Our Neighbors....Lawrence Myking
Lawrence Myking was never a stranger to hard work - his daughter Mary, claims, "His hobby is working!" - and even today, at the age of 90, he still keeps up his own home and can fix "pretty much anything."...
Lawrence Myking was never a stranger to hard work - his daughter Mary, claims, "His hobby is working!" - and even today, at the age of 90, he still keeps up his own home and can fix "pretty much anything."
"My mother used to tell me, 'You're going to kill yourself working,'" related Myking. "But now, I'm the only one left of my family! I don't think work hurts anybody."
Perhaps Myking inherited his extraordinary work ethic from his father, or perhaps it came from his family's strong Scandinavian roots in Norway....
Myking was born in Cloquet on Dec. 6, 1916. His father had come over to the United States from Norway, and his uncle had come here even earlier.
"His brother's last name was Gutland, and my father's last name was Myking," he explained. "That seemed kind of odd, but the reason for it was that when my dad's brother first came here, he left from a place in Norway called Gutland, and when my dad left Norway, he left from a place called Myking. They took their last name from the place they came from. America was a strange country to them, and after they came here, if anyone had the same last name as they did, they knew that person probably came from the same place they did!"
His dad's brother had a homestead in Brookston where he did some planting and also cut wood to haul down to Cloquet to the mills.
"When my dad first came here," said Myking, "he arrived at his brother's house in Brookston, and though his brother wasn't there, his wife was - and she was having a baby just at that very moment, so my dad helped her deliver it. After that, he never said one word about it, but one of the other fellows in the family knew about it and told me about it later."
Myking's father got a job in the sawmill in Cloquet and he and his wife and five children were living in a house on Eighth Street when the Fire of 1918 broke out.
"I don't remember any of this - it was just what I was told -," said Myking, "but our whole family went down to the railroad tracks and got in a box car. It was the next to the last box car leaving Cloquet, and the other one caught fire before it left the station, so we got herded into the right one!"
The family went to Duluth where they stayed with some acquaintances on Park Point.
In 1922, Myking's grandfather on his mother's side - who still lived in her home town of Booda, Norway - offered to give Myking's father a job working with him as a contractor.
"He was a coffin maker and always kept one coffin on hand that would fit him!" Myking related. "I also remember him working on fixing shoes. Over there, they had wooden pegs to fasten them together. I was only about six at the time and too young to start school there, though my two sisters went. I do remember they had a cottage out in the country with a garden. They were often picking potatoes, and I wanted to help, so they brought a stool out there for me to sit on to help pick. When my dad went to work for my grandfather, he was only earning about one-seventh of a cent an hour! He decided that wouldn't work, with a wife and children to support, so he went back to America. My mother and us kids went back over later, and we had to stop at Hoffman Island, where we were quarantined for a week or so because someone on the boat had been sick. My mother couldn't iron clothes there, of course, so she'd put them under the mattress to press them!"
Myking, still a young boy at the time, can recall a frightening experience at the time the family was about to embark from the ship.
"I was ahead of the rest of them coming off the walkway," he said. "There was a stairway leading upstairs and a Negro standing there, and he grabbed me. He took me up the stairs and shoved me into the first room and told me, 'Don't try to get out because I'm going to lock the door!' He went out and kind of rattled the door, but I didn't wait too long before I tried it - and it was open. I came down just as my mother was going by. I never told her about it. She would have raised so much Cain! That was a close call."
When the Myking family got back to Cloquet, they moved into a house on 10th Street and Lawrence started school at Jefferson Elementary on Cloquet Avenue.
"When we'd gone over to Norway, I couldn't talk a word of Norwegian," he explained, "but when we came back after a year, I couldn't talk a word of English! I had a teacher, Betty Johnson, who was Norwegian, so she helped me out."
The Mykings didn't have a car and Lawrence said they walked everywhere they went.
"We never had much money," he admitted. "My dad worked five days a week at the mill and also worked as a watchman on holidays. He worked all the time."
The Myking children never had store-bought toys but made their own fun, such as playing horse shoes because there were plenty of horse shoes around. At Christmas, they would get presents, but never very expensive ones.
"My mother would buy old coats in the rummage sales and she'd rip them apart and make new ones for us kids," he related. "Twice, my dad made me skis for Christmas. The first time it was a pair of pine skis and then he made me a pair out of birch. My mother had a boiler on the stove, and he used to heat up the skis to bend the ends of them up. There was an empty lot about five houses down from ours with a hill on it where we could ski. I also got a dollar watch just about every Christmas. One time I had my watch in my watch pocket when I was on the ski hill, and the watch fell out when I fell down. Thankfully, it didn't hurt it any."
Myking said the family always had a tree at Christmas, and they always had cats, too.
"One time, one of the cats heard a noise on the front porch," he recalled. "We went to check it out, and there was a ham lying there that the mother cat had stolen from someplace! Later, the neighbors who lived four houses up the street said that their ham had disappeared. The cat had dragged that ham all the way down to our house from there."
When Myking went on to high school, he admits he didn't care too much for school, and a minor incident caused him to drop out for a period of time.
"When I was a junior, I went to a church Halloween party," he said. "They had a tub with apples in it, and we bobbed for apples. I did it, but when I took the apple out of my mouth, one of my front teeth came out with it! It had decayed pretty bad because I'd never been to the dentist. I told my mom I wouldn't go to school with no front tooth. My neighbor up the street, Mrs. Gamble, had a good job at the paper mill, and she knew one of the local dentists. She said she'd ask him if I could do some work for him in exchange for getting my teeth fixed. I did, and I got paid 25 cents an hour. I got both front teeth pulled and a partial plate put in. His telephone number was '666-something' - just try to say that without a front tooth! I worked there long enough to get all my teeth fixed and pay off my bill, and I paid for all of my younger brother's dental work as well."
