Thursday, January 9, 2014

Jennie Efraimson - 1907-2003

The following information is gleaned from "A Letter to My Family and Friends", by Esther Efraimson, written in 1988 (so some of the statements of "fact" may no longer be true).

Alfred Efraimson and Emma Savilahti met on the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota, where Alfred had gone to seek his fortune in the iron mines. Emma was employed in the boarding house where Alfred had a room. They were married on November 13, 1904, and Esther was born on October 16, 1905 (Eina Esther, 10/16/1905 – 4/6/2004). Jennie arrived a year and a half later, on March 20, 1907 (Jennie Marie, 3/20/1907 – 1/4/2003).

About the time that Jennie was born, the iron miners went on strike. Alfred stuck it out for awhile, but when he realized that settlement (of the strike) might take some time, he set out for North Dakota to work in the harvest fields. He had lived on a farm for the early part of his life, so he was knowledgeable about farming.

He found full time employment, working for a bachelor with a two-bedroom house, so he sent for Emma and the girls in the Fall [of 1907].

That farm eventually became the Efraimson's, and Alfred's house is still the family’s summer home, although it has had many revisions, additions, etc.

Ten more children were born about a year and a half apart – Eino (9/27/1908 – 8/10/1988) , Emma (4/30/1910 – 10/16/2002), Jo (9/22/1911 – 2/4/2004), Hilda (8/14/1913 – 9/8/1997) , Arne (1915 – 1921), Bill (William - abt. 1917 – 1975) , Vi (Viola - abt. 1919-11/24/2003), Carl (8/25/1920 – 2/15/2008), Rudy (Rudolph - abt. 1923 – abt 2005), and Rupert (1/23/25 – 6/28/2013). Rupert was nineteen and a half years younger than Esther!

They didn’t have cars – they hadn’t been invented. There was no electricity, so they kept things cool in the cellar under the house. Indoor plumbing was not installed until 1958. They did have a telephone by 1918, -- they heard that the war [World War I] was over by telephone. Two long rings meant that everyone on the [party] line should listen in. Harvest was just over, so everyone set some of their straw piles on fire to celebrate! Incidentally, those straw piles were also great ski runs for us in the winters when they were covered with snow.

One year, just before school started, Esther, Jennie and Eino had to go to Cando and get vaccinated for small pox. Just the three oldest of the children were going to school at that time. Around Christmastime, Mother and Dad (Alfred and Emma) went to a church meeting at a neighbor’s house. They had been told that the lady of the house was sick, but not what she had.

Perhaps they had not consulted a doctor, so they didn’t even know what she had. It turned out to be small pox. Dad and the younger children all became ill with it – Dad had it the worst. He was covered from head to toe and had a raging fever.

They were all quarantined for a long time, and the day the quarantine was lifted, they had to fumigate the house by boiling formaldehyde. They couldn’t stay in the house, of course, so they stayed in the Sauna that day. It was Lincoln’s birthday and a beautiful sunny day, so they did play outdoors…it even thawed a little.

Esther loved school – she figured maybe it was because it was so much easier than staying home and taking care of babies, washing clothes on a washboard, ironing, scrubbing floors, etc. She didn’t start school until she was seven (Jennie and Esther started together), but they had already learned to read some Finnish. They spoke Finnish at home, and Mother (Emma) taught them from a little book called the “AAPINEN”. It had a picture of a rooster on the cover, and anytime they learned a new letter or word, the rooster would lay some raisins or prunes inside of their books. (I imagine Emma would put it there for them.)

Dad (Alfred) had taught them a few words of English, like the directions (North, South, etc.), salt and pepper, but very few. It didn’t take them long to catch on to English though. The letters of the alphabet are similar to Finnish, and although some of the sounds are different, it wasn’t too hard to learn to read English. In fact, Esther did both the first and second grade work in the first year. Jennie and Esther started speaking English all the time, even at home. Mother didn’t mind, but she still talked Finnish, even though the girls answered in English. Because of this, most of the younger kids were almost bi-lingual by the time they started school.

Esther supposed the fact that they did not hear English spoken at home helped them to learn the correct pronunciation of words from their teachers, and they did not acquire the accents like many American-born children of immigrants do. For instance, when other children tried to pronounce “th”, it almost always came out “da”.

Alfred's brother, their Uncle John [Efraimson], lived with them for many years. Alfred had 720 acres of land to farm. To give an idea of the size, a “section” contains a four mile square of 640 acres. This was too much for Alfred to do alone without the modern mechanized machinery available today.

Uncle John had a little Ford roadster, and every Sunday afternoon the kids would try to talk him into taking them for a ride. He was a quiet man and they never knew whether he’d grant their wish or not – until they suddenly saw him put on his hat and start for the granary (a farm building used to store grain) where he kept his car. They hurried along after him and it was a lot of fun. Sometimes they would stop at some neighbor’s farm, but otherwise just drove around for an hour or so. Esther and Jennie had just started school and loved to read any signs that they would see. One that was hard to read was “QUAKER OATS”.

