Maxine Lee is grandmother of our good friend carterzest. We will continue to share the narrative of her family’s history as presented in the book she published in 2005 entitled Some Assembly Required. The gathering of her stories in the book was a result of her dream “to leave a printed account to my family, of my beginning, my birth place and childhood, and a few of the lessons life has taught to me.” Thank you, Maxine, for sharing with us what you gathered for them.
Links to previous posts in the series will be shared at the end of each Sunday’s post.
Baby It’s Cold Outside
Minnesota gets cold, bitter cold. Blizzards roar in without warning. We walked three miles through the swamp and over a couple of high hills to school. We dressed for the cold. We wore long underwear, shirts, wool socks in our shoes, and sometimes even over the shoes. We bundled up in trousers, snow pants, snow jackets, a snow cap, earmuffs, gloves and rubber overshoes to keep out the wet snow. Off we went, my sister, my older brother and I. Dressing up like this and spending lots of time outside really makes you appreciate when you get back home and get warm under the best patio heater, drinking a tea or hot chocolate.
One winter, when I was in first or second grade, I had not broken in my new shoes. It was a cold day and the snow was deep, and I wore snow boots over my shoes for the long hike to school. I was alright until about half way, when my feet began to hurt. My new shoes did not allow me to wiggle my toes and they began to get very cold. The teacher could hear me howl all the way to school. She met us at the door and hurried me inside. She removed all my clothes, down to the shirt, sweater and inside trousers, then my rubber overshoes and my new shoes. My feet were bright red, frostbite was setting in. The cure for that was to rub my feet with snow until they thawed out to prevent serious problems. I can still remember how it hurt to have my feet rubbed with that soft-looking snow that felt like sandpaper on a raw wound.
When we were older – I must have been 12 at the time, we walked a distance on a highway to school. One cold, cold morning, our dad came down the hill, stopped us, and announced that we did not have to go to school that day. The temperature was 12 below zero.
On another winter’s day, we had started to walk home when school was out. The teacher should not have let us go because of blizzard conditions. It was getting pretty bad, and we still had more than two miles to go. It was so cold, it froze the mind. It made you dizzy. Again our dad came to the rescue. He came after us and picked us up in the car. We would have frozen to death, I am sure.
Music and Dancing
My mother had a pretty voice and sang Irish lullabies Over In Kilarney among them.
My dad sang Swedish hymns. Somewhere in the middle they met, and learned to harmonize. Dad also played the accordion and the harmonica. Not at the same time, of course. He would take a glass and hold it over the harp next to his mouth and make a beautiful far-away sound.
On Saturday night, we listened to Grand Ol’ Opry on the old battery radio. I learned to sing along with Lulu Belle and Scottie. I cried to Roy Acuff singing Put My Little Shoes Away and There Was Blood on the Highway (but I didn’t hear nobody pray).
(I couldn’t find a recording by Roy Acuff, but here’s the Chuck Wagon Gang with Put My Little Shoes Away – Sharon)
My father discovered I could sing along with them and carry a tune at a young age. He had me sing one night by myself. I was so scared, but I was scared to not sing, too. His favorite song was “That Silver-haired Daddy of Mine.” I learned to harmonize with my parents. Those many nights when we ran out of kerosene for the lamp, we took the lid off the wood stove and sat around it, eating home made ice cream, shivering and singing.
On Sunday, we listened and danced to the Yankee Yahkavitch and his Scandinavian Orchestra. The group used accordions and harmonicas, played jumpy polkas and Shottish music, and I danced with my dad and loved it. We hopped around, up and down in time to the music.
When I was in high school, I wanted to join the other kids dancing at noon recess on a rainy day, but no one asked me to dance. I was very shy, and didn’t have a cashmere sweater and was out of the loop. Neither did I have wooden shoes when they came in style or brown and white saddle oxfords.
A chimney fire was a big event in our lives. While the flames shot out of the top of the chimney over the roof, Mom would run outside and look up while Dad watched inside. Then Mom would run inside and Dad would run out and look up at the roof, until the chimney fire burned itself out. We kids just watched in fascination. We also had a hay stack fire.
For some reason, Dad had put a haystack a few yards from the house. We used to play on it sometimes when my big brother decided to try smoking. The haystack was a convenient hiding place. Unfortunately, he dropped a match and that dry hay took off and turned into a spectacular fire. It was like a great party. Neighbors came from miles around with goodies, when they saw the flames. I am sure they thought our house was gone. The men poked at the smoldering haystack long into the night to be sure the fire had burnt out. Fortunately, the house didn’t catch on fire, but I will never forget how exciting it all was.
Let’s Talk About The Weather
Some people find the weather a boring subject and use it only to make light conversation where nothing else comes to mind. I have never found it so. As a child I used to lay in the grass in the sun on the hillside with a breeze blowing over me and watch the clouds move across the sky.
The early morning sun, and the dew on the grass were interesting and beautiful to me. I could smell the rain coming, or the snow, and watch a blizzard building up; those dark, fierce looking clouds were exciting. The dark rain-loaded ones dumped rain by the buckets. It rained so hard our rain barrels ran over. When it rained in Minnesota, it was serious. We rarely had gentle showers, only downpours that were warm. We children put our swimsuits on and went out for a shower.
