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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

My Father Dies on Memorial Day

Final information on services is available here.

My father died on the morning of Memorial Day as "Taps" was playing on the nursing home televisions. Although we have been Skyping with him when possible during the lockdown and my sister and I each accompanied him for two separate medical appointments at Sanford clinic, we were not allowed to be with him in his final days, even though he did not have coronavirus nor was it present within his long-term care facility. Left with nothing more, we sat outside his window, which I insisted they open a crack. There we talked to him, told him stories, and sang hymns and songs. My sister made arrangements for him to be transferred to her home on Monday, where we three sisters would work with hospice care for his final days, but it was not to be. Grandkids who were in town came to the window for their goodbyes to their Granddaddy. My daughter, Chelsea Sorenson, sang several songs to him including "We'll Meet Again," a song she sang last June at the program we held for him on the 75th-anniversary of D-Day. On my phone I played for him Mahalia Jackson's timeless version of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," and then the last song I sang to him was "Go Rest High." Listen to the inimitable Vince Gill sing the song he wrote if you wish here.

May 6th, the last time I was able to be with him

My father always requested that I bake him my from-scratch German chocolate cake for his August birthday. When the news of the lockdown came and it was clear that it would be lengthy, I baked one in the hopes it could be delivered. But, it was not to be so I froze it. I'll admit that a few tears were shed in the kitchen that day. That cake has just been torturing Jim who saw it every time he reached into the freezer for something. I took it out on Monday and my sisters, brothers-in-law, and a few grandchildren spread out on my patio for a German chocolate cake wake. 

Fifty years ago this month, my father retired from a career with the U.S. Army. He had been offered the rank of Master Sgt, but he elected to retire at his rank of Sgt. First Class, and my parents chose to move our family to ND to help my mother's elderly parents with the family farm. I will never forget the ceremony that day on the parade ground at Fort Bliss. He carried a clipping from the newspaper in his wallet until the day he moved into the nursing home. 

I've written several blogs about my father since I began my writing journey. Here are some links:
My Dad's Tackle Box (which was just given last week to his grandson, Jacob Walby, for his college graduation gift)

Photo by Jeff Weispfenning, taken in Jeff's boat on the Missouri River

Photo by Jeff Weispfenning, taken in Jeff's boat on the Missouri River

Photo by Jeff Weispfenning, taken in Jeff's boat on the Missouri River

Because of the pandemic, we will not schedule the services until family members are able to travel and we can join together. For now, please share remembrances with us on the funeral home website at this link.

Veterans Day 2018 at Red Oak House (photo by Lillian Crook)

Years ago, I wrote his obituary with him, and Jim edited it. It gave him great comfort to know that the details were arranged. It is below.

Garland Crook Obituary Bismarck Tribune

Hubert Garland Crook traveled to his eternal rest on Monday, May 25, 2020, while living at a long-term care facility in Mandan, ND.

Garland was born at home in the Friendship neighborhood of Attalla County, Mississippi on August 12, 1924 to Jasper Earl and Lena Belle (Ellis) Crook, the first of nine children. He attended primary school at Friendship School, learned shape-note singing at Friendship Church, and completed high school at nearby French Camp Academy. At eighteen, he was called to serve in World War II in the US Army and was on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. Later he served as the personal driver to General Lee, and during this time in France and Germany he met many dignitaries including General Patton and the Duke of Windsor and the Duke’s wife. On VE Day, the general asked him to stay on in Europe, but he said, “I’m going home!” After military service which included the Korean and Vietnam wars, he retired from the Army as Sergeant First-Class in June 1970.

He married Marian Silbernagel, of Rhame, ND, in 1951 and they traveled the world with their children in the US Army life, including a few years they all lived in Okinawa. After his military retirement, they farmed and ranched in the Deep Creek township of Slope County, ND. He loved bluegrass music, football, and the outdoors, mostly gardening, camping, and his lifelong passion: fishing. He was very proud of his membership in the ND Walleye Whopper Club. He was a true handyman and held a wide variety of jobs in his long lifetime.

In 1986, he married Cheryl Hilden and they made their home in Mississippi, Dickinson, and more recently Bismarck, ND. He was very committed to and had Life memberships in The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Forty et Eight. Through the years for these organizations he served on numerous committees, and held offices on the local, state, and national levels. He and Cheryl were members of Calvary Free Lutheran Church in Bismarck.

