ElkFarm Stories

A Daily Dose of Writing

Category: Stories (page 1 of 2)

Lilly and Her Absent Dad

Lilly earlier this summer. She loves this photo and has it on the wall in her room. We don’t have a good picture of her at the dance recital.

She raised her chin when her father came into the auditorium, and we could tell she perked up when she saw him. He hadn’t visited  her for over 6 months, and his presence surprised us. We weren’t sure what to make of it. He sat in the back, he applauded when her dance group finished and then caught our eye and waved. There were more performances. Lilly did well in them as she did in the others, but we all were on edge.

At the end, the applause filled the room, and everyone stood;  we looked back to where Doug had been sitting. Gone.

Masked Raiders in Our Yard

You can see that they aren’t newborns, they’re full sized, mature adult raccoons.

The other day we woke to find the pole holding the birdfeed container, found it doubled over and broken. We figured bear, raccoon, pack of chipmunks, a whole lot of birds, or a swamp monster because we are near a swampy area. And here are the results.

Clearly a couple of big ones, enjoying the seeds of their labor.

 

Good Morning, Miss Dove

 

 

My family attended this movie at the Amery Theater in the mid-1950s, and I remember some of the images and scenes to this day. My mom had taught in one room schools during the Depression years, and she thought this movie would be fun for our entire family, all four of us.
Think of the strictest teacher you ever had, then add more strictness. Think of the Queen of England teaching a class and how that might turn out. Below is a description of her character and firm will among grade school kids, first through fifth grades. I’ve paraphrased the author’s words below, helping the reader get a sense of the regal Miss Dove.


On this school morning, in home-rooms the kids gauged the various moods of various teachers. When it came to Miss Dove, however, they dropped their speculation for one good reason: Miss Dove had no moods. Miss Dove was a certainty. She would be today what she had been yesterday and would be tomorrow. And so, within limits, would the students. Single file they entered her room, each greeting her with, “Good morning, Miss Dove,” and in turn she’d look directly at each and greet them with “good morning” along with their name. No informality in this classroom, and the kids would go to their appointed desks while Miss Dove stepped up on the platform that held her desk. The day’s lesson would begin.

Without giving away the story, the stoic and independent school marm develops a physical ailment which means she has to lower herself and ask for help and understanding from the community. In reading this book again, I have to say that author Patton nailed the teaching/ student dynamic. She either interviewed a number of teachers or she taught elementary school for several years.

 

The Boy with the Green Hair

This movie released in 1948 stood out because of its title, and at this time green hair wasn’t a statement or a defying of authority. In 2nd or 3rd grade our entire class walked the two blocks from the Amery Elementary School to the Amery Theater on Keller Avenue, all to watch this strange tale. At the time I couldn’t figure out the message, but I know it stuck in my mind because of little Dean Stockwell at one point washed his hair with green soap. The resulting neon green can be seen in the accompanying photos. Self conscious, of course, he met with admiration from some of the girls walking by his house but later the boy bullies and adults made him feel foolish. This story was tied in with the large number of orphans that resulted from the 2nd World War, and no one having a solution to help them.

Just last week I checked this out from our Nekoosa Library, ordering it from the Wisconsin library sharing program that works so well. Again I watched it, and after viewing I still couldn’t figure out the film’s message. And I’m not sure if our elementary teachers thought we’d pull a good message out of it. If you watch this, please write and help me with the underlying theme. It’s a fun movie, and I enjoyed the 2nd viewing of it these 60 years later.

 

Norwegians at the Blalock

During the years of the First World War the mansion became a medical hospital, and it became important when the worldwide flu epidemic struck. The years of the Blalock Asylum were over in 1915.

In late 1918 Turid and her mother Solveig knocked on the door at the Blalock and nursing staff welcomed them, but when asked questions neither could answer because they spoke Norwegian only. From the looks of Turid, though, she showed symptoms of the flu that ravished the US and the world at that time. The staff brought them in and gave them an area on the first floor, Turid being too weak to climb the stairs. Her mother slept nearby. Despite the nurturing and comforting care Solveig provided, Turid took a turn for the worse and died a week into January of the new year, 1919.

