Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 1, 2003
Seeing the past
I always enjoyed hearing Dad and his brothers reminisce. I never tired of their stories of life during the Depression, World War II and the 1950s and '60s when we were kids. It seemed that no matter how many times I heard them, I always learned something new.
Mom and Aunt Edith's recollections of their growing-up years fascinate me in the same way. During Edith's recent stay with Mom, I learned that Grandpa and Grandma Mostrom's place was called the rosebush farm because of the many rosebushes lining its edges.
I probably wouldn't have discovered that if I hadn't asked Mom and Edith to draw a floor plan of the Marion Hill home they grew up in. That project was the most recent family history "assignment" I gave the sisters. Previous ones involved identifying old photographs and writing down the Swedish prayers and songs they knew as children.
I borrowed the floor plan idea from Charley Kempthorne, the local man who encourages people to write their family history. Charley helped the late Jessie Lee Brown Foveaux write the story of her life. The idea is that as people recall where items in their homes were located, they will also remember related things as well.
I thought it would be a good assignment for Mom and Edith - especially since their childhood home no longer exists.
The two of them couldn't agree on the exact size and shape of the house, which direction the interior doors opened, whether Grandma canned the goat meat they ate or hung it on the enclosed back porch in the winter to keep it frozen, or whether it was a rosebush or a honeysuckle vine that climbed along the pillars of the front porch.
But talking about the house and actually drawing it elicited many memories they could agree on:
*Their family had chickens, cows, pigs and goats. They sold the cows and pigs to pay the mortgage and used the goats for meat, milk, and goat cheese.
*Their Dad didn't bale hay, but piled it in the hay mow and stomped it down to make room for more.
*It was so cold in the winter that the family closed off the upstairs and the two front rooms. The two girls slept on cots on either side of their parents' brass bed.
*Their Mom made mulberry pies from the berries gleaned from the trees they had near the house.
*Traveling salesmen came with liniment, vanilla and magazines. Their parents would trade chickens or eggs or whatever they happened to have in exchange for those items.
*The first time Grandpa saw fireflies, he was scared of them, thinking they were little spirits. Nels had come from the northern part of Sweden where fireflies didn't exist. He had never seen them before and was amazed how they lit up in the fields at night.
As the sisters talked about where the wicker rocker, the cream separator, their mother's fainting couch and the windmill were located, I could "see" my grandparents' home and farm again - Grandma's oil paintings on the walls, the trumpet vines and grapevines along the picket fence, Grandpa lifting the plates on the big cast-iron kitchen stove to put corncobs in, the white owl in the barn, the doll dishes in the pantry, all of us sitting around the kitchen table.
I could see Grandpa and Grandma's faces, hear Grandpa's lilting Swedish accent, taste the oatmeal with cinnamon sugar and smell the lilacs.
And for a moment I felt like a child again.
After much discussion, Edla drew this floor plan of the house where she and Edith grew up.