It was unfortunate for a farm family to have two girls as the oldest children, because boys would have been able to start helping with the farm work sooner. However, Esther and Jennie – the big girls, as they were called – did get involved in a lot of farm work. Esther remembered harnessing those big draft horses that were so tall she had to climb up on the manger in the barn to put the collar on, before doing the hames and the rest of the harness.

There was a strap that had to go under their tails, and that was pretty scary, but those big draft horses never did kick the kids like the cows did at times.

Jennie and Esther did quite a bit of plowing, and helped make hay by spreading the hay on the stack and tamping it down. Esther also remembered one harvest time as Dad (Alfred) was going to town, he asked the girls if they needed anything. Esther said, “Yes, bring us some men!” That was a big laugh for many years. Of course, what she meant was to have some help with the farmwork. One of the chores was “shocking”, which is stacking up the bundles of wheat that had been cut. Esther recalled thinking that was the year that a hired man quit because he could not keep up with Jennie and Esther doing the shocking.

Farming was quite different back then. In those days, they used a threshing machine to harvest the wheat. It had a huge steam engine --- almost like on a train – with a long wide belt that made the separator work. The separator took up the bundles of wheat that were thrown on a feeder and separated the grain from the straw.

Harvest time was a really exciting time of the year. Dad and two neighbors, Jake and Pete, went together and bought a threshing rig. In addition to the farm machinery, there was a “cook car” and a “bunk car”. They would go up to the Turtle Mountains a few weeks before threshing time and hire some of the Indians living there to come and haul bundles. They assigned two men to each straw wagon to gather up the bundles and bring them to the separator. The farmer whose crop was being harvested would furnish the grain wagons and haulers.

When Jennie and Esther were about 13 and 14, they started working on the cook car as assistants to the main cook. After awhile, they realized the two of them could handle it together, so the adults let them try it.

They did all right. There was one morning, though, that they overslept and the engineer came knocking on the door to wake them up! That was after Esther's 16th birthday party the night before.

They had to get up very early to get the big pots of coffee made and whatever else they would have for breakfast. One of them would attend to that while the other mixed up and kneaded the huge bowl of bread dough that they made every day. The bowl was as big as a small tub! Sometimes, for the noon meal, they would make “heino leipa”, a round flat loaf just about an inch thick – a big loaf about the size of the oven – and cut it in slices.

They made three main meals and, in addition, sent coffee and some cookies or cake out to the men in the field at about 9:00 in the morning and again at about 4:00 in the afternoon.

Well, enough of farming...

Esther finished grade school at 13 and tried very hard to get a job working for room and board so I could go to high school. However, Esther didn’t look like she was more than ten years old and it took two more years before she grew enough so that anyone would believe I could do housework.

Lest you think that it was all work and dull, that  is certainly not the case, and when it came to games, they were quite innovative. One year Dad decided to go into diversified farming. He fenced off a quarter of the land and bought about eighty sheep. His thinking was that if he had sheep in that pasture for a year or two, they would keep the weeds down, and the next year he would be able to harvest a really good wheat crop from that field. He was right. It really worked.

In the meantime, the sheep pasture was a new place for the children to play. Eino had gotten a bike the year before, and they all learned to ride it. The sheep made little paths all through the pasture and the kids pretended that it was the United States.

They named certain sections for all the big cities of the United States. On the West was San Francisco, Seattle, etc. East of there was Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, and further east New York and Washington. They would take turns being the engineer on the train – the bike – and take passengers from one point to another. It was a lot of fun all that summer, and they were sorry to see it plowed up the next Spring.

They finally did grow up, and when Esther was almost 16, she did get a job in exchange for her room and board in Cando, a little town about 30 miles from the farm, so that she could complete high school.

Esther stayed with the same family for four years, doing the washing, ironing, cleaning, a lot of the cooking, etc.  After the first year, she got a small salary so she could pay for her books and clothing. The lady she worked for was the daughter of a millionaire from Detroit. She was always grateful for the things Esther could do, but she also taught Esther a lot. One thing she never forget was that she had previously called the mashed potatoes “smashed” potatoes. That gave her employer a big laugh, and Esther too – afterwards.

Esther and Jennie had learned to sew at home when they complained about the style of dresses that their dressmaker made. Mother said if they didn’t like the dresses they would have to make their own. Emma showed them how to cut a pattern from newspaper and fit it onto themselves, and then cut the material. Of course the girls first practiced on the sewing machine by hemming diapers. Anyway, Esther could sew things for Mrs. Shanley – mending ripped sheets, etc., and Esther also thought she  made some aprons and things like that. Mrs. Shanley liked to give parties and had Esther draw pictures on her invitations. She also gave Esther a few piano lessons, for which she was always thankful for. Esther was no great pianist, but could play enough to amuse herself. And since she learned to read music, she was able to get some of her brothers and sisters started.

