Remember When?


August 17, 2023

30 YEARS AGO • JULY 14, 1993


Continued from last week…

Sophie and Bert raised seven children on the homestead: Leo, Lester, Clarence, Wilfred, Tuffy, Altha and Louie. Today Altha and Louie live in Belknap, and four sons live in Libby, Indiana and Louisiana. Their eldest child, Leo, died 15 years ago.

A trip back east by train was to keep Sophie busy for a while after Bert's passing. “I was a pretty green traveler,” she admits, “but went to Ontario to visit my husband’s family and on to Maryland to see other family.” Special was her visit to Washington, D.C., like always in her canvas shoes.

On the return trip she made stops in Indiana and Chicago where she learned about getting around in the city and how taxi meter numbers can keep ringing up to give a person a $4 ride when the same distance in a limousine would cost 50 cents.

Then on to Milwaukee and home on the train into Belknap. There were two rails then - one passenger and one freight.

About 15 years ago Sophie traveled back to her farm home in Wisconsin. The farmland seemed pretty much the same, she was happy to see. There was a new house next to her old home, which was to be expected. But the winter sledding hill of her youth did not seem as high as it once had.

Today Sophie enjoys her family, two of whom live nearby and the others who call frequently and visit. “My kids have always been good to me,” she says.

Sophie recalls the wonder of the survival of her first-born Leo, born prematurely at 6½ months at the homestead into a world of no electricity. But with the aid of a neighbor they kept a warm fire going, made tiny cotton jackets to keep around him, and dropped milk into his mouth for nourishment.

All six sons, Sophie says proudly, served in the armed forces, five during WWII and Louie during the Korean Conflict. Bert died in 1944, when the boys were still in the service. “It was hard then, but the boys always helped me out. Louie, Altha, a neighbor, and I went to Yakima that July to pick and sort fruit. We got 40 cents an hour and my son got 50 cents an hour, of course, because he was a man. The children earned enough to buy their school clothes and go to the dentist.”

Sophie cans peaches and tomatoes and the story goes that she makes the best pickles around. A few folks have been known to sneak a pickle whenever they could. And a couple of granddaughters say they wish they could cook like Sophie.

One day last year, Sophie tells how she fell while home alone baking cookies. Unable to slide herself very well on the carpet, she managed to reach her cane over to the telephone table, pull it over, and call for help.

The broken hip was painful, she recalls, but Carol Turk and the other EMTs got her on the stretcher just fine even though “I told them that new type stretcher is going to pinch me.” Carol assured her they would not let it pinch her. “The worst of it,” she says in her apparent good humor, “was dropping the cookies; I couldn’t even reach one!”

One thing Sophie doesn’t like to do is watch football or basketball either, for that matter. She does love to play cards, though - solitaire, “31”, aggravation, hearts, pinochle and poker. “Can’t see the fun of football with all those people piling on top of each other!”

Good friend, Joan Freed, walks the dirt road mile to Sophie’s most weekdays to visit and lend a little hand with a few things.

Telling Sophie how my own 93-year-old grandmother used to kid about cheating at solitaire, she admitted that she does, too. “That’s the only way I can win.” Does she have any pets? “I have a cat somewhere - he mostly stays in the barn.”

One former neighbor at the nearby Branson ranch who came to Sophie’s birthday party, Adele Branson Harlan, recalled her childhood going over to Sophie’s at Christmas in a horse drawn sleigh with bells - there are some things a person always remembers even when they have traded country living for a city life.

And Sophie chuckles now remembering her story of being told in 1945 that she had to have a kidney removed. If she did, the doctor said, she could live 15 more years. So she had the surgery. “and look!” says the smiling 90-year-old Belknap pioneer 38 years later.

When you meet Sophie, you can understand so many friends and relatives wanting to be a part of her recent 90th birthday celebration. The homestead with its barn, cows, root cellar, flowers and garden has that comfortable “coming home” feeling whether you grew up on a ranch or not. And with Sophie there and the smell of home cooking I would suspect it’s a matter of who could resist.


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