NARRATOR: John Andrew Holodnick
INTERVIEWER: Sid Holodnick (son)
DATE: September 30, 1988

Syd: Why don't you start Dad, by saying when you were born and where, and a little bit about your parent's background and history.
John: Why don't we start out with the parents first. We'll try and do this in sequence.
Syd: Where were your parents born, do you want to start there? That's probably a good place.
John: Well my mother, I know her (maiden name was Jessie Maniyka -sp, born 1893 in Austria /Poland Krakow). I've got immigration information in the trailer.
Syd: On something like that don't be afraid to say it, then we can get it and Nancy can type that in there later. We can get the name even if you don't have the spelling right now. Just go ahead and say it and then we can look up the name and type it. The wonders of word processors. So they were born in Poland?
John: It was Austria at that time. Austria encompassed - it was a big country at that time, one of the biggest in Europe.
Syd: What year was that?
John: 1912. My mother was actually betroth to a guy, Fred Prokem her 5th cousin, but he was quite a few years older than my mother. She didn't want to marry him. I think he paid for the passage. This Fred Prokem - I worked for his brother and they were a couple of real gems - those guys. I loaded hay, I guess. I worked for ten dollars a month.
Syd: This Fred Prokem, where did he live?
John: No I worked for Peter - his brother. I went over there one day, they didn't have a car but they had some junker setting out in the yard. And while we were talking there, Fred's wife was carrying a 100 lb. sack of flour across the room. And those two guys didn't offer to help or anything. That's the way they were in the old country.
Syd: Where did the Prokems live - where did Peter live, Wilton?
John: On a farm - they were both farmers about 15 miles out of town.
Syd: So actually your mother was going to marry Fred Prokem - he lived in this country and he paid for her way over.
John: They knew each other from over there (families). But, I don't think she knew him. Because I think he was quite a bit older. See, the thing is that they forced my mother in a sense, to accept that, to meet those conditions, because the younger sister was considered more beautiful, and she had a boyfriend who wanted to marry her. They couldn't get married until the older girl got married. That's the way they got this Prokem thing.
Syd: So her parents kind of set that up then? That was an arranged marriage.
John: This was customary.
Syd: So she didn't end up marrying Fred. How did that happen?
John: Then she went to work in a boarding house, helping out in the kitchen and whatever. My father was working in the mine and stayed there at the time (boarding house). So that's how they got together and eventually got married.
Syd: What city was that?
John: That was near Wilton, east of Wilton about 2 or 3 miles. I forget what that little area was called.
Syd: If it comes to mind latter you can pop it in there anyplace. So they met at the boarding house. He was a miner at that time.
John: Then they moved to Medora. I don't know if the work ran out or whether he got angry at the working conditions and then moved someplace else. That's the story of his life. He was more of an itinerant miner. ... when he was home.
Syd: So what year did they get married then?
John: My brother was born in 1914 so they got married a year before that, I would imagine.
Syd: They lived in Medora.
John: My brother and I were born in Medora.
Syd: You were born in Medora. I think we went through Medora one time when we were out there?
John: I don't think so. We went through Zap.
Syd: What was in Zap? There was something there too?
John: My dad came to Wilton and bought the house and things were slow and whatever happened I don't know. Next thing you know we moved to Lehigh. ... Then I think we moved to Zap. This all happened within a few years. ... hardly a year at Lehigh. Then we moved to Zap. My dad was working there for a year or two. That's where I started 1st grade. Then he took off to work someplace else.
Syd: So you started school at Lehigh?
John: Yes, 1st grade.
Syd: What was that like? Do you remember anything about 1st grade then?
John: It was a country school. I remember getting my hands slapped by the teacher one time. I was throwing a snowball at a girl and hit her in the head. I know I had done wrong, so I ran away. She had some of the boys try to run me down, but I had too much of a head start. Besides I was scared. So I came home moping around the yard and my mother said, "What's the matter Johnny?" I said, "Nothing." Well she said, "I'll find out when Pete gets home." Sure enough. "And you're going back tomorrow or you're going to get more then you'll ever get there." I believed her so I went back. I still can remember sitting there with my hands in prayer, I guess (my hands together looking very innocent). "Johnny come hear," she said. She had one hand behind her back. This was out in the vestibule where they had a drinking fountain there. We went round and round. She grabbed me by my left hand with her left hand. And then we went round with a rubber hose I think it was, something like that. She laced me a few good ones. "Are you going to do it again?" "No." The thing that was the worst was that everyone was laughing when I came into the room.
