“Growing up in tough times with flies and grasshoppers, dust storms, sleeping upstairs on straw mattresses on the floor with newspapers on the wall and heat in only one room downstairs was not easy.
The one bedroom upstairs was divided by a curtain made of pieces of dresses, overalls or whatever was available,” said Mary (Kouba) Osowski in a 20-page book she wrote last fall when she was 99 and a half (she stresses that half!). Her book contains numerous stories of her childhood, school days, Christmas memories and some highlights of her married life plus some photos. It is truly an accomplishment for any one of her age. Here are some excerpts from her book:
Mary, daughter of Charles and Mary (Tupa) Kouba, was born on March 12, 1917 and grew up on a farm seven miles northwest of Regent, where her nephew, Brian Kouba, now lives. She was the fourth child of a family of ten children—Nora, William, Rose, Mary, Agnes, Charles, Clara, Florence, Mildred and Richard. Everybody had chores to do. Each morning she had to get enough coal from the cellar to last the day. Her dad trucked the coal from an open pit mine operated by his brothers about 2 miles west of their farm.
She recalls that L. L. Lundy lived across the road, Fred Geerts lived south of Black Butte but the farm is now occupied by his grandson, Jim and Christina Geerts; Charles Wyman lived where Violet Payne resides, and Jack Heise, then George Dotterman, and later Steve Magelky lived west of the farm and is now vacant.
“There were four schools in the township—one about half a mile north of our farm, one a mile east and south of Black Butte which we attended and it was called the Horswill School, one a mile west across from the Heise farm and one three miles southwest where her grandparents, Bart and Anna Kouba lived, now owned by his great-grandson, Jess Kouba,” she said. The Horswill School still stands and is now owned by Chris Tomford of Wyoming whose grandfather homesteaded on the south side of Black Butte in 1907,” she wrote.
She said that her mother sewed with a Minnesota pedal sewing machine. She made dishtowels, bras, slips, dresses, nightgowns and pillowcases from white flour sacks and later there were printed flour and feed sacks. There were no stores, catalogs or money to buy things like that.
She remembers carrying water from a ditch or nearby well to wash clothes, making soap from hog lard, making butter with a hand mixer, bringing in frozen clothes from the line in the winter and bending them to get in the door, ten children bathing in the same water–youngest up to oldest and just add a little hot water as needed, yet I can’t remember any body odor. She hated gathering eggs as the ‘clucks’ pecked her hands so she would hold a stick on their heads to get the eggs from under them. One time she got locked inside and had to break a window to reach outside to open the door.
“We never went hungry as there was always food on the table. We always had potato dumplings or homemade bread with white gravy, fried bread dough (we called them flapjacks), potatoes, vegetables and custard pies. Sometimes we would go to Grandpa Kouba’s house on Sundays after church for dinner where they would have homemade ice cream and chocolate cake. Rendered lard in a 20-gallon crock could hold pork chops or roast pork without spoiling. Ma had a large garden and we canned everything—chicken, meatballs, corn, vegetables, ketchup and jams. I would love to have a jar of canned meat now. It was so good with its own gravy!” she said.
“Our outhouse had two holes, one for the adults and one for the children. There was no toilet paper as it hadn’t been invented yet. We used a Sears catalog but avoided the shiny pages. In the fall we would fold the peach wrappings which were a treat and smelled good! Later a bathroom was added to the house,” she remembered.
“When the family was quarantined with scarlet fever in 1937 Ma and Richard, age four, could not come home after his operation for a ruptured appendix because they didn’t want him to catch it, too. They stayed at Uncle Robert and Aunt Anna Kouba’s farm (the former Myron Jesch farm) just a mile away. Because of the quarantine, everything had to be fumigated to prevent the spread of the disease and much had to be burned—pictures, books, clothes, etc. Many precious mementos were destroyed,” she commented.
In April, 1935 Mary and Rosie went to Grafton and lived with relatives. She was 18 years old and didn’t know anybody there but Pa wanted to get her away from a boyfriend he didn’t like. They did housework for $3 a week with Thursdays off. She met Chester Osowski and they were married on June 2, 1937 after dating a year and a half. They lived on a farm near Minto with no electricity, telephone or running water for four and a half years and then they moved to a farm formerly owned by his parents where they had running water and electricity. They raised five children—Joan, David, Paul, Phyllis and Ruth but the three younger ones are deceased.
Mary had many hobbies over the years and drove until she was 97—driving for old people who couldn’t drive! Time has not been easy on her. Throughout the years she lost three children and her husband and has survived colon and skin cancer. She has been living in a nursing home since 2015 because she found it more difficult to get around on her own. Her memory is good, she reads the newspapers, writes letters, calls relatives and always has an optimistic attitude with a bit of humor and a smile on her face.
The only member left of her family is a sister, Mildred Jesch, who lives in Dickinson.
Her 100th birthday was celebrated on Sunday, March 12, 2017 in the Lutheran Sunset Home of Grafton with a large crowd of friends and family from the area, plus some from Alaska, Grand Forks, Bismarck and the Regent area—nephews Kenny and Brian Kouba, niece Lunette and Reed Dobitz, and sister-in-law Marlene Kouba. Three relatives she had never met also joined the festivities for the afternoon.