Thursday, October 31, 2013

'Twas a Very Good Year in Govert, South Dakota

Govert Van der Boom was reflective as he slid the invoices from one side of his desk to the other. Sitting at the desk in the back corner of his general store in Govert, South Dakota, he was reflective, yes, but at the same time he was barely suppressing a celebratory whoop. Govert Van der Boom was feeling pretty good. He was feeling confident. In fact, he was nearing the top of his game. Maybe he was even on top of the world!

September always did seem a good time for reflection. A time for renewal. September was when it began. With not a single customer in the store needing his assistance, or pulling him from the desk to ponder the weather and the crops, Govert put his elbow on the desk, and his chin in his hand. And he closed his eyes.

Back in September '09, wasn't it, that he and Howard Jacobs came up to Belle Fourche from Wessington Springs? At the Land Commissioner's office in Belle, they each filed a claim for a homestead nearly 70 miles to the northeast. "A claim right where I'm sitting." Govert turned in his chair and looked slowly around the empty store, amusing himself with the change brought by the years. Govert blinked and drew in his breath. "Here it is 1928 and I've been on this corner of the prairie for near 20 years."

Back in '09 ... 1909, that is ... the township chosen by the two men was nearly unpopulated. Those were good days, heady days, days of town building. "God sees, and God provides. Howard and I only helped him along." Govert and Howard were proud of their town. People liked living here. Most people didn't have more than they needed and were happy that way. They had enough. "Been more than 12 years since Howard sold me his interest in the store and moved his wife to the city." Govert and Emma had been married about four years when Howard and Laura left. "Been 16 years now that I've been married to my Emma." And then Govert smiled that charming smile of his.

The Govert Mercantile had always carried a good inventory, all the staples, like flour, sugar, coffee, canned meat, sometimes even a barrel of salted fish stood outside the door of the store. And other important items to lighten the heart ... like sweets. Govert never could resist gathering up a few luxury items on his trips to Belle Fourche and later to Newell after the railroad built a spur there. The necessaries were necessary, but Govert was sure the unnecessaries were necessary, too. Govert Van der Boom liked to see the eyes of the women and their children brighten when they entered the store. A few toys. The girls always liked to look at a doll, and the little boys liked wagons. He always stocked pretty fabric for the ladies.

And now Govert was also selling more and larger things, machinery for the farms and ranches. Govert Van der Boom had become a salesman and service agent for the International Harvester Company.


On 1 September 1928 Govert Van der Boom finished the sales year for the International Harvester Company, his first year selling McCormick-Deering machinery. Sitting there at his desk, Govert reviewed the invoices for the equipment he sold over the last 12 months. He fished a blank piece of paper from the drawer, picked up a pencil, and made a list.

Howard Sheridan .... Corn Binder
Nick Lale .... Corn Binder
John Weurzer .... Corn Binder
Clem Bruggeman .... Corn Binder
Frank Balduiki .... Cream Separator
Herbert Scofield .... Cream Separator
A.C. Noyce .... Cream Separator
Chas. Scofield .... Cream Separator
Chris Wamman .... Cream Separator
Martin Blomberg .... Cream Separator
C.C. Howard .... Cream Separator
T.H. Bekken .... Cream Separator
F. DeJeager .... Manure Spreader
Clem Bruggeman .... 10-20 tractor
Mrs. A. Bakka .... 9 ft. Grain Drill
Harry Class .... 10 ft. Grain Drill
Clem Bruggeman .... Tractor Plows
L.R. Jones .... 10-20 Tractor
Mrs. A. Bakka .... Corn Planter
Clem Bruggeman .... Tractor Disc
L.R. Jones .... Tractor Plows
W.B. Willard .... Overshot Stacker
James Mishler .... Disc
R.F. Ruby .... Manure Spreader
W.B. Willard .... 4-Wheel Sweep
W.J. Adams .... Seeder
G. Aukland .... 3-row Lister Cultivator
G. Van der Boom .... Red Baby Truck
Link Storm .... 10-ft. Hay Rake
Dan Cresman .... 10-ft. Hay Rake
Willard Esler .... Big Six Mower
Wm. Marty .... Big Six Mower
R.F. Ruby .... Overshot Stacker
John Bekken .... 8-ft. Grain Binder
Coe Bros. .... 16-ft. Harvester Thresher
R.F. Ruby .... Sweep Rake
A.M. Nelson .... 7-ft. Grain Binder
Fred Millett .... 12-ft. Header
Geo. Escherich .... 8-ft. Grain Binder
Burke Bros. .... 10-ft. Sulky Hay Rake
H.L. Schofield .... Corn Binder
Willie Willerett .... Corn Binder
E.S. Smith .... 6 Speed Special Truck
Nick Lale .... Big Six Mower