Syd: It wasn't the rubber hose that hurt so much, but the embarrassment.
John: Then there was a collie-like dog. He was pure white. We fell in love with that dog right away. It followed us to school. There the kids did something that was kind of mean. They befriended the dog and while one guy was turning his head the others were tieing a tin can on his tail. They turned it loose and that dog ran "Hell bent for election". A train was going by and he ran right through that train where he got picked up by the undercarriage and wasn't seen again.
Syd: So what kind of subjects would you study?
John: Math, spelling. That was a raw boned woman that was in charge. She had to be, because there was some boys there that were shaving and still went to school. They came from the old country you see.
Syd: A pretty tough bunch?
John: We weren't as tough as she was.
Syd: What about recess?
John: Well that's when I threw that snowball.
Syd: Any kind of games that you guys remember playing at that time?
John: The older boys played ball or it was just whatever you wanted to do.
Syd: Any particular girlfriends at that time?
John: Didn't enter my mind.
Syd: Didn't chase any girls at that time?
John: That is a modern thing. How much of that happened to you when you were that age.
Syd: I had girls chase me. You know it was just like Peter was talking about, it was more of a game. So how many kids did you have in the family? There was you, Pete, Joe -
John: That was it. The girls were born when we got back to Wilton. My dad took off. Left my mother in Zap. We put our stuff on a freight train - household goods. I guess at that time we rode the same train. We got back to Wilton. We had rented our house, but they never took care of it. And after putting it back up to snuff we lived in it. Because in the spring we had to plant there - in other words she wanted to raise a garden. She wanted to get back in time to raise a garden. The garden was plowed by a team of horses and a walking plow.
Syd: Who would plow? Would you actually do the plowing?
John: No, there was a guy who comes around with his horses and plows gardens for people - a couple bucks. He went around selling seed potatoes, seeds, to get started.
Syd: So it was kind of a business where people came around and did your plowing for you, and sold you seeds at the same time?
John: A lot of people saved their own seeds. And they would have some extra seed they would give, at least I think that is what happened. I don't think that she had to buy it from the store. Sometimes we planted the potatoes behind the plow. I think you've seen that done at home.
Syd: I remember we did that at home a couple of times (Huron county MI).
John: Now that wasn't being recorded, was it?
Syd: Yeah.
John: Oh, it was. I thought you were just practicing.
Syd: I brought 2 tapes, we can talk for 2 hours.
John: My father was away for quite a while. I don't remember the details of when he came back. He was back long enough to sire another child. Then he would take off again. Actually I think I was still in the 1st grade when I got back to Wilton. Maybe I wasn't, but it seems like it was. It gives you an idea of the short duration that we were in the other places.
Syd: Just living a year here and 1/2 year there.
John: It wasn't much more then a year.
Syd: So you moved to Lehigh, then to Zap, and then back to Wilton. All within 2 years?
John: Probably 2 years or less.
Syd: That would have been around 1920?
John: Well I was born in 1916. So it had to be at least 1922. Then I think it was before that, that I became sick before we left for Lehigh. My youngest sister Mary died. I don't know what the disease was. I don't think that I have ever heard them say. There was a lot of flu and diphtheria going around and I ended up in the hospital. They thought I was going to die there. I had real bad high fever, hallucinations - sometimes I think what happened to my heart started back there. I think the scaring of the heart, that type of thing might have started. Then I had erythema. I think that some of that started back there because nobody ever tested for that until I was 60.
Syd: How old was Mary when she died?
John: She was hardly a year old. In fact my mother is buried along side Mary. That's what she requested. We had kind of a hectic time. We had neighbors that were related to each other, we were surrounded by those relatives. They were afraid of us causing problems when we were younger.
Syd: Do you remember their names?
