Wednesday, December 12, 2012


There are many ways to lose innocence, I suppose. My mother’s mother (Jennie Craig, but not THE Jennie Craig) died when my mother was sixteen and her father died when my mother had just turned 22 the previous October 31. That left her with five younger siblings to care for, a bunch of farm animals and equipment, and no time to be a teenager/young adult. It was Christmas time in 1932, the bottom of the Depression, and there she was without parents.

The farm sale was scheduled for February 8, but she postponed it due to the weather. Here is an excerpt from her cousin Maurie’s diary as transcribed by his daughter who tried to make it exactly as he wrote it, including variations of spelling and abbreviations that are sometimes difficult. Some of the people referenced were neighbors, and it is helpful to remember that the population of that part of Nebraska was much more dense than it is today; for instance, when I was a youngster, say twenty years after these entries, we could look from our place and see thirteen places where people lived and raised families. Today, there is one…and the school is gone. Family referenced here include my mother, Norma.

Feb. 8: Norma postponed the sale until the 17th. Terrible cold weather 40 mi hr wind & 10 to 15 below zero.

Feb. 9: Murphy’s sale. Bought harness $7; Harrow $6.25. Frank & Clara were up for dinner. Little bit warmer.

Feb. 10: Went home after a load of corn. Surprise on J Crosier 20th anniversary. Much warmer to-day.

Feb. 11: Hauled a little straw. Put straw around the hen house. Went to Andrew’s for a card party.

Feb. 12: Norma & kids were up for dinner. Folks & Pop & Francis were also here. Getting warmer.

Feb. 13: Shelled today. 10 loads. Cold in morning. Tractor kept freezing so didn’t get started until 10.

Feb. 14: Helped the good wife wash. Fixed on the nests in the chicken house.

Feb. 15: Freda had club today. Hauled load of corn home.

Feb. 16: Helped Shaffer dip his cattle. Freda played for a funeral. Stan had a birthday party.

Feb. 17: Norma’s sale. An awful big crowd. Things sold good. Black stud $245 Gray $260 Cows about $30

This was after a series of really interesting entries from that previous December, 1932:

Dec 12: it was 15 below this morning. Ground about 100 bu of ear corn. Hauled 2 loads of corn, 1 loads of oats to the steers.

Dec 13: Bought 28 T of hay of Webb at $5. Freda, Francis, Gord, Ken & I went to Columbus this afternoon for license & etc.

Dec 14: Splendid day. Sunshine and fairly warm. About 40 to the wedding. Very nice ceremony. Oh, what a bride.

Dec 15: Went to Columbus and had our pictures taken. Eleanor’s folks had their sale.

Dec 16: Loafed around at Freda’s all day. New kind of a honeymoon.

Dec 17: Still at Andreasen’s. No chores to do. Just lots of loving and such.

Dec 18: Went to Church. Attend Christmas singing. Will stay at the folks. Dad went to Columbus.

Dec 19: Chivari crowd. Freda & I painted the wood work. Splendid weather. Grandma got a basket of grapefruit from Texas.

Dec 20: Uncle Carl is awful bad. Freda & I finished the papering. Boys hauled two loads of hay.

Dec 21: Uncle Carl died this noon. Dad went to Columbus. Mother stayed to help with things. Freda & I went to Chris’.

What a Christmas. I have been fascinated with the combination, in these few entries, these few days, of the mundane (“ground about 100 bu of ear corn”), the joyful (“Oh, what a bride”) and the end of a life, a hugely significant negative event for my family, (“Uncle Carl died this noon.”).

People get married, work and die. We seem to think of those events today in such grand terms, but at that time, with very little money and the lack of “modern” communication, they just went on about their lives. The farms were microcosms of these cycles and people accepted life on those terms.

Today’s loss of innocence comes a bit differently. Exposure to television and the internet conditions our young people to horrible and intimate experiences, perhaps earlier than they can fully understand and so often without any “real” context. People are shot multiple times per day in front of them, and no one mourns. There is no emotion with it. Porn is available on the internet—titillation without emotion or context.

I can’t say that any of this is better or worse than the 1930’s in rural Nebraska, but it is surely different. These events happened only thirty years before I graduated from high school. Thirty years back from today seems like yesterday.

As described by my mother and others, my grandfather Carl seemed to have the same heart condition that afflicted me, obstructive enlargement of the heart, which runs in families. It was never diagnosed, and even if it had been, it would not have been treated because the treatments had not been invented yet. He died at age 52. Young.

At least I won’t die young.


  1. I wish I knew as much about my family history as you do about yours. One of my father's sisters compiled a family history of sorts, but it is pretty sterile. There are no diaries.

    My mother's father was an orphan from a very early age and my mother says he would never talk much about his youth. Somehow or other I think we know that his parents were immigrants from Poland and that he was born in the Cleveland area. And I'm not even sure if that little bit is really true.

    Everything is relevant. If you dropped dead today, I would consider that you had died way too young, so hang in there.

    1. Well, I appreciate your advice to hang in there, and since we are the same age, same to ya, old friend.

      I don't think I have ever told you this, but in 2000, Linda and I decided to go to Sweden as I had wanted to be north of the Arctic Circle on the summer solstice. In the process, we would see some relatives, as my grandmother, Wallie's mother, was an immigrant at age 18 and we had contact with some of those relatives. We mentioned it to my brother, and they ended up going, too, which was so good.

      We ended up seeing the church where she went as a youngster, the location of the farmstead where she grew up, and visited the graves of her parents and her brother.

      A few months later, we decided to go to the Grand Canyon. Three of the kids decided to go, too, which was good. However, we decided at that point that, wherever we decided to go, we would tell everyone that we were going to Wichita because NOBODY wants to go to Wichita.

      Back to the family history: my maternal great-grandmother was the one who lived to be 109, and three of her children, no spring chickens as you might imagine, wrote her history and published it for her family. That was in the late 1950's, and a couple of years ago, I re-typed it so we would have a digital version and put a whole bunch of footnotes in it to satisfy my own curiosity. It is a fascinating story, again, so much of it because I knew some of the people.

      I keep coming back, though, to the idea that your family who came here, irrespective of the details, and my family who came here, were made of the same stuff as a lot of American families. They were not the timid, they were the misfits and malcontents. The ones who had the chutzpah to get out.

      Linda's background is completely opposite--she and Matt know nothing of their families, despite the fact that family is the most important factor in a Korean's life. They did not come here by choice, and it is probable that their parents/grandparents were harshly treated by the Japanese. Until 1970, North Korea was more prosperous than South Korea, mainly because of the Japanese investment before 1945, so they came when that area was exceedingly poor and without even the beginnings of social programs.

      I am thankful for the stories, they give me some comfort. Keep wondering why some of them didn't turn up really, really rich, tho.