Two years ago, my dad and my two brothers decided to make a pilgrimage to Iowa, the state of my dad’s birth and where he spent the first twenty years of his life.  The depression had certainly made inroads on his family and although they certainly weren’t starving, they were definitely not making it.  With money reaped from the sale of the farm, a four by eight trailer and two vehicles, the family headed out to the lush green Puget Sound area in Washington State. 


For years dad told wonderful and sometimes sad stories of these early years, teaching in a one room schoolhouse, leaving his car on the road for a winter until the thaw came in the spring, living in a bed bug infested house, climbing under the schoolhouse, pretending it was a cave, etc.


When the pilgrimage got put off for a year, dad’s sister Pat, her daughter Lynette, and I invited ourselves along.


The following is a chronological breakdown of the trip.  Dad’s stories are in parenthesis.


                                                                                    Suzi Freeman

                                                                                    July 2002



Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Our big excursion was to Brayton.  Brayton was the town where dad spent his childhood.  I am not sure what I expected.  In my mind I already had this vision gleaned from things I had seen before in photos.  But in actuality it was so different.  When dad was there, it was a going concern.  Farming was big.  But the depression was a very difficult time, and people could not make a go of farming. 


As we pulled into the main street (and really the only street), we piled out of the van as soon as it stopped.  The town was a block long.  The only open business was the post office.  But there was Great Grandpa’s Hardware Store all boarded up, the pool hall barely standing, and the town hall missing its upper level.  Where was the thriving community of the 1920s, and dad skating up and down the street?.  What happened?


We moved to the town of Brayton.  We lived in my dad’s cousin’s house.  (George Hoegh’s) up at the top of the hill because the house was available at this time.  For its time, it was a very modern home.  It was filled with radios in various stages of assembly.  George was kind of an electronics hobbyist at the time.  He would get all those kits you put on a board with big tubes and dials.


This was in 1923 and being a pretty nice house my mother had gatherings of ladies there. 


I remember the time they all bobbed their hair and I was very disappointed because my mother had beautiful long hair down her back.  They decided to make things out of rubber inner tubes and put beads on them.  They made purses and bags and necklaces.  They all got together to make these things.


One time she had the group of ladies there who brought all their little kids and some of the kids were older than I was.  One of them thought they would pull a trick on me.  We had chickens.  We had some hamburgers the mothers were making and some of the older kids put chicken manure on the hamburger, which they gave to me.  I remember biting into it and they all laughed.


 Brayton looked like a movie set of a ghost town.  Things were just boarded up or falling down.  As we stood in the middle of the road talking, a woman got out of her car and went into the post office.  We could see she was real curious and when we went into the post office she told us, “I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to take photos of Brayton!”  Roger talked the postmistress out of pens that had Brayton, Iowa printed on them. 


(My grandfather ran a hardware and implement business.  My dad worked in there when we lived in the little house.  He worked for his dad in the hardware store, selling machinery, binders, and trucks to the farmers, putting them together and so forth.


These were the days when I started roller-skating.  Man I loved to roller skate up and down the sidewalk and sing.  Can’t remember the song now.  Something about the “last time on the back porch, I loved her best of all!”  I’d sing and skate up and down.  Everybody thought I was a kook.  I was just a kid.  One time I came around the corner in my coaster wagon real fast by the back door of the bank.  I hit the banker and knocked him down.  I never forgot that.  I really felt bad but there wasn’t anything I could do about it cause I hit him and that was it.


Nellie’s pool hall was the local hangout for the older men.  So, that the small town wouldn’t know, he and a group of his customers had located a nice hideout in the timber along the Troublesome River where they would go to do some gambling.  One Monday when Nellie Freeman opened his place of business he had two black eyes with bruises and cuts on his face.  Some high roller from Omaha had found out about the hideout, broken in, beat up the players and took all of their money!