Tornadoes touched down not far from us once. Lightning struck a tree in front of our little cabin and split the trunk right down the middle, I saw black clouds filled with hail stones the size of walnuts rattle on the roof of our home. They covered the ground long enough for us to pick them up after the storm passed.
I loved to hear the wind blow in the treetops, creeping around through the woods and pushing to get into the house. It made me feel cozy and protected and sleepy to hear the wind whine and howl and complain as it piled the snow in huge drifts, then came back and moved them to another spot.
We lived in the cottage on George Lake the winter of 1939 that produced one of the most treacherous blizzards ever recorded in Minnesota weather history. Temperatures fell suddenly, to 30 below zero in two or three hours. Our wood was stacked in a shelter about twelve feet from the house. The storm hit like a truck whirling across the lake and into the side of the building. It was in October, early for a blizzard. Some men duck hunjting in the northern part of the state, and were frozen into the water where they stood. My father had gone to town for staples and mother was concerned that he would try to get home and get caught by the blinding storm.
Mother had us take turns bringing in firewood. Bundled up fit for Alaska, we darted out, holding our breath all the while, because it was too cold to breathe, grab an armload of wood and race back into the house. It stayed cold for a week before my father was finally able to make it home, wearing a borrowed fur coat over his clothes.
I still enjoy watching the weather arrive. I find it fascinating. I can watch the changes come over the Callahan Mountains to the west of us. I can still smell the rin or occasional snow on its way over the hills. I do miss the snow of Minnesota, but not the cold, and I don’t miss the sticky, hot Minnesota summers, where even the nights stayed hot, nor did I like the huge, pesky mosquitoes. We had fun catching the little fireflies into a fruit jar and watch the mysterious little flashing light they delivered.
Maybe the variation of the weather in Minnesota tweaked my interest in the much more even temperatures of Oregon. I have never found the weather dull, or seen a day that I didn’t think it was beautiful.
(Maxine’s faith is part of her story, and included in the book are Scripture lessons which are illustrated with stories from her life)
My Help Cometh From the Lord
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)
This morning, there is fresh snow on the low mountain range west of our home. Not a lot of snow, but enough to make it look like early winter, even though it is spring. Those mountains are called the Callahans, and present a popular challenge for rock climbers, hikers, bird watchers and mudders. Some people who own four-wheel-drive vehicles delight in driving back in totown covered with mud to prove their prowess with their automobiles.
In the late spring, you can see shades of white where the wild dogwood blooms. Those hills are the backdrop for beautiful sunsets when the clouds sit on them just right. Often you can watch the weather and see the approach of a rain or hail storm come over those mountains.
Some bare areas on the mountain sides testify to the act of clearcutting by the loggers who haul out the timber. Some spots show signs of the new growth of trees, replaced by the company who harvested the first cut.
When we return from our morning walk, we can plainly see those beautiful mountains provided the fog is not too heavy. I marvel at them being so still, so stable, and so ancient. But much as I call on them, when I am in trouble, they cannot help me. My help cometh from the Lord, who created them.
Those hills are silent; they do not move; they do not speak. They have no soul or life except for the vegetation which grows in the soil beside them.
If I needed a hiding place, I might find a cave or crevice in those hills that would serve as a refuge or shelter. I could even live for a time off the wild blackberries, and clear springs seeping from its crevices, and if I could catch one, there would be quail, pheasants, grouse, and even black bears. I would avoid the latter.
But the hills will never be able to help me.
When I look at those hills, I often rehearse to myself the verses from this Psalm. First I read, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,” and then continue, “my help does not come from the hills, it comes from the God who put those hills there for me and others to enjoy.”
God is a refuge, our shelter, our help, our all in all. Nothing else and no one else can fill that place in my life.
Those hills remind me each morning, either from approaching them on a morning walk, or the view from our elevated back deck. My help cometh from the Lord. Those mountains cannot be moved. My God is eternal and faithful and always present with me. He is as stable and solid as the rocks of the mountain. He is my help. The hills cannot move to help me at all. God is my help.
And I am His child.
Mailboxes along the roads and old barns set back in fields overgrown with weeds often served as landmarks in rural Montana. These landmarks told us where we were, and how far we had to go. Sometimes they signaled “home” and the end of the road. At other times, barely visible through swirling snow, they told us we had miles to go.
Maybe you’ve seen some of the same mailboxes along your roads, or glimpsed some of the same old barns through your storms.
In one way or another, anything you read in this weekly feature is a word picture of some mailbox or some old barn, tangible or intangible, seen by the author somewhere along the roads of their memory. Our stories of other times and places become word pictures of our mailboxes, our old barns.
This current series from Maxine Lee has elements of Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Oregon in it. Others have shared MBOBs from Kansas and Texas and Oklahoma and MBOBs from anywhere show up in the threads. Thank you to all who share in the posts and in the threads, and thanks again to Maxine today.