Fertile, Iowa

It isn’t clear what made Gram want to go to Fertile, Iowa. She certainly was fertile enough where she was, having birthed three children already. Another mystery was how she ever got Grandpa, a seafarer, almost a half century in age, to leave Brooklyn.

Early 1913, Gram had gone back to Norway to visit her family.  She ended up extending her stay because she gave birth to her third child, Olaf.  This was in 1914, just prior to the start of World War I. The family story is that she was having a hard time booking passage back home.

Around 1915, with three small children, Laura, Margaret and Olaf, in tow and one reluctant husband, they set off for Iowa. I never left my house to go grocery shopping with two small children, yet she boarded a train for days with three toddlers and grumpy Grandpa. Her lessons of courage were buried deep in my DNA.

They settled in Fertile and set up a small farm. She planted her garden to feed the family and bought a cow and some chickens. Gram would drive the wagon into town to sell her eggs, milk and butter. Her fourth child, Ingrid was born there.

A wheat mill was probably the highlight of the town built on the Winnebago River by a Canadian, William Rhodes in 1853. The town had 207 people according to the census of 1910. Gram’s family swelled the ranks to at least 213. As of 2010, the population had grown to 370 but the local website swears the figure is even higher now.  A year or two after they moved there, the population was reduced to 212.  Grandpa had hightailed it back to Brooklyn and left Gram there with her little farm and family.

Not long after, Gram followed him back home to Brooklyn and they bought a fishing or clammers’ cabin. It was a small square box with an outhouse. The main room was turned into a kitchen/dining room and they added a small living room, bathroom and bedroom and porch downstairs, upstairs two small bedrooms. In the next seven years they swelled their family size to 10 with the addition of  Clara, Hjalmar, John and Ruth. Grandma remained in that home until 1965. We wonder to this day how so many people fit in that small house.

 

 

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