We then tried to find the academy where older kids went to school.  We drove across the Nisnabotna River and did find a building about where the academy should be.  Dad thinks it was torn down and this building built in its place.  The word academy sounded so pretentious but I suspect the word was used in a slightly different manner than. 


This became a real exciting period in my life because I started school in the Brayton system.  It was an old school built in the civil war days on a foundation of limestone rock. 


Somewhere about 1923, there was a guy that was going to get married in Kentucky who had crawled in the Mammoth Caves.  He was going to find the treasure before he married his little bride but he got stuck back and there and couldn’t get out.  His name was Floyd Collins.  There was a hole in the foundation of the school where we could crawl through way back to the corner during recess.  Then the bell would ring and we had a heck of a time crawling back out of there to get in school.  We were all pretending we were Floyd Collins.  Floyd Collins died because he couldn’t get out of the cave.


What a surprise to see the buildings of dad’s stories.  And here were the rocks at the base of the school where he and his friends crawled underneath, pretending they were Floyd Collins.  Behind this civil war era school was a majestic looking oak.  I brought back seeds to plant.

The old home place, what a surprise for dad.  It has fallen on hard times.  The lady of the house was there and did let us in.  We found a painting of a horse that dad’s great grandfather had painted on the wall.  The stairs had little metal triangles in the corner.  These are called dust catchers.  Dad showed us the hired girl’s room, and where he and Lyle slept.  Outside we found the entrance to the cave.  (This was used for storage and for protection when tornados came.)  The summer kitchen was still standing.  This was used to cook food, so that the heat would not enter the house.  The old barn was still there but certainly will not last much longer.  Dad says it was built in the late 1800s.  He was very disappointed as the home place used to be such a showplace.



To the east we had an old fashioned windmill, a quarter mile down the hill, which pumped water up the hill to the wooden supply tank by the house.  The wooden supply tank was made of wood from Port Orford, Oregon.  It sat on a base of bricks about five feet high in a circle of about ten feet with an opening big enough to crawl in.  This was so we could crawl in and put a lighted kerosene lantern under the tank to keep the pipe from the windmill from freezing as well as the water in the tank.  We had a bathtub but it had no running water or drain.  We also had what was known as a summer kitchen, which was like a little house where we cooked in the summer.  It was a short distance from the back door.  This kept the house from getting too hot.


  The Oakhill Cemetery was just down the road about a mile.  All this time the wind was blowing continually and hard.  At home, trees and branches would be coming down but since there are no tall trees, it just blows.  As second cousin Fritz told us, “this is just a gentle Iowa breeze.”  We saw the gravestones of Thorvald, Metha, Christian and Christine.. 


I remember when I was about two years old, Uncle Thorvald was called up for the draft because World War 1 was going on and he had to leave on the train.  My dad held me as the train pulled out and he (Thorvald) waved good-bye.  My mother says I shouldn’t be able to remember this because I wasn’t old enough.  But I remember distinctly his waving and my waving back.  He went to Camp Dodge, Iowa for about six months and died of what they called consumption.  It was actually the epidemic of Spanish Influenza that killed so many people during WW1. 


My paternal Grandfather Hans Christian Hansen was a sailor on a sailing ship for about thirty years working out of Sonderborg and employed as a ships carpenter and a surgeon.  He sailed to many seaports around the world several times.  He wanted to leave Denmark because times were tough and there was no future there.  He had a dream one night.  He was trying to decide if he wanted to go to Australia or America.  In the dream it seemed like he was going down a river that branched out, one branch going to America and one to Australia.  The one going to Australia was black so he decided that was enough for him.  He decided to come to America.  Preceding him was a wealthy fellow by the name of Nels P. Hoegh, who had all ready come to America and was helping all his relatives and friends in Denmark to come over to this country where he had started a little settlement in Iowa.  And that is why my great grandfather came here.  After he retired from the sea he bought 120 acres in Audubon County, Iowa along with another group of Danes who came over and bought farms. 


