Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kathryn in America: Life in Redgranite, Wis.

Location of Redgranite, Wis.

Soon after, my father bought this little 3 room house from his brother (at that time it looked large to me.) There was a garden in the back, small sauna and a combination wood-shed and cow-shed, also a small outside “two-holer.” The soil was good garden soil, we grew muskmelons, corn, tomatoes, etc. Even our own popcorn eventually.

Uncle Victor had bought a small farm in Clifford, Wis.  He also had a small lumber camp there later. Linda and Marion “sewed” doll clothes – their mother said “there will be time to sew on the farm.”
So, began life in America. I started school in September, not speaking a word of English. My first teacher was Miss Blanche Brown. First grade – no kindergarten.  One of the first words I remember that she taught me was “ball.” She said to me, “Say ‘ball’” – I said “Say ball” many times with tears in my eyes – before she caught on. She was a good teacher, I liked her very much. She and her boyfriend used to bring me home at first – walking between them, each holding my hand.

My first playmates were Kyllikki and Agnes Sjostrom, Finnish neighbor girls and Mattie Hitchcock, the minister’s granddaughter, they lived nearby also. She was a couple years older than I. We were at each other’s homes almost every day. She had to practice her piano lessons every day – for a certain length of time – I waited for her to get through.  I never remember that she played anything else, except “The Moon Shines Bright on Pretty Red Wing” over and over. Her grandmother made the best baking powder biscuits – which my mother never made.

So I also started Sunday school at the little Congregational church of which her grandfather Philo Hitchcock was pastor. I don’t remember missing a single Sunday. We got a pretty colored picture card with Bible pictures and a message in the back. I saved them all – I wish I still had them – but do not remember what became of them. At Christmas time we always had a program at church, I enjoyed it very much, still I got so involved and “worked-up” over it, that I was often sick afterwards. I was a scrawny kid with a finicky appetite. Mother begged Dr. Clauson to keep me alive as I was their only translator of the English language. We often had oatmeal, cooked in the morning, but in those days it was still coarse with some bean left in; I didn’t care for it. Nor warm milk. Large soda crackers and dried fruits we ordered from a mail order house in large wooden boxes. Mother ate the crackers by the handful; she hadn’t had them in Finland. We could afford very few fresh apples and oranges we only got at Christmas. My favorite breakfast was a cup of coffee with milk and sugar, packed full of crackers, which I ate with a spoon and that’s all.
Life was fun in those days – daisy fields, picnics, and white dresses on Sunday with big blue ribbons in my pale blonde hair. The most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life, I always remember, was a small 2x3 in. white bread with something between. That was when I still hadn’t learned enough English, or was too bashful to ask my teacher. I told mother about it so eventually we found out it was peanut butter! I had never had any before. That was the very first fall, Miss Brown, took us kids from her class into the woods – she had made the sandwiches.  We found hazelnuts and butternuts, which we brought home and dried in the sun every fall.

My brother Waino Johannes* was born June 16, 1907, at home. I remember I woke up, Dr. Clauson was lying down in the bed beside me (resting) I didn’t know what was going on and went back to sleep. Waino was baptized “Philo” – believe it or not. Rev. Hitchcock must have thought we were honoring him by naming the baby after him! My pronunciation (Wino!) didn’t sound right – I guess. Mother sent me to correct the baptism certificate, how I hated to do it, for fear of hurting the pastor’s feelings. Then on Dec 8, 1910 my sister Aina Elizabeth was born at home. Mother called Waino and me to see what she had in bed with her –little red face the size of a cup. That was our Christmas present that year! We did get small presents from friends. Our parents best friends were Maria and Adam Maki – who had no children of their own.

Redgranite had many Finns and Italians working in the quarry. The Finns clung to each other for companionship in this new country, most of them never saw their own folks anymore. They formed a Temperance Society – had plays and dances once in awhile, played cards and visited.  Many single fellows lived with families, even we usually had a couple live with us. We made room. They would buy their own groceries, mother would cook it for them, also wash (by hand) and iron – all for about 2 or 3 dollars a week! The men earned 3 or 4 dollars a day in the quarry. My father finally earned $4 – he cut paving stones and rough cut grave stones. Streets in cities were paved with the stones.

Rev. Henry Sarvela would come from up North (Wis. & Minn.) once in awhile to preach in the Finnish language. He baptized my sister. One year there was a serious epidemic of Black Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever. Almost every house (with children) had a red quarantine sign on the door. Many children died, especially of the Diphtheria. Waino and I were quite sick with Scarlet Fever. Perhaps that is when I lost the hearing from my left ear? Our father and a roomer stayed at the Makis. Every evening they came and carried wood and water on to the porch – they could not come in. The house was fumigated after we recovered – it was a terrible smell. Now, with vaccinations against these dreaded illnesses, we have very few epidemics.** 

In 1913 there was a strike at the quarry. No work – and my parents began to think seriously of looking for a small farm, where there would be no strikes. My uncle, Victor, had lost an eye at the quarry and mother feared the same might happen to father. Splinters of rock were always a danger. They saw an ad in a Finnish paper “Farm for sale” -- $900 – with a creek running though it – 40 acres, in Oulu, Wis. So father came by train to Iron River, Wis. where John Knuutila of Oulu met him with horse and wagon, and took him to see the farm. It had one or two log buildings in the hollow and quite hilly. A path led down from the main “highway”. (Then a very dusty and rough clay road.) A widow Brita Huotari owned it and my father bought the place.
Redgranite Quarry today. It has been decommissioned and is apparently a great place to swim in the summer.

* My grandfather!
** I can't imagine what Aunt Kathryn or so many from her generation who lived through these terrible epidemics would think of all the people nowadays who willfully choose not to vaccinate their children

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