Survival in a Northern Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part XII
Orrah almost never did any remodeling or ever built anything such as tables, benches or bunks, but never stopped Violet from doing so and he never criticized what she did. Orrah and Violet moved back to the Kettle River place in March of 1939. Violet dug the cellar and put the floor in the big log living room and because there was not enough light she cut a place for a window on each side of the log cabin. She cut the boards and framed them just like a carpenter would do. She felt very pleased with what she had accomplished. Orrah came home from a fish hauling trip and actually beamed happily over the improvements. While Violet was fixing up the Kettle River place, Orrah did build a cabin on their cargo boat the Ironsides, and nine year old Wesley steered the boat while he worked on it.
In the summer of 1939 Orrah took Wesley with him on a fish haul and was gone an entire month; Violet had no idea what had happened to them. She turned all the sleigh dogs loose from their chains so they could fend for themselves. It went poorly, as they “all got into a big fight like a pile of worms”, so she tied them back up and had the children carry plenty of water and fish to each dog to last a few days. Violet dressed the children up and rowed the old punt to a neighbor’s , caught a ride with their son to Kettle Falls and boarded the fish boat Whitten. After traveling all day they arrived at Fort Frances, Ontario. She took a room at the Monarch Hotel for the children, then went looking for Orrah and Wesley. She found the Ironsides docked in front of a machine shop. Orrah had taken out the Model A Ford and installed another big engine made by the White Motor Company. It proved to be no good so he put the Model A Ford back in.
They got permission to let the children stay in an old abandoned car that belonged to the owner of the machine shop. He had two boys who were not very nice and locked the outhouse door so her kids couldn’t use it. Orrah sent Violet back with his brother Paul in his “Put, Put” boat, with Orrah following a few days later. When they arrived back at the Kettle River place, son Orrah Jr. was standing down on the beach to meet them. Violet thought it must have been lonely for him to be all alone; Orrah Jr. was eight years old.
In the long summer days that followed, Violet worked from sun up until the last vestige of daylight on the Kettle River place. She put tar-paper over the planked roofing and worked all day painting it with asphalt. She learned a lesson as her face became badly burned from the reflection of the sun on the asphalt, and she concluded applying it on a cloudy day would have been better. Violet worked steadfastly at sprucing up the Kettle River place, planting a garden and backing fish nets all before blueberry picking season.
Orrah only got one dollar a day hauling fish. While Orrah and Wesley were out on fish hauls Violet took the children each day and rowed across to Oak Island to pick blueberries. She would take a lunch with them, take a break at noon and then pick all afternoon in the scorching sun. Orrah Jr. and Floyd were old enough so they could help row on their way back in the evenings. Violet washed the laundry on the days it rained, baked bread and blueberry pies so they had something to eat when they got back from their adventures. Each evening she and the kids each had a big slice of blueberry pie; there wasn’t anything else to eat. Before the blueberries were ripe they made many a meal of smoked dried fish and that was for breakfast too, according to Violet many a time she and her children longed for something good to eat. Violet was still only getting four cents a quart for the blueberries.
Next up the kids are getting old enough to work and help out at home, families start to get financial incentives from the Canadian Government , a trip to town with all the children, a parade and they get their first taste of ice-cream.
About the Author: Mike Hanson is a long time resident of Birchdale, Minnesota. He enjoys spending his time in the great outdoors, building birdhouses, and has a deep interest in uncovering and understanding settlement history. His writings come from hours of research, as well as engaging discussions with locals and area historians, both professional and amateur.