ElkFarm Stories

A Daily Dose of Writing

Hunger and Desperation

While touring Oslo, I visited Norway’s National Museum of Art several times. “The Scream” and other paintings by Edvard Munch have their own room on the 2nd floor.

The first time at the gallery the above painting grabbed my attention and my imagination. Not sure which artist painted this nor do I know the time period it depicts or its title. What I do know is that it’s not a settling, calming painting. The artist projects the city, hunger, cold, and uncertainty. There’s a section of Oslo’s main street, Karl Johan’s Gate,  that looks like this area. Also, in looking at it again I  notice that it’s women/ housewives competing for an allotment of milk. If you had asked me about it away from the painting, I recall a number of young people vying for a spot in line. It appears the young here are marginal and frustrated in this hectic scene.


Letter 1 to Madison

Grandma Elfie writing at her favorite table in the dining room next to the window that looks out on the barn and driveway. Bob Artley drawing

Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.

Lord Byron


My dearest Madison,

Sorry I haven’t written for awhile, I have no excuse. I’ve been very busy but should never be too busy to write to you. First, I’m so proud that you’ve just finished one year of college, that is an accomplishment that few in our family have done. Your Grandpa Leonard attended ag school in Madison for a short time but never thought of any more college. My story, you know, was to get out working in Marshfield right after high school and taking a few night classes.

I’ve had a fun spring, one filled with much fellowship with friends from church. I’m not sure what I would have done without them. They came out to my place right from the beginning, and made sure I didn’t get too down in the mouth. Leonard passing right after Thanksgiving meant getting through the winter on the farm, but I don’t know what I’d do without neighbors and those friends. More on that later when I see you.

Glad to hear you’re working at the grocery store. I’m guessing you make a patient and friendly check-out clerk. The ladies here at the IGA are so fun to talk to, it’s like a meeting of old friends when I go grocery shopping. And just lately I’ve worked a few hours each day at the Thirsty Bookworm on the corner right across from the gazebo. Dan needs help cleaning and sorting through books as they come in.

No word yet from your mother about romances in your life. And you won’t tell me either, would you Sweetie. I’ve continued to see my new friend Fred a little, and we sit together at church. Sometimes a group of us goes out after church for Sunday dinner. This summer I might meet one of his sons.

Enough, Madison. Just wanted to tell you I’m getting along, limping along some days and skipping on other days. Give me a call some evening, I’m up until 9:30 on most nights. Let’s plan on you coming up for an overnighter or two this summer, just like old times.

Grandma Elfie


Parker’s Summer Adventures

St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Bloomer, Wisconsin.

Some of you who have followed my writings me may recall my reference to a boy named Parker, Prince of Bloomer. His life to come is one of my fictional ramblings, and on this post he’ll be the 4th grader just freed from school for the summer. Along with his friend Wally Schemenauer, they have the world at their beckoning in this city south of New Auburn. Wally’s dad had a key to the towers at the Catholic church in Bloomer, mainly the entryway to north tower. Now they have the key. The steeples shown here loom high above the city and the area farms, and the boys’ refuge and “campground” in this warm season is the highest steeple, on the left.

Carrying backpacks filled with necessities to be listed later, they made secret trips to the steeple. Often entering when no one watched, sometimes after dark, they set up their little hideaway 60 feet above the main street. From this perch they’d view the business section of Bloomer and some of the area homes. They haven’t said this to each other, but openings for summer adventures and mysteries loom ahead for the young lads. More to come.

The Power of Writing


A small drop of ink produces that which makes thousands think.

Lord Byron


String Music at the Blalock Asylum

Music was thought to heal those who made their way to the Blalock, and music lessons by beings from another world were common and accepted. Here beautiful Wendy, who came as a depressed and isolated lady after the death of her beloved mother, takes her first lesson from Beth Adrienne. Only coming out at night, Beth Adrienne was one of the best cello teachers and music interpreters that the Blalock had.

Music at this time of night calmed the members of the asylum, citizens and staff alike. Cassie and Wayne, photo below, worked on the grounds and cleaned the hallways, but the music lulled nearly all into a blessed night’s sleep. More later on the development and growth of Wendy as resident cellist.

And Beth Adrienne? She’s still alive and working her magic at some of the country’s best schools for orchestra, teaching all manner of stringed instruments.

Caretakers Cassie and Wayne. See earlier story about them.