Myking started back to school the following year, and this time he went on to graduate.
When Myking was just 16 years old, he bought a Model T Ford.
"When I got my driver's license, they just asked me if I could drive and I said 'Yes' - so they gave me one," he said. "I sold my bike for $15 and bought the Model T for $15. A friend of mine owned it and was going to get a new one. The tires were terrible. I would fix one flat tire - I think they had 60 pounds of air in them - and by the time I did, another was flat, so I'd fix that one and then another one went flat. I broke my arm on that car. Neither my mother or father had a car, so one day I took them blueberry picking. The rods sounded like they should be tightened, so I put my coveralls on, crawled under the car, drained the oil and tightened three of the rods. The fourth one was underneath, and I didn't know how to do it so I skipped that one. My brother was working the levers inside the car and I was cranking to try to get the car restarted. I decided to take a rest, and one of the other kids decided to try cranking it. He tried as hard as he could and couldn't budge it, so I went over to show him how easily I could do it - and it kicked back and I broke my arm. I was all full of grease and my sister was going to clean me up a little bit before I went to the doctor. I just about passed out, so when I got to the doctor's office, I wasn't too clean. By that time, it had swelled pretty much. They x-rayed it and it was set pretty good. Then the swelling went down and the cast got loose, so they had to put me to sleep and set it all over again."
After high school, Myking went to work at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp up on the Gunflint Trail at Lost River.
"It was fire season, and mostly we fought fires and went over into Canada a number of times," he said. "I remember one time going over to Gunflint Lake and there was a lodge there where they'd take our workers over into Canada. One of the workers looked just like a man, but after we got back to camp one of the other workers told us, 'That 'he' was a 'she'' I couldn't believe it!"
After Myking returned to Cloquet, he got a job at Ford's Bakery (most recently known as Ed's Bakery on Cloquet Avenue), where he'd go to work at 3 o'clock in the morning.
"I used to fry doughnuts and long johns and I'd also put the jelly in them," he explained. "When I fixed one for myself, I'd put in a couple of squirts! I didn't work there for very long. I'd get done early in the day and then I'd go down to Wood Conversion and sit there waiting to see if I could get a job. Somebody would come out and say, 'We don't need anybody today,' and I'd go back home. Finally, they said they could use somebody, so I got a job there and had to quit the bakery."
He worked in the finishing room at first, but he had taken a correspondence course in drawing and the head engineer helped him get a job in the drafting department.
"Then I thought it would be nicer in the machine shop," he said, "and I found they had an opening there, so that's where I worked the rest of the time - 42 1/2 years in all!"
One day, the wife of Milo Stillwell, a neighbor who lived across the street and just down the block from Myking's family home, had a relative named Georgia Young come to visit them from her home in Iowa. The Stillwells asked the Mykings if they knew of anyone she could go out with, and Lawrence became the lucky candidate.
"She was a beautiful lady," he reminisced. "She and I went to a show at a theater in Carlton. I had a friend who had a car, and he gave us a ride. I don't think it was more than two or three months before we got married. I had just turned 21, and she was 19. We got married in the house of the pastor of the Covenant church, with my sister and her husband standing up for us."
At first, the two lived in an apartment near the mill, right next to the railroad tracks, and later they moved into a place he called 'Lukkila's shack' on 14th Street.
"We had a heater, and the fire went out one night in winter," Myking related, "so the next morning we got the stove going and had to put the fish bowl on top of it to melt the ice in it. The fish just went wild and started darting all over the place!"
Eventually, they bought a farm on Moorhead Road. And though they didn't have any animals of their own, their neighbor had goats.
"Since we had a big barn, he asked us if we could take care of them in the winter time, so we did," Myking said. "The windows of our house were only about a foot and a half up from the ground and had a wide sill, and sometimes one of the kids [baby goats] would get up on them and look in. We'd feel kind of sorry for them. One time, a car went past the front of our house, and apparently a sheep had fallen out of it, and that sheep came into our pasture when he saw the others. We had it until it got big and we used the clippers to clip it, took the wool to a place near the Twin Cities, and had it made into blankets for each of the children."
The Mykings moved to a farm off North Road and they had their first child in 1942, and three others followed in 1944, 1950, and 1955. They were also foster parents to 10 other children over their years together, sharing the type of loving and selflessness they, themselves, had experienced in their own family upbringing.
Since Myking liked carpenter work, he made a habit of buying older houses that were in bad shape, fixing them up and selling them, and then he'd buy another one and do the same thing.
"I don't even know how many houses we fixed up over the years," he said.
After 42 years at the mill, Myking had accumulated six weeks of vacation, and he decided to take all six weeks at one time.
"When I went back, I couldn't stand it," he admitted. "The next day, I quit."
He was 62 at the time.
The Mykings moved to their current house on Allen Street 18 years ago, and he later built a house for their daughter across the street and remodeled the house next to it for their other daughter, which his grandson now occupies. Everywhere they lived, the Mykings had a big garden every year and a raspberry patch as well.
Georgia passed away four years ago, and two years after that one of their daughters, Kathy, died also.
Though physical limitations prohibited Myking from taking an active role in helping his church construct a new building recently, he agreed to contribute his wife, Georgia's, memorial fund money toward a cross that was hung over the alter.
And it was with great pride that Myking celebrated his 90th birthday at the church a few weeks ago.
"We had a party there, a great, big one," he said with obvious pleasure, "and there were hundreds of people," - a fitting testiment, indeed, to a man who's made a worthwhile living out of hard work and honest living.
Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org .