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First memories

Sun, Sep 3rd, 2000
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Growing up in the 1930’sBy Neil HaugarudMonday, September 4, 2000

By Neil Haugerud

Some folks say they can remember as far back as when they were one year old. For me life memories begin on Good Friday, April 19th, 1935, I was four.

I like to tell people about the time I found a short row of fingers, about three inches tall, growing in a patch of oat stubble as if they had been sown with the oats. The sickle on the grain binder had cut just above them during harvest. The child-sized fingers were planted where an accident happened earlier in the year, on Good Friday, 1935.

It was rather cold that day, above freezing, but cold enough to be bundled up. My coat collar was turned up, the ear-lappers on my cap were turned down and I was wearing a pair of my older brother’s yellow work gloves. In wintertime we wore mittens because they kept your hands warm in the bitter cold when gloves just wouldn't do the job, but that spring day I was wearing cloth gloves, the kind that had a yellow covering, like fine wool, when they were new.

I had three brothers then, ages ten, seven and three. And three sisters ages nine, one and my youngest sister was three weeks old. We were all born in the downstairs bedroom at home on our farm near Harmony.

I'd ridden to the field with my Dad on the riding-board fixed to the back of the grain drill. It seems as if there were three horses pulling the drill, or seeder, as we kids called it. A three-horse hitch was highly unusual, but that's the way I remember it. The drill was eight foot wide. There were two wooden wheels with steel outer rims about five feet high on either end. Mesh gears, without protective shields linked the wheels with a power shaft, which drove a mechanism for metering the grain into flexible metal spouts, which in turn directed the grain to discs which opened the earth for seeding. Also near each end was a lever to disengage the power shaft, so the sowing of grain could be discontinued while turning around.

Dad was 35 at the time and a firm believer that youngsters should be kept busy. He told me I might as well be doing something as long as I was riding along.

"When we get to the end of the field flip that lever down," he said, pointing to the lever that disengaged the power.

After making the turn, he said, "Now flip it up," and we began seeding again. Things went quite well for several trips around the field and I felt I was a great little helper. Then disaster struck. My glove caught in the machinery and fed the middle finger of my left hand into the meshed gears like it was going into a meat grinder. I let out a yell and the big wooden wheel began sliding rather that turning because my glove and the bone in my finger had jammed the gears. Dad pulled on the reins and halted the horses. He levered the discs out of the ground and with some difficulty backed the team up to set me free.

Dad took my glove off. My hand looked a real mess. My middle finger wasn't bleeding that much but there was a bunch of skin hanging off to one side. The top joint had hardly any skin, just bone, broken and pointed off at a right angle at the first joint. There wasn't terribly much pain then; that would come later.

Dad picked me up and ran from the field, carrying me like a sack of feed under his arm. The trip, in the car, to the doctor's office, was swift. We lived only 2 miles from Harmony, where Doc Anderson's office was up a long flight of creaky oiled wood stairs above the drug store on Main Street. Doc had a white mustache and a goatee; of course I didn't know what a goatee was at the time. There was a very distinctive smell about the doctor's office; something I could detect yet today, even though I have never smelled the exact same odor elsewhere. It must have been a mixture of iodine, ether, sulfa and all the other things Doc crushed up with the mortar and pestle sitting on the only bare spot visible on his large roll top. It was piled high with clutter and he sat near it in a Captain’s Chair. Added to the clinical smell was the aroma of Velvet pipe tobacco and pipe smoke from one of Doc's curved, leprechaun type pipes; the kind where the stem bends down.

My finger turned brownish yellow and stung badly when Doc swabbed it off with Iodine. Then he cut off a swab of loose skin, wrapped my finger with a white gauze bandage and sent me home.

"Have him lay down and hold his hand up above his head when he gets home," he said. By the time I got home the pain was really cranking up; a throbbing pain that never seemed to quit. I cried out a lot during the night. I wasn't given any painkiller, not even aspirin, but my sister Amy Darlene stayed with me throughout the night. She kept the kerosene lamp lit and held my hand high when I became too weak to hold it up. And I was permitted to use the slop-jar rather than having to walk to the outhouse that night.

Two days later, the pain was even worse when Doc took the bandage off. There was a bare nerve devoid of skin on the side of my finger. The bandage, caked with blood, was stuck to the nerve. I'll never forget that bandage coming off. I didn't cry though. I endured this process four more times during the next two weeks.

Doc told my dad he "thought maybe I should have the finger amputated when I was fifteen."

I have only two other memories of 1935. Some months after Good Friday I recall dad running with me again. A group of red hens fluttered and scattered as we came by the chicken coop. I was bouncing about in his arms as we raced diagonally past the gray cement block granary, then he set me down on a dusty path in the driveway, jumped into the car and sped away. My memory is not clear about what happened next but I recall my Mother saying. "His dad died." That was Aug 2, 1935.

And later that year, on December 20th, I felt bewildered and lost as I warmed myself by the wood stove trying to comprehend the gravity of the fact that my sister Amy Darlene, who was nine, was in a coffin in the living room having died of a ruptured appendix.

I have since learned that my sister Ramona was born on March 27th 1935 and Grandma Armstrong had a stroke on April 24th.

Nineteen thirty-five was a year in the middle of the Great Depression. We were relatively poor as was everybody else we knew, and I'm not quite sure that we could pay our doctor bills or if we ever even got doctor bills. On Saturday nights when the family went to town we'd regularly leave a quart of cream and sometimes a dressed chicken or two on the porch at Doc's house.

I have often wondered how my parents came to terms with the magnitude of the events of 1935, and what effect it had on their personalities and the personalities of their children.

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