My New Friends Were Barefoot
A story of growing up in the
Upper Peninsula of Michigan during
Printed by Mid-Peninsula Library Cooperative
RALPH W. SECORD PRESS is owned and operated by the Mid-Peninsula Library Cooperative, 1525 Pyle Drive, Kingsford, Michigan 49802. The Cooperative provides central services to member libraries located in the Michigan Upper Peninsula Counties of Delta, Dickinson, Gogebic, Iron, Menominee, and Ontonagon. Since 1971, the Cooperative's press has specialized in publishing books about the Upper Peninsula. The press is named in honor of Ralph W. Secord, Michigan's 1975 Librarian of the Year, founder and guiding spirit of both the press and the cooperative until his retirement in 1981.
Copyright @ 1993 by Betty Gray
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First Printing 1994
Manufactured in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gray, John, 1912-1985.
My new friends were barefoot : a story of growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the 1920's/ by John Gray.
ISBN 0-933249-13-6 : $12.50
1. Gray, John, 1912-1985--Childhood and youth. 2. Sagola (Mich.)
-Biography. 3. Upper Peninsula (Mich.)--Social life and customs.
Growing up as the granddaughter of John Robert Gray was truly a remarkable experience. My grandfather not only read bedtime stories to me -- he wrote them.
I can remember as a young girl growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, looking forward to my grandparent's visits. My brother, Patrick, and I especially enjoyed hearing our Grandpa's boyhood tales of adventure in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. His childhood friends, Pecky, Mosey, Specs and Brownie, were real people to us. We usually stayed up way past our bedtime just to hear Grandpa read to us. My favorite was the story about "Black Sal" and how my grandfather and his friends stole the legendary black leather strap.
John Gray was my idol. He taught me the finer points of writing, observation and storytelling at an early age. He encouraged me to keep diaries and taught me a great deal about listening, too. Because of his guidance, I developed a love of writing and obtained a degree in Journalism from Colorado State University.
His gift for the word still takes my breath away. Not only his professional writing, but his frequent letters to a young teenager in Colorado, were witty, intelligent and philosophical. I still have every letter he wrote to me - including the first one he wrote when I was five hours old, which I received as a precious gift from him on my 21st birthday. It was even more touching because he had been gone for two years.
My grandfather passed away in November 1985. His loss is still very painful. Toward the end of his life, he was working toward his dream of having this book published. When he died, all of us thought the book had died, too.
Having my grandfather's dream come true with this publication is fulfilling not only John Gray's dream, but the dream of those he left behind.
I wanted to write this forward so I could somehow express the love, gratitude and pure admiration I have for this man. However, I do not have the capacity to explain in words, what I feel in my heart.
I hope you enjoy his stories today, as much as I did many years ago. In today's society of growing youth violence and turmoil, these stories are a precious reminder of how calm life was in a simpler, less technological society. They make me long for the peaceful existence America and the Upper Peninsula once knew. They also make me long for a gifted writer who was also a very gifted human being.
My New Friends Were Barefoot
Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the 1920's enjoyed an isolation that gave its towns and its people an individuality plain, unraveled, and to this writer who grew up there and then, unforgettable.
Especially isolated were the sawmill towns of the "U-P," as the region is familiarly known. Most mill towns were smaller than mining or railroad towns, and generally they were scattered out of the way among heavy forests. Maps identified them as Foster City, Ontonagon, Nahma, Chassel, Sagola, Trout Creek, to name a few. Today's maps carry the same names, but like the songster's old mare, they ain't what they used to be; not what they used to be in the 1920's certainly. With changes in forest practices, product marketing, consumer demands; with the whole complex of a modern forest industry came the demise of the U-P's early sawmill towns. It is only in memories that their way of life returns, and rather pleasantly.
Their isolation was maintained by a lack of convenient facilities for transportation to and from, and communication with the outside world; a world referred to simply as "down below." Green Bay, Milwaukee and Marinette, Wisconsin were down below. So, too, was Chicago. Michigan's capital city, Lansing, was seldom talked about and when it was, it was similarly labeled. Lansing was a mythical place having something to do with politics, a subject as far away as the city itself, which was far away, indeed. A train trip from the U-P's midland to Lansing would take you into Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana before you got there. Lansing was out of the question; a stranger among places down below.
Train trips, by the way, were the only practical means of leaving the Upper Peninsula. They were rare because of
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infrequent necessity and expensive tickets. True, the automobile was a means of travel, but only for an affluent few. Touring cars, (they were joined in the late twenties by sedans) were attractions used mostly as status symbols for Sunday afternoon joy rides, and then only on summer Sundays. From November to March they were on blocks with batteries and tires removed and radiators drained.
Telephones were available for limited communication; their installations restricted to the company office, depot, doctor's office, clubhouse -- places like that where their signals were by code: two long and one short for the doctor, one long and two short for the depot, and so on.
Mouth to ear was the most frequently used, albeit least reliable form of communication and only infrequently related to down below matters. The post office, of course, was a symbol of the outside world. Another was the depot with its telegraph key that could be heard clicking railroad business day and night. Occasionally personal messages were received over its wires, but these were never welcomed. Telegrams meant bad news, always.
And so it was that a kind of solitude set the pattern of life in the sawmill town of the Upper Peninsula during the 1920's.
Father was a sawmill filer and the mill town, therefore, was the exciting universe of my youth. Born in 1912, most of my first decade was spent in Ontonagon on the shore of Lake Superior. Memories of those first years are quite blurred, unfortunately. They have faded into a few out-of-focus mental pictures: posters of spike-helmeted Huns stabbing French school kids; a forest fire that caused our furniture to be moved to the beach; my stage struck rendition at a Sunday school picnic of "In Flanders Fields;" preparations for a train trip to a new home town.
The train took us -- mother, father, sister and me -- about one hundred miles to another sawmill town, Sagola, twenty-one miles north of a mining town, Iron Mountain, and four miles south of a railroad town, Channing. Sagola's population was about 300 most of the time, about 375 when the mill ran nights.
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We arrived on a night in July, 1922. Aunt Flo and Uncle Arch greeted us and guided us over wooden sidewalks to their home where we would stay until a box car arrived with our furniture. I couldn't see much of my new town in the dark, but did notice big elm trees along the street. A good sign, I thought. I liked shady places, and too, trees usually meant squirrels and birds. Slingshot country, most likely.
Before I finished my first breakfast in my new town, soon-to-be acquired friends about my age were sitting in the yard near Aunt Flo's kitchen window. I would know them as Pecky, Mosey, Specs, and Brownie. Mysteries of that mouth-to-ear communication system were not yet revealed to me and so it was a surprise to learn that who I was, where I came from, where I would live were already matters of common knowledge.
My new friends were barefoot and as Specs explained, had been barefoot since the beginning of vacation and would remain barefoot until school opened in the fall. It was this mention, apparently, that prompted Pecky to leave us momentarily to kick a stone out of the road. I knew this was to impress me, but I was determined to subdue the awe rising within me; nor was I about to ask him if it hurt.
Upon Pecky's return (there was no limp that I could detect), Mosey established himself as an expert slingshot marksman. From his sitting position he knocked a pigeon off Uncle Arch's woodshed. I was tempted to say something like in Ontonagon we knocked pigeons off woodsheds all the time. I didn't, because I thought: "What if they ask me to take a shot?" Besides, my slingshot was en route with other valuables -- marbles, cigar bands, Rainbow Division shoulder patch from a cousin's uniform, ball glove, Indian arrow head, and such. And anyway, slingshots were personal. You just didn't shoot another kid's slingshot. I knew from experience that no two slingshot crotches were alike.
Specs and Brownie were less demonstrative than Pecky and Mosey, but according to Pecky, Specs could drink nine dippers of water from the school pump without throwing up. Brownie just smiled as Mosey said Brownie was a better baseball pitcher than any kid in Sagola or Channing. Mosey said Brownie could throw an out-drop bigger even than Smokey Kramer's. and Smokey played on the Sagola big team.
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Talk in Uncle Arch's yard began to lose direction, my friends indicated I could go along with them to wherever they were going. This turned out to be something of a guided meandering to my fascinating and promising new home.
Two east-west streets, each of them three blocks long, and three north-south streets almost as long were the unnamed, gravel-covered arteries of inner Sagola. They were edged by board sidewalks, and set back from these were wooden houses, all of them white and all of them rented from the Company.
In addition, there was the road north to Channing and south to Iron Mountain, and another to Crystal Falls, a mining town about fourteen miles west. Byer's blacksmith shop, a few houses and the Company boarding house on a hill were along the north-south road. No buildings faced the east-west road, but on its way to Crystal Falls, it connected Sagola with a few 40-acre farms and a near-abandoned mining town, Mansfield, near the Michigamme River.
A white store with NORTHERN SAWMILL COMPANY painted across its high, white front shared the downtown section with an ice house, depot, and a sprawling, brown-stained clubhouse.
My friends said the store and clubhouse were extra special. We could stand outside and look through the store's big windows, but we couldn't go in. Charlie Erickson, the store manager, didn't want kids in the store unless they were on errands or were with older people. From what I was told, as I pressed my nose against a window, you could buy just about anything in the store: Ingersol watches, pork chops, handsaws, lime for the backhouse, shoe pacs; all kinds of stuff. In the back of the store was the company office where men were paid on twice-a-month pay days. Pecky said pay days were fun because Charlie Erickson always gave kids a bag of chocolate creams when their fathers paid the store bills.
From the store, about as far as you could shoot a stone with a slingshot, stood the clubhouse. We couldn't go in on my first day, however. T. J. Dewish, the manager, felt about kids the way Charlie Erickson did, apparently. As Mosey explained it, the clubhouse was the best place of all. In it was a candy
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counter and a cigar counter with punchboards where you could win jack knives if you were lucky, and if you were grown up because kids weren't allowed to take punches even if they had the nickels which they never had very often. There was a telephone switchboard near the cigar counter with six plugs, a card room and a room with two pool tables and a billiard table. Kids couldn't go in there either. But most important, the clubhouse had a big hall where motion pictures were shown every Sunday night, including two-reel comedies.
Sometimes dances were held in the hall, but kids were not allowed inside at dances. They could stand by the open windows, however, and listen to the music and watch their parents in waltzes and fox trots. Outside of the motion picture shows, Specs explained, the big event in the hall for kids was the Christmas pageant put on by all eight grades in the school. Brownie said there was a tree at the pageant and Mr. Hunting, the company superintendent, gave each kid a bag of candy.
Directly east of the clubhouse and across the street and railroad tracks stood the grey depot with a bay window in the middle were the agent Mr. Morton fingered the telegraph key. A waiting room occupied the south wing, a baggage room the north. On the platform along the front of the depot sat a high, funny looking red wagon with iron wheels and a handle pointing skyward from its front. My friends said the wagon was taken into the baggage room after the night passenger train; that it wasn't available when the agent was away. A semaphore poked into the sky from the front of the depot. It had an iron ladder all the way to the top, and unlike the wagon, remained exposed and inviting during the agent's off hours.
Within two blocks of the clubhouse were the schoolhouse, two churches, the post office, and Charlie Price's barber shop.
The schoolhouse, with a large bell in its tower, had three rooms. Outside was a backhouse for boys and one for girls. Sagola had no high school. After students graduated from the eighth grade, those who wanted to pursue their education went to Channing in a four-cylinder, wooden-bodied bus.
One of the churches was topped with a steeple, bell and cross. The other with a steeple and bell. My friends explained
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that the churches were shiny white because men of the congregations painted them twice a year.
Sagola's post office was an appendage on Morton's house. Mrs. Morton was postmistress and wife of the depot agent. I was guided into the post office by Pecky and in the little room facing me was a partition holding tiny doors with dials and gold numbers. I was told these were mail boxes and most likely one would belong to my family before long. Mosey said his family's box was Number five, but he couldn't tell me what the combination was. Mail box combinations were secret. Sometimes you could learn them, however, if you sneaked a look when people were turning the dials, Mosey said he could open two boxes and was almost ready with a third.
Charlie Price's barbershop, halfway between the clubhouse and post office, had a barber chair that Charlie pumped up and down with his foot, and in a back room, a bath tub. Brownie explained anybody could use the tub for twenty-five cents if the boiler was working. Charlie Price was having trouble with the boiler lately, Brownie said, it kept leaking hot water. Joe Frawley, the village handyman, had gone to Marinette for a funeral and Charlie Price hoped Joe would return before the end of the week so he could fix the leak. There was urgency here because the bathtub was in demand on Saturday nights.
The huge, grey sawmill stood over all other of Sagola's things. My friends were proud of the mill. It had two bandmills and a re-saw and these made it real big. Two black smokestacks went 'way up into the sky from the west side of the mill. I was told these were painted once a year in late summer and kids could hang around and talk to the man who dared go to the top to paint them. Something to look forward to.
Near the mill was the biggest horsebarn in the whole world. Bigger even than the one in Ontonagon. And it had the best smells I ever smelled.
August Malmstead was the barn boss, Mosey said, and although I didn't meet him on my first day, I determined to make his acquaintance with the hope that he would let me visit
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him now and then. Horses were my favorite animals, you see, and when I grew up, I was going to be a teamster and maybe drive a sawmill dumpcart.
Immediately south of the big mill was the planing mill where rough lumber was made smooth. Planers were noisy machines that spewed sawdust and shavings all over. We walked right by the planing mill, but stopped briefly at the blacksmith shop. No horses were being shod right then, so we postponed an extended visit. Brownie explained this was the company blacksmith shop; that it was one of two in Sagola. The other was operated by Louie Byers who, unlike the company blacksmith, liked kids. Kids could get old horseshoes from Louie, and sometimes he would let them pump the bellows on his forge. Louie was a man to become acquainted with, obviously.
Between the mill and the town proper was the lumber yard. Here were twenty acres of lumber piles with tramways webbing through them about fifteen feet above the ground. Our walk took us through the yard over a road made of sawdust and chips and lined with high, symmetrical piles of sweet-smelling lumber. It was shady and cool in the lumber yard and lumber pilers waved to us. One of them was Specs' pa.
Topping off Sagola's special features was the baseball field; its outfield unfenced, its infield ungrassed, but to me on that first day, full of great promise. Here, I was told, kids played scrub almost every day and the big team played Channing or Felch or some other outside team on holidays and frequent Sundays.
Near third base stood a big elm tree where we finished our tour. The shade felt good and the grass around the tree was cool and a little damp as I stretched out on it to listen to my new friends as they talked boys' talk, and to listen to myself as I asked: "What more could I want?" My new town had everything: lots of interesting places, good friends, big horses, trains, motion pictures, baseball field, everything.
I was, well, I was happy is what I was.
