Sunday, October 17, 2010

Remembering the Johnsons

The Johnson Farm (1999). Image courtesy of Helen (JOHNSON) Miller.

Remembering the Johnsons
By Helen Johnson Miller

Remembering: a time less hectic--no air conditioning, walking everywhere, a car used only for church or a Sunday drive, drying dishes by hand, a seamstress who sewed for a living . . . making over from the old with cotton and wool, before polyester and nylon. Shirts to be starched and ironed, big gardens, canning fruits and vegetables . . . when fertilizer meant manure. A new Easter hat every year, no TV . . . soap operas on the radio, lots of relatives living close by, Ladies Aid on Thursday afternoons, egg-a-dosis for Easter and klubb in the winter: oh so good! A cook stove heated by wood in winter and gas in summer, spring cleaning: coal heat made everything so dirty. May Basket Day with baskets made from left over flowered wallpaper. Mama’s May 1st birthday with all lady relatives and neighbors in the afternoon and men for supper. Calling in grocery, bakery, and meat market orders, milk in returnable bottles, all delivered daily and billed once a month.

Remembering: A time when a lady never left home without a pretty cloth handkerchief in her purse, Myrtle and I singing in the Messiah at a very young age at Luther at Christmas time. Luther . . . a small men’s college of about 400 that seemed like an extension of high school as we supported sports and musical events: Wally played the violin in the orchestra. Remembering: swimming below the dam--very dangerous: Wally fell in and was going under when he was saved by Carlton Fagerly. We all appreciated the new city pool when it was finished.

Remembering a time when we didn’t worry about crime. A friend and I at age 14 wanted to go to the Chicago World’s Fair in the 30’s. She had a cousin there, so . . . with $20 sewn in a pocket made in our bras we traveled by train. After a long wait at Central Station, we were finally met by relatives. They lived miles out in a suburb and we were told her aunt had a bad heart so we'd be on our own for the entire week. She packed sack lunches for us and wrote down our street car changes. With no fears we traveled all over Chicago: the zoo, downtown, and of course, to the Fair by Lake Michigan. No one checked i.d.‘s so we saw all the shows--“Streets of Paris” with naked gilded ladies was especially memorable!!

Entertainment was easy and movies were inexpensive: 10 cents for matinees and a quarter for evening movies. Ice cream parlors up town for treats, the county fair with its shows, horse races, and cotton candy. In the winter sledding on Day Street from the top of Pleasant Hill and skiing on the Pearson hill--the parade on Decoration Day--fourth of July picnics and fireworks. Mama never cared how many kids came, there was always plenty of homemade bread and cold meat on hand.

1929 and 1930 were tough times but our family had plenty of food, always, and our relatives on farms had their own chickens, meat, and milk.

Christmas Memories--much decorating and baking: lefsa, Christmas bread, krum-kaka, fattimand, cookies, fruit cake, meatballs, etc. Always had to have lots on hand as all the relatives visited at the others' homes, we had such fun visiting them all. When I was small, we sat on the floor while papa lit the candles on the tree. Connie Rosenthal had a sleigh, "cutter," and took us for rides. We looked forward to visits to Hexoms: aunt Emma often served more than one table setting and children sat on stairs holding their plates, often creamed chicken. With no indoor plumbing there always was a catalog to look at in the outhouse. There were no electric lights until the late 30’s so oil lamps were used. Papa also loved going to the Hexom farm in the summer to watch the threshing.

Summer Memories--the Johnson farm where George, Charles, Emma, Lillie, Anna, Esther, Bill, and Arthur grew up; some of the family stayed after grandma and grandpa moved to town: Arthur and first wife Vivian, Stanley Ask, Esther, and LuVerne. Gordon as a teenager thought he’d like to work on the farm to earn a little money. This was short lived as he fell down the hay shoot and broke his leg. I remember playing with LuVerne in colored sand on the hill. The Johnson farm stayed several years in the family as Arthur and Florence bought it later. It was recently sold and the new owners are Johnson’s too, but not relatives.

Lillie and Walter Williams had a pretty acreage in the valley in Glenwood. I enjoyed playing in the little stream bordering their lawn. Lillie ran the telephone switchboard--she is remembered for all the lovely flowers that she grew from seed saved from year to year. When Papa got lonely for the country, we'd drive out and have afternoon coffee!

Connie and Anna had that lovely big home down on the flat (as we called the area). She was such a good cook and we went fairly often for dinner. Art and Bill are fondly remembered by us all. When Arthur lived in town he would often pop in and have coffee. Uncle Bill played a lot of golf in earlier years, but enjoyed more time with family in later years and we saw Mabel and him more often. I looked forward to the 5 pound box of chocolates he brought every Christmas.

George was in a fatal saw mill accident which occurred after his graduation from Iowa State when he had been married only a few months . . . a sad time. I must not forget the talented musicians in the Johnson family: Grandpa Gustave, my father Charles, and cousin Frederick sang in choruses, both Luren and Gauken (in Glenwood). Walter played violin in the school orchestra and Lillie played the piano. We rolled up the rug at Hexoms and Walter and his brother played their fiddles as Lillie played on the piano. What fun! While it's easy for my generation to talk of the immorality of today, there always has been a time that babies came in 7 months. But couples NEVER lived together unmarried!

I know Gustave and Henrietta Johnson would be surprised to know their family of eight children has grown to over 90 . . . and what a fine bunch it is!


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