by Elizabeth Breitbord

In 1893, my father, Abraham Calof, who was a lithographer in New York, decided he wanted land on which to farm and where he could build a future, for himself and the family he hoped to have. His brother Charles, came to this area a few years previously and had already acquired a few acres of land and a few livestock and chickens. He had five children, Oscar, Henry, Max, Alice and Lillian. Only Alice and Lillian are living. Lillian married Phil Malmquist and Alice married Joe Leibman.

My Dad’s parents soon acquired a bit of land and although I don’t think they farmed much – they more or less just lived there. Their names were Ekwood and Solomon.

My Mom, Bella Rachel, was an orphan from Russia and she used another girl’s passport (the other girl’s parents had decided she was too young to come to America.) My mother had an aunt, my Dad’s sister in Russia and knowing her brother was looking for a bride, decided to send her.

The first home was a 9/12 shack with a dirt floor where five children were born. As my Dad got more prosperous, he, with little help built a house and acquired some cattle, chickens and grew enough vegetables to keep us fairly well fed. Four more children were born there.

Abraham grew wheat, barley and flax and when the crop was good, we were able to buy groceries and some clothes.

How well I remember him standing watching the storm clouds and if there was hail it would wipe out the crops and we had to make do until the next year.

I think we had about 300 acres and after 17 years on the farm and the children out growing the school there we decided to move to St. Paul.

Our schoolhouse was really unique as it had one classroom for all grades and when one finished a reader they were promoted to an upper grade. Our teacher was Katie Baker, who at that time seemed ancient to us and who died only ten years ago.

One neighbor was Mendel Mills. I know nothing else about him. Another, was a family named Lew Friedman who had four children, one named Minnie. Our “menton” and other things was Papermaster. (Papermaster was the Rabbi who lived in Grand Forks but served all the Jews in the surrounding areas). There is still a family by that name in Minneapolis.

During the High Holidays – we would have the minyan at our home with my Dad officiating. All the members stayed over the nite or two and we children slept in a make shift tent or in chairs.

There is a Peggy Liberman who was the Cantor. She’s one of a large family and now lives in in Los Angeles.

My family did homestead in Overland County and no one owned the land before my Dad. We had terrible electric storms and miserable snow ones. One day lightning hit our barn and killed almost all of our chickens. Soon after, my Dad installed lightning rods. What a sad day for us as these chickens were very valuable as food for us. How many times did we go into the cellar where the potatoes and carrots were stored and stayed there many hours so in case the house was carried away we would be comparatively safe.

Although our house was not far from the barn, during a severe snowstorm, my Dad would fasten a rope from one building to another so as not to get lost.

We put arsenic in the holes of the gophers, as they were the bane of our existence. One day, my sister who was a tiny tot and sitting on a makeshift wagon with the pail of poison between her legs decided to taste some. God was certainly watching over us as there were no dire results.

Seemed like my Dad was always getting kicked by some horse (as he used to train wild broncos) and he was sure he was dying every time – so he would gather all the family around him and say his good-byes after awhile we got used to it and no doubt said to one another, What again?”

My mother worked in the fields together with the neighbors and hired men and as she had nine children in 18 years seemed forever pregnant and would stay with her chores until it was time to give birth, lie in bed for a few hours and get up to bake bread and then rest for another few hours.

A hired man, Sam Yaffee, was a kind person to her and would relieve her of many chores too heavy for her to do. We had a hired man who used a pin to prick the eggs while they were in the next and leave the supposedly whole egg for us to gather. One other time, a man did all his chores while he was asleep and when he woke to demanded to know who did his work for him.

My Dad was a great one to see knowledge besides the farm and the little money we had most of it went for books. He finally got on the school board and was very interested in learning. He received as letter from the President of the United States commending him for something he accomplished. Unfortunately, the letter was either lost or stolen.

I have no idea of prices of things, but I do remember my Dad would go to Edmore and pick up a job lot of shoes and throw them in the center of the floor and we would pick out the color we wanted regardless of size (surprisingly enough our feet are only slightly deformed. )
My Dad’s library was donated to the Arker-A-ning in St.Paul. They must be at least 100 years old and I think I mentioned before that I have some real old photos of the farm which I let my niece in Minneapolis keep but which I will try and send you.

My mother’s recipes were not ones we could use as when asked how a certain thing was made she would say “Mi shitten a ron a biseel” or take a handful of this and that regardless of the size of your hand.

She did make her own soap and carried water from the well (quite a distance) for everything. We had gasoline lights with mantles and if one were to touch one, it disintegrated in our fingers but the lights could be seen for miles. The coyotes and wolves would howl all night but never daring to come close to the house.

So many things happened to us and with God’s help and my mother’s good sense we all survived.

When I was small – I reached for my Mother’s hot coffee laced with cream and sugar and got a terrible burn on my neck and arm. Not knowing whether to use the yolk or white part of an egg she used both which adhered to my skin and when the Dr. came out in a few days, he removed my wool shirt and most of the skin with it. My sister, Hannah, had an impacted tooth and had to ride with the mailman, a Mr. Hetland, for two days while he delivered his mail and got to Edmore.

My mother bore 8 children without the benefit of a Dr. but being close to 40 – they decided to go to Edmore for the blessed event as there was nothing to rent with any comfort, so they got a empty store with a rolling skate rink above us. Her Dr. was drunk and he gave her a pill, which almost killed her as the baby, and most of her insides came out. He was in a hurry to get home. Such were the hardships of the “good old days.”

During harvesting time all the neighbors would gather to cook and serve meals to the workers and when their jobs were done in one neighborhood all would go to the next neighbor.

Our home remedies for anything from a cold up and down was a compress consisting of warm flax wrapped in a red flannel. It always worked. Our toilet paper was old newspapers (The Forward) and when we became more prominent we used orange paper. THAT was a luxury!

My mother many years ago started a book on her own telling about her personal life; A book that’s stained with tears, as a bride of 18; the hardships; the personal troubles. She sent it to the Forward newspaper, which was very interested in printing it in serials, but she had written it on both sides of the paper and they couldn’t accept it that way and there was no one to re-write it. I kept it as a very dear reminder of her.