Our furniture arrived two days after my introduction. It was then our family discovered Sagola's welcome mat was a kind of wall-to-wall carpet. My father had more help than he could
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use as volunteers re-assembled beds, installed casters on table legs, spread rugs, set up the cook stove and moved the piano to its place in the front room. We were told this was one of only two such instruments in town, the other being in the clubhouse hall. My sister was urged to play something and the chorus of "Golden Slippers" could be heard even before joints of the stove pipe were connected. Ma didn't have to cook dinner or supper for two days following our move-in. There were gifts of home-made bread, roast venison, mincemeat pie, wild strawberries, and much more.
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No Place To Go Where We Shouldn't Be
Looking back to my years in the mill town is somehow like peering into a kaleidoscope. There is a constantly changing set of Individuals and events without continuity or pattern and yet, as in the kaleidoscope, not without amusing symmetry.
Collectively, the people of Sagola were poor. Certainly they were poor by later standards. The hourly rate for labor at the mill and lumber yard -- and this included the majority of workers -- was thirty cents. The work week covered six ten-hour days. To be sure, prices at the company store were at rock bottom; twenty-five cents for a pair of suspenders, for example. Trouble was, the twenty-five cents were not easy to come by.
In their total they were compassionate people, generous within the limits of their capacities, and tolerant. Ladies of one little white church baked cakes for cake sales of ladies of the other little white church and then bought their own cakes.
Protestant and Catholic alike enjoyed a billiard game with Father Garrity on his semi-monthly visits to hear confessions and celebrate Mass. His draw shots were the envy of onlookers in the clubhouse pool room. Reverend Peterson, of Channing, who conducted services in the Protestant church, called square dances in the big hall.
True, Eddie Gorney was the subject of some ridicule, but for the most part, he was accepted into Sagola's compassionate pattern. Eddie spent his winters working in a lumber camp and his summers on vacation in town under the influence of bootleg moonshine. Regularly he could be found sleeping in the shade
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of the ice house, or staggering to or from the boarding house where Ben Tighe provided him with modest shelter. Our mothers wouldn't let us pester Eddie when he was on one of his binges. We were told to feel sorry for him and to stay away from him. This wasn't easy because Eddie did some of the craziest things when he was drunk.
Mike Finn rode the carriage at the mill. The carriage was a steam-driven platform on wheels to which logs were clamped and carried to the bandsaw to be cut into planks and boards. Near the close of a work day, Mike reached down to pick a piece of bark from a carriage bumper. As he did this a log was jammed against his hand. Doc Hayes, the company doctor, had to remove three of Mike's fingers. Immediately the village had a new topic of conversation and a new challenge to which the response was immediate. Volunteers split Mike's wood and daily filled his woodbox. Mrs. Finn's larder was kept supplied with gifts of flour, salt, brook trout, venison, and baking powder. The doctor bill? There wasn't any. Like all mill workers, Mike contributed $1.25 each month to the salary of Doc Hayes.
Another example of Sagola's compassion has to do with Arky Stile's attack on his wife's clothes reel. During a temporary breakdown at the mill, Arky, as he did during all such breakdowns, prepared to go fishing. When he was told by his wife that her brother had borrowed his fishpole, instant rage propelled him into the back yard where he charged the reel. A four-by-four post supporting the reel was struck a mighty blow; so mighty, in fact, that Arky broke his wrist. Voluntary contributions met the daily needs of the Stiles family until Doc Hayes removed the cast to permit Arky's return to the payroll.
Mary Papinau was one of the cutest little girJs in town. Everyone knew Mary. She had just passed her seventh birthday when she was stricken with pneumonia. In the company store, the clubhouse, at the mill, people asked. "Have you heard how Mary is coming along?" On the night her crisis was reached, few villagers slept. Her fever broke during the late hours and with this good news, coffee pots boiled as relief comforted the village. The morning whistle at the mill blew extra long in celebration.
Jud Judson, a boy about my age, had been afflicted with St. Vitus dance for some time. On a dark, cold March morning the
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report spread through town: "Jud passed away last night." Eyes of Sagola watered and the mill shut down on the day of the funeral.
Jud's passing was especially tragic for Mosey and me. We had regularly visited Jud on our way home from school. We did this, not so much to ease his boredom, but to be entertained by his uncontrollable shaking. To be sure, we wouldn't admit this and certainly Jud was unaware because he always had been glad to see us. Our mental anguish peaked at the graveside when Reverend Peterson chose Mosey and me to drop flowers on Jud's coffin. Guilt ridden and reluctant though we were, our participation went off as requested, but upon our return from the cemetery Mosey and I vowed to each other that never again would we be entertained by a handicap.
Death was not a frequent visitor, but when it came, as in Jud's case, it brought total grief to the townspeople. A crepe on a door caused a strange silence to engulf the community. Men were quiet in the pool room. Women gathered in little knots at the store or post office and talked softly without smiling. Even kids were subdued.
The house where death arrived was at once a place of quiet activity. Neighbor women were there to do the housework and to donate all kinds of food. Men shifted or dismantled furniture to make room for the coffin. In the evening there were formal visits by villagers dressed in their best. Women gathered in the kitchen and men in the front room if death came in the winter. In summer men sat on the porch, but the women remained in the kitchen. Coffee and many kinds of cookies were available. Flowers from back yard gardens were additional expressions of sympathy. The minister or priest on these occasions took on special significance and received nods of understanding when he said such comforting things as: "It's God's will." Or, "Our dear friend suffers no more and waits for us on high." Or, 'The good Lord's greatest gift is abundant rest."
Death was something my friends and I didn't understand exactly, but we knew it was mighty serious business and we weren't about to attract untoward attention when it was among us. There was no horsing around when someone died.
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There should be no inference here that tragedy was the only impetus to expressions of friendship in my village. A baby's birth was celebrated with simple joy at the store, the mill, clubhouse, everywhere. "Is it a boy or girl?" "How much does it weigh?" "Look like its mother?" "What did they name It?" -- --- These were sincere queries with every birth and were accompanied by the usual warm gestures of affectionate interest. Neighbor women did the housework at the new baby's home and performed infant care duties they knew so well. Men kidded the new father and offered to help in meeting any expenses that arrived with the little tot.
To us kids, birth, like death, was mysterious and not to be pondered.
Weddings, too, were occasions for joy and merriment. Among other things, weddings meant shivarees. (No one would spell or pronounce them charivaris). Shivarees were fun for men and boys. Women seldom took part, but for men shivarees were truly special events. Truly noisey special events.
The decibal level of a shivaree was an accurate measure of the popularity of the bride and groom. It was reached by hammering wash tubs, shaking cow bells, banging dish pans. One of the most diabolical instruments in the total racket was a 36-inch circular saw. Three men took part in its performance; two to carry the saw by a shovel handle inserted through the hole in its center, a third to strike it with a hammer, railroad spike, horseshoe or other improvisation of equal efficiency.
The shivaree ended with appearance of the groom on the porch of the bride's parents and his presentation of a bill of moderate denomination to a representative of the adult noise makers. Following this happy gesture, he would call the kids to the porch and give them a few coins; these too of moderate denomination.
Kids would take off for the clubhouse candy counter. (Kids with coins to spend were not barred by T. J. Dewish.) Adults would dispose of their instruments and wend their way to Peg Leg Berrett's farm and roothouse where home brew was consumed with appropriate merriment until the groom's gift was used up.
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It was in Peg Leg's roothouse following a shivaree that an accident of a serious kind was miraculously avoided. Functional furniture in the roothouse included a large round table that had been the shipping crate for a circular saw. Nail kegs were table seats and on the table top was a gasoline lantern, a dishpan and a collection of tin substitutes for drinking glasses. Purpose of the dishpan was to catch as quickly as possible the foaming, very young home brew as Peg Leg opened ketchup, liniment or harness oil bottles or the one-gallon vinegar jugs he used for his yeasty elixir. By upending their necks in the pan immediately upon opening them, he held waste to a minimum.
On a summer night with wedding celebrants gathered around the table, two full vinegar jugs, warmed by the lantern, exploded simultaneously. Thousands of tiny pieces of glass were all that could be found of the jugs and not one of Peg Leg's customers was as much as scratched. All of them, however, were well drenched in foam.
The term, juvenile delinquency, had no place in the lexicon of Sagola. Parental restraint, therefore, was at a minimum. It was generally agreed by our mothers and fathers there was no place to go where we shouldn't be.
Certain happenings could be considered suspect, perhaps, and here the humped box car comes to mind. A box car was humped when it was set free from its locomotive and allowed to coast to the planing mill or loading dock, or wherever.
Oliver Gomer was the brakeman in the company's engine crew and Oliver didn't like kids. If he did, why would he swear at them when they tried to catch a ride on one of his flat cars or box cars? Oliver's duty when a car was humped was to control the brakes from atop the car. Pecky, or maybe it was Mosey, figured that by opening a switch half way, Oliver's free wheeling box car would jump the track and go bouncing over the ties with Oliver bouncing along with it. And that's just what it did, and just what he did. From an opening in the nearby ice house we witnessed the performance with a mixture of glee and terror.
Return of the box car to the track was an encore equal in interest, almost, to the accident itself. Involved was a considerable crew of mill workers with crow bars, chains and horses. The record should show that the humped box car caper
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was staged but once. Utmost secrecy was demanded and at best this was fragile among boys who now and then got mad at each other.
This fragile nature of youthful relationships was clearly demonstrated by a happening with Dewey Casper's sled. Dewey was a smart alecky kid; a teacher's pet who had much more than the rest of us including a Flexible Flyer. He wouldn't let anyone ride on it let alone belly flop it on the boarding house hill. We called him a stingy gut.
On one of its trips to down below, the night passenger train had Dewey's sled in tow at the end of a clothes line. Twas great fun to watch it bouncing over the ties, and we wondered how much of it would be left when the train reached Iron Mountain.
The very next day we realized someone had snitched. Mr. Casper knew who tied the sled to the train and who cheered it on its way. Our mothers and fathers knew too, and as a result, for two months we piled Casper's wood each time a dump cart brought a load from the mill, with Dewey looking on, of course.
A peculiar celebrity status and sense of pride was common to boys who were in on the humped box car, Flexible Flyer and events of such nature, but guilt, too, was there - although seldom admitted. Only once during the year was guilt absent from our group conscience - on Hallowe'en.
In early September. when leaves became yellow on the popples behind the horse barn, we turned our thoughts to things we would do on the big night in October. It was fun to look back on projects of other years and to devise improvements for the upcoming event.
Hallowe'en provided the youth of Sagola with an unwritten permit to commit deviltry upon victims who had none of the alternatives of later times. There were no trick-or-treat ultimatums; only tricks on the eve of All Saints Day.
Tradition divided youthful perpetrators into groups by age and by difficulty of the deviltry at hand. Little kids, for example. took over the window rattling responsibilities. These they carried out by spinning notched thread spools on the panes.
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Knocking on doors and running away was another of their assignments. So. too, was chasing chickens out of coops. Removing the gate from the superintendent's fence was still another. Older kids tipped over woodpiles and backhouses. On one of the more memorable Hallowe'ens they disconnected and subsequently hid the school bell; a prank of no small accomplishment. The bell weighed eighty pounds and had to be removed from its bracket, lowered from its tower with a heavy rope and then with the same rope hoisted into the elm tree near third base. And all of this with the clapper under control throughout the maneuver.
With woodpiles in disarray, chickens on the loose, backhouses on their sides, Sagola on the morning after Hallowe'en was a village of disorder and general discomfort.
If juvenile delinquency was of no consequence, it can be said that crime, certainly violent crime, was nonexistent in my mill town. To be sure, there were occasional fist fights at the boarding house and at Sunday baseball games. And I suppose what happened to the humped box car, Dewey's sled and the school bell were beyond simple monkeyshines. But violent crime? No.
A borderline incident, perhaps, would be the store robbery. The only violence, if it could be called that however, was attached to the shambles Charlie Erickson discovered when he opened the store for business on a Monday morning. Soda crackers, yard goods, men's, women's and children's wear, shoepacs, paint brushes and much more were strewn from chewing tobacco to horse collars. A check of things missing came up with the tally: one box of chocolate-covered cherries and 32 pairs of overalls.
Constable Pete Provo was summoned from his farm three miles east of town and began an immediate investigation. Pete was noncommittal about his work until later in the week when he announced he was closing in on the burglars. This bit of information caused all but the chocolate-covered cherries to be placed during the night on Charlie Erickson's back porch.
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Old Sport and Goof
My kaleidoscope turns and Old Sport comes into view. He was a big. black dog that came uninvited to our home and established a friendly residence. He was not a very useful dog, as useful dogs go. Wouldn't chase rabbits, wouldn't watch the house. But if the absorbing love of a boy was Important, Old Sport was very useful indeed. Trouble was old age was taking Its toll. It stiffened his joints and kept his sad eyes filled with tears. However hard he tried, he could barely wag his tail.
"Tonight, after your mother goes to bed, we'll take him to the lumber yard and put him out of his misery," said my father. At the appointed time Old Sport was lifted into a wheelbarrow where he shared the narrow space with a shovel. With lantern and rifle, I led the gloomful way to the final resting place. As the one-wheeled ambulance was tilted gently, Old Sport eased to the edge of a fresh-dug hole in the sawdust and chips. Pa racked a shell into the rifle, handed the gun to me and whispered: "Hold the muzzle to his head between his eyes and he'll never know what hit him." I whispered: "No, Pa, you hold it to his head between his eyes." Old Sport was lifted into the wheelbarrow once again and the return home was one of pleasant relief for a father, a son, and a tired old dog that died a natural death the following night.
Old Sport was one of two dogs attached to our family and by far the more intelligent. Months after his death I found his successor in a ditch near Byer's blacksmith shop abandoned, covered with fleas, and obviously starving. Upon bringing him home I was ordered to scrub him until all of the fleas were removed. My mother then launched him on his return to health with regular meals of corn meal mush and meat scraps. Before long his tail was wagging freely. His actions, however, seemed a
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bit unusual as he trotted into screen doors, barked at his reflection in store windows, tried to climb our woodshed for the pigeons on the roof, chased the passenger train and gave other evidences of undoglike behavior. He was with us only a very short time before he was appropriately named "Goof."
My father said that had Goof been human, he would have been an idiot. An exaggeration perhaps, but Goof obviously had a mental condition that made him a bit less than normal. He was shiftless, lazy most of the time, but devoted to my father whom he followed just about everywhere. On Saturday nights Goof waited for Pa at Charlie Price's barbershop. Sunday nights, or on nights when Pa played billiards, Goof greeted visitors to the clubhouse from a position in the middle of the wide porch. He spent many days in Pa's filing room at the mill.
