On April 12, 1910, Olaf married Annie Veeder on April 12, 1910 in Unity Township, Stearns County. They each homesteaded 80 acres, together constituting a quarter section. Their land was adjacent to that of Annie’s father, Herbert Veeder, in Johnson Corners, McKensie County, North Dakota. Four children were born to them in North Dakota. Hattie ‘Gladys’ Sorenson was born on July 19, 1914, the 3rd of five children.
Elsie, Geolina and Gladys were all born on the homestead. Gladys remembers that as a child, she and Geolina slept together. She remembers being yelled at to “be quiet” by Dad, when she and Geolina had the giggles. Gilman slept in the box, which was shoved under the bed of his parents. He was comfortably nestled in soft blankets. Although North Dakota is known for its rich prairies and ample wheat harvest, luck was not with Olaf and Annie. Bad weather caused a series of failed crops, and they were forced to sell the livestock and machinery to Annie’s father, Herbert Veeder. After selling the house, the family moved to a sod shack, where Gilman was born. Weather in North Dakota was often harsh and unpredictable. On February 14, 1914, the temperature hit a low of 33 degrees below 0. With the onset of a western ‘Chinook’ wind, the thermometer topped 50 degrees F that same afternoon!
Shortly thereafter, Olaf left for Little Sauk, Minnesota, and was followed by Annie and the four small children in November of 1919. Olaf moved with the knowledge that a job awaited him at the Lystad sawmill, sawing lumber and making barrel staves. During this relatively prosperous time, Gladys recalls a Fourth of July picnic at nearby Cedar Lake. The family, owning neither horse nor car, walked the mile down to the lake. Annie made sandwiches for the family. Olaf had mixed up a gallon of lemonade. While the family was doing better financially at this time, they still could not afford the cost of sugar which might have made the sour mixture palatable (Grandma’s face still puckers up at the memory of that drink, nearly 75 years later!)
In November of 1921, the children were stricken with scarlet fever. Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that has largely abated with the introduction of antibiotic therapy. At that time, however, penicillin did not exist. The family was strictly quarantined for three months, during which time friends brought food and other provisions to use. Although they benefited from the visits of a local doctor and nurse, they were basically on their own, without antibiotics, intravenous fluids or any other modern means of support.
Geolina was very ill, suffering convulsions, and was not expected to survive. To this day, she attributes her academic struggles in school to these same seizures. Elsie, the oldest, hardly seemed ill at all. However, she unexpectedly succumbed on Nov. 11th, 1921. With the recovery of Gladys and Geolina, their small shack was fumigated. Gilman, however, came down with the disease soon after. This extended their lengthy quarantine, at the end of which all of their possessions were fumigated and all paper, including photos and books, were burned. Grandma remembers searching through the ashes for her meager stash of pennies that had been tossed into the flames with everything else. There was nothing else left of hers. After the tragic loss of her oldest daughter, Annie wrote a letter to younger sister Hattie, and her husband, Paul Odermann in McKensie County, North Dakota. It speaks much of the simple, difficult life they lead, and the tragedy they experienced.
Jobs were scarce, and times were very hard. The family lived in a series of small houses in and about Little Sauk. Gladys recalls their home on the Lystad farm, with a pole set in the middle of the room. The children entertained themselves chasing one another about the pole. Olaf went to work building roads with a team of four horses and the scraper to move dirt. At harvest time, he rode the rails out to North Dakota and worked in the harvest fields until that was over. He once returned with about $150 in his pockets, which barely enabled the family to last winter. Even at this, he was forced to cut his own wood. Through the generosity of others, downed wood was made available to him. This was used to heat their modest dwelling and stoke the stove.
Gladys, at the age of 9, went to live on the Lystad farm. There, in exchange for help with the children, cooking and cleaning, she received free room and board. She lived there for two years.. Times were really bad. Gladys and Geolina remember one Christmas when they awoke to find some peanuts and a piece of candy in their Christmas stockings. That was the only candy they got that year. The family could not afford butter. Instead, they spread syrup or lard on their bread. Gardening was a necessity, not a hobby. When the kids were young, they made themselves useful at all types of odd jobs. Later, they left home and worked for little more than room and board.
