Thursday, March 10, 2011

Guest Post: Michael Rustad

Lyle Dexter, Michael Rustad, Jane Dexter, & Carolyn Wiese (in back)
watch videos in church during 2007 town centennial/school reunion

This is the first in a new series called "Guest Post: YOUR NAME HERE", which will feature essays by guest writers, recalling memories and/or reflections of our hometown area. If you are from Kittson County, Pembina County, or southern Manitoba, and have memories you'd like to share about our area, let me know.

The first writer is Michael Rustad, who is (to coin a phrase) the midwife of this blog...
The picture above was taken in the Humboldt Methodist Church during the summer of 2007 at our town's centennial and all-school/all-town reunion.
The little Methodist Church burned in January of 2010. The Methodist Church is being rebuilt which shows a great deal of civic pride given that the town has approximately 60 residents. Humboldt, Minnesota, located in the Northwest Corner of Minnesota, has a very harsh climate. I often speak of Humboldt in my classes just as John Bergh will refer to that town in his sermons. John, who serves as a Methodist minister today in a ND town, draws upon lessons from growing up in a small town. I often use references to illustrate torts or commercial law topics. In Florida, I brought up the weather in northwest Minnesota comparing it to the risk of loss in the sale of goods. I made the point that our January in northwest Minnesota was comparable to Siberia. A young woman in class raised her hand and said that she was raised in Siberia and it was not 40 degrees blow zero. The class cracked up with that exchange.
Some days when I reflect on my life I wonder how I grew up on a small subsistence farm and landed in a teaching gig in Boston. I guess the line of continuity is that I raised Suffolk sheep as a child - I had primary responsibility for taking care of the cows and sheep, while my siblings had other chores. Dad would help me or I would help him when it came to difficult tasks such as helping lamb triplets to survive, etc.
Suffolk Sheep
One of the worst memories I have is when packs of dogs would attack our sheep. We rarely lost lambs despite the harsh weather, but dog attacks on the sheep were a persistent problem. In those days, the farmer was within his rights to use "self-help" in the form of a shotgun to drive out the dogs. When I told a friend of mine from the University of Massachusetts that dogs that attacked sheep were killed, he was appalled by the brutality. I know that I often romanticize life on the farm, but it was very rough in many respects and there was always uncertainty. I do not ever remember a good harvest though there must have been a year or two when the rain, hail, rust or other conditions did not destroy the crops.
1935 Farm Truck
Mostly, it was a relatively harsh existence in many ways. I did learn a work ethic from the experience and that I never wanted to farm. Our operation was small and the equipment humble (we had a '35 Ford as our primary truck, a 1942 left-handed combine, and other machinery cobbled together...) I remember being embarrassed when neighbors were driving self-propelled combines or swathers and we had the equivalent of stone-age equipment. I think that I was motivated to study hard so Humboldt could be seen in the rear view mirror. Yet, the photo shows me quite happy to be back in Humboldt.
It is really a paradox for many of the expatriates who left the area. On the one hand, we are grateful for the experiences. On the other, we are glad to be away from the mosquitoes, the tornadoes and the snow.