At one time the cemetery had a church in the center.  It was torn down in the 1960s.  The cemetery was small and it was hard to picture a building in the middle of it.  How unique it seemed that this small community thrived here.  Our grandparents come directly to the Brayton vicinity.  How did my great grandfather feel not having the rolling deck under his feet, but rolling “waves of grain?”


The Oakhill Danish Lutheran Church was inside the cemetery on a knoll three miles west of Brayton with a parsonage, horse barn, and a little Danish schoolhouse.  The whole thing was planned and built by the local Danes, who came to America in the late 1800’s.  Great Grandfather, the seaman, built the church steeple.  The matriarch of the group, Christine Hoegh Petersen, came to this country in 1882.  She was 75 at the time and died in 1889.  She was the first person buried in the new (at that time) cemetery. 


 We did grave rubbings using black paper and a gold rubbing crayon.    We did one of his great grandparents and the Danish brotherhood symbol at the top.  About two miles down the road from here is where dad taught school.  The building is no longer standing. 




We then drove up to Elk Horn and pulled into the Danish Restaurant.  This “gentle Iowa breeze”, had blown out their power.  We ate from their buffet with trips to the restroom requiring a flashlight.  The publisher of the Danish Villages Voice came in and dad started to talk with her.  As a result, we went next door to the publishing office and had our photo taken for the paper.  We then drove to the Danish Museum.  Our ancestor’s names were on the wall as some of the first settlers to this area.  How exciting to feel such a part of this and realize the importance of my Danish heritage.  A picture of the little church was on the wall.  I bought a t-shirt with a Danish design on it.


All of us figured that if we needed something we would use our debit card or credit card.  What a surprise, these small towns do not take them, but they would take our check! 


Thursday, May 23, 2002

The wind has finally died down.  In fact it is kind of cold today.  We decided to head to Messina where dad’s cousin Shirley Mattheis and her husband Claire live.  On the way was the George Hitchcock house.  This house was part of the Underground Railroad.  However, it was not open, so we decided to head to the town of Walnut, which is full of antiques.  All my life I have read how the pioneers saw the grass blowing in the wind and that it looked like waves.  I could see this.  There is nothing to stop the wind. 


As we drove, dad mentioned that his Grandpa Anderson was driving on this road in a horse and buggy and a car hit him.  He was thrown into a cornfield and his intestines were ripped open.  He only lived for two weeks after this. 


We ended up spending the afternoon in Walnut.  I stood in the middle of the paved brick road several times because there is almost no traffic.  Rick and Rog constantly disappeared in their search for antiques.  We finally headed back to the Hitchcock house, as it was open.  We saw where slaves were hidden in the basement.  There had been what looked like shelves that pivoted and the runaway slaves would be hidden behind this.  There were areas in the house where I saw through the floor to the basement and when people walked across the floor I felt the movement quite strongly.  Off to the south I saw the path that  the Latter Day Saints took in their trek to Utah.. 


We finally made it to Messina and visited with Shirley and Claire and saw other old photos of the family.


I asked dad why people seemed to move around so much.  He said it was because of the depression.  No one could afford to own a house, so they rented.  If the landlord found someone who could pay more, out you went.  Dad said a lot of the landowners were Germans. 


Dad showed us the location of the “bed bug house.”  This is the house they rented that was so full of bed bugs when they first brought Aunt Pat home from the orphanage.    We also drove up to Gates. 


Friday, May 24, 2002


Today we drove up to the Orphanage where Pat was adopted.  We were treated as very special guests.  Copies were run of pertinent information for Pat and for the rest of us if we wanted it.  Dad just blew us away when he announced that Pat’s birth mother had tried to starve herself so her father would not know she was pregnant.  All our heads turned when this was announced.  He said that they were told this when Pat was picked up.  We were also given a very lengthy tour of the place. 