Govert Van der Boom looked up from his records now splayed across his desk, and then added at the bottom of the sheet of paper: three Jungers ranges, three Parlor furnaces, several Maytag washing machines, 5 second hand cream separators, one second hand tractor and a set of tractor plows.


1927 and 1928 were good years in Govert, South Dakota. They must have been. The ranchers in Govert were feeling confident about the future or they wouldn't be placing orders for equipment for the upcoming corn and hay crops. Butter was always a reliable "cash crop", too, and Govert did a good business selling new and used cream separators. Govert Van der Boom would not have had a good year selling if the neighbors were not also having a good year.

Govert and Emma Van der Boom had cause to be optimistic with this impressive report card. The sales made in 1927 and 1928 showed they had a good customer base. These were the homesteaders who remained after proving their claims, and these were also landowners who bought land from homesteaders who moved on. The machinery sales proved to them that Govert, South Dakota, was buoyed by an enthusiastic population, neighbors and friends who had a then-present determination to continue to make a life in that isolated corner of Harding County.

How were they to know? How were Govert Van der Boom, Emma Van der Boom, or any of their customers to know? They all found something satisfying about living on the prairie, partly that sense of being responsible for their own destiny. How were any of them to know Govert, South Dakota, was already passing its prime? How were they to know their destiny would soon be overwhelmed by forces beyond their control? How were they to know the Stock Market would crash in a little more than a year? How were they to know the Depression lurked just around the corner? How were they to know? How was anyone to know?

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Story based on an untitled news bite in the Govert Advance, 27 September 1928]

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Little Women Go to School in Govert, South Dakota

Like snowflakes, the two little girls danced in the cold morning air in Govert, South Dakota. From a distance, the two little girls appeared no different than any of the other children playing at recess. Close up, Marie and Alice Mae were amazingly different, unique in their beauty. If we were casting Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Marie would play Josephine and Alice Mae would be Beth. Or maybe Alice Mae would be Amy, as she had qualities of both March daughters in Little Women.

Marie Kulisich and Alice Mae West were born three months apart in 1930, and each lived on her family's ranch in Govert Township. When the time came for the two little girls to start school, each walked through the door of the one room Govert country schoolhouse and, during the years that followed, each little girl eagerly applied herself to her studies. They both liked school, Marie and Alice Mae.

In their claim to Govert and to the country school, they were the same, but all their teachers could see the difference between the two little girls. For one, Marie was a tomboy. When she wasn't in school, Marie played with the goats and the bum lambs on the Kulisich ranch and she wandered the prairie barefoot upturning rocks to see what would wiggle out from the spit of moisture beneath. Alice Mae was as much girl as rugged prairie life would allow. At the West house, a doll could be found, and Alice Mae would play as little girls are known to play.

As different as the two girls might have seemed to some adults, they were best friends in a country school where Marie and Alice Mae were the entire first grade. When they last saw each other after finishing the 6th grade in Govert School, they had no way of knowing that more than 70 years would pass before they would see each other again. But that is putting the cart in front of the horse. That is where we should end, not begin.

When Marie and Alice Mae started the first grade in 1936 at the country school in Govert, South Dakota, they were already familiar with the school building. The Govert school was the only public building in the township other than the Govert Store, which was also the post office. Alice Mae's big sister, Evaline (who would play Meg in our version of Little Women), attended Govert School. Alice Mae's brothers had gone to school here. So had Marie's brothers and sister. The Govert School is where the two little girls went to church when a preacher was available and, from this place after a community social event, they would ride home across the prairie tucked under a warm blanket in the bed of a wagon in the earliest, darkest morning hours.

Like the March sisters, the two little girls were poor, Marie and Alice Mae. Louisa May Alcott would call theirs a genteel poverty. Their families experienced no poverty of spirit, nor did they lack in self-determination, or pride in the labor of their own hands. Still, they were as poor as the school. The school board could never give Govert School new books to start a school year; all the schoolbooks were well-thumbed by other students. Likewise, Marie and Alice Mae never had new clothes to wear the first day of school in the fall.

