Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
By Liz Taylor
February 13, 1980
Mouse River Farmers Press
How do you get a one-armed Norwegian to come down out of a tree? Wave to him.
And that is what hereabouts is called a “dumb Norwegian” joke. Of course, the anser means that a Norwegian is so dumb that even if he is hanging in a tree by one hand, and if you wave to him, he will let go to wave back and fall to the ground! Isn’t that wonderful? To me it is, because I am Norwegian, and all it means to me is that Norwegians are so friendly that they will risk their lives to show you their hospitality!
My Norwegian background stems from a father who came to North Dakota from Norway at a tender age to make his living in a new land, and from a mother who was born in Dakota Territory of parents who came from Norway to pursue that same dream. To me, Norwegian jokes only indicate the courage of this special breed of people who had the good humor and good sense to laugh in the face of adversity.
Of course, most Norwegians think the expression “dumb Norwegian” was invented by people who had never met a Swede and I do not choose to worry about all the Swedes who became enemies by that remark…they are traditional foes anyway! A good Norwegian friend of mine said, (and she is married to a Swede and has four children, talk about your miracles!) “They don’t have Swedish jokes because being a Swede is no laughing matter!”
I suppose the next time I come to town I’ll have to be sure my windows are rolled up in the car, in case there are any Swedes on the street. I should have gone on and written about the Irish and the Germans too, to get it all over with at once, but, some other time.
One of my favorite Norwegian jokes I wish to share with you is as follows: “A Norwegian farmhand named Ole (is there any other name?) was between jobs and came to Towner, N.D., one winter day. He had searched high and low for a job, but it was between harvest and spring’s work so no one needed his assistance. He stopped at the Zion Lutheran Church and asked the minister if he knew of anyone who needed any help.
“You are in luck,” said the pastor. “Our church janitor just quit and you can take his place. Just sign your name on the employee form, keep the church nice and clean, and when the phone rings, write down any messages there might be for me.”
Ole said, “I would really like that job, but I have never learned to read or write. I cannot even sign my name.”
“Too bad,” said the pastor, “You’re no good to me if you can’t take down telephone messages. I hope you can find work somewhere. No hard feelings, I hope.”
Ole continued his search and finally found a job on a nearby ranch pitching hay and the by-products of it. He did so well at his job that the rancher, besides his wages, gave him a quarter of land and a few cows for a bonus. He built a nice house on his land and married the hired girl, a good Norwegian cow milker as it turned out, and they prospered. The had some children, good workers too as they grew older, and before you could say ‘lutefisk and lefse’ he had bought a small ranch nearby to add to his acreage, and he built a larger house, took trips to Florida in the winter with his family, and all in all, became quite prosperous. He had long since quit his job for the rancher but they were still friends. The rancher decided to sell his 15,000 acre ranch and gave Ole first chance. He didn’t have enough money to swing that deal, so went to see the banker and told him he would like to borrow on his savings and his proper to buy this big ranch.
“No problem, Ole,” said the banker, “You have done so well and your property is more than enough collateral for the down payment, and then some. Just read this mortgage agreement over and sign your name.”
“I cannot read or write,” said Ole.
“What? You cannot read or write? Do you mean to tell me you have accumulated all this property without being able to read or write? My goodness, I wonder what you would be doing today if you had ever learned to read or write,” said the banker.
“Oh, if I had been able to read and write when I came to Towner I would have been the janitor at the Lutheran church,” said Ole.
I’m not sure if this is my favorite Norwegian joke, or just the longest.
The other day while I was in town I parked my car across the street from the press office, by Avis Schwenke’s store. When I went to get back in my car, I notice a few good boxes on the sidewalk, apparently waiting for the local garbage truck. Not being one able to pass up good, clean, sturdy boxes (they are so handy to put things in to save for a rainy day, or a drought), I was rummaging through them when Corabelle Brown drove by. She stopped and said she had just finished reading my column about where I found the material to write about when she noticed me going through Avis’ garbage…what could I say?
“You’re right, Corabelle, I’m searching for material for my next column!”
All kidding aside, I found two really good boxes in that pile, and I always feel good when I can find treasure in the trash of others. I wasn’t too sure what I would use them for until I got home. As it turned out I made a super nest for the cats with one. I put hay in it and they are lying cozily in that nest waiting for food at this moment. They could be out in the granary hunting mice, but these are not stupid cats. They just lie near the house and wait for their food. I can’t help but wish they were a little more like the cat I just read about on, of all places, a dish towel I sent for from the Spiegel catalog. This cat, pictured on the towel, was singing a song and the song was: “Love to eat them mousies, Mousies what I love to eat, Bite they little heads off, Nibble on they tiny feet.”
Somehow this little ditty captured my imagination, and I just wish my cats felt the same way! These towels are a specialty item and to give proper recognition to the author of the poem, the towels are an assortment called “Kliban’s Cats.” I don’t know who Kliban is, but I will be watching for his future poems!
As I write this it is Sunday, February 10, and we are having another “humdinger,” although a small one. That is, it is snowing and blowing, but not cold. I am suffering a couple of aches and pains brought on by an experiment I conducted yesterday. I had been watching TV and saw a commercial about the advantages of “Sheer Energy” panty-hose. The makers of these hose were so proud of their product that they suggested taking a pair of “Sheer Energy” hose, cutting them in two and sewing on another pair of your “Brand X” panty-hose. That is, half “Sheer Energy” and half “Brand X,” so to speak.
It was no easy job for me to cut up and sew together two different pair of panty-hose. I am not famous for my sewing, unless you count the time I sewed two buttons on Bud’s shirt and Walter Cronkite mentioned it on the evening news in a feature called “Phenomena and other strange happenings…”
After I got the two different kinds of panty-hose sewn together, I went for a walk. And sure enough, just like the commercial said, the “Sheer Energy” leg felt like leaping and dancing while the other old leg (in the regular panty-hose) just dragged along behind. Of course, with this mismatched gait it wasn’t too long before I stumbled and fell, almost breaking my neck and other parts of my pelvis. No more following the suggestions of TV commercials for me! Especially after I read about the woman who rusted to death from too much iron in her system from drinking Geritol!
NEXT WEEK: “A place for everything, and everything in its place,” or, “Where did you say you kept your egg beater?”