Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
From the pen of Elizabeth Cooper Mike, Kimball Historical Society member and her book "The Girl From Stickney Hill, Kimball Prairie, Minnesota." (Reprinted with permission of the author.) It was a long ago spring of rubber ice on a Minnesota farm. The winter had been long and hard. Ice-bound lakes and ponds stayed frozen solid from early fall until well into spring. And spring came slowly that year. Winter seemed reluctant to release its icy grip but gradually ... a little each day ... the ice softened and became "rubber ice." On one of those spring rubber ice days my brother, sister, and I bundled up in our winter clothes to go out and play. My brother and sister were both younger than I. Jack was around 10 and Peggy was 9. I was 12. As we pushed out the back door, I took the lead in my mother's wide-brimmed black ostrich-feathered "church" hat which I had grabbed at the last moment. The sky was a clear blue-grey. The sun shown warmly through the black lace pattern of trees whose swollen leaf buds formed tiny black nuts along its bare branches. Low brown hills close around us sent tiny rivulets of melting snow water down into the back yard. Overhead birds chirped their special spring song. Underfoot our four-buckle boots splashed through mud and water as we headed for the nearest pond. I could see Daddy striding toward the barn, a hundred-pound sack of grain on one shoulder. Dressed in high boots, overalls, and a heavy woolen Mackinaw jacket, he carried the sack of grain with ease. In deference to spring the earflaps of his winter cap were tied up. and his unbuttoned jacket swung loose around his waist. He must have heard our voices for he set the sack of grain down just inside the barn door and turned toward us. My father's walk was always deliberate and steady, never hurried. Now, steady and unhurried he came toward us. We stopped. I knew before he spoke a word. I knew. "You kids going out to the pond?" We nodded. "Well, stay off the ice." A chorus of three voices assured him we would. Pushing his cap back on his head, he looked around, breathing deeply. "Sure's a nice day," he said. "Yup, it's a nice day," he said again as he turned toward the barn. He took a few steps and stopped. Thoughtfully he looked back at us. "You kids know the ice is dangerous this time of year. Promise ... promise not to go on the ice." Impatiently, we assured him once more we wouldn't go on the ice. I remember thinking to myself, "We won't go on the ice. I know we won't. Well, I know I won't." We went through the garden gate and along the south side of the corral. Pig smells and other animal odors floated around us. Past the empty orchard we went. We crossed the garden where limp cornstalks and rotting tomato vines lay dead together. We stood at the pond fence. Holding the barbed wire for each other, we crawled through. That day I was happy with childish play. My 12-year-old, fast-developing body, soon to move into the world of boys, was content that day, playing with my younger brother and sister. In the lee of a tree, we found a small mound of snow which had escaped the warm rays of the sun. We tossed a few slushy snowballs onto the ice. We threw out some small sticks and stones. I picked up a rock about the size of my fist and let it fly. All slid across the ice to the other side. The ice seemed firm. Running around the edge of the pond, we threw bigger and bigger sticks and bigger and bigger rocks onto the ice. Jack even dragged an old tree branch over to the pond's edge and pushed it out on the ice,. Brightly the sun shone overhead as it moved toward noon. I could see the back door of the house, the roof of the barn, my father not at all. I don't remember who stepped on the ice first or exactly how I got in middle of the pond but suddenly there I was. It was good rubber ice, giving just a little under my feet. Dancing around, I shivered with excitement, calling for the other two to join me. Suddenly, the soft ice was giving away under my feet and I was plunging into the icy water. I sailed my mother's hat toward shore and grabbed at the edge of ice to keep from going under. "Help! Help!" I directed my cries to the roof of the barn. I thought, "I'm going to drown. I'm going to drown," Help! Help!" This time I directed my cries toward shore, toward Jack and Peggy. Brave little Peg rushed to grab my outstretched hand and slid down into the water beside me. There we stood in water more than four feet deep. Boots, coats, everything a heavy ice wet. Jack was jumping and hopping around on shore, trying to decide what to do but certainly not following the route my sister had taken. The water was up to my neck. By holding my sister up, I could keep her mouth above water. To my sister, I kept saying, "Find a rock to stand on! Find a rock!" To the sky I wailed, "Help! Help! Help!" Breaking through the ice into ankle-deep water with every step, my cautious brother pushed the tree branch out to us. Clutching the branch with one hand and breaking ice with the other, we waddled along slowly until we finally crawled up on shore. Two bedraggled soggy messes headed for the house. The sun had gone behind a cloud. The smell of spring was raw and cold and unfriendly. Long before we reached the garden gate, I could see my father standing there, a thin willow switch in one hand. Head high, a stream of muddy water trailing off my clothes, I marched past that stern figure with as much dignity as I could. Twice I felt the sting of the switch as it snapped across my numb, wet stocking-clad legs. It didn't hurt my legs much, but my beloved father had hit me and my heart was heavy as I walked to the house. My humiliation was complete that evening while lying quietly wide awake in bed, I heard my father's low voice and then his deep chuckle as he recounted the day's event to my mother. I closed my eyes and hot tears slid down my cheeks. "Echoes Down a Half Century"-a seven-part series by member and writer Duane Stanley, was pure joy to be able to share in the life of one from our pioneer families. Until he writes again, we will cherish those memories with him. Thank you so much, Duane! Now, another gifted society member and pioneer family member donates her writing talents for this column in the months ahead. Kimball Area Historical Society welcomes back auther, former Kimball area resident Elizabeth Cooper Mike for more of her delightful memories, that might remind you of some of your own. It has been an exciting start of springtime in Kimball's historical society, as April 28, we celebrated The Greatest Generation with guest-speaker Professor Lloyd Petersen from Marshall, Minn., and the U of M, who shared a huge part of his history talent, exhibit, and stories that even involved the overflow audience from age 13 to the 80s, with World War II great and true stories. And there were rave reviews about the City Hall Restoration moved inside during Phase 4 of the preservation project. Restoring Kimball's City Hall is perhaps the greatest opportunity we will ever have to preserve Kimball history. Our passion for preserving history and this historic building is only exceeded by the fact that 84 percent of the population agree with us. We hear the comments "awesome" and "inspiring" often. This wouldn't be possible without your donations, a matching state grant and the city's participation without raising taxes. You need not be a historical society member to make a donation now or a pledge-now-and-pay-later plan. Doing one of these by June 1, qualifies our project for the matching grant. What a way to grow money! Tax deductible too. But if you prefer, join our team and become a society member too! The price is right and so is the comraderie. If you have your story and would share it, consider sharing it with other interested Tri-County News readers. Contact us about all the above at the Kimball Area Historical Society, Box 100, Kimball MN 55353, Phone (320) 398-5743 or 398-5250 anytime. We look forward to hearing from you. May is National Preservation Month!