Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dad's Journal Entries Part 1

This week I wrote about my Dad in celebration of what would have been his 95th birthday.  I included an edited version of the introduction to the book I wrote about him just months subsequent to his death.  Today I want to continue that entry with a short introduction to his planned writings of his life history and a trilogy of short stories he included before his untimely death.  The way that all happened is a reminder that it is never too early to get started on preserving our memories.  We never know when our time on earth will end.

I had given Dad a journal for Christmas a couple of years before he died.  I asked him the following Christmas to share what he had written.  He sheepishly told me he hadn't done it yet.  So I asked him to please start and to give it to me for my birthday in July.  He agreed.  Over the next couple of months he made a few entries.  With no warning he started having cardiac issues in May and was gone by May 21, 1979.  My dad was youthful and active and physically appeared to be the perfect picture of health.  We just never know. Not exactly the birthday present I was hoping for that is for sure.

For months after his death Mom and I scoured the house because she knew he had been working on it.  Now their home was very orderly and so there just were no piles of stuff to look through, and not many out of the way places it might be hiding.  We were just baffled by what had happened to it.  One day while putting something away in their coat closet I was impressed to reach up on to a shelf that was completely empty above the coats.  My fingers grazed the top of something that looked like this.

If you know what this is you are dating yourself!

Some ancient computer printing paper was lying completely flat and not visible from my perspective.  On that paper I found the four entries my dad had made.  I guess he had planned to copy it into his journal once he was satisfied with his draft.  This treasure is something I cherish.  Ironically his life was cut short and he was just beginning but, it was precisely the time period that his sister, Grace, could not have supplied for us, she being five years younger than he was.  With her writings and my mom's we were pretty much able to reconstruct his early life for the book.  I do not view this as a coincidence but as a miracle.  He brought us to the time period when his father died, which is exactly where she picked it up.  They were eleven and six respectively at that time.

Wild Prairie Rose~North Dakota State Flower

Here is what he wrote for us:

" I was born in Ashley, North Dakota on August 8, 1917.  I do not have full recollection of the day but was told I was born at Grandma Godfrey's house.  Grandma and Aunt Theresa were in attendance at the delivery as they both claimed to have given me my first spanking!  I don't know if any doctor was in attendance but doubt it, because it was such a small town and I don't think there was a doctor in the community at that time.  (Later old Doc Campbell arrived and met all our needs.)  So, a new baby boy arrived and now-what to name him?  My Dad evidently wanted to name me Jack, but my mother objected because Grandpa Colberg--A Swede with a heavy accent and trouble with his J's, would have called me "Yak!"  So somehow they came up with Ross Willard!  I have no idea where they got these names but they have served me well as a means of identity and after all, that is the purpose of a name. (Ed. Note:  My grandmother once told me she selected the name Ross because it was a character name she liked in one of her favorite books.  I am not sure about the Willard.)

I remember all of my grandparents except Grandpa Godfrey. He was bed-ridden with a stroke when I was born and died about two years later.  He and his parents came from Michigan in the late 1800's to settle in Hoskins Lake which was about three miles west of Ashley.  They came in covered wagons and suffered many hardships such as Indian and prairie fires scares.  More and more settlers came to the area and they evidently decided to move to town to the present site of Ashley.  Grampa Godfrey operated a livery stable and also was Deputy Sheriff up until the time he became ill.  I remember Grandma Godfrey as always bustling about the kitchen.  Most of her ten children were away from home by the time I arrived, so I suppose she was even busier in the early days!  She had three boys, James, Glen, and Martin Jr., and seven girls, Elsie, Minnie, Nellie, Alice (my mother), Eleanor, Theresa and Hallie who died in infancy. Grandma was a Christian and quite active in the Methodist church and the ladies' society called the Thimblebees.  

Many years later, she remarried, Grandpa Moore, who was also quite religious and my first recollection of table prayers was at their house.  He was a carpenter by trade, but pretty much retired by the time I knew him.  He always had a big garden so I learned how to hoe weeds when I went for a visit!  Grandpa Moore died and Grandma lived for a while with my Aunt Elsie in Linton, North Dakota and later at St. Vincent's Home in Bismarck.  She died there and must have been nearly ninety. 

I don't remember much about the Colberg side of my family.   I do know that my Grandpa John and Grandma Josephine came to America from Stockholm, Sweden.  I think their oldest son, Frank was born there but, the rest of their children were born in this country.  They had two girls, Agnes and Delia, and five boys, Frank, Fred, Philip (my father), George and Victor.  I have faint recollections that Grandpa Colberg worked in logging and the sawmills in Sweden.  He was not a tall man but had big arms and great shoulders which might bear out the fact that he did heavy work in his early life.  He became a farmer after homesteading in the Dakota Territory, and they lived in a sod shanty.

It must have looked something like this.

Grandma Colberg spent her time in the kitchen also, and wore starched, blue, gingham dresses and always had a shawl or cap on her head.  She smoked a corncob pipe with cheap tobacco called corncake--she was kind of a crusty old gal who always spoke her mind and would switch to Swedish when she couldn't talk fast enough in English.  (Or when she didn't want me to understand!)  I couldn't understand Swedish, but my Dad could and my mother had learned to understand and speak a little.  Grampa died when I was about six and Grandma when I was eleven, just ten days after my Dad.  

Great Great Grandma Colberg~Sheesh!
Can't you just picture this image Dad leaves 
for us of this "Crusty Old Gal?

My mother, Alice Godfrey was born in Ashley in 1896.  She went through high school there and I think she attended Ellendale Normal School for a short time or at least long enough to be able to teach in a one room rural schoolhouse.  She and Aunt Elsie were both school teachers before they married.  

My Dad, Philip Albert Colberg, was born in Montrose, near Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 1886.  I know of two jobs he had in his early years.  He worked for a time in a creamery and to his dying day he would not eat butter.  I guess it was because of the sanitation or lack thereof that he noted while working in the creamery.  He wouldn't even allow my mother to cook with it.  When she wanted to tease him she would set the butter near his plate at the table.  He would  give it a shove with some force and then put jelly in his bread.  He also spent time working on the railroad.  Later he became a farmer which was very hard work and not always rewarding.  Being a farmer did have one good point though--it kept him out of World War I."

Thus ended the journal entry that Dad began in the spring of 1979 and was never able to finish.  It was just a beginning but I will always love him for the valiant effort he made to do it just because he knew how important it was to me.  In the front of the journal we eventually found he wrote the following...

"This journal is a gift to my dear daughter, Bonnie, and is dedicated to her to share with her children and grandchildren.  I also include my good sons, Steve and Gary, so that they may know a little more about their Dad's early life on the prairies of North Dakota.  As I start to write I have no idea what will come out but, I will do the best I can to try and be as accurate as my memory allows.

With love to all of you, Dad" 

Wow, this has been a real experience for me today sitting here retyping all of this.  It is amazing how deeply the joy and grief can be buried when your father died 34 years ago.   That stiff upper lip I have been displaying for 33 of those years is disappearing over this past year.  My tear ducts leak frequently and it feels good.  Family history has helped me get real with myself and my deep down feelings and has been very therapeutic for me.  More than anything it has helped me know what really are the most important things I have left to do during my life.  It is all about people, relationships and love.  Not just family but cherished friends too. What a blessing to know where I am going to focus my energies and efforts.  I love it when the Lord takes your hand and leads you in the way you should go.  I could never deny that that is exactly what is happening to me on a daily basis.  My heart is filled with thanksgiving and love today.

♥ Bonnie