During the winter early in his career Goof enjoyed the comforts of our house. On many cold nights he chose a sleeping place behind the kitchen stove. It was on one of those nights that he somehow slid under the stove and couldn't, or wouldn't get out. This presented a problem, of course. The stove had to be raised, but to do this the stove pipe had to be removed from the kitchen wall. This meant there could be no wood burning in the stove. A hot stove was essential to the preparation of breakfast, dinner and supper and so Goof spent his day whining his discomfort. My mother spent hers In a state of frustration as she periodically, but to no avail, poked Goof with a broom handle.
After supper, with embers removed from the fire box, the warming oven and the reservoir emptied and stove lids set aside, Goofs extrication got under way. This was a project of large dimension. Oscar Olson, a neighbor, was called in to help my father and me lift one end of the stove while Ma poked Goof with the broom handle. He had grown accustomed to his warm hideaway and refused to budge. The stove was lowered gently and Mr. Olson left to summon Mrs. Olson who came with a second broom handle. The work resumed with Pa, Mr. Olson and me lifting and Ma and Mrs. Olson kneeling and jabbing and pushing their broom handles until finally Goof slid into the clear. He stretched, wagged his tail and lay down under the kitchen table. The ordeal was the last of its kind. From then on, Goofs bed was in the woodshed; cold winter nights or no.
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When an itinerant photographer visited Sagola it was suggested that a portrait be taken of my father and Goof. The suggestion added a touch of levity to a gathering on the clubhouse porch and Pa went along with the idea. He took the dog into his arms where Goof posed with quiet concern until the photographer raised a black hood behind the camera. Upon this bit of unexpected action. Goof bolted from Pa's arms and charged the photographer's tripod. No damage resulted, however. Miraculously the photographer held on to his camera as he stumbled backwards into the arms of a spectator.
Several townspeople raised chickens with Plymouth rocks more popular than other types. This because it was generally agreed their eggs were largest and their meat best. Iver Swanson's Plymouth rocks were judged to be outstanding, a fact of which Iver was justly proud. Each morning throughout the summer Sagola awakened to Iver's loud roosters. It was a pleasant alarm system and generally appreciated except on Sundays.
Unforgettable was the July morning when instead of the cheerful cocka-doodle-doos, Sagola awakened to a cacophony with village-wide vibrations. Goof had invaded the Swanson chicken yard. The final count: four laying hens and Iver's best rooster. Iver settled with Pa for a box of 12-gauge shotgun shells and a level-winding casting reel. The Swansons ate the chickens.
Goof was a lover of horses and spent much time in and around the company horsebarn. Barn boss August Malmstead was one of Goofs favorite people; probably next to my father and Peg Leg Barrett. This was a bit strange because August liked cats and with Goof, cats were to be chased, growled at and fought, with Goof invariably the scratched and bleeding loser.
Hovering over Sagola's four corners was a 300-watt light; the only street light in town. On a cold, winter midnight Goof apparently mistook the light for the full moon. Bracing himself directly under the light and assuming the head-raised stance of a timber wolf, he howled. And howled. One by one lights came on in nearby houses, including ours. We lived on one of the four corners where Pa, in his long nightshirt, stood in the doorway and yelled repeatedly: Here, Goof!" Goofs attention to his moon remained undivided. Some action short of going into the
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winter night was called for, so a peck of potatoes was brought from the kitchen. With one of the last potatoes, Pa ended the moon watch and with a yelp Goof dashed toward our porch. Upon spotting a strange thing in the doorway - - a strange thing in a long nightshirt -- he braced his front legs into a skid and muttered: "Woof'. And there he remained until Pa returned to the door with his nightshirt tucked into a pair of pants.
To some of the women in our village, Goof was an undesirable resident. This because he liked home brew. Peg Leg Barrett's home brew was especially inviting and Goof was a regular visitor to the Barrett farm where Peg Leg gave him the beer in a pie tin. Two pie tins and Goof trotted in circles with happy yips. And as Peg Leg pointed out, the dog never staggered.
Whenever a car appeared on Sagola's streets, Goof gave it special attention by nipping at its front tires. On one of his forays, as the car he was trying to nip turned the corner near the Catholic church, Goof crashed into Maude Bailey's loaded baby carriage. Maude remained upright, but the carriage, baby and Goof were well tangled. No harm was done to the carriage or the infant, but Goof suffered bruised ribs from Maud's pointed shoe.
Goofs last day, except for its outcome, was not unlike his other days: active, confused. He arose early to chase a few cats, nipped at the tires of a car or two, visited my father at the mill and August at the barn, paid his respects to Peg Leg, and dozed in the sun. In late afternoon he was on his way to Byer's blacksmith shop, probably to visit a horse. An iron-ore train came roaring south to Iron Mountain and Goof apparently decided to cross in front of it. He charged into the second car behind the coal tender.
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Bit Players and Co-Stars
Moving in and out of focus as I look back are individuals who, as bit players or co-stars, made significant contributions to the drama of day to day life in my mill town.
Constable Pete Provo was one of these. Along with Jack Dempsey, Ty Cobb, and my father, Pete was one of my heroes. Whenever Pete came to town my friends and I would gather 'round to hear stories of his years as a professional trapper and hunter (he sold venison to lumber camps). Too, he was our lawman. This made him special because he carried a gun in a holster just like William S. Hart did in the Sunday night motion pictures.
Pete enjoyed sitting on the clubhouse porch with us and we enjoyed sitting with him and listening to his tales. Pete seemed to sense our unquestioned belief in all he told us. When he described his bare-hands wrestle with a black bear in his shack on the Michigamme River, there was no doubt in us. We knew for certain that with bare hands he wrestled a black bear in his shack on the Michigamme River, and won. In one of his accounts he remarked that in all of his years in the woods, he never carried a compass.
"What if you got lost, Mr. Provo?"
To answer us. he shifted his holster, squirted a stream of tobacco juice, and with an impish grin that should have told us we had been maneuvered into the query, replied: "When I get lost in the woods, I turn around and go home."
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It would not be fair to Pete to leave him there without another of the stories we knew to be the gospel truth. And this is how we heard it: "When I was about your age, I lived with my Ma on a forty-acre farm about four miles from town. Every Saturday Ma hitched up the mare to the buckboard and drove to the store for flour, tea, or salt or some such. One time I was ridin' on the back of the buckboard and starin' at one of the wheels. I stared at that wheel all the while, never takin' my eyes offin it. Well sir, when Ma was tiein' the mare to a post in front of the store, she took a look at me, and she says: 'Pete, just look at you. Your eyes is crossed.' Well, sir, when Ma come out of the store, she made me sit in the back of the wagon again and she tells me to keep starin' at that same wheel. And you know what? She had to back up that mare and buckboard all the way home before I could see straight again."
Widow Cupper's neighbors agreed: "Widow Cupper is a caution." She may have been a caution all right, but for all of that, the widow was shrewd. A case in point: her brand new heating stove. Her heating stove was always brand new because the widow bought heating stoves on 30-day money-back guarantees. A five-month winter meant five new stoves for the widow. Another thing about her: she was patriotic. Shiny pillows on the sofa by the new stoves proclaimed "Remember the Maine" and "Lafayette, We are Here."
A mystery man was as much a part of an Upper Peninsula sawmill town as a board sidewalk or dump cart. It was characteristic of this interesting person to remain nonconversant on most subjects, especially his background. But no matter, a background would be created for him. One town would have its deserter from the Foreign Legion. Another the scion of a wealthy Boston family. A baseball player out of the Black Sox scandal was a popular figure in several communities. Sagola's mystery man was a tall, handsome, mustached Russian of noble birth who escaped the massacres of Petrograd to find a new life on the lumber piles and at the poker table in the boarding house.
It was at this poker table that he attracted most attention. Rarely did he lose. People of Sagola wondered why he bothered at all to pile lumber for a mere $3 a day. It wasn't that he was an exceptionally good poker player, but more in the way he scared
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others out of the pot. This he did at appropriate times by reaching into his wallet, extracting a hundred-dollar bill and muttering: "I bet," or "I raise."
The boarding house poker game and the Russian nobleman were responsible for hero status conferred upon Siggy Thoren, a rather insignificant driver of a horse and two-wheel dolly on the lumber yard tramway. Siggy, the Russian and three other boarding house tenants were playing five-card draw. Siggy opened the pot and drew three cards. The Russian held pat and the others dropped out. Siggy checked to the pat hand and, as expected. the hundred-dollar bill came forth. Siggy stared at the bill, stared at the cards in his hand, placed them face down, rose from his chair and said: "I'll be back." Minutes went by in silence. Upon his return, Siggy, sweating and with fingers shaking, placed five twenties on the table and mumbled: "I call." This was his finest moment. With a pair of queens he became the owner of the famous bill, and a legend was born. Henceforth as he drove his horse among the lumber piles, Siggy enjoyed a respect he had never known until the queen of clubs and queen of hearts came into his unsophisticated life.
It was said of Doc Hayes that during his many years of practice in which he delivered countless babies, he never lost a mother. In his presence he was called "Doctor," but elsewhere he was affectionately referred to as "Doc." Because of his education, his training and the fact that at any moment a life could be in his hands. Doc Hayes occupied a position of respect and admiration.
If a dispute arose at a Sunday ball game, Doc settled it. If a mill worker needed money for shoes for the kids, Doc was good for a touch until pay day or whenever. If the Protestant church needed a new roof, he spearheaded the drive for contributions and gave generously himself. When the Catholic church needed new benches, he was the first to help out. He was hard to beat in a billiard game and a pretty good deer hunter.
Upper Peninsula blizzards didn't stop him if he had to make a call at an out-of-the-way farm house. As he explained it: "I ride on my snowshoes." Most certainly Doc Hayes was a man of his oath. When his services were not covered by his agreement with the Company, his payment often was a mess of trout, a peck of potatoes, or perhaps a hind quarter of venison.
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At the Sunday motion picture show, Doc and Mrs. Hayes sat in chairs reserved for them by T. J. Dewish. Theirs were the only chairs with cushions and were In the back of the hall near the double-door under the projection booth. The end of each reel or one of the frequent breaks in the film meant a brief intermission while Harry Roland, the projectionist, threaded another segment into his machine. At such times, hall lights came on and Doc and Mrs. Hayes led an exodus to the outer room where Doc commanded attention at the cigar counter and Mrs. Hayes enjoyed her envied position among women friends near the candy counter.
At T. J. Dewish's loud call: "The show is ready to start," Doc and Mrs. Hayes were followed into the hall for another reel of a silent production. When all were seated, the lights went out, Agnes Lockland resumed her piano playing at the front of the hall and the projector began its whirring.
Electricity for the lights of Sagola, including the light for the motion picture projector, was provided by a generator at the mill. During summer months when the mill was not running nights the generator was shut off at ten o'clock after two warning blinks at nine-thirty. It was with village-wide regret that one of the great pictures of the decade was a victim of this fuel-saving measure. "Blood and Sand" with Rudolph Valentino, was an unusually lengthy production; so lengthy, in fact, that with the normal number of times out for breaks in the film and reel changing, it went beyond the ten o'clock blackout. As might be imagined, there was considerable speculation on the outcome of this epic of the silent screen. Speculation had all but disappeared, however, by the following Sunday night when T. J. Dewish again announced: "The show is ready to start." and Doc and Mrs. Hayes led another assemblage of eager milltowners into the hall.
To be sure it was in jest, but according to a popular story, when Straight Jenson was born he stole Doc Hayes' watch. Straight had a given name, I'm sure, but few knew what it was. His nickname, acquired at some point in his somewhat nefarious boyhood, was the result of his propriety for taking unto himself that which belonged to others.
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Straight was a friendly youth, good natured, and never known to harbor a grudge for the mistreatments he suffered regularly. If he was caught stealing a blueberry pie from an open kitchen window and was subsequently whacked with a broom handle, he would be back the next day filled with remorse and pleading for forgiveness. The woodshed behind the Jenson home doubled as the village lost and found department. If a nightshirt was missing from a clothesline, a wrench from a toolbox, a jack knife from the clubhouse punch board, chances are it could be recovered from Straight's woodshed collection.
Something of Sagola's personality is reflected in the fact that Straight was never brought to anything as formal as a trial, nor was Constable Provo ever called in. Punishment, however, was rarely neglected. Straight was busy throughout the year in some measure of amercement. In the spring he could be found washing windows or beating rugs. In the winter he shoveled snow. None of these repayments, distasteful as they were to Straight, seemed to lessen the propensity. His woodshed contained rug beaters and snow shovels.
Pat Keefe worked in the planing mill and lived on his father's farm about a mile south of town. He comes to mind as the owner of the first, and as it turned out, the only motorcycle in Sagola during the period reported here. Although his ownership was short lived, it provided an event worth chronicling. Pat's machine, a two-cylinder Indian by trade name, was purchased in Iron Mountain and hauled on the Keefe Model-T truck to the company store when the proud owner thrilled to questions put to him by admiring townspeople. Pat concluded the meeting by announcing he would take his shakedown trip at his father's farm shortly after supper.
A sizeable crowd gathered for the event along the outer side of a fence bordering the Keefe cow pasture. Pat walked his machine to a position near the largest concentration of onlookers where he conducted a seminar on the workings of his proud possession.
The seminar over, Pat mounted the motorcycle and bracing himself with one foot on the ground, he twisted the handle grips and after several downward thrusts with his free leg, his head snapped and away he went. Pat knew all about starting the machine, obviously, but obviously too, he didn't
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know how to stop it. After circling the pasture more times than a shakedown should require, it became evident to spectators that Pat was in trouble. There were shouted instruction: "Run her into the fence.... .Keep her goin' Pat, 'til she runs out of gas Turn short and fall off." Pat accepted the last suggestion and in a small explosion of dust, cow dung, spinning wheels and a tumbling dare devil, the shakedown was over. Next day the Keefe truck was used to return a slightly damaged Indian to its reservation in an Iron Mountain cycle shop at partial loss of a down payment and substantial gain in chagrin to Pat.
Volney Lundgren was an envied kid. He was about to visit his uncle in Chicago and he was going there on the night passenger train. Chicago was truly a mythical place. We knew something about Marinette, Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but Chicago --- Chicago was in another world down below. Specs, Pecky, Mosie, Brownie and I went to the depot to see him off and he promised to send a penny postcard to each of us. He did, too. I kept mine for a long time because the card had been in Chicago. Volney's message was brief, but interesting: Dear Slivvers: Chicago is a big city. The buildings are so high that if you would put hay in them there would be lots. Your friend, Volney.
We besieged Volney upon his return, bombarding him with questions we had been saving: Were cement sidewalks on every street? Did you ride on a street car? See Sears 'n Roebuck? Ride an elevator? See the Cubs play? Did you see a policeman hit anybody with his billy club? What about the train, Volney, did you eat in the diner where Jerome works?
Volney wore his trip like a cloak of honor, and we all shared his pride. We were friends of a kid who had been in Chicago.
