GROWING UP ON THE PRAIRIES
The wee little girl was frightened. Mother clung tightly to her hand
as they darted around the farmyard calling, "Elvin!...Elvin!.." Big
brother Elvin was three years old and was supposed to be playing in
the yard with his cousin. But neither of the little boys were anywhere
to be found and Lillian could sense her mother's fear. This incident
is the very first thing that Lillian remembers and years later, Hulda
told her that she was less than two years old when that happened.
Lillian doesn't have any memories of that first year in Canada, but it
was a very busy time for the Torkelson family. Emil's brother, Ole,
and his new bride, opened their home to Emil, Hulda and the children
when they arrived from North Dakota. They stayed there for a month
before moving into the homestead shack on his cousin Henry
Hansen's place. That one small room was their home all that summer,
until their own house was completed in the early fall. Emil, with the
help of his uncle, Jens Hansen, worked fiercely to get that house
built. Emil had pretty lofty aspirations, and, not surprisingly, the
Torkelson house was regarded as the most striking one in the district.
It was two storeys high, with two rooms upstairs and two rooms
down, not very remarkable by today's standards, but quite impressive
in 1911. The average house in the area consisted of a single room and
was made of one ply lumber covered with tarpaper or sod. The
Torkelson house was completely finished, with plastered walls inside
and siding on the outside. Not yet satisfied, Emil planted a large
grove of trees, including several different kinds of berry bushes, as
soon as the house was done. In rapid succession he added a large
barn, a three-roomed granary including a blacksmith's shop, and a
two-roomed chicken coop, nearly as big as the barn!
Everything he did had to be top quality. Yet, as sound as those
buildings were, they eventually had bad luck with all of them! The
barn was hit by lightning and burned to the ground; the granary was
levelled in a windstorm; and the chicken coop was destroyed by a
sudden daytime whirlwind. Lillian stood at the window as the coop
lifted into the air, floated, and then smashed to the ground. That made
a very big impression on a very little girl! And the house? Sadly,
soon after the family left the farm in l924, the house burned to the
Emil Torkelson was ambitious and independent, a man who drove
himself very hard. Today, he would probably be described as a
workaholic. He was the kind of person who liked to have firsts, like
the first car in the district and the first decent house, as well as the
first grove of trees for the children to play in. While that house is long
gone, the grove is still there today.
He was full of dreams but regrettably, he didn't live long enough to
fulfill all of them. Sometimes, unfortunately, he couldn't afford those
dreams either, and it bothered Hulda a great deal. Her conviction was
that she would "rather starve than go in debt." In spite of financial
struggles, Emil was a well known and admired figure throughout the
district. His determination to get things done was recognized and
admired even when he was in such poor health a few years later.
Lillian has long suspected that her resolution and will to succeed
came from him, just as she is sure that her ambition to be pleasing to
God came from her mother.
Emil gained further standing in the community when he became the
first in the district to acquire a motor car. It was a Model T Ford that
he bought at a sale in 1913 and he was very proud of it!
Unfortunately, it was also a lemon and to his family at least, he
seemed to spend more time repairing tires and dealing with
mechanical problems than he did driving it. Lillian remembers times
when she, as a small child, sat by the roadside for a very long time
while wheels were being fixed. Those country roads were in terrible
condition, certainly not designed to be driven on by cars, and the
result was wheels that were always breaking.
On one occasion Emil took his cousin, Henry Hansen, to Tribune in
that infamous car and as they were travelling a wheel came off,
throwing both men some twenty feet from the vehicle. Emil was hurt
extensively, his body swelled up badly, and family members believed
that those injuries were a contributing factor to his early death. Hulda
hated that car because, she said, "It ate up the cream checks."
Emil did make good use of it though, during the disastrous influenza
epidemic of 1918. There were still very few cars around the country
and Emil was the designated driver who drove the doctor throughout
the community caring for house bound patients.
Emil not only had bad luck with his car, he also had some disastrous
experiences with horses. To lose a horse was a crushing burden to a
pioneer settler. In all, Emil lost eighteen horses, one of them shot by
an unknown marksman.
