Chapter 1: Introducing Mabel
It was a bright spring day when Mabel Roning and Russel Cline decided to marry. They had informally planned to marry and Russel had rented a small apartment in Spokane. On Saturday 14 March 1931 they decided it was a good day to get married. So they drove from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where no waiting period was required.
They looked up the Justice of the Peace only to discover that he did not work on Saturdays.
They didn’t give up. They drove the streets until they located a parsonage where people seemed active. The minister who answered the door assured them that he would be happy to perform a marriage ceremony. Sam and Esther Nation had accompanied the happy couple to serve as witnesses.
After the ceremony, they drove back to Spokane and spent the rest of the day shopping for essentials to set up housekeeping. Saturday was chosen for the marriage so neither would need to take a day off work. Mabel was forever convinced that this was the best way to get married.
Mabel was born Mable Bergitte Roning on March 15, 1901 in Fargo, North Dakota, the first child born to Elmer (Hjalmar) Roning and Tillie Hansen. (On at least one occasion their last name was spelled Ruenning.) There also seems to be some confusion as to the spelling of Mabel’s first name. On all official documents she signed as an adult, for example investment papers, she spelled her name “Mabel”. However her birth certificate and her Certificate of Confirmation use the spelling “Mable”. In a conversation with her daughter Pat at one time she commented that people usually spelled her name correctly – Mabel!
As this is her story, we will spell her name the way she preferred it.
Mabel’s Parents Elmer and Tillie
Mabel’s father Elmer, who was fondly called “Pa” was the oldest child in his family. His father, Julius Falla, was a prosperous farmer in Fetland, Norway with eight children. Elmer came to America in 1890. He was the first of three of brothers to sail to America. At the age of 16, he came as an indentured servant and his passage was paid by an uncle already farming in Minnesota. Indenture meant that Elmer came with the obligation to work, often for five years, to repay his uncle for the ticket. Later, Elmer helped his brothers Ole and Axel to also make it to America. Axel stayed in Minnesota while Elmer and Ole went west. Three other brothers, Carl, Halfdan, and Johan, as well as sister Marianna stayed in Norway.
The lack of official records leaves unexplained gaps in this story.
There may be no single reason why Elmer chose to emigrate to the United States. However there were numerous influences. There was a massive Norwegian emigration at thet time. Over population in Southern Norway limited worthwhile opportunities. Elmer’s father was known as a “difficult” man. Norwegian communities in Minnesota and N Dakota assured that language difficulties would not be a barrier. A consequence of the surge in emigration toward the opportunities in US. His timing may have been fortunate as the US chose to limit immigration with the Immigration Act of 1891 that rejected many immigrants. Ellis Island, opened, in 1892 is depicted as unfriendly to immigrants.
After serving his time as an indentured worker, Elmer traveled to Fargo, North Dakota in 1899. Old city directories show that he lived in a boarding house at 207 1st Avenue South and worked at L. Oil Mills. In 1900 he boarded at the Central Hotel. During that year he met and married Tillie Hansen who was to become Mabel’s mother. After the wedding, they established housekeeping at 305 1st Avenue North, and Elmer worked as a maintenance man with the Everhart Candy Company.
Where did Elmer meet Tillie? It is unlikely that she traveled to N Dakota alone. It seems that the others of the Hansen family remained in Minnesota. Very likely Elmer and Tillie met and married in Minnesota.
Mabel’s mother was born Tillie Hansen on the Nyhus farm near Bergen, on the west coast of Norway on January, 13 1877. She was the sixth child in a family of nine. Her father Hans Olsen Nyhus was a storekeeper. Tillie’s two older sisters and a brother immigrated to America in 1888, 1889 and 1890.
In 1892, when Tillie was sixteen years old, her parents and the remaining five children also came. Most of the members of the Hansen family settled in Minnesota. On one of her visits to her family, Tillie took five-year old Mable along to the family home in Minnesota. At one of the neighboring farms a man had recently died. Mabel retained a vivid memory of the way the body was displayed on a plank table in the barn and how it radiated a powerful odor.
Mabel’s Early Years
When Mabel was born in 1901 the young family moved to 713th Street South in Fargo. Her father had pursued several occupations, for some time he had a dray business that amounted to two horses and a large wagon. When Mabel was born, Elmer changed jobs, now working as maintenance man for I. D. Grant Co. candy makers. To the delight of his family, he was often able to bring home small amounts of candy so there was always candy in the house. The candy was safely stored in jars on the top shelf in the kitchen cupboard.
