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Survival in a Northern Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part XXIV

Always in the later part of February Violets boys and their dad would come off the trap lines to put up ice to use during the upcoming summer. When the sun started to get warm it was the girl’s job to cover it with sawdust and sometimes it was still frozen in lumps. Elnora was chopping it apart with an unusually sharp grub hoe when Violet, on her knees, reached out at the same time and put her hand on the ice right under the frozen sawdust clump. The hoe severed Violet’s middle finger, leaving it hanging by a thread of skin, and cutting the ring finger half way through. Violet, screaming, jumped out of the ice house. Elnora stood in shocked horror, the cut angled right through the knuckle.

Orrah tried to put it back on, but was shaking so much that he asked God to calm his nerves and guide his hands so that he could steady himself. He managed to get it set back in place and bandaged up. Orrah bawled Elnora out for not being careful but she said it happened so fast that she didn’t see Violets hand. A few days later Orrah whittled a cast out of cedar to fit the finger and wrapped the cast with a clean cloth and the first week or so he wrapped the entire hand. Orrah and Violet then went muskrat and beaver trapping up at the Pipe Lake cabin above the Big Marsh and Pipestone River, and in a few weeks Orrah just began to keep the cast bandaged to her finger. Violet always held up the bandaged finger in the air so as not to bump it. While they were at the Pipe Lake cabin waiting for the rivers to open, they ran real low on food, so Orrah caught some muskrats, but there was no fat on them and extremely unpalatable. Violet had a dickens of a time eating them, especially since she didn’t have any fat to cook them in. Orrah shot a goose on the wing with his automatic .22 rifle, they roasted it and it was tasty. A few days later he shot a couple of ducks also on the wing. Violet recalled both the goose and ducks were fat and that later Orrah shot a beaver and brought it to the cabin and it tasted good at the time because the beaver had real fat, and that is what they had craved the most.

One day Orrah was out on the Big Marsh when he got out of his canoe and pulled it up on the shore ice when it started to get away from him. Reaching out, he could just barely touch the end of the canoe. He hung on and with what Violet described as “with might and mane”, managed to pull the canoe to him, and jump in without turning it over, and according to her it was a close call.

It was the spring of 1950 and fifteen year old Elnora and Tony were staying at their main place on the Falls River. They slept on the houseboat and cooked up in the main cabin. Older sons Wes and Floyd made a trip home to check on them and that’s when they discovered what Violet described as “an iceberg was holding up the houseboat up on the far side and if it was to move away the houseboat would turn over and sink to be lost forever”. Early the next morning they went down inside to find water pouring in like a waterfall as some of the caulking had come out of the seams in the planking. They pumped the water out and got down inside with oakum and caulking irons and started treating the seams. It was noon when they started caulking, Elnora took over work on the pump that was made for deep wells, and they caulked from noon until mid-night before they had the water stopped. Elnora never left the pump, and the next morning the boys shoved the iceberg away, so all was well.

Orrah and Violet returned about six week’s later and showed Elnora Violets finger. It not only grew back on, but it healed evenly on the joint so she could work it. Elnora professed to knowing that the finger would heal because she asked God every night before going to bed to see that her mom could use it.

Next up, Violets remembers other calamities with her children and the time they lost their ice house because they would not open the dam at Fort Frances.

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