These stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Looking Back in Time” program. Each week’s radio story will be posted in its entirety here on our website.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
Available recordings are also linked to the Wild 102 “Looking Back in Time” page.
April 9, 2023
Today’s story continues from Joyce Rugland Morken’s memories of her childhood.
We all walked to school and carried our lunches. Sometimes we might share a goodie with a friend or trade something at lunch. Our lunch pail might be a can from honey or other product. Very few of us had REAL lunchpails! That was a big deal! That might be a special birthday present. Lunchtime was also a longer recess outside, so it was possible to have a more organized game for the older students. My older brothers were out of grade school by this time, but evidently it was common for the older boys to take an “extended” lunch hour and go swimming or ice skating, depending on the season, and come back late to class. I’m sure there was expected punishment for them, but it didn’t stop them for long. It must have been a challenge for teachers to deal with older boys, many of them past the 8th grade age. It was common for boys, especially, to work on the farm and come to school when the harvest was done. Boys and girls were responsible for shouldering important jobs on the farm since there was so much work to be done.
Winter gets very cold in Minnesota, and that meant we were inside the school most of the day. We would go out to play, though. We bundled up and had snowball fights or played Fox and Geese in the snow. We often had to stay inside, so we played games, drew pictures, or just passed time. This was one time we could write on the chalkboard, so that was a big treat. Helping the teacher was special.
“The Christmas Story” is a favorite movie since it depicts that period of time so well. We would be so bundled up to walk to school that it took awhile to get dressed. I hated the day when my mother brought out our long underwear! I cried and fussed, but of course that did no good. I realize now that it was necessary to help keep us warm. Most of us walked to school. One winter my older cousin, Mervin Dokken, put a little caboose on sleigh runners pulled by horses. The caboose had benches along the sides for us. Up front he had a box filled with sand, and set in the box was a little stove that kept us warm. I loved that ride to and from school!
Later we lived on my Grandmother Rugland’s farm, and I had a long walk to school. I would have several wool stockings on in my boots. My shoes were tied together and hung around my neck, so my feet stayed warm. Then would come several sweaters under my coat, a snow pants, several mittens on my hands, and last of all a big scarf tied all around my head and face, so only my eyes showed. It was no simple matter to get dressed in winter! I can only imagine what it was like for the teacher to get us all dressed to go home! I think the older students must have helped us. I did get my feet and nose frost bitten several times, and it was no fun. But it was impossible to keep us inside with all that great snow to play in and make snow caves or climb snow banks.
December meant the coming of Christmas and a welcome break in the long winter. The whole month was dedicated to our Christmas program. Our time was spent in memorizing and learning songs, recitations, and plays besides our arithmetic (as it was called then) and other lessons. Everyone would be in several parts so we were all vital to the success of the program.
Wires were strung across the front of the schoolroom and the side to make a stage and dressing rooms. We would “volunteer” our mother’s sheets to be hung as curtains. I don’t think my mother was too happy when I informed her about the sheets, but I did bring them. We had costumes to fit the plays and brought whatever props were needed. During the last week the daily routine was forgotten, and dress rehearsals and last minute changes made. All memorization had to be checked and woe to those who had neglected to learn their parts! It was a great learning experience!
On the big night we came dressed in our best clothes. Parents, neighbors, friends all crowded into the school for our big performance! Fortunately, our hard work paid off and we all did well. Of course, the teacher was there to prompt anyone who forgot their lines or was nervous, but we did ourselves proud! Then at the end, Santa would show up with a big “HO HO HO!!” and a bag of apples and candy for us. I can still remember the thrill of that night!
After our Christmas vacation we would really work hard on our lessons. I think our hard work on the Christmas program made good students out of us. We seemed to concentrate better and work for good grades. And we knew spring would come before too long. Along with spring came the gophers. Minnesota is called “The Gopher State” for good reason. They were all over, making holes in fields and gardens. My brothers were always gopher hunting. They would cut off the tails and turn them in for money—at least that was what I was told. We often hunted them down in our pasture. They ate everything! They had many holes to hide in. Pouring water down the holes would drown out the gopher.
One day when I was in 2nd grade, the boys enlisted some of us to help carry the water from the ditch to pour down the holes so the gophers would emerge from some hole. The boys would stand at the holes with sticks to hit the gopher. It was very wet and muddy to get to and from the ditch full of water, so my bad luck was to get stuck in the mud and I couldn’t pull my foot out! Unfortunately, this took place in my dad’s field. Then the teacher rang the bell to end recess and there I was, still stuck in the mud! She wouldn’t let anyone come and help me get out! Someone brought me a board for my other foot, and there I stood alone in the field until school was out! I was so afraid my dad would see me out there and then I’d be in real trouble! Someone came and helped me out after school, and no one said anything at home. I did drown out one more gopher—at my house in Salinas, CA, that was eating my flowers!
The school year ended at the end of May, and that was an exciting time—to realize that the year was over and you would be a grade higher in the fall. The last day of school was a time for fun and celebration. We usually had a day filled with outdoor games and contests. There might be a picnic lunch. But the highlight was getting our report cards! The report card was a true sign that you moved ahead a grade in the fall. We were eager to show our parents a good report card. Not all students were excited about school and I remember one boy who had turned 16, and as he left he sang out “No more pencils, no more books! No more teachers with dirty looks!” I do hope that he really didn’t quit school at 16.
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