Last week, I gave a presentation about blogging for my local writers’ group. It was a first for me, so I needed to research the topic. Thankfully, there’s a lot of info out there about blogging, much of it from Word Press. I thought I’d share some of what I learned with you since I am now this font of knowledge.
There are 600 million blogs out there in the world. This is so many that they make up one-third of the web!
Most people read blogs to learn something new.
80% of new blogs last only for 18 months. Most quit after 3 years.
22% of Word Press bloggers write once per week. 2% post daily.
Word Press is the most popular blogging platform, hosting 43% of blogs.
The highest recorded salary for a blogger in the U.S. in 2022 was $104,000.
It takes an average of 20 months to start making money with a blog, but 27% of bloggers start earning money within 6 months and 38% are making a full-time income within 2 years.
Posts that have “how-to” or “guide” in their titles are the most popular in general. (I am testing this with the title of this post!)
Images are helpful in garnering interest. Post with up to 7 images get 116% more organic traffic compared to posts with no images.
In 2021, the average length of a blog post was 1,416 words.
The average blog post length has increased 57% since 2014.
The trend is for increasing word count for posts. Posts with over 3,000 words get 138% more visitors than posts with fewer than 500 words.
Do any of these stats surprise you? I’m surprised by the trend toward longer posts, but perhaps that makes sense because there more words and more topics for search engines to find. But I would think that people don’t have that much time to read. Maybe they find the posts but don’t read all of them?
Okay, now I need to find an image for this post. And I should probably make it longer, but I am out of time!
In his “Recollections of L. E. Potter,” my great-grandfather Laforest, who was a young settler in Minnesota tells a cute story that I didn’t have time to include in an earlier post about him.
The year was 1865. The family of 12 had moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, settling for a time on the banks of the Watonwan River a few miles south of Madelia. One spring day, Laforest’s father John was mowing hay with a scythe about 80 rods from the house they were renting. Laforest writes (edited for clarity):
I was sent to take him a drink of water, also a watermelon. We got our water from a spring on the riverbank back from the house. I took my pail and melon to the top of the bank or bluff, laid the melon down by the side of the path and went down the path through the brush after the water. When coming back up the bluff, I heard something going through the bushes straight down to the river. This was rather startling to an eight-year-old.
When I got to the top of the bluff and my melon was gone, boy-fashion, I did not stop to reason, but let my imagination run wild. I thought some animal had carried it off and that was what I heard going through the bushes.
I took the water to father and told him about the melon and the animal that carried it off. The more I talked about it, the better my imagination worked until I could tell what the animal looked like – what color he was, bigger than a dog. In my mind it was something terrible!
Father asked what I thought it was. I couldn’t tell him. So, he said he thought it must be a Racorebob.
Father told folks about my Racorebob for years after. Whenever my imagination would get the best of reason, I was reminded about my Racorebob. I believe it has always had a good effect on my life.
Father found the melon at the foot of the bluff, smashed against a tree. Somehow, it had started rolling down the bluff and that was what I heard.
(Marie here – I’m not sure what the word amalgam Racorebob means. Laforest never explained it, but my guess would be a “raccoon or bobcat?” Any other interpretations are welcome!)
When Russ and I travel, we usually do many “outward-looking” things like hiking, biking, seeing the sights, etc. For our recent trip to Arizona, we decided to go on a more inward adventure. We contacted a local psychic for past life regression sessions.
I’ve never shopped for a psychic before, but I figured the internet was a good start. A search of psychics in the Prescott area came up with three hits. The one that looked the most legit to me was “Psychic Readings by Deva.” Deva does readings by appointment only. She lives in a lovely home on the outskirts of Prescott.
We corresponded by email to set up the appointment. That went fine, except on my end. I was so distracted by dealing with the details of our impending trip that I sent Deva the incorrect dates of our visit. I thought I was setting our sessions up for the end of February and she thought they were going to be at the end of March!
