Biographical recounting of young lad leaving home in the 1930's.
|Would you be frightened to hitchhike from a small farm in Northern MN to the Twin Cities at age 13? My Father did that. OK, one could argue that 1945 was considerably safer than the 21st century for hitchhiking but I doubt anyone would discount the fear a young boy would feel leaving the safety of family and known environment to the uncertainty of the big city with no money, no roof over his head, no job and no friends. But with too many mouths to feed for the available food and not enough room in the house, leaving home was necessary.
Thankfully, his older brother provided a temporary place to stay though "temporary" is the operative word since said brother's wife did not appreciate having a live-in visitor regardless of familial ties.
One might think that staying with his brother and his wife would be a great help. But that "help" came with an emotional price tag.
A peek into his world during that brief stay shows a young man sitting at the kitchen table, home from his new job, exhausted and preparing for bed. He removes his shoes and socks and begins shaking talcum powder into them.
Across the room his brother's wife snaps, "Change your socks; don't just make a mess on my floor with your talcum powder."
The young man silently gets up, cleans up the dry powder and exits the room.
“With no money and only one pair of socks, I tried to stay as clean as possible. If I washed my socks every evening I would walk to work in the morning in the MN winter with wet feet. I was too scared of being kicked out for being a burden that I couldn’t bring myself to ask to borrow a pair of my brother’s socks.”
Years later in retelling this story, he barely refrains from tears when he recounts how desperately lonely he felt. As a young boy far from home, support and comfort would have been welcome.
Eagle Point in Marshall County, northwest Minnesota, was a thriving farming community with a church that had an all-important cemetery, a one room school, horses, farm machinery, adults with strong backs and work ethic, lots of children with even a musical band of singers. Swedes and Norwegians populated the rich Red River Valley community in Marshall County, MN.
The Collins family did not share in the wealth of the farming community.
The family homestead was small and could easily be mistaken for a shack. One big room on the first floor with a wall down the middle was mirrored on the second floor with the exact same layout. Chilly is too warm a word to describe the house in winter. Heat came from a wood stove that needed to be fed regularly. That meant a chore for the children: swinging an ax, chopping wood, carrying the wood to the house and stacking it. With no storm windows and windows that leaked during a storm the snow would sneak in the cracks and sprinkle over the single blanket on the children sleeping in the bed. Poor, yes, they were poor. He describes all the children jumping into one bed and curling up to each other to gain body heat. His mother, Vida, was the center of his life. She slept on the first floor adjacent to the door on two chairs pushed together. I never learned where his father slept. He rarely spoke of his father other than to say his father always had chewing tobacco and a bottle even if there was no food in the house. His father, Edward, was enthralled with Mom when Dad brought her home to the farm. She was smart and pretty with a quick wit. I'm sure she laughed and flirted with him and truthfully who could resist a beautiful woman!
Families love nicknames and the Collins family had an abundance of them.
Dad was Gordy or GC; Uncle Virgil was Birdie; Uncle Howie was Howard. Uncle Mick was Milton. Uncle Mons was Marvin; Uncle Buds, also called Ticklebox, was Rodney; Aunt Cecilia was Sis. There was never a reason to know real names until my high school graduation invitations had to be written. I was being introduced to strangers!
Separated by 10 months, Dad and his brother Birdie were inseparable. They played together, went to school together, fought together, swapped tall tales with each other and of course, got into mischief-together. Together they smoked their first cigarette behind the barn. They thought they were slick and wouldn’t get caught but then the tossed cigarette butt and started a fire. The subsequent punishment from the parents was not fun. Dad continued to practice burning buildings as an adult on the farm in Newfolden. Under the guise of a need to burn the dry old grass to make way for the green to grow, Dad accidentally” burned down the grainary, the pig pen and the chicken coop. I’m pretty sure burning the fields was not to be done on a windy day. Dad's fire starting days ended abruptly when Mom’s wedding dress stored in a trunk, was a victim of one of the fires.
Striking out on one's own presented unexpected challenges.