Those Hardscrabble Years
The novel, Code Name: Zeus, is a compilation of the struggles of my immigrant family, the memories of my childhood, my lifelong interest in the history and more than four decades of working in technology and travelling across four continents.
My grandfather – a carpenter – was the only one of his family to emigrate, leaving Denmark on his 19th birthday in 1893. My Danish grandmother was the sixth of eleven children, all of who outlived their parents. Her parents and the first four siblings landed in New York City on June 17, 1883 and arrived at the end of the railroad in western Minnesota on June 20th. A fifth child was born two weeks later. My grandmother and a couple of more children were born in a tarpaper shack near a small river where Native Americans often camped. A few years later, the family “upgraded” to a dugout on an 80-acre homestead. Eventually, a sod house was built and occupied until about 1912. Fortunately, I was recently able to visit the site of the homestead.
My mother’s family emigrated from different parts of Germany over a period of years from the time of the Civil War to the late 1800s to Illinois, Iowa and Missouri before settling in Minnesota. A relative of my grandmother may have fought in the Civil War, but I do not know for which side.
My father grew up “wild as a weed”, according an older family friend, due to his mother being ill from the time of his sister’s birth and his father, who never drove a car, often being away on carpentry jobs for extended periods of time. I loved the stories he told about how he and two friends drove a Model T Ford all of the way to western North Dakota, just a few miles from the Montana border, to help a bachelor uncle with the grain harvest. They had so much trouble keeping the car operating they decided to sell it to his uncle. They “rode the rails” dodging the railroad police all of the way back to Minnesota.
As a teenager driving my grandfather around the countryside, he would regale me of how he built that house in 1923 or re-built that barn in 1928 after a tornado or about the time he helped a doctor amputate a man’s leg, with only a bottle of whiskey for an anesthetic. He would laugh and say they didn’t know which of the three of them drank the most whiskey.
In 1927, my father, a very large man, moved to Detroit to work in various GM factories, where he did jobs that required a lot of strength, such as stacking motor blocks. My parents were married shortly after the stock market crash of October 1929 and soon my father was without a job in the auto industry. They then returned to Minnesota and became farmers like my German grandparents, but they always struggled economically, never owning any property until they bought a small retirement home in the early 1960s. As a result, my father was not a very happy man. My mother was very religious and often the peacemaker in her large family of siblings.
I also vividly remember visiting a great uncle and aunt and their children and families who moved to farm near a poor Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota during the early 1940s. They moved there early during the Great Depression and struggled through the years of drought and dust storms, much like some of my characters. I was fascinated how even the small children could kill a rattlesnake with a shovel or a hoe, and marveled at their “pet” badger which never lost the battle when a live snake was thrown into the large empty water tank where he lived.
This broad landscape, my forever interest in a good story and the wide range of characters I have met over my almost 80 years have given me the material to create the story of the imaginary town of Kursk, TX. Fortunately I have been blessed (or cursed?) with a memory capable of remembering a lot miscellaneous information, which has allowed me to weave a lot of fantasy and modified reality into a historical story line covering over 100 years.
Note: Authored by Gary Andersen, a fabulous writer.