When we showed up a month early, of course, she wasn’t home. Her husband was, though, and we were able to set up a session with Deva for the following day. Deva was very accommodating about this and I am forever grateful. I’m usually not such a scatterbrain. Was I unconsciously trying to sabotage the experience? Only Carl Jung can answer that!! (Get it? The famous Swiss psychoanalyst? Anyway…)
Besides past life regressions, Deva does tarot card readings, hypnosis, and energy work. She’s originally from Germany and has an accent that fits a session on a couch, which is where we laid during our separate hour-long regressions in her basement.
But first, while we were still sitting upright, Deva asked why we wanted the sessions. We basically just said we wanted a different vacation experience. Deva explained that in past lives, we could be different genders and races. There could be some violence involved since human history is so full of wars and conflict.
Russ went on the couch first while I waited upstairs, reading a book.
I was looking forward to the experience. I can’t say that I’m a true “believer” in past lives, but I am open and curious. I was bummed when I feared I had messed up our opportunity with the date snafu and was so glad that it worked out, after all.
A past-life regression is definitely not something I would have ever considered doing at home, where life is so busy. However, years ago, I bumped into a group past life session that was going on once down the hall from a meeting I had in the same building. A bunch of handouts entitled, “Tips for a Group-Guided Past Life Regression Experience” lay on a table, beckoning me. I picked one up.
One of the tips was to ignore your critical thinking so you can be fully present in the experience. This is very hard for me because I’m judgmental and critical by nature. Another was to trust that the information that drops into your mind during the regression is exactly what you’re supposed to see, even if it feels like you’re making it up.
When it was my turn, Deva spent about 20 minutes of the session on relaxation – taking me from the tip of my toes to the top of my head. Then came some imagery work that prepared me for exploring my past life/lives.
I ended up describing three lives. I really did feel like I was just making it all up, but thanks to that handy stolen tip sheet, I realized that was okay. I was male in two of the past lives, and female in one. One of the lives had a lot of violence and loss, but the other two were rather tame, except for a prairie fire and an absent husband.
In each life, I learned a lesson. None of the lessons were things that particularly resonated with me currently, and I didn’t really see anyone in my past lives that is in my current life. But I did end the session with a deep feeling of loss. Tears welled into my eyes and streamed down my cheeks. Deva found some tissues for me. 😊
I felt like I’d been through a ringer afterwards. It felt like one of those vacation experiences I often tend to get myself into — like a trail that’s way more difficult than the guidebook described.
On our way back to our hotel afterwards, Russ and I exchanged notes. He explored one life during his session. It seemed like it was in greater detail than my lives. But there were many similarities in it to the life of mine that had a lot of violence and loss. We were even the same ethnicity, although we were in different time periods. The lessons learned in these separate lives were eerily the same.
The session helped me understand some of my passions and dislikes and why I seem to have lost my green thumb.
In summary, Deva was great. The experience was unique, but if you do a past life regression, don’t expect a flippant jaunt down a flat trail, even if the guidebook classifies it as “easy.”
It took longer than the 16 months predicted to get my Invisaligns off (see My Mouth is Full of Plastic), but I am happy to say they’re gone now. That only took 23 months of my life.
If you have a superb memory, you may recall that I found in my late 50s I was having a hard time chewing food with my back teeth. My front teeth were doing more work than they were supposed to, which led to chipping and general stress on them.
After a rocky start, I was fitted with plastic aligners. I was so relieved not to have to wear metal braces. I dutifully followed all the instructions and kept my orthodontist appointments. I saw improvement right away. However, gradually, I noticed I couldn’t bite off things like noodles and pizza crusts with my front teeth.
By the end of the two years, my problem had reversed itself. Instead of not being able to chew with my back teeth, that’s all I could chew with now. My front teeth weren’t working properly.
Of course, I relayed these concerns along the way to my orthodontic technician, who assured me that the fine-tuning by the last batch of aligners would take care of it. They didn’t.
