St Croix River Road Ramblings

Welcome to River Road Ramblings.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Maury and Loren visit.  Maury turned 80, but was too shy to stay for the group photo. 

Joy, a first timer whose family has roots in the area, Lucy and Dottie listen intently to the exciting speaker at the podium.
The 76th Sterling Old Settler's Picnic is now history.  The picnic was nice; the pot-luck food excellent; the rain didn't bother us in the Cushing Community center and I got a lot of visiting done with neighbors, friends and a few new folks.  So, as I told the Committee afterwards, "we should be proud of the picnic."   

A few mentioned that at 63 folks out we were down 10-15 from the previous year attendance.  That didn't mean the picnic was not a success, but that some of our regular folks are missing, and we are not replacing them with new ones as fast as they leave. 
Ruth (93) Frank (94) Boatman, married 73 years

My friend and neighbor, Loren Hoffman, was not there.  He has been having health problems, and his sister, who did attend, tells me that he is soon to move to a care center.  He always brought old family photos (Hoffmans, Swensons and neighbors of the Orr School community).  His father, Bill, and mother Effie, were always there when I first remember the picnics.  
Mary Jo arranges a pail of flowers and ferns picked from the Sterling Barrens roadsides.  Russ and George help with advice!
Every flower here is from the Dump Road in Sterling.  Russ picked some of them as poison ivy, gnats and mosquitoes picked on him. 

There were no strawberries this year as for the first time, possibly since the picnic began in 1939, a Lundquist family member wasn't there to bring them, and the rest of us never thought of it.  Aaron Lundquist and his wife (Lucy Noyes?) came to the picnics having grown up on the family farm out near the St Croix River in West Sterling where the sandy soil always provided the early strawberries Swedes like on their midsummer cake.  When he moved across the river into MN, he still brought the berries.  When he passed on, his son Ray and daughter Florence brought them.  Florence passed away and Ray didn't make it this year from Rochester, MN.  Don't know why, but it worries us when a regular doesn't make it.  
Dr Samuel Deneen and wife came to Wolf Creek in 1854, built the first dam and mill and cleared a farm.  He was a full service doctor, taking care of his patients as doctor, building coffins from mill sawn lumber and burying them in the cemetery land he donated on the other side of the road -- the Wolf Creek Cemetery.  He and his wife lived a long productive life, nearing their 90s before moving across the River Road themselves. 

Virgil Brenizer didn't always come to the picnic, but the Brenizers were always represented.  Virgil passed away last week, so he was listed along with Mom (Alberta Hanson) and Elsie Berg for whom a minute of silence was observed.  

LaVerne Johnson, who last year made the 80 year old category, was missing.  His brother told me he had just gotten out of the hospital and back home after first a stroke a month or so ago, and then an intestinal problem.  We hope he will make it next year. 
James and Margaret Orr -- 1860s settlers 

I expected neighbor Jennie Nelson to be the oldest woman there, at 98, I think, but she didn't make it.  Don't know why, and I surely should have checked to see if she had a ride.  She and Mom were great friends--the last of a circle of River Road friends from the early part of last century.  

The Nelsons, my Bass Lake neighbors, decided to move from the farm to South Cushing settlement in upper St Croix Falls.  A group of 6 or 7 couples or individuals who have chosen to give up mowing lawns, putting on storm windows, shoveling snow and so on, are taking advantage of condominium life in the big city.  Good Luck to them!
The Williamson Brothers who, with other relatives, still own the original 160 acre homestead on the River Road.  Their Dad and Mom were long time Sterling picnickers.  George (right) told me of the summer of 1951 when a neighbor raised string beans and cucumbers for the factory, drove through picking up neighborhood children to pick them each summer day.  George earned $354 that summer, and when he went to High School, was "rich."  "I could have a burger and malt anytime I wanted to downtown!"   
Mom, who grew up out in West Sterling, where the picnic originated in 1939 for the families who lived on the Sterling Barrens back in the 1870s-1920s before moving to greener pastures, decided to get together and reminisce and visit at the junction of Trade River and Cowan Creek, next to their old cemetery and where their church, post office, town hall and school had stood. 
Gradually the community center began to fill. 

 Most traces of their life on the barrens were gone, but friendships forged in pioneer days, still strong.  The families included the Scandinavians, Iowans, Voyageur/Native Americans and Yankee and Canadian logger families who settled the area from 1850 forward.  Mom's grandfather, Charles Wesley Carnes and his brothers Oren and Loren and cousin Amos Finch each homesteaded 160 acres and together owned all of section 26  (about a mile directly south of the horse campground).  Grandma, Nettie Carnes Hanson, told us stories of running the Sunrise Ferry back in 1909 and her nieces running it through the 20s and 30s.  
Shirley reads the "Green" essay attached at the bottom of this story. 

Lucy Kurtz grew up in Anderson Township just into Burnett County up the River Road.  She told of riding 5 miles to school in a horse drawn wagon with her siblings and neighbors. 

Andy Swenson was missing, his wife having been ailing.  He ties to the large Swenson family of Trade River.  Faye was there and the Harris family, although Floyd's daughter Sharon didn't make it.  The Christenson's were there in force, although Willus is 83 and Maurice just turned 80 -- still the Christenson kids to me.  Ione and Shirley made it, following their parents Chris and Martha in picnicking who followed her parents, Bert Brenizer and Hattie Noyes.  No Noyes left at the picnic. 

Two Orr family members showed up, but they are Hanson's by marriage, so it doesn't seem right without their mother Vada Orr along to connect them to Orr Lake and Orr Creek.  

Yes, as Dad told me, "when you live to be old and the friends and relatives of your generation die off, things are the same."  I understand it better now.  My parents who shared the common eras of their life with their friends and siblings, most striking, the Depression and World War II, the years of shortages, really couldn't relate to those of us from the throw away, planned obsolescent world. 

Shirley Christenson read the following -- which, of course came to her by forwarded email. 

Checking out at the supermarket recently, the young cashier suggested I should bring my own bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. I apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days“.

The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations“.

She was right about one thing–our generation didn’t have the green thing in “Our” day. So what did we have back then? After some reflection and soul-searching on “Our” day, here’s what I remembered we did have….

Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles repeatedly. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 240 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of Wales. In the kitchen, we blended & stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a water fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then? 

Click here PICNIC PHOTOS to see all the 2014 Sterling Picnic photos taken by my son, Scott, who I introduced to the picnic this year as a new helper to replace Mom (who started helping in the 1950s).  

The Over 80 Crowd