Among favorite memories: Once, when one of Mabel’s young friends was hospitalized, they assembled an attractive box filled with selected candies and took it to her. Mabel once related also that she knew where the candy jars were kept in the kitchen, however she never took any without permission. Perhaps this is a preview of her life because Mabel always followed the rules. In spite of being such a good little girl, curiosity got the better of her one Christmas. Tillie told Mabel not to look in the living room because she might not get presents if she spied on Santa Claus. But as soon as Tillie left, Mabel peeked through the door. She saw Santa Claus with his pack leaving presents! For many years Mabel was absolutely certain of her observation.
On August 19, 1903, two years after Mabel’s birth, the Ronings welcomed a son Harry Clifford to their family. At the time they kept a cow to provide milk for the two young children. The excess milk could be sold which was a welcome addition to the family income. During those early years of the 20th century, the drinking water was kept in large wooden barrels outside the house. When Mabel contacted typhoid fever, the cause was suspected to be contaminated water of those barrels. To keep her fever under control, large blocks of ice were brought in until they covered one entire wall of her room. Fortunately, Mabel recovered and the rest of the family avoided the disease.
Mabel remembered her mother Tillie as generous in spite of their limited assets. Once a group of gypsies camped in the field near their home and Tillie went over to share a decorated white cake with them. She was always remembered for that incident. Tragially, Mabel’s mother died of Bright’s disease on February 28, 1908, shortly after giving birth to a third child, a baby girl. Tillie was only 31 years old. The serious and painful disease made her suffer for some time before she died. Elmer arranged for a portrait of the children and she frequently looked at the photo to remind herself of life’s rewards.
A newspaper carried the following obituary, and for the critics contains three errors:
Mrs. Elmer Ruenning died early Saturday morning at her home in Fargo. Her maiden name was Miss Tillie Hansen and she was a sister of O. Hansen of the firm of Hansen & Nelson. The deceased has a great many friends here who will regret to learn of her death. No information as to the cause of her death has been received here. She was thirty-two years old and leaves a husband and two children.
Tillie’s last name is spelled incorrectly, there is no note of the recently born third child and her age is wrong. The obituary was published in an unidentified newspaper, probably in Minnesota, where the other Hansens lived. We should remember that newspapers had poor communication in those times and were posting the obituary on the basis of a ten-word telegram.
Mabel, who was seven years old, when her mother died, was allowed to choose the name for her new sister. She named the baby Helen Tillie. Helen was the name of Mabel’s best friend at school and Tillie was her mother’s name. Helen Tillie lived until the 1st of September, when she died of “Cholezo Morbus” (possibly cholera). Mabel would forever remember seeing her baby sister, dressed like a doll, lying on a table without moving. It must have been at this time that an aunt gave Mabel a beautiful doll with porcelain head, hands and feet. The doll had a kid leather body with jointed arms and legs, and a wig and eyelashes made of real hair. Her aunt had made a beautiful white cotton lace dress complete with slip and pantaloons, a red velvet coat and hat. Mabel named the doll Charlotte and played with her so much that the hair and eyelashes were eventually worn off. Charlotte and her clothes though were kept in perfect condition.
The Move West
In the fall of 1908, the year Tillie had died, Elmer and his children, seven-year-old Mabel and five-year-old Harry Clifford moved to Spokane, Washington, where Elmer’s brother Ole lived. For the first year after their arrival at Spokane, the family lived with Ole and his wife Anna. Mabel found a good friend in their eldest daughter Myrtle who was about the same age. The two girls remained close friends throughout their lives even when Ole and Anna moved to Canada for a while. Eventually they retuned to live in Coeur d Alene, Idaho and the two girls reconnected. Not far from Spokane, Coeur d Alene was a the family’s favorite picnic spot. There was a beautiful lake, a pavilion, and steam boats that took them for rides around the lake. When Mabel was 14, Auntie Anna’s sister Manda was expecting a child. Mabel spent the summer helping cook and clean house for Manda. Manda’s husband Ed was a fun-loving person, but Mabel was slightly afraid of him. Unfortunately, the pregnancy turned out to be ill-fated and the child died at birth.
