Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Country School Survivor

District 70 School Picnic, Spring 1936, Credit River Township, Scott County, MN

"Did you ever see this picture before? Aunt Bernice asks me a few minutes after we arrive to visit at her cozy assisted living apartment in Little Falls, Minnesota.

Still dazzled by the hundreds of pictures that nearly cover the walls of her place, I reply, "No, are you on there?"

She tilts her head to align with the picture and points at herself, "Back row."

I recognize her face, located between two girls and just above the boy in the front row with his right hand in his overall pocket. " You're pretty darn good lookin'."

"Some told me so," She says without embarrassment. "The picture was taken by Mom. Dad and Gordon (her older brother and my father) didn't come. I suppose they were too busy on the farm, but no one even gave her a ride.  Mom had to walk nearly a mile across the pasture and down the road to get to my picnic." 

The stories begin. I listen carefully, following up with an occasional  question. As I enjoy her stories about her youth, her folks, her big brother (my father), her sisters, her husband and children, and, of course, her grandchildren, I think of what a fool I've been to delay the visit for so long. It's just a lousy two-hour drive. I need to visit often.

"You'll be 88 on June 29th," I say to her. "Mind posing with me for a picture?" Since she was already standing, Bernice readily turns as Nancy aims the camera. 
Before leaving, Nancy and I enjoy hugs and kisses from Aunt Bernice. We part reluctantly, promising to return soon. "When my next book comes out, I'll save postage and deliver it to you,"  At that remark, Aunt Bernice grins. We close the door behind us.

"Being with her reminded me of how much I miss Dad's stories," I whisper to Nanc, as we walk down the hall of the building.

"When you do your shows, Nancy adds,"you always say 'A story not told is lost forever.' We need to hear more of her stories."

As we settle into the car, I remark, "I didn't know that she went to the same country school I did. Next time we will bring her a 'Country School Survivor' T-shirt." Nancy nods in agreement.

Bernice and her husband Harland Meehl on their wedding day in 1940. Bernice is about 18.

The T-shirt comes in red, yellow, or grey and sizes s,m,l, x-l, 2x, 3x, but not all sizes are available in all colors. If you are interested in buying one, Email me at The number of people who qualify to wear one is dwindling. They also come without the "Minnesota" designation.
Remember to visit your elderly  relatives and friends. A story not told is lost forever. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Reading Rock

In 2003, two strong neighbors tug at the chain in an attempt to move 
Reading Rock, as I work hard  directing them.

It's a hot summer day in 1957 on our small family farm, and  after dinner (remember, that's the noon meal)  my folks take about a half-hour break to read the mail and the daily paper, the Minneapolis Tribune, which I always read in the evening when everyone else is done with it.

During this reading time, I grab my paperback and head for Reading Rock, located under a large elm on the hill of the pasture lane. The shade of the elm keeps the rock cool. A slight breeze from the east brings the sweet smell of alfalfa and the long song of a bobolink. From my perch on the comfortble boulder, I read and experience adventure, looking up occasionally to spot any activity in the farmyard.


Soon Dad will emerge from the house, the screen door will slam, and the afternoon's work will begin. But until that moment, I'm solving a mystery near Mesa Verde or riding in a posse in Kansas. Adventure after adventure broadens my scope and for that half hour the world is mine.

Where did I get my reading material? Well, I never thought to ask my folks to take me to a library, but when we drove to town for necessities, I used the money I earned trapping pocket gophers to buy comic books, western novels and  mysteries. After I read them, I traded  with my cousin Raymond, who was a couple years older. His westerns displayed  much richer adventures than mine, but he never complained and traded with me anyway. My folks and Aunt  Mary would often give me mystery stories for my birthday, which I still have now because I never traded a gift.

So where is my Reading Rock now?

Well, after I sold the land, a kind neighbor, Dave Stermer, pulled it up the hill to my place.

 Now it rests in the center the turn-around east of my house.

Remembering how the recesses of the rock used to fit my body back in those days of summer reading, I decide to try the perch again.

     I try a couple positions,
     but am unable to get settled.

The rock is just not as comfy
 as I remember it.

I decide to return to my new
 reading spot, a chair on the porch.

