Wednesday, April 14, 2010


My father, who will turn 93 in a few days, and my 91-year-old mother have been having a tough time lately. Instead of the “bad days” they usually experience, they have been having “bad weeks” stretching into “bad months.” I really thought that my parents' story-telling days were over.

However, another story emerged this week, brought on by finding out that one of the staff members at their assisted living facility had a great-great relative-or-other who lived in the Carlisle area where my parents grew up. Whenever my parents meet someone new, it’s always exciting for them to make a Carlisle connection, no matter how remote or how many generations removed.

I didn’t quite understand how the nursing assistant was related to this Carlisle family, but it brought out the story of the Weiby’s.

Mr. Weiby was the blacksmith in Carlisle when my parents were young. His blacksmith shop sat directly across the road from the schoolhouse in Carlisle. My dad attended grades 1-8 in that school while my mother attended a rural school closer to the farm where she grew up. However, both of my parents attended “Norwegian School” in June (after their regular school was dismissed for the summer) which was held in the Carlisle schoolhouse.

One of my parents’ memories was of the open schoolhouse windows on those warm June days that allowed the sounds from the blacksmith shop to float across the road. It was the first time my mother had ever heard what she called “strong language.” Whenever Mr. Weiby had difficulty calming a skittish horse for shoeing, he could be heard swearing loudly, an ear-startling phenomenon in the conservative little Norwegian-Lutheran community.

My father was close in age to the Weiby’s youngest son, Richard. Although Richard was a year older than my dad, they were in the same confirmation class at Hedemarken Lutheran Church.

Confirmation class, Hedemarken Lutheran Church (approximately 1930). My dad is in the back row, second from the right. Richard Weiby is in the middle row, second from the right.)

After Richard finished eighth grade at the Carlisle school, he did what many of the boys did who were not needed at home: he found a job as a hired man on a local farm.

The story of Richard Weiby ended early and sadly. My parents said that in their rural community, farming accidents involving horses and cattle were common. Richard had gone to work a couple of miles from Carlisle on a farm a belonging to my father’s cousin Ralph’s family.

At the age of 16 or 17 years old, Richard wasn’t a very big teenager, short and small. My mother speculated that Richard had been given the job of cleaning manure out of a calf pen. In those days, cleaning out the calf pen required using a wagon hitched to a team of horses and shoveling manure into the back of that wagon. While Richard was working, something spooked the horses, causing them to rear and try to break free from their load.

The wagon that Richard was working with probably looked something like this. (Source:

“He should have run the other direction,” my dad said. “But he stood in front of those horses and tried to stop them.” The center pole of the yoke struck Richard in the chest, and he died as a result of that injury.

Ironically, Richard’s father, the blacksmith, had been adamant about keeping children away from horses that local farmers brought in for shoeing. He had a firm rule rule: no playing around the horses. It was too dangerous, as his teenaged son Richard found out the hard way.

I’m still not quite sure how the young nursing assistant who helps my parents is related to the family in this story. All I know is that she triggered a memory of the early 1930s that caused my parents to think about an event that happened 80 years ago in their little community in West Central Minnesota.

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