By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 9/22/15 (Tue)
Growing up on a farm in Emmons County somewhere between Hazelton and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, our nearest neighbors were at least two miles away, then three miles and further in Gayton Township.
Hazelton was 10 miles to the east and that is where we went to school.
Nearly all the women who lived in that area we still call Livona Station, were farm wives and didn’t work outside the farm.
Oh but they worked hard: milked cows, gathered eggs, drove truck during harvest, got us all breakfast before we went to school, cleaned the house, did the laundry, wrote letters to friends too far away to call (long distance was expensive then) and bottle fed those sick calves in the spring of the year.
These women worked hard alright and I don’t ever remember any of them complaining about anything, not even the heat of summer.
And all these women, if my memory is right, about 50 of them, belonged to a club called the Gayton Homemakers Club.
To my mother and my dad’s sister (my aunt), this was an important club to belong because it was comraderie and it was education. Sometimes they would take a trip to the Emmons County Museum in Linton or the Bridgeman Creamery in Bismarck and elsewhere.
I don’t remember the frequency of their meetings, but I do remember my mother talking about going to the next one and what she would be doing there.
They quilted, sewed clothes, cooked, baked, canned, plucked chickens and sometimes changed oil in vehicles.
It was a different generation then and these women made no bones about digging in and getting the job done.
Most of them were either teenagers or young women during the World War II years and they learned to scrounge and save and be very efficient.
The Gayton Homemakers personified Yankee Ingenuity.
And when the “younger girls” joined the club, one of the first things they did was learn how to can vegetables.
To them, that was important because it was their contribution to the family because in our family, my dad was always out in the field on a tractor, working with the cows in the barn or pushing snow off the road so the school bus could get to our farm.
If you mention the word homemaker today, and I will probably get calls, it would be considered sexist.
But in the 1960s, all these women, including one who was a registered nurse at the Linton Hospital, all embraced their club because it was as important to them as belonging to the Lions or Jaycees.
Even as a little kid, I remember and understand how progressive the Gayton Homemakers were.
At one point in time, they took it upon themselves to clean up and paint a nearby one-room school that had been closed for a number of years and was deteriorating.
They used their club dues to purchase paint and turn that building into something nice to look at as you drove by.
These women had compassion that I’ve never seen since.
As an example, my aunt lived very near the Missouri River and would often get nature’s visitors; deer, coyotes, fox, skunks, raccoons and the like.
During a harsh winter, she would go out in the snow and scatter grain around the farm yard so those animals had enough to eat and maintain their energy levels through cold spells. It was something she learned at homemakers meetings.
She actually took a sickly fawn into the house and bottle fed it back to health, then let it go toward the Missouri River bottom.
Yes, these rural women were an incredible group of 50 and I doubt there is any “club” today that can compare to all the things they did or could do including putting pressure on politicians.
Homemaker clubs have faded away through the years, at least in North Dakota. It was a big thing in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s but lost its appeal in the 1970s. But it was a great educational tool and helped a lot of women form life-lasting friendships.
I was just a little kid looking in, but remember the wholesome, good intended reasons these women had, as well as their creativity and ingenuity.
So it is with pride I salute the memory of the Gayton Homemakers Club, and all other homemakers who made Emmons County and North Dakota a better place to live and raise a family during a tougher time in our history.