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Farm girl – MaryAnn (Kack) Blanchette – running the home while attending school

We’ve been learning about MaryAnn (Kack) Blanchette, who was born and grew up on the family farm near Lake Marshall south of Marshall.

Her father, Theodore Kack farmed with horses into the late 1940s and ran a stud service with his Belgian stallions. Her mother had a chronic heart condition that limited her participation in the farming and eventually took her life when MaryAnn was a child of eleven, but not before she gave birth to another boy, MaryAnn’s younger brother, Eugene. MaryAnn had two older siblings who were grown and out of the house and an older brother, Ted, Jr., who was her farm chores partner growing up.

MaryAnn reflected on the many ways her mother’s death changed her life, relieving her from farm chores and putting her in charge of the home while she was still completing her grade school education.

“She passed away when I was eleven, so then I had to learn – I knew how to do some cooking – but I had to learn how to keep house and stuff in a big hurry.”

Fortunately, she had older women she could turn to for help learning how to take care of the home.

“[M]y older brother’s wife – they only lived a couple miles from us – and she was very helpful. And a lot of my friends’ [mothers], Mrs. Giefer, was great at helping me with things I needed to know.”

MaryAnn’s dad tried to help with the cooking, but sometimes only added to her workload.

“My dad at noon would make dinner for – sometimes he had [hired] help – but he’d put a pot of potatoes on the stove. Of course, it was an old cook stove and he’d make it too hot. I always had to clean the pans out,” she concluded laughing.

The Kack’s wood or coal-fired cook stove was an essential, but demanding kitchen appliance.

“[It burned] wood or coal, but usually cobs is what we did mostly. We had a big wooden box by the stove. We had to keep that full of cobs to burn. Bring a basketful of cobs in, especially in the wintertime, but even in the summertime because that was what we used to cook on.”

MaryAnn explained how the cook stove was not only a cooking resource, but it was also a source of heat and hot water for the home.

“There was a reservoir [for water]. You could get it pretty hot. Not all of them, but most of them had cupboards or openings on top and warming ovens with the heat that would get up there. And if you wanted to make toast, you’d take the lid off and put it on a long-handled fork and hold it over the fire. That’s where I had toast in the morning before I went to high school,” she added, laughing.

She recalled that cooking on the cob-fired stove was not a casual affair.

“You know you had to stay right there. You couldn’t put something on the stove and then forget about it. No, you had to know. And then you had to carry the ashes out, too.”

Tragedy visited the Kack family farm yet again when a fatal farm accident took MaryAnn’s younger brother, Eugene. She was present with him at the time of the accident.

“It’s been a long time ago. I had to live with it. You know, I was very young. I think I got to the point where I knew that the Lord had forgiven me.”

But carrying such an experience was difficult and learning to forgive oneself is not an easy or quick process.

MaryAnn’s father remarried, so her step-mother was able to take up most of the homemaking responsibilities. This enabled MaryAnn to return to helping with more of the farm chores with her brother, Ted, and being able to better focus on being an upper elementary school student.

The nearby country school had always fascinated MaryAnn.

“The schoolhouse was right west of our farm place – that’s where the school was, District 6. We had a barn and there was a boys’ and a girls’ bathroom [outhouse].”

Maryann recalled with a chuckle that she was interested in the school from a tender age.

“When I was little and the older kids were in school, I would sneak down and holler into the air vent and the teacher would let me in. They said I was about 4 or 5. They didn’t have kindergarten then. And then she’d [the teacher] send one of the older kids home with me to make sure to get me back home.”

Maryann’s dad was a big supporter of the District 6 School. He served on the school board for years and provided physical support as well, including running water.

“That was from our farm. Like I said, my dad had [the windmill and water tank] and the water ran down there, too. They also had electricity from our farm. I don’t know if he got paid for that or if it was a donation or what. But I know we always had running water and we had a cistern – that was where the waste water went – right by the school.”

MaryAnn was full of smiles as she talked about her country school. It clearly occupied a special place in her memory. MaryAnn’s relationship with her principle teacher was also special.

I welcome your participation in and ideas about our exploration of prairie lives. You may reach me at prairieview pressllc@gmail.com.

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