Sunday, August 11, 2013

Who Is Marvin?

In my last post, I mentioned that my father's friend Marvin Stromgren had come to live with us for a short time. Until most recently, I had no idea if Marvin was related to my father or just a friend. I went on an exploratory expedition on to see if I could figure out how Marvin and Dad knew each other.

Oh did that journey illicit memories of the things that my dad had told me of his past! I did a search on Ancestry for Marvin Stromgren born about the same time as my father in Minnesota. There was a hit in the Minnesota Birth Index. Marvin Berg Stromgren and Kathleen Margaret Barthel came up as the parents of 3 children.

That aha moment hit. These were Marvin and Kathy. I don't actually remember much about Marvin and Kathy except that they were friends of my parents.

When I saw the date of birth of the youngest of the 3 children, I was confused. Their youngest child was born in 1951 before Marvin lived with us. However, their next child was born in 1955. The 4-year gap fit with Marvin having been in the military. It was during the Korean Conflict that ended in July 1953, about the time that Marvin lived with us.

The next aha moment I had was remembering that Marvin and Kathy were one of the families who had a basement house. I now wonder if Marvin stayed at our house while his basement was being built and that Kathy and her child lived with her family at that same time.

Marvin left behind at our house that wool blanket. That became my blanket and I called it my tickle blanket because it made my nose itch. It was very prickly. Thankfully, the tickle blanket was left behind when we moved to California.

So how are Marvin and my father connected?

I learned from the Minnesota Historical Society birth index that Marvin was born in Isanti County in 1925. That was a bummer because my dad was born three years earlier in Hennepin County. From the 1930 US Census images, I found Marvin in Grow Township living with his widowed mother, Olive and his siblings, two of which were born before 1920. The second household enumerated after Olive's was my dad's Aunt Ellen's family but my dad and his family were living in Aitkin County, Minnesota in 1930.

Olive died in 1979. I don't recall if I ever met her but I do remember hearing her name. Since Marvin's father died when he was very young, I don't believe that I knew his father's name. Checking the 1920 Census, I found that Olive, her husband Abel G. and their two children were living in Isanti, Minnesota on Broadway Street. He ran a general store. The Minnesota State Gazetteer of 1922 lists Abel Stromgren and Fred L. Russell proprietors of a general store, Stromgren & Russell, Isanti.

On September 12, 1918, Abel Gustaf Stromgren registered for the World War I draft. He was a merchant whose residence was in Constance (Grow Township), Minnesota. Abel named his wife, Olive Mary, as his nearest relative. So some time after September 12, 1918 but before January 6, 1920, the family moved from Constance to Isanti.

The family resided in Isanti about 8 years or so. Their youngest child was born in Isanti August 22, 1926. However, by April 2, 1930, Olive was back in Grow Township. According to the census, she was the postmistress. From a ledger of post office appointments in Anoka County, I learned that Abel was appointed postmaster in Constance on January 8, 1927. He died on November 24th of that same year. She then became the acting postmistress.

I found her in Grow Township in the 1940 Census. Olive was the postmistress. The household enumerated before hers was that of Ruth and Mathilda Book. Ruth would become my grandmother's sister-in-law. The appointment ledger noted her several appointments as postmistress of the Constance post office. The final entry was of the closure of the post office effective February 28, 1955, mail to Anoka.

Now I know how Marvin and my dad knew each other. It was because of the post office.

I don't know exactly when my dad's parents moved from McGregor, Minnesota to Constance but they were living in the same house on April 1, 1935 (1940 Census). I remember railroad tracks that were near the house where my grandmother was raised. My father told me that his grandfather had convinced the US post office to have a mail stop at his farm.

Prior to this, mail was sent to the post office in Anoka. As a member of the community had the need to make the trip to Anoka then he/she would check for mail at the post office. The mail train would pass by my great grandfather's farm. Dad told me that the train didn't stop but it did pick up and drop off mail as it passed.

In 1935, my father was 13, old enough to put the bag with the outgoing mail on the pick up hook and retrieve the bag left by the mail train from the drop off hook. My father graduated from Anoka High School in 1940. Between 1935 and 1940 my dad handled the mail bags at his uncle's farm. With Marvin's mother as the postmistress and my dad helping with the mail bag, Dad and Marvin would have known each other.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Childhood House - Fond Memories

In my last post, I mentioned that my grandfather came from California to help my father finish the second floor of our house. They had put up the drywall to form the walls of the bedroom and a closet before my grandfather had to leave. Shortly afterwards, Marvin Stromgren came to live with us for a while.

