My Life in McIntosh County Happy Memories of a Loving Family

Larson, Mabel Bettenhausen. "My Life in McIntosh County Happy Memories of a Loving Family." Prairies 7, no. 7: June/July 1984, 18-22.

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I was born in McIntosh County on a farm southwest of Wishek in 1923, living there until I married and moved away in 1942. Many memories, happy and sad, have been with me, no matter where I’ve lived since leaving McIntosh County.

There are many memories of my parents, Oliver W. and Emma G. Bettenhausen, along with those of my 16 brothers and sisters.

For instance, the small Beaver Creek Baptist Church (1 ½ miles west of our farm) and the country one-room school house we attended.

Back in those days we walked to school. We would meet some of the neighbor kids half way, continuing on our journey across the fields. The younger sisters and brothers would get an early start because they couldn’t walk as fast as we could.

Our short treks to the church on Sunday mornings and special occasions are indeed a memorable experience. Sometimes the neighbors or the pastor coming from Wishek would pick us up and take us to the church in their car. When we returned from church, a bowl of homemade soup always tasted good.

“That Song Sounds Nice”
I recall being asked to play the piano in church for the hymn sing. I must have been 14 or 15.

We had an organ at home (fast pump-organ) where I taught myself to play. The first song I could play with both hands was “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”

My mother would let me know if it sounded right. She was in the kitchen cooking, baking, or doing something else.

I loved to play that organ, and spent every spare moment practicing.

A Big Family
Growing up with eight brothers and eight sisters was an experience in itself.

We all had certain jobs which had to be done. As a teenage, I loved getting up early in the summer mornings, going out in the pasture, bringing the milk cows home, and putting them in their stalls to be milked by hand.

There were three or four of us who would do the milking. Our younger brothers and sisters would get the job of holding that long tail so the cow wouldn’t swish us across the face! Usually, the cow wanted to use her tail to keep the flies off her back.

Of course, as might be expected, the child hanging onto the tail grew tired and would let go—and then we would get a bristly tail whisked into our faces!

In summer, as soon as the evening chores were finished after supper, we played games outdoors.

There were enough of us for a softball team!

I especially remember the Anti-I-Over game. We would pick sides, put one team on one side of the house and the other team on the opposite side, throw the ball over the house, catch the ball, run to the other side, tag someone, and take him over to our side.

There were many other games we could play since we were such a large family.

In winter, we played with a sled on the frozen pond on the south side of the barn. After a fresh-fallen snow, a favorite game was “Fox and Geese.”

When it was too cold outside we played in the house. “Button, Button, Where’s the Button?” was another favorite. Everyone could play, even the youngest. The older children made a checker board using buttons for checkers.

We also made our own deck of cards, and then played Whist.

So you can see all the many activities we did right at home, using our own imagination.

The 4th of July
July 4th was always a big day. We got to go to Wishek for the big celebration. They had foot races for all ages, pie eating contests, sack races, three-legged races, and all kinds of entertainment.

Once I won first prize in the foot race. The prize was $1. My practicing at home—running for weeks—had paid off. Everyone called me Long Legs (I was tall and skinny in those days).

A Premature Death
In the summer of 1941, I was employed in Minneapolis for three months. When I came home in August for a visit, I discovered that mother was not well. It was harvest time, and so I stayed home to help with the household chores and to take care of my younger brothers and sisters.

My oldest brother, Howard, was in the U.S. Army. Sister Pearl was married and living in Minnesota. LaVera, my other older sister, taught school.

And so I was the next oldest at home, and was responsible for helping mother.

In November of 1941, Mother died. She was only 38.

My baby brothers and sisters were too young to remember their mother, who was a gentle, quiet, kindhearted woman. The only regret I have is that she could not have lived longer. She is gone, but not forgotten.

The Cardboard Box
The memories I have of taking care of my brothers and sisters after Mother died are both rewarding and laughable. I won’t forget them.

I did the family laundry, and at the same time had Edgar, Neil, and Richard, the youngest children, along with me downstairs (the rest were in school). I plopped them in a large cardboard box to keep them from getting into things while I did the laundry.

They were the best-behaved children—and so dependent on me, their 18-year-old sister.

Life went on, even though we all grieved over the loss of Mother. But I felt joy and accomplishment in keeping my much-loved brothers and sisters together.

Those are only a few of the special memories I have of my life in McIntosh County. I did not live there long. However, those days are an important part of my life.

My parents are buried in the small Beaver Creek Baptist Church Cemetery.

Meanwhile, my life continues on its journey with many blessings for which I can be thankful: memories of relatives and friends of McIntosh County who will always have a special place in my heart.

Mabel Larson now lives in Cooperstown, North Dakota.

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