In 1929, at the onset of the Great Depression, Gladys left home for good this time, moving in with her uncle Fred at the age of 15. When Olaf’s uncle, Fred Sorensen, had a barn built, Grandma cooked for all the carpenters. As the barn was receiving its final coat of paint, disaster struck. A tornado hit, leveling the structure, and strewing timber into the fields. The same tornado also destroyed Long Bridge Church, and turned the Rasmussen school about on its foundation. Although the barn was later rebuilt, Fred eventually was to lose the family homestead to the bank.
When Grandma was a child, there was little one had to entertain oneself in those days. The family did not own radio, and Olaf was unable to read. The children were often left to fend for themselves. Gilman would toss some twine around his older sisters and pretend to drive the horse. The neighborhood children would play ‘ante ante over,’ tossing a ball over the roof to the opposing team on the other side.
Gladys was always extremely close to her little brother, Willis (she called him Bakke, he also went by Tiny). She remained close to her brothers and sister her entire life. They suffered and shared much as a young family. She often talked about Gramps’ family as well-to-do. When asked to specify, she said that they always had something to eat. That was her measure of wealth at the time.
When Gramps came home from his trip to the World’s Fair in Chicago, he told of being sighted by Grandma, who ran half the distance to greet them. I remember seeing a note that Grandma wrote to Gramps: “Tonite I am going to kiss you right under your nose!” While little is known of their courtship, Albert and Gladys were married January 8, 1938 in Fargo, North Dakota in a civil ceremony. They initially rented the Bozart place, then moved out to the farm on Long Lake in Birchdale Township shortly after the birth of their daughter, Janice. Uncle Fred joined the young family in partnership with the young Sorenson family. The first year was spent picking rocks in the fields; no crop was made. They started with three milk cows, two of which belonged to Grandma, and a third which Gramp’s mother Anna gave them as a wedding present. Gramps bought a team of horses and three more cows. They continued to scrimp and save, and with the help of a loan from Bill Halpern, purchased the farm two years later. They formed a partnership with their Uncle Fred, who had lost his portion of the Sorenson family farm to the bank.
When Grandma went into labor, Gramps drove into town to notify the doctor. The senior Dr. Bubois came out to help. Baby Janice was a breach birth. (Grandma wonders if it might not have something to do with the fact that she was stooping over and crawling under fences late in her pregnancy.) The doctor came out of the bedroom with sweat running down his face after a hard labor, “She deserves a live baby.” During the course of labor, he was able to turn the baby. Janice was born with bruises all about her face. All’s well that ends well. This was certainly a far cry from today’s modern maternity wards, and certainly without a doctor at the bedside, both mother and daughter might have been lost. To put things further in perspective, Dr. Dubois charged $25 for a hard evening’s work. Janice was the only female grandchild of Olaf and Annie; so she was really babied, according to grandma!
One of the advantages of living on the farm was the availability of rich land for gardening. The Sorenson family planted a garden every year. It wasn’t just for fun however. The primary staple crop was potatoes. Jan remembers plucking potato bugs from the plants and dropping them in a kerosene can (Uggh!). Jan and Larry planted cucumbers, selling them in Grey Eagle. For Janice this was a way to purchase new school clothes. The garden also yielded carrots, onions, tomatoes, green beans, peas, radishes, squash and pumpkins. In later years, Grandma also planted strawberries and raspberries. The farm and its woodlands would yield a variable crop of wild strawberries, wild raspberries and chokecherries, which could be made into jam with the appropriate amounts (massive) of sugar. One mustn’t forget the annual crop of rhubarb. Grandma’s gardens were beautiful, the rows free of weeds and the crop bountiful. It was no small help that the garden was fertilized with fresh cow manure. Canning ensured that there was always fresh jam to last the winter (raspberry jam is still my favorite). Given the ready availability of fresh chicken, and an occasionally slaughtered pig or cow, the family ate well, regardless of how much money there was in the bank.
Grandma tended her chickens in a space under the hay mow. In the winter, to keep the chicks alive and warm there was a kerosene heater in the center of the space. This blew up one day, singing Grandma’s eyebrows to such an extent that they never grew back!