I thought that he may have been a relative or a friend of my father's. He moved into the unfinished room upstairs for a while. It didn't seem like he was there for a very long time. Marvin had recently been discharged from the Army or Marine Corps as he had a uniform and a wool dark green blanket when he came. I think that he was in the service during the Korean Conflict.

As I was composing this post, I actually didn't know how Marvin and my dad knew each other. I did a little snooping on From the bits and pieces of information that I found, it looks like Marvin was a friend and not a relative. That's another story.

After Marvin's stay ended and before Dad had a chance to work on finishing the second floor, my brothers engaged in a game of dodge ball upstairs. That game ended with a large hole near the floor in the drywall on one side of the room. I remember that we tried to tell our dad that a huge mouse was in the attic and made the hole.

My brother and I were consigned to the unfinished bedroom after Marvin left. We apparently were not very good at getting to bed and staying there. My dad was a very astute person and decided to turn the story into one that worked for him. He said that a huge mouse may have made the hole in the wall, but it was the bear who lived in the attic that was now the problem. He told us that the bear would come out when one of us got out of bed before morning.

My dad sometimes miscalculated things. I started to wet the bed because I was too afraid to get out of bed at night because of that bear in the attic. Since bears are afraid of light according to my dad, he installed a low wattage light (today called a night light) so I could feel free to get up to go to the bathroom. My dad had an explanation why the bear wouldn't come out when I went to the bathroom vs. when I was being a problem child. Dad tried!

That house had gable in front with an air vent. Even before my dad put up the drywall there was a trap door to access the gable. As kids we would pull down the trap door and get into the gable. The small vent would allow us to see the outside of our front yard. My brothers and I would pretend that we were in a rocket ship and that we were looking down at earth.

Minnesota summers are hot and humid. After my father finished off half of the basement into a rec-room, I found myself spending most summers in the basement reading when I wasn't in some lake. The basement was the only cool place in the house.

After the rec-room was finished, we started to have Christmas Eve dinner at our house. By that time my mother's sister and her family moved from New York to Minnesota and my mother's brother and his family moved from Chicago to Minnesota. So now Christmas Eve was at our house in our basement. At that point, the Christmas Tree was put in the basement. Up to that time, our tree was set up in the living room.

The last time that I remember the tree in the living room was the year that my parents got us cardboard bricks and enclosed the entire doorway to the living room with these bricks. Mom and Dad apparently spent much of the night of Christmas Eve assembling the cardboard bricks and setting them into the door way in hopes that we would take enough time to get through the barricade to allow them some sleep. The lesson I took away from this memory...Don't under estimate your kids.

Thinking about our house also reminds me of our neighbor, Rosie Bryant. She had the most beautiful flower garden in her backyard. My dad had planted a vegetable garden in our yard, but I was entranced by Rosie's flowers. My dad let me have a small plot, about 2 by 3 feet in our small backyard. Rosie helped plant my garden each year and my tiny garden was always beautiful.

That little house has so many fond memories for me. It was hard to leave it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Basement House

The reporting of the terrible tornado that devastated a community near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma brought to mind root cellars. If you watched the Wizard of Oz movie with Judy Garland, her aunt and uncle took shelter in the root cellar as a tornado was approaching. I remember visiting relatives who lived on farms having root cellars.

The root cellar was under the house and access was from outside. They were not very deep, but deep enough to store vegetables. Most had a dirt floor. In the days of root cellars, they served an additional function, that of a storm cellar.

My parents bought a house in the city. Like all the houses on my street, we had a basement. I am not sure, but I think that city houses had basements to accommodate the furnace that was used to heat the house. Our house had a huge gas furnace but the older houses must have had coal burning furnaces because a couple of the old houses in my neighborhood had coal chutes from a small window at ground level into the basement below. I can't recall visiting a house in Minneapolis that didn't have a full basement.

Not all of my friends and relatives had lived in an above ground house. Some lived for a short time in a basement house. Instead of buying an existing house, the family purchased the land and built their own house. The first step was making the basement and foundation for the eventual house.

It usually took a few years to complete the entire house. Once the basement was complete, some families moved into the basement. When the main floor was finished, the family moved up to the main floor.

The basement house had a distinct appearance. It was a small structure on with a door. I remember these so distinctly that I was certain there would be a photograph on the Internet. I was surprised to find almost none. It seems now a basement house has a new meaning.

This was the only image that I could find of the entrance of a basement house like those of my childhood.