You’d think, with all the computer-assisted measuring they do of your teeth during the process of fitting aligners, that things like this wouldn’t happen. I asked my orthodontist why, and he said something about jawbone structure and this and that.
To help my front teeth meet like they’re supposed to, he would need to shave off thin bits from my back teeth. I was not too thrilled about this, but he assured me the shavings were only the thickness of a fingernail and that it wouldn’t impact any of the fillings I have back there. If he didn’t do this, I would need to wear yet more aligners for more months.
At this point, I was willing to do just about anything to get my teeth free from all this plastic. I knew I’d have to wear a retainer afterward, but assumed that would only be at night, similar to my sons’ experiences with braces.
So, after much grinding and then additional grinding to take the aligner anchors off the rest of my mouth, my teeth are now free!!! They felt great and I could bite stuff with my front teeth!
I had a few minutes to rejoice before the hammer dropped.
The technician informed me I was going to be fitted for a plastic retainer (which looks much like a set of Invisaligns). This, I expected. What I didn’t expect was that I was going to have to wear it DAY and night for three months.
Alas, my mouth remains full of plastic. I gained freedom, but not all that much.
I once planted poems throughout my town (Duluth, MN) when I contributed to a Local Free Poetry project. Our poet laureate at the time scattered hard copies of poems by local poets in area businesses. I submitted four poems. One of them was entitled, “Perfunctory Kisses.” The short (8-line) poem detailed how I dislike kisses that don’t mean anything. I might want to publish it somewhere in the future, so I won’t share the whole thing here, but just let me say that the first line is: Perfunctory kisses suck.
I know, not exactly subtle, but I like my poetry to be accessible. 😊
Last summer, I received an email through my author website from a woman who lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She said my poem captivated her when she found it. She used it as a reading at her recent wedding – her groom read it to her before they exchanged vows.
“Your short poem offered a sharp and punchy contrast to some of the more traditional readings of the ceremony,” she said. “We heard gasps of delight as the first line was read aloud. Let’s say, it was well received, as we knew it would be.” She ended with, “Thanks for your contribution to making our ceremony unique and memorable.”
Receiving her note made my day, my year! I’m tickled and honored that my poem landed on fertile ground and was used in such a personal way.
After my book launch this winter for “Meander North,” I heard from our friend, Sailor Dave, who connected with one of the stories I read about bunnies. Unlike with my poem, you can read this one because the book is made up from posts from this blog. (Seeing Rabbits) It explores the thought that rabbits might be guardians of our sleep.
Dave lives in a tiny house at a local marina. He said, “I wanted to tell you that I had a “pandemic bunny” living under my house last winter, too. When listening to Marie read the story, I was anticipating a dark turn, with Russ finding a great “New York Times” rabbit stew recipe that he was dying to try. Of course, it took a more spiritual turn and I found myself wondering if my rabbit would return. I did leave veggies out now and then. And there were baby bunnies in the spring. After our last snow, I spotted fresh bunny tracks around the house. My guardian bunny has returned! Probably under the house right now, waiting for me to go to sleep.”
Then there was a note I received through my website right after Christmas. A reader from Marshall, Minnesota, thanked me for writing my first novel, “Eye of the Wolf,” which deals with the wolves on Isle Royale National Park. He said it was, “An enjoyable foray into their lives and possibilities.”
Since my novel is rather old now (12 years), I asked him where he found it and he said it was in the library there. I let him know that there’s a sequel (“Plover Landing”), which he also ended up reading, and appreciated. I planted those copies in the town when I participated in a local arts board event years ago. So nice to learn they also found fertile ground!
I love these connections and I love it when readers take the time to send me their comments.
Russ and I were just listening to the latest episode of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” show. Author George Saunders (“Lincoln in the Bardo”) was on it. During his interview he offered this thought on how to define a literary work: “Anything that connects people in a way that’s deeper than the usual way – habitual way we connect. That can be seen as literature.”