During the first winter that Elmer and his children were staying with Ole, there were not enough beds in the house. Mabel would sleep inside with Myrtle whereas Elmer and Cliff had to sleep outside in a tent. We should keep in mind that this is a climate where winter temperatures can frequently drop below zero.
Neighbors across the street were three single women, each with a child. Two of the women worked while the third, Carrie, stayed home with the children. Her daughter Sigrid had been born August 22, 1908, presumably out of wedlock. Carrie was to become Elmer’s second wife. On August 24, 1910, about a year after the Ronings had arrived in Spokane, Elmer and Carrie married. And a year later, a son, Carl, was born to Carrie and Elmer on August 22, 1911.
In 1931, when Carl was 20 years old, he met his future wife Lee Raeburn at the Garden dance hall. After the meeting they saw each other every day and married only months later. Carl and Lee were the last of the family to marry but followed Mabel and Russel by only four months. Carl did not complete high school, quitting when he was offered a job in a gas station. Carrie encouraged the young couple to stay in the house but the younger Ronings quickly moved out when his job disappeared because the service station went broke. They moved to Diamond Lake and Carl built a one room cabin for them. When Lee was in labor with their first child, Carl walked the length of the lake through snow to call a doctor in an effort to get help. The doctor had to drive 75 miles to get to the cabin, meanwhile the baby had been born so he only cut the cord. Like Manda and Ed, the young Ronings had to face the loss of their first child. Soon after Carl took a job working for the county and later worked for Pacific Telephone Company until he retired.
Elmer’s second wife Carrie born in 1882, had been a seamstress in Norway. In those times a seamstress would bring her own sewing machine and move in with the family for a week or two to complete needed sewing. She was a good seamstress but not a particularly good cook. More than anything, Carrie liked to sit and crochet. She made table covers, chair covers, curtains, pot holders, edges for pillow cases and many other things. Most often she used brightly colored variegated thread with several shades of a color repeated at intervals along a strand of thread. Mabel ever after considered variegated thread to be poor taste. Mabel never developed a warm relationship with Carrie, even if she called her Ma. In Mabel’s eyes, Ma was a constant nag to Pa and also showed favoritism for her daughter Sigrid. Mabel and Sig never became close sisters, even as mature adults.
In 1923, when Sigrid was fifteen, Mabel went home one day from her work at a telephone company. She had been feeling ill and had asked for the afternoon off. Upon arriving at home she discovered Sigrid and Russell Larson along with Grandma and Grandpa all dressed up. To her surprise, she learned that Sig and Russ were getting married. Sigrid had become pregnant, and now they planned to marry. Ultimately, she lost the child. Russ moved into the house and he and Sig lived upstairs. Sig attended one day of high school and Russ worked for his father in a service station. Later he got a better job at another service station working the night shift.
The Roning family home in Spokane was at 721 Dalton Street, a neat home surrounded by a lawn and flowers with a lane that led to a garage at the back corner of the lot. The property had been part of a private orchard before the houses were built. There were two apple trees and a plum tree in the back yard and the people next door had two cherry trees. Birds got most of the cherries and the other fruit was of poor quality. The apples had many worms so that Carrie did not preserve any of the fruit. Sometimes Carrie would send Mabel out with a pail of fruit to see if she could sell any, but Mabel hated to offer the inferior fruit for sale. Elmer and Carrie usually spoke Norwegian at home. While the children all understood the language, outside the home they only spoke English. Like most children they did not like to be different, so they refused to speak Norwegian.
Life in Spokane
In Mabel’s youth, early Spokane was a bustling western town, the center of mining and lumber in northeast Washington. The streets were busy with horses, wagons and streetcars pulled by horses. Consequently, the streets were littered with horse manure and large numbers of men were hired simply to shovel the manure from the streets. Among them were the Roning’s neighbors, the Holens, a large family including grandfather, father, and several sons. All of them had jobs shoveling manure and they prospered. The Holens’ children found jobs delivering telegrams on bicycle which was an even better job.
The neighborhood doctor lived four blocks from the Roning house. He brought in a dentist to share his medical practice. When there was trouble with a tooth, it was common practice to just pull it. The doctor had a big family with ten children and they, as all the children at that time, were expected to work at a very young age. A couple of the young sons helped at the medical office. The daughter Florence, who was in the same class as Mabel, never attended school on Wednesdays as she had to stay home to iron clothes for the family. Two of the boys later went to medical school and subsequently opened a medical clinic in Spokane, the Robinson’s Medial Clinic.
