Tuesday, July 12, 2011


by her daughter ERMA LORAINE

My mother, Myrtle Christine Halverson, was a remarkable woman.  She was able to look adversity in the face time after time and spit in its eye.  She generally had a pretty positive and optimistic outlook on life.  Life was never easy on her.  Her early childhood makes one want to cry.  She learned hard physical labor by the age of five and at seven years old was hired out by her parents to work a field of beets with her brother Jim.  Then she was sent to work for other families to help with small children and household chores.  She told me how homesick and lonely she would be for her mother, but it might be six months before she could go home for a visit.  Her treatment was often harsh and she was expected to work from daylight to dark, scrubbing, sweeping, washing clothes, ironing, washing dishes, and looking after babies.  There was no play and no fun.  She and her brother Jim had to work to help provide the rest of the family with the cash money they needed.

The family often had inadequate food.  Mom said she could remember Grandma making "flour soup" when there was nothing else.  If she had a small scrap of bacon or meat, she told Myrtle and Jim they would save it for Pa as he had to work so hard.

Mother had approximately a third-grade education.  She couldn't go to school because the family needed the money she earned.  In those times it might be $1.00 or $1.50 per month for household work and 15 cents a day for field work.  I'm sure Mother and Uncle Jim made it possible for life to be easier for others in the family.  At least the other children were able to go to school.

Roy, Bob, Erma, Arnold, Glen
Shirley, Leona, Ted, 

My oldest brother, Arnold, was born out of wedlock.  This was such a disgrace at the time and I'm sure the family was very hurt.  When my mother married she had a child nearly every two years.  She lost three of her children -  twin boys were born in 1915 and died shortly thereafter and another boy, William, who was born between Lee and me.  He died during a flu epidemic.

We ended up with a large family of six boys and three girls.  My father died of cancer when he was 49 years old.  My brother Roy died following World War II of nephritis.  He was around 30 years old.  Arnold died at age 50 of cancer of the lungs.  Glen died at age 50 of a heart attack.  Bob committed suicide following the death of his wife.  He was 50 years old at the time.

My mother was able to pick up and keep going after all these tragedies.  When my father died she was destitute, but she worked and raised Roy, Lee, Fred, Shirley and Ted on her own.  Yet, there was always food as she raised huge gardens every year.  Come to think of it, she was really a master gardener with a green thumb.  She sold vegetables to restaurants and neighbors.  At various times she worked in a restaurant, a bakery and she sold tupperware when it first came out. 

While I was living with Grandma Halverson, my family moved to the Circle S Ranch south of Alberton, Montana.  It was really isolated, being five miles to the only neighbor and ten miles to Alberton.  Dad and Arnold worked in Missoula which was forty miles away.  Mother was left at the ranch to keep things going.  They moved to the ranch in the late twenties and lived there throughout the great depression.

Mother did not have running water when we lived on the Circle. S.  We hauled water from a creek which was 50 feet from the house.  In the winter time the creek would freeze completely and then we had to get water from a larger creek some distance from the house.  We would hitch the horses to a sled and put a 50 gallon barrel on the sled.  We had to chop a large hole in the ice and sometimes the ice was so thick that we had to lay on our stomachs to dip the water.  We dipped out the water in buckets and carried it to the sled, climbing up to dump the water in the barrel.  Then we would haul the water back to the house.
Myrtle, Glen, Arnold, Eliza

It was at the ranch near Alberton that my sister Shirley was born.  Mother always had difficult deliveries as she hemorrhaged and had always gone to the hospital for childbirth.  This time Dad was going to bring a midwife to help her.  When Mom went into labor Dad wasn't home.  Arnold happened to be at the ranch, so he took off on horseback to Alberton to see if he could find a nurse.  Glen was seventeen then and Mother finally told him he would have to deliver the baby and help her or else she would die.  So he did, and that was the only child she ever delivered without a hemorrhage.

Mother had many talents.  She was a regular Annie Oakly with a .22 rifle.  She always lined up two chickens and killed them with one bullet.  Pow...right through the head!  It was neater than chopping their heads off.  I just supposed anyone could do that.  Once she killed a chicken- thief dog when he was a block away and running.  Just pulled that old .22 to her shoulder and hit him the head.  I don't know why we were surprised when that dog rolled over dead.