Hulda was a very busy young wife and mother. She had lived in Canada for five years before she ever got to town, eighteen miles away! As incredible as that may seem to us in the 1990's, it was not so unusual in pioneer times. Travelling those eighteen miles to Tribune was a two day trip, so when Emil had to go for supplies, somebody had to stay home and look after the animals. Since the whole family couldn't go at once, it was generally the wife who stayed at home.
Hulda worked very hard, although not in the fields, as some
immigrant women did. It was a point of pride for Emil that his wife
didn't work as a field hand. In addition to looking after her home and
children, she grew a large garden, tended the chickens and pigs, and
when Emil was away, looked after the cattle as well. She also did the
milking, although Elvin helped when he was old enough. During
those early years on the homestead, a third child, Eleanora, was born.
Hulda was a very strong woman, both physically and mentally. All
of her children were born at home, with only a neighbour lady to
help. These were called midwives, but few ever got any formal
training. She herself was the chosen midwife for a number of people
over the years. Her first experience was at the age of thirteen when
she assisted with the birth of one of her older sister's children.
Although she would have preferred not doing it, she obviously was
good at it, because people continued to insist on her attendance at the
births of their babies. She was always afraid of problems arising, but
she just couldn't say no and she was still being called on to help at a
birth in 1929, when doctors and nurses were available.
The settlers were a long distance from doctors or indeed, from any
kind of medical care as we touched on earlier; so many farm women
of the time had their own home remedies for ailments their families
might encounter. Hulda had hers as well, and one of her favourites
(though maybe not the children's favourite!) was sulphur and
molasses, which she gave them in the Spring to clean out the blood,
and renew their energy. Many of you reading this will remember that
Some of us tend to romanticize the past, seeing anything old as better.
But those early settlers often had to cope with things we have no
desire to repeat! One of the banes of their existence was bedbugs!
These persistent creatures arrived even in new lumber. Hulda
regularly drenched the bedsprings with kerosene, and used quantities
of insect powders she bought from travelling Rawleighs and Watkins
Hulda always had a delightful sense of humour, but she took great
exception to ethnic jokes. Her children often heard her say, "There
are good and bad in every nationality." It's possible she felt so
strongly because of her own experience of being a Swedish child
brought up in a Norwegian community. A common joke of that time
was, "A Swede is a Norwegian with his brains knocked out." She
was not amused by that, but she did maintain her wit and ability to
laugh throughout her lifetime.
Church life was important to the Torkelson's. The first church meeting in the community was held in their home, the year after they arrived in the area. Emil was chosen to supervise the building of nearby St. John's Lutheran church. Funds were limited, so they built the basement first and used that. The walls came up above the ground a few feet, just enough so they could install windows. The plan was to complete the rest of the building later, but it never was finished.
The church was the focal point of many activities, particularly in the
summer when it was so lovely and cool down there on hot summer
days. Eleanora remembers Mother making ice cream for a very
special occasion there. In 1919, shortly before his death, Emil was
made a deacon of that church.
A Young People's Society was formed in 1912. Because it was not
associated with any church organization, everyone in the community
came to events they sponsored. They organized community picnics,
as well as such things as basket socials and programs at the local
Basket socials, also called box socials, were a popular form of
entertainment for many years, and in fact, are still enjoyed in some
areas. Each lady would pack a lunch and wrap it appealingly. The
de-corated boxes were then auctioned off and the money used for some
community project. The winner of a box would not only get to eat
the lunch but also to enjoy the company of the lady who prepared it.
The identity of the owner was supposed to be a secret, but of course,
sometimes a young lady might let a certain young man know which
box was hers. Equally entertaining was to watch several young men
vying for the same box!
Neighbours depended on each other in those early days, and in a very
real sense were like a large family, getting together and looking out
for one another. Torkelson's two closest neighbours were about two
hundred yards away, on neighbouring hills, and before the telephone
arrived in 1916, they would shout messages back and forth. It was
their own unique method of inviting the neighbours to come for
Lillian was five and a half years old when she started school, and she has often enjoyed telling people that it took her three years to complete Grade One. Of course the reason was that the school year was only five months long, and they didn't get to attend even that much the first two years. School was in session from May until September, and that first year she and Elvin went to school for only fourteen days. The school was such a distance away that Father wasn't always convinced it was important enough to warrant his taking the time to get them there. The second year Elvin and Lillian took Old Rosie pulling the cart and made the trip by themselves, this time for three months. The third year they went for the whole five months.