The two little girls didn't know they were poor. They were born into the Depression, and this modest prairie life was all they knew. Besides, pretty much everyone out there in the North Country was a church mouse. Marie and Alice Mae went to school, did their chores, played games, went on picnics ... and always looked forward to the P.T.A. meetings which offered entertainment so wonderful that the two little girls might squeal anticipating the fun they would have. Oftentimes, they themselves supplied the entertainment with a song or a dance they learned at school. The March sisters would agree with Marie and Alice Mae that being poor didn't seem like such a bad thing when you were loved and having fun.

You never did see two little girls who liked school as much, whether they were tending to their lessons, heads together, or whether they were running lickety split across the schoolyard during recess. The seven children attending Govert School in 1939 would rather have been playing pump-pump-pullaway at recess, but they stood quietly enough, for long enough, that a photographer managed to capture their picture. In the back row, left to right are Billy Lale, Alice Mae West, Evaline West, and Marie Kulisich. In the front row are Edwin Springer, Sonny Springer, and Mercedes Hafner.


Fifteen minutes for recess! Playing tag in a dress was not the easiest thing, but all the girls wore dresses to school in the 1930s and for decades after, tomboy or not. What amazing talent it took for their mothers to sew such style into a dress cut from another dress worn by an older sister, a favorite auntie, or one of mother's old dresses, or made from flour sacks ... such pretty collars and puffed sleeves, and nice lines. Mom probably wasn't happy to see the dirty knees and soiled dresses when Marie and Alice Mae came home after school, but what is a little girl to do at recess but to risk getting dirty? And did a little girl really care at the moment she tore across the schoolyard and slid on her side through the prairie dirt? For sure, Louise West and Nikla Kulisich washed a lot of soiled dresses during the school year ... without electricity, without plumbing.

After an energy-taming recess, Marie and Alice Mae were ready for two more hours of quietly sitting in desks lined up facing the teacher, studying math and spelling and reading. Marie and Alice Mae memorized phonetics from a flip chart, and quizzed each other on spelling words. Then, when Marie went back to school in the fall of 1942, she no longer had Alice Mae to run her through spelling drills. That summer was the last time the two little snowflakes saw each other for years and years to come. They would both have hair the color of snow before they shared the same room again.

Alice Mae started the 7th grade in Newell, South Dakota, about 50 miles south of Govert School. Marie moved with her parents to Newell for high school but, by that time, Alice Mae and her family had moved on to Plainview Academy in Redfield, South Dakota, where Alice Mae went to high school. Alice Mae grew up, went to college, became a teacher and a social worker; she married and raised two children, a son and a daughter. Marie married and raised two sons, and became an artist working in ceramics, glass, porcelain, textiles, and even words. Marie created art in her garden, too. Be patient for a little longer and I will show you Marie's Monet.

Marie and Alice Mae wrote letters over the years, but something more than 70 years passed before they were to meet again. On 16 August 2013, Alice Mae and Marie had a reunion in the Black Hills. This is how Marie remembers the day:

I'm grateful for this joy
that came to me today
Alice Mae and I
are 83 years young!

How many times
can we start a story at six
and continue it for 70 years
with such love and affection?

I wasn't there, and neither were you, but this picture allows us to "remember" the day, too. Even though Alice Mae (left) and Marie are standing in Marie's garden, an artistic masterpiece fit for Monet ... and even though the day is warm ... remember these women, once school chums as girls ... remember them as snowflakes, each unique in her own beauty.
 

That was a good week for Marie, because a few days earlier Marie also had a reunion with Alice Mae's older sister, Evaline West. After leaving Govert and finishing her studies, Evaline became a college dean, a professor and a counselor. All three women, Marie, Alice Mae and Evaline, can call this life that began in Govert, South Dakota, a good one. These are strong, talented women. Real women, honest, resourceful, hard-working, just like their parents who settled in Govert, South Dakota. They believe in God. They believe in family. They believe in community. The same is true for Evaline's and Alice Mae's little sister, Shirley Jean. None of them, not a single one of these four women, became a niminy piminy chit.

If you haven't read Little Women for a few years, you might have forgotten about niminy piminy chits. Don't have a copy of Little Women on your bookshelf? Can't get to the library today? You can read the book on-line or download the book right here: Little Women.