Uncle Jim told us a story of he and two or three other boys trying to hit a woodpecker with rocks.  They all missed and Mom said she could hit it.  She threw her rock, hitting the woodpecker on the back of the head and driving its bill into the tree.

In spite of being a crack shot, Mom was generally afraid of guns and never allowed the hunting rifles in the house.  She had two very scary experiences with guns.  When the family lived at Drummond, Montana and Mom was eight months pregnant with Lee, she was shot with a .22 gun.  A hired hand was hiding behind a well case in the yard.  When Mom went out the back door he raised up and said, "Myrtle, I'm going to shoot you", and he fired.  The bullet hit Mom in her stomach, deflecting off a corset stay.  She said it knocked her down and her abdomen was black and blue a month later when she went to the hospital in Missoula to deliver Lee.

The other scary experience occurred a couple of days after Shirley was born.  Arnold was ejecting shells from his hunting rifle when it discharged.  The bullet went through two walls and hit the foot of the bed where Mom was laying.  I gather from Mom that being so badly scared is not much different than actually being shot!  After that she never trusted anyone but herself with a gun.

Mother had a wonderful sense of color and style and was good with clothes.  In her later years when she had some extra money she always dressed herself well.  She made wonderful colorful crazy patch pillows and coverlets.  During the depression she recycled the older boys' overalls shirts and underwear into clothes for Ted and Fred.  She sewed up stocking out of the legs of underwear.  Mom was always cheerful doing those things.  I didn't realize we were so poor then.  My Mom never made us feel poor.

When we first lived on he Circle S Ranch we didn't have a washing machine.  You can imagine washing clothes on the board for a large family.,  Finally Dad got $7.50 together and ordered a hand-operated washer from the catalog.  When it finally came it was a gas powered washer!  Dad wasn't going to bring it home because he knew it was a mistake.  The station master refused to send it back so Mom got it.  That was heaven, believe me.  I think Mom's guardian angel switched those machines.  Nothing was ever heard from Wards and Mom used that washing machine for many years.

The wringer seemed a miracle to me.  One when I was twelve years old, I ran my arm up past the elbow through the wringer.  Then I reversed it and ran it back out again.  When Dad saw it, he fainted and Mom had both of us to take care of.

My Dad fainted at the sight of blood, so he was of no use in an emergency.  Mom had to cope with all accidents on her own. she always did a good job and we survived.
Though life was harsh and sometimes bleak on the Circle S,  there were treats we all remember.  Sometimes in the winter, if sugar wasn't scarce, Mom made fudge.  We put the plate of fudge in a snow bank to cool.  It always turned out sugary and grainy, but we loved it.  I still prefer grainy fudge to creamy fudge.  Sometimes in the summer Dad would bring home a block of ice from town.  We had the  milk, cream and eggs so Mom made ice cream.  If the strawberries were bearing, a couple of us kids would rush to the garden to pick some.  Mom mashed the berries with sugar and we put them over the ice cream.  That was sheer heaven.  There was always a fight over who got to lick the dasher from he freezer.  When the ice cream was finished churning Mom packed the churn in ice and covered it with wet burlap bags to let the ice cream ripen a couple of hours.  It was a wonderful treat.

We sat on the bunk house steps to crank the ice cream so of course they got saturated with salt water.  That salty wood attracted porcupines and what a racket in the middle of the night when they came to chew on the steps.  Someone had to get up and chase them away.

Mother was also a fearless driver.  When we were small she drove from Ruth, Nevada to Grandma Halverson's for a couple of summers to help her can peaches.  Grandma was allergic to peach fuzz.  It gave her a terrible eczema.  There would be Bob, who was about six or seven, myself, Lee and Roy.  Away we went in an old open Ford touring car across that desert.  The car had isinglass curtains and we had several canvas water bags hanging on it for the radiator.  In those days (the twenties), it was mile after mile of nothing, except for an old lady who had a well. We could fill the water bags for 25 cents each.  We called her the water witch.  Mom kept us in line threatening to leave us with the water witch if we misbehaved.