John: The grandparents were (named) Haverlock and they lived right across the road from us. One of the daughters was married to a Wosnick they had 8 or 9 kids. They lived across the garden from us - there was a garden fence. If they had lived up to our fence it would have been worse. The problem started when our cow got loose. This goes back to the time that maybe I was 3 years old maybe 4. The cow got loose went across the road, stuck his head through the fence, there was a field of oats or grain planted there. Grandma Haverlock came down grabbed the cow, put a rope around the horns, put its head up against the post, wrapped the rope around the horns and the post and started yelling. It was a signal for the others to come running. My mother walked over and tried to talk her out of holding the cow. She wouldn't release it so mother said, "Pete go get the butcher knife." It sounded kind of ominous. A German-Russian lady going by, understood what was being said, "No, no Pete don't get the knife." My mother stamped her foot and said, "Pete get the knife." So he got the knife, she cut the rope and took the cow. And that is how the whole trouble started. Everything from poisoning chickens, to poisoning the pig, to poisoning the dog. There was a series of events. One day one of the Haverlock sons, he lived a few block away, he lived the farthest away, was the one that threw the rock, a large rock that was 6 or 7 inches in diameter. He threw it through the window and it landed right next, just missed my head, and my sister Lillian's cradle.
Syd: She was a baby lying in a cradle.
John: It was at night she was sleeping and it was thrown right through the window. There was an incident where Pete was playing. There was horseradish along the fence, it was over by the Wosnick's. And he was playing choo-choo or something there in the dirt. Mrs. Wosnick came out and hit him in the back with a stick. A few years after that, Lillian was fairly small, and she was maybe 2 years old or 3 maybe. She hit her over the back with a stick and it had a nail in it. The thing that was bad about the situation there was the justice system could not give us justice. In other words they were the witnesses, every time we had a hearing or something else, all the relatives would seat there and "all them saw what happened." We were pretty much alone so we ended up on the short end of the stick. They put us under a peace bond and the trouble would start over again. So, they just took the money and it was a nice joke for them. In other words we were treated like niggers - those foreigners. So it was a bad experience. Here is a thing that happened. We use to have to go past the Wosnick's to the tower to get water. Of course we were older at the time, maybe 8 or 9. They had older children. They had one particular one we called the ...... bitch because she was so mean. And as we were going by they would throw rocks at us and she would come out and scratch us and slap us around.
Syd: She was like an older sister or something?
John: She was the daughter of the Wosnicks. Another incident: It was sometime later Grandpa Haverlock was headed for the tower to haul water. My mother was in a hurry. I had to hurry because I had to get the water before school. So here I was kind of humming and singing and one thing or another, happy as could be, walking past the old man. Ran to the water tower past the old man filled my can before he got there. He was madder then a hornet. So he picked up a stone and threw it at me. So I picked up a stone, threw it back and hit him in the arm. You know there was a hearing about that and I came out smelling stinko. There was a continuum of that. One time Grandpa Havorlock came into the garden where we were working, with a horse whip, and he was going to whip us. My mother took after him and said, "Why you old devil. You get out of here, you old bastard you." So my mother was a survivor. We did not miss a meal during the depression. Mainly because we had our own garden and a lot of fruit. We raised a pig, we had a cow, we had chickens. We were almost self sufficient. Actually, I think she got $11 a month for support from the county. And that was suppose to take care of everything. Luckily we did get some help from the Federal Government and they passed out flour and dried fruit and various things like that. There were people in town, a girlfriend of my sister told her once that they had to miss a meal once in a while and there father was at home. And here we were without a father eating regularly. Another incident that happened was the neighbor boy who lived a few blocks away got a new bebe gun. So here we were in our yard, shooting at tin cans and one thing and another in the ditch. Old lady Havorlock comes out and starts strutting around the yard picking up stones. I couldn't understand what she was saying. A couple ladies from town. I guess they would be called the upper crust. Now they wouldn't be called anything, I guess. They were coming by pushing two baby carriages. The Haverlock place was like a shelter. It was like a square C, where the house was on one side and the buildings squared around in kind of a C-pattern. Just as these ladies came around, old lady Haverlock took a corn cob, raised up her dress and rubbed it across her rear end, they were so shocked they couldn't believe it. That was the final way of insulting anybody. Which was of course as stupid as you could get. There was another incident. My mother had already prepared the food for Thanksgiving. A friend gave her a turkey. A live turkey. She didn't want to kill the turkey right then so she put it in with the chickens and told my brother Joe, "Joe you watch so that he doesn't get outside." Which was kind of a silly thing to do with Joe. First thing you know the turkey is out in the yard strutting around. Joe makes a dash for it and I did too. It took off, it took to the air, and where did it go? Right on Wosnick's chimney. So I went to the door and said, "Steve, our turkey is on your roof." "Ho, Ho, Ho," he says, "That's not your turkey, it is my turkey." So we were getting older, I was in 9th grade about that time. So we stood around and we were throwing rocks and snowballs at the turkey and her kids were throwing rocks and snowballs at us. No one really got hurt or anything. So this happened about 9:00 in the morning and here we were still trying to get that turkey around 2:00-3:00 in the afternoon. Finally the mayor of the town showed up. And you know, by that time Steve was so two-faced now he is running around and helping us. "I'm helping them get the turkey." I guess before the mayor came the turkey had flown on his garage. The road went right past his place there, and finally I became so angry that I challenged him to come out on the road. But he wouldn't come. I guess the mayor came after that and he climbed up on the ladder and chased the turkey off. The turkey flew by my boyfriends house and he took a 22 and shot it down and we brought it home.