As money was scarce, walking was the standard way the Ronings traveled. The streets were not paved and there were no sidewalks, so in addition to the year round manure problem, people faced dirt in the summer and mud in the winter. Most of the time everybody walked when they needed to go somewhere. Longer distances were managed by using the streetcars but there was not enough money to routinely use them. One rainy day when Mabel was walking to school and feeling miserable she found a booklet of streetcar tickets on the pavement, a veritable treasure! Mabel guarded those tickets and used them only at times when it was important. Even as a young working woman, Mabel walked to her job almost every day. She wore high heels all the time as she was self conscious about being short, so only on bad weather days she rode the streetcar.
When the weather was pleasant, the Ronings went to Corbin Park, one of the many unique and attractive parks in Spokane that was near their home. Those days people did not drive to remote locations for recreation so these local centers were busy places. For example, Corbin Park provided places for organized games and there was a bandstand that frequently hosted weekend entertainment. Manito Park contained a greenhouse and rose gardens of note and Natatorium Park offered amusements including the traditional roller coaster, carousal and an assortment of rides. All the children loved the carousal with hand carved painted horses and a admired the calliope imported from Germany. These fairground marvels remain treasured possessions of the city to this day.
During Mabel’s youth the food available was limited due to lack of refrigeration and slow methods of shipping. In the early 1900s a typical meal of the family was strong on starchy food like potatoes and weak on fruits. They also ate carrots and cabbage which were raised at nearby farms. Carrie would go to small local stores and sort through every vegetable or fruit. Sometimes she would buy a ham bone and boil it to make a soup. Fortunately, the butchers were good about leaving meat on the bones which added protein to the diet. Carrie did not like having her stepdaughter underfoot in the kitchen. Since Mabel learned few cooking skills at home she especially enjoyed cooking class at school. When one day the teacher assigned a recipe for dessert sauce and Mabel saw the ingredients she became excited because she recognized it as something her mother Tillie had made.
1 1/3 cup sugar 2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt 2 cups water
1/2 tsp nutmeg 2 tbsp butter
Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt with water. Stir and cook till clear and thickened, about 5 minutes.
Add nutmeg and butter. Or substitute 2 tsp lemon rind and 1/4 cup lemon juice for lemon sauce.
The children attended Emerson Grade School which was across Monroe Street, a major thoroughfare but unpaved at that time. The street was dusty during the summer and muddy during any rainy season. The deep mud churned by heavy wagons made it impossible to keep shoes clean. During inclement weather, school children were allowed to remain indoors, and since needlework was a popular pastime, girls often brought their handiwork to school. One of her classmates brought tatting, Mabel was intrigued and soon learned this beautiful craft. Tatting was to become a lifetime skill which family and friends were to benefit from over the years. The schools celebrated May Day as a festive occasion. A tall May Pole was erected and students danced around it wrapping ribbons as they went. Everyone tried to dress nicely for the celebration but as usual it was a challenge to get to school without being splashed from the muddy streets.
In 1916 Mabel graduated from the eighth grade and was also confirmed at Our Saviors Norwegian Lutheran Church. There were no money gifts and Mabel rarely had new clothes, but for that occasion Carrie made her a beautiful new dress. Later, Mabel attended North Central High school but dropped out in the 10th grade. It was more important to get a job and she had an opportunity to work as a telephone operator in the switchboard building near her home. Mabel continued to live at home, but she paid rent.
Elmer and Harry Clifford
Mabel’s father was a happy and well-liked man and he loved to build things. He constructed whimsical folk toys for his children’s pleasure, played the concertina and always loved to tell stories and joke with friends. One of his favorite reveries was of a time when he was riding the same train as William Cody and got to meet “Buffalo Bill”. Elmer also was the home handyman. Not only did he repair the family’s shoes, he remodeled the original small house they bought on Dalton Street to have a basement and a second story. Even so, the house was crowded with four children. When they discovered a folding bed in a used furniture store, it looked like an ideal way to provide extra sleeping space. The bed was purchased and moved home. The next morning though, everyone had bug bites! They eventually sold the Dalton house and moved to a smaller house when Pa was about seventy years old. The new house was not that much better than a shack. However, Elmer set to work repairing the house, the garage, and the yard. Over the years it became more and more attractive.
