Saturday, March 04, 2006

Swan Anderson

When you're growing up, you take a lot of things for granted. You don't think about how the place you live and the people you come to know may be quite different from what other people know. You don't realize that the people you pass every day, talk to now and then, all have stories and lives that you only touch on, but go much deeper. Time passes, and unless someone writes memories down, they leave us and it's like they were never here.

Swan Anderson was one of those people. He lived, and died, and I passed him by without realizing who he really was, but now I'm beginning to.

When I was growing up, my Dad would mention Mr. Anderson once and awhile. It was in a casual way, about ordinary events of our lives that involved him in some way. The particular way Mr. Anderson intersected our lives though was because he had a skill my Dad both admired and needed, that of being an inventive man with mechanical skill.

My parents grew up in a time and place where self-sufficiency was necessary. If you couldn't do it yourself, then someone else in the community could.

An example: We had a septic tank system for our sewer needs, and Dad relied on Swan's ability to create a small pump engine that he could hook up to hoses on both ends, one going into an access pipe into the ground, the other leading across the pasture to an old, unused dugout where the excess waste would be stored.

Recently I once again stumbled onto new and unexpected information about St. Vincent when searching the Internet. A post about a booklet by Ethel Thorlacius caught my eye because it mentioned Swan Anderson. I contacted Ethel and obtained a copy of that booklet, entitled Old Days, Old Ways...In Northwestern Minnesota. In the 1980's while working as the Activities Director for the nursing home in Hallock, Swan reached out to her for help to record his memories of area history. Thanks heavens that between the two of them they were able to do it! Oral history, while prone to errors of memory that we all have, is reliable to a large degree. It is a starting point, and a crucial piece of building the past.

Below are some examples of Swan's memories; I will be posting more of them as time allows...

The St. Vincent Cemetery is not the first cemetery in St. Vincent...It was a cemetery that was started in 1897 as the (original) cemetery in St. Vincent was completely underwater during the flood of that year. So they buried them out in the front lawn of the Griffin home and this is where they are yet. The first death was a young girl of the Maxill family...

The bridge across the Red River (at Pembina/St. VIncent), as I remember it, was a floating type and held in the river by a cable stretched across the banks. There was also a pulley that ran along the cable. They would turn the units so that the water would push it across the river; something like sails on a boat. When we got to the other side, they would tie it up to the bank, anchor it, and you would drive off on the bank and go on up. They would wait there until others came to cross the river and bring a load over, or go and get the parties from the other side. Later on the pontoon was built solid across the river so that it was all a continuous bridge, but it was actually still a floating type of bridge. To go across, if you happened to go too fast, you could see the sections buckle in front of you, so that they could level off with your vehicle as you crossed.