I’d also posit that literature connects through space and time. The good books will resonate into the future and across geography. I’m not really saying that my writing is great literature, but I’m always trying and am heartened by these little successes.
I recently attended a Zoom meeting for work where the presenter was wearing a bow tie. His tie was full of bright colors in contrast to his dark shirt. The speaker was a professed bow tie-aficionado. His tie was fun to look at, but it was crooked. I kept mentally straightening it during his whole presentation. It was distracting.
This reminded me that every bow tie I have ever seen someone wear has been crooked, which reminded me of an idea I had in 2010 when I worked for Mayo Clinic Public Affairs (where many of the doctors are also bow tie-aficionados) for an addition to a tip sheet for television interviews. This was a one-pager that we had on hand to advise doctors who weren’t familiar with being interviewed. It contained tips like women not wearing long, dangly earrings because they are distracting. (Although I suppose this could also apply to men!)
If I had continued working at Mayo Clinic longer and gained more “street cred” in the organization, I would have advocated for adding to the tip sheet: “Don’t wear a bow tie.”
Before I list the reasons why, I want to say that I think bow ties are fine for everyday life. I realize they are a way for the wearer to express their individuality and quirkiness, and I’m all for that. They are also convenient in many professions, allowing for a fashion statement that doesn’t drag in your soup bowl like a long necktie would. Also, according to a story on the WHYY public television station, for doctors, bow ties are more hygienic, collecting less bacteria than neckties. But I just don’t think they work for television interviews.
Here’s my reasoning, as if speaking to the interviewee:
No matter how hard you try, your bow tie will be crooked, which is distracting and dilutes the verbal message you’re trying to convey.
Yes, bow ties make the wearer look smart, but they also alienate you from the viewing audience. Historically, bow ties have been a marker of privilege and conservatism. Think of who you are trying to reach with your television interview message. For most health information, I would wager you want the widest possible audience.
During media interviews, you are representing your organization. This is not a time to get all individualist and fancy. You can put your bowtie back on afterward.
Despite straightening beforehand, your bowtie WILL become crooked during the interview.
Your bowtie will run askew. (I cannot stress this enough.) 😊
There, I’ve been carrying that inside for a long time. I feel better now! Feel free to comment with dissenting opinions or agreements below.
On a lark one day, I meandered around on the internet, searching for one of my great-grandfathers on my mother’s side. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he has his own Wikipedia entry, plus a YouTube video done by a stranger. Not bad for a man with humble beginnings who lived most of his life in the 1800s.
Why does he merit such acclaim in 2022? One reason is that he was a Minnesota state senator. Another is that he was a regent for the University of Minnesota. The final reason has to do with bricks. Yes, bricks. I’ll explain near the end of this post.
A cousin recently sent me recollections that Laforest, also known as “L. E.” (for Laforest Edgar), wrote later in life about his younger days. I’d like to share some of the highlights.
Laforest Potter was born in the same year that Minnesota became a state — 1858. But he was not born in the state where he spent most of his life. He was born in Ripon, Wisconsin. Both of his parents (John Potter and Olive Weymouth Potter) had moved there from Maine. His father was an orphan who farmed rented land and worked in the woods and on the water.
When Laforest was six, his father “rigged up a covered wagon and loaded in his belongings, which were mostly kids,” (he had ten!) “and started with others for Minnesota.” Laforest remembers crossing the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. It was on the Mississippi where he saw his first steamboat.
The family lived on the banks of the Watonwan River near Madelia, Minnesota, in the upper story of a log house owned by another family, who lived on the first floor. That family ended up spreading typhoid fever to Laforest and one of his brothers, who both survived.
Laforest remembers when he fell ill: “Father was working on a threshing machine to earn a living for us kids and one day in late fall, us boys were going to the woods to find wild grapes that had dried on the vines (and there were plenty). We got a short distance from the house when I became so sick, I had to turn back, and that was the last I remember until I was getting well.”
