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More Notes from a country kitchen - 8/15/11


Fri, Aug 12th, 2011
Posted in Columnists

When my dad was a young man he worked at the Tree Nursery in Canton, MN. He became friends with a co-worker named Harvey Russell. Harvey was unable to drive so his wife, Hazel, brought him to work and picked him up every day.

After some visiting together they worked out a deal. In exchange for room and board, dad would take Harvey to work with him every day and do some odd jobs around their place. This deal worked out very well, and eventually when mom and dad got married and had children, Harvey & Hazel were still a very important part of our lives. We thought of them as an extra set of grandparents. Harvey eventually became ill and was bedridden. He died when I was just a young girl. We still spent a lot of time with Hazel. She lived a couple of miles south of Canton and we would ride our bikes out to her place in the summer or spend weekends with her whenever we could.

Her place was pretty rustic but we didn't care at all! We thought she had the coolest outhouse as it had a white porcelain seat on each hole with a lid! And sometimes she had actual toilet paper instead of the usual catalogs! She didn't have running water but there was a small pump in the kitchen where you could pump the coldest, best tasting water around! When we needed hot water we would fill a big kettle and put it on the wood burning cook stove. In the summer she would fill an old metal tub outside under the big pump and then leave the tub sit in the sun all day. By nightfall we would climb in and take a nice warm bath! Naturally, the cleanest kid took the first bath and the dirtiest kid got the last bath (that was usually my brother, Allan)!! Every once in awhile she would give us a bottle of pop. For some reason, the only two kinds she ever bought were Fresca and Tab! We never said anything - just drank it with ice and sometimes a straw! (Straws were cool back then.) She had an old lawn mower where you wrapped a length of rope around the starter and gave it a hard pull. It might take three or four pulls but finally the mower would kick in. We had to stay on the front porch so that no flying grass or rock could hit us. We always begged to mow, so when she got to a nice flat piece of lawn she would let us kids take a turn pushing the mower around a lap or two. She never left our sides but we thought it was great fun pushing that big ole mower!! Sometimes for supper she would take us to the root beer stand in Harmony where we got a hamburger and we shared some French fries and each got a nickel root beer.

She had an old car that had a starter on the left side of the floor. It had a clutch and you had to shift gears on the column. We usually cruised down the highway at about 35 or 40 miles an hour. The really best part of the day was bedtime!!!

Hazel would put 6 of her wooden dining room chairs together - seats touching seats. Then she threw an old feather mattress on the chair seats, a couple pillows and a blanket or two. Then in we would crawl. We thought that was the neatest bed in the world!! Sometimes if we were good we got to go into the "living room" (reserved for special guests) and play her old victrola. The records were about 1/3 inch thick and after we put them on the turn table we would crank the machine up. It would make it through about half the record and then we had to start cranking again. Eventually Hazel got a small black & white TV and then we watched whatever channels she could get on that particular day. The TV had rabbit ears so we didn't always get the best reception. I remember her twisting and turning those things and even adding some aluminum foil to the ends. We liked "To tell the Truth", "I've got a Secret", Red Skelton, and Jack Benny. There were some good shows back then! Harvey & Hazel are buried south of Canton at the Elliota Cemetery. If any of you ever get the chance, check that cemetery out. It was located on the old stage coach run and there are several tombstones/markers of unnamed people who died on the stage coach and were buried there.

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