Perhaps Shirley Jean and Alice Mae can tell us who, between them, should be cast as Beth March and who will play Amy March.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Written with a tip of the hat to Louisa May Alcott, and with gratitude to Marie Kulisich and Alice Mae West for their memories. Pictures used with the permission of Alice Mae West.]

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Join Us at the Basket Social in Govert, South Dakota

You know about basket socials, don't you? Last week I told you about the basket social planned by the Govert, South Dakota, P.T.A. for 26 October 1928 to accompany the Halloween program at the schoolhouse. If I tell you about basket socials, maybe you'll join us.

A basket social is not just a matter of baskets. The baskets are full of food. But a basket social is not just a matter of food. A basket social was a matter of legitimatized public flirting. Say what? A basket social involved a girl and a boy, a basket or box supper for two, and an auctioneer. This was bona fide entertainment by those who participated and for those who watched. A basket social was the perfect opportunity for the hardworking unmarried men and women of Govert, South Dakota, to meet each other in a safe environment. No legal consequences attached to eating supper over a basket of food. Still, a courtship might arise from a basket social.

So how does this work? If you were an available girl of at least such-and-such an age, within your father's tolerance, you spent all afternoon worrying in the kitchen over your basket supper. In fact you may have been worrying about your basket, and how it would be received, since the basket social was announced. For this P.T.A. event in October 1928, you might have been worrying a whole month. You need not have worried. After all, if your kitchen skills are limited, you might enlist your mother and pass off her cooking as your own. Do you think this was ever done? I thought so.

Me? I would have made sandwiches for my basket. Thick slices of fresh baked bread slathered with fresh churned sweet butter and layer upon layer of thinly sliced roast beef. A bowl of potato salad. And a whole apple pie. Men like roast beef sandwiches, potato salad, and pies of every variety, don't they? What to drink ... maybe I'll add a big canning jar full of lemonade. I'll make room for a small jar of my watermelon pickles. And a jar of my raspberry jam for the winning bidder to take home. Maybe I'll tie a ribbon around a scrap of calico to cover the lid of the jam jar. That would fancy up the jam jar nicely.

I would put together an attractive basket of scrumptious food, as if my social standing depended on it. And maybe it did. No soggy sandwiches in my basket. The pie crust would be perfect, flaky, not too much salt, not too much fat. With the first of two freshly pressed tea towels, I'd line the basket. I'd arrange the second tea towel so the towel didn't quite cover the pie resting on top. With my prize pie peeking out, my basket is sure to get some good bids! Into the basket I'd tuck two freshly pressed cloth napkins. No one would ever know I made the linens from flour sacks, unless their flour came in the same patterned fabric. Maybe I'll attach a paper cutout of a pumpkin to make my basket seasonal. Horror of horrors, what if no one bids on my basket? Or what if bidding is unenthusiastic? Would I survive the humiliation?

To be sure my best beau, if I had one, bid on my basket, I would make sure he knew the color of the tea towel covering my basket. You see, the boys weren't supposed to know which basket went with which girl and that was part of the fun of it. How often do you suppose the boy knew which basket to bid on? I thought so.

Then I would take a bath, crimp my hair, and put on my best Sunday dress, freshly pressed. Do you get an idea of how much ironing was done back in the last century?

That night, the Govert community will gather at the one room schoolhouse, rush through P.T.A. business, mingle for a while and, when the time for supper arrives, the boys ... maybe we should be talking men and women here ... then the men would bid on the baskets. Every eligible man was hoping for a good meal with a pretty woman ... with individual preferences as to the relative priority to these two qualifications.

The men who didn't have to keep an eye on the color of the cloth covering the basket were the lucky ones. They could bid or not bid. A man could bid on a particular basket because he saw a woman he secretly admired add her basket to the others. Or he could bid for the fun of eating dinner with a yet unidentified woman. He could bid because he believed in the activity promoted by the proceeds of the auction. If the auctioneer swung the gavel on his last bid ... "SOLD!" ... he was a happy man.

Imagine, however, the unfortunate man who had a limited cash reserve and high expectations levied on him by a woman's ego. He was in danger of losing her favor if he did not outbid the competition for the basket covered with the identifying tea towel. Don't you think the other men knew this? Don't you think they would keep the bid running higher and higher? I thought so. Men tend to get mighty generous under these circumstances.

