Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 18, 2004

One red cent

Mom recently returned from Bolivia, where she spent nearly three months with my sister and family. It seems to be human nature after a long trip to reflect a bit, so I wasn't surprised by a comment she made during the trip from Kansas City to Manhattan.

"Just think," she said, "my Dad took me by horse and buggy to town when I was growing up. Now I've flown to Bolivia five times in a jet airplane."

We then talked about how much life has changed since she was born.

She grew up on a Kansas farm near White City during the Dust Bowl years. Mom's "Papa" Nels had emigrated from Sweden in 1909, living first in Colorado where he worked in a mine. He met Hulda, his "wife to be," whose parents were Swedes too. Mom's sister Edith was born in 1920 and Mom in 1924. About a year after Mom was born, the family moved to their Kansas farm. The crops were planted using horses and Nels shocked the wheat and oats by hand. "Mama" Hulda cooked on a wood stove, and conversation was as likely to be in Swedish as English.

The one mile to Mom's rural one-room grade school was usually covered by walking, but sometimes she hitched a ride on a neighbor's Shetland pony.

She grew up during the Depression, but she was too young to know times were hard. But the memory of a man on their road who begged the children for "one red cent" is a lasting one. Another man chopped wood in exchange for a meal and permission to sleep in their barn overnight.

In the summer of 1938, Mom started earning money by feeding and watering a neighbor's chickens and bringing the cows in for milking. She made 50 cents a week and by the end of the summer, had saved enough to buy a $5 white lace dress for her confirmation.

The high school was in Dwight. Papa took her by horse and buggy on Sundays so she could stay there and work for her room and board during the week.

After graduation, she attended Emporia State Teachers College. During that summer, she worked behind the steam tables in the dining area where 500 cadets were training during World War II. After a year and a summer of college classes, she obtained a teaching certificate and landed a job at Burns, where she met Dad. They married the year after the war ended.

Their farm home had no electricity or running water. They purchased an electric range, but couldn't use it until rural electrification came along a year or two later. They raised chickens, cattle, wheat, milo, vegetables, several dogs, a bunch of cats and three kids. To make ends meet, Mom drove a school bus for awhile and then Dad did later.

Mom went back to teaching when we kids were old enough for school. That first year, she and another teacher taught all eight grades in a small school south of Burns. The following year, Mom taught all the students by herself. By the time she retired, she had taught a total of 31 years.

During her lifetime she witnessed:

*The virtual elimination of once-common diseases such as polio and tuberculosis as well as the introduction of antibiotics, organ transplants, heart surgery and genetic engineering;

*Commercial radio, television and the Internet become common household companions;

*Assembly-line automobile production, commercial airlines, and space flight;

*The rise of Fascism, the Holocaust it created and the fall of the Third Reich, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Gulf War and the war in Iraq as well as the demise of communism; and

*The introduction of Wheaties, the Barbie doll and Beanie Babies;

Today is Mom's birthday. She turns 80. If her doorbell rings, it won't be a man asking for a penny or whether she has any odd jobs he can do in return for a meal and a place to sleep. So while she wouldn't mind being younger, she knows that these are the "good ol' days." Happy birthday, Mom!

Left, Hulda and Nels with their daughters Edith, standing, and Edla, outside their farm home near White City, Kansas in the 1920s. Right, Mariya and Katie with Mom on her 80th birthday.

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