Syd: So much for your thanksgiving day.
John: That was our thanksgiving day. After that things began to quiet down. They began to realize that we were getting old enough and we were not going to put up with that kind of behavior. Joe was quite a fighter, he wasn't at that time but eventually he was. He had a lot of weekend back alley brawls. Not only that, but since we played on the same basketball, football teams and so on we began to see that they weren't as bad as we thought, my mother thought, and we weren't as bad as they were thinking. So the kids became friendly with us. Although the parents remained antagonistic.
Syd: It probably had something to do with being in school and being on the same team like you were saying.
John: That is the thing about the United States that I think is great. You can take myriads of different groups, sects, one thing or another, and meld them together in a unit. For example at one time, there were Germans living hardly 20 miles away, of course we didn't have transportation, but actually going to that town where the Germans lived it was almost like going to Germany in Europe. We were that separated. But eventually we played sports against those teams and things began to level off.
Syd: So you and the Wosnick kids started getting along?
John: Actually even before that time. My brother Joe and John Wosnick were friendly on the QT. My mother wouldn't have liked it and they wouldn't have liked it. I didn't realize they were that close myself. They kept pretty much to themselves, but just a few years ago he began to tell me some of the things that had happened. Syd: Give me a couple of examples. John: Let me see. Here is an example. They use to go down to the railroad and they got friendly with an engineer and he use to pick them up and give them a ride. You can imagine the thrill of what was for a young boy. And I didn't even know about this.
Syd: And your mother didn't either, probably.
John: No. Then another incident had to do with John Wosnick and Joe running away from home. They had gotten on the freight train and took the train to Bismark which was about 40 miles south of Wilton. My mother found out about it and called the police and they picked them up and threw them in jail. You should have seen the paraphinalia they took along. They had like cast iron frying pans. And to top off everything, my dad had a 32 caliber pearl handled revolver that he kept hidden in the basement I think it was. Joe found it. He had that thing hidden in his pants tied up with twine. And he dropped the gun down there. Of course they didn't frisk down there. So he took the thing out and wanted to get rid of the ammunition. The ammunition was 22 caliber in a 32 caliber gun. And they use match sticks and one thing or another to prop it up in there. They got back with the gun and nobody was hurt.
Syd: They were lucky that they didn't get sent up for a few years.
John: They were just kids - 8 or 9 years old or something like that. They reprimanded and scared them. In those days they could do that with kids. Now a days it doesn't mean a thing. We had an incident. Oh, I didn't quite finish my story about Grandma Haverlock and about the stones in the yard and about the bebe gun. They went up town and reported us to the sheriff. The sheriff was a guy by the name of Saibo. Saibo stuttered and spit on you while he was talking to you. "Where is your ..... mother?" "Well she is over at Anna Frays." "So get her." So I ran down there scared as hell. We were really afraid of that guy. When 9:00 came he walked through the streets with his police dog and we were in the yard. We weren't out on the streets. He had us intimidated.
Syd: He had his own little curfew.
John: Yes. Anyway my mother came. He says, "Your boys are throwing stones at the chickens." And she says, "Were you?" "No." And we hadn't been. And he said, "We're going to have to take your boys." She said, "You see that hot kettle of water on the stove?" He says, "Yes." She said, "Now you go or you're going to get it on your head." He was gone. During those times everybody made moonshine. That was one way that we survived those times. Making and selling moonshine. I remember peddling the 3 gallons of moonshine out to what they called Snake Town, up in the hills on the east end of town, covered up with a rug or something. That is the way I delivered the moonshine. We had quite a few ....... I was so ashamed of the whole thing. And then a few years later I began to realize that my mother didn't have much choice. Because it was either prostitution or moonshine. She had no skills.

