Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mohammed Ali Bhamrahad, Peddler

When Mohammed was born (August 1, 1892), the countries we know today didn't exist. During the Ottoman rule "Syria" was the name of a region that was otherwise known as the Levant. The word "Syria" did not depict any separate entity/state but a geographical area the same way we use today the words "Western Europe", or "Far East". Lebanon was in the region of Syria but it was a semi-autonomous mutasarrifiyya (like a country) which was established in 1860. The leader of Lebanon was chosen by European nations and it was off-limits for the Turkish army.

When France took over the (Syrian) region, there were actually 6 countries: the state of Aleppo, state of Damascus, Jabal el druze, Alexandretta, Allawite state and Greater Lebanon. Some of the five other regions were annexed by Lebanon.

Toward the end of the mandate, Alexandretta got annexed by Turkey, Lebanon gained full independence, and the other four were merged together into a new country that adopted the name "Syria".

Lebanon has always been a de facto separate entity since the 1500s even if many historic maps don't show it; France simply decided to put it on paper and make it official.

Mohammed Allay Bomrad was born near Beirut (?) in Damascus, Syria in 1892. He arrived in the Edinburg, North Dakota area in 1915, using that town as his mailing address while he traveled around Walsh, Pembina and Cavalier counties, selling his wares and working on farms during the busy seasons.

As a country peddler, he first made his route with a sack on his back selling notions, toiletries, dress goods, medicines, jewelry and other essentials.

In 1917, he bought his first horse. In 1922, his "one hoss shay" was replaced with a wagon when he bought a second horse, making a team - Bud and Biada, which he treated with utmost care. When talked sharply to them, he would say: "I'm talking Irish."

He wasn't "fussy" about where he slept - hay stacks, hay lofts - but later, when he was better known, he would find lodging and a bite to eat at some farm homes. For a number of years, he frequently stayed at the Sigurdson home west of Gardar.

Although he was thrifty, he was known for his kindness and generosity. During the flu epidemic of 1918, he spent weeks helping farmers who were victims of the "flu bug," never mentioning pay. He loaned money, trusted his customers when they were unable to pay. He sent much money to relatives in Syria and retained his Islamic faith by reading publications. He made regular trips to Vang on election days to mark his "X" as he had received his citizenship papers in Cavalier County. He stated it was a privilege for an American to vote.

"The Syrian Muslim, Mohammed Ali Bhamrahad...He lived among the Icelanders in America his entire life. He was
quite a legend and a very sweet man." - Janet Muldoon.  [Photo taken west of Mountain, ND and up the hill on the
Pembina Escarpment, also known as Schroeder Hill, on the Swanson farm, rural Cavalier County, North Dakota]

Although he had enjoyed good health, he had been the victim of several accidents, runaways and once losing all his wares when his horses stepped off a bridge crossing a flooded area.

While all his material possessions could be contained in his wagon, he stated his wealth was immeasurable. His unfailing health permitted him to be amid the beauties of nature, the joy of music and most of all - the hundreds of friends he had acquired while living in this country.

Eventually he retired to Canada where he expected to enter a nursing home among relatives. He passed away in February 1989 at age 97.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Water Cooler VI: A Tiny, Magical Gas Station

