Dad rarely took a vacation, but when he did it usually involved a Canadian fishing trip with his buddies. He also often talked about a once-in-a-lifetime trip he took with our mother to North Dakota.
He was awed by the ripening grain fields that swept across the horizon while mother spoke about the International Peace Garden near Dunseith along the Canadian border that she said was the most beautiful this side of heaven. The wooded garden, which was established in July 1932 as a symbol of the peaceful relationship that exists between Canada and the United States, has since grown to include 2,000 acres.
Dad’s Canadian fishing trips were for men only, and circumstances prevented any vacations involving the entire family. His children were content to fish the creek, which in some years was well stocked with bullheads, suckers, turtles and small rusty crayfish each equipped with two pinchers.
Bullheads and suckers were so eager to be caught that Christmas ornament hooks baited with sweetcorn kernels, lines weighted with washers, and rods fashioned from cottonwood branches caught them with abandon.
An empty milk can, clandestinely taken from near milk house cooler, carried our bounty to the basement for cleaning. Bullheads, derided by some as mere rats with fins, were nightmarish to clean because of their stingers. Mother, who complained only when too many were caught, used a pliers and board with an embedded nail to clean them while we waited for the last step.
The fish were coated with egg and flour and fried in lard that threatened to boil over the cast-iron skillet. The bullhead bounty played itself out as summer moved along, but the creek and pasture remained our playground.
The pasture became a co-ed softball field with gunnysack bases and a wood piece fashioned to resemble home plate. Cow paddies and rocks were small inconveniences as were the cows that occasionally interrupted play.
Girls weren’t interested in inner tubing or sliding down the creek’s banks on rare days when alfalfa windrows didn’t need to be baled and there weren’t weeds to whack.
We would, when fireflies danced in the night, camp beneath the cottonwoods and elms and tell tall tales. A blanket and pillow laid near a small and smoky fire kept most mosquitoes away. Morning milking and chores came way too early for those of us who lost most of a night’s sleep.
When the oldest of us earned a farmer’s permit, entertainment options expanded to include the root beer stand, where a quart of sweet brew could be purchased with our shared coins.
Although my parents never took us with them to North Dakota, I made it there a couple decades later. In sub-zero January cold, I was on the campus of North Dakota State University. I would use the health care center on campus to receive cortisone shot for a bum shoulder, which was injured in a Holstein bull attack.
The needle seemed longer than a pitchfork’s handle, but the doctor said with good fortune I would get back full use of the shoulder. I was certain about a return someday to take in the Big Iron show and the Peace Garden.
It would be a waste not to make it to the Welk Homestead State Historic Site near Strasburg, which was the farm where band leader Lawrence Welk was raised. Mother seldom missed the show, which aired on public television on Saturday nights despite the complaints heard from those who cared not at all for champagne music. Teddy Roosevelt’s ranch (now part of a national park) in the Badlands also would be neat to see.
We’ll see what happens this summer given the virus outbreak. A traveler who never went west past Fargo cannot correctly say he’s been to the 39th state admitted to the union.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.