Syd Holodnick interviewing John Holodnick
September 30, 1988

John: Then he became a US Senator for a few years.
Syd: I am going to interject here that the tape just stopped and I just turned it over. Dad is talking about William Langer.
John: William Langer used to come over and buy moonshine from my dad. William Langer was the prosecuting attorney, he became a governor of North Dakota and eventually became a US Senator. He was Senator for quite a few years. So that gives you an idea what those guys were like. We had an incident that just before my father left, when I was about 13 - I forgot what I was going to say now. I guess I kind of lost it.
Syd: You were talking about what those guys were like - like Langer and what those people were like.
John: I think I was changing my -
Syd: That's alright we'll just go on to something else then.
John: It will probably come back. So that was life in Wilton. We had another incident that happened. I was considered a candidate for reform school in that town, because it seemed like no matter what I did it turned out bad. This incident, I have to admit I went into it sort of blindly. Joe at one time was a humped over little guy and I fought his battles for him. They picked on him and so on. One day he comes home and says Mr. Kinney has been going after me. So I went over there to find out what the problem was. And evidently my brother, (I never did ask him this but I should some day - soon probably) must have said to him, "Wait I'll go home and get my older brother." Because as soon as I came on the scene he dropped his scythe - he was working for the city, and he had one of those large scythes for cutting grass. He dropped it and started coming at me. I backed up as far as I could go against the building he was just ready to come at me and somehow I got on his back and I began to pump him over the head with my fist. Well he went uptown and said that I hit him with a rock and everything like that. There was a hearing uptown - again the Wosnick's showed up as witnesses, they saw it all. Of course I got up on my feet and denied what they were saying. This fellow eventually admitted, but I was quite a bit older. Somebody found out that he had wanted to get in on some type of a pension where injury was involved. He thought that was a good way to get the pension by saying I hit him hard with a stone.
Syd: You didn't have to go away to reform school then?
John: No. In fact one time there was a friend of mine by the name of Coon. He was married to a Polish lady and she was the daughter of friends of my mother. This was when I was in college. They said, "You know John they were going to put you away." That would have been the biggest mistake in this world, because I really hadn't done anything. I had not initiated most of those actions. The only one would have been Wosnick. Otherwise it was all mainly something that happened that day and I was reacting to it. There was an incident of Mrs. Wosnick. Ma had raised some particularly good radishes. I was out in the garden, I must have been about high school age at the time, maybe junior high, I had eaten quite a few radishes. I was fairly close to her fence. She came out with a bucket of swill. [What they use to do - they use to put it in the back yards, because they didn't have a sewer system on that street. We didn't have water or sewer.] But then she held it up because she saw me in the garden and decided to fling that thing at me, see. I saw it coming so I jumped aside. I picked up a pebble and I hit her in the butt with a pebble. They use to drink wart - swelled wart is the liquid that they used in making moonshine. It was like a wine. They'd reach in and strain it and drink it. Her face was all red. So we had an exciting time which I would just as soon forget about in a lot of ways. But it could have been worse. Oh yes, I was going to say about my dad. That is what I forgot. When I was about 13 my dad was trying to have us put away. He was trying to have the children put away in some kind of state institution. We went to court and he never did show up. But anyway the incident that I was referring to was when he turned her (Jessie) in as a poor housekeeper. So one day unannounced three officials from the city came out to look at the house. After they saw the house. They said, "Hell you could eat off that floor." It was just stupid. She was a tremendous housekeeper. That would be right.
Syd: Well she took a lot of pride in that. I can remember that.
John: She didn't want to wrinkle any sheets. She couldn't sleep in the bed if it had a wrinkle in it. When she ironed clothes she just patted the clothes lovingly - stroking - singing - especially when we were younger. She was a happy person when we were younger. As we grew older she became a little more bitter. In a sense she drove her own family away - her rigidity and lack of trying to understand. Syd: She had some pretty rigid beliefs then? John: Well there was no way that any of us could have lived with her - masters of our own destiny. She would take over. My brother - about the time the war started he actually had joined the Army and he was down in the Panama Canal zone. He had saved up quite a bit of leave time, months - not just weeks because he hadn't taken any leave down there. He came to this country from Panama and first thing you know we get word from him that he is over in New Guinea in Australia.
Syd: On leave?
John: Actually he was on a boat - he was in the Army but he was in some kind of transporter boat. He was on a boat all the time. Finally Langer who was Senator at the time - my mother or someone wrote to him and eventually we got him back.
