Friday, December 12, 2008

A Bit of Nostalgia

When I was a little girl my father was a farmer in north central North Dakota, where the farms are small compared to what they are here in the Red River Valley. My father farmed 400 acres of soil that wasn't very productive, especially during the dry years of the early 50s. In order to hang onto the farm he had to take another job, which ended up being something called a "grease monkey" for a road construction crew. Not exactly a politically correct job title in today's society, but back then that's what it was. Today he would have been called a mechanic for heavy equipment.

So my Mother was forced to move from an eleven room farm house into a 25 foot trailer house with three kids, and no indoor plumbing. We lived like gypsies. I won't say we even became "trailer trash" because that indicates you embed yourself in one place. We didn't. We moved from one location to another, following the progress of the road that the construction crew was working on. Many times I remember my Father coming to the trailer and telling my Mother, "We've got to be moved down the road to the next location within one hour." And we would.
Now mind you, there were 20 to 30 families living like this - vagabonds. And a big "cook car" - which was a mobile kitchen, run by several ladies who would do all the meal preparation for the single guys who worked on the crew. Inside on one end was a kitchen, and the remainder was one long table going through the center of the car with benches on each side for the guys to sit and eat.

So this whole procession of trailers and the cook car would go down the road several miles to another location, which was usually some rancher's pasture, pull in and set up camp. Now think about this - this was a pasture - no well for running water, or sanitation faciliites. First things first - several holes would be dug for the outdoor biffies, then one very large hole to bury garbage. Then a truck with a huge water tank on the back would arrive and park itself somewhat centrally located. One of my brother's regular jobs was to fill water into buckets and haul it to our trailer whenever needed so we had water to drink, cook and wash dishes with. Baths were taken once a week in a large round galvanized tub that my mother used to wash clothes in every Monday. Otherwise you did a "spit and polish" between the times when you would sit in the galvanized tub. And all HOT water was made hot by heating it in a large pot on a gas kitchen stove.

I often think when we're out traveling in our motorhome, my Mother would have thought she'd died and gone to heaven with all the conveniences I have. Completely self-contained - solar powered, gas/electric hot water heater, same for the frig, TV, air conditioning - We often park in the middle of the desert for weeks at a time when we travel in the winter, and have all those conveniences. She had NONE of that. But then neither did anyone else in the "camp."

Going to town for groceries on Saturday afternoon was always a big event. We got to go to TOWN!! They were mere wide spots in the road, and sometimes up to 30 miles away on gravel roads, but it was still a big event. Places like Elgin, Carson, Cannon Ball, Amidon, Black Butte, Flasher - some of which no longer even exist other than a few fallen-in buildings. But at that time most every little town had some kind of a grocery store where a big treat would be a bottle of pop (soda to you NON-upper-midwesterners). Nesbitts orange and grape Nehi were my favorites.

I have very fond memories of those days as a kid - playing with all the other "camp kids" out in the pasture not knowing what you were going to "step" in or find - and that included rattle snakes!! Most generally the rattle snakes were hunted out of the area we were going to be camping in. The construction company would send their snake crew in ahead of time and they would locate the snake dens and clean them out. An ugly, dangerous job, but it had to be done.

I remember very vividly a time when a large bull snake decided he was going to move in under our trailer. He was only about six feet long and possibly six inches in circumference. The scariest part was that these snakes would crawl up into the underside of the trailers looking for warmth on chilly nights, and could possibly get into your house. Wouldn't that be cute - wake up during the night and have a snake that size trying to crawl under your covers to warm up!! That's just slightly intimidating. We didn't know it at the time but bull snakes weren't poisonous - but beneficial. They caught lots of mice. I don't care - I still wouldn't want him for a bed partner - AAAACCCCKKKK!

Most of the roads that my Father worked on were in western North Dakota and all over South Dakota - a very slimly populated area, even back then. It's even more thinly populated now, but still holds a mystique for me when I travel the area. There's something so hauntingly beautiful about it. Take a look.

PSSST: You may want to go waaaay down to the bottom of the page and turn off the Christmas music because this video has it's own music. Somehow they just wouldn't sound good together!

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