ElkFarm Stories

A Daily Dose of Writing

Month: May 2017 (page 1 of 3)

The Perfect Pie Crust

It’s not often that I put a complete picture and text in like this, but I’ll make an  exception here. The wisdom learned in the kitchen of beloved relatives, and the secrets that go with it, create wonderful memories of great times together.

Residents at the Blalock Asylum

Finally I found this 1910 photo  that shows everyone who was in the Blalock Asylum in Port Edwards at that time. Keep in mind this is a mixture of staff and citizens, sometimes hard to tell the difference. The couple in the middle, they’re not the directors. The couple standing behind them are the ones in charge. And the older lady to the left, she’s the prankster who pokes people in the eye when they look through the hole in the fence. Innocent looking but the sparkplug behind most of the shenanigans that take place at the Blalock. Judith, never Judy. Just call her Judith. More to come about this unique collection of personalities.

A Time of Great Anticipation

The end of May and the beginning of June, a time filled with optimism and high hopes. For us in the United States, the Memorial weekend kicks off the summer season. Scenes like this lift the spirits of officeworkers and any other workers who can only weekend at the lake, or at the cabin, or at the lake cabin. Summer doesn’t begin on the solstice on the 21st of June, it begins three weeks earlier.

As a teacher, let me tell you a big secret, schoolkids: Teachers looked forward to summer as much or more than you do or did. Staying in the teaching profession after the 17 years of schooling, the summer break continued to be routine for me, a joyful routine. For people in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and maybe Michigan and New York, the summer breaks and weekends meant going “UP North” or as  locally stated, UP Nort. For other states, my guess it they’d head somewhere that became synonymous with getting  away and enjoying the ease of leisure. As my nephew reflected on this when he told me that putting the dock in by the cabin is great fun, a signal that the warm season is ahead. Fall and taking the dock in, not such a wonderful feeling.

In addition, a time of family reunions and celebrations.

The end of May, a time of great anticipation.

Stay Active, Stay Healthy

The people in these photos are going along for the ride, but we can bet that they’re enjoying it to the fullest. Matters not what season of the year it is.


Consumption Hits the Blalock Mansion

Deathly illness at the Blalock Mansion in the mid-1890s. The family had enjoyed the mansion for nearly 10 years, but divorce, infighting, and petty jealousies made the house especially cold and hostile.
Rebekkah Blalock hung in there even though husband Frederick was gone on business more than he was at home. Becky and only daughter Barbara seemed to fight the world, together. Barbara came down with TB, and the doctor said he couldn’t do much for her. Just keep her comfortable, help her cough up what she can, and keep “pouring soup into her.” Lots of chickens lost their lives in their fight against this prolonged illness, and you can see soup on the small wood stove. The two of them took over one large downstairs bedroom, closing it off from the rest of the mansion. Tuberculosis spreads quickly and easily, and they wanted to seal themselves off to fight this together.

One remedy for consumption, as it was often called,  had sick patients sleep outside on cold nights, covered with mounds of quilts,  hoping the cold air breathed in would neutralize the nasty germs. Becky hadn’t tried that yet and was not sure she wanted to. More on this later.


The Blalock Orphanage

Once the Great Depression began, a number of orphaned children showed up at the Blalock Mansion. The Wood County Orphanage,  one of the larger ones, at one point held almost 40 children ages under one to 16. Girls and boys on different floors, staffed by public employees as well as one nurse present at all times. The groundskeeper Clint Miller acted as the resident grandpa, knowing all their names and even their temperaments.

Here Jane and Marv pose for a photo 3 months after they arrived, and here they are ready to go out into the local community with parent sponsors. They’d take them for the day, often a Saturday or Sunday.

When a grieving mother dropped them off in March, placing them at the door, ringing the doorbell, and running away, the kids didn’t cry. Confused and cold, they hurried into the wood heated entryway to the welcoming arms of Mrs. Wheeler. They came skinny, but as you can see in the photo they’re plump and healthy looking. More about them  later as they grow up and later move on from the orphanage.


The Amery Homefront, World War II

Victory Gardens were common; this is a file photo, not from Amery.

German soldiers arriving on the Soo Line Railroad, getting off at the Amery Depot and taking over the city. What was that? It was the nightmare of a young teen living in Amery during World War 2.
Barbara Burman, now Barbara Preble living in Prospect Heights, Illinois, sent two pages of typed notes to me, filled with WW II Amery memories. And what readings those pages were, sharing feelings, sights, and key Amery locations from 75 years earlier. She’s the daughter of the late John Burman.
On the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, Barbara and her family had been dining with relatives in St. Paul. After the initial news, she remembers parking within sight of the Mississippi River and listening to further reports on their car radio.
Throughout the war, posters that inspired and warned were seen all over Amery. “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, “I Want You” from Uncle Sam, and “Remember Pearl Harbor”. “Buy War Bonds” was also a common appeal.
Visible reminders to her of the war effort were victory gardens, coupons for food and goods, and foil collection for the government. An aunt with a certain type of hair had it cut, to be donated it to the government to make parachutes.

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Job Safety Is Nearly Number 1

Rick and Tom work together, go out together, and at times don’t go out together by watching MMA fights on TV at Tom’s house. Their talk is most often about feeling sorry for the ladies of the Amery area who, too bad,  aren’t going out with them.