When it was time for threshing, teams of workers would travel from farm to farm. Janice remembers catching and killing chickens in preparation. This involved beheading the pullets, soaking them in hot water and defeathering them. At midday there was a feast of fresh fried chickens, potatoes and gravy and green beans. Mom’s favorite day was bread day. As a special treat Grandma set aside some of the dough, deep frying it and then smearing it with butter and brown.
Grandma and Janice were Gramp’s greatest fans. Grandma kept score when she attended the games. In order for Gramps to practice and play, Grandma, Janice and Larry doubled up on the chores and milked the cows. Grandma would also catch Gramps for practice. He would gradually throw harder and harder until her palm was throbbing. Like Gramps, she was a very good athlete.
When Gramps gave up baseball, he and Grandma took up bowling. Gramps would go practice while his grain was being ground at the co-op. Grandma and Larry entered a doubles tournament when Larry was in the eighth grade, which they won. Larry took the prize money and went down to the cities to see his cousins, Dean and Gordie; Grandma says she never saw her share of the money; I’m sure she didn’t begrudge it. Grandma at one time carried an average of 165. They bowled in the Tuesday mixed doubles league. In 1968 Grandma bowled a high three game series of 605, besting Len and Gramps for the year! Her high game was 243.
In the forties, the Sorenson family almost had the lake to themselves. Gramps and Janice would walk towards the point. On a good day, they could almost catch bass at will. The lake also yielded sunfish, crappies and the occasional northern. By the time they were cleaned and fried up by Grandma, it was a mouth-watering meal of fried fish, potatoes and milk gravy that was out of this world.
Beginning in the 1960’s, Grandma worked at Finger Hut, where she sewed on an assembly line. I remember when she once showed me where a needle had pierced her finger right through her fingernail. While the work was sporadic and minimum wage, this helped out with the farm expenses.
Christmas was traditionally celebrated at the Sorenson farm. Christmas Eve was when presents were opened. We kids could hardly wait for Gramps to return from milking the cows and washing up so we could have at it. There was always divinity made by Gramps, fudge and cookies by Grandma. I never had the heart to tell her that her cookies, unlike her jams and hearty home cooking, left a little to be desired. There were always leftover cookies that she insisted we take home with us! Sometime after this she discovered a recipe for peanut butter cookies that were actually pretty tasty.
In 1967, Grandma and Gramps moved from the house to a trailer home in order that Geri and Larry could move to the farm. Geri and Larry purchased the trailer home in exchange for moving into the house.
Gramps and Larry were occasionally known to get home late from town. The typical scenario involved a visit to the coop to grind up grain, followed by a trip to the Sportsman’s bar. Occasionally, the boys stayed late. By seven, Grandma was out in the barn milking the cows. Geri relates, “I always said that the men should know better, let the cows wait until they got home. But grandma didn’t want them to suffer.”
Grandma helped out with Lori and Brenda while Geri worked the late shift at Finger Hut. She loved to plant flowers around the trailer house, and the yard was carefully tended.
In 1974, Noel and Jan moved to San Antonio to operate a soda water franchise, Pic A Pop. Within the year, not only Gramps and Grandma, but Larry and Geri and family, came along to help. Gramps soon became a line operator. Grandma worked on the line and also tended the store at the factory. They remained avid bowlers, joining a league with Jan and Noel.
Gramps and Grandma loved to play horseshoes. There was always a pit both at the farm and the trailer house in San Antonio. While Gramps was quite adept, Grandma was allowed to throw from three steps closer. He would spot her enough points, often 10 or 12, so that the matches were pretty close.
When Gramps retired in 1978 or 1979, they began to go back to the farm each summer. They purchased a new trailer and set it in the same spot as the old. They would travel up to Minnesota in early June and stay until September, or later if the warm weather held. Periodically there were trips out west, traveling with Butch and Louise. Gramps always took great care with the yard, making sure that the place looked presentable. This often involved very hard work, with tree grubbing and clearing overgrown areas. He was never, even while suffering with emphysema, afraid of hard work.