Velhaven School, named by one of Emil's brothers, was three and a
half miles from their home, close to present day Ratcliffe. It served
a multicultural community. There were several families of Norwegian
settlers whose English was nearly non-existent, several Jewish
families who also spoke little English, and two or three families of
immigrants from England. There was rarely, if ever, any trouble
between the different ethnic groups either in the classroom or on the
She also remembers a birthday, either her tenth or eleventh, when
Lillian drove the horse and cart the two and a half miles to the
Ratcliffe farm with a birthday cake for Ivy. Ivy was stunned!
Birthdays were very special occasions for the Torkelsons, but not for
the Ratcliffes. It simply wasn't celebrated, and this was Ivy's very
first birthday cake, something she's never forgotten.
Soon after Elvin and Lillian started attending school, the school
teacher urged all of the children to speak more English at home with
the family, and so Hulda and Emil were soon using and improving
their English more, sometimes with help from Elvin and Lillian. The
teacher told the parents that this would help the children a great deal,
so most parents were more than willing to do that.
A good deal of their communicating was still done in Norwegian,
however. For several weeks every year the children went to parochial
school where all of the communication was in Norwegian. With the
exception of a book of Rudyard Kipling's poems, the Torkelson's
library consisted of a Norwegian Bible and a Norwegian story book.
The only other reading material they had was a Norwegian
newspaper published in the United States.
Family prayers, as well as all church services were still in
Norwegian, and Lillian was very certain that God could speak only
Norwegian, not English! Once the family moved to Radville that
changed. Because it was primarily an English speaking community,
there was seldom a reason to speak Norwegian, even at home, so the
children slowly but surely, forgot all of their Norwegian. Lillian really
regrets that she lost her knowledge of Norwegian as she grew up.
Lillian first came into contact with tests when she was in Grade
Three. She had no idea what the purpose of a test was, so when
she got a forty percent on her first geography test, she was quite
proud of all those marks! Forty was a pretty big number for such a
little girl, and she couldn't understand why the teacher wasn't more
pleased. Her next test was in history, and when she got sixty-two
percent she was really thrilled. But again she noticed that the teacher
wasn't very satisfied. Finally, the light dawned, and when she realized
that she was supposed to study and try to get a hundred percent, she
got to work and her marks improved dramatically.
Lillian loved school from the very beginning. Elvin contracted scarlet
fever one year, and the whole family was quarantined for several
weeks. Lillian was heartbroken because she couldn't go to school.
She hated to miss even a single day. In little one room Velhaven
School the main subjects taught were spelling, reading, writing and
arithmetic, and, as you remember, the school year was only five
months long. Those subjects were taught so thoroughly however, that
she never felt at a disadvantage when she moved into bigger schools.
There were no extracurricular activities at school, but they did play
ball during recess times. Although she appreciated the activity, sports
were not ever Lillian's forte! There were many community activities
though, such as Young People's clubs, basket socials, picnics, and
community concerts, which she thoroughly enjoyed.
She remembers a sports day in Tribune that she very much wanted to
attend. She was probably ten years old, and there was no way for her
to go because it was eighteen miles away. As spunky then as she is
now, she decided she was going to walk! But wise Mother, rather
than giving her a flat no, followed along behind her, out of sight, and
made animal noises that Lillian thought sounded like a lion (although
she'd never seen or heard one!). She hurried back home feeling sorry
for herself for one of the few times in her life.
Another very early memory Lillian has, in addition to looking for
Elvin, is of a special Christmas at her grandmother's house in North
Dakota. She especially remembers the beautiful china doll one of her
aunt's gave her and how much she loved it! She had received very
few gifts before that because her father considered gifts pampering.
Unhappily, she also remembers that as she sat in a little rocking chair
mothering that precious doll, it fell off her lap onto the floor, and
smashed. She was very, very sad.
