Ruth Holum Interview

The following interview was conducted with Ruth Evelyn (Holum) Ward on three consecutive days (October 19-21, 2005) for several hours each time. She was nearly 97 at the time.  In 2007 and 2009, several more follow-up questions were asked and these were integrated into the interview below. 

Do you remember any movies you have seen?

Yes - silent movies. Ma would give us money for movies and dances. They had the dances at a big hall in St John (North Dakota). I remember Tom Mix.

Do you have a favorite style of music? Any favorite singers?

My favorite music is Jazz. I never cared much for any singers - just the music.
My sister, Agnes, showed me how to dance, and I really liked to dance.
My sister, Olga, could play the piano.

Did you have a favorite subject in school?

Yes - arithmetic and especially spelling. We had spelling contests. I was a good speller.

Do you have any memories related to school?

One teacher had a rule that the pupil in the last seat in the row would be a "monitor" and report any ill behavior from their row. I got my hand whacked with a ruler by my row monitor once. It hurt so bad. He said I walked on the floor register, but I DID NOT! The rule was "no standing on the registers." After he hurt me, the school did not allow the students to be monitors again.
I hated history.
I carried a dinner bucket with my lunch in it. They were kept on the school bus, and were always frozen from being there all morning.
On the school bus, you either froze, or burned your toes on the heater. We had the nicest school bus. It had roll-up shades.
I never cared much for school. I just wanted to be home in the barn, or outside. I couldn't wait to get home to feed the sheep by holding a branch with leaves on it. I also liked to watch the sheep eat corn cobs. They held the cobs on the ground by putting their feet on them.

Did you have a favorite teacher?


Tell me a time in your life that you felt like a queen.

A boy that lived west of the house took me to a movie. His name was Orville Engle. He was from Candu, North Dakota. Everything was fine until my sister, Alice stepped in.

As a child, did you have any special clothes?

Yes. When I was about ten or twelve, ma sent for a coat. It was real special. It had a big collar and a chain belt. I looked at the boys and they looked at me. I was very shapely, with a small waist.
I also had a dress that flared out and had a cinched-in waist.
I also got a blue dress from the catalog.
Ma didn't sew much in my teen years. She left her treadle sewing machine in Minnesota and bought a new one in North Dakota, but she always missed her old machine. She sewed my clothes when she was younger, but, later on, most came from a catalog.

Did you have any pets as a child?

Yes. When we were in Minnesota, we had a dog that would fetch ducks out of the lake. Its name was "Purley" and it was actually Elmer's dog. We also had a white barn cat.

Did your family speak Norwegian around the house?

Yes. Kids always teased about our accents, and it made us mad and sad, so we tried real hard to learn English. Ma and pa learned from us kids, and stopped speaking Norwegian when we moved to North Dakota.

When you or your siblings misbehaved as a child, what was your punishment?

A willow switch.

Did you ever get in trouble in school?

No. Except for the time with the registers, and he was lying, so - no, I didn't.

As a child, was there anything you were afraid of?

Yes. Snakes and the dark. My sister, Agnes, made me go outside in the dark when I was young, and I always had a fear after that.

Were you ever a teacher's pet?


Did you go to church and Sunday School.

Yes. I liked it, but the sermons were boring for us kids. I used to tell Alice that when the songs started, we were almost to the end and we'd leave soon. When we went to church, we had to learn Catechism. It had Norwegian on one side and English on the other side. I knew the Lord's Prayer in Norwegian. Kids always made fun of us, though, so it made us want to learn English faster and better. William learned his Catechism fast and could go out to play earlier, but Walter learned slower. Ma had a spare bedroom, and the minister would stay with us there sometimes.

Tell me three things you are good at.

Milking cows by hand
Being outside - even cleaning a barn

As a child, did you ever receive a special gift?

I got a little perfume carrier that was part of a piece of jewelry, but one time, when a girl was staying at our house, she stole all of my jewelry, and it was in there with that.

Can you ride a bike?

I learned after I got married. My sister, Alice, bought Beth and Bobby bicycles, and I learned on those. I would ride REAL FAST over to Lassonde's.

Did you ever jump rope or play hopscotch as a child?

Yes, both.

Have you ever smoked a cigarette?

I tried - once.

Who was your first boyfriend?

Louie Primo

As a child, do you remember any girlfriends?

Irene Thorson and Berniece Coglin. Berniece was younger than me, and SO smart. I always wished I was that smart.