Solveig continued to work at the Blalock as a volunteer, slowly learning English and living at the mansion. No one knows what Solveig did with the body, the employees discovering one morning that Turid had disappeared. The best guess was that her mother took her into the massive basement and buried her body in the dirt floor somewhere.

Here’s the strange part. Solveig stayed with the medical building for nearly 5 years, and every month at the date of Turid’s death, for a time the above scene would be seen. They’d speak to each other in Norwegian but wouldn’t touch, and soon Solveig would be alone again for another month.

 

 

7th Street Port Edwards, the Blalock Mansion

My wife Marilyn and I moved to this neighborhood a year ago in April. Wonderful atmosphere and wooded area in back of our house that makes us feel like we’re living in a forest. We’ve met many of the neighbors but not all of them. When I ask about that mythical mansion within a stone’s throw from them, most plead ignorance.

In studying the background of the Blalock and the various roles it’s played for the citizens of this area and the county of Wood, I came up with a list of names of administrators, residents, orphans, and others involved in this imagined mansion. It turns out that many of the names of my current neighbors coincide with the names going back 130 years. Could there be a connection?

This will take more work and study. For the time being, I’d like to show you the neighborhood and the region of the fictive and stately manor.

The lot and foundation of the Blalock can be viewed across our front lawn, in the distance, on the other side of the red car upper center.

Here’s that stately estate, a painting that shows its declining years. At one time a family home, an asylum, a medical facility, a home for the Lepers for the Lord and other fringe groups, an orphanage, and finally an apartment for transients.

My project will be sharing stories from this palace and letting you get to know the characters who stepped into the mansion.

Also, I’m going to link the stories I’ve already written so far in this blog about the Blalock so you can read what I’ve written already. Be patient, I’m working on it.  Loren Elkin

 

 

Cancer then Critters

Alone at Culvers in Waupaca, the older woman ate her meal surrounded by cheerful families and groups . She appeared serious, even glum on this holiday Sunday but nothing else.

As she struggled to get up while holding her tray, I asked if I could help her. She appreciated it, standing up while I dumped the trash in the nearest bin.

Knowing not to ask the trite question “how are you”, I instead asked what she had planned for the rest of that day.

Almost as if she was primed for answering me, she opened up. “Just got through with cancer treatment so I’m back home now. All that’s behind me.” Not whining nor complaining, just matter of fact.

“Then I go home after weeks away and find something’s been digging out under my shed. Thought it was a groundhog, but it wasn’t.”

I had a guess but kept my mouth shut and listened.

“Come to find out there’s a mother with little babies.” Pause. “Skunks.”

In my mind I pictured four mini- football shaped black and white kits following mama skunk around the yard. Pictures are all I’ve seen of little skunks, never in person.

“Not sure what to do, don’t want them to spray.” She thought and then mentioned a live trap but knew that probably wouldn’t end well.

Little advice from me except to suggest she ask around her village of Wild Rose. “Call farmers, call friends,” I suggested. “They’ll have some worthwhile ideas.”

Wonderful lady, I wished her well as we went our separate ways. Cancer over, now critters to deal with.

 

Ezmirelda at the Blalock

This miniature human came to the Blalock family when the mansion was first built, the doll of 6 year old Robyn Blalock. Unfortunately this little daughter of the original family died of cholera in the early 1890s. Ezmirelda had her own room in a special area under the main floor staircase, and she remained there through the asylum years, the medical facility years, and the orphanage. When the Blalock was torn down, one of the workmen took possession of the little lady. Over the years some claimed that she brought luck, others not so much. More as additional information is learned and the workman / owner is found.

A Pesky Little Mirror


The mountaineer found a small mirror, the first he had ever seen. He looked into it with surprise and exclaimed, “What? It’s a pitcher of me old pappy.”
Feeling sentimental, he hid the mirror under the bed. His wife saw him hiding it, and when he left the house, she took out the mirror. Looking at it, she snorted, “So that’s the old hag he’s been chasin’.”

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A simpler version of this story has a primitive man looking into a pool of water, surprised by what he saw. He went home and told his wife that while he was at the pond today he saw the face of his father staring back at him.

 

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

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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.

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.

 

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.

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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.

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.

 

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.

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