The train that carried Volney, the Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul, was big in our lives. Each early morning it came from down below and each night, about nine o'clock, it stopped briefly on its return. On its morning trip it brought mail and an occasional visitor. Its arrival at night was our curfew, but not until we visited with our special friend, Jerome, the dining car chef who chatted with us as he leaned on the car's half-door. He
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gave each of us an apple. I saved mine until it drew flies. That apple had been in Chicago and in Jerome's dining car.
The CMNSTP. as we called our train because the letters rolled so easily on our tongues, was truly a wonderous and mysterious thing. There were the warm lights of the coaches on cold winter nights. The darkened windows of the sleeping cars. The engineer and firemen who waved to us sometimes. The conductor who placed a little step stool on the platform and who started the whole train with a wave and a shout: "Bo-o-oord." The dining car, of course, and our friend Jerome. The baggage car and mail car and the wish to someday work in one of them. If I didn't become a teamster on a dumpcart, I was going to work in a baggage car or a railway post office.
Each night as the train ended our visit, Mosey and I would hitch a short ride on the steps of the sleeping car next to Jerome's diner. We would jump off before the train picked up speed; I first then Mosey. On the last night we did this I was about to step off when Mosey said his leg was caught. Somehow the long, loose lacing on his boot had twisted around a vertical steel bar by the steps. I reached down to jerk the lacing, but couldn't find it. By this time the engine was puffing pretty fast. On my second attempt, I found the lacing, broke it, and we jumped. Mosey landed on me and so I suffered most of the cinder scratches and bruises. The disciplinary action he suffered was equal to mine, however. No motion picture shows for a month. No swimming in Mud Lake for a month. In bed by eight o'clock for a month. No visiting with Louie Byers or August Malmstead for a month. No hitching rides on trains, ever.
I turn my kaleidoscope and into focus come the Cootwire brothers, Claude and Ken. They were big, the Cootwires, and strong. With big fists. Not exactly bullies, perhaps, but they would, on occasion, pound the daylights out of their classmates for what they considered legitimate reasons.
When school opened one winter morning, our principal and teacher, Mr. Simpson, found the names of Claude and Ken attached to a bit of blackboard graffiti that questioned Mr. Simpson's parentage. No questions were asked, Mr. Simpson simply brought forth Black Sal, his wide, thick strap, ordered the brothers to lean over his desk in the front of the room and proceeded to give each of them twenty loud lashes.
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Reaction by Ken and Claude was uncomplicated, lacking finesse, and harsh. At noon when we were on our way home to dinner, Mosey and I were swarmed over by the brothers Cootwire. Ken belted me with a right to the eye and I went into the snow. Mosey already was down with Claude pounding him repeatedly. The skirmish was brief, but intense with neither Mosey nor I landing a solid blow. My eye puffed shut and Mosey's lip thickened and bled.
Our mothers kept us home from school that afternoon to attend to our injuries. In the evening they received identical notes from Mrs. Cootwire: "Will you please make your son stop pestering my Claude and Kenneth?"
Among boys the taste of revenge is especially sweet. Mosey and I savored ours for several days as we planned carefully and in secrecy. Our surveillance revealed that Claude and Ken did their chores each day after school precisely at four o'clock. They filled their mother's woodbox at that time and this involved carrying the wood about sixty feet from the woodshed to the kitchen. A thaw on a January afternoon set the stage. We watered a goodly supply of snowballs under the eaves and cached them behind the Cootwire shed where they would freeze during the night and be strategically located with our zero hour arrived. Next day after school Mosey and I approached the Cootwire place in a roundabout way and remained hidden until the brothers emerged from the shed with arms loaded with wood. They did this in tandem and so we had them in easy range. They didn't dare drop the wood. Ma Cootwire would have no snow-covered sticks in her woodbox. There they were, heavily burdened and unable to duck or run as we bounced ice balls off their heads.
Although our feud with the Cootwires simmered for several months, there were no more dramatic happenings. Ken and Claude figured we were all even and Mosey and I figured it the same way.
Black Sal, the strap referred to, was an instrument of torture familiar to all of Mr. Simpson's students. Girls were excluded from its services, but hardly a boy went through Sagola's elementary grades without having his butt whacked by Black Sal. Hiding a grass snake in a girl's desk, inserting an
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empty tomato can in a coat sleeve in the cloak room, whistling at girls when they went to the backhouse -- these and many other acts of misconduct would bring Black Sal out of Mr. Simpson's desk and into the open where it would be put to use for all to see.
During the first hour of a memorable day, Black Sal's service was called for when Specs failed to join in the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" and instead rolled a marble under Amy Johnson's desk. Specs was called to the front of the room and girls cringed as they always did at such times. I looked at Pecky and he winked at me. As I glanced at Mosey I saw him put his finger to his lips. Something was up, I figured. Mr. Simpson opened a desk drawer, stared, moved papers, straightened and with a glare I had never seen before, shouted: "Where is it?" Black Sal was gone.
All boys were kept after school that day and were interrogated individually in the cloak room, but for all of that the mystery remained unsolved. Mr. Simpson would not forget an incident of such magnitude, nor would any of us in his room. For weeks the blackboard greeted us each morning with WHO STOLE BLACK SAL? in big white letters.
As would be expected, Black Sal's vacancy was soon filled. Its replacement was employed with considerably more vigor and muscle than were present in performances of the old strap. Mr. Simpson was not one to suppress an irritation.
Near the end of the school year, Mr. Simpson came down with the mumps and Miss Hallenbach, the third grade teacher, took over for him. In what I thought was a fine gesture, Pecky volunteered to clean the black boards on a Friday afternoon. Miss Hallenbach seemed pleased and agreed to Pecky's suggestion that Mosey and I assist in the cleaning. Mosey offered no objection, which seemed a bit strange until I realized there was something very unusual about all of this, and so I, too, went along with whatever was about to happen.
When Miss Hallenbach left the room, Pecky moved a picture of George Washington Crossing the Delaware and there. fastened to the wall with friction tape was Black Sal, dusty and innocent looking. We removed the tape, released the strap. straightened the picture and after the blackboards were
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fastened to the wall with friction tape was Black Sal, dusty and Innocent looking. We removed the tape, released the strap, straightened the picture and after the blackboards were cleaned, and with Black Sal tucked under Pecky's shirt, took the instrument of torture to the lumberyard and buried it.
Like boys everywhere, we held in special esteem all great baseball players. Our fathers told us about Wagner, Lajoie, Sisler and others. Added to these were the heroes we followed through pages of the Iron Mountain News. Cobb, Ruth, Johnson were contemporary greats, but I doubt if they measured up to our real-life Sagola hero, Sappy Kaler. Rarely did a Sunday ball game end without at least one terrific clout by Sappy. His claims to fame were numerous, but certainly none was as propitious as his game-winning belt of a high hard one that settled In Broadland's yard beyond center field.
Sappy's historic hit came during the annual Fourth of July game with arch rival Channing. A memorable game it was, not only because of Sappy's performance, but also because of an interruption in the last half of the eighth inning with the score tied at 12-12.
The mill fire whistle blew as Sappy took his stance at the plate. Fire, on the collective subconscious of all milltown people at all times, could mean quick disaster. Little wonder then, that play was halted abruptly and everyone -- players, umpire, spectators - - trotted, walked, or limped to the boarding house where the whistle's repeated short blasts told them to go.
Among the few who were not at the game were the watchman and fireman at the mill and a few drunken lumber pilers. One of the latter had fallen into the big backhouse at the rear of the boarding house. He was the one for whom the whistle blew. There was no fire after all, but the alarm could hardly be called false.
The lumber piler rescued and hosed down, the crowd returned to the ball diamond. When play resumed, Sappy connected with the pitch and gave considerable relief to an otherwise embarrassed Sagola. Jibes by visitors from the railroad town had reached explosive levels, but the home run fixed everything. In the ninth, Smokey Kramer retired the Railroaders one, two, three.
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Management of company property which included just about everything in the village except the depot and Byer's blacksmith shop, was the responsibility of Curt Hunting, the resident superintendent. Mr. Hunting reported to the owner of just about everything. Charles Goodman, or "Charlie" as he was affectionately referred to, one of Marinette's wealthy lumbermen.
Mr. Hunting was a respected and well-liked member of the community who, to kids at least, occupied a place of mystery. We were pleased and embarrassed if he said "hello" to us. When he gave us a bag of candy at the Christmas pageant we said: "Thank you, Mr. Hunting," just as our mothers told us to. We seemed to sense that somehow this man held the controls by which our lives were guided.
The Hunting family lived in the biggest house in town. It was one of a few with an upstairs and what made it real big was a porch that went around two sides. The yard around the house was big too, with apple trees in the back. The apples from Hunting's trees were never swiped, however. We wouldn't risk being caught there, even when the Huntings were away on a visit to Marinette or a shopping trip to Iron Mountain. The house and big yard occupied most of a block on the south side of the main street.
Charlie Goodman visited our village only rarely, but when he did, the town was on its best behavior. Charlie and Mrs. Goodman would arrive by chauffeured black Packard touring car in front of the clubhouse where T. J. and Mrs. Dewish would dash off the porch to greet them and carry their luggage to the Goodman suite upstairs.
Mr. Goodman's visit would include a walk through the village with stops for friendly chats with the womenfolk. He would walk through the lumberyard where men would greet him, often with hats in hands. He would tour the planing mill, the big mill and frequently, though not always, would ride to his lumber camp on the company engine with Engineer Leo Cleary. Mr. Goodman seemed proud of his town and its people. Its people seemed proud of Mr. Goodman. Among kids, deviltry was very low-keyed until the black Packard left on its return to Marinette.
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Mention of Leo Cleary sharpens my memory of an exciting adventure; one that made me the envy of my friends. It began at our supper table when Leo entered our kitchen and said: "John, how would you like to ride to camp with me tomorrow?" My night was endless and sleepless as I pitched and tossed awaiting the morning hour when I would climb aboard Leo's locomotive.
I rode on the engineer's seat on the right side of the cab behind Leo as we left the roundhouse by the mill and headed into the woods. Otto Peterson was the fireman and sat across the cab with Homer Gomer, the brakeman behind him. Every few minutes Otto would get up, open an iron door and shovel coal into the fire box. I could see flames and feel the heat and it was all wonderful. When we approached the east-west road that led to Crystal Falls. Leo pulled a rope above his head and the whistle let out a loud "whoo-whoo." About two miles beyond the road we skirted the Parker farm and Leo said: "John, do you know Bud Parker?" I nodded yes, and he said: "Say hello to him." He motioned to the whistle rope and I gave it a pull. Bud Parker never got a louder or longer hello.
We arrived at the big camp about mid-day. After switching the empty flat cars we had hauled from town, we were connected to several cars loaded with logs and with this done. we walked to the cook shack to wash up for dinner. I hadn't realized my adventure would include dinner with the lumberjacks. Boy howdy!
Leo cautioned me not to talk at the table. By tradition, he said, no one said a word at mealtime in a lumber camp. Long tables were covered with shiny oil cloth and there were islands of big round cookies down their centers. I sat between Leo and Otto. Men in long white aprons -- Leo said the men were cookees -- walked behind us with pans of meat and potatoes. If you wanted more meat, you held up a knife. For potatoes, a fork; a cup for more coffee, like that. But no talking.
After dinner, Leo took me into the cook shack to meet the cook and the cookees who seemed pleased that I enjoyed the dinner. From the cook shack I was taken to the big barn where I met John Johnson, the barn boss. Although we visited him
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early in the afternoon, Leo explained that Mr. Johnson had already been on the job ten hours. Barn bosses went to work in the middle of the night, he said.
Our trip home was one of added excitement because we couldn't make the big hill and had to split the train and take half of the cars at one time. At the top of the hill these were side-tracked and then we backed down for the remainder, hauled them to the top where Oliver connected them with the other cars on the siding. Our engine did considerable huffing and puffing in all of this and Otto shoveled coal almost constantly as he balanced himself between the fire box and the coal tender.
Upon our arrival at the mill. I was met by my father, mother, sister, Specs. Mosey. Pecky and Brownie. My hands were dirty and I had soot on my face, and I was proud and full of answers to questions I hoped were forthcoming. It had been a great day.
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Summer Was Fun. Mostly
Summer is a wonderful time of the year in the Upper Peninsula. That's the way it is now, and that's the way it was in the 1920's. For boys, summer was a fun time, mostly. There was no school which in Itself made summer wonderful. There were ball games where we would choose up sides with fists on a bat. There were the swimming holes at Mud Lake and the Ford River near Channing.
Occasionally on warm nights my sister would play the piano and neighbors would sit on our porch or in the yard and sing. Stephen Foster songs, it seemed, were most popular. My mother made root beer in the summer and on hot days my chums and I would lie in the shade and drink some of it.
Arrival of Gypsies in the summer was an event that was at once exciting and feared. We were afraid of Gypsies because we knew for a fact that kids were among the things they stole.
Gypsies travelled in long, dusty touring cars that had spare tires and valises roped to their sides, and interiors packed with bedding, kids, and olive-skinned men and women.
There was mystery about Gypsies. Whence they came, where they were going no one knew for certain. Rumor had it that they told fortunes for money, a theory that could not be proved by the people of Sagola. As soon as the first of the five or six dusty cars came to a stop across the street from Hunting's house, Charlie Erickson locked the store and T. J. Dewish did the same at the clubhouse. Gypsy women, in long, colorful dresses and shiny earrings walked through town knocking on doors that would not open to them. Men walked the back alleys,
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looking for kids to steal, we supposed, but they couldn't find us. We peeked at them through cracks in the ice house or from half-open woodshed doors.
Gypsies didn't remain with us very long. Usually they were gone in less than an hour and upon their departure, women gathered in little clusters to discuss the event. Charlie Erickson and T. J. Dewish opened their doors, and kids did a head count to see if anyone was missing.
Often on summer evenings men gathered In front of the store or on the clubhouse porch to talk of the past, or of sawmills, or the Chicago Cubs who they followed through the sport page of the Iron Mountain News. My father was a veteran of the Spanish American War and I especially enjoyed hearing him tell others of his experiences in Puerto Rico with the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment.
There should be no inference here that summer was a fun time altogether. Summer was a time for work too. A year's supply of wood for the cook stove and the dining room heater arrived from the mill during the summer and had to be piled behind the woodshed to dry. Piling wood was a boy's job.
Wood piles were symbols of pride. They had to be straight and level. A crooked woodpile was viewed with scorn by villagers. A crooked woodpile reflected family carelessness. Fathers, and mothers too, were woodpile inspectors.
Wood had to be piled on the day the dump cart arrived from the mill. If the dump cart arrived in the morning with a load of slabwood, a boy would be expected to have every piece piled by the time his father came home at night. Friendly as boys were, they seldom helped their friends at the woodpile. Generally it was a one-boy job, unless brothers were involved, but I had no brothers.