He is survived by his wife, Cheryl Crook, his children, Sarah (Craig) McLaughlin, Andy Crook, Lillian Crook (Jim Fuglie), Thomas (Betty) Crook, and Beckie (Jason) Walby, his step-son Brian (Marijo) Swenson, grandchildren and their spouses, Eric (Carrie) Crook, Christina (Chris) Lowe, Kathleen McLaughlin (Jesse) Richardson, Tommy (Whitney) Crookson, Lisa Casserly, Matthew (Jaimee) McLaughlin, Michael McLaughlin, Chelsea and Rachel Sorenson, Duncan and Loren Crook, Jacob and Ryan Walby, Chance and Brody Porsborg, many great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandson, and his sisters Frances (Marshall) May, Ruth Puddephatt, Patsy Craft, and Judy Majovski, his brother, Ronnie Crook, and his sister-in-law Sybil Crook, as well as many nieces and nephews. He was proceeded in death by his parents Earl and Lena Belle, his grandson, Craig Charles McLaughlin II, and his sisters and their husbands, Opal and Paul Pender and Edna Earl and Ruel Nix, his brother, James Crook, his sister-in-law, Margaret Crook, and his brothers-in-law, Mark Majovski and Dewitt Craft.

Due to the pandemic, services will be held at a later date and he will be buried at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery near Mandan. Memorials may be made to French Camp Academy, 1 Fine Place, French Camp, MS 39745-9989. Arrangements are being handled by Bismarck Funeral Home.

Services have been scheduled on July 10th, with visitation at 9 a.m. followed by 10 a.m. services, both at the Bismarck Funeral Home. Burial will be at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery at noon the same day, July 10th. The Cemetery reopened for services on June 1.  

Friday, May 15, 2020

Prairie Pioneer Woman Dies: A Tribute to my Aunt Junette

Yesterday we received the sad news that my beloved godmother and aunt, Junette Henke, a pioneer woman of Slope County, died of natural causes. I pause to attempt to write a few words of tribute to one of the grandest ladies I have ever known, who influenced me immeasurably, who I will miss ever so much.

Like me, she was the middle child. She was a teacher, educated at Dickinson State Teachers College, and a passionate lifelong learner. One time, when my family was moving to and fro, following my father's Army career, we were visiting my maternal grandparents at their Slope County farm, and I got to spend the day in Rhame in her classroom. Her students, later to be my classmates, were quite curious about me, a vagabond stranger, and I was a little startled to discover that my aunt intended to be especially strict with me, firm to not show any favoritism.

Andy and Lillian Silbernagel with their three daughters. Marian on his father's lap, Lauretta (center), and Junette (center right),
ca. 1934

Lauretta and Junette (right) with their ewe. Stylish even as tiny tots. The sheep's name was Jumper (guess that says it all). 

Junette with my mother, Marian (on the pony, named Rex). Lauretta is obscured. Again, stylish hats. The pony was sold so the family could buy a Gulbransen piano, which is now in my younger sister's family room having been lovingly restored by my brother-in-law. 
Junette held a teaching position in Hettinger, ND (and later in Rhame and Baker, MT), but, at the request of her mother, my Grandma Lillian, she moved to the west coast to help her newly widowed elder sister care for her two small children and cope with life (her husband had died in World War II). This became a pattern of her life: setting aside her plans and ambitions to take care of family members in crisis.

Her impact on my life was perhaps most significant in that my mother, her younger sister, spent the summer between her junior and senior years of high school with Junette and Lauretta in Port Townsend, Washington, where my mother met the man who would become my father, in the year just before he left for the Korean Conflict. He was first Junette's friend and later they were pals -- he would always tease her that she was older than him (by about four months). My father took this photo of Junette skiing in the Cascade Mountains from that time period (the early 1950s). Wasn't she glamorous?

She returned to visit her parents in Slope County and went on a date with the handsome rancher from the Bad Lands north of Marmarth, Allan Henke (a WWII veteran of the US Navy), who she soon married. (An aside: as a small girl, I thought Allan was The Marlboro Man.) Thus it was that she made a life in that wondrous landscape that established my sense of place, the Little Missouri River country, in an unorganized township west of the Mound Church. She was a devoted daughter, wife, and mother, and the rock of our family. She was so very proud of her children and their children and grandchildren and I know there is a hole in their hearts now.

She and Allan loved to lead the family on Sunday expeditions to explore the countryside and enjoyed attending area auctions, collecting antiques that decorated their home. My earliest memories include drives to Camp Crook, the Powder River country, and Medicine Rocks, along with climbs up nearby Pretty Butte and a great adventure driving to the top of Bullion Butte, which included my grandparents' Ford Galaxy high-centering in a cow trail which then required a shovel fetched from Allan's pickup (you can see the pickup in the first photo below) to dig out an escape path.