Tribute to a Great Father


My dad wasn’t a great communicator, wasn’t outwardly affectionate, and wasn’t a person who did a lot with me as a kid.

On that cold dark November evening as I drove to the hospital the night he died, I thought about my relationship with him and what he meant to me. Trite but true. “I didn’t know what I had until he was gone,” which summed up my feelings then and on to this day.

One thing my dad HAD, if I can label it that way was: He Was There. He was around. He and my mom attended my football and basketball games, he attended church with me and came for the church programs. We ice fished a few times, we went to Amery on winter Saturday mornings to deliver eggs and get feed. A couple times we went to the Andersen Corporation summer picnic. Oh, yeah,  a couple Sundays in the summer we ushered together at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. And after Dad died my mom told me that one of the few times she saw him weep was when he watched my confirmation in that church.

He worked hard, he didn’t have a temper, and he presented himself to me as a solid, moral person. What more can I expect or ask for, a wonderful example.

The photo above shows us standing in one of the harbors / villages in Door County, maybe Sister Bay or Ephriam. My wife told us to stand over there, in front of those boats, and in hindsight the background was great. This is the closest we came to hugging, but I remember a firm handshake after graduating from UW-Superior after the ceremony. My dad, Harold Elkin. What more could I ask for.

Lester the De-Stressor

When life gets hectic and worries pile up, take time to relax, take a break, and look at little Lester. Intelligent and studious for a dog, but he takes himself too seriously. Few friends, but that doesn’t bother him. He operates best when alone.

And best of all for us, he doesn’t realize how unique he appears to humans.


Contented Cows that Understand Norwegian


Norwegian reds on the farm of our cousins on Fjelberg Island on the west coast of Norway. The law requires that cattle are outside at least 50 days in the summer, no kidding. Feed comes in on a ferry, and soon they’ll begin chopping grass/hay and shooting it into their 2 silos. The Nordhus Farm.

Them there’s mountains in the background on a neighboring island,  a beeeyoutiful setting.

The Red Badge of Courage . . . . the setting

Photo from the encampment of the Union Army before the Battle of Chancellorsville, the conflict Stephen Crane uses in his 1895 novel, The Red Badge of Courage.

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the roads, which were growing from long troughs of liquid mud to proper thoroughfares. A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army’s feet; and at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eye-like gleam of hostile campfires set in the low brows of distant hills.


Crane wrote this Civil War novel after interviewing soldiers who had fought in this battle and reading accounts from other sources. It’s the story of young Henry who deals with the confusion and fear of fighting the Confederates in this 1863 Virginia battle.

Our Tuesday Morning

This painting hangs in the Norwegian Naitonal Gallery in Oslo. The somber tone struck me from the first time I saw it.

So, after reading Revelations once again, I asked wife Bente what she wanted to do.

She said, “Well, it is Tuesday, you know.”

“Oh, yeah. Taco Tuesday. Should we go together or do you want me to pick up a few and bring them home?”

“Let’s read Leviticus and then I’ll decide, depends on how I feel.”

“It can’t get any better than this. can it.”

Bits and Pieces of Wisdom and Humor 1

Doesn’t this guy have friends who can tell him how a cap is supposed to work?

Occasionally I’ll assemble a few observations and humorous events, and sometimes I’ll include trivia and unique facts.

My check engine light came on, and of course I was in Madison, 100 miles away from home when I spotted the little sign. Check engine, that doesn’t sound too difficult. At a gas station I opened the hood over the engine, looked in there, even yelled to it that I was checking it, and closed the hood. Got in, and the little engine light was still on. Didn’t know what else I could do.

My Cousin Jimmy refused to go to Hooters. Apparently he doesn’t know the appeal of Hooters, but he’s got a off-kilter belief that they serve owl meat. He said he had enough of that as a kid and doesn’t want to go near it anymore.

My neighbor Erv thought he knew a lot, but it was just the opposite. Another neighbor went to the hospital and had a heart operation, a triple bypass. Erv thought the surgeons and the hospital pulled a scam on the neighbor. “Look here. The blood goes into the heart and it comes out of the heart.” He lets that sink in as he’s telling me, “And how can someone have a triple bypass if blood only goes in or out.” Not sure what his concept of bypass was, but he thought he had this one figured out.

The little student devil Carl, shown a couple posts ago, thought he had a solution for his teacher’s bad breath. He arrived one morning with a package packed within a towel. He told the teacher he made popsicles for her. The little trickster didn’t make normal popsicles, he made some that contained Listerine in hopes that she’d use them as well as get the hint.