Syd: So what do you remember about the war? You must have been what - were you college age at that time?
John: What war?
Syd: World War II.
John: What happened there I was teaching in Montana at the time. My number was something like 437, something in that range. Which turned out to be a number that I guess was high enough that they never bothered me for about two years. Then they were starting to get on my case, but I was teaching in Channing in the Upper Peninsula. I thought I was going to be drafted, but I didn't want to go into the Army. I preferred to go in the Navy. So the other teacher and I, who was killed later in the South Pacific, went down to Escanaba to enlist. He got in and I didn't because of my eyes. So then I sat down and was just going to wait, that's all.
Syd: They wouldn't take you in the Navy -
John: But they would have taken me in the Army I'm sure. In fact I was all scheduled to go. I was in the process of selling my car. I had passed the electronics test. But that would have been in the Navy though. That was just about the time when they ended the war in August I think it was. I can't think what year it was.
Syd: 1945 - ?
John: Somewhere in there. One day we got a notice that I was suppose to go to Detroit. About that time it was eminent. It was about time the bombs were dropped on Nagasaki.
Syd: How did you feel about the war at that time? There must have been a lot of things going through your mind? I know how I felt about the Viet Nam War. What was your attitude. It was an all together different kind of a war I understand that.
John: I didn't feel that terribly patriotic - it didn't seem like. But I would have gone if I had to go. That was my attitude. There were very few men teachers at the time. That's another thing - it saved me from going into the service because they would get me extensions of what ever it was - I can't think of the name of it. Extensions for staying out of service - do you know the word for that?
Syd: Yeah, I know what you mean. Defermit?
John: So I just decided to wait it out. I said to my brother, not more than a year or two ago, "Well I missed it." Some ways I wish I had been in there in any program. I was kind of looking forward to that. He said, "Hell you didn't miss anything." He said one night they didn't like a particular sargent or lieutenant or whatever it was - one night there was a scream. They were on the ship and somebody threw him over. I participated in most of the athletic programs at Wilton Public Schools. I especially liked football better than basketball. But one thing the other kids in town had time to practice shooting baskets in the summer time. I didn't have a basketball, net, I didn't have anything - any hoop or anything to throw it through anyway. The only basketball I got was from school. So I was not quite as skilled as I could have been in basketball.
Syd: Is that where you met Bill Ordway - no that was college?
John: Yeah at the university. I was given recognition two years all county. The thing that sticks in my mind the most, that I savor the most, was a play that I never got credit for but it turned out to be a phenomenal play. We were playing Washburn. They were our arch rivals. We were only seventeen miles away. They took probably the biggest guy on either team and put him in the back field. He weighed at least 190. So I figured they weren't coming through me. I'm not bragging but I was holding my own over there.
Syd: You were on defense?
John: I was playing tackle at the time. Anyway I figured now he is not going to go any place except through the middle. So as the play developed I rushed out and he came through there and I just nailed him. He went flying "ass over tea kettle" and lost the ball. You know no one said to me - the coach, I don't think he was even aware of what happened.
Syd: And you read the play right from the beginning.
John: Of course, if I had miscued - I wouldn't have looked very good. But I remember they had guys playing on both sides of me, but they were dropping on the ground all the time instead of carrying out their assignments. You know they went through the motions of doing something. They'd be on the ground. Syd: I know what your talking about there. I remember seeing a lot of that. You do your job, you're left holding the bag. John: I think they were actually a little chicken myself.
Syd: They were afraid of getting hit. John: Then I recall graduation was no big experience for me. My mother some place she picked up a $1.00/$2.00 suit, striped. Couldn't afford a ring. Well anyway I graduated. Then I got a job the summer after graduation at the State Capitol in Bismark working with the FERA. Handling forms that were being sent out to the counties for welfare cases. Syd: The FERA stood for what?
John: Federal Emergency Relief - I don't know what the A was.
Syd: Agency probably.
John: But anyway - I think it was only $25/week. My mother use to pack my suitcase full of goodies. Canned stuff - one thing or another. Once in a while I would find hamburger for 3 lbs. for a quarter something like that. But I saved almost everything I made there and it came to the end of my work period there and I was going to go to school. I got a ride from somebody to all the way to Grand Forks. I think I had $75 in my pocket to go to school on. My mother said, "Johnnie what do you think you're doing? College costs at least $1,000 to get in, it is so high." I said, "I'm going to go." I may not make it, but I'm going.