The next spring, they rented a log home across the river. That winter they were hard up for clothing and food. “At one time all we had was some small potatoes and not many of them. Father was away most of the time working at whatever he could get to do. Work was scarce, wages, low, and prices high.”
The family survived a deadly snowstorm that blocked roads and drifted through the cracks between the logs in their home until “our beds and the floor were covered when we got up in the morning . . . Father, knowing the condition we were in, started for home on foot with food. He made the trip where a less robust, determined man would have perished.”
When spring arrived, the family moved again to a farm near Mankato. They lived there for two years and Laforest got his first taste of farm work, made especially challenging after his father fell ill with appendicitis. “Us three boys, the oldest thirteen years old, did the fall work and husked the corn. We had no husking gloves then, and I remember the row I husked could be told by the blood on the husks where my fingers bled, but we stuck to the finish!”
It was near Mankato where Laforest first began to attend school when he was ten. In 1869 the family settled a land claim (I apologize to any Native Americans who may be reading this) fifty-five miles away near Springfield, Minnesota, the area where he was to live for the rest of his life.
He describes the area as “Fifty miles from a railroad, thirty miles from a doctor, and a day’s journey from a schoolhouse. This part of the state was one vast prairie with lakes and sloughs abounding with muskrats, mink, skunks, badgers, foxes, and some wolves, lots of buffalo bones, some Indian relics, all kinds of ducks, geese, sandhill cranes, prairie chickens, and jack rabbits.”
When they weren’t farming, the boys trapped. The family’s crops were destroyed for three years by grasshoppers. Laforest was able to receive about fifteen more months of schooling and survived more snowstorms.
Laforest writes about livestock and how he prized “the company and friendship of good animals more than that of some people I have met.”
He also recounted an incident that happened when he was a teenaged fur trapper one winter:
The ground and ice were covered with a clean layer of snow. There was a fox in one of my traps. He had lost a part of his tail and appeared as though he had been unfortunate at least. He was jumping and whirling around. I watched my chance and struck him on the head with my hatchet with sufficient force to kill him. As he lay there on the white snow with blood running from his mouth and nose, he sobbed and cried like a baby. I will never forget the effect this had on me, out there in the still morning, everything frozen and white, with death at my feet. I believe I have been more careful since in causing pain or death to animals unless necessary.
Wow – what an image! I can just see that fox. Perhaps this is where I get some of my interest and empathy for animals from.
Laforest worked his father’s farm until his father died in 1885. Less than two months later, Laforest married Ada May Redford and then purchased a farm not far from his father’s. His “Shady Lane Stock Farm” outside of Springfield was highly successful. He raised Hereford cattle, pigs, and sheep. His Herefords won numerous awards and are what probably got him an “in” with the University of Minnesota, leading to his appointment by the Minnesota governor as a regent (1920-22).
He was also involved in many agricultural groups and became a sought-after speaker. My guess is that this is what led to his election to the state legislature.
According to the YouTube video I mentioned earlier, Laforest was also a proponent of home improvement, believing that farmers should improve their homes with conveniences “for the comfort of their wives.” He said that farm wives had “as much right to the benefits of labor-saving conveniences and a pleasant home in which to work, as the husband has to improved machinery and fine farm buildings.” Quite a progressive thought for the time, I’m sure. Or perhaps his wife Ada was the one who wrote his speeches?!
Laforest’s Shady Lane Farm was one of the first in the county to have electricity. His home still stands today, and I had a chance to see it a few years ago.
In 1911, Laforest built a silo on his farm from curved hollow clay blocks (rusty orange in color) purchased from the Ochs Brickyard across the road. This is what piqued the curiosity of Vince from Minnesota Bricks. He wondered about the silo’s history, since he has an abiding interest in bricks.
He did some research and discovered Laforest. He shared his knowledge in this impressive YouTube video. Laforest’s silo is no longer standing.