Do you remember having money as a child? If so, what did you spend it on?

Yes. Ma gave me money for the carnival.

As a child, did you ever steal something?

I was too scared.

What foods have you tried, but don't like?

Broccoli and very sour Sourdough bread.

What are the traits you like in people?

Alan learned everything on his own. He had a difficult time in school. He taught himself everything. He wanted to build a log house, and I saw the drawing of it one time. I know he could have done that.

What were Grandpa Lyle's best traits?

(She thought forever on this one, and believed he had no good traits). She finally got an impish grin on her face and said: "He was good to horses".

Did you ever go to a circus or a fair?

Yes. I went with Agnes to a circus - maybe it was in Rolla.

What things make you happy?

Being with my family and eating good food.

What famous person would you like to meet?

John Black, from "Days of Our Lives"

Tell me something you are glad that you never, ever have to do again in your life.

Live with Lyle Ward. (She broke out in laughter)

As a child, what were your favorite activities?

Being outside - with the cows.

What are your favorite foods?

(She smiled and looked longingly) - "Ma's Julekake"
Also - lefse, turkey, potatoes, angel food cake, lemon meringue pie. I don't like cake so much - mostly pies.

As a child, what were your favorite toys?

A two-seat swing that pa made out of wood

Tell me a time in your life when you were the hottest ever.

As a teen, putting up hay with ma and Walter. When we took a few minutes for lunch, Walter would lay in the grass. I was so hot.

Tell me a time in your life when you were the coldest.

As a child - on the school bus in North Dakota.

Are there places you ever dreamed of going.

NO! I never wanted to go anywhere. I just wanted to be outside at home.

Tell me something that makes you proud.

When I finish crocheting a doily.

Tell me a time in your life that you were the poorest.

When I lived with your Grandpa Lyle. One thing for sure is that I never needed to own a purse! (She laughed out loud)

Tell me something you learned from your mom.

I learned to work HARD! She could do ANYTHING!

Tell me something you learned from your dad.

I learned how to pet the baby. (She was referring to the fact that her dad's pet was Alice, her youngest sibling.)  I also learned how to be ornery.

If you were younger and 100% healthy - and money was no object - what would you do, or where would you go?

I would buy something for my kids, then I would take each of my grandchildren - one at a time - to buy an outfit... head to toe.

Talk to me about the old radio programs.

I loved the Lone Ranger. When we lived by the railroad tracks in St John, and were neighbors with Grimms, I remember that. Loren would always be singing that song.

What are your favorite things about you?

When I was young, I had a real nice figure. I sure beat Alice on THAT! (She laughed)

Is there anything you wished you had learned to do?

My friend, Berniece Coglin could play piano by ear. She played for dances. Her mother was blind.

What was the happiest time of your life?

When the kids were young. Also - when Lyle was in the service. I had money from the government and he was not there to spend it. My family was first - to hell with Lyle. There were times at Christmas that he wasn't at home, and I didn't care, and it was better when he wasn't. Grandpa (she was referring to James Ward, Lyle's father) used to give me real good advice with my money then. He said to pay my rent first, then pay for fuel, then buy food.

Do you remember visiting relatives as a child?

Not too much, but I know we used a horse and buggy.

Were there any houses that you lived in that were special to you?

Yes, I really liked the house across from the tracks in St John. I was real proud of it. I would get my groceries at Roman's store and sometimes get some groceries or chocolate at Jack Kerry's store. Mostly, I was embarrassed by the houses I lived in. I didn't want certain people to see my houses. (She told me this in such a way that I believed it to be DEEPLY embarrassing and hurtful.)

Tell me about any special holiday memories you have.

There really aren't any specific ones, but it was mostly always the same. Ma would make big meals. She always cooked and baked from scratch. She made Julekake and lefse and rosettes. There was a bedroom in the house that mostly was never used. It was unheated, and she would store the baked goods in there - in boxes.
She would let us kids help make the hard candy. That was fun. Ma didn't have any teeth, so she would make soft candy for herself and put LOTS of cream in it - and brown sugar. She also always made fruitcake.
One thing I think she did wrong was that all the company ate first and the kids ate last. We couldn't even be in the house. We would peek in the house and wonder if there was going to be any food left. I don't think that was right.

Tell me something about each of your siblings:

Olga - She worked hard at home, but she never milked cows. She had to wash
the separator, and I had to dry it. I would go to the outhouse to keep from drying it.

