Here, gathered in our beloved South Dakota, are a few members of our Williamson / Mattson Clan. Charles and Luella are to be blamed (be kind, they didn't know what they were doing). We're generally a happy bunch and somewhat intelligent (notwithstanding our tenuous grasp on reality). I'm also proud to say that most of us still have our teeth.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Family Tale of Simpler Times. Our Life in a Western Town.

The Williamson Home 1960 - 1988

From the Fortress of Solitude,
Pleasant Grove

Hello All,
I had many things to fear during my childhood on the hills and prairies of western South Dakota. Just off the top of my head I can list rattle snakes with four inch fangs capable of lashing out at least twelve feet. A young'un like me also had to be watchful of crows the size of eagles with appetites for human eyeballs. One had to be on the look out for Buffalo stampedes, or marauding Indians looking for another pale face to scalp in revenge for breaking the treaty and taking the Black Hills away from them in the 1870's. Your age didn't matter, as long as you could read and write (making you an accomplice in the crime).

A Woodcarving taken from The Rapid City Journal of the Cottonwood Lane Ambush, September 13, 1966.
I nearly lost my scalp while walking home from Canyon Lake Elementary School. We all lived to tell the tale. It was a Narrow Escape.

Another thing I feared was getting caught in a sudden blizzard and freezing to death on the open plains while trudging through waist deep snow on my way to our one room school house heated by a single coal stove. There is also the dangers of dusty roads. Several times I was nearly run over by the daily stagecoach arriving from Deadwood. Oh, and prairie dentistry - the most feared thing of all. Best to just die of an infected tooth then let one of those barbers and part time dentists have at your mouth.


Getting beat up by my older (and meaner) sister Kim was a more domestic fear. She was one heavy drinkin, tobacco chewing, card playing, sharp shooten sixth grader picking on her younger and meeker brother. She was vicious but could be counted on to keep meat on the table. If it wasn't a deer picked off with her Winchester at 100 yards it could be the neighbor's dog. We didn't ask questions, just kept several bottles of ketchup on hand.


Having to deal with my younger brother Kevin's violent temper was another. I could push him only so far before he snapped. And when you heard that POP, followed by a wild look in his eyes, the only safe and logical thing to do was to run for dear life because he wouldn't stop pursuing you until you were bloody and unconscious. I could protect myself by wrestling him down to the floor and hold him there, but that plan had its flaws. At some point you’d have to let him go, and when you did, you’d better be quick. You needed to get into the bathroom and lock the door before a flying knife or Tonka Truck struck you in the back of the head. He had a good arm and could nail a squirrel at 50 paces.

Rapid City was a town of 40,000 unique individuals. The grassy prairie stretched out from Rapid City like an endless ocean to the east and the majestic Ponderosa Pine covered Black Hills rose upwards from the city to the west. My home town was the bright spot of civilization for half the state. We had a hospital. We had three movie theaters (each with one screen). We had a Red Owl, Piggly Wiggly and Safeway grocery stores. We had the Chuck Wagon Restaurant with its famous Friday Night Fish Fry.

We thought we’d hit the big league when Kmart opened a store in the early 1970's at the Northgate Shopping Center. Imagine Rapid City with its very own Kmart! Now we could buy things at a discount. I loved the Kmart. The Blue Light Specials fascinated me. They just never had a special in the toy department. It was always linen or house wares of ladies underwear of something silly.

I was asked once if we feared an Indian uprising. After all, during my high school years the Indians became militant and took over the courthouse at Hill City, a little mining town thirty minutes or so outside of Rapid City. They eventually burned the courthouse down, broke a few windows, and made a real nuisance of themselves. For the most part, most Dakota Sioux lived on their reservations. The ones in town kept to themselves.

We were raised Mormon, my parents having been baptized early in their marriage. I learned what being a minority meant in a town with a Lutheran church on every corner. There were occasions when the Pentecostals would come after us and warn us hell was just one heart beat away, but for the most part we could handle ourselves in any religious debate. I liked my Lutheran friends. They just couldn't be bothered looking for the differences between me and Them. They were saved by grace and felt sorry for me, with my list of do's and don'ts Mormons must life by.

Luella Mae

The one real thing the eight of us commonly feared was a lose tooth. You never wanted my mother to see you working on a lose baby tooth because if you did, the most unimaginable torture awaited. My mother was raised on a Montana ranch. She was the daughter of proud Swedes and stubborn English/Scots. She laughed at pain, especially having delivered 8 children. Her motto was, "Whatever was good enough for me is good enough for you!". If her loose teeth were pulled by a string and a few good yanks - then so should ours.

My mother specialized in capturing us unexpectedly. It was usually just as you left the bathroom. She'd catch hold of you, pin you to the ground, lasso your lose tooth with a bit of yarn or sting and then start the agonizing one, two or three mighty yanks required to capture that baby tooth. My teeth surrendered easily, flying out of my mouth on the first or second pull. Some of my siblings weren't as lucky. Many lost a section of jawbone when mother was forced into a fourth pull. To this day I still remember the screaming. Of course in those days, the days of the Wild West, children were the property of their parents. Our law was busy enough capturing bank robbers and cattle rustlers, there wasn't enough time in the day to check up on a young boy who's attitude was readjusted by his father's boot up his backside on aisle 6 at the Kmart.

My memory also recalls another clever use of string and door knobs in the removal of loose teeth. Luella Mae would tie a string around your lose tooth and attache the other end to a door knob. You sat in a chair near the door. She’d stand by the open door and count down to zero. At zero she'd slam the door. The motivated tooth flew across the room, just barely ahead of the blood curdling screams following.

Yes my friends, let this picture reminder you of what our lives were like in the pre electronic days. We celebrate all who survived the tooth on the string application of mom’s love. We grew up tougher for it.