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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Elaine Bjork, a resident in the assisted living facility at the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center, grew up on a farm in the Albertville area.
Elaine and her husband, Wally, who died in 2013, both graduated from Colfax High School. The Bjorks and their four children lived in Illinois for nearly 20 years before Wally and Elaine returned to Colfax to take over the family farm.
Elaine remembers one very special Christmas, Christmas programs at school, and skating on the pond at their farm.
Here is Elaine’s story:
I was born in Eau Claire, and we moved to the farm, my dad’s home farm, when I was a year old. That was in 1932. My mother had four kids within five years, so I think it was time to get out of Eau Claire. I was the fourth one. My grandparents had died, and someone had to run the farm. It was in the Holm family. My maiden name was Holm.
We had our chores to do, carrying wood, helping get water in. No electricity. No indoor toilets. We didn’t even have running water in my younger days. We had to go to the barn, which was quite a ways. We’d bring the water in cans. We were happy to be out in the big, wide-open spaces.
One of my Christmases, my most favorite one, my sister was about three and a half, and we had a little brother who came after that, so there were six of us.
My dad had fallen out of the hay mow and had broken both of his wrists.
He came to the house, trying to knock on the door, and my mother thought, “Oh, his hands are full of eggs.”
No, he had broken arms.
My dad chewed snuff, and the only one who would put snuff in his mouth was my younger sister, and she was about three and a half.
That Christmas, we were all sitting around, and we didn’t have TV, but we did have a big radio that we always listened to. There was a car, and we saw the lights come into the yard, and they dropped off something and left. We didn’t know who it was at the time, although I think my dad knew.
There were two big bags, and one was full of candy and fruit, and the other was toys for all of us kids. They had dropped them off. It was a surprise.
My dad had worked for the ice company in Eau Claire, and he’d always delivered ice to Adler’s Bar. Adler also pastured his horse out at our farm. He normally would come with a big box of Hershey’s candy bars for us kids at Christmas.
But that year, each of girls got an extra doll. We usually got a little doll for Christmas, but that year, we had two dolls!
The boys got skis and boxing gloves, and I’m not sure what all they got.
We all went to Frazier School, a one-room school house. We had as many as 48 kids at one time in all eight grades.
That was when they had to start their own fires in the big stove.
My older brother went to high school in Chippewa, so he’d walk over the hill past Frazier School to catch the Chippewa bus, and he would stop and start the fire for our teacher. He was probably a freshman in high school. He went one year to Chippewa and one year to Colfax, and then he went into the Navy.
Of course, we always had these big Christmas programs at Frazier School. Everybody took part. We practiced for two weeks before. They set up a full stage, and I mean a great, big full stage. And everybody had their pieces, and there were plays, and we’d memorize our parts.
It was just such an exciting time.
Then the night of the Christmas program, Santa Claus always came, and he had bags of candy and treats.
The teacher’s husband, I remember him being Santa Claus one year.
Their little boy was there, and he picked up Santa’s beard, and said, “Daddy?”
Santa came up from the basement of the school.
We always cut our Christmas trees from the farm. We never bought a Christmas tree.
When we came out from Eau Claire, we never had electricity. We had electricity in Eau Claire.
We put the lights on the tree, but there was nowhere to plug them in!
By the time we got electricity, I was probably a senior in high school. We had lamps. There were three of us girls. We’d sit with our curling iron stuck in the lamp to heat it.
We had a buffet with a little mirror, and that’s where we’d sit to do our hair.
My younger sister and I thought we would trim the tree that one year. My older sister took it all off and trimmed it the way she thought it should look.
We’d make the (paper chains at school) to rope around the tree.
We didn’t go to church in my earlier days. When my friend moved in, then she got me started with the church programs. We’d walk all the way.
One of the girls lived beyond me. Lillian Olson. She’d come down and pick me up, and then we’d pick up my other girlfriend, Dorothy Flesberg. And we’d have all morning Confirmation class. Three hours. Always on a Saturday morning at Big Elk Creek Church.
I enjoyed the Christmas programs. We’d exchange names.
Then we got to a point where only the Sunday school teachers would get gifts.
You always got a nice bag of mixed candy. We always enjoyed that.
My mother didn’t really do a lot of Christmas baking, but she baked a cake every other day and baked bread three times a week. We never had boughten bread.
We had simple meals. We always had boiled potatoes at noon and fried potatoes at supper.
She would make lefse at Christmas, but it wasn’t a big operation. She baked it on the stove. We always had Christmas cookies, but nothing fancy.
On the farm, you never had days off from school. If it was winter, you trudged right through all of the snow to school. Most of us walked. Or they came in sleighs.
As we got older, we had a beaver dam in the lower part of our pasture, and boy did we have a nice ice skating pond.
My brother would take a big barrel and would build fires in there to keep us warm. We had so much fun. Our neighbors would come.
And I remember it being so cold. But we’d skate anyway. You’d warm up when you moved around. Different neighbor kids would come.
And then we’d slide on the big hill by Frazier School. At that time, it was a big hill. I think they’ve cut it down some now.
