Shared Stories: A Brother Bill Remembered

Mervin Chantland was the ninth of 11 children born to his parents.  The following is Mervin’s recording of what an older brother told him of family stories and life in the Midwest farmland.  Ballpoint pens were treasured Christmas gifts, but the boys also played some dangerous games.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Mervin Chantland
When Dad and Uncle Bert lived on a farm near Battle Lake, Minnesota, they had all of their friends over for a party. They had purchased a keg of beer and were having fun.

There was a gang of boys at Battle Lake that decided that they were tough enough to bust the beer party. They possibly had been drinking too and decided to bust Dad and Bert’s party. They came to the party and started trouble.

I was told a guy named Geo Anderson was the leader. Dad got into it with him. After the fight they washed Anderson off in the stock tank and the water turned red from all of the blood.  Dad was left-handed and very fast with his fists. The others at the party told my dad that he had better not go to Battle Lake as they were sure that Anderson and his brothers would be waiting to get even. Dad said he decided he was going to town and get it settled, as this was his home. He met Anderson in town, they talked and became good friends.  

He told my dad, “You hit where you don’t look.” That was because Dad was left-handed and very fast.

Mom’s brother, who we always called Uncle Carl, had a tavern and store at Mahatowa, Minnesota, in the late 1930’s. I can remember at Christmas time that we would get a large box of candy from Uncle Carl.  He would go in his store and fill a box with candy bars and send it to us.  We were very thankful as we got very few treats, especially candy bars.

Cousin Alfred Chantland built a seed-cleaning plant in Badger.  Al had Dad dynamite a stump right in town, not half a block from the Co-op gas station. Boy, that shook them up. Al never forgot that and had many good laughs over it.

While we lived on the Bradley place, I remember we had an old bike.  I would ride on the cross bar and Lawrence on the back, and Kermit would peddle. One time they had just graded the big hill by our school. The school was on top of the hill, so it was downhill right out of the school yard.  

That hill doesn’t seem so steep today, but from the handle bars of a bike, it looked pretty steep.  We were heading down that hill.  I was sitting on the front, Kermit was peddling, and Lawrence was on the back. It had just rained and the newly-graded hill was slick as grease. We didn’t get hurt, but I remember sliding head first down that hill on my stomach.  Kermit and Lawrence were right behind.

We used to walk across a field to school, barefooted.  There was a big briar patch, and I would tip toe through them and try not to get stuck.  Lawrence said just run through real fast, and I did. We made it. I can’t remember if it hurt or not, but I never did it again.    

By 1938 sister Kay worked in Fort Dodge and sister Florence worked somewhere also. One year they got us all boxing gloves for Christmas.  We would go out to the barn and have it out.  Somehow we kept it friendly.  We never became fighters, but had a lot of fun.  I can remember having them gloves on for years.

One year they got us ice skates, and boy was that fun.  As one of us grew out of one pair, we grew into the next pair.  I think Kay gave us about four pair that Christmas. We would go to Larson Lake and go skating.  The lake was about a half mile west of our school. One time Grodon Frette and others went to the lake with us and we would play hockey and have a great time.

In 1941 we got a new H Farmall tractor. Boy, that was something.  I can remember drawing pictures of it. It was red and new; it even had rubber tires, a starter, and lights.  Wow, that was a jewel to us kids!

In the fall of 1946, when I attended junior high school at Fort Dodge, the first ballpoint pen came on the market. It was called the Reynolds Rocket. It came in different colored aluminum and had a tip cover that would slide down and cover the point.  

A lot of kids in junior high had these pens and I wanted one for Christmas. Dad did get me a Reynolds Rocket. Can you imagine your child today wanting a ballpoint pen for Christmas? That pen was all I got that year but it was what I wanted and I was very happy to get it.

One time, about 1948, Eldon Hovey had a big old barn rope about 30 feet long.  We had the back section from an old horse-drawn bob sled, about five feet wide and made of heavy wood and metal runners (aka sledge).  We put a board across it and sat on it while Eldon pulled us down the snow-packed gravel road.  We would steer it with our feet and had a good time, but the rope kept breaking and finally was too short to use.  

We went to our house to find something else to pull the sled with.  What we found was a large spring about four feet long and two inches across – like a garage-door spring but much heavier.  We put that spring between the pick-up truck and sledge in place of the rope.  
Boy, this was great fun. The sledge would hit a snowdrift and stop, and when the spring stretched a bit, the sledge would break loose from the snow and give us quite a ride.

The day we were doing this, the weather was not cold and the snow was heavy and wet.  Eldon was pulling Lawrence and I down the lane at our place when the sledge went into a wet snowdrift.  I can still see the spring stretching out. Eldon didn’t see it and kept on going.  I yelled at Lawrence to jump off. I jumped off and he didn’t.  

The spring stretched out until it was a straight piece of wire. The sledge went out of that snowbank like a bullet. Lawrence went flying, but as usual, didn’t get hurt.

It was 1949 when Elden Hovey discovered that he could weld a cap on the end of a pipe and drill a hole for the fuse.  He would put black powder in it and tamp paper and a slug of some kind in it to make a cannon.  At that time farmers could buy black powder at the hardware store for farm use.  We had a lot of fun with that cannon, shootings into the air.