As the folks had two boys and no prospects of any more kids, they decided maybe they should adopt a little girl.  (note:  Dad was 16, Lyle was ten) They wrote to different adoptive agencies in three or four midwestern states.  All kinds of replies would come usually on a post card with a description of the father and the mother.  I remember several where the mothers were in their forties and the fathers were teenagers!  We had gone to a place in Council Bluffs, Iowa, called the “Children’s Home.”  Every time we went there all the little kids begged us to take them.  Then we received a card from this place stating that a baby girl had been born to a young woman from Nebraska.  She was up for adoption.  The folks went there and took Aunt Ruby (Uncle Mark’s wife) along.  Mom was undecided.  Aunt Ruby said, “Why not take her because she was born on my birthday.”  So they did.  I was a sophomore then.  Mom had fixed up a basket painted pink with satin inside with pillows, etc.  I came home from school and saw this little all skin and bones in the basket on the dining room table. 


The mother had apparently starved herself so her parents wouldn’t know she was pregnant.  The officials at the home said the father had brought his daughter to the home in a terrible angry mood.  I said “Mom, surely you could have found a baby better than this one!  What’s her name?”  Mom said I could give her a name if I wanted to.  So I named her Patricia Louise.  In about three weeks she turned out to be a very happy little fat butterball.  As she grew older she looked like a member of the family.


We drove up to Audubon and saw “Albert the Bull”.  This is an immense concrete bull that has become a tourist attraction.  We also stopped at “Plow in the Oak” park.  The story is that a man going off to the Civil War, just left his plow up against a tree and the tree grew around it.


 That evening we drove to Margie Westphalens to visit.  Margie was the wife of another cousin of dads.  She lives in Atlantic where we were staying and owns two spaces on Chestnut Street, the main drag in Atlantic.  We went to dinner at the Whitney Hotel.  This used to be the leading hotel in town.  The place has been refurbished and is now a working hotel and dinner place.  There is a carriage on display in the lobby.  The lady in charge fell in love with us and wanted us to come to her place for coffee the next day.  The friendliness of people is wonderful.


Saturday, May 25, 2002


 We went to the Elk Horn Danish Tivoli Festival.  For starters we had breakfast at the Fire Station and ate Abelskiver and Medistapolse.  Abelskiver is a Danish pancake that is round like a ball.  We had these at Grandma Hansen’s when we were growing up and always dipped them in sugar.  We also had Medistapolse, which is Danish sausage.  The parade was delightful.  It reminded me of the simple unsophisticated parade that Woodinville’s All Fools Parade used to be.  We ate open face sandwiches in the town hall (stay away from the anchovies) and visited the Danish Wind Mill.  The windmill was brought from Norre Snede in Denmark and rebuilt here.  The cross pieces were obtained in Washington State!    Dad wandered up to the Marne-Elkhorn phone company and picked up a phone book.  When this phone company moved to rotary phones in the 50s, or 60s, Uncle Martin Brown sent out a bunch of the old crank phones to dad.  About ten years ago dad refurbished one for me.  Now this means so much more because I know where it came from. 


I made the acquaintance of a fellow diabetic at the parade.  I am reminded here, too, that Iowa was very involved in the civil war, first the George Hitchcock house and then people in costumes of this era.  We were fortunate to talk with one of the couples later and observe their costumes close up.


That night Harold LeRoi and Lael brought Harold’s brother Lewis by.  Dad had never met him, as he was a lot younger.


We stored up such memories.  We had such fun in ,  the little breakfast room at the Super 8 where we could have juice, toast or cereal, or running across the highway with my brothers to the day old bakery.  Or the night I visited with “the boys” in their room.  Very interesting conversation.  Or the evening Lynette was convinced we all left and went to dinner without her.  Or me taking the second tranquilizer and wondering why everyone was “running” out of the airport without me.  How about Krispy Kremes thanks to Roger, or the small plane we realized was ours when we saw Rogers’s duct-taped suitcase being put on.  How can I forget the wonderful talks with my Aunt, Cousin and brothers.  Then there was the night when I called out “Mr. Hansen”, and five heads turned.




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