Once, when going to town, a neighbor's pig was in the road.  Mom was going too fast to stop.  Knowing she would wreck if she hit the pig on either side of the car, she carefully steered and hit him dead center and kept going  The pig died and the neighbor was mad as hops, but it didn't bother Mom.

My Dad's sister, Mary Clark, said that when their parents died my Mother was the only relative who would take her and her sister Inza.  She said times were very hard but Mother managed to put meals on the table and share with them.  They lived in Provo then and Mary and Inza were able to finish school.  In later years, Mother helped other members of Dad's family.  Lola and Alfred came to live at our home in Montana right after they were married.  They stayed in the bunk house at the ranch.  During the depression Dad's second cousin came with her husband and another couple.  They had several children between them.  There were no jobs to be had.  They also stayed in the bunkhouse.  They were able to eat because of Mom's garden, milk and eggs.

We rather moved from pillar to post during our lives.  My Dad was a farmer at heart and a carpenter by trade.  We went from Utah to Montana when the church wanted to start a colony there.  That was rough, barren country and everyone went broke. 

About 1925 we moved to Ruth and Ely in Nevada.  Dad helped build the hoist at the open pit copper mine and he also built housing for the workers. (In 1987 I returned to Ruth...those houses that Dad built are still there)

When we first lived in Ely, it was winter.  I remember an old Indian lady who just walked into our kitchen one morning when Mom was getting us ready for school.  She couldn't speak English but Mom knew she was cold and hungry.  She put a chair close to the wood cook stove and gave her a big cup of coffee with sugar and cream as well as some bread and butter.  She came several times like that, then we moved to Ruth and never saw her again.

We moved form Ruth Nevada to Anaconda and then to Missoula.  Dad remodeled an old house into three apartments.  I can remember Mom helping pour the foundation by carrying buckets of concrete to him.  She also worked in an office building uptown and I was the caretaker of Lee and Roy.

It was from Missoula that I went to live with Grandma Halverson. I was only nine years old and had never been away from my family.  I had been very sick with rheumatic fever and it was felt I would be able to recover better at my Grandmothers home.  Dad pinned his Masonic pin on my coat and assured me I would be taken care of if I showed the pin to the conductor.  I went on the train by myself.  One conductor took me to a restaurant during a stop over and saw that I ate a meal.

When I returned home the folks had moved to the Circle S Ranch.  We had a few head of cattle and seventy-five or so sheep.  Dad raised hay in two large meadows.  Mom had a huge garden and chickens to care for.  She picked wild choke cherries in the summer and made wonderful syrup for our pancakes

In spite of living on a ranch, food was often scare in the winter.  I remember many meals of just cooked macaroni with cream and pepper on it.  Or just fried potatoes or fried carrots.  We never ever ate lamb or mutton which would have helped.  We had venison some times and once Arnold killed a black bear which we ate.  Glen was the fisherman and often provided trout, although the steam there was closed to fishing.

Every year the Indians came there to get their supply of deer.  They camped about a mile from us, but had two or three sweat lodges about one-half mile up the creek from our house.  Sometimes they would come and trade for some groceries they were out of.  Glen was fascinated with the Indians and several times took me to visit with them.   We'd sit in a tepee around a fire an Glen would try to get the women to tell him how they tanned leather.  Once when they had a pile of hides, he asked why they weren't working on them.  One old lady told him they didn't have any brains.  Apparently they used deer brains in the process.  Glen always laughed when telling this story.

Mom would be so provoked when we came home from visiting the Indians.  She said we smelled but it was only from the wood smoke.  How I remember Glen's experiments in tanning, the smelly gelatinous mess of those hides soaking in five gallon kerosene cans...and how he would bribe us to help him.
Samuel Ashby

When we butchered a pig, Mom rendered the lard in huge baking pans in the oven.  She cooked sausage patties and preserved them by putting them in  a crock and pouring lard over them.  She also made corned meat from elk or deer meat.  She put eggs down in water glass.  There were untold things to do to tide you over when the hens weren't laying or it wasn't time to butcher.