Elmer Maxwell's tiny gas station  [Photo: Ronald Cox]
A woman who wore black and often wore a veil, and would garden early in the morning to avoid being seen by others. Was she simply eccentric, or did she suffer from a grief or depression so personal no one else understood? Her brother was a kind man, who was kind to the town's children, ran a matchbox-sized gasoline station, and had a love for his state's sports. Read below for another Water Cooler Memories from Humboldt...
Michael Rustad: It's these details Maury that make for great historical accounts. 
Kathy Ohmann: I loved his treasure chest of coins. We got to open it ourselves and take a penny out for each empty pop bottle we brought. Janine and I walked miles of ditches to find more bottles. 
Michael Rustad: He paid 5 cents for the 10 ounce bottles and 2 cents for the 6 ounce. The ditches were a treasure trove as in those days there was no social pressure against tossing empties. 
Donald Reese: Looks like Mae and Elmer's place, we use to go there and get white gas to run the lawn mower. 
Michael Rustad: What is white gas? Did you ever speak with Mae. In our day, she was a woman dressed in black who seemed very mysterious to us. She was a real Juliet of the Spirits. Elmer, on the other hand, was very friendly. I wonder whether this was built as a tiny gas station like a tiny house or was it a shack used for other purposes. 
John Bergh: We sat in there and watched the Winnipeg to Minneapolis snowmobile race. The school couldn't find us. 
Michael Rustad: Elmer was always welcoming. That's a great story. I wonder if there was heat in the shack. I see there is a chimney pipe of sorts. 
John Bergh: The principal or teachers were afraid to go in there. Needless to say we were in big trouble when we returned 
Keith Finney: Coal stove. It was about 200 degrees by the stove and freezing at the door 
Michael Rustad: If we could be released to see Alan Shepherd or John Glenn, why not the Great Snowmobile Race. Good for you! Humboldt rebels! 
Richard A. Olsonawski: What a place to go an have a soda an chat with Elmer. He was quite a guy in that little shack.
August 2016
Elmer, Mary Miller, & Mae [Photo Credit: Ronald Cox]

