I Thank Thee Lord
I thank you Lord for the sunshine
After the long needed rain.
Thank you for the birds that sing under my window pane.
Thank you for the friends I've made
That fill my life each day.
Thank you for the gift of prayer
And that you are not faraway.
Thanks for the music and poetry
We all can enjoy
And for all the rest of your precious gifts
You give us each day.
~ Carolyn Lehikoinen
There was no running water, indoor plumbing or even heat in the upstairs of the old farmhouse on the treeless prairie in Clara City, Minn., in the 1940s. There was no bathtub or refrigerator and, yes, the kids walked to and from school most days.
On the coldest winter days, one of Carolyn Lehikoinen's older brothers hooked horses up to a wagon and brought whichever of her 13 siblings were in school at the time. As the family drove by neighboring homes, more children would hop on for a ride to school.
Lehikoinen was born Sept. 17, 1932 to Kate and Dick Huisinger, who were immigrants from Groningen, Holland. Many years later, Lehikoinen's mother penned her memories of sailing to America as a 3-year-old with her grandparents in 1894. According to the memoir, the trip took six weeks and the ocean was rough with huge waves. As with many immigrants, the family landed in New York. They moved to Clara City, Minn., to settle down. Kate began school when she was 9 years old and spoke only her native Dutch. Her patient teacher helped her learn English. Kate attended school through the fifth grade.
"It was not as cold in Holland as in Minnesota," wrote Kate. "I remember in Holland, in the morning a girl would come in on our porch and sing and my grandmother would give her a penny."
Once little Kate grew up and married Dick, they bought a farm and began raising children. Dick moved his growing brood several times around southwestern Minnesota to larger farms with more acreage and bigger barns.
"Dad didn't care about the house," said Lehikoinen. "He only cared about the barn."
Lehikoinen remembers the last move to the farm in Canby, Minn., where she lived the last four years until she graduated high school. Her dad and brothers drove the cattle in the ditches until they reached the new farm. The family also raised other typical farm animals such as horses, pigs, turkeys, chickens and ducks.
Acres of corn, flax and barley grew tall in the fields. Watermelon, pumpkins and other foods flourished in a large garden spanning several acres.
"We were taught to work," remembered Lehikoinen. "I took care of the ducks. They liked sour milk."
Lehikoinen was number 13 of 14 children born to Kate and Dick. She has one younger sister, Rose, who recently moved to Washington. Her sister, Ann (Terp), lives in Cloquet.
Lehikoinen said the family moved so often that her mother left many of the boxes packed. If she needed something, she would take it out of the box stacked in her bedroom.
She remembered her mother baking six loaves of bread every morning and churning butter every other day to help feed her growing children.
Lehikoinen is proud of her own bread-making skills and that she was the only girl in her class who knew how to make bread in high school.
"We ate well," said Lehikoinen. "My mom made the best head cheese."
Another of Lehikoinen's chores was to help keep the chickens out of the garden and to weed the huge garden.
One time her sister mistakenly pulled up all of the carrots instead of the weeds. Her mother had to replant the little carrots and was careful to show her young daughter which ones were weeds when she was sent to help in the garden next time.
"We had it good growing up," said Lehikoinen.
Lehikoinen also learned how to sew, bake, can foods and make jelly. She still enjoys doing most of those things today and has jelly to spare.
The children did homework by the light of a kerosene lantern, which Lehikoinen has displayed on her kitchen wall today. She remembers the siblings went to bed promptly at 9 p.m., then her mom would sew the family clothes, even decorating some of the dresses with ric-rac. Her mother continued to sew and wear aprons throughout her life. An apron was not only used to keep clothes clean, but to help carry items like beans or tomatoes from the garden. Lehikoinen noted that her mother always wore some type of hat or cap every day her entire life. When the family went to the store, they only bought things they could not grow or make themselves.
There was no heat in the upstairs bedrooms. Once her mom had the potbelly stove going, the children would hurry downstairs to get dressed next to the heat.
Lehikoinen's mother also cut her children's hair.
"She put a bowl over our head and cut around it," Lehikoinen said as she pointed to a photo of herself as a child.
