Book II: Sons and Daughters
“Well, ma’am,” he said as he started to flush red, “I’m here about a loan that your husband made. You see, he borrowed from the bank for some land and cattle. The loan hasn’t been paid in two months, and I’ve come to make arrangements for the back payments as well as the current payment. Perhaps I can return when your son is available to discuss this with me?”
“You can talk to me about this. How much is the total loan and how much are the monthly payments?”
“Do you mind if we go inside and sit down? I can try to explain all of this to you.”
Karoline invited the banker into her kitchen, the place where she felt the most confident. She had never talked money with any man, especially one she didn’t know. She felt like she was on shifting ground, and she didn’t have sure footing with this topic of bank loans.
Taking out his papers, Horace Twigg started to explain the history of the farm loans.
“Well, Mr. Olsen borrowed at first for ten acres and then leveraged that to borrow for another ten. Overall, he owes on the total twenty acres. He bought the land for $24.00 per acre. That brings the loan to $480.00 without interest. With interest we’re looking at near to $500 plus a few more dollars.”
Betsi felt no sorrow when her father died. He had ruined her life, so she cut him out the day she was made to marry Lars Berg.
After her abortion, she had no desire to enjoy life. Her sadness sat in her chest like an anchor, holding her inside of herself no matter who tried to bring her back to life. The younger siblings did their best to make her laugh with their jokes and silly dances. Ingrid, her older sister, had tried to counsel her with no success. She knew she was a block, weighing the family to a sadness that no one but she and her parents understood. Her siblings knew that something had gone wrong, but they did not know about the life that had been ripped out of her. She was not allowed to speak of it ever again. Her parents, especially her father, had pretended as if nothing had happened. Worse, her father could no longer look her in the eye. His shame of her was too heavy to bear.
Although her mother had made it seem as if it were both of their decisions to force her to become Lars’s bride, she knew that it had been her father’s doing. Betsi had heard him complain about her lack of “perking up” and being a part of the family. Eventually, he had convinced her mother that giving her another life would give her something else to think about other than the death of her baby. Together, they had given her an ultimatum: marry Lars or go work on someone’s farm. She was no longer welcome to live on their farm.
Marrying Lars did nothing more than give her work from sunup to sundown, taking care of him and his five children. She felt like a work horse: cleaning, cooking, doing the family’s laundry, and taking care of the garden. She never had a moment for herself. Before the sun rose, Betsi was in the barn, milking their three cows, which she then repeated at the end of the day. She didn’t particularly enjoy rising at 4:30 a.m. to complete the milking; she did enjoy the quiet of just her and the animals. Their warm bodies against her and their rhythmic chewing were soothing. Once she entered the house, chaos began and didn’t end until she was back in her animal sanctuary at the end of the day. Once completed, she fed the children and put them to bed. Like her mother, she was completely exhausted at the and fell asleep immediately. She woke, still exhausted, to begin again the next day.
Just when Ingrid felt safe, the government called the draft in September, 1918, for men up to forty-five years old. Stefan and Tingvald were required to go to the draft office located in the county seat; for Monona County that was Onawa. Neither the men nor their wives were overly worried. Since they were both farmers, this was only a formality. The men would register, and then they would receive their deferment.
In sisterly solidarity, Ingrid went to her mother’s house to sit with Ella, Tingvald’s wife. They kept themselves busy by working on a quilt. While they quilted, the women talked at length about the war, those who had been drafted, and their own men who would be safe. Even though all three spoke with confidence, Ingrid couldn’t help but feel a knot in her stomach. Until Stefan came home with his deferment papers, she would never completely rest.
By mid-afternoon, the men returned. When they walked in the door, their faces, serious and worried, told Ingrid that the morning hadn’t gone well.
“What happened?” Karoline asked before they could even take off their hats.
“I didn’t get deferment,” Stefan answered. “I’ll need to report for a physical and then prepare to be shipped out for training camp.”
Ingrid’s stomach turned to water. Her chest tightened. “What happened? Do they know you are a farmer? What about Tingvald?”
Tingvald answered for Stefan. “They used farm tax records. When we paid off the loan on the farm, we changed the ownership to me and Mother. We never formally sat down as a family and worked out how much of the land was Stefan’s. We’ve just been allowing him to take a portion of the profits and losses each year. Since his name is not on the land, they said that he is technically a farm worker. They need him for the war more than they need him as a farm worker. I got a deferment.”
Ingrid cried out, “You can’t work the farm without his help! Did you tell them that? Did you explain the situation?”
“I did. Ingrid, we tried to get them to listen to us, but they’re desperate for men right now.”
“Would it help if I went with you?” Karoline offered.
“No, Mama. It would make it worse. Your limited English is only going to make them suspicious. I’m sorry, but I don’t think there is anything to do at this point, except pray,” Tingvald concluded.
“Stefan, when do you have to go?” Ingrid asked.
“I have to report for my physical in two days. If I pass that, then they’ll tell me when I have to leave for training.”
Alex, like some grand-champion bull, was passed around Soldier from one home to another. Every mother with an eligible daughter sought his company for supper. They didn’t care if he was Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, or a heathen; they wanted their daughter to become his bride. His handsome face and bank account made him a prize.
Because he was a gentleman and liked baked goods, he always accepted their offer and showed up with a bunch of wild flowers. He delighted the families with stories, some true and some not, making the dinner pass with laughter. At the end of the evening, he excused himself with a very busy schedule for the next day, kissing the young lady’s hand and complimenting her mother on the meal. He never ate at the same house twice, wanting each family to understand that he was not interested in their daughter.
The more elusive Alex was, the more desirable he became. His only sanctuary, the Seed and Feed store, sold almost exclusively to male customers. The farmers were only interested in discussing the weather and the price of corn, beans, wheat, and cattle. They did not invite him to dinner or talk about their daughter’s fine attributes. Alex felt his best while doing his job.
At twenty years old, Alex was now the leading buyer of cattle in the Soldier Valley, as far north as Mapleton, and as far east as Blencoe. He bought cattle all the way down to Woodbine, often competing with the Dunlap Auction House. His business took him away from home often. Alex occasionally made trips to Sioux City, Omaha, or Chicago to do business. He was especially well known at the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, which he frequented more often than the other cities. He always traveled by train, preferring to sit alone and read one of the many newspapers he subscribed to.
On a trip to Sioux City, the train overflowed with travelers, requiring everyone to double up in their seats. Alex always traveled first class, so the crowding annoyed him greatly until a ravishingly beautiful woman sat next to him.
Sons and Daughters
Book 2 of the Olson Trilogy