Survival in a Northern Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part XIII
In 1938 the Canadian Government started paying each family money for each child that they had, Orrah would not let Violet have any. Violet opined that it wasn’t a lot, about two dollars and a half a month for infants and two to five dollars for children up to eighteen but she later ruminated that it would have been real good to have helped clothe her children. In 1939, Orrah and family made the rare trip to Fort Frances. They didn’t get to see it all, but they attended the Fourth of July Parade, and for the first time the six children had ice cream; they had to be shown how to lick it with their tongues.
Violet’s neighbor Mrs. Langford would occasionally pick blueberries with her. Mrs. Langford had magic, as she owned an Edison Phonograph. She asked Violet’s daughter Elnora that if she brought the phonograph over, could she have Elnora’s baby sister. Without hesitation Elnora said “yes” but when she picked up the baby and headed for her canoe Elnora ran after her crying “bring my sister back”! Mrs. Langford gave the phonograph to them and some of the children became good at memorizing the words to the music and loved to sing along. At six years old son Frankie, who had sky blue eyes and snow white hair, was a beautiful singer and later became even better. Violet remarked that Orrah loved to listen to him.
Violet would row out nearly every morning and tend the fishnets leaving the children sleeping. One particular morning she came back and started her head count and Frankie, not yet quite three, was missing. He had awoke early and went looking for his mom. Her heart sank. Violet started looking and calling around the cabin, then the woods nearby. Violet kept calling his name over and over again, she searched deeper into the woods and later she recalled it being a calm sunny day. After hours of searching, she heard a sound far off in the distance and near high-noon finally found him in the thickest of spruce, she always felt that if it had been windy she would have never found him. Violet later testified that as little as they had to eat and get by on they didn’t want to lose any of their children. Orrah agreed.
The family spent the hard winters of 1939 and 1940 at the Kettle River Place. Orrah never seemed to bring enough groceries home when he hauled fish. If he bought sugar he didn’t bring milk, coffee or tea. Finally, after many years, Violet begged him to let her handle the money and let her go with him to buy what they needed. It worked and Orrah ended up happy about it. They celebrated Christmas, but their fare only consisted of fish and potatoes. They professed thanks for what they had, as they knew others had much less.
One day Violet was hauling wood with a rope over her shoulder pulling a heavy sleigh, as Orrah had the dogs out on the trap line. Violet started to hemorrhage, so she laid down and told Orrah Jr. to bring her some pillows and sheets, then sent him away while she packed herself. Early the next morning she was very weak, and sent Orrah Jr. to the old logging camp to fetch his dad where he was mink trapping. Several inches of snow had fallen that night but she thought Junior must have ran the entire seven miles because, according to Violet, “in no time flat”, Orrah arrived with Junior in the sleigh. Orrah checked her out and said, “well dear, everything has been done that is necessary”.
In 1941 Violet picked blueberries for sale for the last time and that Fall went down to Fort Frances with Orrah. There they approached the game warden about applying for the trap ground that they were already trapping on and he let them have it. Violet admitted that she did it because she knew Orrah would not stand on his feet and go after it. He had already passed up the fishing grounds on Hale Bay some years before.
A big event! Rudy Anderson’s logging company was planning on selling out and had a little radio that ran off of a large battery pack. Son Wesley longed to buy it for his mother as the United States was involved in World War II and for the first time, news from the outside world could be picked up.
Next up, Violet was eager to teach their children schooling, then according to her “all hell broke loose and she lost the battle to teach her children”.
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.