Laforest survived poverty, typhoid, killer snowstorms, child labor, grasshopper plagues, and a lack of formal education. He succeeded through grit and determination. He summed up his philosophy with these words:
First, believe you can do a thing, and then do it or bust a hame strap!
(A hame strap is one of the straps on a harness for horses. It sometimes broke when the horse pulled extra-heavy loads.)
In mid-April of this year, the Tunnel Fire engulfed more than 16,000 acres northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, prompting the evacuation of more than 700 homes. One of those homes was that of Jim Phillips, a long-time member of the speculative fiction writers’ group of which I’ve been a part about fifteen years. Jim joined the group when he used to live in Duluth, Minnesota, and was a member of Lake Superior Writers. After he retired, he moved to Arizona, where he lived alone with two cats for at least half a dozen years. His nearest relatives lived several states away.
After the evacuation ended, a neighbor noticed that Jim’s Jeep was in the same spot it had been before the evacuation. Concerned, the neighbor apparently called the police to do a welfare check on Jim. They found him dead of “natural causes.” He had been dead for several days.
It was during this time we were supposed to have our monthly Zoom meeting to discuss our writing. We hadn’t heard from Jim about his availability for the meeting, so we delayed it until we learned more about his status. It just seemed weird to have a meeting without him.
We were aware of the evacuation and thought maybe he left his home so fast, he forgot to take his phone charger or something. That would be like him. My emails and texts to him remained unanswered, which was unlike him.
There are two other women in our group besides me, Linda and Lacey. Linda is retired and had a bit more time on her hands to investigate what was going on with Jim. Lacey has her own blog (Lacey’s Late-night Editing) and wrote a post that goes into detail about the events, should you be curious.
Linda doggedly tracked down information about Jim and called me when Russ and I were on vacation in Yosemite National Park to deliver the sad news. I was shocked, to say the least. We knew Jim had some health issues, but he had seemed fine the month before when we met via Zoom.
Like I told an acquaintance recently, Jim just “up and died on us with no warning.” It was disconcerting, and it took me several days to get out of my funk, even though I was surrounded by the unsurpassed natural beauty of the park. I found comfort in that beauty.
I’ve become a fan of Spotify and its various music mixes. A song called, “Resist the Urge” by Matt Sweeney popped up in my Daily Mix during vacation. Although I don’t agree with the song’s encouragement not to grieve someone’s death (you need to feel all the feels!), I do like the lyrics that say, “If you need reminders, look around at what is huge and wild and there you’ll see the way . . . I may not be there bodily, but in the wind, I’m here.”
Jim enjoyed hiking and getting out in nature. He often regaled us with tales of his hikes around Arizona. I felt he would approve my turning to nature to grieve. There wasn’t even a funeral for him that we could attend to share our grief. Not even an obituary we could find online. However, Jim started a speculative fiction group in Arizona and a member wrote a post about him (with Linda and Jim’s sister’s assistance). It’s fitting and such a good remembrance of him.
I especially appreciated this comment in the post: “The writing communities of Duluth and Flagstaff will fondly remember Jim for his scientific curiosity, love of all things science fiction and horror, his wicked sense of humor, his keen editorial eye, and his promotion of the Oxford comma.”
Since we couldn’t attend a public funeral, my writer’s group decided to hold a ceremony of our own. Last weekend, we gathered in Willmar, Minnesota, (the halfway point between all of us geographically). We had lunch together and then made our way to a state park north of town, where we hiked a short way on a trail (“Trail J,” for Jim). We found a small grove of oak trees and ventured off the trail to sit among them. I’m sure Jim would have approved of the location.
We shared our collective memories and feelings about Jim. We all were grateful for the visit we paid him a few years ago in Flagstaff, where we all gathered for several days. We visited the Grand Canyon and met with the writer’s group he had organized there.