Winters were long for the Torkelson children, with no school from
October to March. Hulda had taught Lillian to do handwork by the
time she was nine and so, when she wasn't playing outside with
Elvin, she was busy knitting and crocheting. She and Elvin didn't
have toys to play with, but they did have fun together, particularly in
the winter, when they sledded, and built forts in the trees. The trees
were the ones that her father had planted as soon as he finished
building the house, and were a pretty good size by this time.
Because Elvin was expected to do outside chores by the time he was
six or seven, they didn't get to play together much during the summer.
He did the milking and other things to help Father, but all she was
expected to do was to go for the cows. The children all went for
walks with Mother enjoying the beauty of the wild flowers, and
picking up cow chips for firewood.
Her interest in handwork disappeared completely once there were
books available through the school. She quickly developed a love for
reading that has remained with her to this day. She has never
forgotten her first taste of the imaginary world of books. The teacher
began reading the Anne of Avonlea books to them and it opened up
a whole new world for her. The family farm became her Avonlea, and
she roamed the prairie, renaming things just as Anne had done. The
little slough became the Lake of Shining Waters, and everything on
the farm took on a magical quality for Lillian. Indeed, Anne was her
hero for many years!
Because the only lighting was from candles, everyone went to bed
early. Lillian dreamed when she was asleep, and daydreamed when
she was awake, perhaps to excess. She lived in a dream world much
of the time. She went on trips in her dreams, and built houses and had
all kinds of wonderful adventures. Her dreaming took up a great deal
of her life and she suspects that it may be one of the reasons it took
her so long to grow up in some ways. Until she started teaching it
was generally her school work or her books or her daydreams that
monopolized her time and energy. Even after she was busy teaching,
she still sometimes found the time to go on a journey, especially when
insomnia plagued her.
Lillian was a restless little girl, always wanting to be busy at
something. Hulda worked hard to keep her stimulated. As she looks
back, she realizes she was a pretty hyperactive child. It was very
difficult for her to be still; she was on the move constantly. She was
shy, but did have enough courage to do recitations at community
concerts. She remembers making and playing with paper dolls, along
with little sister Eleanora, who was four years younger. During the
long winter months of those early years when there was no school in
session, Lillian often lined up her mother's chairs and taught her
imaginary pupils. She never had any other dream for herself than to
be a teacher.
The Torkelson Family didn't starve, but they certainly weren't
wealthy either. The children seldom had toys to play with, and Hulda
made all of the girls' dresses. Their every day dresses, made from
flour sacks, were tan with blue cuffs and collars. Their Sunday
dresses were made from fine white cotton with lace or hardanger
embroidery collars and Lillian grew up believing that all good dresses
must be white. Even as a young adult she had her mother make her
a white dress she wore for special occasions.
Unlike her sisters who loved animals and always had pets, she never
wanted a pet, and she especially disliked cats. Many years later,
when she was teaching in Robsart, little sister, Clarice, adopted
Midnight, a black cat who had pretty much taken over the house. One
Saturday morning, when Lillian was home and enjoying a good long
sleep, Midnight was nowhere to be found. Dad told Clarice, "You'd
better get upstairs, he's maybe in bed with Lill." Sure enough she
found the cat in Lillian's suitcase, laying on top of her new white
sweater. Fortunately for Midnight, Lillian slept through it all!
While the other girls played with the animals, she preferred to read
and/or daydream. At the same time though, she couldn't stand seeing
or hearing animals being hurt. At butchering time, her mother often
sent her to the neighbours to get her away where she couldn't hear
She loved it when company came. Children were expected to be
"seen and not heard", but she delighted in sitting and listening to the
adults talk. She remembers discussions about specific events of the
war (World War I), but she also remembers the nightmares that
followed about Germans coming over the hills. Her imagination has
always been her best friend and worst enemy.
She was very much aware of what was going on in the adult world
around her. She wasn't very old when she remembers being quite
distraught about an uncle who was out in a severe storm all night. She
hadn't been told about it, but when she overheard the adults worrying
about him, she had difficulty going to sleep too.
Discipline was an important part of life in the Torkelson household.
Emil was very strict with the children. They always came the first
time they were called! Eleanora remembers how frightened she was
of him. He seemed to be so very tall, and she would hide behind her
mother when she came into the room where he was. Lillian
remembers only one spanking she got from Father. She doesn't
remember what it was for, but she does remember that it was very
hard, that he was very angry, and that it bothered Mother a great deal!