Picnic being prepared on the pickup tailgate

The high-centered Galaxy

Other Sundays and holidays were spent around the kitchen table at either her place or ours, with abundant food and with card games and laughter into the night.

When we lived in El Paso, she brought her elderly parents to visit us, and together we journeyed to nearby Juarez and White Sands National Monument.

Junette, back left in a floral dress

Another time, during my father's 30-day leave, we traveled to ND to my grandparents' farm, there for branding no doubt, and we four children stayed behind when our parents returned to their jobs in El Paso. At the end of the idyl, with school soon to start, Junette loaded us and her two children in her Ford Galaxy and headed south for a rendevous midway with my father. Somewhere outside of Gillette, Wy, in the dusk, the car crashed into a deer, and inside was a jumble of six children, books, games, and stuffed animals. She had to put us on a plane to Denver and buy a new car for the return to ND. As with everything in her life, she coped with equanimity.

When my younger sister was a baby and my mother hospitalized far away from the farm, Junette stayed with us and helped my father manage. She became a second mother to my sister, just as she had been to us. She took me to town one day and bought me a brown glass beaded bag and another day we drove to Hettinger to pick up the chicks she taught me to care for. My first money aside from my allowance was egg money earned from selling to town folks and to this day I cannot crack an egg without thinking of her teaching me to carefully gather and wash the eggs and to feed the chickens greens to keep the yolks bright yellow in winter. When we would visit her ranch, we'd play endlessly in the stock tank and wander the prairie and pick berries. I have a vivid memory of the fury with which she undertook to slaughter a nest of baby mice she found in the barn.

In those years her days were filled not just with ranch and housekeeping duties, but also with a major project she undertook with Dorothy Pearson, a neighbor of ours, and other community members including my mother. Somehow, living many miles from Bowman on gravel roads, they managed to produce Slope Saga, the 1,178-page history of Slope County, wrangling contributions from hundreds of people with ties to the county. The Bowman County Pioneer allowed them to use the newspaper office in the night after business hours, and then she would race down the road home, sometimes on Highway 12 (the old Yellowstone Trail) and sometimes taking the back roads for a swing by our place. In later years, when I marveled at this accomplishment, she always chuckled and said, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." I treasure my copy shown here.

Junette and my mother with my Slope Saga

Like most of us, she drove fast, with little time to waste, undaunted by rough and gumbo-slick roads. Once, near Mound Church, we came across a huge rattlesnake crossing the road. Snakes were abundant in Slope County as were coyotes. I spent long stretches with Junette in the summer and would awaken on moonlit nights to coyotes howling just outside the bedroom window. It was on her living room TV that we watched Walter Cronkite report that Nixon had resigned. Another memory, from 1986, was a night I spent at her house after attending a production of a Shakespeare play, "The Marmarth Hamlet," by the Cornerstone Theater Company in cooperation with the Marmarth Historical Society (she and Allan were members of the Society). We took the shortcut from Marmarth to their farm across their pasture on a very dark night and the coyotes serenaded us -- it was a great adventure!

One of her philosophies was "a job worth doing is a job worth doing well" and that has stuck with me all my life. My mother laughed and said that Junette didn't like to do something unless she excelled at it -- baking, sewing, writing, and more, and I recognize that trait in my own approach to life. If I don't do something well, I dislike doing it.

A shrewd businesswoman, she particularly enjoyed financial periodicals and news of the latest medical developments. Her house was always filled with stacks of books and magazines and it was she who encouraged me to write a manuscript about a historical ND figure. It was with enormous pride and pleasure that I delivered a draft copy of that manuscript to her late last winter, with her role in its creation acknowledged.

She helped my mother with so many tasks including wallpapering my bedroom and sewing a down-filled sleeping bag, and she sat with Mother and me at the farm's kitchen table for hours hand-addressing the invitations to my wedding. She baked delicious bread and wrote a column for The Bowman County Pioneer.

Junette was a crack bridge and pinochle player and in great demand as a card partner up until the very last month or so of her long life. I'll never forget when Jim and I were first dating and he joined us for a family gathering which naturally included pinochle. He caught on very quickly that she was whip-smart and from then onward he angled to be her card partner.

We laughed because her schedule was so busy one had to make an appointment to visit her. But visit her I did, as frequently as I could manage. We could talk for hours about any number of topics and I soaked up her stories of family and local history in the knowledge that this day would come. While she was a font of historical knowledge, she would always be eager to know what was happening in our lives now, turning the conversation to the present and the future. Here is a short video of her telling me about the Yellowstone Trail in Slope County, a priceless memory I'm so glad I captured when I was researching a blog about the trail. I could fill volume 2 of a Slope Saga with stories of her.

