5.1.2022 [archived ~ originally published 5.12.2019]
NOTE: I didn’t realize when I wrote this three years ago it would be the last Mother’s Day I would spend with my mom, Marie Scheer. She died unexpectedly in her home just days before Mother’s Day 2020.Imiss her every day.
Like most other young children, I made crayon drawings of flowers, hearts and stick figures with smiling faces to give my mother on Mother’s Day. As the oldest of five, I’m sure I made my brothers and sisters stop their playing long enough to at least get something on paper as well.
We all knew our Mom was special, particularly, because she claimed she had no bellybutton! I have no idea how that myth got started, but it went on for many years. I’d say her sense of humor is from her dad and her ambition is from her mom.
It wasn’t until I began gathering family stories to incorporate into genealogy that I realized just how special my mother’s birth was, and how hard my grandparents worked during their first year as a family. Mother’s Day 1939 was certainly something to be celebrated.
What follows are snippets of that year as remembered by Grampa, who wrote in his later years; and Gram, who told me a few antidotes, as well as memories from a booklet my Mom put together for them.
My Grampa, Clarence “Conny” Scheer was born and raised in Bigfork. In the 1930s he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a local experienced man. He was promoted to assistant and then leader, earning a little more with each change in status. During his last six months he was transferred to Itasca State Park. Though it was further from home, he had a chance to go to Bemidji occasionally. One afternoon while in Bemidji, Conny bumped into a friend from Bigfork who was enrolled in the Teacher’s College and introduced him to Hellen McQuillen.
Hellen, my Grama was born in the northwest corner of North Dakota and had moved with her family a few times until they settled in Warba. At the time their paths crossed in Bemidji, she, like Conny’s friend, was studying to become a teacher. It wasn’t until the summer of 1936, after Hellen’s first year of teaching, that she met Conny again and their courtship began.
On Mother’s Day 1938, Hellen was married and six months pregnant with her first child, my mother. She and Conny were living with his sister and brother-in-law and looking forward to a place of their own.
“As soon as spring and warm up time came so the snow was gone, and the logs had thawed we started on our cabin. Hellen and I began to peel logs and get the base work set in, to start cutting and fitting our cabin together piece by piece. I would work some on small short jobs, some for cash to keep living and others for second hand lumber for the roof, and for floorboards, and flooring plus windows and doors. One of my part time jobs was tearing down some of the old CCC buildings at Itasca State Park. By hook or by crook we got it all finished and moved in and cleaned up in time for our baby to be born.” [CS]
Conny’s brothers helped to construct the 16 x 20 log cabin on the edge of their father’s property on what is now called Scenic Highway, about a mile from Bigfork. The Itasca Progressive newspaper noted that the young couple moved into the cabin the second week of July. In the subsequent issue it announced: “Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Scheer are the proud parents of a seven pound girl which arrived at their home Friday. The little one was named Elva Marie and she promises to brighten the home of her parents with her prattle.”
According to Marie’s written recollection, this is the way her father remembered it happening. “Mom awoke him early in the morning and said that she thought that the baby was coming. Dad had to leave her alone and go into town, just a mile away, to get the doctor. The doctor had just gotten home from an all night call, and said that since it was her first baby it would take quite a while, so he was going to get some sleep and would be out later.
“Dad went back to the cabin and could see that someone needed to be there with her who knew about delivering babies. He went to the home of the midwife and asked her to come and take care of this situation. I believe that Mom was also alone during this period of time, which must have been lonely and frightening. It had been agreed to previously that the midwife would trade some of her time caring for my mother, for my father’s help with the haying at their farm.” [MS]
The midwife Conny went for was Mrs. Almina McKay. As a nurse, she had worked at the Mayo Hospital in Rochester, before she and her husband had moved their family to Bigfork a few years earlier. Mrs. McKay had experience delivering babies which, as it turned out, was a very good thing.
Hellen’s labor progressed more quickly than expected, perhaps brought on by a slight tumble the previous day and it wasn’t long before Mrs. McKay realized that the baby was going to be born breech. It wasn’t an easy delivery, and all were glad when the baby’s wails filled the cabin. The midwife tended to the mother and newborn while waiting for the doctor to arrive. Hellen recalled, “When he did, Mrs. McKay stepped outside and closed the door behind her. I could hear enough to know that she was putting the doctor in his place for neglecting his responsibilities.”
Conny wanted Hellen to name the baby and she decided on Elva Marie. Elva was a family name, and Marie was for the midwife Mrs. McKay, whose middle name was Marie. As was the custom in Hellen’s family, the middle name was used, so she was called Marie.
Six short weeks later a baby boy was temporarily added to the family. “In October, Mom also took on the care of her sister’s new baby, Lenny. She cared for us as though we were twins, and for a time we shared the milk, the crib and her love. This continued until December, when the baby boy was taken by another family.” [MS]
The decision to move Lenny was necessary because Conny, Hellen and Marie were going to spend the winter deep in the woods. It would be a challenging winter for Hellen. She and her sister-in-law, whose own baby Marlon was only a couple weeks younger than Marie, were cooking and housekeeping for the family crew and caring for their two young infants.
“Three of my brothers and I got a logging contract to cut 80 acres of light burned spruce to cut into 8 ft length pulp wood and no plowed road till spring when the two pulp trucks owned by the contractors Lindy Kendall and Ted Lovdahl of their first contract job come in on the then frozen swamp roads and hauled it away to the paper mills at International Falls.
“We had to build a logging shack for sleeping and to cook for a light crew plus a barn for horses and a bunk shack on the end of our set up and an outdoor biffy. We also made tables and benches and shelves and bunks and assembled out there and dug a swamp well. Our camp was nine miles off the small highway on an old wood road and we were isolated with only horses to get to the highway and five miles to Effie from there for our monthly go for groceries and a load of hay for the horses. The nine mile road was snowed in and unplowed until April 1939.
“We had grocery credit at Anderson’s store in Effie and hay for horses, so once a month two of us men took the team and sleigh 6 miles to town for hay, food and mail. The women and kids never left camp from December to April and we guys always knew that the two gals were the busiest workers of all of us cooking, washing dishes and clothing plus. We had no radio, however, we wore out several decks of cards and told the same jokes several times!” [CS]
On Mother’s Day 1939, I can imagine how pleased Gram was to be out of the woods. Her ten month old daughter Marie was happy and healthy and her husband had a steady job driving a truck the Bischoff Bakery. So many things to be thankful for on her first Mother’s Day!