As Lacey so aptly said in her blog post, losing a writing friend is different from losing a “regular” friend:
There is a part of me, a deep and essential part of me, that these three — now only two — people know more intimately than anyone else in my life. To share your writing with another, especially in its formative stages, requires a great deal of vulnerability. And from that vulnerability comes a trust that rivals the trust I have in my husband, my best friend, or my mom. Because time and again, they have proved themselves worthy to be allowed into my inner landscape, the world of my mind that is shared only sporadically with those I share my “real life” with.
Losing one of the few people who I consistently trusted with that part of myself is no small thing. And grieving it is no small task, especially when it is tied up so closely with the very thing I have turned to throughout my life to process everything else. But it’s the only way forward.
Jim provided a unique viewpoint on our writing that no one else will be able to match. Besides that, he was just an all-around good person. Even though he died alone with his cats, the ripples from his death reverberate through our lives, and it’s going to take some time to recover.
I couldn’t write any fiction for about six weeks after his death. When I did try, my output was only half of normal.
I’m okay with that. It’s going to take time to get over this.
When we met in Willmar, we didn’t bring any writing to critique. We’re saving that for our next meeting in August, when Lacey will be in Duluth (from her home in South Dakota). I suspect this meeting will be difficult without Jim, but we know he would want us to continue forward. He’d want us to keep writing. The WORST thing we could do is stop writing.
So, we will keep moving forward, keep putting words to paper. Keep hoping they are worthy.
Every two years during the second Sunday in June, members related to my father’s side of the family gather south of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and celebrate our relatedness. The Pramann Family Picnic began in central Minnesota in 1957, one hundred years after the original family farmstead was founded. (1857, which was one year before Minnesota gained statehood. The picnic was begun on the centennial on purpose.)
The “founding couple” (my great-great-grandparents Johan and Johanna Pramann) immigrated from Othfresen Germany. It’s speculated that they left, even though Johan’s family were the major landholders in the area, because Johan would not inherit the land because he was not the oldest son. Apparently, there was a tradition that the oldest son inherited the land and the younger sons were given money to build a house in town. Maybe that wasn’t good enough for Johan, so he came to the United States to seek his own land, with his wife and a foster daughter (Augusta, age six) in tow.
They spent seven weeks on the ocean and finally arrived in New Orleans, taking a boat up the Mississippi River. They disembarked in St. Paul, loaded their meager belongings on an ox cart, and walked beside the cart (the cart was small and there was no room to sit!) 77 miles to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where they stayed with some friends. That must have been a long trip.
Eventually, they settled in Fair Haven and had one son named Henry, who was my great-grandfather. Johan and Johanna were fairly successful farmers in spite of bad times, such as blizzards, fires, and grasshopper plagues.
Henry met his wife Margaret after she immigrated from Switzerland. They had seven boys and three girls. My grandfather John was their second son and was born in the family’s log cabin.
At our family reunion, those gathered usually identify themselves by which of the second-generation American children of Henry and Margaret they are related to. All I need to say is that I’m “John’s granddaughter” and the relative I’m speaking with can visualize where I fit in the family tree.
According to a biography that my Aunt Marguerite wrote, John was a good student. He went to the country school nearby and “remained in the top eighth grade for three years, he said, ‘until I learned all the teacher could teach me.’” With his older brother set to inherit the land, he realized the farm did not hold much of a future, so he went into town to get business training. That’s why my family aren’t farmers.
John moved to Minneapolis and worked for a hardware wholesale company (Janney, Semple, Hill and Co.) for two years and attended an evangelical church there (as did his two sisters) where he met his future bride Louise, “a blue-eyed young woman whose family attended the church and who was employed as secretary to the president of Metropolitan National Bank.”
They moved to St. Cloud, which is about fifteen miles north of Fair Haven, where my grandfather eventually worked as a banker and insurance agent. He built their house with his own hands, but alas, it is not standing anymore. The neighborhood was demolished for a parking lot. Somewhere along the line, they switched religions from evangelical to Methodist, although I guess they are closely related.
