Today, I bought a box of ice cream bars, and the first bite transported me back to the dusty main street of Dickey, North Dakota.
When I was growing up, my parents often drove to Dickey on Sunday afternoons to see Dad’s family. From our farm, it was a straight shot north on a gravel road. As we drove, the flat land dipped into the fertile James River Valley. Today, the valley, located south of Jamestown, is part of the Chan SanSan Scenic Backway. www.ndtourism.com/best-places/north-dakota. Back then, we just thought it was pretty.
Along the way, we’d pass the farm where Dad’s parents had lived, though they were gone before I was born. The Larsons had arrived at Dickey in 1902. I remember asking Dad how they traveled when they moved from southern Minnesota. With a straight face, he said with a team of oxen. That was a shocking piece of information! I was grown up before I realized he was joking and that settlers of that era arrived by train.
When I was a child, many of his siblings still lived in the area. Sisters Mary, Ella, Emma and Lillie all lived in Dickey at that time.
Dickey is a village of gravel streets and unpretentious houses. Ella lived in a low rambling brown stucco house on the main street, along with Aunt Emma. That is where we generally went to visit. The adults would gather around the round oak dining room table for a late afternoon lunch of coffee and oatmeal cookies or rhubarb cake.
During the summers, kind-hearted Ella took in special needs children from the Grafton State School. Two of the girls visited each summer. Myrna was older and Janice was younger than I was. Since I was the youngest of 43 cousins by several years, I was happy to have them as playmates.
One time, after they’d moved back to Grafton, we went to Dickey on a hot fall Sunday. One of my aunts took pity on me being the only child present and gave me a nickel to go buy ice cream.
It’s hard to believe how sheltered I was as a child. I was seven-years-old and had never been sent off alone in a strange town. Never mind that the town had fewer than a hundred residents. I bravely walked up the street, with the blue sky framed by golden-hewed elm and cottonwood trees, and the hot wind throwing sand at my bare legs.
In my mind, I went to a little general store, but the state’s blue laws were in effect, so it must have been a café. Whatever it was, it had a big front window, a squeaky screen door, a floor fan blowing inside, and a long freezer with a slide door on the top.
They didn’t have ice cream cones, so I picked out a Cheerio, which I had wanted to try. Plopping my nickel on the counter, I planned to walk back to Aunt Ella’s house before eating it. However, within a minute, ice cream was leaking out of the paper wrapper. I opened it up and began damage control, slurping at the chocolate and vanilla treat and trying not to get any on my clothes. In spite of the mess, it was a memorable treat.
In writing this essay, I began to realize how many memories I have of going to Dickey, and I’m truly surprised to realize how much the towns in my books resemble Dickey.
In By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek and Amber’s Choice, the village of Schulteville was admittedly named after my Aunt Lillie and Uncle Adrian Schulte. At the time of the Cheerio meltdown, they lived in a rambling one-story hot pink house a few blocks from Ella’s. Later they moved to Adrian (yes, Adrian moved to Adrian), which is seven miles west on a road through the pristine valley.
Later they bought a nice house in Dickey, a square two-story stucco house. The attic is as large as any house we ever lived in and a covered porch ran across the front of the house. It still stands across the street from the Methodist church. In my books, Aunt Kate Schulte has the nicest house in Schulteville and it’s located across the street from the church. (Disclaimer, Aunt Kate Schulte is nothing like my sweet Aunt Lillie.)
And finally, I’m happy to say ice cream bars still taste as good today as on that long ago day in Dickey.
A Special Word of Encouragement
Friends, I hope this look back brightens your day. We live in difficult times and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the problems we face. When that happens, we need to do what Colossians 3:2 states: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” NIV. When our focus is on the Lord and the power of his might, it’s easier to trust him to see us through. Philippians 4 has a lot of advice on how to get through these times. It was written by Saint Paul when he was in prison, but his words are still of value today!
I am writing and meeting with my writers group each week, using social distancing, of course. My books are available online or get signed copies by contacting me.