It was a day like any other. It was February, 1944 (I was 12 years old), and I came home from school on the school bus as usual, wearing my warm green wool coat and carrying my trusty black book bag. My sisters had stayed in town for the night with my married sister so they could attend a young people's function at church. My mom was waiting at the back door to greet me as was her custom.
I put my book bag down but had not yet removed my coat when we saw a black car drive into the driveway. Then we watched as Dr. Nuetsman came toward the back door. He had treated my dad for some health issues but we were surprised to see him here, on our property. Mom asked him to come inside and he said in a flat voice that as the county coroner he was here to tell us that August (my dad) was dead and his body had been taken to the mortuary. With that, he turned and left!! Mom and I grabbed one another and wailed. How could this be? Dad had gone with a friend to watch the fishermen seine on a lake a few miles north of our farm. How could he be gone! We knew he had what in those days they called "hardening of the arteries" (high blood pressure), but no one had warned that it could lead to disaster! No one had told us what to expect; he was only 50 years old!
When we were able to minimally function, mom said she would need to make some phone calls and would I go out to the barn and tell Uncle what had happened. I vaguely remember going into the steamy warmth of the barn in search of Uncle. I found him tending the horses and I said, "Daddy is dead". That was it -- I did not stay to witness the shock that must have shown on Uncle's face -- I just ran back to the house.
It was not long and cars began driving into the driveway. There were friends and neighbors, relatives and onlookers. A couple of farmers told mom not to be concerned about chores or the cattle, they would be glad to help Uncle take care of things. People began bringing food. The table was set for anyone who might feel the need to eat. Neighbor ladies took over in the kitchen, mom just sat on a chair under the mantle clock (still wearing her apron) and cried.
A neighbor lady sat next to mom, trying to find a way to comfort her. When I walked by, mom cried even louder saying, "She's only a child, how will I take care of her alone!" I felt lost, confused and very, very lonely. I knew Dad was gone; how would we go on with life?
Someone had called my sisters and they all made it home to be with mom. We learned that Dad had felt ill while watching the fishermen and asked for help getting to his car. By the time they got him there, he was gone! It was unusual for him to go on such an outing, but Mom said he had been restless and wanted something to do besides chores, so he left shortly after lunch.
Someone had called our pastor; he came to pray and bring comfort. The mortician happened to be a friend of the family, so he came to talk to mom about tentative arrangements. He was the father of one of my school friends and he could not have been nicer to me in how he explained what would be happening in preparation for the funeral. He did not treat me like a kid, but gave me comfort by keeping me informed.
My mother just cried and cried. I was so glad there were friends there to help her. Fortunately, they were able to prepare her for the next steps. They talked about visitation times, the funeral and what she should wear. They assured her that someone would be in charge of the kitchen at all times so she would not need to think about it. She had concern for the chickens (that was her job always), and she was told there was a neighbor already in charge of those duties.
People were more than helpful; they were very kind and so concerned. I felt we were in good hands, but there were many, many questions in my mind. What would happen to us? How would we live? Where would the money come from? Too much for a kid to think about. I decided that all I could do was pray -- so I did.
Respectfully submitted,
Laura W. Berglund
April 2019