WOLFS AT OLD ORCHARD
by Barbara Wolf Terao (aka Dilly)
It was because of my grandmother’s illness with diptheria as a child that my great grandparents, Mippie and Pippie, started going north for the summer. They left the stifling heat of St. Louis and took the family by train to the cooling waters of Bay Lake in northern Minnesota. In 1901 they were guests of the Ruttger family, credited by them with initiating family vacations at Ruttgers, and later purchased their own place nearby. My grandmother, Helen, thrived, as did Mippie’s mother who accompanied them. The Wolf family has been heading to the land o’lakes and loons ever since.
The farmhouse my great grandparents bought was built by David Archibald on the north shore of the lake called Sissebagama by the Ojibwe. Archibald was friends with a Native American named Kahwessie who often came by to visit or to offer wild rice and maple syrup. To this day, our family still gets wild rice from local producers or from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe nearby.
Surrounded by birch and basswood, many generations of Wolfs have gathered on the screened-in porch of the white farmhouse–joking, eating homemade cookies, and playing cards. We girls from several families shared one bedroom. The overflow of aunts and uncles went in the two-room cabin, conveniently close to the outhouse. Sometimes during thunderstorms the power went out. We wrapped up in blankets and read Archie comics by flashlight.
Pippie planted a flower garden in the side yard while daisies and wild asparagus took it upon themselves to flourish hither and yon. Though the apple trees for which Old Orchard was named died off over the years, a new vegetable garden yielded copious carrots and an absurd abundance of zucchini. My dad, a math professor the rest of the year, watched the produce multiply under his tender care.
The mothers and grandmothers, meanwhile, prepared a dinner each night for an extended family of a dozen or two. We children came in from swimming and dressed for dinner. (Dressed finely or not, we would be doing the dishes later, with lake water heated on the stove.) The house, built in the late 1800s, had no indoor plumbing or heating, but we could still put a blue cloth on the old dining room table, say grace, and have an elegant meal. I remember the bent, gray heads of my great grandmother Mippie and my grandparents, Helen and Louis Wolf, as we gave thanks. Mippie died up north at the age of 95, enjoying the birdcalls outside her window till the last.
I realize now that those times together were precious, especially as people (such as my husband and I in Chicago) settled hither and yon. We still have a Minnesota Wolf den to call home, where we can gather as a pack and howl at each other’s jokes–as we did at our first-ever reunion in 2009. Because of this wedge of lake country and our many seasons there with seven generations, I know my family.
WOLFS AT OLD ORCHARD