Lehikoinen said she didn't really know her dad well as he was always working on the farm. She did remember he liked onions, drinking coffee and spreading warm lard on his potatoes like a gravy. When her brothers got old enough, they hired out to work at neighboring farms. Only her brother Ralph came back to help his dad.
Lehikoinen's family spoke Dutch while she was growing up on the farm. When she started school at 6 years old she did not speak English and had to be taught by her teacher, but the family continued to speak only Dutch at home.
While the family worked hard, they also found time to relax and play. Lehikoinen shared one doll with her sisters Rose and Ann, made mud pies and had a play house. The resourceful sisters also made their own jump ropes out of twine. The girls enjoyed making paper dolls by cutting out photos from the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, standing them up and creating a small town.
"My brothers came by and blew them down while we tried to hold them up," said Lehikoinen. "They thought it was funny."
Her mischievous brothers also took their sister's doll and hung her from the rafters and lit firecrackers under their window to scare them.
Christmas was celebrated more simply on the farm than today. There were no trees, lights or brightly covered gifts for the children.
"I remember my mom lining up paper bags on the table," said Lehikoinen. "She put one orange in each one, a handful of peanuts and a handful of hard candy."
Any money the family had was spent on either fixing or buying farm equipment.
There was a radio, but their father only listened to news and the daily noon farm report, no music, Lehikoinen said.
A steer and a pig were butchered each year to provide meat for the family. Her father and brothers would cut the meat into smaller pieces and bury it in a container filled with wheat to preserve the meat. In later years they bought an ice box, although Lehikoinen said the ice her dad cut from the nearby river seemed to melt fairly quickly. In the winter the family stored much of their food in a cold back room. In the summer, perishables like butter and eggs were packed into an old milk can, which was set in water and stored in large barrels to help keep them cool.
The first family car was a 1949 Ford Model T and the large family literally piled in for a first ride to church. The siblings had to sit on each other's laps to fit everyone into the small car.
After Lehikoinen graduated from Canby High School in 1951, she heard Cloquet offered many job opportunities at the local mills. She decided to leave the family farm and moved 270 miles northeast to the bustling little town.
Lehikoinen's first job was at Diamond Brands but she didn't like the loud sounds of the machinery after living on the quiet little farm on the prairie.
Next she worked at Northwest Paper Company, where Rose joined her when she graduated from high school.
One day the sisters went to the Coney Island restaurant in downtown Cloquet after work and Lehikoinen met her future husband. Bob Lehikoinen and his buddies worked at Wood Conversion. They sat in a booth near the teenage girls.
"Him and his buddy were sitting in one booth, and Rose and I were sitting in another booth with the girls from work," said Lehikoinen. "They would put out their feet and trip us when we went by and they would throw spitballs at us."
Bob and his buddy gave the sisters a ride home after they were done with their coneys. Soon he was picking them up from their home and driving them to work in the morning. Lehikoinen and Rose lived with their parents in a little house on 20th Street. Her parents had sold the farm in Canby and moved to Cloquet after Rose graduated high school.
Carolyn and Bob were married June 1954 and immediately began to build a home on Twin Lakes Drive in Cloquet. They hired a contractor to erect the outer shell of the home, then the young ambitious couple finished the inside. They worked hard to complete the four-bedroom home. They also planted a large garden complete with turkeys and a sauna for Bob.
"He loved [everything] Finnish," said Lehikoinen of her Finn husband.
Over the years, Lehikoinen raised four children: three boys and a daughter. She has always kept busy with her sewing projects, crocheting a multitude of afghans over the years, along with drawing, writing poems, baking and, at one point, creating ceramic sculptures until she ran out of space.
Her husband passed away in 1992, but Lehikoinen still lives in the home they built together.
"I still have my mind. I still drive, cook, and do my house cleaning and banking," said Lehikoinen a bit proudly.
She adores her grandchildren and enjoys teaching them her native Dutch language. She still grows strawberries and picks other berries to make jars of jelly to give to family and friends.
A young friend, 14-year-old Hunter, stops over to help Lehikoinen with outside chores and whatever she needs help with, when he visits his grandfather next door.
She attributes her long, healthy life to keeping active and keeping her mind busy over the years, reading the Bible and going to church.
"God has been good to me," said Lehikoinen.