Writing 101: Size Matters

Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

Twelve was a good age for me. We moved when I was twelve-years-old, to the small town of Oriska, North Dakota.

My parents went to an auction for the sale of my mother’s, uncle’s house. They won the bid for $900. It was strategically situated on a corner lot at the edge of town, across from the Burlington Northern railroad tracks.

The house was very run down. It needed a lot of work. My dad and mom worked tediously to make the home livable.

They put an oil furnace in the living room, put carpet on the floors, painted or wall-papered the rooms, and painted the outside of the house. They washed windows, mowed the tall grass, and put in a garden. They removed piles of wood where rats had previously made their homes. They used a lot of elbow grease to bring life and cleanlinesss to this old house.

My mom painted the dwelling a Robin’s Egg blue. She worked so hard, and I never really thought about it until now. She wanted this to be the home she never had. It was a new start for her as well as us.

This was the place where I made friends. There were thirteen kids in my class in seventh grade. I loved Mr. Christianson, my science teacher. He made science fun and interesting. Mrs. Schock was my typing teacher and my reading, and language arts teacher. She was also the music teacher. We did a Christmas nativity play that year in music class. I played the part of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, because “Mary” didn’t have to say anything. I was a very poor public speaker, and was grateful for the part of Mary. I enjoyed singing the Christmas songs, and the treats after the program. I went to my first school dance in Oriska. Fifties music was still popular there, even though it was 1976.

We lived on about an acre of land. A man was selling a horse for $25., so I begged my dad for that horse. I didn’t know Bender would be so mean. He was a part Shetland and part Welch pony. We didn’t have a lot of money, so my brother and I would get oats for a dollar a bag from the elevator. It was grain that fell off the train cars. The oats could have been the reason for Bender’s high energy and meanness. Bender loved to go under trees, and he would try to knock you off when you rode him. He was only green broke, hence the reason he was $25. He was also known to bite and kick people and other horses. I kept him for several months, but one day he tried to bite my dad’s ear off, so my mom sold him before I came home from school, for $5., and she threw in a halter with the deal  My mom did the right thing, but I still missed Bender.

I rode my bike for hours on dirt roads, picked potatoes for farmers for fifty cents a bag, read Nancy Drew Mysteries, and pretended to be a detective with my friend, Joni. We swam in cow ponds, explored old abandoned houses, and played on hay bales.

I learned to Crochet from an older woman across the street. She made rugs, and had about eight German Shepherd dogs. They barked and lunged at me when I would visit her. They were a little scary, but I didn’t let them prohibit me from visiting this nice, dear lady.  Her dogs were kept outside, and each had a little doghouse.

Inside, her house smelled of moth balls. She had wire rim glasses, gray hair in a bun, and long muscular fingers, that were so talented at crafting. She showed me her homemade oven mits, braided rugs, and doilies, along with her new projects. I never saw her kitchen table, as it always had fabric on it.

I was thankful for this small town atmosphere, where I could ride bike down to the little gas station with the dirt floor, where Penny Woofly would give me a glass bottle of coke, or an ice cream bar, and he would chat with me like I was a grown up. The lady at the post office, where I would check our box for mail, knew me by name. Sometimes she had a treat she would give me. I was in 4-H club, and was in Basketball. I was terrible at basketball, but they let me join anyway. It was an old-fashioned town with old-fashioned fun. There was a lapidary on main street, where a man polished rocks, and would give me a few of the pretty, shiny, colorful stones when I went in his store.

Later, we had to move, as this town was too far for my dad to drive to work, especially in the winter. North Dakota winters are severe, with lots of snow, blowing wind, and lots of ice, frost, and below freezing temperatures. I wish I was more understanding of that. I was so angry about the move. I even wanted to have a different family adopt me. “When I was a child, I thought like a child.” We moved and life went on.

I loved being twelve, though. It was a good memory of Oriska, North Dakota.


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