Eleanora remembers Father getting very stern with Lillian because
she wanted to write with her left hand, while he insisted she use her
Like all pioneer families, the Torkelson children had chores to do.
Elvin did outside chores from the time he was very young. The girls
did dishes, sweeping and ironing. Lillian especially hated to do the
churning because she had to just sit there!
His rule about meals was twofold: The children must not come late
for meals - if they did, they simply didn't get to eat! They also had to
finish everything on their plates before leaving the table. It was not
a negotiable item, and sometimes little Lillian sat at the table for a
very long time! (In spite of that, she still thinks it's a good
Proper and clean language was mandatory; not even an occasional
darn was acceptable. While Emil liked to dance and drink, Hulda was
dead set against drinking, and opposed dancing as well. The children
were taught that it was not acceptable.
It was mandatory that the children be washed, dressed, and have their hair combed before they came down to breakfast. Lillian remembers one time visiting some cousins and being totally shocked because they appeared at the breakfast table with faces not washed, hair not combed, and, horror of horrors, still in their sleepers! She was totally amazed because she had never considered that there was even the possibility of doing such a thing.
Mother was fairly easy going about life at home, and let them do
pretty much what they wanted, especially after Father died. Before
that, she always accepted Emil as the final authority and decision
maker in the family. However, she remained very strict about moral
behaviour. Drinking beer was absolutely out; they couldn't play
cards, and she certainly didn't want them to learn to dance!
She was such a compassionate person, and she especially loved little
children. It hurt her heart if she saw anyone paddle a small child. Her
youthful dream of being a nurse was never realized because of lack
of opportunity, but her children all talk about what a wonderful
children's nurse she would have been.
Lillian was aware of God from her earliest recollections. She remembers an incident from very early in her life when she told her mother a story and Mother said, "Is that true?" When little Lillian finally conceded that she wasn't telling the truth, Mother said, "God doesn't like little girls that tell lies." That made an indelible imprint on both her memory and her conscience!
The choices and decisions people make define their character. For
Lillian, those choices came much earlier than they did for many
people. The Lutheran tradition was
that young people in their early teens
would begin to read for the minister.
This meant that books were given to
the young people in their early teens,
which they studied in preparation for
confirmation. Lillian was so keen to
know about God that she began
reading for the minister several years
before she was old enough to be
She remembers that with the first money she ever had she bought a
little English Bible, and that shortly after that, when she was twelve
years old, she made a vow that she would read a chapter each day.
(She believed that she should make resolutions that were within
possibility, so she made the vow for only her teen years!) She
sometimes found it hard to live up to, but she kept it, perhaps missing
one or two days in those eight years.
The tradition for all religious people at that time was that children
could not play on Sundays, so Lillian remembers many Sunday after-noons
sitting on a chair doing nothing. Perhaps that too contributed
to the other life of her imagination that became a large part of who
INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC: 1918
Everyone has heard about the dreaded outbreak of flu in 1918. It was a world wide epidemic of Spanish influenza that killed twenty million people before it was over. In North America it struck first in the early winter. There are numerous stories throughout the United States and Canada of whole families being wiped out and of heroic doctors, nurses and volunteers working night and day to save whomever they could, too often at their own peril..
In the Torkelson home, Hulda and all three children were sick in bed
at the same time. Lillian was by far the most ill, and Emil was, of
necessity, the nurse. There was a very real fear that she would not
survive and she has vivid memories of being so very sick. She had
constant nose bleeds, her fever raged, she was vomiting repeatedly
and was so weak she couldn't even sit up. One night when Emil could
not get the bleeding stopped and was at his wit's end he called his
brother Ole to come and help.
Somehow the two inexperienced nurses tended the oh-so-ill little girl.
They tried cold compresses, but water dripped all over her and she
felt completely miserable! When the doctor finally was able to get
there he packed her nose to stop the bleeding, but eight year old
Lillian didn't like the feel of it and pulled it out as fast as he put it in.
She was so weak she couldn't lift her head for a week.