Mother and Aunt Junette reviewing genealogy with me, Mandan, ND

I have warm memories of gathering around the Gulbransen piano to sing with my mother and Junette, my sisters and cousins, and my first exposure to Broadway musicals was from sheet music on the rack on her piano and organ. In more recent years, we would take Mother and Junette to the Bismarck Mandan Symphony Orchestra, sometimes picking up Sheila Schafer too. Now that made for a night of good stories including that Sheila and Junette had danced at the same Seattle-area nightclub long ago.

Jason Walby with Junette on the back of his Harley. She was 90! She was game for almost everything. (Photo by Beckie Walby)

Junette had a strong sense of civic duty and greatly enjoyed serving in the ND Silver-haired Legislature. I can still hear her saying, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way!" with a determined grin. While she was dignified, she also had a wonderful sense of humor and modeled for us that one could be stylish and elegant while also down-to-earth. For her, being smart was important but so too was not taking oneself too seriously. She valued resilience and often reminded us to not dwell on unpleasant memories -- "That was back there," she would say, with a toss of her hand over her shoulder.

I last saw her just before the pandemic lockdown, but visited her window at the nursing home down the hall from my mother's window. We had such hopes that she and my mother would enjoy a few years together there, but it was not to be. I will so miss her melodic voice on the telephone, her chuckle, and oh so much more.

We are heartbroken in our loss and my deepest condolences go to my cousins, Leah and Reva, and their families. As is true of so many families worldwide, the knowledge that we will not have a funeral gathering to share our grief and myriad memories is a bitter pill to swallow. She will be buried with her husband at the ND Veterans Cemetery, south of Mandan. When her obituary is published, I will add a link to it here. May you all have such a special woman in your lives and may perpetual light shine upon her.

Junette's parents' 50th-wedding celebration, Rhame Lutheran Church, June 1970. Junette front left, with her daughters, Reva and Leah, and her husband, Allan, behind her 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 57

Update from the Red Oak House garden.

An early warm spell lured Mr. Green Jeans into planting his tomatoes on May 1. Last week's cold snap killed most of his precious hand-raised heirloom seedlings. He says it is worth the risk because of our short growing season. I'm not much of a risk-taker, but the vegetable garden is his territory so I try to stay out of it (figuratively and literally). He had said he was going to grow some hybrids this year, but changed his mind when he planted the seeds back in March. He came in from checking the damage and said, "Remember when I said I was going to grow hybrids?" Off to the greenhouse, we went--a rare outing for him these days.

During the same warm and sunny spell (a bit of a rarity in this dry and windy spring), I planted my patio pots. Later I was able to bring all of them in for protection and all is well, albeit they are in need of some sunshine.

For a few days, the patio was cleaned off and ready for summer enjoyment but we are back to the temporary "greenhouse" now.

We've been eating asparagus from our bed and anticipating lettuce. The peas and carrots and garlic have sprouted. Our freezer is full and we have figured out how to go two weeks between runs for groceries. On my birthday, the second load of mulch was delivered so it is back to the wheelbarrow/scoop shovel routine for me when time permits.

Giant allium showing ill effects of the cold snap

Aside from the sadness of not being able to be with my parents, we are coping well enough with the pandemic and count our blessings each day. Recently I was able to accompany my father to a medical appointment, to tell him how happy I was to be in his presence and sorry that I could not be with him each day as was my practice. This was two days before the 75th-anniversary of VE Day so we talked about what his life was like at that time--he was in France driving for a general, who asked him to stay on. He opted to come home and fourteen years later short of one day, I was born.

On a recent window visit with my mother, I chanced upon my nephew, who is with the ND Air National Guard and in town assisting with the pandemic response. I know his visit was a bright spot in her day as she so loves her grandchildren.

Now our daughter, Rachel, who has disabilities and usually lives and works in a congregate setting, has come to live with us and we are settling into a new routine. Today we made a window visit to my mother and then took a long bike ride at Sibley Park, where the Missouri River valley has turned a lovely lime green on a puffy cloud day.

All those little pods will release "cotton" later this summer

In the knowledge that we will be doing no traveling anytime soon, we are earmarking discretionary funds for long-awaited kitchen upgrades. Why not invest in a room so important to us at Red Oak House is our view. We both love to cook and entertain--someday the entertaining component will return.

Now and then I join my other twin, Chelsea, for some birding at the wetlands east of Bismarck (donning masks and driving separate cars). She has been taking some wonderful photographs of the birds so stay tuned for a future guest blog featuring her photos. Here is a teaser, one of the hundreds of photos she took of an American Bittern.