Do you have a favorite summer reading spot?
During June many libraries, along with other private and community orgainizations throughout Minnesota, kick off their summer reading program by having authors and other artists appear at local events.  (See my June 24 blog of my visit to Frost, MN) Attend the events if you can, but don't let the summer go by without settling your kids, grandkids and yourself into a favorite summer reading spot.

By the way, one of my favorite reads this summer is Shakespeare, the Biography by Peter Ackroyd. As I read I discover that I want to read Shakespeare's plays all over again.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fun and Surprise

May 17, 2010 at 9:00  AM and Nancy and I  finish running through the regular check list before we leave for Sherburn Elementary School in Sherburn, MN:  TV, projector, screen, sound, tote with dvd player and equipment, wagon, posters, easels, props, bag with sales supplies, books, snacks, and water.  We're excited about doing five performances for about 260 kids in K-4.

As we walk into Sherburn Elementary, we see the first of the surprises, a poster of welcome messages from students. Nanc snaps a picture and says, "What a great way to welcome us!" As you see, I'm just grinning, totally unaware of more surprises to come.

Then Mrs. Neppl and nearly her whole fourth grade class surprise us in the hall as a special greating, which thrilled Nanc and me to such a degree that we forgot to take a picture. The principal, Mr. Harbitz, takes the time to introduce himself and say hello.

Mrs. Neppl takes us to the library where we will perform and let's us know we are in for a bigger surpise during lunch. With the help of some students, we hurry to carry in our equipment and then set up the screen , projector and sound system. As we sit down at a library table with a number of teachers and prepare for lunch, Mrs. Stenson (right) introduces me to her mother Ruth (left), who happens to be my Dad's first cousin who I've never met. What a surprise! Mrs. Stenson specially brought her mother from Burnsville just to meet me and to see the show. 

Mrs. Stenson takes a picture of her mother Ruth (Barsness) Midboe with Nancy and me.

After lunch, FFA President Maggie Prunty introduces me and I begin the first of five half-hour shows.

After each show, another group is immediately brought in and settled.
Since groups are mixed K-4, I try to appeal to the variety of ages with fun details and illustrations on the big screen. Question time follows each show and questions range from what chores I liked on the farm to how the remote sound system works when there is no physical connection. I've learned to never underestimate the potential difficulty of questions from children of any age. That is what makes performing for them so fun.

After I perform for two and a half hours, we pack up and  say goodbye to everyone. We actually hate to leave. Everyone has been so kind.
We thank those who dedicated their time to make the event a success, including Mrs. Neppl who arranged the event, Mrs. Harries, who allowed us to use her library for the show, and my second cousin Mrs. Stenson, who brought her mother Ruth to see us.
Of course, we always thank all staff members for allowing us to be part of their students' education. It is a privilege we do not take lightly.

Mrs. Neppl (in back wearing dark sweater) 
arranged for volunteers to help us load our equipment.
Sherburn is another one of Minnesota's great small town schools, characterized by the friendly, helpful staff, the open, inquisitive nature of students, the model behavior of students, and the  feeling every student and every visitor get walking in the door, a feeling  that says, "You are welcome and you belong."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Make a Splash!

It's mid-afternoon, June 10,  as Nanc and I head to Frost, Minnesota, eager to meet the volunteers at the Library who invited us to help kick off their summer reading program entitled "Make a Splash!"
I explain to my wife that Charlene Lincoln, the lady who contacted me, has done quite a lot of publicity and has invited kids, parents and seniors to the event at the Viking Community Center.

"They'll be giving door prizes and serving snacks, too!" I mention to Nanc.

We set up early and as people start to shuffle in, I notice that their ages span from kids to teens to people who may even be much older than I am. "I like the age-span," I whisper to Nanc. "Be sure to get lots of pics." She nods in a way that tells me, "Of course, Dummy, this is why I have the camera in my hand."

Ruth Sonnek(white top and big smile), a member of the Faribault County Dairy Association, sits next to Lani Sohn, Faribault County Dairy Princess, in the picture above.  I look forward to chatting more with them after the show. I meet Gina, a budding author with experience in radio, and after she introduces me with a few kind words, I begin my show.