Speaking of music, the whole family was talented in that area. Mother had a beautiful soprano voice and loved to sing, and so did Dad, who was a tenor. When Jennie and Esther were hardly in their teens, they joined the Church Choir along with Dad. In fact, they both sang in choirs until the last few years. Esther even sang in the National Lutheran Chorus at Constitutional Hall in Washington, D.C. at a couple Christmas concerts. One of the concerts was the Christmas section of Handel’s Messiah, and the choir was accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra.

After high school, Esther went to Fargo to business college. She had taken one year of typing and shorthand in high school, but the business college experience was good. Jennie  spent part of that year in Fargo, too, working as a housemaid. Jennie and Esther became good friends with Alice Veronen. Jennie continued to keep in touch with her throughout her life.

The next year Esther got a job as a secretary to Frank Shanley, who had quit his job at the bank and gone into business for himself – some real estate and also as a clerk at auction sales.

Esther found a room at Clifford Holien’s, and Emma and Jo went to Cando and started high school. Jo always remembered that her teachers were apt to call her Esther. They did look quite a bit alike. Emma and Jo only stayed for one term and then continued at Rock Lake, driving back and forth from the farm.

Staying at Clifford Holien's, Esther met the man she married. They had four children together, but  Theodore (Ted) was an alcoholic, and by the time Larry was born they had already been separated several times (less than ten years). Ted went west to find his fortune and never came back. Esther wrote:

"The kids and I were living in Cando in the upstairs rooms of the Deardorff house when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We had been at the movies when the news came out. Shortly before that I had taken two tests – one was for the Civil Service, and the other for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
"The Civil Service telegram came first, asking me to report at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on March 17, 1942. I answered that I would be there and Jennie, as usual, came to the rescue agreeing to take care of the kids till I could send for them.
"I had been working at the Courthouse in the Welfare Office and was making the magnificent sum of $75 a month, and everyone thought I had lost my mind to go traipsing off to Washington with four children.
"Jennie took the kids out to the farm and they finished the school year at the Armourdale school about a mile from there. By September I had saved enough money for their train fare to Washington and rented a house in the northeast section of Washington. They arrived before school started.
"Jennie got a job almost immediately in the Navy Department. We took in three roomers who had also come to Washington from North Dakota to work for the Government, so that helped pay the rent. Wayne got a job as a Washington Post delivery boy.
"The kids got settled in school and, since Larry was still too young to go to school, we had a maid who took care of him. She was black, and one of the things Larry said about her was that he didn’t think she knew it! None of us had hardly seen a black person before we came to Washington and had no idea of bigotry towards them.
 "After we had been at Newton Street for a year or so, we decided to go out and take a look at Greenbelt, which advertised cheaper rents for people whose income was below a certain amount. I can’t remember what it was, but we qualified for it, and so we decided to move there. So that’s how we happen to be Marylanders now.
"At first it seemed like the end of the world, because it took over an hour to get there from downtown by street car, but once we got used to it, it wasn't so bad.
'And it did seem like an ideal place for kids, with "underpasses" -- paths cut out under the roads so children didn't have to cross streets to walk to school. There were a lot of activities planned for children, and a swimming pool too.
"It worked out fine. Carole and Ida were in the Majorettes, learned how to swim, worked at the theater, and occasionally as baby sitters. Wayne worked at the gas station. Since Jennie and I both worked down town, they didn't have much supervision, but seemed to manage all right. If we told them to have some vegetables prepared before we got home, we would finish the evening meal when we got there. Carole and Ida were both acrobatic and upside down half the time. 
Saturdays and Sundays were busy days. At first we didn't have a washing machine and had to wash by had in the tub in the kitchen. That was really a chore when it came to sheets because when we first moved to Greenbelt, the front yard was nothing but mounds of red clay. Consequently, everything white turned a ghastly clay color! Polyester had not been invented, and it apparently had not occurred to the makers of nylon to use it for anything but stockings, so naturally, the ironing board got a lot of use. At first we attended the church in Mount Rainier, Md., but as soon as Pastor Pieplow started Church services at the Greenbelt Elementary School, we went there instead. Carole and I also joined the choir, and we had rehearsals at our house, since we had acquired a piano by then.
"While we were still at the Newton Street house in Washington, we received word that Ted had died. There was no question of being able to go to his funeral, but some of my family did attend. He died of pneumonia and other complications.
 "In the summer of 1945, Jennie went to North Dakota on vacation. She found mother to be very tired and didn't want to leave her alone with the work that still went on at the farm. Mother was 64 at the time. That fall, she got one of her sinus attack; it turned into double pneumonia and she died. I flew home for the funeral -- in fact, I got there before she died, but I don't think she was conscious anymore.
 "So Jennie never came back. She continued to keep house for Dad. Dad lived till the age of 91 and since then, Rudy and Jennie have run the farm. Neither of them ever married. They have a town house in Rock Lake where they spend the winters, and Rudy often comes down to visit me in Florida. Jennie has worked in Janke's store in Rock Lake from time to time."
That is the extent of my Gram's notes about Jennie. If anyone in the family would like to add to or change the content of this little "history", please shoot me an email or leave me a comment, and I will update this content. Thanks. 

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