In 1982, Gramps and Grandma moved out to Southcross Ranch, the mobile home community developed by Noel Stenoien. Grandma picked out one of the few lots with trees. Gramps built a deck and Grandma quickly added her rose bushes and flowers.
Gramps and Grandma were avid quilters. They had a quilting rack set up in the front room. Grandma specialized in the piecework while Gramps did the majority of the fine stitching. Grandma loved to make holders and towels, and was constantly distributing her works to the family. Gramps passed away on July 24th, 1997 two years after the death of their son, Larry. After that time, she would spend three or four weeks with Geolina. She rarely went out to lake after that. She sorely missed Gramps.
Grandma loved to play aggravation and cards. Her favorite games were Michigan Rummy, gin and no peek. She was very competitive, often playing for a penny a point. Her gambling dates back to early days with Gramps when they would play poker with Otto Blank and the Eklund’s, also for pennies. Noel and Jan would play cards with her every time they visited. Whenever she spent time with the grandkids, a card game was always in order. Grandma would always wait patiently until someone volunteered to play a game. While she loved to play with anyone available, there was nothing better than besting Noel in a game of cards!
Grandma was an intensely practical person. She was a hard worker, frugal and conservative. When visiting her grandchildren, it was difficult to keep her still. Sooner or later she would be weeding in the backyard, raking and sweeping until everything was in its place. Even at the age of 92, no weed could consider itself safe! Being raised in the depression, it was difficult for her to spend a dime. In fact, despite living on a fixed income of less than $850/month, she managed to save enough money to take care of her burial expenses, something she took great pride in.
Brad always believed that Grandma was the strongest person in the family. He said that when he and Jodie parted ways, she was the only person not surprised in the family. She had a keen insight into the hearts of her children and grandchildren, and a wisdom to keep her thoughts to herself. Her grandsons were smart and handsome. Her granddaughters were great horseriders and perfect granddaughters. She saw only the good in all of them, and was intensely loyal and loving to all throughout her life. I never heard her say anything negative about members of her family her entire life.
Grandma was not a drinker, but neither was she a teetotaler. She enjoyed a cocktail when offered, and very occasionally, when feeling good, would ask for a highball. I never once saw her drink more than two.
Grandma became very close with Muriel and Millie Blank. The three of them traveled often together back and forth between San Antonio and Minnesota.
One time, around 2001, Grandma came to visit Randy and Robie in Houston. This was before the kids were born, and she had quite a bit of time on her own during the day. One afternoon, she went missing. David, Robie and myself all scoured the neighborhood looking for Grandma. Finally, after 45 minutes, we found her, sipping a tall glass of tea at Bocado’s restaurant, about half a mile south of us. She was enjoying the azaleas, and said that when it was time to come home, every street looked the same. Terry, the owner of the restaurant, had a delightful conversation with Grandma and to this day, six years later, still recalls her fondly. There was no charge for the tea. Grandma was quite proud of her little adventure.
Grandma remained fiercely independent. She mowed the lawn and kept house. When her neighbor, Marge Burton, suffered an untimely stroke, she became a caretaker for Marge and a loving Grandma for Marge’s grandchildren. The neighbors at Southcross Ranch kept an eye on her and watched the place when she was out of town. She lived in the trailer home alone until in 2004, when Jan and Noel moved in with her. When Jan and Noel refinished their house in San Antonio, she sold her trailer home and moved in with them.
Grandma never appeared to be a religious person. She neither attended church nor prayed in public or at meals. When she was admitted to the hospital two days after Thanksgiving with a severe kidney infection, she regained consciousness for a couple of days. Cindy had the opportunity to pray with her. Over the course of the afternoon, they covered some of Grandma’s favorite stories. They read Psalm 123 together; I did not realize that Grandma prayed, reciting this Psalm, every day of her life. She told Cindy that she was at peace, and was ready to go home. During this final hospitalization, she also had the opportunity to have emails and letters read to her prior to her passing. While her last days were not entirely without
suffering and difficulty, I believe that she had a singular chance to make her peace and say goodbye to her family. We should all be so fortunate.