A woodpile was started by placing stringers along the ground. Stringers were narrow pieces of slabwood laid end to end in straight, parallel lines with the bark down. The woodpile was built on these with cross piles at each end to keep the wood from sliding down. A woodpile was about twenty feet long and five feet high and as wide as the pieces of slabwood were long, about sixteen inches. Three dump carts made one woodpile and
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a supply for our family took twelve dump carts. True, the work involved with woodpiles may not sound like much until it is explained that in the fall before snow came, all of the piled wood had to be thrown into the woodshed, stick by stick, and piled again. And this, too, was boy's work.
There were other work assignments to cut into my freedom in summer. Ice for the ice box in my mother's summer kitchen, for Instance. This meant pushing the wheelbarrow to the ice house behind the store where one of Charlie Erickson's helpers would drag a chunk out of the sawdust with big tongs. He would lift the ice into the wheelbarrow and I would wheel it home, with no stops along the way what with the ice melting all the while. At home I had to pour pails of water on the chunk to wash off the sawdust and then lift it into the top of the ice box with my shirt wet and my belly cold.
Sometime during July wild raspberries became ripe and just about every person not on the company payroll went berry picking -- women, girls, boys. Piling wood wasn't too bad, and wheeling the ice I could handle rather willingly. But picking wild raspberries was nothing short of downright torture. Womenfolk seemed to enjoy picking berries, but I knew of no boy who didn't hate it. I know for certain that Mosey felt like I did because our mothers took us to berry patches where our families picked together. Mosey and I attacked the same bushes with equal disdain.
A berry picking junket included packed dinners, jugs of drinking water, several syrup pails, wash tubs, and a three or four-mile ride on a horse-drawn wagon.
Berry patches always were in the hottest places, and berry bushes always were scratchy. Each picker took a syrup pail to the area assigned to him. When the syrup pail was full it was emptied into the wash tub where its contents were added to those of other family members.
On a particularly hot day after we had eaten and rested in the tall grass, our mothers agreed that if Mosey and I would each fill one more syrup pail we could call it quits for the day and go slingshot hunting or whatever. We figured we could shorten the travail by putting stones in our pails, and covering them with leaves and just a thin layer of berries. We chose a
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patch out of sight of the others and fixed our pails accordingly. After what we considered a reasonable time, we returned to the wagon and placed our pails near the wash tubs, but without emptying them, of course. By mid afternoon our mothers and sisters returned and began preparing for the return wagon ride. Our mothers told us to add our berries to the tubs and we explained that we would rather carry them separately; that we wanted to show our fathers what we picked all by ourselves in the shortest time. As we had feared, this made no sense to mothers who upended our pails into the tubs. The upshot: Mosey and I remained behind to fill our pails all the way to the top while the rest of the berry pickers rode home on the wagon. We made it by sundown, tired, hungry and scratched.
An evening chore that took me back of the Catholic Church and across the baseball diamond had to do with getting the milk pail filled at Pete Broadland's house in deep centerfield. Pete had a Jersey cow that gave milk with lots of cream. On my way home I would sometimes whirl the pall over my head without spilling a drop. I did this one night in front of Grondine's house where Maybelle Grondine and some of her girl friends were gathered on the porch. The handle came off at the top of my swing.
Shortly after school let out in early summer Sagola's mothers did their housecleaning. Here was another chore a boy resented almost as much as berry picking. Rugs from the dining room and living room were rolled and dragged to the back yard where they were suspended over clothes lines and whacked with a rug beater. Beating rugs was boys' work. I could beat a rug until my arms ached and still dust would pop out of it, and unless there was a strong breeze blowing, it would settle right back on the rug. On hot days I would work up a sweat and the dust that didn't settle back on the rug settled on me and stuck there.
The rug beater itself was a pain maker. Ours didn't have a raised handle and so each whack on the rug meant a whack on the knuckles. The part of the beater that did the work was made of heavy wire and was designed something like the back of a chair in an ice cream parlor. At the start of a beating session, the rug beater was rather light and easy to swing, but as the morning crept toward noon, the beater gained weight and became downright unwieldy.
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The only good thing about rug beating was that it happened just once a year. A chore that had to be suffered daily was filling the woodbox by the kitchen stove. During most of the year this had top priority as soon as I changed clothes after school. In the summer, anytime during the afternoon was acceptable. Just filling the woodbox was chore enough, but kitchen wood had to be in narrow pieces so they would fit the opening in the stove. This meant splitting the wood in the woodshed. Some boys split a two or three days' supply in one session. I figured, however, that splitting just enough for one box full was easier and quicker in the short run.
One of the more pleasant chores was going to the post office for the mail each morning. The post office was a kind of meeting place where boys could plan their day. Near the end of summer the big event at the post office was arrival of Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs. We would sit on the post office steps or the sidewalk and thumb through the big books right away. Especially interesting were the harness sections where there were pictures of big, beautiful draft horses and pictures of buggies and driving horses.
Even before the catalogs came to town we were reminded of winter's slow, but steady approach by the annual visit of the salesman for the Minnesota Woolen Mills. An exaggeration perhaps, but it seemed he always arrived on the hottest day of the year. My mother would serve him root beer and cookies at the dining room table where he sat with his order book. His open sample cases occupied most of the living room floor and revealed an assortment of winter clothing for everyone, young and old.
The thrill of ordering something new was tempered somewhat by the heat. On one of his visits, the heavy sweater I had wanted months before, somehow lost much of its appeal when my mother ordered me to try on a sample. To do this I had to change my sweaty shirt for a clean one. Then, while wrapped in the heavy sweater and suffering, my mother and salesman would at length discuss color choices and compare estimates on how much I would grow by the time the sweater, and winter, arrived. Whatever they decided about my projected growth, I knew the sweater would be too big. My new clothes were always too big. My parents thought it impractical to buy
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clothes that I would grow out of. I had to grow into everything- - shoes, underwear, sweaters, pants - - everything but my knitted cap. Trouble was by the time I grew into them, they were worn out. My hands were always hidden somewhere in my sleeves and my shoes looked like I was walking up hill. The too-big underwear I wore in the winter presented problems because I could never wrap the big legs tight enough to avoid unsightly bulges under the stockings that went up under my knee pants. The first day after Ma washed them wasn't too bad, but as the week wore on, the underwear legs loosened and were downright floppy by Sunday when I got a fresh suit. By the end of winter when my clothes were beginning to fit, it was time to change to summer things I would grow into by fall.
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Dried Fish and a Season to be Jolly
Winter came to us on the shoulders of pleasant autumn. It announced itself in October by blowing colorful leaves from hardwood trees, and now and then its dark clouds would let go of a few tiny snow flakes. On a day in November, Sagola would waken to find itself under a white blanket. The village would not be caught unprepared, however. By this time storm windows and storm doors or stormsheds had been Installed, woodpiles of summer had been moved to the woodsheds. Heaters had been set up in dining rooms or living rooms, and cellars under kitchen floors were stocked with vegetables and fruit in Mason jars. Family cars were the last to be winterized; seldom going on blocks until the second or third snowfall.
Kids were in shoes and long underwear. The sweater from the Minnesota Woolen Mills was already being grown into. A full schedule of winter sports, unplanned, unprogrammed, but exceedingly active was under way with the first snowfall of consequence.
Winter, like summer, was a fun time, mostly. True, there was school to attend, but winter was without the wide variety of chores that summer imposed. There was snow to be shoveled from the house to the woodshed and backhouse and from the front of the house to the street, the woodbox had to be filled daily, but there were no rugs to beat, or ice box to fill, wood to pile, and best of all, no berries to pick.
Skating on the pond began as soon as the ice was thick enough to hold us. Skates were clamped to our shoes and tightened with skate keys. To prevent their loss, skate keys were carried on strings around our necks. Losing a skate key
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could be serious and unless you were skating with a chum, costly. Some kids charged as much as two marbles or even a stick of horehound for just one use of a skate key.
Sometimes on Sunday afternoons when the snow was deep enough. we would play follow the leader in the lumber yard and jump off tramways. Now and then one of the short kids would go over his head and this would call for a rescue by tall kids who would jump close to him and haul him out of the snow by his arms. Short kids who did this received a degree of envied hero status among their timid peers.
Shinny was a popular sport when the snow was not very deep. A distant relative of hockey, shinny was played with sticks with curved ends and a puck in the form of a tomato can or baking powder can or something like that. The best sticks were made from roots of birch trees. The curved end of the root where it was attached to the tree trunk was just right for the bottom end of the shinny stick. Sides were chosen with fists on a shinny stick like in baseball. The object of shinny was to drive the puck to the goal on offense and to prevent this on defense. The only rule governing the game demanded that you shinny on your own side. This was a safety measure. A kid who swung his stick from his left side instead of his right would cause damage to his opponent's shins. When this rule was violated, the violatee had the right to strike his shinny stick into the shin of the violator. There were no periods in shinny, the length of the game being determined by the condition of the puck. Sometimes a puck lasted only minutes before it was battered into uselessness. Unless extra cans were available, the game, of course, was over.
In real cold weather, like below zero, the snow was hard and fast, and it was then that sliding down the boarding house hill was at its best. The big thing here was to see who could go farthest. In this, a running start was all important, but you couldn't belly flop ahead of a line marked in the snow at the top of the hill. You were disqualified if you did. You could approach the line from as far back as you wanted to, but too far back was bad because chances are you would be winded by the time you were ready to belly flop. It was on this hill that smart aleky Dewey held the championship with his Flexible Flyer. He held
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it, that is, until the passenger train's trip to down below with the sled in tow. Tubby Utter replaced Dewey as champion of the hill when he went almost to Pringle's house.
Winter almost always meant a whopper of a blizzard that buried roads and railroad tracks and Isolated our village. Such storms were unpredictable, there being no weather reports to warn of their approaches. A truly severe storm would cause the mill to shut down and this was serious because mill workers were not paid when the mill didn't run. Mr. Simpson lived about two miles up the road to Crystal Falls, and this was good because a blizzard kept him in his house and unable to get to school. With no train service, the post office was out of business, of course.
Charlie Erickson and T. J. Dewish kept the store and clubhouse in operation during the snow-in; their establishments being rendezvous points for discussions of past blizzards and attendant hardships. Intravillage travel the first day or two was by snowshoe or extraordinary effort in wading through the obstinate drifts. Eventually paths were worn to the store and clubhouse which increased attendance at these places. Louie Byer's blacksmith shop and Charlie Price's barbershop also were congregating centers.
Friendships were refreshed by blizzards and the common sharing of inconveniences prompted social get-togethers in the little white houses. General concern was expressed for families in remote places and volunteer snowshoe missions were organized to help them. On one occasion, Emil Paler, an elderly recluse living beyond the swamp east of town, was brought on a toboggan to the boarding house where he was given a room until the road was opened to his shack.
Sometimes four or five days would go by before our release. The breakthrough, usually at night, would be announced by the roar of a huge tractor in the direction of the Skogland farm west of town. The tractor, out of Crystal Falls, with flames shooting from its exhaust pipes, pushed a rotary plow that threw snow right and left. In tow was a crew's bunkhouse on the runners of a logging sleigh.
The roar and flames were a signal for Sagola to sweep snow from its welcome mat. Women carried sandwiches,
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cookies and cake to the clubhouse where T. J. and Mrs. Dewish were busy preparing gallons of coffee. Men and kids gathered there in excited anticipation.
Arrival of the tractor and crew at the clubhouse was an event of large proportions. Mr. Hunting greeted each of the crewmen on the porch and escorted them indoors where they were hosted by just about everyone in town.
With the celebrating under way, kids inspected the snowplow equipment from end to end and top to bottom. The door to the bunkhouse was locked, but we took turns looking through the windows. This was a three-kid operation; two to hoist the one whose turn it was to peek in.
For the most part, the snowplow's breakthrough was a psychological happening. To be sure, it opened the way to Crystal Falls, but no one was going there anyway. More important, yet less dramatic, was the first train from down below. A big railroad plow, pushed by two locomotives, would buck its way to Channing without stopping at our depot. We forgave the snub because the plow cleared the track for the passenger train and the mail car, and this was very important. With the arrival of mail sacks, our isolation was terminated. Once again we were in touch with down below.
There was village-wide relief with the return of mail service, but a sense of regret was in its company, and although not mentioned, it too was village-wide. The strange pleasantries of sharing a common inconvenience were tucked away, it seemed, when Mr. Morton shoveled snow from the steps of the post office and Mrs. Morton opened the door to the tiny lobby.
Winter was many things to us, and the biggest thing of all about winter was Christmas. No doubt about it, Christmas was winter's special time. Matter of fact, Christmas was the whole year's special time.
A typical season to be jolly comes to mind. It was officially opened in late November when Charlie Erickson stacked about a hundred long sticks of dried lutefisk in a washtub in front of the store; their tops leaning against a window. The dual-purpose
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tub kept the sticks of salted Scandanavian fish from sliding down flat on the sidewalk and protected them from inquisitive dogs.
Traditional preparation of lutefisk called for a three-week soaking in a lye solution and three weeks were just right to adequately observe the coming of Christmas. Thus Sagola's Yule curtain was raised, so to speak, by sticks of dried fish and a washtub.
As word of Charlie Erickson's ceremony spread through the village, the spirit of Christmas was loosed in little white houses, in the three-room school, the boarding house, churches, clubhouse -- everywhere. Even Charlie Price's barbershop was included; a bough of spruce over the mirror in front of the big chair did not go unnoticed.
Youth of the village was organized for the annual all-school Christmas program with its afternoon (for farm folk) and evening performances in the clubhouse hall. Little ones in a choral group practiced carols under the direction of Miss Hallenbach. Older kids began rehearsals for the pageant, and this was serious business. Mr. Simpson, at all times a strict disciplinarian, was especially severe as director of the Bethlehem story. You didn't horse around if you wanted to be cast In one of the coveted roles.
Three carefully-chosen wise men grew taller as time sped toward the day of the performance. They were much envied by their peers and as might be expected, Joseph and Mary stood above all others in the cast.
The Christmas season was not all lutefisk and rehearsals, however. Other happenings were important. Arrival of the village tree and its subsequent raising, for example. Leo Cleary's train brought the tree from the lumber camp to a siding near the store. The tree was a symmetrical thing of beauty that had been felled by proud lumberjacks whose forthcoming visits would sparkle with tales of how it had been selected, cut and skidded to the railroad.
Upon the tree's arrival, three men and a team of horses were dispatched from the mill to unload the huge spruce and move it to Hunting's yard. There it was hoisted to an upright
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stance, its base secured in a stand built by the village carpenter and blacksmith. Forthwith it was decorated with colored lights. A temporary pole with wires leading from the clubhouse were necessary for this part of the project.