One thing perhaps a bit unusual about this side of the family is that they had their own cemetery and church. In 1873, the Pramanns donated some farmland to the Evangelical Association so they could build the church and cemetery. A church was built in 1880 and was known as Gethsemane. The church was officially incorporated in 1887. Services were held there regularly every three or four weeks in the afternoon until 1920. The church is no longer standing. Henry and Margaret are buried in the cemetery, as are Johan and Johanna.
The Pramann Family Picnic was delayed by the pandemic. We hadn’t gathered since 2018, so I was keen to continue the tradition when it returned this year. About one hundred of us gathered in the city park picnic shelter in Fairhaven, Minnesota, last weekend. Everyone brought a dish to share and their own silverware and plates. I brought potato salad made from my mother’s recipe (with black olives, mustard, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar and dill). She often used to make it for these occasions. Families tend to sit together, but also mill around and talk to other relatives they haven’t seen in a while. Most live locally or elsewhere in Minnesota, but sometimes relatives from out-of-state attend. (Pramanns live in New York, Louisiana, and the West Coast.)
After dessert (ice cream is a family tradition and must be served!), a family meeting ensues, conducted according to Robert’s Rule of Order, where minutes from the previous family meeting are read and approved. There’s a treasurer’s report, new family picnic organizers are elected, and various family members are recognized for their youth or age. In the past, people have verbally noted new deaths and births, but this time, everyone was encouraged to write those down on a special form so the family tree could be updated later.
The picnics originally were held at the homestead farm. Then they moved to the city park in Annandale, Minnesota, and then to Fair Haven. In the past, the group sung hymns and pledged allegiance to the flag, but now we just eat, talk and meet.
The weather can be unsettled in this part of the country in June. As a child, I remember my family packing up and leaving one picnic early when the sky turned a sickly green from an oncoming tornado. For last week’s picnic, Russ and I drove through an unexpected rainstorm on the way.
I had never seen the cemetery and church site, or the original homestead before (that I can remember), so, when the chance came to visit them during the picnic, I was eager. A cousin led us on the car ride north of town and down a gravel road to the sites.
The trees were the first thing I noticed about the small cemetery. Several pines tower over it, one with graceful twisting limbs. These trees feed on the bones of my ancestors.
Headstones bearing the name Pramann and other surnames from Gethsemane churchgoers dot the ground. Some markers are written in German. Some are so old the writing had eroded away. Some are so modern their occupants haven’t died yet. Farmland surrounds the cemetery and the Pramann homestead is visible a short way down the road.
Several other relatives arrived at the cemetery after us and regaled us with old family stories. One, that I recall hearing before, involved “how Johanna fed the Indians.” The story was written by my grandfather John (in “Some Facts on the Genealogy of the American Branch of the Pramann Family” – Jan. 1964), but basically, Johanna was home alone one day, cooking. A group of Native Americans – probably Dakota (Sioux) – arrived and asked for something to eat. According to my grandfather’s account, “She placed the large kettle on the floor, where the group sat and ate potatoes and even unbaked dough. After finishing their eating, they left, but a few days later, a whole venison was left on their doorstep.” The couple thought it might have been left in thanks for the food Johanna had provided.
Thankfully, their interactions with the natives were peaceful, or I might not be here to write this blog.
My grandfather John was interested in genealogy and was instrumental is beginning the Pramann Family reunion. My aunt found this prayer in his papers, which he must have recited for one of the reunions. Although dated and patriarchal, I think it sums up the thankfulness that many immigrant families must feel on coming to the United States.
We thank thee, our heavenly father, for the foresight of our forefathers in migrating to this free county where we can worship as we wish. In thy sight we are all equal regardless of nationality, color, creed, or church affiliation.
Lord Jesus, as thou “didst break the bread and bless the loaves by Galilee” bless our food and pour thy heavenly benediction upon us, receive our thanks and keep us all in perfect unity with each other and with thee.