Likewise, my worries about no one bidding on my basket were flawed. Given the forum, a charitable activity in the schoolhouse of a small rural prairie community, no doubt the best of human nature prevailed over the worst of human nature that Friday night in October 1928. The older men, especially, knew to bid up the prices so the young men didn't get off easy, and to assure the bids by the young men were respectful. And some old bachelor would be there who, out of kindness, would treat the poorest looking basket as a feast fit for a king.

After unbridled laughter, high hopes, and much blushing by the women, each winning bidder would claim the basket and the attention of the woman who prepared the basket. Basket socials were intended to raise money for a community cause, as in October 1928 to promote school athletic activities. That goal had been met by the time the winning bidder settled down to eat. Beyond that, graciousness was considered to be a beautiful thing in a woman.

The auction assured some people had a special meal that night, but what about everyone else? This kind of hearty entertainment can create an appetite. The women not participating in the auction brought food to share, assuring the husbands and children and the men who had no basket to claim were well fed. No one goes away hungry from a community event like this. Enjoyable entertainment, pleasant socializing, and good food made for a perfect evening on the South Dakota prairie. And, for the man still seeking supper with the prairie woman of his dreams, there was always the next time.

Here we go a courtin'! Maybe yes. Maybe no. As my husband, Russ, was quick to note, a basket social is an intriguing variation on what we would refer to today as a blind date, a blind date within a protective social structure.

I probably shouldn't get carried away planning a basket for the basket social, because I'm a married woman. I suppose that is something more than a mere technicality. In any case, I think I'll take the apple pie for the community dinner. I still have my reputation in the kitchen to protect, but maybe I won't be quite so particular about the crust ...

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Govert, South Dakota, Organizes a Parent Teacher Association

It was a Friday afternoon in Govert, South Dakota, 85 years ago, less a week. October days in the North Country started cool and ended cold, but the afternoons were still comfortably warm. Leona Danielson waved good-bye to the children at the door of Govert School, even though she would see them again in just a matter of hours. The teacher of the first six grades quickly swept the floor and cleaned the blackboards one more time in preparation for when the children would return that night with their parents. As she set wood aside for the stove, Miss Danielson felt a flutter of excitement.

Soon darkness would fall and wagons would roll through the prairie grass toward the schoolhouse. The Govert community would stream through the door, one adult, one child, after another, until the single room was much fuller than it was during the school day. Her role tonight would be to advocate organizing the Parent Teacher Association for the Govert, South Dakota, country school. She was confident the community was in favor of a P.T.A., so she had no worries on that account. She knew already that Govert Van der Boom, the founder of the town, supported the P.T.A., and so did Charles Laflin, the editor of the town newspaper, the Govert Advance. These two community leaders would stand beside her and Mr. Williams, the teacher of the high school aged students. This evening was going to be a triumph!

The following Thursday, 4 October 1928, Charles Laflin reported their progress in organizing the P.T.A. in the Govert Advance:

"At the invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Delbert A. Williams and Miss Leona Danielson, our teachers, the pupils and parents met at the Govert schoolhouse last Friday evening at which time a Parent-Teacher Association was organized with D.A. Williams, Chairman, Chas. Laflin, Sec-Treas., Miss L. Danielson, H.L. Scofield and Govert L. Van der Boom, Program Committee. Grown-ups as well as the children are to participate in making the programs a success.

"An impromptu, wholesome program led by our teachers and in which Mrs. Lydia Gee, Herb Scofield, Mitch Kulisich, Lester Hafner, Ira Grayson and a number of the children participated provoked much laughter. A Basket Social and Hollow-o-e'en program are to be the features for Friday evening, Oct. 26th, at the Govert schoolhouse. The proceeds from the sale of the baskets are to be used to promote school Athletic Activities.

"You are cordially invited - so come, please. The P.T.A. is doing much to bridge over difficulties that might arise in schools and to promote everything that is for the best interest of all concerned in other towns - so why not here.

"We heartily endorse the P.T.A. movement and pledge our best efforts toward its success."

A Program Committee of three people? A Basket Social? A Halloween party? That sounds promising!

The P.T.A. was embraced by the entire community and was a great success in Govert, South Dakota. This new civic organization encouraged an active interest in Govert School by every member of the community, parent or not. Perhaps even more important, the P.T.A. became a cohesive social activity drawing together not only parents and teachers, but all the children and adults in the Govert community and beyond.