Young people today haven't the foggiest idea of the work women had to do in those times.  if you ever got a chance to sit and rest, you kept your hands busy with mending, sewing, knitting, tatting, or some kind of hand work.  I think the women often worked an hour or two after the family was in bed to be ready for the morrow.  Food had to be grown, or scrounged, or hunted and fished,  There was never enough money to just go to the store and buy stuff.  Bread was always made at home, two days a week.  Mom made several loaves  at a time.  Sometimes Mom would make balls of dough and cook them in boiling water.  She called them light dough dumplings.  We broke them open and put butter and syrup on them and they were a great treat.  Sometimes, if the bread was stale, she would put a rack over a pan of boiling water and heat it and put melted butter on it.  we thought it was good as fresh bread.
Of course, you made the butter.  Making butter began by putting the milk in shallow pans and letting the cream rise.  Then you skimmed the cream and saved it for a few days, then you churned the cream to butter.  This could be very frustrating as cream is quite picky about when it will turn into butter.  Once it does you strain off the buttermilk and work the butter and rinse with water to be sure you are rid of all the buttermilk.  It was very time consuming.

In those days we used things up and nothing was wasted.  Feathers from chicken dinners went into feather tick mattresses or pillows.  Old clothes were recycled into crocheted rugs, patch work quilts, or other clothes for the youngest ones.  I can well remember when some of our dishes were made from tin cans.  Glen would take the small milk cans and use the lid to make a handle which he soldered on the side.  Mom's favorite thing to whip cream in was a large tomato can with a soldered handle.  We used it for years.  The tin cups didn't break so they were practical for a raft of kids.

Getting ready for dinner meant going to the garden and gathering and preparing the vegetables...or for Mom to take the .22 and one bullet and go to the chicken yard.  In the winter she would go to the shed with a butcher knife and hammer and chop of meat from the frozen deer carcass hanging there.

Sometimes in the summer, when it was hot, Mom made root beer for us.  We kept it in the creek to keep cold.  She also, at times, made beer and wine.  When the men were haying, she made what we called soda water or fizz water.  She added cider vinegar to water with some cinnamon and sugar.  Just before drinking you stirred in soda which made it fizzy.  It was refreshing and good.

Mom handled crises in a wonderful way.  Once I caused one and I'm so ashamed of it even today.  Ely and Ruth, Nevada were really segregated by races.  The Chinese lived in 10 x 10 red painted shacks in one area.  The foreigners, who were called "Bohunks" (I know some were Turkish), lived in another area.  The foreign children and the white children were always fighting.  I can remember the older boys lined up on one side of a gully opposite the foreigners.  They were standing there throwing rocks at each other.  Once, when I was about five, I joined the fray and threw a good-sized rock.  Seventy years later, I can still see that rock sailing through the air and hitting a little boy who was about two-years-old.  Blood spurted from his head and I ran home and crawled under the bed.  In a few minutes his mother came to our house with him.  She couldn't' speak English, but Mom knew what to do.  She picked the boy up and sat him on the table and cleaned and bandaged his wound.  Then she gave him an orange and a hug and his mother left smiling.  Then I was dragged out from under the bed and given a good spanking and told that every day my orange would go to that little boy.  His mother came every day and Mom dressed the wound until it healed.  She also gave him my orange.  That episode made a pacifist out of me.
Shirley, Leona, Myrtle, Erma

Mother married twice after the death of my father in 1937.  The first time was in the late 30's to a neighboring Frenchman, Baptiste Marceau.  He was a nice man but unused to children and Mom's five were too much for him.  That marriage was very brief. 

Much later, after Mom moved to California, she married Julius Fedderson.  That was in the early 60's.  Both of them were in their seventies.  Julius was a wonderful person and we dearly loved him.  He and Mother were very happy until his death.  After Julius's death, Lee and Tom built a house of her on their property in the Los Gatos/Santa Cruz mountains and Mom lived out her days there in comfort.

I learned from my Mother how to make do when you didn't have much.  Those years my mother was struggling to raise a family there wasn't any welfare and the church never ever helped her.  She did it on her own and in the process raised some pretty self-sufficient kids.

When life gave Mom lemons she not only made lemonade but pie as well.  She truly was a remarkable woman.

No comments:

Post a Comment