By then Mother was recovered and looking after her. One day she sat
her on a chair while she changed the bedding and Lillian was still so
weak she could hardly wait to get back into bed. The violent
nosebleeds, said Dr. Brown later, had probably saved her life. Lillian
herself also suspects that her battle with the flu developed some
natural immunity in her system. While some of the rest of her family
have battled throughout their lives with ill health, she has, ever since
that time, enjoyed exceptionally good health.
The town of Beaubier is named after a young school teacher who
worked tirelessly throughout that epidemic. School was closed
because of the epidemic and she was urged to go home to Brandon.
But she would not, because she felt she was needed. She was one of
the volunteers that could be seen bustling all over the community,
helping wherever she could. One day, Hulda visited with her as she
passed by their farm. She acknowledged that she had a sore throat,
but was adamant that she would not get the flu. All of her patients
survived, but she died a few days later.
Lillian remembers a number of things from her childhood that made a conscious influence on her. One of them was the death of her father. It was not acceptable at that time, and in her Scandinavian culture, to display emotions. It was a very sad time for Lillian when her Father died. She was only nine years old but she knew she couldn't cry in front of anyone and so she had to go off by herself in the barn to do her grieving. Emil was cool and unemotional and didn't interact with his children very much, but she missed him. It has been a lifetime regret for her that she was never able to really know him. He was in poor health for several years before he died and she's often wondered if that was part of the reason why he didn't have much relationship with his family. He was stern but not brutal, and while his children could never approach him as a friend, they knew that he was proud of them.
Something else that was imprinted on her little mind was what she was
told about Santa Claus by someone other than her parents. She was
four or five at the time and the story was that Santa would leave
something in your stocking for you Christmas Eve, but only if you
were good. Excited little Lillian carefully hung up her stocking
before she went to bed and in the morning, lo and behold, it was
empty! Of course she believed that it must be because she was bad.
Needless to say, she was not only heartbroken, but also conscience
stricken. "What had she done that was so bad that Santa Claus
wouldn't come to her house?"
Tenderhearted Hulda was also distressed when she found out. While
it was true they were poor, the reason there were no gifts for the
children was more because of Emil's belief that children should not
be coddled. Because of her own unhappy experience, Lillian was for
many years vehemently opposed to children being told that Santa
Claus was a real person.
The third incident that had a profound effect on her whole life was
her introduction to history in Grade Four. The stories the teacher told
about the history of Britain fascinated her and caught her
imagination. This was the beginning of her lifelong interest in
history. She has always believed that it depends on how you were
introduced to a subject as to whether you'll like it or not, and that if
the teacher is really interested, that enthusiasm is passed on to the
students. Isn't it interesting that so many of her students have said
the same thing over the years and talk about the love of history and
art that they caught from her?
That same Grade Four teacher also tried to improve their English.
Her way of doing that was to first to call to their attention to
everything they were saying that was incorrect. The next step was to
have them listen to each other for mistakes, write the error and the
name of the offender on a piece of paper and then put it in a
designated box. After a time, the box would be opened to see who
had the least number of mistakes. Probably the most common error
was the Norwegian Yah instead of yes. This was a great challenge to
the children and an exciting motivation to improve their English.
When Emil died Hulda had a very large load to bear. In addition to the three children and the farm to run, she was left with heavy debts to pay. Eddy Jacobson, who was probably one of Emil's best friends, was persuaded by Emil's brother to come and farm the land for Hulda. He had been a partner of Emil's in the Jacobson-Torkelson threshing outfit.
Eddy too, had homesteaded in 1910. Unlike Emil he had brought very
little with him other than books! He said he brought no other
livestock with him than what he picked up while staying at hotels
along the way! The trunk full of books though, was his prize
possession and included Pilgrim's Progress, East Lynne, Mysterious
Island, the Bible and a number of Norwegian books. The Bible, a gift
from his sister was the last of his books that he read, but it proved to
be the most influential throughout his life. He had some high school
education, which was more than most farm boys did in those days,
and his wide variety of talents made him good pioneer stock.