 Stever Ritter:  I remember this building and the wonderful people that ran it...wow, takes me back.
Becky Clow: Thanks for the picture Michael. 
Karen Hylland Pearson: Bought "pop" from Elmer Maxwell in this little station--we hung out there sometimes....so many good memories of life in Humboldt. 
Richard A. Olsonawski: Elmer was good to all the kids. I think most kids from Humboldt spent some time at this little gas station. 
Brad Clow: Elmer and Mae Maxwell. 
Michael Rustad: Mae was always dressed in black flowing and sometimes veiled dresses. She was a mysterious figure. I never remember saying more than hi to her. Did anyone ever talk to her in our H-St. V. group. We all enjoyed a cold bottle of pop with Elmer. I loved talking to him about the Twins. He also followed the Golden Gophers football. He was a very calm, thoughtful man. He always wore coveralls and I think long-johns--even in the summer. I bet Elmer never once wore shorts and a t-shirt. He was good to us all. Jeff and I would sell pop bottles (Tony too) to Elmer. He would always take the ones that Mayme turned away. She was more particular. I though much later that he loved the kids so much that he would take a loss on a pop bottle or two as a cost of doing business. 
Brad Clow: I used to go over and buy pop on the weekends. I would go to the house door and Mae would answer. Nice person to talk with. She would do her gardens early morning so she didn't have to be around people. Grandpa Clow said she was extremely smart. 
Michael Rustad: When he paid us, I remember that he had a large leather coin purse with metal hasps and he would carefully count out the money. We would often hand it right back to me for a cold soda or two. They tasted so cold out of the coke cooler that Bill Ash wrote about recently. 
Marion Anderson: I also remember that gas station on the corner. Good memories. Would like to see Humboldt, as it was, back in the early 50's. 
Trish Short Lewis: Do what I do, Marion - dream about it. Most of my dreams in recent years (and sometimes in years past) are of St. Vincent and Humboldt... 
Maury Finney: I remember the "free air" hole in the outer wall that had a cork in it. When I would stop to pump up my bicycle tires Elmer or May would go inside and push the hose out.
Michael Rustad: Humboldt in the 1950s was quite vibrant. I remember that the farmers came in to the store and restaurant, and the town had some life on a Friday night. I remember that the town hall was a gathering place for card games. Virgil's old films show a dance where Jim and Dora, and Don and Marion are coming into the dance. They were young guys in the 1950s. Jim had a big smile on his face. It was also so nice to see on the film Willis Finney attending to and fixing Joyce's skates. She and Sandy were skating at the rink with the other Humboldt kids. I also enjoy that we have established a community of sorts on Facebook. We may have different religions, political creeds, and outlooks and live far away, but all of us share that bond with Humboldt [and St. Vincent - Trish]. It is a deeper bond than any thing else. I came all the way back from Vermont for the reunion and saw Maury's band. That night, the band played all of my favorites brilliantly. And Al was there in the band too! Doug Finney sang Elvis songs later in the night. And there were Fireworks. I would have thought it was a dream--fireworks in Humboldt. And that parade and the concessions were so wonderful. I don't know of any event that I have enjoyed more, seeing Humboldt so spruced up and making memories with friends and family. I kind of botched my limited role introducing students from classes. The sound system was not working, the heat and humidity was intense. I have spoken in public for forty years but speaking at Humboldt made me a little nervous. 
Trish Short Lewis: Yes, the heat was so bad I almost got heatstroke and had to leave early and missed the evening events, which I greatly regret. 
Michael Rustad: I tried to find information on Elmer and Mae [2nd cousins, 1x removed - Trish] on Dennis Matthew's website. There was only the Samuel Maxwell family. I wonder if Marion May was a niece of Elmer and Mae. Just a guess. 
Suzanne Dexter: The Maxwells were cousins of my Grandma Elsie Thomson Dexter [2nd cousin, 1x removed - Trish]
Michael Rustad: I knew Elsie but had no idea she was related to the Maxwells. She was a nice lady. How old were you when she passed? 
Suzanne Dexter [3rd cousin, 1x removed - Trish]: I was a senior in high school 
Donald Reese: I remember this station, you had to pump the gas up into the glass container on the top and then gravity feed it in to the auto, we always bought white gas here for the lawn mower, don't know why but it was thought that regular gas was bad for lawn mower engines. 
Michael Rustad: Don, that's a very cool memory. It was like that in my early years too but I could not explain it nearly as well! I really do not know what white gas was I am trying to rack my brain and wonder why I never heard of it! 
Donald Reese: I believe the white gas didn't contain any lead, and lead was believed to be bad for those little motors, made them run too hot. Don't really know for sure. 
Keith Finney: Who was it that called Elmer " Elmo "?
September 2016
Mayme Jury's store
Jerry Bernath: Anybody remember a tractor tire?!?  Just sayin'. 
Keith Finney: Yes I do 
Cleo Bee Jones: Mayme Jury's store...Louise and I used to take Grandpa's eggs for the store...sometimes we would dress up in big overalls and awful looking shirts...just to be "stupid" - I was going to say silly, but stupid covers it... 
Carnalee Cleem Lykken: Awe...great memory! 
Doris Giffen Miller: I used to babysit the people who lived upstairs here. Don't remember who they were tho. Fibro-fog. 
Rodney Bakken: Sat on those front steps solving the world's problems hundreds of times. 
Lynda Johnson Cassels: If only those steps could talk, what stories they could tell. 
Becky Simmons: I remember that store 
Michael Rustad: Becky Simmons, when did you live in Humboldt? 
Michael Rustad: Dad worked with Mayme in 1948-49 while Jim Florance wintered in California. They fixed up the entire store. Who remembers when there were no aisles and the store keeper would fetch everything behind the big counter. This was before I was born. When Mr. Florance came home in April 1949, he told Rustee and Mayme that they had wasted all of that work because he was joining Fareway as a franchisee and the store would be modernized with aisles. Don Reese is the only one I know who may remember the store before it had aisles! 
Lance Loer: I remember it too! 
Doris Giffen Miller: I take it back. This was Mayme's store and I babysat someone above the bar and restaurant. 
Michael Rustad: Would you have been a babysitter for a family living in the apartment. I think Virgil owned the building for a period. 
Michael Rustad: Did Quintin Dieter and famiy live there at one time? 
Jerry Bernath: Mike, I think you are on to something here. That rings a bell. (Unless of course, my bell was rung enough, so I don't remember so good.) But, I'm thinkin' they did live there. 
Michael Rustad: Voits (lenz kids) lived there while Ken and Jeanne ran the It Cafe. 
Jerry Bernath: That may be who I'm thinkin' of. 
Keith Finney: I lived there Doris Giffen Miller, that would be a stretch if you were my babysitter. All of Kenny and Jean's kids would have been too old as well. Brad Clow's Great Grandma was our neighbor as well. Babcock. 
Dan MacFarlane: Mayme Jury was a cousin of mine. I recall the store and Mayme living above it. That would be early 60' maybe late late 50s. 
Keith Finney: That is right. I knew that for some reason.
And the conversations around the virtual water cooler will continue...