Larger than Life
The good old days. Nobody knows exactly when they were except that they were before your time. And as it turns out, each generation has its own good old days, often drawn upon in conversation to teach a lesson, to draw a comparison to how much harder we had it growing up than you have it today.
Sometimes it is exactly the toughness, the difficulty and struggle of the old days that made them so good. It was a time when families had to pull together to overcome day-to-day challenges. Family members had to rely on each other; they were all they had.
That is partly what brought Lois Krampert to the newspaper office in May. She had heard just about enough whining about the tough winter and awful spring people were suffering through. She needed to set the record straight. She offered to provide some perspective.
Krampert is 78 years young. Her life's resume is all the credibility she needs to distinguish a tough life from an awful spring.
"My grandpa moved to the U.S. from Sweden when he was 12 years old with five sisters. They all wound up on adjoining farms, back to back. I grew up between Boyceville and Connorsville on a farm. I had three older siblings and one younger. There were five of us kids in a five-room house, three rooms downstairs and two upstairs. We had a car. The only time when a phone was used was when my dad had to run out to call for a vet or doctor, usually in an emergency type situation. He'd go to the neighbor's to use the phone. There were only two neighbors that I knew of that had phones. One was between us and the school and the other one was just past the school. Nobody else that I knew had a phone in those days," Krampert said.
She attended a small country school with just a few students.
"I went to a one-room grade school, Chimney Rock School, for eight years. When I was in first grade, I had a classmate. When his folks moved just to the next farm they put him in the next school district over and until I was in high school I never had another classmate. All eight grades were taught in the same room. One teacher not only taught all the grades, but she had to be there in the morning to start the fire in the winter time in the stove, because she was also the janitor," Krampert recalled.
Two grades ahead of her also had a single student and the sixth-grade class lost its student and remained empty through eighth grade. Krampert's high school class was 51 students. After all those years alone, it must have seemed like Madison to suddenly have 50 classmates.
A school bus was not an option in 1945.
"I was in the first grade at the age of 5 when I first began walking to school about a mile and half each way. We all walked together me and my siblings and and the neighbor kids. When I was in first grade, my oldest sister was in the eighth grade. Because I was so little, she carried my lunch in her dinner pail. School started at 9 a.m. to give us time to finish morning chores at the farm and walk to school. We were finished by 4 p.m. in time to walk home and do evening chores," Krampert said.
"I still remember when I was in first grade, there was that one week for a few days when it was really cold. I had gotten my front teeth knocked out by a sixth grader who had run into me head first on the ice pond at school. My mouth was so bad my dad drove the tractor to school with us in the wagon behind it, he figured my mouth might freeze otherwise," she said.
She remembers a lot of snow. This last winter didn't surprise her. This is how she remembers it.
"We probably had some winters where there was more snow than others, but there always seemed to be plenty of snow and there was cold. I remember the snow banks we played on all the time on the way home from school. You didn't play on them on the way to school because you would get wet. There were times when we would get to the school house and the teacher hadn't been able to make it. Well then we'd have to turn around and go home. There was no way of notifying anybody. My folks didn't have a telephone until long after I Ieft home," said Krampert.
There were benefits and drawbacks to living a self-contained existence.
"I was in third grade when there was this big thaw where everything began to run with the water from the snow. Then it turned real cold and it froze so there was ice everywhere. I mean the roads were covered with ice because the water rose over the roads and froze. I was the only one in our family going to school at the time because I had just gotten over the chickenpox and my siblings all still had the chickenpox. I was the one who brought them home, but we didn't know where they came from. I walked that day. I got down there to school and there was no teacher so I turned around and went back home. When I got home and tried to tell my folks what it was like, they wouldn't believe me. So my dad went out walking and when he came back he said, 'She's right. Nobody's leaving here until it thaws.' They thought I was exaggerating," Krampert said.
"That was the same year my older brother had brought home the measles at Thanksgiving time. Because the high school and elementary school were all intermingled in the same building, that's probably where he caught the measles from the elementary kids. So that Thanksgiving we all went through the measles, then in February we all caught the chickenpox."
"All our school had for playground equipment was two swings. Other than that it was all imagination. We had what we called a soccer ball that we would throw over the wood shed to play Annie Over. We played games because we only had the two swings that was it," Krampert said.
School was pretty straight forward. It was not filled with extra-curricular activities and smartphones. Little things left big impressions.
"We'd have Arbor Day when we would clean up the school yard every year. Then somebody from the school board would bring hot dogs and marshmallows and we'd burn the leaves and roast the hot dogs," said Krampert.
The changing landscape of farming
She married Karl Krampert Oct. 18, 1958, and moved onto the farm where he had been born and raised—the same farm she lives on today. They raised two sons, Kraig and Allen, three if you count her neighbor Tom who lost his father when he was young.
"When my husband died, my son and Tom were standing here by the refrigerator the day of the funeral and my son said, 'If you need anything mom, call me, I'm only 12 miles away (Hammond), I can get there in a hurry.' And Tom said, 'Call me. I'm a lot closer.' He lives kiddie corner to our farm," Krampert said.
It is not clear what will happen to her farm.
"When my oldest son graduated, if we had stuck a pin in here, in our farm, and made a 5-mile circle and not included anybody who lived in town, there were 39 seniors from his class in 1977 in that circle. When my younger son graduated in 1979 which was even a bigger class, there were only 25 in that same circle. Neither of my kids are going to be farmers and we never encouraged them to be. Farming is just not that easy. They could get an education and do something else," Krampert said.
Today Krampert rents part of her land to Tom for cropping and the rest she has in a Conservation Reserve Program. Her sons and two grandsons hunt on the farm.
"It's a whole different world than I grew up in," she said.
There wasn't a moment during any of these stories when Krampert wasn't smiling surrounded by her stacks of photo albums. These were good memories, fond memories. Snowbanks twice as high as a car, a train half underwater, school closed because you were the only kid without chickenpox, marshmallows and hot dogs roasted over a pile of burning autumn leaves, a ride to school behind the tractor because of missing teeth. Memories become larger than life, a way to measure your time against your children's and grandchildren's and great-grandchildren's. They become the family legends that get told over and over, growing with each generations retelling. Stories have a way of melting that biting January cold on a mile and half walk to school.