Back then, there wasn’t a car in sight. And all the kids would get together on a snowy night and slide down the road. You didn’t have to worry about a car.
World War I
My younger brother was in the Navy. My older brother was in the Army. My dad was in the Army.
Dad was in World War I. He and the hired man, Al Hedlund at the time, they would talk to each other in Norwegian.
They didn’t teach us kids Norwegian.
They liked to talk to each other in Norwegian, and we didn’t know what they were saying. They talked about the war, because they were both in the war, and that was around 1918.
I always remember the one milk man. He was the only one who could get through (the snow) sometimes. Him and our always steady mailman, Axel Solberg.
You could set your clock by the mailman every morning. He would come out of Colfax — 9:30 every morning. And our dog used to chase the car. He always knew when Axel was coming.
You can’t set your clock by a mail person today. We got the Eau Claire Leader back then. At 9:30 in the morning you were getting your mail on time. Of course then, there weren’t that many people, but they only had one mailman too.
My dad never owned a tractor. He would always hitch up the horses and sleigh, and in the winter time, we’d go to Berglund’s store in New Albertville.
We’d buy all our groceries there. We’d go once every two weeks when our milk check came. Our whole milk check went for groceries. Every two weeks, my mother would make the list, and Dad and us kids would go and get what we needed.
My mother canned a lot too. We had a huge garden.
At Berglund’s you could buy just about anything. They even sold overalls. They didn’t cost very much. A lot of things didn’t cost very much. But then, the pay wasn’t very much either.
We never had fruit. We had tons of blackberries in the summer time. My mother would can blackberries.
When I think of that now, all the blackberries we picked. And now you can’t hardly get a blackberry.
I remember my sister, before she got married, her boyfriend brought her home one night, and he got stuck in the snow in the driveway.
He went into the barn and hitched up the horses and pulled the car out, and then he put the horses back in the barn.
And my dad thought, “That’s who I want for a son-in-law.” He never woke my dad up.
He was older than my sister, but they made a good pair. I was her maid of honor, but that’s when you went to the parsonage to get married. December 15, 1945. It was the coldest night. The snowbanks were so high, you couldn’t see over them.
My brother-in-law’s attendant didn’t say a word to me all night, and I didn’t say a word to him. Then we went to a movie. I will never forget that night because it was winter. We’d gotten all this snow beforehand.
I can remember coming down the road we lived on, west of Albertville. You’d come out to that little bridge where people did a lot of fishing. You couldn’t see over the banks. Plows were few and far between, but the milkman always had a plow on.
There were times, after we were married, you couldn’t go very far because of all the snow. You followed the milkman, and you didn’t get any farther.
But then, a lot of people had their horse and sleigh, too.
We always had lots of chickens.
My sister and I had to go out and check the chickens or gather eggs. If it was dark, we’d hold hands. One time, when we got back, I said, “I had my eyes shut all the way.” And my sister said, “So did I!” I don’t know how we made it back.
We had cousins who lived not far. One family had 11 kids. The Peterson family. The Holm side had seven or eight kids. I always had cousins around.
Both my husband and I graduated from Colfax. My sister went to Chippewa. You could actually go any place you wanted back then. I enjoyed my years at Colfax. We just had a 70th class reunion.
When our children were growing up, we lived in Illinois at the time, and we lived there for 19 years.
I always enjoyed that we could walk to our little church.
We had a Christmas Eve service. One of us would run back and stick some things out that Santa Claus had left. Our kids just couldn’t believe it that Santa had come while we were at church.
One time there was a pool table in the basement. They couldn’t believe Santa left a pool table.
But we didn’t get together with family because we lived so far away. We always figured we had our church family, and our church family was important to us.
I made a lot of lefse. My daughter always said she didn’t want anybody’s lefse but mine.
I liked to make krumkake and sandbakels, too. I made fattigman once, but it was a lot of work. I had one recipe for krumkake, and it seemed like I hardly ever had a broken one.
Wally’s mother died young, and then his dad died. And there was the farm, and who is going to take it over? Lyle? Or Wally? Lyle said he would do either thing.
Wally and I went for a walk around Colfax while the others were waiting for what we were going to do, and we decided, yes, let’s move back. So we moved back to the farm.
We bought one cow, and then a couple more. By the time we retired, we had worked our way up to about 80 head, milk cows and young stock.
I never milked cows, but I fed calves. I went to a dairy school for women. Dunn County. I learned a lot about taking care of calves. It was very interesting. If they were born alive, I could keep them alive.
When we first came back from Illinois, I worked at the Colfax nursing home in the kitchen.
I made a lot of lefse at our church for the smorgasbord. Now I’ve graduated to the wrapping stage.
The lefse had to be big enough to fit the griddle, and it had to be perfectly round.
I enjoyed the lefse when I made it, but it’s a lot of work. The cleanup and getting ready.
I still make sandbakels because you can sit and press them into the tin.
I enjoyed the cooking and baking.
Wally passed away at the age of 84. First part of August in 2013. He was still working for Five Star Dairy, driving the truck.
Wally also had been driving the school bus. He did that for 15 or 16 years, and that was after we retired from farming. He loved the kids, and they loved him.