My introduction and Prologue use rhyme and meter to make nostalgic facts fun for all ages, and as I talk about the events on the farm from over 50 years ago, I feel the audience responding in a way that encourages me to add a few details and stories that I had intended to omit.
As I am in about the middle of A Farm Country Christmas Eve, the youngest audience member takes a closer look as I recite the page where Joey teaches a newborn calf how to drink out of a pail.
After the show, Charlene awards door prizes. I am delighted to win a pound of AMPI State Brand butter. Young Torin wins a copy of the book I just performed, A Farm Country Christmas Eve. He immediately asks me to autograph it for him and I gladly comply. I'm feeling pretty good about the fact that he had his choice of all the of the other toys, yet he picked my book. He seems to be a really intelligent and likable  lad.

In no hurry to leave, many folks stop to chat as they snack on the goodies. Frost folks are really friendly.

Children hold their door prizes as people snap pictures  and as I  pose with the young children and teens, who are, of course, the pride of Frost.  I feel privileged. to be part of the event.

We stay over an hour after the show, but since Nanc is busy selling books and talking to customers and I'm answering questions and listening to some fascinating local stories, we take no more pictures.

Before we leave,  we thank all the volunteers, especially Charlene and Ardell and Gina, who worked so hard to make the event a Splash!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wild Gardener

As I walk out to check my roses in the morning, I take along a  small clipper to cut the withering blossoms, which encourages the bush to produce more buds. Although I love to visit my roses, cutting the old blossoms is not a job I relish.

I tell my wife, "It's just not like me to discard a beautiful  living  thing just because its beauty is fading." Nancy just smiles and shakes her head.

Hiding the small cutter behind my back, I approach my favorite pink rose. She blossoms daily and produces buds packed together as tightly as kittens nursing. I position my nose and inhale. Sweet!

But a former beauty sags, her petals starting to fall. Gently, I gather the old blossom in my hand and snip it off below my fingers. I repeat the process on other fading blossoms until I have a handful of petals, which I discard into the nearby tall grass. "Rest in Peace," I say as I scatter the soft remnants.

I walk two steps to see that my small yellow rose has no blossoms. "What happened to you? Yesterday you had a beautiful new blossom."

A bit puzzled, I take a step toward the red rose, which was loaded with blossoms yesterday, but today only the tops of cut stems look up at me. Not a blossom adorns the knee-high stems and no petals are on the ground. What could've happened??

I rush inside to share the news with my wife, who looks out the window to confirm my discovery. "Maybe a deer ate the blossoms," she offers. "I know they eat other flowers."

Later that day, Nancy comes into the shed to see me as I am working on a project. She shows me the display on her digital camera and grins. "I may have found your gardener. I spotted this little guy eating daisy petals before I ran in to get the camera."

Maybe the rose petals were sacrificed for a better purpose. What do you think?

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Visit to a Modern Dairy Farm

On Saturday, June 19, 2010, my wife Nancy and I arrive about 9:30 AM to set up our tent from which we will sell my books about farm kids in 1950 and our new product, Cuddly Critters.

 Farm workers, of course, have already put in hours of work doing regular chores and preparing the farm yard for the special Day at the Farm, where George and Charlene Duban open up to the public their 400-cow dairy operation located south of Lonsdale, MN.

Some early visitors ask questions of the farm employees, who wear red t-shirts and are available to answer questions throughout the day. I ask two employees if  they like working at the dairy farm. They each respond with an entusiastic, "Yes!" and then explain that they've worked here 12 years.

From talking to visiters, I soon learn that Rice County's "A Day on the Farm" is held each year at a different farm site, though this is the third time the Dubans have hosted the event. 

I cross the narrow drive in front of our tent to get a closer look  at some cattle feeding in roomy outside pens.
In vain I try to get them to say "cheese," but although they seem content, they refuse to smile for the camera.

As early visitors continue to arrive, Ed Brazina, a friend from Farmington, provides some music. Adults and kids love it and the kids decide to dance.

Visitors returning from the barns tell me they are impressed with the cleanliness and organiztion so Nanc and I decide to stroll around the place quickly before we get too many customers.


