then life at home. Grandma was always up early, at dawn I am sure, and out in the yard pulling weeds. We’d wake up at 8:30 or 9 am to the buzzing of the insects outside and the warm breezes and fragrances of summer wafting in the open window. It was our task to always make the bed first thing (or right after we ate breakfast). Grandma was usually already out in the yard working. She’d come back mid-morning and start making dinner for Wayne and the hired hand, whoever he was for that year. The big meal of the day was at noon. It was similar to our evening meal at home. Any errands we might have to run that day would usually be done after we cleaned up after the meal. We’d spend our mornings out in the garden pulling weeds. Grandma carefully instructed us on what were weeds and what were plants. You definitely heard about it if you pulled up plants. We got good fairly quick.

Some days we’d go into Granville and wash clothes. It was probably one of the only places in all of the United States that you still ran your clothes through a ringer and then back into the baskets to be hung on the line at home. Sometimes we’d go into Velva and go to the grocery store or the bank, perhaps to the Five and Dime or maybe even for an ice cream at the “Tasty Freeze”. On a good day we might even get a chance to go bowling. Grandma would leave us there with my cousin RP and we’d bowl some games while she ran some other errands. Some days we went into Minot and picked up tractor parts for Wayne, or to the grocery store or to Beverly’s to visit. There was always a trip at some point in time to pick up eggs at the neighbors. About once a week we went to the cemetery in Granville where the Shipman’s were buried including Grandma’s husband, Vernon. We always made it to the cemetery in Velva as well, where the Kaylor’s (grandma’s sister and parents) were buried. We’d arrive with the lawn mower in the trunk. Grandma would pull weeds and mow, and we’d climb the tombstones and wander around reading the names on the head stones. Grandma could often tell us about the people buried there, about their life and how they died.

We drove Grandma’s Oldsmobile down the gravel roads with Grandma, or around the barn over and over again alone. That is how I learned how to drive. A thousand trips around the big white barn in the yard, there were ruts in the grass that took us around the barn and by all the pieces of machinery lined up behind the barn. We often spent the afternoon crawling on the machinery. Wayne parked it all nice and straight and close together. We were able to start behind the barn at the first piece of machinery and without touching the ground climb along it all from piece to piece. We spent hours doing that with RP.

Grandma always knew where every bird’s nest was, and often in the late afternoon you could walk with her and she’d point out all the nests with the babies in them. Down at the end of the machinery was an old water cart, which was like a barrel with big wooden spokes on the wheels. It was broken and left on a heap of rock that had been picked from the fields’ years before. In the midst of that grew raspberries. We’d picked them and have them with sugar in the evening.

We’d make ‘lunch’ for the ‘boys’ and deliver them to the fields where Wayne and the hired hand would be working. The evening meal was always a sandwich made from whatever we’d had for ‘dinner’ at noon. There was always ice cream for a bedtime treat, some times with fresh raspberries as a topping.

If there was ever a tornado warning Grandma would drag us out of bed and make us sit on the stairs in the cellar until it was over. Gah! There is nothing worse that sitting on the stairs with the dark cellar below you, and you imaging salamanders and spiders crawling everywhere. I swear I would have gladly faced gale force winds and spinning funnels over the thoughts of what was in that cellar, but I guess the thought of what my Grandma would say if we came out of there early was worse. Once the storm had passed we’d go out in the yard (if it was still light) and run around in the wet grass. The electricity in the air so tangible that our hair would stand on end as we ran around giggling in the fading daylight.

I remember many a night sitting out in the yard or on the trunk of the car watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky north of the Farm, sheets of blue and green ribbons of light.

Grandma was forever busy. A thousand things to accomplish every day, it was never frantic, just a steady pulse of life. She was up late at night and early in the morning. Every day was an adventure. The memories are sweet and many. For all of my life I’ll remember my summers at the farm and time spent with my Grandma.

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