Why? Opportunities for social interaction were important to this hard-working, rural population. What better opportunity for social interaction could be found than the increasingly popular Govert P.T.A. entertainments followed by supper. Skits. Dances performed by the children. Readings. Songs. Musical instruments. Many smiles and much laughter. And good food ... sandwiches, cake, coffee. Without a doubt, P.T.A. nights drew farmers and ranchers from as far beyond the township boundaries as a man or a woman was willing to ride in a horse drawn wagon. These were the Friday nights when wagons bumping through the prairie grass from every direction merged on the schoolhouse. Then, when the entertainment was concluded and the supper finished, deep into the night, the horses happily re-engaged in this unintended choreography, reversing the wheel-spoke pattern as they headed home to their stalls, carrying a tired, contented cargo to their own beds.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dateline Govert, South Dakota: Truth in Storytelling (Part 3)

Here we are, back in Govert, South Dakota, where last week I told you about Peter Vogt, one of my family's epic storytellers. Peter was the father of four Goverites. His oldest daughter, Emma Vogt Van der Boom, lived at the epicenter of Govert, South Dakota, where the Govert Store and the Van der Boom residence stood side by side. The rumble of daily social activity in this rural area was concentrated in the Govert Store. Next door, in the residence, Emma shared a pillow with the man whose name was on the store, the post office, the newspaper, and the town. The storytelling skills of Emma's father, Peter Vogt, added a fable to the family narrative that became the family's truth for over 100 years. Now we're going to explore what happens when the truth becomes a fable for another epic storyteller.

To do that we will travel across the Missouri River from West River to East River. In the area of Letcher, South Dakota, my family's other epic storyteller, Adolf Zoss, told a story that was the truth, but no one believed him. Adolf Zoss's relationship to Govert, South Dakota, is more tenuous than that of Peter Vogt. However, Adolf's story is important to make my point about the value of all kinds of family stories ... and, yes, I can conjure a connection. Adolf Zoss was two degrees of separation from Govert, South Dakota. Adolf was the grandfather of the woman who was to share the marital pillow with Emma's youngest son. That woman would be my mother, Christene Volzke, an East River girl. Emma's youngest son, Roger, spent his earliest years running through the prairie grass in Govert, South Dakota, on the West River side of the Missouri.

What is Adolf's story? Adolf Zoss and his wife, Amelia, lived on a farm outside of Letcher, South Dakota. Adolf climbed out of bed one fall morning in 1945, with no reason to believe the day he woke into would be any different from any other day. Amelia cooked up a farmer's breakfast on the wood stove just like she did yesterday and all the other mornings of their 50 year marriage. Amelia deftly threw together Adolf's customary breakfast of bacon with eggs fried in the bacon fat, toast, oatmeal or cold cereal, juice. And, of course, coffee with a spot of milk. Adolf poured his coffee into the deep saucer and drank from the saucer in the way his family did in Switzerland.

Nothing was amiss and neither Adolf nor Amelia had a clue how the day would unroll. The day started cool and warmed up with the sun. Conditions were perfect for pheasant hunting. After breakfast Adolf reached for his shotgun, his dog perked at the signal, and the two headed for the fields. Adolf wasn't sure what he enjoyed most, the challenge of the hunt, a leisurely fall day with his dog beside him, or the beauty of pheasant taking flight over the South Dakota fields he loved so much.

Adding to Adolf's assurance that all was right in the world was the Zoss family's recent jubilation in celebration of the end of World War II. Adolf's son, Fred, would be coming home soon, if he was not already back in South Dakota by that time. Victory in Europe was declared a few months ago on 8 May 1945, and the Japanese surrendered on 2 September. Already things were looking up in America and in South Dakota, and in Adolf's farm fields outside of Letcher.

The day was peaceful out in the fields ... until that blasted automobile came rumbling down the road a bit too fast, shooing the pheasant into flight. An old Ford, was it? No new cars around this close to the war. In the automobile were Lawrence Welk of "Champagne Music" fame, singers Jayne Walton and Bobby Beers, and trombonist Lauren Brown. Someone else was there, too, and that someone had a camera. We may never know whether this trip out into the South Dakota corn fields was a planned photo opportunity or whether the already well-known Lawrence Welk was taking a much needed break between bookings. Perhaps both. From rural North Dakota himself, Lawrence Welk had the strongest kind of connection with the Dakotas, one that defined his character. However long this interlude in the field outside of Letcher lasted, and however many shotgun shells were fired, all the parties defined this part of that day in 1945 as pheasant hunting, and the picture supports this conclusion.

