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.
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
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
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
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
My oldest brother, Howard, was in the U.S. Army. Sister Pearl was
married and living in Minnesota. LaVera, my other older sister,
And so I was the next oldest at home, and was responsible for helping
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
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
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.