Syd: So you were going off to college on $75.
John: That's right. I did get in a NYA program - National Youth Agency. I got something like $50 a week. I didn't have to work all the time, but I had to sweep the floors. I guess I swept the floors about every night. The thing is that I was so thrifty that in the spring I had $35 left out of that $75. In some cases I didn't buy a book I just scrounged. Books you could pick them up for a buck.
Syd: Get a used book.
John: You could get a used book for a buck or so. So actually I guess my coach wasn't much of a help, I asked him to send a letter of recommendation to the coach over to the University of North Dakota. And he never did it. I went out for football for awhile and I got kind of discouraged with it. But during the year they talked me into wrestling, which I had never done. This was just typical old wrestling. I think I was the captain. There were these square of box cars, I think they housed about 6-8 people. I think they had a wash room a shower in one section that they shared.
Syd: So they put 6-8 kids in one box car?
John: They were fixed up pretty nicely. But anyway, so they talked me into wrestling. So here I am being nervous, adrenaline was really pumping. I was wrestling, I think it was the captain of the basketball team. I think his name was Gordy Onums. We started wrestling. He kind of came at me and I happened to pick him up just right - used his own momentum. I picked him up with my one arm and I flopped him on the floor and put the pin on him. He struggled, he struggled boy I was lucky. I don't think he ever lived that down. But the coach saw that and said, "Well how would you like to come out for spring football?" I said, "Yeah I'd like that." That's how I got started.
Syd: So did you play football then - how many years did you play football?
John: I was out one year because of injury, it was about my sophomore year. I was put into a game. I did get one good tackle. I was playing guard at the time. I had come threw the line. I had been blocked, I was on the ground and getting up - somebody came in from the side and hit my knee. Turned it in the wrong direction. So I was on crutches for a while then I became sort of bitter because the coach never came around to ask how I was doing. I was too proud to ask. Bill Ordway told me - Bill was a regular on the football team a long time. He said that he wasn't treated any better. The thing is that Bill came from a family where the father had been a banker and a rancher - the depression came the bank closed. He lost quite a bit of what he owned. Bill was a kind of a free spirit when it came to money. When he had it he had to spend it. I didn't realize he was such tough straights. He came a couple times - I was working at the Campus Cave it was just off the campus, it was a basement restaurant. He asked me one day if he could give me a coat for two or three meals. I said sure. If I would have known what tough shape he was in I wouldn't have taken the coat. He ate some of my meals for a couple of days.
Syd: So what happened with the wrestling?
John: No I never did go into the wrestling. I did box for a while.
Syd: You kind of liked boxing, didn't you?
John: Well I never really was in good in shape. I think that was my big problem. There was really no one to coach me too much. You were pretty much on your own. I don't think anyone said to me well run so many miles or anything like that. So I was only in it one year.
Syd: I remember one time you told me a story about when you and Bill Ordway, I think you were driving or something. The other guys had too much to drink and they wanted you to drive.
John: This actually had to do with Jerry Swaboda. The guy who got killed in the Pacific. He was from Wisconsin. He had a car so I rode with him as far as Independence, Wisconsin and then took a bus up there. Then I came back - this was during Christmas vacation - we went out and they drank I maybe had one beer or something like that. When it was time to go home. He says, "Well, you're the only sober one here." I had only driven a couple of time before that. Believe it or not - in college and I had only driven a couple of times. Remind me to tell you about the Model T Ford sometime. But anyway here I was going fairly well, came over a hill and all of a sudden it says Dead End. I was doing about 45. I chomped on the brakes - made a left turn down there - two wheels were just inside the ditch - and pulled it out. Boy those guys were sober after that.
Syd: What kind of a car was it?
John: I don't recall. But anyway we started back and went to a Catholic dinner. "Man alive what they didn't have to eat there" hell that good Polish food. So we ate quite a bit. Ate so much I was read to go asleep. I hadn't quite gone to sleep and I opened my eyes and here he is headed off the road. I said, "Jerry look out!" He spun it around and went in the ditch on the other side. He straddled the ditch. The ditch was deep enough so that there was no traction. Well we walked over to a place kind of a station or something. There was a guy that worked for the state or the county who had one of those graters or something like that. He came over and gave us a pull. So now I drove all the way back up to Channing 150-200 miles. By this time I was an experienced driver.