Eddy had contracted polio at a very young age which left his left leg
paralyzed. His first crutch was made from a tree branch by a caring
teacher who encouraged him to use it. Although he walked with a
crutch all of his life he was physically very tough. He learned to
swim at an early age and later rode a bicycle. He didn't consider
himself handicapped, and he never allowed that to interfere with
anything he wanted to do. It was he who was the one in his
community to make three treacherous trips for coal one very cold
stormy winter! His crutch just seemed to be a part of him; those
close to him never noticed it, and certainly never thought of him as
Years later, when Lillian was in her mid-teens, a young man who was
visiting in their home seemed to be very busy helping Eddy, and she
was puzzled until it dawned on her that the young man thought her
Dad was a cripple. That was quite a joke to her because she knew her
Dad was no cripple, and that he could easily walk down the street as
fast as she could.
We've talked before about basket socials and one of Eddy's favourite
memories of early days on the prairies was of an April Fool's social
at Velhaven School. Everybody knew that one of the baskets was an
April Fool's joke and so bidding was pretty slow because no one
wanted to get stuck with it. Finally, when the last basket came up for
bids, Eddy and his friend John Claybo decided to bid up the price of
the plain, undecorated basket just for fun. Eddy was the winner with
the high bid for the night, $1.35. And what was inside? A pair of old
rubbers and some raw potatoes! April Fool!
A grass fire was a constant fear for early prairie settlers. The view
that greeted Hulda when she arrived in Saskatchewan was not an
isolated incident. One time when Eddy Jacobson and two of his
friends were travelling to Radville, one of them lit his pipe; the match
broke and fell into the tall dry grass, and the prairie ignited. The men
immediately tried to stamp out the fire using their feet, their jackets
and anything they could find, but to no avail. They fought the fire all
day and all night. It was finally extinguished fifteen miles away by
back firing the grass.
Eddy became a very important part of life on the Torkelson farm.
After the traditional two year mourning period, he and Hulda
married. The children had no idea that there was any courting going
on until the day before they went to Estevan to get married. The
family continued to live on the farm until they moved to Radville in
The community had a chivaree for Hulda and Eddy. A Chivaree is
defined as "a discordant mock serenade to newlyweds made with
pans, kettles and other noisemakers." The crowd does this outside the
home of the newlyweds, and expects to be invited in. For some, the
customary response was to invite the noisemakers in for a beer, for
others it was an announcement made that the happy couple would
sponsor a dance on a given day in a given place, and for still others
it was an invitation in for a prepared lunch.
It amuses Lillian to tell people that she was present at her Mother and Dad's chivaree. She thought the loud, strange noises and the entire affair quite exciting. The whole community came to celebrate with the happy couple. Hulda had prepared sandwiches and dainties, and some of the other ladies had brought food as well. The house was crowded with happy, friendly people. It was the equivalent of a modern day wedding reception. Eleven year old Lillian giggled about one visitor who said, "Congratulations, Mrs. Torkelson." when she was now Mrs. Jacobson.
Eddy was Lillian's stepfather for over fifty two years and was a
good dad to all the children. He understood children even though he
had been a bachelor for many years. His sense of humour was
delightful. While he was more able to express his emotions than
Emil had been, he didn't get too involved with disciplining the
children. He had had a step parent too and he was determined to be
a model stepfather. Lillian can only remember one time when he was
critical of her. She was sixteen years old, had gone for a walk with a
friend, and was quite late getting home. He said, You're late and
your mother has been worried." She felt close to him and knew that
he was proud of her success. More than anything, he taught her to
One of the important traditions in the Jacobson home was the celebration
of birthdays. Every birthday was special. As time passed, and
customs changed, Christmas also became important. It became the
time when the family always did their best to be together. Actually
Christmas Eve was more important than Christmas itself, as they
celebrated with lutefisk, and lefsa, and Mother's Swedish tea ring.
Another tradition that grew up as the children did was letter writing.
Lillian wrote home every week while she was at Normal School and
is still a prolific letter writer, as are her sisters. She continued the
weekly letter home until her mother came to live with her in 1973.
Eddy was a man of much grace. Even being confined to a wheel chair and then his bed during his last years did not sour his disposition. He never fussed or complained, and when he passed away at the age of ninety two, Lillian had mixed emotions. It was not a surprise because he had been ill for so long, and while for him it was a blessed release from pain, the pain of losing him was great.