from the upcoming book about A Living History of Northwestern Minnesota
Living in Minnesota
By Cecilia Merschman Plante of Crookson, MN
Cissy was the fourth child born to a Minnesota family. Born in 1931, her parents were not very excited about having a new baby. It was the Depression years. The stock market crashed in 1929. From 1930 to 1933, industrial stocks lost 80% of their value. From 1929 to 1932, about 11,000 U.S. banks failed. Statistics scarcely convey the distress of millions of people who lost jobs, savings, and homes. Agriculture distress was intense—farm prices fell by 53% from 1929 to 1932.
Living on a small farm the Merschman family was able to provide the most of their food with cattle, pigs, chickens, and ducks. In the summer, gardening provided food for canning and preservation for long winter months. There wasn’t much money for other staples and clothing. Cissy’s mother Gina sewed and remade clothing from used clothing for the children. She also did some sewing for neighbors who were not as handy with a sewing machine. The family had to ration the wear of their shoes. The children ran barefoot all summer, only wearing shoes for church and when the weather got cold.
To brighten the event of a fourth child was the fact that she was a girl, the first girl in the family. Babies were then born at home with the assistance of a doctor from a nearby small Minnesota town. It was February, but an early thaw, so the roads were muddy. They were concerned as to whether the doctor would be able to get there without too much difficulty. The doctor made it, but Gina had a difficult delivery. The little girl had trouble taking her first breath. The spank on the bottom did not make her gasp for that first breath. Seeing the baby starting to turn blue, Doctor Larson decided to shock her into breathing by dipping her from warm water into cold water. That brought results.
There were a lot of chores to do on a farm in the ‘30s and ‘40s. In the country, modern conveniences were not yet available. Wood and water had to be hauled in. In the summer, water was collected in a rain barrel so they would have soft water for washing their hair and final rinse of laundry. Sometimes they would have to go to the pond for water if there had not been enough rainfall. In the winter, they collected snow and put it in a boiler on a stove to melt for washing clothes or taking baths. It took lots and lots of snow. The clothes were washed in a gas-powered washing machine that had an agitator for swishing the clothes around inside the machine to cleanse them and a wringer that Gina had to push the clothes through to squeeze out the water. There were two rinse tubs. The last rinse tub had bluing in it so the white clothes would look whiter.
Writing these memoirs bring back a lot of memories. Writing about the collecting rain in the rain barrel reminds Cissy of the song they learned in the elementary grades. It went like this:
Playmate, come out and play with me
and bring your dollies three.
Climb up my apple tree.
Shout down the rain barrel.
Slide down the cellar door,
and we’ll be jolly friends forever more.
I’m sorry playmate, I cannot play with you.
My dolly’s got the flu. Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!
Ain’t got no rain barrel! Ain’t got no cellar door.
but we’ll be jolly friends forever more.
It wasn’t all work and no play. The Merschman brothers built a playhouse over a pond south of the garden. They built a boardwalk out to the house they built on stilts. Many summer days were spent out in the playhouse. The playhouse was located near some berry trees: chokecherry, pin cherry, June berry, as well as wild raspberry and wild strawberry. Therefore, they had those edibles to eat in their playhouse. They were never bored. They always found something to do.
In the summer months, the children played in the dirt by the house making roads with their little toy cars and trucks. Some days they took old tires and ran pushing them up and down the driveway. In the evening after dark, they would chase and catch fireflies. They would rub the fireflies onto their clothing to see their clothing glimmer. When the neighbor kids came over they would play kick-the-tin-can, anti-I-over, hide-and-seek, or softball. As the children grew older, they played board games, checkers, and Chinese checkers. They played card games—rummy, 7-up, hearts and whist to name a few. Marbles was another activity.
It was ripe plum time and as usual Cissy was traipsing along with her brothers and a couple of neighbor boys. The boys were picking plums and putting what they didn’t eat into their pockets. Cissy was dressed in a sleeveless summer dress with no pockets. She didn’t know where to put her extra plums. She asked, “Where can I put my plums?” Her brothers said, “Put them in your bloomers.” Well, Cissy’s bloomers had elastic around the legs, so that’s a pretty good idea thought the little almost four-year-old Cissy. Into her bloomers they went. They stayed there okay, but when she fell on her butt, she squished them. OOOOOOPS! She was upset that she had squished all of her plums. She went crying to her mother about what happened. Gina hugged her, laughed, and consoled the crying Cissy:
I love you little!
I love you big!
I love you like a little pig!
The Merschman children were repeating little love jingles. Cissy tells her mother, “I love you with all my heart.” Then she turns to her dad and says, “I love you with all my gizzard!” Everyone laughs, but Cissy didn’t know what was so funny. She didn’t know that people didn’t have gizzards. (She had seen the gizzards when they butchered chickens.)
The children were growing up when the U.S. became involved in the war. By 1959, Hitler had ignited World War II and initiated his policy of exterminating Jews from Germany and other European countries. About six million Jews were killed under Hitler’s policy. Roughly, 45 million people, civilians and combatants, had been killed by the time hostilities ceased in 1945, the price the United States and its Allies paid for halting German and Japanese aggression.
Because of the war effort the United States, citizens had to put up with rationing of certain staples, such as gas, sugar, aluminum, rubber, etc. Each family received ration stamps with which to make their purchases. Cissy remembers helping the war effort by making balls of aluminum foil from candy and gum wrappings, cigarette packages and wherever aluminum could be found. They would wrap cord string into huge balls. There were collection places in town to take these items.
During the war, there would be blackout nights. That meant everyone had to blow out their lights and cities had to shut off all electric lights. This was to practice caution should enemy planes fly over—so life would not be seen.
December 7, 1941, Japan brought the United States into the war with its attack on Pearl Harbor. First Cissy’s uncles enlisted to serve their country and as soon as Cissy’s brothers reached the age of 18, they enlisted, also. Fortunately, they all returned from the fighting war. Cissy’s brother LeRoy had been wounded while serving in Okinawa and was considered 100% disabled. The people in the United States had been very fortunate that the war ended and did not reach U.S. soil.
There was a lot of Whoopy-doo when V-E Day and V-J Day arrived. Big celebrations were held in all U.S. cities and communities.
God bless America!