Soft snow fell on the new tree as darkness came, and when its lights were turned on, a pleasant iridescence came upon the coniferous symbol. A proper setting it was, for the singing of carols by untrained, but spirited voices.
The passenger train from down below took on new meaning during the Christmas season. Daily it brought returning relatives and an unusual number of mail sacks; three, sometimes four.
Returning relatives were of limited interest, but attention given to the mail sacks was pandemic. Mail sacks were carriers of packaged exotic things not found on the shelves of the company store. Ordered in secrecy from thick catalogs, they included large bottles of perfume, watch fobs, fur muffs, pipes with hand-carved bowls, soup tureens, crockery unmentionables, and much, much more. Gifts of Christmas, they were; symbols of affection, of sacrifice, and considerable anxiety from the time of the order's departure to the time of the package's arrival.
The swamp behind Byer's blacksmith shop provided Christmas trees for homes in the village and great was the friendly competition to capture attendant honors. There were those who vied for first tree recognition. Others prided themselves in delay --- "Won't get it home 'til after dark on Christmas Eve." Trees taken from the stump were considered best. Most of these were chopped or sawed, but some villagers less affected by tradition, simply blasted the tree trunk with a 12-gauge, full-choke shotgun. Generally this method was frowned on. A penalty for going late to the swamp was the absence of good trees on the stump. Tops were all that remained, and although some of these were well shaped, their taking called for downing the big tree and a second effort to remove the top. Early birds made jokes of such procedures and tried to embarrass the tree toppers in gatherings at the store and clubhouse.
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School let out a week before Christmas Day which meant that rehearsals for the pageant had been under way for two weeks after lutefisk. By this time the cast was fine tuned and ready. Well, not the entire cast. Joseph, a co-star with Mary, came down with the mumps on the morning of the performance. Tragedy was avoided, however, by the substitution of Bubbs Milligan, an eighth grader who up to this time had been one of the shepherds with not a single line to memorize.
The news of Bubbs' volunteering to play the role spread through the village; a fine and brave gesture, all agreed. Little did it matter that Bubbs had no time to learn his considerable lines. He could read the script. Mr. Simpson said.
The afternoon performance for farmfolk went off very well. An understanding audience applauded Bubbs' difficult assignment. The presentation at night, however, was marred by an untoward happening, a disaster, in fact.
Blue bulbs cast a proper glow over the manger scene, a condition not present during the daylight performance. The glow was not bright enough for Bubbs to read his script or to see a leg of a sawhorse supporting the manger. The scene was totaled as Bubbs tripped on the leg taking with him a wise man with frankincense, Mary. the manger, and the light cord that brought its eight blue bulbs to the stage floor where they popped the scene into darkness, one by one.
Audience reaction moved progressively from shock to sympathy to hilarity. Sensing the uncontrollable attitude of the people out front, Mr. Simpson informed the cast back stage that the program would not go on, and then with bravery, appeared before the crowd to repeat the announcement several times before he could be heard.
Tension that gripped the cast was eased considerably when Mr. Hunting gave each kid a bag of candy, and the first bag, appropriately, went to Bubbs.
The week following the ill-fated pageant was one of patience as the village approached the big day. There were a few critical situations stemming from failure of mail sacks to bring over-due packages, but for the most part, Sagola idled its pleasant way uneventfully. Women, with the help of their
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daughters. put finishing touches on culinary creations. Boys split wood enough for a three-day supply and kept the sidewalks shoveled. Such operations were carried out in an absence of grumbling, and there seemed to be a calm laziness everywhere to help villagers contain their annual excitement.
Upon the arrival of Christmas Eve, men, women and children crowded into the little white churches. Following traditional services, families hurried home to put up their trees. Little Santa-believing kids were put to bed and older kids were permitted to help their parents erect and decorate the trees with popcorn balls, strings of popcorn, and objects of sentimental value. Our tree each year was topped by an angel that years before had lost a wing and her left hand.
Christmas Day began long before daylight as kids sneaked from their beds and shivered in their underwear in the dark as they felt the area at the base of the tree. A hasty return to bed and sleeplessness followed until fathers added wood to the heaters to warm cold rooms.
By mid-morning new skates were on display at the pond, or new sleds were slowly descending the boarding house hill. New sleds were always slow until the paint was worn off the runners. Some kids pulled their new sleds through ashes to speed the process.
It was in mid-morning too, that adults began their house-to-house visits. At each stop, boiled coffee with thick cream was served to women in the living room and black coffee with "sticks" of Peg Leg Barrett's moonshine was served to men in the kitchen. Pastry specialties of each hostess added traditional tasty touches. Carols were sung, old quarrels forgotten and the spirit of Christmas was as warm as the stoves and stove pipes. By evening all who had hosted had visited, kids had gone early and willingly to bed and Sagola went to sleep.
After Christmas, the town settled into a steady and leisurely pace toward spring. For kids, the unplanned, unprogrammed winter sports schedule was maintained on the pond, on the hill, on the tramways, and on the shinny places. Mothers went to the store more often than in summer, and stayed longer to visit. The card and billiard rooms in the clubhouse were centers of nightly conviviality for menfolk.
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Charlie Price's barbershop, too, seemed busier. His shave business picked up in winter as some men bought shaves twice a week. T. J. Dewish literally packed them in at Sunday night motion picture shows.
The big thing about winter, though, was its unaltered approach to spring. We knew the awaited season was about to arrive when wheels replaced runners on the store's delivery wagon. Soon after this harbinger, a proud villager would back the first car out of its hibernation. These signals meant it was time to make kites out of wrapping paper, cedar sticks, flour-and-water paste, rags from old undershirts, and yards and yards of string that had been saved for months.
During a memorable spring, Mosey and I were partners in the maple syrup business. A grove of trees behind the company horse barn produced our sap and my mother let us use a wash tub and her oil stove in the summer kitchen for our factory.
Mosey's uncle Fred had made maple syrup years before and had a collection of tree taps he loaned to us with the proviso that we would pay him with a bottle of syrup.
Our venture was not a spur of the moment thing. We had planned and prepared for the enterprise during the winter and had a sizeable collection of cans with haywire handles to hang under the taps at the trees and a number of bottles for our product.
Daily, after our woodbox chores, we collected the sap and carried it in water pails to the summer kitchen where it simmered in the washtub. The tub, incidentally, was heated constantly by the oil stove, day and night. We had agreed to reimburse my mother for the oil with syrup, as in our arrangement with Mosey's uncle Fred.
We taste-tested the contents of the tub regularly, and after the fifth day, determined our product was ready for the market. With a dipper and funnel we poured our syrup into the bottles.
Mosey and I had decided we would sell door-to-door on Saturday when we had plenty of time to make the rounds. We figured ten cents for a castor oil bottle, twenty cents for a vanilla
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bottle, and thirty cents for a Lydia Pinkhams. We would pay Mosey's uncle Fred and my mother with castor oil bottles.
On the anxiously awaited Saturday, Mosey and I dressed in what we considered proper syrup salesmen's attire -- tight stockings, pants tightened above our knees with hidden rubber bands, clean shirts and Slim Jim neckties, and mackinaws which we buttoned all the way. Mosey would take the north-south streets, I the east-west, using our fathers' wheelbarrows as our delivery vehicles.
Just as we were about to load up, we discovered that our syrup, imprisoned as it was in those small-necked bottles, had turned to sugar. We couldn't get it out.
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Solitude's Wail Gets Cracked
The quiet around Doc Hayes' house was broken by a cracking, squawking and a strange voice out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Doc had turned on Sagola's first radio, a three-dialed Atwater Kent. Reception wasn't too good out of the tall horn atop the black box that held the dials, but it was all marvelous just the same.
Doc invited several adult villagers into the house to see and hear the thing and explained that the voice out of Pittsburgh could be heard better through earphones than through the tall horn. His guests took turns with the earphones. Pa told us he could hear a man's voice plain as day when he and Oscar Olson listened. Pa had the earphones clamped on his head and listened with his right ear. The ear piece on the left side was turned outward so Oscar could lean his head against Pa's and also hear the man in Pittsburgh.
Doc had purchased the radio in Iron Mountain, there being none available in our town. It wasn't long, however, before they could be ordered through the company store. Aware of the new interest and ever alert to potential profit making for the company, Charlie Erickson established a radio dealership. In no time at all, five, maybe six were operating nightly in Sagola.
My family's radio was a birthday gift from my father to my mother. Pa was thoughtful that way. On a birthday in Ontonagon, he gave her a rabbit hound. Instructions for installing the aerial were included with the set and these were carefully studied by Pa and several neighbors with added advice from Doc Hayes. A two-by-four about six feet long was nailed to the peak of the roof at the front of the house and another in a
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similar position on the wood shed. A copper wire was suspended between the two-by-fours and from it a lead-in wire dangled down and entered the house through a hole bored through the frame of a dining room window.
Included with the instructions were printed invitations to a radio party. Ma filled in the date and after signing them had me deliver them to our neighbors. The party was held at our dining room table near the radio which occupied a place on Ma's buffet. Our guests took turns with the earphones much as Pa and Oscar did at Doc Hayes' house. Those who were not listening ate cookies and drank coffee or tea. Pa remained at the dials and between listeners, checked the reception.
Pa lost a lot of sleep during the early weeks of our radio. The mill was working nights so electricity was available into the late hours when reception was best. An added incentive was an unofficial contest among radio owners to see who could get the farthest stations. Everyone, it seemed, could get Pittsburgh, but It took careful tuning and listening to get St. Louis or Des Moines. Whenever Pa got Des Moines, those he met on his way to work in the morning received full reports. Usually these had to do with conditions on the hog market.
The radio caused a crack in the wall of Sagola's solitude. To hear voices come into our homes at the moment they were sounded in far away places had a singular effect on the barrier that partitioned our village from the rest of the world. No longer would we consider ourselves completely removed.
About the time of the radio's introduction, Sagola took another major stride out of its seclusion. A sharp upturn in automobile ownership brought it much nearer to Iron Mountain, Crystal Falls and occasionally even to places down below.
Heretofore only the Hunting and Hayes families enjoyed the pleasures of automobiling, but by the late twenties at least a half dozen families were owners of the remarkable machines.
Our first automobile, a Chevrolet sedan, was purchased in Crystal Falls and driven to our home by dealer Jim Flood who agreed to teach one of us to drive as a condition of the purchase. I was too young; Ma wanted no part of the thing; Pa was a bit short on self confidence and so it fell to my sister to learn to
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operate our great possession. Pa figured he and I could take the wheel later as my sister's students. The arrangement worked fine, my sister being quick to grasp the fundamentals and to relay them later to Pa and me. We had become quite adept at driving over Sagola's streets, but there were no extended trips during our first season. We were afraid of the hills in Crystal Falls, and the traffic in Iron Mountain was downright frightening.
Lengthy trips would have to wait until the following summer, but we did manage at least four junkets to Channing before late November when our machine was put on blocks in its new garage with its tires and battery removed and radiator drained.
One final maintenance project remained before hibernation. This had to do with adjusting the headlights. Pa had decided they were pointing too high and when the dimmers were on, he said, he could barely see the road.
According to the instruction manual, headlights could be adjusted by simply loosening a screw under each light and raising or lowering the beam to the desired level. Determining the desired level also was uncomplicated, according to the manual. A convenient board fence was suggested, and on this a mark should be placed at a height of three feet. By positioning the auto twenty-five feet from the fence and adjusting the beam of each light so that it centered on the mark, the desired level would be obtained. "Nothing to it," said my father as he returned the manual to its place in a compartment under the front seat.
There being no convenient board fence available, Pa said we would substitute a lumber pile. With tape measure and screwdriver we drove to the lumber yard where I backed the sedan the recommended twenty-five feet that Pa measured very carefully. He then marked the three-foot point on the lumber pile, loosened the screws, turned the lights downward to the mark and tightened the screws. Back in the car we noticed the lights were still pointed above the mark. Once again the screws were loosened, the lights pushed down and once more, back to the driver's seat. Unbelievably, the lights were still too high. Pa had pushed them down as far as they would go. Only then did
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we discover that while the adjusting was going on, the auto's rear wheels were sinking into the lumber yard's sawdust and chips.
Next morning with the aid of a team of horses, our sedan was moved out of its hole with Andrew Swanson, the yard boss, the teamster and several lumber pilers causing my father considerable embarrassment.
Although Sagola's automobiles remained dormant in their garages during the cold months, they contributed much to discussions at the store, clubhouse and Charlie Price's barbershop. Relative merits of touring cars and sedans were frequent subjects of debates.
Touring car proponents stressed safety as the basis of their positions. They claimed that people riding in sedans, surrounded as they were by panes of glass, were in moving death traps. A sedan was a fad, pure and simple, and destined to early oblivion.
My father and others including Oscar Olson (the Olsons had a Hupmobile sedan) presented comfort and convenience as irrefutable considerations. They reminded their antagonists that stopping the auto and assembling side curtains every time a dark cloud appeared on the horizon was a situation they would never have to confront. "When you're out there getting your butts soaked, we'll just roll up the windows and go right on by," was their rejoinder.
When the touring car-vs. -sedan discussions ebbed a bit, the subject of four-wheel brakes could be introduced and this promoted lively observations. Erv Nordstrum had purchased a touring car with brakes on all four wheels and terrible mishaps were in store for Erv and Mrs. Nordstrum. They would certainly take their lives in their hands on their first drive down a steep hill. If Erv dared to slam on the brakes in such a situation and those on the back wheels didn't work, obviously the Nordstrum Buick would go end over end.
Another conversation topic was the technique of cranking the engine when the self starter didn't work. It was generally agreed that unless the man at the crank kept his thumb to the side and not over the handle, he most likely would come away
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with a broken wrist. On Model-T's cranking was easy if one of the rear wheels was raised off the ground and if the spark was pushed 'way up.
Although touring cars and sedans had been uncommon in Sagola during the early twenties, Model T trucks had been in use for some time. There was one at the Carey farm and Pete Provo used a Model-T In his constable work. They were equipped with a box-like platform behind the seat, a two-piece windshield and a roofless "cab." Pat Carey had a cut-out on the truck he drove to town. Sometimes when villagers were on the clubhouse porch, he would pull the wire on the cut-out and make the truck roar as he went by. Most of the time he drove with the hood removed and the engine exposed and this made his truck sound real loud. Pecky and Specs often accepted Pat's invitations to ride around the block, but Mosey, Brownie and I were not allowed to do this; too dangerous according to our mothers.
Pete Provo's Model-T truck played a role in a bank robbery. Well, not exactly in the robbery, but in the follow-up of the robbery.
A mining town, Republic, about twenty-five miles north of Sagola was the scene of the robbery on a summer morning. The armed robber got away with $25,000, and law enforcement officers for miles around were alerted. This included Pete, of course, who enlisted the services of Joe Pettifore as his assistant in the man hunt.