Syd: Now where did you leave from? You drove to Channing -
John: From Independence, Wisconsin. We got into rain, sleet and everything I drove threw it all - like an old pro! Some of it was fairly hilly country - you get up into the Upper Peninsula there small mountains.
Syd: What were the roads like?
John: The roads were paved - blacktopped all the way. Anyway about the Model-T Ford. That was my first driving experience. My dad was gone and he left his Model-T Ford behind him. It was like a little truck - no top. My brother was very selfish when it came to sharing anything. He had two guns, but the only time I shot anything was out in the prairie he said, "Shoot at that." That was the extent of my hunting experience.
Syd: Which brother was this now?
John: Pete. In fact one time I almost got it in the head. We were shooting rabbits and I said, "There's one, there's one." Just about that time he shot and a bullet whizzed by my head.
Syd: So what about this car? He didn't want you driving this car?
John: That's right. But I had been watching it very carefully how he set the thing up. So he was gone one day, I says it is time. I'll see if I can get it started. So we turned the carburetor one and a half turns because you have to set it. I don't know why but It had been setting a while.
Syd: Kind of like a primer or something?
John: No it was to just open up the valves. It was like turning on the carburetor. It had a key thing on top that you twirl with the rod. Syd: Connected to the carburetor somewhere? John: It goes right on the carburetor. You had to go outside, you had to go to the carburetor.
Syd: I see, okay.
John: I set the spark, advance the way I'd seen him do it, turned on the gas which was on the steering column. So I got it started. Knew how to back it up. The rest of the family comes running out, "Can we go, Can we go". I said, "Sure." A big shot - here I am driving a car with no experience.
Syd: Everybody was in the car.
John: So we're going down a street. I knew there was a drop off just past the intersection ahead of me. There were houses down below there. I got kind of rattled and stepped on the brake too hard and killed the thing. Had a hell-of-a time getting it started. Just got in the yard and here he comes from town. Somebody told him I was driving. He was just galloping across there, "palmel". He said, "What do you think you're doing?"
Syd: How old were you at the time?
John: I must have been in the 8th grade or something like that.
Syd: Maybe thirteen years old?
John: Well let see - the old man was gone. I guess maybe I was 13 years old at the time. Yeah I had to be. Because that is when he left for good. Anyway we did get into a couple of fights. He was kind of mean spirited in some ways, he did some mean things. I remember one time he pushed me down the stairs. This was when I was quite a bit younger. I went upstairs and I got into his midsection and was pumping away. He never could fight me because he was taller and he was hitting over the top and I had my head down like this. One time we got into a fight in the kitchen. My mother said, "STOP, I SAY STOP!" We didn't stop. She takes a poker off the stove and wap wap across the back one a piece and that took care the fight. She didn't say, now boys you shouldn't do that.
Syd: Pete was your older brother - what do you remember about Joe then?
John: Not too much in a way. We were never close. I wasn't close with my older brother either for that matter. I think the experiences had a kind of a definite mental effect on my psychic. The whole gamut of events that I was talking about. It wasn't until I got to college that I begin to say well I'm just as good as anybody else. No better, but just as good.
Syd: With the neighbors and putting your family down and that kind of thing.
John: Especially I think as I look back. I don't think too much of my home town because of the way they treated us. Very unfair. I graduated from college and was walking down the street one of the members of the school board said, "Do you want to be superintendent here?" I just said, "No it wouldn't work out." When I came into town I was a different person. I wasn't like the person that left. When I left town and went someplace else I became more outgoing.
Syd: You didn't want to come back into that situation that would make you feel ---
John: It was just that psychologically you reverted to some extent back to the condition under which you were existing at that time.
Syd: So this Swaboda that you use to drive with ---
John: I actually just drove with him a couple of times.
Syd: We're getting close here now. So you taught in Channing for how many years.
John: Just one. I wasn't fired or anything, but there was a lot of in-fighting at Channing. Actually I taught one year in Pellston, didn't like it there. It was kind of desolate country. Nothing to do, didn't have a car so I think that summer I hitchhiked out to Wilmington, Delaware where Bill was. He was playing football with a semi-pro team out there and they belonged to the Duponts. He thought that I could get on the team and so on. After I saw what they were going through - some of those guys were coming down from the Chicago Bears. All they were doing was just - very immaterial way of doing things. After I was there for a while I decided I got a note ......

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