Laura's Letters - 1 - Before the Wedding
June 19th, 1909
Gosh, here it is almost my wedding day. I can’t believe it. So much has happened to me in such a short space of time. My best friend Emma gave me this diary. She said it would be good for me to write down all the important things in it that I want people to know about me. I suppose it will sort of like writing a letter to myself. She says I should put in things like how I feel on my wedding day, for instance.
But first, I suppose I should start by talking a bit about myself. Here I am, a whole 23 years old. I was born on April 17th in 1886, and my mother died in April, 1900, when I was only fourteen. We lived in Manston, Minnesota, which is pretty near to the North Dakota border. I wrote my teacher’s exams and passed and received a certificate for teaching, good for two years. I taught a few years near home, and then, when my brothers decided to homestead in North Dakota in 1906, and my sister and her husband also moved here from Canada in 1908, I decided to try it for myself. I wrote again to renew my certificate.
I got a job at a local school, the Number 1 School as it is labeled here in the township, just a year ago, and I boarded with the Wyngardens. I had 18 children in my class this last year, aged from 6 to 12. I will miss teaching them, and I don’t want to forget them, but of course, many of them we will see at the wedding.
In my class I had Oscar Kolberg, 12, Cornelius DeKrey, 12, Dick Vellenga, 12, Caroline Knutson, 12, (she's just moved here from South Dakota), Anton Kolberg, 10, Ruth Scott, 10, Winnie Vellenga, 10, Gladys Billington, 9, Johann DeKrey, 9, Johann Kolberg, 8, Joseph Kolberg, 7, William DeKrey, 7, Peter Vellenga, 7 and my favorites - the youngest ones, Clinton Morrow, 6, Sylvia Kleister, 6, Floyd Billington, 6, Bertha Knutson, 6, Margaret Scott, 6.
It was quite a hard job, but luckily all of my students could at least speak English quite well. I do know a few words of Norwegian, but most of the parents of the children in this area come from Holland and I didn’t know any Dutch at all. Mrs. Wyngarden has taught me a few words since I have been living here, but anyway, as I said, I managed to communicate with all of the children last year.
Mine was a single room schoolhouse, and the idea is that there should be one every three miles in this area, so that no child has to walk more than a mile and a half to school. Some of the children came on horseback, and in the winter, they sometimes came on sleds drawn by horses.
The school itself is pretty much a shack, with tar paper cover - although I must say it was larger and more substantial than my new house will be. We had a pot-bellied stove for our heat. I had to go early enough to start the fire in the morning so it was warm by the time the children came, and then I had to bank the coals up in the afternoon, so that it would stay as warm as possible over night.
Schoolrooms are usually built with lots of windows on the south side to gather heat and light. We had a porch in the front for boots and coats which kept the weather from coming into the classroom with every person entering. The children sit at the desks and use their slates to learn a whole range of subjects: Reading, Orthography (fancy word for spelling), Writing, Arithmetic, Grammar, Geography, History, Physiology, Civics, and Agriculture.
They brought their lunch in buckets, and during recess, when the weather allowed it, they played games such as ante-over (the school house), marbles, jump rope and jacks. I do think I am going to miss teaching, but first of all they won’t hire married teachers, and also Nick has made it clear that he can more than keep me busy helping on the farm, and then we expect there will be children before long.
Back at home, my father, Knud Hills, he’s called, he got married again to Berte, and they now live in Argyle, Wisconsin. We couldn’t call Berte mother, as she isn’t that much older than our Bertha and she doesn’t mind us calling her by her first name. Berte is 45 now, so she’s not likely to have any children, but they still have Mary, who’s 20, Oscar who's 17 and Agnes who's 13, living with them. I wish they could have come for my wedding, but it’s a long way. But luckily my brother Benjamin is coming. He homesteaded over at Buckeye in 1906, and our half-brother Ole did, too, at the same
time. Then a couple years later, our sister Josephine’s husband, William, came down from Saskatchewan, where he'd tried a homestead, but decided this sounded better so he dropped that and homesteaded here too, all in the same section. Benjamin is 26. Ole is quite a lot older, he’s 36 now, but he has always lived with us, as he was very young when his mother died. She was called Betse - and they had another son too, called Olans, but he died when he was only 20. My sister Josephine and her husband William Hart will be coming to the wedding too. They have a sweet little baby daughter, my niece, who is just two. She's called Agnes, probably named after our youngest sister. Anyway, that is five from my family who will be coming to the wedding. I wish my sisters, Ida and Bertha, could come, but they are too far away - Ida in South Dakota and Bertha in Minnesota.
When I moved here, I stayed with Josephine and her family for awhile, but teachers have to live near the schools they teach in, so when school started, I had a room in the house of the Wyngardens.
