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Woodworking: This ol' farm boy had to start over to learn habits, ways of country, metropolitan school

When last I wrote school was underway and I told you tales of my first year at a one-room school, with six students, an outhouse, and Miss Adella Hanson, the beautiful new schoolmarm.

Soon after I adjusted to the rigors of walking two and a half miles to school and the need to go potty in the weeds of Rat Coulee, my father announced that he had struck a really good deal with a rich farmer who had all the modern conveniences and several farms.

My father was to sharecrop a 200 acre spread between Blair and Taylor.

My mother, a "city" girl, was ecstatic because the old "Studtlien Place" had electricity in both the barn and the house. It still had an outhouse, but was only one mile from town on Hwy. 93, which was paved with asphalt -- all the way.

Of course the place didn't have everything. Like milking machines or other modern stuff like International Harvester F-20s and two-row corn pickers. Or indoor toilets.

There wasn't even a lawn mower for the big yard out front. Undaunted, my father fenced in the lawn and there grazed his four Belgian workhorses.

My father, an inveterate farmer who had been impeded by the Great Depression and several medical problems, was ecstatic at our newfound fortune -- a farm with 40 acres of rich bottom land and pasture and hayfields galore.

And a three-hole outhouse, replete with the previous sharecropper's 1943 Monkey Ward Catalog.

On the other hand, I was scared feces-less.

I had adjusted to Larkin Valley School, the six students including my classmate Barbara Plunkett, she of the wiener braids, who was a foot taller than yours truly.

Now I had to walk -- on asphalt, thank goodness -- all the way to the metropolis of Blair which housed more than 100 elementary and high school students in a building built out of brick!

Fortunately, our neighbor across the road, Matilda Berg, a high school freshman took me by the hand and dragged me down 93, across the bridge at the Trempealeau River, along with a boy named Lymand, who smelled of urine, a kid that would be called white trash by a later generation.

Matty was a great girl and would become our housemaid when my mother fell fatally ill a year later.

Soon we arrived at my mom's alma mater, Blair School, a red-brick pile and the center of the Blair Universe, unless you counted Kokum's Bar and Schroeder's Red & White.

It was a well-kept place and Matty introduced me to my first and second grade teacher, Miss Brunner, a snazzy lady in a white fur coat, just a bit snazzier than Miss Hanson out in Larkin Valley. In first and second grade there were 20 kids!

All the desks were full. A fit of apprehension seized me.

Fortunately, a teeny first grader named Toby Ellison began to raise hell and run around like a chipmunk and disrupt the lesson underway. Miss Brunner gave him what-for, and I figured right then he'd never become a Lutheran preacher, which he eventually did.

I eventually became friendly with classmates like Roy Estby, who became a great clarinet player. When I first met him he wore a white cap that made him look like Jawaharlal Nehru (something about lice, I think, or ringworm), as well as the irrepressible Toby and Ronny Olsen, the inventor of the famous Countryside Lefse.

When things were going along smoothly, who should show up? Barbara Plunkett, she of the wieners.

When the older kids learned that we were both from Rat Coulee, they held me down at recess and made Barbara kiss me, right on the lips.

(I wrote about this 30 years later in a national newspaper called Grit and guess what? I got a letter from Barbara Plunkett, she of the wieners, who had seen the piece. She sent along a current snapshot. Very good looking, no wieners.)

The highlight of the spring that year was when Miss Brunner, impressed with my second-grade scholarship, asked if I would take her out to the farm so she could meet my parents.


Off we walked east on Hwy 93, she in her beautiful white fur coat and spike heels, looking like Jane Wyman (not much of a nose).

We arrived at the farm, turned into the driveway and I dragged Miss Brunner over to the cow yard where my father, who normally dressed like a latter-day version of Beau Brummell, was clad in bib overalls and four-buckle overshoes, most of which were buried in the cow muck that the previous sharecropper had left behind.

Miss Brunner didn't care. She slogged right in beside him. He put down his manure fork and shook her hand.

We were finally in high clover.

To this day, whenever we drive down Hwy. 10 through Pepin County, I wonder if Miss Brunner grew up at a little seed corn farm called "Brunner Proven Hybrids.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.