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Across The Lake

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Friend of ours has been under the weather. How ya' doing, we asked the other afternoon. "Sort of like a 1928 Essex running on after-market parts," he told us. Somehow, we knew exactly what he meant.

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The American many years back had a feature, People Who Make a Difference. I know because I've got a somewhat tattered clipping from the week the feature person was my Aunt Ethel. Ethel was one of the two nurses in the first graduating class from the school of nursing run in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Half a century ago when the now-defunct Holiday Magazine did a feature on the clinic, she was featured in that, too. And when she retired and came back to Hines to live with her widowed brother, she wound up staying so busy and so active in a lot of things that she wound up in the American.

In more recent years, that weekly idea is one that's gone by the way along with a lot of other things. Instead we've had stories about people with hobbies, like Albert Theisen when he was in his eighties and still selling firewood, or Ann Floura retiring from the wild rice business her husband and brother-in-law had run for so many years, or any of the dozens of preachers we wrote about a couple years back -- every one of these people were ones who made a difference in the community.

I mention this for a couple of reasons. Next Saturday two people who have both made a difference will be celebrating their 50th anniversary. Gene and Avonel Kjellberg. Both have most recently been deeply involved in things like getting the area History Center going in Blackduck -- she's been secretary of the founding group since they started. Doing justice to their activities would take more than this short paragraph but showing up at the golf course club house next Saturday would be a way of saying both "thanks" and "congratulations."

The second reason? My Favorite Reader summed it up. The Kjellbergs are another couple joining the ranks of Endangered Species, she observed. "Marriages just don't seem to last that long these days."

Our Iowa correspondent passed a church the other morning and noted the thought offered that day on their outside billboard: "For every action," it observed, "there is an equal and opposite criticism." Then this somewhat lighter suggestion from a theater marquee "You can't be a smart cookie with a crummy attitude."

Larry Rutherford has one in his pasture. I noticed it when I drove by a couple days ago. It sits there like some sort of special attraction, alone except for the cows nearby -- a sheet metal creation with rusted parts that belie the work it was built to do, and which it did so well until replacements took over.

There was another atop a small rise in the land just outside the brick factory town of Hebron, N.D. A horse-drawn wagon was a bit further down the landscape, but the big thing atop the rise was like the one in Larry's pasture and like dozens of others stretched across the middle western prairies that had made them so necessary, and for so long.

Just outside Buffalo Gap, S.D., where herds of stampeding buffalo once were chased by mounted hunters gave the town and the gap itself the name, there was another one. Unlike many others, this one was seemingly well-tended. If there was rust, it was well-concealed, and if there were parts missing, who would know. The men who made their living around these machines were mostly gone.

Perhaps not all. At Rollag every year steam tractors are fired up and teams of horses pull wagons loaded with bundles of grain and for a time, faded memories come back to life as the long leather belt starts to move, the gears begin to turn, and deep inside the big machines wheat again is threshed, the kernels tumbling into the waiting bin and the straw blown into waiting piles.

As a kid, it was a thrill to see a tractor laboriously pulling the threshing machine up the hill at our place, and watch the crew at noon feed themselves on fresh-baked bread, roasted beef and chicken, mounds of potatoes and beans and carrots and beets. Pie and cake and pots of coffee and then they were off to finish our crop and move on to the Bensons by Pine Tree Corner.

Years later at Hanover, N.D., we got to share in the excitement when farmers there got together as they did every fall. For one special day, they still used a binder to cut the grain and teams to haul the bundles and a threshing machine to do the work and a priest to come by for dinner at noon and share a beer in the pump house before going in to bless the meal and the women who cooked it.

If all this sounds like nostalgia, so be it, but think about this. Those old threshing machines dot the prairies, from the Dakotas south to Texas. From Minnesota and Iowa, west to Colorado and Wyoming. Threshers sit atop hills and mark the fields where they stand in silent respect to the hundreds of acres of waving grain each of those sheet metal and cast iron contraptions shepherded at harvest time. A millennium from now, what will archeologists think as they uncover them? They'll have to wonder what sort of people lived here back then, what we did for a living, how we made use of such primitive equipment.

Thoughts while drying the dishes... A Minnesota farm boy we worked with in Denver had become one of those CPA-types and even after becoming comptroller for a multi-state organization he still well-remembered his growing up days on the farm, when cleaning the barn was one of his regular after-school chores. It reminded him that "The older I get, the better I like my desk." Me, too, Duane.

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