I often find myself at the nursing home, sitting in a room with my almost-90-year-old mother and my 91-year-old father, looking for topics of conversation. There isn’t a lot to talk about because their lives are pretty narrow these days—and mine isn’t a whole lot more exciting. For some reason, they don’t confide in me about their health or their views on death or how they’re being treated by the nursing home staff. Instead, they tell me stories. Maybe they tell me stories because I ask questions. Maybe they tell me stories because I’ve always liked to listen to stories. Or maybe they tell me stories to keep me from fidgeting. For whatever reason, my parents tell me stories. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in an episode of Garrison Keillor’ Prairie Home Companion.
Recently as we were sitting around my dad’s room in the nursing home, I asked a question about the Carlisle band. Both of my parents grew up in Carlisle, Minnesota, and the community band was a huge part of their growing up years. The band had been organized in 1894, and still today, over 100 years later, the band continues to play at community events. Especially in the early days, the band was always full of both my mother’s and father’s relatives, most of them Norwegian farmers from the surrounding community.
The question I asked was, “When did women start playing in the Carlisle Band?” fully expecting the answer to be that the first women to break into the all-male musical ranks were my cousins, maybe in the 1960s or 1970s. However, here’s the story I got from my parents:
The first women to infiltrate the all-male band were summer visitors to Carlisle during the 1930s, the Hoverstein sisters, who rented an empty farmhouse north of Carlisle. During the rest of the year, the four Hoverstein sisters were all teachers. But in the summer, along with their brother Joe and their widowed mother, they rented a place in the country. My mother seems to remember that they were from the Ada area. She thinks they summered in Carlisle because they were related in some way to the Ogaards who owned the Carlisle general store at the time.
The Hoverstein sisters were a musical bunch, so every summer, they broke the gender barrier and sat in with the all-male Carlisle band. In those days, the Carlisle band was at the center of every single social event in the community. Whether it was the 4th of July picnic at Haldorson Island or a golden wedding anniversary or a celebration at the church, the Carlisle band members were there to entertain. (See above picture for my mental vision of the Hoverstein sisters.)
There was some confusion about the Hoverstein sisters’ names, but my parents positively identified the two older sisters, Ruth (trumpet) and Gladys (French horn). The younger two were less clear, but my dad wondered if one of them wasn’t named Deborah. The reason that trumpet-playing Ruth was especially clear in their memories is that my mother’s trumpet-playing older brother fell head over heels in love with her and wanted to marry her. Ruth, however, turned him down. My mother believes it was because Ruth didn’t want to spend the rest of her life as a farmer’s wife near Carlisle, Minnesota. So Ruth and my uncle were an item until she broke his heart. Later, my uncle told my mother that if he couldn’t marry Ruth Hoverstein, he didn’t want to marry anyone. And sure enough, he remained a trumpet-playing Norwegian bachelor farmer forever.
Gladys Hoverstein turned her attentions on my mother’s other brother, the tuba player. He was, according to my mother, the tender, romantic sort who fell in love easily—and often—so Gladys’s summer fling didn’t scar him for life. The younger two Hoverstein sisters had summer romances with my mother’s cousins who farmed west of Carlisle. My mother didn’t remember the two younger Hoverstein sisters very well and made the disdainful remark that they “just played some little instruments so they could be in the band, too.” Joe Hoverstein, the lone brother in the houseful of women, paid attention to my dad’s older sister.
So if anyone ever asks, the first women to break through the men-only barrier in the Carlisle Band were not my cousins in the women’s-lib 1970s. It was those heart-breaking Hoverstein sisters, way back in the 1930s. I wonder whatever happened to the musical Hoverstein sisters, who spent their summers playing John Phillip Sousa marches and toying with the hearts of those poor Norwegian bachelor farm boys from Carlisle, Minnesota.