It was reported the bank robber had driven south from Republic toward Channing in a black Dodge touring car with no top. There was no evidence that he had reached Channing and Pete deduced he was hiding in the Pinola plains area east of the main road. Pete boasted that he knew the country between Republic and Channing like he knew his knuckles and that he and Joe would have the robber in no time. A side road leading into the plains was the location of Pete's stake-out. He figured the robber would have to come out at that point.
During the second night of the stake-out while Pete and Joe were enjoying coffee at their campfire, the headlights of a car were seen at a considerable distance to the east. As the lights grew brighter. Pete and Joe braced for a possible
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encounter. An innocent and friendly sounding horn broke the tension and Pete and Joe welcomed their visitor and invited him to share their coffee. He introduced himself as a deputy sheriff from Marquette County and reported he had covered the plains without coming upon a trace of the robber. Pete, Joe and the deputy discussed the robbery at length and at the conclusion of their visit, the deputy drove off toward Channing. There being no purpose in continuing the stake-out at that location, Pete and Joe began to break camp. As they were extinguishing the fire, Joe remarked: "Pete, wasn't that deputy driving a black Dodge touring car with no top?"
The road south from Republic figured in a number of exciting events for the people of Sagola, especially for kids. This because it was a principal escape route for convicts who broke out of the state prison at Marquette. Invariably a prison break meant a road block in our village near the junction with the road to Crystal Falls.
Such a road block would be manned by state and county police who stopped all suspicious looking south bound autos day and night. Most of the usual free-time activities of kids were replaced by daily attendance at the scene of anticipated excitement. It was an honor to run errands for the lawmen; for cigars, snuff, pipe and chewing tobacco, things like that at the store or clubhouse. Too, we acquired new real-life heroes in all of this.
An extra special road block had to do with the escape of five convicts who were serving life sentences for murder. According to reports, they were armed and very dangerous. State troopers in broad-brimmed hats and blue uniforms were in charge of the road block and were assisted by deputies from Iron Mountain and our own Pete Provo.
Pete said it was all right for us to hang around, but warned us that in case of trouble, we were to run fast as we could for the far side of the depot and stay there. There might be shooting, Pete said, but we didn't say anything about this to our mothers who thought we were playing ball or slingshot hunting or something like that. They assumed the officers made the road block off limits to kids.
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Each time a car came over the boarding house hill, our hearts thumped faster as we wondered if this was going to be the real thing, but as the days went by and nothing happened we became quite relaxed about it all. During this time our relationships with the lawmen became more and more familiar. Mosey and I chose a deputy from Iron Mountain as our man hero. He was not a tall man, about five feet six, and wore a sailor straw hat at a convincing angle. He chewed cigars, but didn't smoke them and frequently remarked something like: "Wish those geezers would try to break through, so we could get some shootin'." Not only that, but he told Mosey and me we could call him George. He had his own 30-30 Winchester carbine and he said he did the fancy checking on the stock himself.
The road block at night was more interesting than it was during the day. You could usually tell suspicious looking autos in the daytime as soon as they came over the hill, but at night there was suspense with every pair of headlights. The lawmen stopped cars at night with flashlights. One man with the light, another with a gun.
One of the uneventful nights when we were on our way home after the train came in, we were seriously considering getting up a ball game the next day. The road block's appeal was on the wane, we agreed. We were almost home that night when all hell broke loose at the road block. Shots were fired like they came out of machine guns. We hurried to the depot like Pete said we should and waited for the shooting to stop. Then we dashed to the scene where state troopers and deputies were shouting, running into the swamp where an auto had swerved, pushing us out of the way, and making considerable commotion all over the place.
It was time for Mosey and me to seek out George to determine what important role he had played in the attack on the convicts. Unable to find him right away, we decided he must have pursued the escapees into the swamp, probably all by himself. Our search ended abruptly when we spotted a sailor hat and a 30-30 carbine lying near a culvert under the side road to Byer's blacksmith shop. Protruding from the end of the culvert was a pair of feet. Feet of clay, they were.
Four of the five convicts surrendered near their auto in the swamp. Two were wounded and were tended to by Doc
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Hayes who, with many other adult villagers, had gathered at the road block. It was believed the fifth escapee also had been wounded and Doc Hayes borrowed a flash light from a deputy and with a loud shout: "He won't hurt me, I'm a doctor," walked to the area the man was supposed to have entered. At Doc's feet a voice mumbled: "I won't hurt ya, Doc," and with that, the excitement was over.
Mosey and I were comforted by the thought that our own Pete Provo, when all of the shooting took place, did not crawl into a culvert.
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A Prizefight, a Circus and a Sink Hole
Jack Dempsey and Jack Sharkey were to fight on a July night and the Iron Mountain News would relay the telegraphed blow-by-blow account over a special loudspeaker outside the newspaper office.
My father thought Jack Dempsey was the greatest fighter ever; greater, even than Bob Fitzsimmons who, according to Pa, was great indeed. Fitzsimmons had to be great, Pa said, because he knocked out the great Jim Corbett. Pa's interest in Jack Dempsey was so keen that he was willing to risk the traffic in Iron Mountain to hear the fight. I would go with him, of course, and he invited Andrew Swanson and Oscar Olson to ride in our sedan with us. They thanked Pa, but said they had other commitments. Pa doubted this because he knew that rarely if ever did Andrew and Oscar have other commitments. "They don't think I can make it, but I'll show 'em," was the way Pa put it.
Pa and I were the only ones from Sagola in the street crowd that cheered the report of Dempsey's knockout punch. We waited long after the fight for the traffic to thin for this was to be the first drive of any consequence at night. Our trip to the fight was in daylight all the way. Pa made sure of that, and the early, long wait in front of the newspaper office was worth it, we figured.
Pa was not yet relaxed as we cleared the city's outskirts where a sedan zoomed around us throwing gravel and dust into our windshield. "Damn fool, he'll get himself killed," was my father's comment as he tightened his grip a bit tighter and stiffened his legs a bit stiffer.
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A mile or two beyond the gravel and dust barrage, we saw an upside-down sedan in a field, lights shining, engine steaming. Pa jammed the brakes to an abrupt stop and we ran to the wreck where a man and woman, apparently unhurt, stood wringing their hands and mumbling. Inside the overturned auto was a man, unconscious. My father and I dragged him to the road where we were met by a motorist who said he would rush the man to the hospital in Iron Mountain. To load the victim into the rear of the rescue sedan, I backed in, pulling him by the armpits with my father pushing him into the door by the knees. With excited instructions to hurry, Pa slammed the door once, twice, three and four times, and only then discovered the poor fellow's ankle was in the way. This detail was taken care of and the rescue auto was off.
A sense of responsibility prompted my father to once again brave the city traffic. We left the man and woman at the scene, promising to send help from the city. Pa drove to a nearby side road, turned our sedan around, and drove as fast as he would dare -- about 30 mph. "Maybe he'll pull through", he said through clenched jaws.
The nurse at the hospital reception desk provided relief and considerable embarrassment to my father. "He will be all right," were her happy words. "Had a little too much to drink," she added. And then explained: "He was very lucky to get out of it with nothing more than a badly bruised ankle."
The trip to hear the fight built considerable confidence in my father. He explained to men at the clubhouse that driving in Iron Mountain was risky, to be sure, but nothing he couldn't handle. His confidence reached such proportions that he announced at dinner shortly thereafter that we could begin to plan a trip to Marinette to visit our relatives.
According to a letter from Aunt Alice in Marinette, the Al G. Barnes Circus was coming to Menominee in August. Menominee, Michigan was Marinette's twin city and apparently had the better circus lot because circus trains of Cole Brothers, Sells Floto, Al G. Barnes, Hagenbeck Wallace, and others always showed in Menominee and rarely in Marinette. In earlier days, before it got too big, even Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey came to Menominee.
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Aunt Alice's letter settled the timing of our hundred mile trip. We would visit relatives and take in the circus all in one adventure.
Our drive to Marinette was filled with thrills. There were views of a countryside I had never seen before; towns I had heard of only occasionally: Norway, Vulcan, Hermansville, Powers, Wallace, to name a few. A highlight was a picnic on the side of the road. My father, sister and I shared the driving and after seven hours we were happily welcomed by aunts and uncles and my cousin Butts, about my age.
Relatives aside, the circus was the big event the way I saw it. There's only one way to see a circus, if you are a teen-age boy from Sagola whose father has thrilled you many times with tales of the circuses of his boyhood. You get up in the wee hours to watch the train come in and to see the animals and the wagons unloaded. Then you hang around the cook tent to see breakfast prepared. You watch the big top go up and the menagerie unfold. Then, bug-eyed and bug-eared you watch and listen to the blacksmiths and teamsters. In the afternoon you sit in a reserved seat (you've saved up for this). At night you hang around until the late hours to see the last wagon loaded and the elephants prodded into their cars.
My cousin suggested we sleep on the floor in Aunt Alice's parlor to be sure we would wake in time to greet the circus train. This made sense to our folks who probably didn't want to be wakened that early. It made sense to Butts and me because we knew we would not sleep soundly on the hard floor and therefore would be up in plenty of time. Aunt Alice's parlor was a seldom-used room in the front of the house and so we were undisturbed. After several hours of pitching and tossing, we dropped off and slept until 40 minutes before noon. The big top was up, the baggage stock fed, and the sideshow barkers already at work.
For our trip home from that disappointing visit, we again took turns driving. North of Powers my sister took the wheel and I moved to the back seat where I curled up in a corner with a soft, fat pillow. According to our trip plan we would avoid the traffic in Iron Mountain (no point in asking for unnecessary trouble) by going north from Waucedah, hit Foster City and Felch
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and come out on the main road at Randville, about six miles from home.
Several miles beyond Waucedah, my sister veered a little too far in passing an oncoming auto and dropped our right rear wheel into a sink hole. We were stuck. Nothing to be alarmed about, however, we were prepared. Pa took his axe from under the front seat, cut a young birch tree and used this to pry the wheel from its mud -filled cavity. He instructed me to stuff my fat pillow under the tire for necessary traction. The birch fulcrum was removed and my sister alerted: foot on the clutch, gear shift in low, throttle 'way out. I was to push from the left rear; Pa took a braced stance over the imbedded right wheel and shouted "Yo!" This yo was the pre-arranged signal for my sister to quickly let out the clutch. There was a roar, a lurch, and a "Shut her off! Shut her off!" Mud and feathers covered our father from head to knees.
We scraped him almost clean and held another meeting. By unanimous agreement, outside help was essential to our release. Pa walked to Foster City and enlisted a farmer, his Model-T truck and a logging chain. After the rescue equipment was hitched up, the Model-T was unable to budge our car; matter of fact, the truck had trouble pulling the slack out of the big chain.
An hour or so later, the farmer returned with a team of horses and we were set free. The remainder of the trip was uneventful. We arrived at the end of our hundred-mile journey just 18 hours from its beginning.
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My chums and I reached a milestone on a June evening when Mr. Simpson presented us with diplomas signifying our completion of the eighth grade. It was a presentation with proper ceremony, attended by parents of the ten graduates, and held in the classroom that had been a formidable place for us since grade five.
Boys in the class were instructed to be present at the school thirty minutes before the announced hour of the exercises. This was to give Mr. Simpson an opportunity to inspect us; to be sure our hair was watered and combed, black stockings tight around our legs, shoes blackened, shirts buttoned, and so on. We stood at the rear of the room for this where we awaited the arrival of our parents. They were greeted on the porch by Mr. Simpson and escorted by seventh graders to the bolted-down desk seats that had been ours for so long. The furniture had not been designed for adults and so I watched anxiously as my mother and father squeezed and squirmed their way to sitting positions. Pa didn't get all the way in and like most fathers and quite a few mothers, extended his legs into the aisle. Hod Perry's mother couldn't make it at all.
Our commencement opened with the Broadland sisters singing an a cappella arrangement of "Love's Old Sweet Song." Appropriate applause was acknowledged by the sisters with smiles and bows. They were followed on the program by Mr. Simpson who took a position near his desk and once more greeted our mothers and fathers, reminding them of the far-reaching significance of the occasion.
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I was sure Mosey, Specs, Brownie and Pecky sensed as I did the incongruity of the whole affair as we stood there first on one leg and then the other. Nothing about all of this could, by any stretch, be considered usual. There, before us were our parents sitting at our desks; parents who had never set foot in our classroom during the countless days of our confinement within its walls. There were our girl classmates smiling, and smiling at us, for heaven's sake. And there were the buttoned shirts, tight stockings and watered hair. And most incongruous of all, there was Mr. Simpson, himself. Dressed in a suit that was new to us, he was all smiles. Gone from his round face was the frown that had become so familiar to us. Mr. Simpson was happy. Anyway, that's the way I figured it, and if Mr. Simpson thought about it, he would figure that we were just as happy as he was.
Following his remarks about the significance of the occasion, Mr. Simpson called each of us to the front of the room where he presented our diplomas. We responded shyly to rounds of applause and returned to our places at the rear of the room, making sure not to trip over the legs that protruded into the aisles. When the last graduate was honored, Mr. Simpson addressed us in a farewell speech. With no little subtlety he told us of his hope that our parents would continue to mold our characters as he had molded them. He implied that although his task was thankless, he had maintained an implacable dedication, and accomplished much under the circumstances. He admitted to occasional harshness and strict measure, but these were for our own good and we would be grateful to him "as we journeyed down the rough road of life."
Mosey interrupted my thinking about that rough road business with a nudge and a glance toward the picture of Washington Crossing the Delaware. The remainder of Mr. Simpson's address was lost to me as my thoughts meandered: What if we had not removed Black Sal from behind the picture, and what if the tape let go and the strap fell to the floor while Mr. Simpson was talking about that rough road of life? Yes, Mr. Simpson, stand there in your new suit, smile at our parents, hand out diplomas, but remember this, Mr. Simpson, you will remain with me down that rough road of life as the wielder of a big, black strap and a raiser of welts on my butt.
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So much for Mr. Simpson and our graduation exercises which were concluded by the Broadland sisters rendition, with gestures, of "Down By The Old Mill Stream."
We were frustrated with indecision as we pondered: "Should we go to high school where it was said we would study such stuff as Latin and algebra? To be sure, riding the bus to Channing would be fun, but a fella could get tired of that in a hurry, probably. And how about those Channing kids? We never did like them with all their fancy talk about railroads. We didn't like their smart aleky ways and how they called us sawdust heads.
Or, should we go to work in the lumber yard and make three dollars a day and have our own spending money, and buy anything we wanted; maybe even a shotgun?
The choice was obvious. There was a problem having to do with timing, however. Should we put off our final decision until the end of vacation and thereby enjoy the summer?
