Social gatherings during the nineteen sixties and seventies of the Wenzel-Ruschmeyer clan centered on the verbal story telling of our elders. We greeted, we laughed, we ate, and then the men would sit together to discuss current family and news affairs as well as historical stories and memories. These men were farmers, miners, veterans, steel workers, maintenance men, hunters, builders, mechanics, and all around self sufficient individuals. As a child I escaped the chatter of the women and would sit on the side of the chair or on the floor by my father. At Christmas they all had one brandy and smokers would light their pipes or cigarettes. Our role as children was to occupy ourselves and listen. Dad allowed me one sip of the brandy each year to which I would wrinkle my face unable to understand the attraction of alcohol.
My grandfather Alfred Ruschmeyer Sr. still spoke with a German brogue. He lived many years past his wife Elsie Lauerman- Ruschmeyer and cared for his son Robert, my uncle, who was never mentally the same after his experiences in Korea. Sonny and cliff his brothers also served in Korea and were home some years for these gatherings but not all. My brother Steve or the husbands of my sisters were also around when they were able. Although at the time I could not describe it there was a strong sense of respect between these men. They spoke and they listened. There was no judgement or teasing that was not kind and supportive. I was transported from the room to hunt bear, survive flooding, carry deer out of rough terrain, build houses from Mississippi river tamarack, haul milk, fix a tractor, put out chimney fires, and so much more. This gave me a deep sense of being part of a multigenerational family. Stories that were not discussed were war time experiences, personal failings or feelings. The cultural value was in accomplishing the work at hand.
That had filled me satisfactorily then but as my parents aged I had questions about them I could not answer. I was working in Minneapolis at the time and drove north one hundred and twenty miles to the farm. Most weekends I would attempt to help them with work if they would allow me. I was shushed about helping many times. They were proud and independent. Finally one fall day I asked my father if I could help and he asked me to sweep the garage roof of leaves and acorns in preparation for winter. After that I focused more on what they needed and during those times I started asking my father questions about family. That in turn became a series of weekends. I wrote copious notes as my father told his story. Along with notes from other family members and my personal memories our family has begun to pass on the history as we knew it to be.
I wrote as fast as I could only asking questions to clarify or to urge my father on. As I look at my notes the writing is only about an eighth of an inch high filling sheets and sheets of pink letter paper. I suppose I grabbed any paper that was close once I realized he had started his story. He sat in his usual space. Sitting in a wooden dining chair next to the table. His left elbow resting on the ledge of the buffet he would put his hand up along the side of the buffet and rest it on the side of the cabinet. His right hand worked and held his pipe. A comforting sound of childhood was his tamping of the pipe on the heavy stainless steel ashtray he had received from a friend, steel worker, named Martin? Marvin, maybe. It was the eternal ashtray. It was never going to wear out. It would only wear out his pipes one by one over the years. After he died there was an impression of his hand left on the side of the buffet.
Dad referred to his childhood home as the Sullivan lake place nineteen miles east of Crosby on Highway two ten toward Aitkin, Minnesota. He went to school in Aitkin and graduated in nineteen thirty seven. This was only because his teachers watched him read every book the library held. He said he had a hard time focusing for classes. My guess is he was advanced and bored by the class material. He would work at the creamery for spending money of one nickel a week. This purchased one packet of gum per week which he could chew one half piece at a time to make it last. He was a depression era baby and remembered eating cabbage for many meals. His mother would send lard sandwiches to school with him and they would be frozen at noon when retrieved from the cloakroom.
As the only son he worked with his father Edwin Wenzel on the farm and logging with a team of horses. Farm work superseded other activity such as dating our mother. He said he was late for more than one date while he awaited permission to leave the farm. James Keith met Alice Florence-Ruschmeyer in Crosby Minnesota while she was working at the Crosby café owned by Miles Lord. Alice lived above the café with her aunt Helen and uncle William. James or Keith as most people referred to him saw Alice one day while she was working. Apparently he paced up and down main street until he worked up the courage to talk to her. Alice was also pursued by Miles Lord who later became Judge Miles Lord a Minnesota judge and leader in the community. Alice said she thought Keith was an Indian because his skin was so dark from working on the farm. He was also six foot four and probably not quite filling that height at the time. He would mature into two hundred and forty pounds with hands the size of baseball gloves. They courted for some time and Dad proposed on the edge of Serpent lake in Crosby, Minnesota. They married in 1942. Mom enjoyed dressing up, dancing, and socializing. She was beautiful and wore her hair swept up in the rolled hairstyles of the forties. She was five foot four and about one hundred pounds. She asked Keith to promise her she would never have to live on a farm and he at the time agreed.