Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reader Memories: Spike Monroe

Once again, I was recently contacted by a reader whose roots are from Pembina/St. Vincent. His name is Ernest Gunerius. He grew up in the 30's and 40's in our area while his father worked at the customs at Noyes...
Hi Trish:

I don't think we ever met but I was raised in Pembina from 1929 to 1947 when I joined the Army. I made frequent visits to Pembina and the surrounding area in the years after up to my last trip in 2002.

My parents lived in Pembina. My father was Ernest Gunerius, who worked as Asst. Director of Immigration, in the Noyes Office as his last post.

My mother was born Thyra Carlson in 1907, raised in Warren and Saint Vincent and was a School teacher in Saint Vincent prior to her marriage in 1927. She probably taught people you know, in their early grades.

I had several friends in Saint Vincent among whom were Dale Turner and Lawrence Godin. I heard about Dale's accident but I was always concerned about Godie as we called Lawrence. I am not even sure that Lawrence was his first name. Everyone had a nickname. Dale's was "Hay-head"...

...Thank you for posting the hand-drawn map of 1940's Saint Vincent. I knew almost every name on it. And because it was drawn by a Godin whom I assume was a younger brother of my friend...

I still can recall events from Pembina and Saint Vincent in the 30's from about 1932 on if you have any questions. God willing, I will be 80 next July so don't delay.

Ernie (LeRoy) Gunerius
I told Ernie I'd love to hear his stories about our towns from when he was growing up. He rewarded me this morning, with this one...
The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. "Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?" he asked.

"Begin at the beginning," the King said very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


With that appropriate advice as a guide I recall my first adventure that had any connection with the Village of Saint Vincent, MN. Also one of my earliest memories.

The second house we lived in, in Pembina, was at the NW corner of Hancock and Cavalier street. The house was referred to as the Old Myrick house and had been built by the father of Pembina's Post Master Nathan Myrick; I see from Google World that the house has been replaced.

Across Hancock on the corner to the south, towards downtown Pembina was a large corrugated tin building that housed Spike Monroe's Blacksmith Shop. Mr Monroe lived in Saint Vincent. [Note: This historical essay about his wife states his actual name was Jack...]

That Tin Building is also replaced.

Late in my second year or probably the summer of my third year I began to explore the world. In my travels I discovered the Blacksmith Shop and found that I could silently slip into the shop that was illuminated only by the light from the forge and sunlight from the large open doors at the far end. Just inside to the right was a Pipe and Metal storage rack that effectively shielded me (I thought) from the eyes of the men gathered around the forge.

As men of that time were wont to do they were involved in telling outrageous stories to each other. The more critical among us would probably term them Lies. But to my unlearned ears they were just the greatest stories ever told.

Tales of great snow storms of the past, of snow flakes: "Big as Hudson Bay Blankets that smothered hundreds of cattle where they stood in so and so's pasture". Of "hail stones that drove countless miles of fence post flush with the ground". Those are remembered quotes from my heroes at the forge which were delivered between squirts of tobacco juice into the roaring forge as Spike silently went about his work.

Naturally these tales were delivered in the common language of the time interspersed with words I had never in my young sheltered life encountered before.

The reason all of this is so vividly recalled will become clear in a minute.

A short time later when I was once again home with Mother in the kitchen, a large Bumble Bee managed to get in the kitchen as I came through the outside door.

As mothers sometimes do, she panicked and tried to swat the Bee with a hastily grabbed newspaper.

Being mothers helper, I used one of my new found words to cheer her on and yelled: "Get that old Son of a B***h, Ma".

She immediately grabbed a wash cloth and bar of soap and proceeded to clean my mouth out.

I can taste that Fells Naphtha Bar soap to this day. It made a lasting impression on me.

This memory did not take place in Saint Vincent but you may have known Spike Monroe (I never knew his first name-just Spike). In later years when my Grandfather, Thor Marcus Gunerius, visited he would spend much time at Spike's Shop. He had recently retired as head Blacksmith at the Fergus Falls, Mn Hospital for the Insane.

Spike was a kind and considerate man that I came to know better as I grew into my teens. I could go to him for small repair jobs that required iron work.
Ernie promises more stories, and I'll be posting them here as they come in. Every little story is like another stitch in a quilt of memories that is our hometowns. A rare and precious keepsake...