Clitherall Minnesota
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Frances B. Grinnell Kirschner’s Memories of Her Childhood in Clitherall

These writings are mainly taken from the Spring Valley, Wisconsin Sun newspaper, and often signed them with her initials, F.B.I. When she referred to her grandfather, she is referring to Isaac Whiting. Likewise, when she refers to Grandmother, she is referring to Sarah Jane (Jennie) Whiting.

August 6, 1936…This is a summer that will surely teach us the need for courage and patience and the kind of economy our grandparents knew. I can speak with authority of my grandparents’ economy, having been taken into their home by the stork, and made most welcome by them, although they had already reared nine children. I count myself blessed indeed in having shared that home, where many of the ordinary comforts of life were lacking.But there was love and courtesy and faith in each member of the family, and there were long, enchanted evenings spent listening to grandmother’s gentle voice as she read aloud to us. But grandmother was also blessed, had she but known it, as where is the mother today who can gather her children around her evenings and keep them contented as she reads to them. I do not know of one, do you?


The further I plod along life’s lengthening trail, the more I am enabled to appreciate the library that my grandparents collected. They were pioneers—first settlers in their particular wilderness. Yet they carried with them in their covered wagon a few of the books they loved best. Through the hard and perilous years they managed to add to this collection, book by book. Thrifty neighbors considered them extravagant because of this use of meager funds, but I do not believe they ever considered it a sacrifice to do without some comfort-adding article, if going without meant having a few more books. And I know now that we had the best in literature.

A few of their books have come to me. Among them are such authors as Dickens, Ruskin, George Eliot, Cooper. Sometimes I have dimly realized, looking perhaps at their ponderous volume of Shakespeare’s plays, that this is a legacy of human sacrifice, of better worth than common currency.

F.B.K. was a reader her entire life. Here is a story where it got her in trouble

There is no candor quite so fearless nor so cruel nor so altogether truthful as the candor of children. When I was a child a little girl once spent what seemed to me a very long afternoon with me. Our tastes differed. She wanted to play house, I wanted to read. We played house. And in the late afternoon she took a leave that was unaccompanied by any expression of regret on my part—in fact, grandmother was so shocked by my lack of cordiality that she spoke to me sternly, bidding me tell May how I had enjoyed the afternoon. I protested but grandmother was firm and her gentle word was law. Unwilling then I called to May just as she had reached the gate. She turned back eagerly, the westering sun making a halo around her small figure. And how often I have wished since that I might recall the word I then uttered."May," I said in honest abandon, "I didn’t have a bit of fun this afternoon."

Well, grandmother had always urged me to tell the truth, so I told it, and was bewildered to find that the truth is not always best. And so, if we could only understand what prompts a child to be so dismayingly candid, we would find some very simple explanation. I have to admit that it took me some time to explain to grandmother, and I doubt that I ever won May’s forgiveness.

I always envied my grandmother, since she routinely went to bed late at night and arose much later than I had to. However, as you see by her following account, such was not always the case.

"…there was an unwritten law in grandfather’s house that every member of the family must arise at five o’clock. Grandfather was adamant when it came to law-enforcing, therefore we arose. Grandfather also had a most ingenious method of awakening us. The upstairs hall was heated by the pipe from the kitchen range. Grandfather sounded the alarm by rapping smartly upon the pipe downstairs with the poker, a most dreaded summons, especially when winter held the old house fast in an icy grip.Perhaps our earliest recollections are of obeying that summons. Shivering, with our clothes in our arms (being young enough to be granted the special privilege of dressing behind the "front-room" heater) we stumbled down the stairs, never failing to drop a stocking or two on the way down. Once dressed and with morning prayers attended to we could curl up on the old sofa and nap the pre-breakfast hour away.

Looking backward it has always seemed to us that his insistence on the matter of early rising, so needless in the routine of a small child’s day, was just about the only flaw in grandfather’s disposition. Very likely it accounts for our present-day unwillingness to sit up and examine a new day. It probably affected our own disposition, as children who are roused too early are certain to be anything but placid.

The story I remember most as a child is meeting a panther on the Old Clitherall road. To my surprise, I found a completely different version in her column.

October 5, 1939

The mention of panthers always reminds us of the old man, not right mentally, whom grandfather befriended by allowing him to build his cabin upon his land. This old man suffered from a panther hallucination to such an extent that he imagined he could see one stalking grandfather as he went back and forth across the field. Stirred by the desire to protect his friend, he followed, too, with his rifle on his shoulder, round after weary round, year after year, so long as his strength permitted. Probably it was watching this devoted friend of grandfather’s guarding him so faithfully from what was to him a very real menace, that gave us our panther complex. We could not see any thing remotely resembling a panther, but that bent, plodding man with the rifle could, and how could we be perfectly certain who saw aright? Privately, we always thought grandfather was in far greater danger from his guard than anything else, but it had long ago become a simple matter of routine to both.

But there was friendship, pure and firm, as it is given to few to know—the sort of friendship that is willing to sacrifice and grow weary for the sake of the friend, all done so simply and matter-of-factly as to be accepted as a commonplace.

Just the same, we hope we have no friend so devoted as to trail us with a rifle.

Allen Hankins Jensen Kirschner Grinnell Whiting
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