In Amery, a parent met up with her child’s teacher at Dick’s Market south of town. The teacher told Rhonda that her daughter had a unique message the other day. The students were asked to go home and ask what country their grandparents and great grandparents had come from. Little Beth told the teacher that she thinks her parents told her that they were Scotch. When the teacher asked if they were anything else, she thought for awhile, not sure what to say, but eventually told her: “I think the other part is whiskey.” The teacher won’t forget that one.

Emily, a Most Peculiar Woman

Just finding out about Emily who was both a resident/ citizen and a staff member at the Blalock Asylum from 1905 through 1912. She suffered from depression, sometimes called melancholia, and moodiness which today might be a sign of bipolar tendencies. As I find out more about her, I’ll fill it in. She was a lovely and statuesque woman, and was bedridden the day of the Blalock group photo you’ve seen earlier in this blog. Her last name was Litella, and coincidently the name of a character on Saturday Night Live.

At six foot nine inches, she stood out from the rest of the people at the Blalock, and her specialty on cleaning Saturdays was wiping the lighting fixtures. She didn’t need a chair or stepladder. She also could sing like an angel, and with her size she would amplify greatly. Often the people in the neighborhood and those walking by the Blalock heard that sweet music coming from behind that fence.


Letter from Norway: August 1895

Mountainside of my Grandpa Ole Larson south of Olen on the west coast of Norway. Note red barn in the distance; my grandpa lived just this side of it, the white building in this photo taken in 2014.

This letter was sent to my Grandpa Ole Larson from his father in August of 1895. Ole and Julia Larson farmed north of Amery, WI. Often weather and general greetings took up in the first paragraph, but it gets a little tawdry later in the letter. This is the 3rd letter I’ve posted, but that’ll be it for awhile. I hope you get a sense of what is important to those Norwegians and a little about their daily lives.

Dear son Ole,
We have received two welcome letters from you and it is to our happiness that we can receive these letters from you, and I greet you with thanks for both letters. We are glad that you have your health and that makes for great goodness. We live basically the same as before. I have been a bit better than last summer so I have traveled with salmon fishermen but have been on my own for about every third week. But the fishing is not worth while now.
Father and mother are pretty well. Mother is not as quick as she would like to be but she knits and usually works more than she should, and since Petra left she has many large and small tasks.
(He describes the haying season as rainy, poor for drying hay)
We had a letter about four weeks ago from Helene and they are well. During Pentecost Kristian and Petra visited us for eight days. This spring Borgella Stumaa died and Father and Mother went to the funeral. Lakareas Viland was very unlucky in that he fell down from a cherry tree at Lobaken and broke his collarbone and hit himself so bad that he had to be carried in, so people had to help him. It was at a very inconvenient time for him as it is haying time.

Next section is mildly R rated; proceed cautiously.

Continue reading

Quilting Kari at the Blalock Mansion

Kari Steinmetz arrived from Germany under tragic circumstances. Just after 1900 she set out from Hamburg for the United States with her husband and 3 children. Unfortunately cholera hit the vessel, hit it hard, and only she was left to fend for herself. She found her way to central Wisconsin and Port Edwards because of distant relatives nearby, but she lived a solitary life. Living as she did, she made up her mind to live a life of giving. Knowing people from the Blalock Asylum through church contacts, she convinced the head of the asylum to provide her with room and board, and in return she’d make quilts for the citizens and to sell to raise money. People all over the village brought material and sewing thread for her efforts.

And there she lived and worked through all the phases of the Blalock, making it to the mid-30s when the Blalock was an orphanage. No gentler soul could be found anywhere on 7th Street or in Central Wisconsin.

Female Veterinarian in Amery

Another unique sign I found on the internet somewhere. Not in Amery that I know of.

Growing up in Amery, we were used to the variety of doctors and other professionals that we saw nearly every day.

One veterinarian, Shirley Carver, ran a small and large animal practice, but she had another business on the side. One of her hobbies was taxidermy. She’d make anything from a mouse or rabbit to a dairy cow look as realistic as the day the animal died. People laughed about the Carver name, but she got used to the teasing. She had Mary Lou design a sign for her front yard where she lived east of Amery. The sign read:

Veterinary Services and Taxidermy–Bring in your cat or dog, and either way you get to bring it home.



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