Elmer - He hollered at me a lot. He always told me to keep a bonnet on and
long sleeves to keep the sun off me, too.

William - I can't think of anything

Agnes - She helped ma out a lot by taking care of us kids. She didn't milk cows,
but she was a VERY hard worker.

Walter - He came to the house SO MUCH. Whenever he'd buy something new,
he'd bring it over to my house to test it out. He was a VERY hard worker,
and was very responsible. He made a cage for my pet rabbit when we were little.

Alice - She would dust and do house chores. She played a lot with her dolls and
dollhouse. She was someone who like the indoors. She got the willow
switch once because she stayed at Agnes's house and walked the streets
until late, and never called home to tell ma where she was. She was pa's pet. Alice was good to Beth and Bobbie, and bought them bikes once.
Lyle didn't like Alice and one time he threatened to shoot her. He'd call
her bad names, and one day he had a gun and I thought he WAS going
to shoot her - just like he said.

Walter and William were chums and Alice and I were close. She always made me so mad, but we were closest. We would all go to the big meadow where the hay was. We'd put water in the gopher holes to get them to come out, then we'd chase them and see if we could catch them.

Tell me something about each of your children:

Alan - He really liked his grandpa and stayed with him a lot. He was good-
natured, and always seemed happy. He gave me a mean cow once. Alan
wouldn't take no crap from anyone, no matter how many there were.

Gerald - He was a "teaser". He avoided his older brothers because they teased
him a lot. too. He wasn't a fighter. He skipped school a lot. I remember him
welding in Walter's garage with a friend once saying "This thing don't
need no flux!" He liked kids and had a real nice garden when he was older.

Loren - Oh, my handsome Loren. He was quiet, but could hold his own with
anyone. The girls chased him. He used to box in the shed at Lassonde's.
He had a friend named Bobby Cartright. He was well-behaved.

Barbara - She was a loner. She wouldn't call me "ma" but called me Ruth (she'd
pronounce it "root") when she was little and calls me "mother" now. She
was very serious - not like the rest that liked to have fun. When she was
real little, I had her in a crib, and would rock the crib with my toes while I
worked. She had one chicken that she liked, but she never really liked
outside so much. She could make a cream cake when she was pretty
young. When I had a set of new dishes, she broke a cup and took it
outside and got real nervous, so she hung it on a doorknob and we found
it later. Like all my kids, I spoiled her when she was a baby.

Jimmy - He could sure hold his own. He was a very hard worker. Lyle would put
him to work when he should have done it himself. Sometimes he would
tip a load of wood over in the snow and he'd have to load it again. It was
on a sleigh pulled by horses. He was quieter. He was naughty, though.
He'd shoot Beth and Bobby in the butt with a BB gun.

Milton - He'd get into mischief, but he was a good boy. He was also a tease.
(she lost focus after saying this, and then I forgot to get her back on track)

Bobby - He was the baby, and he was quiet, but funny. He was hot-tempered
later in life, but he was bashful as a child. He'd stick with me when he
was young. I'd play basketball with him. He was well-behaved. It was
hard for him after Beth left, because he was close to her. When he was
little, he'd sit on an upside-down pressure cooker and watch me make

Beth - She played a lot with Gerald. He'd take care of her. She was very
outspoken. Loren would snap his fingers and make her dance.

Did you read a lot as when you were young?

No, because it seems I always had poor eyes.

Tell me about my Great-grandma Ward.

I didn't like her much. She was no good to your great-grandpa. She did bad things. She did stay with me after I had each of my babies, though. She loved to dance the Highland Fling. She could do it perfectly. She was a good cook. She didn't like outside work except for the garden. She was friends with Howard Irwin's parents, and that's how Alice met Howard.

Tell me about my Great-grandpa Ward.

He was the nicest man. A good man, that's for sure. I'd say he was "perfect". He drank a little, but he always knew when to stop. He had chickens and cows and was very responsible with them. After he'd come back from a bar, he'd beckon the cows to come and be milked. He was a happy person. He had a small separator, and would take the cream to town for grocery money. He'd also have eggs in a crate, and would take them to town to sell. He'd take the kids to town for ice cream.
He was very hard working. He'd go to the woods - where the sheep were fenced in - and he'd clear the woods of the willows. All his wood was cut and put up by hand. He'd go to town to deliver things, and sit at the bar in the Vendome Hotel, where he'd visit with friends. One man's name was George Stein. 
He had Red Pole cows, and one was really mean. I sent Beth with lunch for the men in the pasture one day. She was maybe 6 or 8 years old. A calf tackled her, and I had to go "save" her.
He loved baked potatoes.

