Book Recalls Growing up in N.D.'s 'Dirty' 30s

Johnson, Andrea. "Book Recalls Growing up in N.D.'s 'Dirty' 30s." Minot Daily News, 16 December 2003, sec. C & 2C.

The latest self-published work by retired dentist Dr. Edward Keller of Dickinson looks at growing up in the North Dakota of the 1930s.
Retired Dickinson dentist Edward Keller's "My First Grade, 1932" would be a fun book for grandparents and grandchildren to read and enjoy together.

Like Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books, Keller's recounting of a typical school day of 70 years ago should help youngsters envision what life in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairies was like in the olden days. Evocative illustrations by David Christy show children in 1930s clothing and hairstyles and a typical school house like kids of today have seen only at county museums.

In his self-published book, Keller describes how he, his siblings and some of the neighboring farm children, rode the three miles to school in a buggy or sleigh, pulled by horses Dave and Tootsy. At the school, Dave and Tootsy had their own stall. The children gathered around a coal-burning stove at the center of the school room to get warm. Keller writes that the room smelled of coal, varnish and "earlier barn chores."

He describes how the teacher rang the handbell to call the students in for recess, and how he overheard other classes going over geography and agriculture lessons while he waited to recite his lessons in English. Like many children of immigrant families, Keller spoke no English until he went to school. The usual language in his Germans-from-Russia farm family was German. Keller writes that the teacher decided he could start school early, at age 5, because he had older siblings to look out for him.

Keller writes about playing with the other kids at recess, and about how proud he was when he was able to write the numbers from 1 to 12 on the school blackboard in front of the school.

Keller also describes a typical school lunch, which should make today's children more appreciative of their own hot school lunches. In the book, Keller eats "syrup sandwiches" from an empty syrup pail. Teacher eats "lettuce sandwiches." The Kuhn children have "cream with sprinkled sugar sandwiches."

Keller grew up in Strasburg, N.D., the same town that Lawrence Welk hailed from. He's written and published other books about is childhood and early youth, including a book called "My Mother's Apron." He is taking orders for his books.

Reprinted with permission of the Minot Daily News.

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