OCT 2011

VOL. 129 ISSUE #7

Peterson Chronicle

Past Resident Spotlight of the Season: Adeline Ungerman
Small Town Girl
Bold, courageous, adventurous, and a bit mischievous – all perfect words to describe Ms. Adeline Ungerman, my grandma. We could go ahead right now and sum up her life by saying the basics: she lives in Norfolk, VA, has three sons who at this point have kids of their own, recently went back to school to get a B.A. in Business, and just celebrated her 80th birthday. Now all are major accomplishments no doubt, but the one part of her life I’ve never learned about was her childhood. After all, how did she get to where she is today? Well, Grandma Addie had a very atypical childhood, at least compared to what is considered “normal” today. From her birth on August 27, 1931 up until her early 20s, Addie lived in the small town of Peterson, MN with a mere population of 252. Oddly enough, her great-grandfather was Peter Peterson, the founder of the town, who had homesteaded there in 1853 when he was 24, after coming to America from Norway. The town of Peterson was so small you could walk everywhere. Addie says that even now, people complain to her all the time to “Slow down!” since she naturally walks so fast, and explains how she had to have a fast pace growing up to make it anywhere on time. Living in Minnesota, the winters were especially cold – and many times you would see teens having to push cars out of snow banks. Whenever the snow started to melt, it would flood the nearby river and cover the bridge overhead – so to get anywhere, my grandma and her friends would have to use an alternate route through a prairie. Luckily my grandma’s house was near the top of the bluffs, so they never got hit by any of the flooding. She says one of the biggest differences between growing up then and now were,

“Back then everyone did things for one another; we never locked our doors.”
She went on to explain how once or twice a year, an old homeless man would knock on their door with his cane, and how her mother would always go in her kitchen cabinet and graciously give him some food. Also, that there were more opportunities then, which she owed to the lack of technology at the time. The town was very limited in its resources after all – there was no movie theater, only two restaurants and two small general stores. She said that really, their only forms of entertainment came from school and church – and for her, that was because of music. Her mother always had lots of old records playing as well as the radio, and that along with the hymns they would sing at church were really what first sparked her interest in music. In 8th grade, Addie was a member of a girls’ sextet, and seemed to be very popular at the time.

They were invited to sing at her school’s pep rallies, and Addie even recalls singing “Til The End Of Time” on the local radio station, as well as making a record. She also was part of the school’s glee club, and played in the band. In fact, whenever she walked down the street with her girlfriends, they would all sing “Oh the weather outside is frightful,” each of the girls singing in perfect harmony corresponding to the pitch of the instruments they each played in band.

I asked her what role she felt she played in school, and she responded, “Probably a leader.” She recalled how in 5th grade, there was an incident where a girl in the area had been interrogated by a stranger, and after running back to school crying, the teachers asked Adeline to sit down with her in the gymnasium and just listen to her, and help calm the girl down. Addie says that there were multiple instances like that where she was put into these leadership roles, and she really enjoyed being looked up to and seen as dependable, “one to be trusted.” It was very important to her. Addie loved school, and strived for perfect attendance. In fact, she can only recall being absent from school two times in the entire 12 years, and that was when she got a bad case of the mumps in high school. Her mom even made her own special cough medicine for whenever any of the 8 children of the household got sick. Her mother was a hard-working housewife of 40 years, and “a beautiful seamstress”; her father owned a hardware store. She went on to explain that even though her father sold multiple refrigerators at his business, their family never had one in their own house. “We used to put all our milk and whatever else we needed cooled on the cellar floor, and it worked just fine. In the winter months we could just keep them in the pantry in our kitchen by the window, and they kept.” Saturdays and Sundays, she said, were when she and her mom would clean house together, and dusting was Addie’s assigned duty. “Ugh, I hated dusting. But my mother never taught me how to cook… she didn’t teach me how to dust, either.” In fact, she says she owes a lot to her Aunt Cora, who lived in the house next door to them. Her aunt had two kids – both boys – so she thoroughly enjoyed taking care of Adeline for a change. “She’s the one who taught me my multiplication tables a year early,” and Cora always reminded her, “Keep your bloomers tight!” In fact, Addie spent a good deal of her time next door, and says, “If I had a favorite person growing up, it would be her.” Meanwhile, Addie’s oldest sister lived in Minneapolis – what my grandma considered the “big city” – and would always send her gifts showing her the newest hairstyles, dresses, etc. After awhile, Addie became embarrassed whenever she got these packages, because after all, she lived in a small town! They weren’t hip and “in the times” like the city folk, and she really felt awkward about what people would think when they saw her “all dressed up.” To this day, she believes this has always been her biggest insecurity – worrying what other people think.

She also believes one of her biggest difficulties was when it came to getting in front of an audience. This stage fright really didn’t help when it came to the inevitable performances in her sextet. Although she admits she still isn’t completely past this fear, she sees the experience of “repetition; just doing things over and over” as a definite push in the right direction. Addie had an exciting life growing up in this small town, and believes it made her who she is today. She graduated high school in 1949, and honored as Salutatorian (only 1/10 point away from being valedictorian of her class). And, standing up on her podium in front of the entire graduating class, she even gave a speech.

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