Pecky and Brownie were for going to work right away. Specs remained undecided. It was beginning to look like Specs wanted to go to high school. Mosey and I were for waiting until just before berry pickin' time. It became apparent that unless we could swing Specs out of his indecision, we would just have to go along and do nothing about it. After all, we long ago had taken a secret oath: one for all and all for one. And so our summer saw us skinning our knuckles with rug beaters, piling wood, suffering through another berry season. Secretly, though, it wasn't all that bad what with the usual summer fun. And besides, the lumber yard was hottest during the time of Spec's grapple with alternatives.
It was under the elm tree at third base that Specs, in his usual casual manner, remarked that he was ready to join us in our quest for gainful employment. It seems that he had his eye on a baseball glove in the Sears Roebuck catalog, but his pa couldn't afford it. His motivation, it turned out, was the same as ours: three dollars a day.
We pointed out to Specs in strong terms that he had caused us considerable anxiety over a much too long time and that we wouldn't stand for anything like that again. The next
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time, we said, we would do whatever we wanted to do without paying him any mind, secret oath or not. We were fed up with waiting for him, we said.
Our plan was to enlist the help of our fathers in convincing Andrew Swanson that we should be added to his work force in the lumber yard. Pecky, Mosey and Brownie wanted to be tally boys for the lumber scalers. Tally boys didn't have to lift anything; just mark down numbers the scalers called to them. Specs thought he would like to carry drinking water to the lumber pilers. He knew he would be busy on hot summer days, but in winter his work would be less than tiring. Specs was a good thinker. I had in mind driving a horse on the tramways like Siggy Thoren if I was not assigned to a team and dumpeart; my first choice, of course.
My father was a personal friend of Andrew Swanson; played penny ante poker with him in the clubhouse and was his regular partner in four-man billiard games. No problem for me, obviously, and perhaps Pa could add a word or two for my chums.
We decided to time our approaches to our fathers with the start of a pay period. This because our meeting was being held on the day after the start of a pay period which gave us an additional two weeks before we would have to get up at five-thirty to be in the lumber yard by six. We had been thinking about that, too. There was urgency in our action because summer was on its last legs and the opening of school was not far off.
I had planned my approach to my parents with considerable care. I would wait until they were pleasantly relaxed, probably on the porch after supper and after I had helped my sister with the dishes which I would do with none of the usual hemming and hawing.
The stage was set on a warm August evening with Ma and Pa on the porch, the dishes done, and my sister playing the piano in the living room. I adjusted the shoulder straps that held the bib on my overalls, cleared my throat, and was about to introduce my subject when I was interrupted by my mother: "We have a surprise for you, John. Your father is not going to work tomorrow and we are all going to Crystal Falls to buy your
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new outfit for school. Mr. and Mr. Olson will follow us with Brownie and Mosey and we're going to make a day of it with a picnic at Runkle Lake."
Pa added: "You'll be taking your dinner to school, and so we'll get you a dinner bucket and thermos bottle." I hadn't thought about taking my dinner. That would be real fun, eating out of a dinner bucket, drinking cold milk from a thermos bottle, and all. Ma said among the new things, I would get a belt. No more suspenders? Wow!
As I listened to my parents, and as my thoughts skittered among dinner buckets, daily bus trips, no suspenders, a trip to Crystal Falls and a picnic, the rough road of life moved farther and farther as did the lumber yard, a team and dumpcart or horse on the tramways.
From what Ma said about Mosey and Brownie going to Crystal Falls, I knew they were setting aside their tally boy plans. But what of Pecky and Specs? Their parents did not take them to Crystal Falls for their new clothes and dinner buckets and thermos bottles. They went instead to Iron Mountain to do their pre-school shopping.]
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The Labor Movement
The Iron Mountain News provided our town with reports of goings on in places down below and around the world. It arrived each evening at the clubhouse in a Ford coupe whose driver was greeted enthusiastically by subscribers.
The News told of big league baseball games, gang wars in Chicago, Lindbergh's flight across the ocean, and Henry Ford's decision to pay five dollars a day for common labor in his sawmill near Iron Mountain.
The initial reaction to this as it was expressed on the clubhouse porch was of disbelief. The News made a mistake. Five dollars a day for common labor in a sawmill? If true, Henry Ford was out of his mind. He would go broke in no time and the sawmill would have to shut down, and then what. There was a catch to it, obviously.
The News did not make a mistake and there was no catch to it. Henry Ford was, in fact, paying five dollars a day. Soon young men were quitting their jobs in Sagola and going to work at the Ford plant, as it was called. This meant forty miles of travel each day, but by pooling their rides, they agreed it was worth it; more than worth it, in fact.
There were sacrifices in addition to the travel, however, according to the young men. Work at the plant meant doing something every minute of the day for Mr. Ford. During stops at the mill to change saws, for example, the crew not involved in this did not sit down, or take a walk in the clean air or horse around as they did in the Sagola mill. Mr. Ford would have none of that. His workers must sweep sawdust, wipe grease from
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gear boxes, clean windows; anything to keep busy. Shirkers were fired quick as anything. All of which didn't sit too well with men who had heretofore earned their daily wage with a degree of freedom and friendliness. Sagola's conitribution to the output of the Ford mill soon began a downward trend as the young men came back, one by one.
The high Ford wages continued to remain a topic of conversation at the store and clubhouse, however. Stories in The News told of Ford's outstanding success as an auto maker and sawmill owner; success based on a totally new economic concept: higher wages for his work force and lower prices for his product. Why, the question was asked, couldn't Charlie Goodman do the same thing with his sawmill?
The answer was Charlie Goodman could indeed do the same thing. It was an answer provided by a stranger who arrived on the morning train from down below. He spent his first day in town visiting workers in the mill and lumber yard and telling them of a meeting he was holding in the evening in front of the boarding house.
Men, women and children attended the meeting to hear the stranger champion Henry Ford's innovation, and at the same time chide Charlie Goodman for not adopting a similar principle for the workers in Sagola. All Mr. Goodman needed, according to the stranger, was a show of unified strength by the men who worked for him. For money just enough to pay his expenses, the stranger said he would organize the men of Sagola into a powerful group and would represent them in a meeting with Mr. Goodman.
When asked about the power of a group such as he described, the stranger posed a question: "You know what a strike means, don't you? Do you suppose Charlie Goodman would let that mill over there stand idle while there are big profits to be made when it's working?"
Generally, the attitude of the men was one of fear and skepticism, but there was hope too. Although no formal action was taken at the meeting, it was agreed by most everyone that the stranger made sense. Men went home to think about it.
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The stranger remained in town three days during which time he kept his subject alive at the store, the clubhouse, the boarding house, and even on the porches of some of the homes. Enthusiasm was high and rising higher. Women as well as men were seeing the logic in the stranger's proposal. The main thing, of course, was the five dollars a day. This most certainly would change Sagola's life style for the better.
On the third and final day of the stranger's visit, a long, black, chauffeured Packard brought Mr. and Mrs. Goodman to the clubhouse. T. J. and Mrs. Dewish rushed to carry the luggage as they always did, and word of the arrival quickly spread through the village.
The mill whistle blew four long blasts in mid-afternoon, a signal for all who heard it to go to the planing mill. With just about everyone in the village gathered on the planing mill platform, the mill silent and the atmosphere solemn, Mr. Goodman was assisted to the top of a load of lumber where he addressed his listeners.
He told them how he and his wife, on the long drive from Marinette, had discussed the rumor that men of Sagola were thinking of going on strike. It was reported, he said, that they wanted a raise from three to five dollars a day. He couldn't blame them for this. They were all good men with good families and he loved them all.
He went on to explain that it was impossible for him to compete with Henry Ford, the Detroit millionaire, and for this he was sorry and a bit embarrassed. He would like nothing better, he said, than to pay his workers not five, but eight or maybe ten dollars a day. But he just couldn't do it.
In conclusion, Mr. Goodman told his workers that if they wanted to strike, he would place no obstacles in their way: no bitterness, no reprisals. He would understand, he said, and he hoped they would understand his action in just closing the old mill for good. "After all," he said, "I'm not as young as I used to be and maybe I'll take Mrs. Goodman's advice and just go fishing."
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With that, Mr. Goodman was helped down from the load of lumber, the big mill and the planing mill started up
again, women and kids went home.
In the evening men gathered at the clubhouse to discuss the day's event and to appoint a three-man escort to guide the stranger to the steps of a coach on the passenger train to down below.
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Exit a Decade
As the decade of the twenties began to lower its curtain, the good times of its earlier years were being replaced throughout the nation by times of uncertainty and apprehension. Not ready or willing to grasp the significance of these changes, our town remained undisturbed. The crash of the stock market caused no suicides or lost fortunes among the villagers, nor were the implications of the event comprehended. Brokerage houses had no accounts under "Sagola" in their files.
To be sure, there were ominous signals, but villagers refused to give them attention. Orders for lumber no longer covered the superintendent's desk. Boards and Planks were coming out of the mill and were being piled in the lumber yard as always, but they were not being loaded into box ears and gondolas at the rate of other years.
Whether Sagola's people worried about these things, or comprehended them, or not, our village was inching its way into hard times. Little by little its belt was being tightened.
The decade of the twenties ended on this note.
Ever so slowly, and ever so steadily, as the new decade arrived, a realization crept into the village conscience: good times were gone and quite probably for keeps. Pangs of the depression were beginning to hurt as the mill shut down for long periods, as the crew at the lumber camp was reduced by half, as the planing mill was silenced much of the time.
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Sagola had its pain killers, however. Carrots, onions and potatoes were plentiful in cellars under kitchens. Brook trout were in the streams and venison was free for the taking.
Sagola accepted the circumstance and in accepting it retained its sense of humor, its old values and its old niceties. Mothers and daughters hummed at kitchen sinks. Fathers and sons whistled in woodsheds. Noble souls refused to be repressed and penury's chill prompted few complaints.
This, then, was the situation on a late night in August when the mill whistle broke the sleep of the village with its fire signal of one long and three short blasts repeated over and over.
With the whistle still blowing, Sagola was on its slippered, booted, socked, and bare feet. The lame, the halt, the sick, the young, the old were up and running. They were in ankle-length nightshirts, BVD-s, long underwear, raincoats, aprons, overalls.
Some were running toward the faint glow on the west side of the lumber yard where the soft, dry pine was piled. Some were running toward the swamp behind Louie Byer's blacksmith shop. Many were just running; up and down.
Fire, the terrible ogre, had hovered over Sagola as it had over sawmill towns everywhere. Within the subconscious of milltown people it commanded a fear too terrible to talk about; something like doomsday. It caused men to chew Peerless or Copenhagen on workdays and to smoke cigars or pipes only at home, or in the clubhouse or store or Charlie Prices barbershop, or at ball games.
Matches were likened to instruments of the devil and were handled with appropriate caution. Indeed, they were sometimes referred to as "lucifers."
Many minutes of chaos and near panic followed the whistle's opening blasts as the faint glow brightened into spurts of flame. Soon order, or a semblance of it, could be detected as villagers carried water in bottles, pie tins, lard pails. My father and I rushed to the nearest hose cart shed and pulled the two-wheeled cart to a nearby hydrant where we attached the hose. We were on the south side of the lumber yard and about a half mile from the flames which by now were shooting high into the
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black sky. Like driving horses hitched to a light carriage we began our dash with the cart, the hose spinning off the reel as we dashed. Trouble was our cart held only fifty feet of hose and when it dropped off the reel we were still about a half mile from the flames.
Early stages of the fire revealed hitherto unknown and surprising qualities among our townspeople. A strange kind of leadership expressed itself as fire crews were organized and a system seemed to take shape. "Damn it all, get the water over here!" This from the sweet little president of a church women's circle. Paddy Stolberg, a watchman at the mill, barked orders to Jack Beech, his boss, and Jack obeyed without comment. We always thought Coots Tinker was a kind of sissy; wouldn't hurt a flea and would never get in an argument. Coots was on top of big George Foley and belting the daylights out of him for not pulling a hose cart.
Spread of the fire eastward into the center of the lumber yard quickened and with it a tremendous wind came up. It was as if a giant had opened a huge draft. Fourteen and sixteen-foot planks, all ablaze, would rise up and shoot through the air. Wherever the firey javelins landed, new fires broke out.
A sudden realization swept through the fire fighters -- fighting the fire was futile. With this, a mad scramble away from the lumber yard presented an awesome picture of fleeing silhouettes in bright, yellow light.
It became apparent to everyone that Sagola was about to be destroyed completely. Now the total effort was directed to removal of family valuables to the safety of Skoglund's pasture and potato field on the village outskirts. Individual preferences for family valuables covered a wide range. Jean Bolier ran to the farm with his Model 12 shotgun in one hand and a flowered chamberpot in the other. His wife pushed a wheelbarrow loaded with a bed's headboard balanced precariously under an ironing board and a pillow exhorting: "God Bless Our Home." Joe Lafromboie's wheelbarrow creaked under a marble-top commode and a litter of pups. Dump carts were recruited and horses pulled them with loads of dressers, beds, radios, armchairs. One of them had my sister's piano wedged among our valuables. Widow Morris trudged up the hill with her departed's overcoat and deer rifle, and a dressmaker's dummy.
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Only a few family autos were put to work because most of them had long been out of gas; a consequence of the hard times.
There was no looting in all of this, but several batches of home brew and caches of wine were opened in unexpected cellars. Their owners had no time for embarrassments, however, as frenzy reigned everywhere.
During the long, terrible night, a deafening roar engulfed the village. By dawn it had subsided and almost suddenly it became apparent that Sagola was not to be destroyed completely after all. The great draft created by the fire had contained the flames so that only the lumber yard was lost.
And the night after the fire -- it was the most beautiful night in all of Sagola's years. A bed of purple coals covered the acres where 25 million board feet of lumber had been drying in tall, symmetrical piles. The glow was an awesome, warming thing and villagers gathered in little clusters to gaze upon it and to give thanks that their homes were not destroyed. And they gathered in little clusters to worry.
My father and I stood behind our woodshed to view the spectacular scene. Indescribable beauty was before us as acres of colors, sometimes bright, sometimes subdued, danced and danced as if they were meant to do this for all time. It was very quiet behind the woodshed; an awful stillness.
Pa rested his hand on my shoulder and said: "Well, John, ten good, happy years are over. The town we knew is finished. It's done. I suppose there'll always be a Sagola, but it won't be the one we enjoyed, for certain. That old mill over there will never again cut fifty thousand feet a day. I'd be surprised if it ever cut anything. Most likely Charlie Goodman will close her down for good. Business wasn't too good lately anyway. I wonder what will happen to everybody. Tomorrow I better go over to the filing room and lock up my tools. I'll probably have to go around by the barn to get to the mill; those coals will be hot for a long time, I suspect. Funny I should be thinking about my tools. Wonder when I'll be needing...... "
"Damn. Left my handkerchief in my other pants. Got yours handy?"
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