Adolf returned to the farmhouse from the fields that day in 1945, and told Amelia he had been hunting pheasant with Lawrence Welk. Of course, the Zosses all were fans of Lawrence Welk and his big band sound, and felt a special kinship with this famous fellow Dakotan. Well, Amelia didn't believe Adolf that day. And none of his 11 children living in 1945 believed Adolf either. Not Nellie. Not Mary. Not Albert. Not Elsie. Not Jake. Not Adolf. Not Ann. Not Charlie. Not Mildred. Not Fred. Not John.

Sometime after 1968, Ann Zoss told her father's story in an undated letter, quoting her older sister Nellie. According to Ann, this is what Nell said: “In 1945 we came down to Letcher [from Herreid] for Thanksgiving. Ma said some hunters came and Pa said it was Lawrence Welk and some fellows and a girl. Pa took them out to the shelter belt to hunt. Ma said Pa said they took his picture. She said she thinks Pa is fibbing. [...] [Then] one time in 1954 when Ma and I went with Pa in the car to go out to look at the corn field he was telling that once Lawrence Welk came and ask him for a good place to hunt pheasants. Ma said she didn’t believe it was Lawrence Welk and Pa said he told him he was Lawrence Welk.” Don't be fooled by the folksy language, as Nell could be as ladylike and demure as can be when that suited her.

Pa wasn't fibbing, but he was dead in the water all the same, the victim of being a good ol' storyteller. According to Adolf's Granddaughter Christene, Adolf had a reputation of "embroidering the facts". Adolf was a known fibber, and his tale-telling finally caught up with him. The occasional retelling of the Lawrence Welk story over the next 12 years preceding Amelia's death brought her - and their 11 children - no closer to believing Adolf's story. Amelia died in March 1957 and, seven months later, Adolf died with his truth still unbelieved.

Then, after the photograph ... the one Adolf claimed was taken ... was published in the Lawrence Welk magazine in 1968, Adolf's close brush with fame changed history as the family knew it. For Lawrence Welk, Jayne Walton, Bobby Beers, Lauren Brown, and their photographer, this fall day in 1945 was just a blip in time. For Adolf Zoss the day may have been life defining. Do we have this photograph? You betcha. The photograph is copyright protected, but the Welk Group kindly gave me permission to reproduce the photograph for non-commercial genealogy purposes only.

Jayne Walton is on the left, then Bobby Beers, Lauren Brown, a younger Lawrence Welk, and the older man on the right with the shotgun and generous mustache, looking slightly star struck, is Adolf Zoss. Adolf was probably already planning how he was going to tell this story to Amelia.

If I could conjure a closer connection to my blog charter of Govert, South Dakota, I would tell you what was in store for Lawrence, Jayne, Bobby and Brownie. However, Lawrence and his merry Music Makers are three degrees of separation from Govert, South Dakota, so next week we will move on to something else. I will tell you that another 10 years would pass before The Lawrence Welk Show would leave its mark on national TV. For now, though, I hope you will be as charmed as I was when I listened to Bobby Beers sing "Cleanin' My Rifle". Bobby recorded this in 1944, a war ditty. Still, I wonder whether his smile a year later in the 1945 picture of two Dakotans bearing arms was accompanied by the tune of Cleanin' My Rifle and Dreamin' of You. Go ahead and click on the link. Yes, now.

What is Truth in Storytelling? Adolf Zoss told the truth and Peter Vogt created a fable. Adolf's truth was disregarded, Peter's fable was accepted as family history. As family historians, what are we supposed to do with that? You do exactly what I did. Tell all of the stories, every single story, but distinguish what is factual and what is a tale. It's as simple as that. Every family story should be preserved. What is a little more complicated is our responsibility as family historians to discern the truth, and then to create a story based on the facts, a story that bears retelling. With that, we do the best we can, knowing we will encounter good ol' storytellers the likes of Peter Vogt and Adolf Zoss, both wonderful men who left the legacy of a story and a smile.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Written with gratitude to Becky Zoss, Christy Volzke, and the Welk Group]