The barn seems to stretch west to where the sun might set, but strolling the distance rewards us with photo opportunities

Kids and adults delight in getting close to the  Holsteins, and the large animals don't seem to mind as they go about the business of eating.

The milking parlor handles many cows at once. Can you count the number of stations?

The number of visitors increases, and by 11 AM  people line up to eat lunch provided by Rice County American Dairy Association while others visit the calves or walk through the dairy barns. I volunteer to man the tent and send Nanc around to take pictures of people and places. 

Kids love to pet the calves.

Some of the calves are  more curious than others.

Activity at our tent increases as people from farms, cities and small towns stop by to chat, hug the Cuddly Critters, page through the books and make some purchases. We talk to several elementary school teachers who express interest in having me perform my free show at their schools. Another lady wants me to perform for her 4-H group.

People of all ages come from towns and farms, alike. The kids like to rave about the cows and calves, their parents are taken by the size and effficiency of the large dairy operation, and the old-timers swap stories with me about how we did the milking way back in the day.

Although the event was to end at 1:00 PM, we stay until nearly 3 PM before the crowd diminisses. Then  we say goodbye  to owners George and Charlene and thank them for providing the setting for a great "Day at the Farm."

As we drive home, Nanc and I decide that we want to attend more of these events where we can chat with friendly people from all over and witness first-hand the operation of a  modern American farm. If readers out there are interested, check my blog for future postings or my event calendar at  Or visit "Midwest Dairy" on Facebook.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Popping Poppy

      "Come here, quick!" I hear my wife holler from the flower garden. "A poppy is about to pop!"
I stop my hoeing immediately. Although she's explained this process to me before, I've never witnessed it myself so I hurry to her side, forgetting to put down my hoe.

"You won't need the hoe," she whispers and then grins.

Just to get back at her I ask if we really need to whisper, but she points to the poppy and says,
"See the green cap on the fat bud? The blossom will
force that to pop off."

I'm thinking, "Sure, in about a week," but I say nothing. I haven't been married
nearly forty years without
learning anything. I watch as
 Nancy takes a couple pictures.

To see the poppy, we position ourselves close
to the moist mulch surrounding the poppy's 
stiff green stem. Sure enough, in just a minute or so
half of the green cap falls silently to the ground.  
Nancy snaps another picture.

"Wow!" I exclaim, strectching my vocabulary to 
meet the wonder of the moment. 

We share a smile and wait only briefly  before we see the second part of the green cap drop to the ground.
 Nancy repositions herself to snap a picture of both pieces of the green cap on the ground as the flower opens to show its large, delicate petals.
Photos by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Friday, June 18, 2010


I need to jump down the silo chute on this blog and confess something: My children's books are really  intended for adults. Of course, I want my stories to entertain kids, to educate kids, and to provide opportunities for discussions between generations, but my main goal has always been to tell the story so adults can relate the farm activities and adventures to their own childhood experiences. I want adult readers to see my stories as their stories.

When I perform for adults, audience members vigorously nod their heads in agreement when I say that although history does a good job of telling the stories of those who are rich and powerful, history ignores the lives of the many regular people who worked hard, managed to raise a family, and had limited financial success or glory. To be fair, history deals mostly with events, not the lives of common people, and in most areas, we need to depend on good fiction to tell the stories of regular people. But fiction about the rural Midwest as told by popular media, movies and television, is rare, inaccurate, or worse yet, nonexistent. Maybe this is because studios are located on our country's coasts. I simply conclude that we have to tell our own stories because no one else is really interested or qualified, a sentiment which usually gets more nods and even cheers from adult audiences.

There are lots of good books, fiction and nonfiction, about the rural Midwest, but my aim was to write something light but factual, entertaining but educational, easy but real. I wanted my stories to appeal to all ages and to be accessible to all ages. 100 years from now, I want my stories to be displayed on the end table when people decorate for the holidays.  Maybe someone will page through one of my books and say, "Yep, that's what it was like to be a farm kid in 1950."

I love it when I see little kids smile and have fun reading one of my books or watching my show, but I also derive great pleasure when I perform my show for people my age and much, much older and see them grin and laugh as they see their story on a big screen.
For more information on my stories go to