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Slices of Life... Growing up on Green Prairie

It was a wild and raucous night on the shores of Green Prairie Lake in Little Falls, Minn., and my 77-year-old dad is partially to blame. He and his sisters and brother recently held a little get-together to reminisce and party like only octogena...

It was a wild and raucous night on the shores of Green Prairie Lake in Little Falls, Minn., and my 77-year-old dad is partially to blame.

He and his sisters and brother recently held a little get-together to reminisce and party like only octogenarians can. There were seven in attendance. My dad, Joe, and his brother, Jerome, 78, were outnumbered by their sisters, Blondie, 74 (the baby of the bunch), Ginger, 80, Bunny, 85, Delores, 87, and Betty, 89.

Their other six siblings have passed on, so the group is no stranger to death and loss. While they were gathered to have a good time, the event was bittersweet. One of the sisters has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

But this group was not about to let that stop them from having fun. When you grow up in a household with 13 children, adversity and resourcefulness, not to mention competition for the bathroom, all come as part of the package. As does laughter.

Memories of other wild and raucous nights on Green Prairie surfaced throughout the evening. There were the bonfires lit on the ice in the middle of the lake in the dead of winter. Friends and neighbors gathered to roast hotdogs (one dollar's worth fed the entire crowd) after a day of sledding and skating.

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Dessert, if they were lucky, was a piece of hard candy or maybe a bit of black licorice - rumored to prevent tapeworms, a real-life nuisance in those days of untreated water.

As children, the group of siblings shared one pair of ice skates - the kind that you strapped onto the bottom of your shoes. They spent many January afternoons taking turns pulling each other across the lake, or sometimes had a horse do the pulling for them.

Summers were spent fishing and swimming - after the daily chores of milking cows, making hay and baking bread were done, of course. Everyone except the baby had a job and no one complained, at least not loud enough so their mom could hear. She wouldn't put up with it.

Brothers and sisters gave each other nicknames like Skinny, Buck, Ginger, Bunny and Blondie. Even now, these names are uttered with a fondness and familiarity that only a sibling bond can bring.

The youngest boys shared a bike. It was a homemade version, fashioned from junkyard treasures - an old steel frame, steel wheels and long bolts for pedals. The boys didn't find a seat in the junkyard, but they didn't let that stop them. They simply went without, and stood as they rode.

Bedrooms housed four or more siblings, and in most cases this involved two or three to a bed. During the early years, the family used an outhouse and a well for water. Later, they installed indoor plumbing. Telephones and TVs were luxuries seen only in magazine ads or other peoples' houses.

By today's standards, these brothers and sisters didn't have very much in the way of material possessions. But by all accounts they had something even more important - each other. In an era where family was just about everything, that was enough.

So, on an evening not too long ago, seven siblings gathered to remember the shenanigans of their childhood, and perhaps create just a smidgen more today. Conversation flowed like the wine, taking the minutes and hours along with it.

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Dusk turned to night, and night to dawn; but this resourceful clan wasn't about to let a little thing like morning get in the way of their party. The sun began to rise over the lake, and still the laughter continued.

Family was important to these kids growing up on a farm on a lake in a small town in Minnesota back in the early part of the last century. Some things never change. Thank goodness for that.

Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and freelance writer working with graphic designer Nikki Willgohs to provide writing and design and other marketing services to businesses and individuals. She appreciates comments and can be reached at pertmn@qwest.net .

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