Today the two proudly declared that they have gone almost 24 hours without a workplace accident, and the one yesterday was almost not bad enough to go to the emergency room, but they did. Tom swallowed a few of those little nails, holding them in his mouth while nailing trim, and  laughing uproariously. He saw the look on Rick’s face when he  fell down an opening to the basement. But they’re okay today.

Good workers, though, always showing up and always willing to get the job done quickly and semi-safely. Rick is a swimmer so he gets to do all the underwater tasks.


Here Comes Gary

Elaine, look over there. Isn’t that Gary? Yes. Oh, I hope I hope he comes past us.  He’s such a hunk. And he’s got such cute eyes. Once he talked to me, once he said my name. No one can say BETH the way Gary can. Oh, he’s coming closer.

Sit up, sit back. Oh, Elaine, we both look so sexy sitting like this.  I’m going to lean back a little, I hope he sees my full figure. Back a little more.



Looking Back at Amery in the ’60s

This writing was a column in the Amery Free Press the week of May 15th, 2017. (Amery Wisconsin, Polk County)

“I am going to remember Amery and some of the lingering memories of a Wisconsin community that is the epitome of small town Americana.” This from Jack Harkness, AHS class of 66, Navy veteran, later high school history teacher living in Washington state. In fact he told me on more than one occasion that he used the Amery experience to connect with his class, telling them about the idea of community.
Jack wrote to me a couple years ago with an overall view of the good of Amery and followed that with memories from each of the four seasons. His recollections covered a broad variety of Amery events such as living on Arch Street with natural playgrounds galore in the undeveloped lots. And proximity to the Catholic Church made his mother happy.
The Harkness family moved from Cumberland in the late 50s, his father heading the Land O’ Lakes at the Amery Super Locker Company. Jack’s mother was a nurse at the Amery Hospital.
Memories from Jack include riding bikes or walking everywhere, everything seemed accessible. One New Years Eve party at his place had many of us later walking the streets in search of other parties, and ending up on Broadway on the east side.
He liked the idea that all the school levels were in one building, and that the city was bordered by woods, the Apple River, and the three lakes. In no time at all a person could bike to the surrounding farmland and country.

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Unique Children at the Blalock Orphanage


The children taken in during the Depression years at the Blalock Orphanage in Port Edwards were a bit like that Peregrine lady’s kids you might have read about and seen in a recent movie. Peculiar might be a fitting description. Here most of the kids didn’t fear the beasts and creatures, they welcomed them and made them feel accepted. Little Wally often read a book to the ackdorack (flying one) in order for the creature to fall back to sleep under Wally’s bed. When the orphanage began, it was the creatures under the beds who feared the humans. More on that later.

The Elkins at Ellis Island

Several years ago on a tour of New York City, one of the side trips was a ferry to Liberty Island (Statue of Liberty) and Ellis Island. It was here that we decided to spring for a portrait. We didn’t have to put on any prop clothes, we simply were told to look toward the camera and also to look serious. We stared at the lens, we remained serious, and it took awhile so by the time the flash happened, I was super serious. In fact I had my angry teacher face that in my teaching days I’d only use a few times each school year.

This is the result. I’m not sure what country’s clothing this is, but we were pleased with the results. When I show this, I tell people that this is the day we were married or this is our reaction after winning the lottery.

Daisy and the Grandsons

When our grandsons stayed overnight, we’d pull out the sleeper bed and they’d have warmth and quiet privacy. But Daisy knew that morning meant they’d soon be waking up. Here she’s next to Nicholas, looking for signs of life. Almost like kids on Christmas morning wanting their parents to get moving. Daisy wasn’t overbearing, but she merely let the grandsons know that when they were ready to pet her, she’d be available.


Dandelion Wine: Summer Begins

Douglas stayed at the home of his grandparents on the most delightful day for a kid: the first day of summer vacation. His bedroom is high center right, third floor, where he could survey the town.

Dandelion Wine, a 1957 novel by Ray Bradbury, related some of his summer memories as a kid in Waukegan, Illinois. A little fantasy in the stories, and often each chapter in this book may be read as a separate story. One of the scariest stories ever, for me, deals with a mysterious lonely one in the area.


It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.
Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its early-morning stream. Lying in his third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At night, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple. Now . . .
“Boy,” whispered Douglas.
A whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. Like the goddess Siva in the travel books, he saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers. He would freeze, gladly, in the hoarfrosted icehouse door. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, in Grandma’s kitchen.
But now—a familiar task awaited him.

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The Missing Kid

Another pranktical joke.

This popular story came out a few years ago, timely now as the school year winds down and practical jokes gear up.

In a high school with some clever pranksters, overnight students released goats into the hallways. When principals opened the doors that Friday, SURPRISE.  Small goats, with numbers painted on their sides, ran scared, slipping on the shiny tile floors to avoid capture.

The chase took over 15 minutes, and after capture the office people and teachers locked the goats into a storeroom. The idea was to remove them from sight before the students arrived. Of course if you know goats like I know goats, nothing could keep them quiet, blathering away. Also, the story was the buzz among the students. The day wasn’t ordinary.

They found three goats, numbers 1, 2, and 4. But the administration spent the rest of the day searching for number 3.  Never found. Why? Number 3 goat didn’t exist.

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