Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fan Mail

This blog generates a lot of interest among expatriates from the area. And there is nothing I love more than hearing from them.

The message below was received by me recently from one such individual. It is an amazing recollection of his time living in our area, written a lifetime later. It is so vivid, I wanted to share it with all of you...
I have enjoyed St. Vincent Memories for a period of time, so tardily, have decided to send you a note of appreciation for what you are doing. It's almost like you know me and are trying hard to assemble materials to please me! Keep it up! I feel you may have some interest in who is reading your material and why we have a shared a continuing interest in St. Vincent, Pembina and the surrounding area.

My parents, John and Margaret Hansen, were living in Pembina when I was born in the Hallock hospital in June 1926. They were renting a home on the south side of the coulee across the street from the Doc Harris home. My father was one of the first five people appointed to the Customs Patrol and was stationed in Pembina. The following year he received a permanent Customs appointment as an Inspector and Deputy Collector at Noyes, MN. In November of 1928 he was transferred and opened the Port of Entry at Noonan, ND. While I have memories from this period, at the age of two they are limited.

After eight years in Noonan and two years in Portal , my father was transferred back to Noyes as Acting Appraiser and Deputy Collector in January 1939. We rented space in the north half of the Doc Harris home plus one bedroom upstairs on the Harris side. (This was during the period when Chuck Walker was away at school so, for all I know, it could have been in his former bedroom. Because of the timing, I knew most members of the Harris family very well (except for Chuck.) This was the first time our family had enjoyed an inside bathroom and running water but our arrangement was rather interesting. We shared the same bathroom with the Harris family and it was located just off of our kitchen area. The doors to both apartments would be left closed but unlocked. When in use by a member of our family, we locked their door. When in use by the Harris family, they did the same.

Father contracted the construction of a new home almost immediately and by the start of a next school year we had moved in. We were now located on the same street as the Catholic Rectory but at the west end of the block. This also placed us at a location kitty-corner from where the old courthouse was located. All that remained of the courthouse was its sunken foundation and its sewer system. The sewer system meandered by our home and down to the Red River. My father was aware of this during construction so this sewer line now served our new home.

I was in the middle of the seventh grade when we returned to Pembina. Because of WW II, I accelerated my high school program so I could graduate and enter the service when I turned 17. I was involved in athletics, band, boy scouts and many other activities and had the good fortune of having some very good teachers. I had friends from Pembina, St. Vincent and Noyes..

At that time, the kids from St. Vincent and Noyes were attending Pembina High School. Short's Cafe was our high school hangout. We would often stop in there after the Thursday night or weekend movie. With gas rationing, many of the trips from Pembina to Short's Cafe were made by foot crossing over the old Red River bridge.

While in high school, I worked as a part time clerk and delivery boy for Heneman's Cash Store. (Interestingly, many people charged and settled up at the end of the month.) This meant I was in charge of the stores Model A and used it to deliver groceries in Pembina and ST. Vincent. This was another opportunity to meet people.

I lived in close proximity to Pembina in 1948-51, when I served as superintendent and basketball coach in the Bathgate schools. From 1951-55, I served in the same position at Crary, ND. While retuning to Pembina for my brother's wedding in August 1952, my wife gave birth to our oldest son, Mark, at the Fitzpatrick Nursing Home in St. Vincent. We stayed also in Pembina during the summer of 1954 when I had a temporary appointment in the US Customs.

My father was working as Custom Appraiser in the Pembina District Office when he died in 1961. My mother stayed on for several years before selling her home to be near her sister in Fergus Falls. After that our visits to Pembina became less frequent but would still occur for reunions and, sometimes, just to touch base.

Recently you added a number of pictures on the 1950 flood. I found them very interesting since I knew the photographer, they were excellent pictures and that was the year I got married. The flood did complicate the planning.

Mother Nature was playing games that Spring which mad the occasion especially memorable. The Red, Pembina and Tongue had all escaped their river bank and once again occupied vast portions of the bed of the ancient glacial Lake Agassiz. To the east was almost all water with the exception of some roadways or higher potions of ground. In Pembina, my parents home had flooded. In Bathgate, the home of my future in-laws had an early inundation from the Tongue. Even the Bathgate School, where I was finishing my second year as superintendent, was flooded. (It was a strange feeling standing in an upper story classroom to see the water a half mile away and heading for out building. We evacuated immediately and soon the school and school yard were flooded.

The flooding was not the start of my problems. It was a 42 mile trip from Bathgate to Langdon where my future wife was employed. We had well above normal snowfall that winter and getting through the Pembina Mountains en route became a progressively difficult challenge. My 48 Plymouth was equipped for many potential emergencies. It had a block heater and snow tires. In the trunk, I kept a shovel, chains, an old coat for under wheel tractions, a sleeping bag and food. Sometime, in a blizzard, you would keep a window open to help look for the side of the road. You learned to judge snow drifts as you drove. In some cases you would accelerate. In some cases you would shovel. In a few instances, you might put on the chains and detour around through a farmer's field in order to by pass an otherwise impossible road blockage. In the end, snow plows gave up a loosing battle and Highway 5 remained blocked for the rest of the winter and did not open up again until about the middle of June. Langdon could only be reached by a near 200 mile detour to the south.

One weekend I picked up my bride to be in Langdon and brought her back to Bathgate for fitting her wedding dress. In order that we both could be at work on time that coming Monday, we arranged for a small plane to fly her back to Langdon. When she was ready to move back to Bathgate before the wedding, I again made the 200 mile detour trip to Langdon but our return trip to Bathgate was shorter and easier. I headed east and north using several county roads to end up on the escarpment just above the City of Walhalla. There was a road covered with a deep layer of mud that slowly followed the path of the road down the hill that went straight down into Walhalla. I entered this ooze, which came up to running board level ,and gently steered my way to the bottom. At that point, a person with a tractor pulled us for about a half block so we were out of the mud and could continue on our way.

My father was taking care of our flooded home in Pembina. Getting him out of there and to the wedding presented another challenge. While most of the land was under water, the County road to the east towards Highway 81 was serviceable except for two rather large washouts. Local farmers had resolved this problem by placing parallel bridge planks across these washouts. I was not too enthusiastic about their solution but if you made absolute certain they were parallel, the right distance apart and you could drive straight, they were possible to cross in an automobile. In order to not add weight to my car, and possibly other reasons, my passengers did elect to get out and walk or crawl across these planks. With slight unease on each occasion, I crossed these chasms going and our return trip. Reaching Highway 81, we drove north toward Pembina finally stopping where water covered the rode just south of the Pembina airport. Using hip boots and a pole, to avoid falling into the ditch, we waded north a short distance to the section line north of the airport. Following this road over to the Northern Pacific RR track, we only had about a mile to walk into town. Meeting Dad, we reversed our track and headed back to Bathgate.

My best man came by train from Minneapolis to Noyes, MN. The National Guard provided transportation to Pembina by duck boat and from there you know the route.

I probably have already written too much in introducing myself and expressing interest in your site. So, again, thank you, and I'll be visiting!