Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Robert D. Hill: We Made Our Own Fun

Robert D. Hill, born in 1926, remembered happy times from his depression era childhood – times spent on his uncle's farm, times spent with friends engaged in sports activities and, as he grew older, times spent roller skating, boxing, and jitterbugging.

Memoir Excerpts

Fun on the Farm

The most joyful time of my youth was during summer vacation from school when we would travel to Lamberton, Minn. to be on the farm with Uncle Orland (Shorty) or Grampa Skelton. On the trip to Lamberton I recall we would name the model & year of cars we saw on the road as we traveled there. We hardly missed naming them all. We also would see who could detect the first sign that we were approaching Grandpa's farm. The family would spend two weeks visiting Lamberton. We all wanted to stay at Uncle Shorty's farm with our cousin's Arvonne, Marilyn, Bonnie, Kenny & later Grant.

I recall swimming in the creek just below Uncle Shorty's farm and threshing grain, going after the cows & collecting eggs. Uncle Shorty usually had a Shetland pony for the children to ride. I remember one that was called Kate. She was always reluctant to go to town or away from the barn, but when returning it was hard to hold her back.

I recall that I enjoyed riding with Uncle Shorty when he delivered milk in Lamberton in a horse driven milk wagon. It was from one of the first farms he owned. It was on this farm that I remember bragging to everyone that a firecracker we had tried to explode was a dud. To prove it I started jumping back & forth over it. It exploded on my second jump nearly taking my shoes off. Uncle Shorty always seemed to be humming a song and in a good mood.

Winter Sports

During my youth in Albert Lea I remember the winter sports of ice skating, skiing & sledding. The ice skates were clamped on the soles of the shoes with leather straps around the toes & ankles to hold them on. Sometimes a skate would come off when skating at a fast pace sending you flat on the ice. Or sometimes we would skate over a muskrat run & crash through the ice getting a leg or two soaked with icy water. My toes were frozen many times but never let it slow me down.

One time when sledding between muskrat and Dane Lake I crashed through the ice under the RR trestle. Luckily, the water was only about 6-7 feet deep under the trestle. The water flow evidently prevented the water from freeze very thick. It looked alright when approaching the area but I went through & to the bottom coming up without my sled. I got out of the water but couldn't go home without my sled so I dived back down to retrieve the sled. It was cold going the 2 miles or so to the Dunham Street home.

Every winter the skaters would build a tar paper warming shed on the banks of Dane lake. The size was perhaps 6' by 8' with a small pot stove for a fireplace. The material was of old wood and cardboard with perhaps one window of plastic. We would shovel the snow from a fairly large area on the ice to play hockey or general free skate.

Summer Activities

In the summer time we would play football, softball & baseball. The field we used on the corner lot on Dunham… The field had about a 20º slope so the side going up-hill had a tougher time. I played mostly with Kenneth "Sonny" Gulbrandsen who lived next door. His parents could afford to buy him sports equipment so we always had equipment to play with. (I nicknamed Kenny "Silky" because of he always had good sports uniforms.) By sporting equipment I mean only footballs, softballs & one or two bats. We played pretty rough football with no helmets or any padding. Scraped noses, knees & elbows were common.

We would swim, normally, below Abbot school off Vine Street. The city would set out a wooden raft about 25-30 yards from shore each year. When quite young our goal would be to swim good enough someday to swim to the raft. I never learned to jump into the water without holding my nose as other children could do. I would swim all day until my skin would turn blue & wrinkly from the water. Occasionally we would go down the main beach at the north side where the diving boards were higher. The highest was about 12 feet which we thought quite a challenge.

When about 16 I started to dance. I was quite shy & to get courage to ask a girl to dance I would drink a few beers. I learned to "Jitterbug" rather well. We danced at the casino which was a wooden structure that was out over the water at the end of the street near the fountain lake open air concert building. Friday & Saturday nites were big nites there.

Teenage Social Scene

When about 13 and until about 16 or 17 I did quite a bit of roller skating. Carl Peterson would put up a large tent with a wooden floor near Highway 65 where Streeters Mfg Co. now is located each summer. I started out being a skate boy clamping on the skates to the soles of the shoes. Shoe skates were only used by those who could afford to purchase their own. In exchange for putting on skates I could skate for free plus tips. I would make $1.00 or $2.00 per nite in tips. I have continued to skate during my lifetime as I find it very enjoyable, plus good exercise.

Fighting Turned Boxing

I think because I was always small I used to fight quite a bit. Seemed I was always getting into fights in my growing up years. A contributing fact was perhaps my temper. It did not take much provoking to get me mad & in a fighting mood. They never were too big for me to take on. The early fighting was carried over into boxing & golden gloves tournaments. I boxed first in the 1944 district tournament in Albert Lea. I won my only event and went to the Northwest Golden Glove tournament in Minneapolis. I lost my first fight to an Indian fellow from Wahpeton, N.D. Indian School. I was so full of malted milk shakes, doughnuts & popcorn from the afternoon sight-seeing tour of downtown Minneapolis that I was in no shape to box.

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Hill, Robert D. Robert D. Hill Reminiscences and Genealogical Charts, 1974-1997. MHS Manuscripts Collection.