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

Violet was badly hurt when daughter Elnora was chopping clods of frozen sawdust with an unusually sharp grub hoe to cover their summer ice. Violet reached out at the same time and the hoe severed the middle finger, leaving it hanging by only a thread of skin and cutting the ring finger half way through. Panic ensued with Orrah tending to Violet and even whittling a cast out of cedar. Amazingly the fingers healed and Violet could even work the knuckle. The adventure caused Violet to ruminate about when Elnora was just three years old in 1950 and ran her foot into the long teeth of a one-man saw, severing off part of her second toe on her left foot. Violet had repeatedly told the boys to put any sharp tools in safe places or turn them around, but as Violet opined, “young children soon forget”. Violet snatched up Elnora, along with the piece of toe, and carried her into the Kettle River shack that she had been fixing up. She bandaged the toe back on and took care of it every day until it healed back on. Elnora suffered no ill effects, but she always kept reminding and harping on her siblings to practice safety first, and always return saw blades, axes and knives to their proper storage.

That same year Violet and Orrah lost their ice-house because, according to Violet, the people in charge would not open the gates of the dam down at Fort Frances and International Falls. They would not listen to an old Indian Chief when he warned that there was going to be a big flood because of the heavy snowfalls that had piled up during the winter. Violet recalled that they just simply ignored the old chief, then the water got so high, they were afraid to open the gates for fear of flooding thousands of people who lived along the banks of the Rainy River. The water rose swiftly over the shallow banks of Rainy Lake and melted the ice in the ice-houses of the area commercial fishermen. The government reimbursed those who lost ice, but because Orrah and Violet didn’t have a commercial fish ground, they got nothing. In order for them to have cool water, Violet tied a string to a one gallon jug and sunk it off the end of their dock down deep where the water would be cold. That year Violet did not have any ice to make ice cream and they all missed that.

With the help of her children, Violet grew a large garden, and the kids continued to put meat and fish on the table. It was this time when Violet ended up grinding wheat by hand in a gristmill. Orrah and the boys set up a sawmill using a stationary steam boiler to run a Stanley steam car engine. Violet described it as “only a little bit of a contraption” but it could turn a thirty-six inch saw blade, so now they could cut their own lumber. The boys took the big hand wheel off of the gristmill and ran a belt from it to the Stanley engine. The kids all worked at the “mill”; they would dump 100-pound sacks of wheat kernel at a time in a home-made hopper, the flour would be sifted and put back into the sacks. Violet reported it was nothing but teamwork, but she still had to buy several hundred pounds of white flour.

Violets son Wesley loved to pick berries of any kind and according to Violet was a fantastic berry picker; he was fast and picked them clean. The girls were also adroit at picking, but Elnora testified that “Wesley could beat both Violet and her picking blueberries”. He would have a fifty-pound milk drum full before they could fill one between them. Violet recalled that the blueberries that grew on Oak Island were as large as Concord grapes and were deliciously sweet. Violet and the girls wanted to pick them to sell, as well as make preserves.The girls wanted money of their own, they wanted to have nice things to wear and at that time they were selling for sixty-five cents a quart, but Orrah would not hear of it. The girls were not allowed to participate in any work outside the home or the Falls River.

Next up, with the help of the girls, Violet made quarts and quarts of jams, jellies and preserves and had a marvelous garden. The boys dig a cellar and great swarms of caterpillars ascend.

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