We are Norwegians - and lots of people in our part of Minnesota came from Norway originally. My dad was only three when his parents brought him across in 1853. My step-mother, Berta came over from Norway too in 1885 when she was only nine - and she still only speaks Norwegian.
I got this letter today from my youngest sister.
June 10th, 1909
I am so sorry that we cannot come to your wedding. Pa says it is too far, and would cost too much money. But you must write and tell us all about it. What sort of dress are you going to be wearing? Who will be your bridesmaid? What is Nick really like? What is the house you will be living in like? Do you like living in North Dakota? Is it better than it was around Manston? I really like living in Arglye. It is much prettier than Manston was - lots of lakes and rivers around, and gentle hills. When I have time, I will write and tell you all about it.
I’m sending you a present that I made for you and hope you will like it and be able to use it.
Write and tell us all about the wedding and every thing else, please.
Lots of love from your sister
So I wrote back to her, and this is pretty much what I said.
June 19th, 1909
Dear Agnes, and everybody (although Agnes was the only one to write to me),
Thank you for the beautifully embroidered tablecloth and napkins. What a long time it must have taken you, and I do like them very much and will use them in my new house when we first do some entertaining.
My friend Emma Burman is going to be my bridesmaid. She’s three years younger than me, but we are such good friends - having lived close together in the same town for all those years. You probably were too young to remember her much. She lives in Minneapolis now.
Nick is a year older than me, making him 24. His folks brought him and his brother Leonard to the States back in 1885, from Holland - but they lived for awhile in Chicago. But then about five years ago they all came out here and homesteaded. Because Nick was old enough, he got a homestead of his own, but his brother, Len, lives with his folks on theirs. When they were in Chicago, Rinse - that’s Nick’s Dad’s name, and Nick sometimes too, worked for the railway, doing reupholstery on the train carraige seats. But they are glad they changed that and came here to farm. They are doing real well. They tell stories about when the Pullman Company went on strike. Rinse and his wife Teuntje hid their money in a can buried in the cellar or it would have been taken from them. That was money saved for moving to North Dakota.
There’s an interesting story about Nick’s name. When he was born, in Holland, he was named Klaas and the last name was spelled differently too, Wijngaarden. But when the family came to this country, the officials had trouble with his name, so they called him Nicholas instead of Klaas, but he likes to be called Nick. He changed the spelling to get rid of one of the a’s at the end, but his father
still spells his in the old way. It is hard enough to spell it as it is. Having had a nice easy last name like Hills so far in my life, I can tell you this one is going to be a lot more of a problem.
Let me tell you a bit more about Nick. He is medium tall and has brown hair and really blue eyes. My eyes are blue too, but his are such a distinctive blue. He is quite shy, and a really hard worker. I've known him all the time I've been here, as we were living in the same house. But I didn't get really friendly with him until I went to a dance with my best friend from around here, and his brother, Len, is the one that does calling for the barn dances. Nick asked me to dance, and suddenly he looked at me in a different way and then we were a couple. I liked the idea of getting married and living here. I’m sure I can cope with a different life than teaching, although I enjoyed my first year here, doing that.
Our wedding is going to be on next Wednesday, June 23rd. which might seem a bit odd, but it suited everybody best. We decided not to have it at a church, as Nick isn’t much of a church goer. I belong to the Lutheran Church. Anyway, we got the Reverend John Miller to agree to marry us, and we will have the service here at Nick’s parents’ house. We are going to get it all decorated nice. His mother is very clever with her fingers and we planned that we’ll get some sage greenery and make an archway out of that with flowers interwoven.
I made my dress and the one for Emma. They are both in white silk - and although it was a simple Butterick pattern, I tried very hard to do it just perfectly. It will be a useful sort of dress for summer best afterwards. It’s from a Butterick Pattern, # 3472, if you want to see what it really looks like, and it is described as “Princess Dress” which I thought would be good for a wedding. It has six gores in the upper part with a choice of necklines, so I have a square one on my dress, and I made Emma’s with a round neck. You can wear it with a chemisette for cooler days, but it promises to be really hot around here. The sleeves I have made ¾ length, and on mine, I have put a plaited flounce. It has buttons down the side, and the skirt part which starts quite low down, is pleated. I made Emma’s
with shorter sleeves without the flounce, and my buttons are white, but hers are pink, and she will have pink roses in her bouquet, and I will have white ones.
We are having family and close friends over for the wedding itself. Then in the evening, we are going to have a barn dance, and invited all the locals. I got together with Nick’s mother to plan it and make a list of who to invite. I really don’t know what to call her yet. I've been calling her Mrs. Wyngarden for the last year, and it wouldn’t be proper that I should call her by her first name, which it Teuntje, which sort of sounds like Tony.