On his job, Elmer spent most of his time as a carpenter working for the railroad, repairing and building railroad cars at the railroad yard in Hillyard. Occasionally there were dances for the railroad workers. Since his wife would never go to these events, Elmer once invited Mabel to go with him. They had a great time. After retiring from the railroad job Elmer worked part time for a commercial laundry repairing their equipment. Always active, following the work at the laundry, he built shipping boxes for the Spokane Fish Company. The fish company was owned by the brother of Harry Clifford’s wife Babe.
Elmer’s son Harry Clifford had met his future wife Babe Cranford at a movie theater where Babe was working as an usher. Harry walked her home and continued to walk her home many times after that first occasion. The two were married on August 21 1926 in Coeur d Alene.
On one occasion, when Babe went to the Greyhound office to claim a package that had been shipped, they were looking for someone to handle the baggage so she took the job. She continued to work with the Greyhound Company for many years. Cliff was the only member of the family to graduate from high school and he attended Gonzaga University for a while. He maintained a paper route for many years, then joined the National Guard for extra income.
When Mabel was 14, the family bought a player piano. It cost $400, which was a big purchase for them. Mabel and Sig started piano lessons which were not always fun. The room with the piano in the teacher’s house was so large that she found it expensive to heat. Consequently, lessons during the winter turned out to be very cold. Mabel was a diligent student and practiced each day, but Sig did not want to practice. Thus, Sig was very rarely given new pieces to learn and Carrie frequently blamed Mabel for that. After a couple of years Mabel quit playing, but the piano still received a lot of attention. It was a player piano and was popular with the neighborhood kids.
In 1946 Mabel bought the piano from her parents and moved it to the farm. This was before the time of plastics, and the rubber tubing had become brittle and broken so that the player mechanism was no longer usable. Since it was useless and added weight to the piano, she had the mechanism removed. There was a concern that the heavy piano might crush through the flimsy floor of the farmhouse. Some years later the piano was given to the Methodist church in Lind.
Cars for Elmer
Cars did not become common until Elmer was in middle age. He purchased his first car in 1916 when he was 43 years old. These early cars were not dependable and breakdowns were frequent. Mabel’s father never became a skilled driver because he easily became absorbed in watching the scenery during a drive. When the car hit the shoulder of the road he would just smile and swing it back onto the main road. Riding with him was always a thrill for the passenger. Mabel and her husband Russel tried to avoid situations where their children would ride with their grandfather.
As a young woman, Mabel started to work as a telephone operator for a telephone company near her home. The supervisor of the telephone operators, Mrs.Barnett, was a wonderful person. When one of the operators would get upset at the pace of connecting all the lines, Mrs.Barnett would come, calm them down and provide encouragement. Finally this lady was promoted to a position where she traveled around the phone company to help troubled operators. In many respects, the phone company was a good place to work. On hot days they would send someone out and get ice cream for the operators. Mabel worked two years at this job.
She then spent a semester at business school and followed that with a job at Dalby’s, a men’s clothing store. The job paid $60 a month almost half of her salary, twenty-five dollars, Mabel gave her parents for living at home. Next she went back to the phone company at a salary of $100 per month. After a couple of years she was promoted to work in the business office. She was a good worker and did well at her jobs. By purchasing shares of Bell Telephone stock, Mabel initiated savings. Mabel continued living at home untill she married on the day before her 30th birthday, March 14, 1931. Carrie was sorry to see her go, as she liked the rent money.
Mabel and Carrie never established the happy Mother-Daughter relationship desired. This lack of a loving relationship was revealed only after Pat and Dick became adults. It was never observed by children.
Mabel occasionally made reference to an uncle Gilbert, but Norwegian records do not identify a Roning named Gilbert. It makes most sense if we assume that uncle Gilbert was a brother to Elmer’s second wife, Carrie. Oral history says that Uncle Gilbert was the “black sheep” of the family. He had a family in Minnesota, but just worked odd jobs. He frequently showed up to stay a few days with Mabel’s parents. He always had a large bag of dirty laundry. Carrie said that Gilbert probably stayed in dirty places and the clothes might have lice. She wouldn’t let the clothes in the house until they had been washed. And washing meant scrubbing on a washboard, even though there was a washing machine on the porch. Habit is hard to change, and Carrie did not think clothes were clean till they had been scrubbed. She put the laundry through the washing machine, and then scrubbed it by hand.