It all started at the schoolhouseClyde (Tiny) and Anna Oswell may have celebrated an impressive 75 years of marriage last month, but the fact is, they’ve actually known each other closer to 88 years.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Clyde (Tiny) and Anna Oswell may have celebrated an impressive 75 years of marriage last month, but the fact is, they’ve actually known each other closer to 88 years.
“We met in first grade,” said Tiny, “but she didn’t talk to me because she talked Swede. Well, she talked, but I couldn’t understand her.”
Tiny still does a lot of the talking. Anna talks, too, without a trace of a Swedish accent. (She was 3 when her parents moved to the United States and settled in Blackhoof Township with their children.)
Both Tiny and Anna attended the first eight grades of school at the Blackhoof Valley School, a two-room schoolhouse with two teachers located several miles east of Mahtowa on County Road 5.
If a person were to write a play about their lives together, the whole thing could probably be done with one set: the old schoolhouse.
“That teacher would read to us, I think she was really telling us something a little common sense will tell you: ‘Don’t believe everything you read, and don’t believe everything you hear,’” Tiny said. “She never told you that, but that’s really what she was saying.”
When the schoolhouse where Anna and Tiny studied their reading, writing and mathematics burned down in 1929, it was rebuilt the same year, again as a two-room schoolhouse.
All three of their children – Loretta, Richard and Larry – attended the same school, before they took the bus to Barnum for high school.
“We walked to school, just like our parents did,” said Loretta. “We only lived about a mile away, so it wasn’t as far as my folks had to walk when they were little.”
Tiny and Anna (nee Anderson) were married April 10, 1936, at the county courthouse. They’d grown up on farms two miles away from each other. Anna had four sisters and one brother; Tiny had nine siblings all together.
After their marriage, they had their own farm, too, although the potatoes and cabbages they grew were never the only source of income.
Tiny got his first job after they were married as a janitor at … guess where … the Blackhoof Valley School.
“I earned a whole $15 a month, but I only worked there a year,” Tiny said. “Then a neighbor offered to do it for $12.50 a month.”
The couple married in the middle of The Great Depression, which took hold in Minnesota in 1930 and lasted through the decade. Born within nine days of each other – Anna on Jan. 31, 1917, and Tiny on Feb. 8, 1917, – they were both 19 when they married.
“I married an older lady,” Tiny said, laughing.
He told how he got the nickname Tiny, when he was just a baby.
“I was number six [of 10 children],” he said. “When I was born, number five still wasn’t named. So he was ‘baby’ and they called me the ‘tiny baby.’ But I never knew why they called me that until my older sister told the story at a family reunion when I was about 30 years old.”
Their own children were born in 1937, 1940 and 1950. The first two were born at home, with the doctor coming to the house to assist with childbirth. The third, Larry, was born at the hospital in Cloquet.
“The first time, we paid the doctor $30,” Tiny said, adding that his paycheck per week at the time was $29.50, so he was short 50 cents. “The last one cost us $600, and my check was only $150 a week.”
All three births went well, Anna said.
“That’s why I’m here,” she said with a smile, sitting in a conference room at Inter-Faith Care Center in Carlton. “I’m still pooped out from it.”
More likely, she’s tuckered out from working so hard all her life. Both Anna and Tiny worked hard to keep their family going. When he was drafted during the Second World War, she was home with her two oldest children, raising them and working on the 80-acre farm.
Tiny was drafted April 19, 1945. Germany formally surrendered in August that year, while Japan surrendered in September. He had 17 weeks of basic training in Louisiana and then was sent to Japan.
“First the Germans found out I was in the Army, and they gave up,” Tiny said with a chuckle. “Then the [Japanese] found out and they
Although he was discharged in Japan a year after he was drafted, Tiny stayed there two more years, helping rebuild the country as a civilian. He was general superintendent on an airport extension project at the Yokota Airbase, 25 miles from downtown Tokyo, and also worked on a housing project in Japan.
“I think she wrote every day,” Tiny said. “I didn’t write so often, you couldn’t read [my handwriting] when it got too cold.”
Tiny came home from Japan in 1949.
But he didn’t stay home. He worked on construction projects in places such as Vietnam, Newfoundland and Greenland.
In fact, he went to Vietnam – as a civilian – on April 19, 1966, exactly 21 years after he was drafted into the Army.
“The war was full blast then,” Tiny said. “We built an airport at Phan Rang, on the China Sea. We were there one season, over the summer.”
Then he got a little emotional.
“I’d never seen a man drop dead beside me, but I saw a lot of dead men there,” he said. “We were shot at every day. They would work with us all day, and shoot at us every night.”
When Tiny was away, Anna and the kids kept things going on the home front.
“With Dad being gone so long, Mother had the role of mother and father,” Loretta said. “With the farm, the animals, all of us had to pitch in. But we lived in a community with lots of other family members, so that helped. I have happy childhood memories of growing up in rural Minnesota.”
The Oswell family had a huge garden, which they all tended together. Anna canned much of what they grew, Loretta said her mom was known for her canned pickles.
“She would probably can 200 jars a year,” Loretta said, “maybe 100 of one kind, 50 of another and 50 more of something else. Beets, too. It was unreal, how much she would can.
“She prided herself on giving a lot of it away,” Loretta added.
They were self-sufficient in other ways too. Loretta learned to sew, so she could make her own clothes. Four-H played a big role in the kids’ lives, along with many other events and activities, many of them held in the basement of the two-room schoolhouse.
“Everything centered around that school,” Loretta said. “Bridal showers, dances, community gatherings…”
Tiny and Anna would go to dances in the basement of the school, too. When he worked on local construction projects, including Barnum High School, they rarely missed a double date with their friends and neighbors, Johnny and Ellen Hecker.
“There were dances all the time,” Anna said. “Every Saturday night, the neighbors and us would get together and we would all go dancing.”
Although both Anna and Tiny now use wheelchairs, Loretta said they were still dancing until about 15 years ago, “until their legs couldn’t do it anymore.”
She remembers the very last time they danced together in public, at their granddaughter’s wedding reception 10 years ago. It was, she said, “a slow waltz.”
“They announced how long they’d been married, and then they danced,” she said. “I remember my dad saying, ‘This isn’t the way we used to do it.’”
Anna was also an excellent cook and baker. Tiny, Loretta, and Jan Menze (Tiny and Anna’s niece) all commented on her skills in the kitchen.
“If you stayed there [at Tiny and Anna’s house], they would have breakfast first thing. Then at 10 a.m., you’d have coffee,” Menze said. “Coffee wasn’t just coffee though, it was sandwiches and cake and cookies. At noon, you’d have lunch, then coffee again at 2:30 p.m. and then a big dinner in the evening.”
Considering the number of treats she kept on hand, it’s remarkable that Tiny can still fit into the same navy blazer he’s owned for decades. He wore that same blazer when they celebrated 50 years together, and again last month when they celebrated 75 years together.
Today Tiny and Anna have seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren who live across the United States, from Texas to Minnesota. Their own children live in Cambridge and St. Cloud, Minn.
Tiny and Anna both still reside in Carlton County, just like they have almost their entire lives. The schoolhouse is still here, too, the top floor filled with tiny desks and a portrait of Presiden George Washington. Only the students are missing.