Our radio sat on a low wooden stand in the corner of the living room. Dad’s rocking chair was placed in front of the radio. The heat register was nearby, bringing warm dry air from the basement furnace.
We did not have television or newspapers or magazines on the Scheckel farm outside of Seneca, Wisconsin in the heart of Crawford County during the 1940s and 1950s. We had the Weekly Reader at our one-room school. We saw the Movietone News ahead of the movies we occasionally saw in Gays Mills or Prairie du Chien. I recall the ringing authoritative voice of Lowell Thomas describing the battles occurring in the Korean War. That radio was our window to the outside world.
The all-time favorite of us three Scheckel boys had to be the Lone Ranger program. It was broadcast on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights at 6 PM. In the winter, we tried to get our chores done, supper eaten, rosary said, and cows milked by 6 PM. We usually made it just in time.
One of us would turn on the radio. We’d lie on the floor of the living room, or sit in a chair by the table, reading or doing homework and listen to the soft soothing voice of the Masked Man “Bringing law and order to the Old West”. The Lone Ranger’s trademark was the Silver Bullet and he rode on a big white stallion by the name of Silver.
His faithful companion was the Indian Tonto. Tonto’s broken English would be totally politically incorrect today. He would say “Me thinks you right, Ke-mo sah-bee.” An outlaw would be referred to as “Him heap big bad man”. Tonto’s mount was the sorrel paint named Scout. At the end of the program The Long Ranger would be heard to yell, “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”. A voice would ask “Who was that masked man?” Another knowing character would response with “Well, that’s the Lone Ranger!” and then a portion of the William Tell Overture would be heard.
Jung’s, Gurney’s, and Burpee seed catalogs arrived in the mail, usually the first week in January, about the same time as the tax bill. The bright vibrant colors of the pictures of vegetables and fruits contrasted sharply with the barren fields and snow-covered hills surrounding the Scheckel farm out on Oak Grove Ridge in the 1940s and 1950s.
I enjoyed looking through the Gurney’s Seed Catalog. They had a little biography of Charles W. Gurney in one of their issues. Charles W. Gurney was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Civil War. Gurney was born in Massachusetts in 1840, moved to Iowa in 1852, and enlisted in the 3rd Iowa Infantry. They had a profile picture of Lt. Col Gurney and he looked very distinguished with a bushy goatee mustache. He looked like an honest seed seller to me.
Then we had Ground Hogs Day on February 2, which just happens to be my oldest brother Ed’s birthday. The folklore is that if the groundhog sees his shadow when he pokes his head out of his burrow, there would be six more weeks of winter. Or was it the other way around; a very short winter and early spring?
I could not keep that straight. Besides, we did not have groundhogs on Oak Grove Ridge. I found out later that the groundhog is the same as a woodchuck and we had plenty of those. I figured that the smart woodchucks, or groundhogs, did not come out of their holes on February 2. They stayed in the warm sweet slumber of hibernation until at least April. It was the stupid or mentally retarded groundhogs that would make an appearance in the dead of winter.
In the summer we had picked wild blackberries in bushes we found down in Kettle Hollow and a secret patch on the Bernier farm. Mom canned those berries and it paid off big time in the dead of winter. We could bring up a jar of raspberries or strawberries from the basement and Mom would bake a “short cake” and the berries, along with the sugary syrup, was spread over the top.
Snowballs flew in the late 1940s and 1950s at the Oak Grove Ridge one-room country school outside of Seneca in the middle of Crawford County. The best snowball fights
happened when 2 impromptu teams built snow forts about 30 feet apart by rolling big balls of snow, much like starting to make a snowman and positioning them into a line, packing snow between the orbs, leveling the top, and building a wall up to about 3 feet tall and 15 feet long.
Hunkered down behind the protective wall, each combatant packed together a dozen or so snowballs for ammunition. Then the snowball fight commenced and what great fun it was! Raise up, throw hard at the opponent and duck down before getting hit.
My brother Bob came up with an ingenious way of fighting. Poke a small hole in the wall, enough to peer through but not so big that a snowball can penetrate. With snowball in hand, crouched down but ready to throw, sight through the hole, and watch until the enemy is sighted just raising up, then let go.
Many was the time the foe would be hit by a snowball without ever seeing it coming. These battles would rage back and forth sometimes lasting the whole noon hour. At times the war was cut short by some crybaby kid that got hit in the face with a snowball and went bawling into the schoolhouse to tell Teacher. Teacher would come out and put a stop to our good fun.
We kids all looked forward to playground time at Oak Grove School. We learned to share, we learned to compete, and we learned give and take. We learned lessons in empathy, friendship, and fair play. We took away many good memories from that half acre of playground on the hilltop out on Oak Grove Ridge.