Tell me about your father.

I just don't know much. Ma and pa didn't get along, and he was gone a lot - usually to Agnes's house, or someone else that would take him in. I just wanted them to get along. I was always afraid and sad when they weren't together. Nobody likes that when you're a kid. He was a pretty hard worker, and he chewed tobacco. He was church-going, and went to church in Minnesota in a horse and buggy. Alice was his "pet" and he'd have her sit on his lap all the time - listening his pocket watch.  I don't ever remember being able to do that.

Tell me about your mother.

I couldn't question things with her, so I never learned about her life or my grandparents. She was strict. I called her Marie once (her name) and got slapped.
She was the hardest working person I ever knew, and there wasn't anything she couldn't do. She could kill an animal to eat. She'd shear the wool from sheep and then wash, dye, card and spin the wool. She liked to be outside, and she was great with cows and such. She was a great cook, and never used recipes. She went to bed very late, and was always running about swatting flies, or scrubbing floors and such. She liked to get her wood out in the woods - by herself. When I'd get home from school, I'd know right where to find her, because I'd follow the smoke coming form the woods. She'd be out clearing the woods for more pasture.
She could hog-tie sheep so she could shear them. I got to hold the sheep's head when she did that. She just worked so hard. She would pitch hay with the guys. She was a happy person, and she liked to work.
Her eyes were bad, and she couldn't afford better glasses, so she'd stacked two pair of glasses on top of each other so she could see. Agnes would read to her. Agnes could read Norwegian.
I would sit on the floor watching her work. She had a crank knitting machine with large cylinders, and she would knit socks with her wool.
She had a really big garden, and a cellar with a potato bin. She canned jams and jellies and everything. We had apple trees, so she canned from them, too. She had raspberries and strawberries. She would feed and milk the cows, then feed the calves. She'd pour milk in a large vat and let it sour for the pigs. She made head cheese and blood sausage (we had to stir that a lot). She would not take time out until all her chores were done. We didn't have a refrigerator. Milking and chores were her priority.  
Ma broke her hip when she was older. Walter had business, so I stayed with her. Walter would cook Cream of Cocoa in a pan for her, but she would only eat about 1 tablespoon. I would listen to her in her room reciting the Lord's Prayer in Norwegian.
She was a great woman.

After spending this many hours with my grandma, I had a real "feel" for her life.  Even though the interview is relayed in her words, it's hard to explain the body language and overall feel.  My assessments of this interview: 

Grandma has very strong feelings and attachment when speaking about her mother.  She admired and respected her a lot.  Many of her answers kept coming back to details about her mother's life.

She had little to say about her father - only because he was not always around.  Also, I feel part of the reason is that her mother was such an extraordinary person, that anyone else could get overlooked.

She has immense respect and love for her father-in-law (James Ward), but little of either for her mother-in-law Emma (Williams) Ward.

Her life and her world are about her family.  Nothing else even comes close.  If not for her family, she would not have that "glow" about her, nor would she feel she'd even be alive.  It's all about her family!

Her life has never been about "things", nor does she ever have the need to impress.  She is what she is.  She wouldn't give you a nickel for possessions, and doesn't have a lot of good to say about those that are wrapped up in all the "stuff".  All she needs is her family.

If you could put her on a farm with her family, and have cows roaming about.... nothing on this Earth would make her happier.  When asked, she seldom complains about what she didn't have, and feels that she has everything she needs.  

I also took some time to interview my aunt Beth (Grandma Ruth's youngest daughter).  I am so glad I took the time.  She speaks of her mother with the same respect and love that Grandma Ruth spoke about her mother.  Here are some of the things that were said:

She was ALWAYS "there".  She tried really hard to please.  She did small things for us kids that didn't cost money - like always timing it just right for taking goodies from the oven - when the kids got home.  I never felt that it was a "timing coincidence".  She took branches from the trees for sucker sticks, and made homemade suckers.  She is sweet and giving, and "cool".  She seldom got angry.  She liked to have her kids and their friends at her house.  She was always so hard working.  She canned, churned butter, hauled water, gardened, did farm chores, picked berries, and struggled to clothe the kids.  She is an amazing woman.






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Last updated March 23, 2014

Valerie Ann (Biberdorf) Boman - 2004-2010