The Gypsy Said ...

By Naomi Schindele

The following is a short story that my mother wrote, at the age of 91, which she then gave me to edit and
expand into this narrative. - Dave


Cemetery and gravestone of Matilda and Victor Erickson

Many, many years have now passed since my mother (Matilda) was peacefully laid to rest in a small prairie cemetery near McGregor, North Dakota in 1960. Less than a dozen headstones grace this wild and overgrown little piece of land that overlooks what has become a very small and desolate town situated in the valley about a mile away. Oh, there is still the church there where a visiting pastor makes his rounds, but most of the buildings that once bustled with activity on Main Street when I was a child are gone, except for the old saloon which still has a few customers, although the clientele there is now much different.

The old general store

Next to her in the old cemetery is her husband, Victor, my father who passed away at the young age of 49, just when the Great Depression was beginning to find its way out of those gloomy days. And then nearby, is my sister Lydia who only experienced life for a few months. My courageous mother was left to care for my younger brother Waldo, my older sister Mildred and I, while she maintained our General Store, taught school, and hosted several house guests.

Those were not easy times, but then again, they were somewhat easier then when she and Victor (Swedish immigrants), were homesteaders and built up the farm where I was born. The hard manual work to scrape up a living on virgin land, and then to raise a family took a heroic effort that is hard to imagine today. The land here did not appear to have much promise, but it was located near the end of the new railroad line, and this gave my folks and their settler friends some hope that maybe some crops could be raised that would then be sent to market. But this also depended on them surviving the brutal winters, and the good fortune of not having crops destroyed by potential hail storms or eroded by wind.

From this land, one could see forever in every direction with hardly a tree or bush in sight, except near the scattered farm houses. Near our farmhouse, only a couple of hundred yards away, was the highest point of land in the area for miles around. This small hill, about 40 feet high, which everyone called “The Butte”, was a favorite place of mine, and it allowed me to see even further than “forever”. The Butte is still there, and it is still a favorite place for me to visit. It looks about the same now as it did then, except the view from there has become very much different.

Naomi Schindele sitting on Butte overlooking the farm where she was born

Fast forwarding many more years, it was in the middle fifties that my mother, who was living with us near Seattle, Washington, decided to go with my husband (Doug) and I to the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe, Washington. After wandering around, looking at various displays and taking in all the activity, we entered a huge tent filled with folks who seemed to be enjoying a stage show. The attraction was a “Gypsy” woman seated on the stage who was answering questions from the large standing crowd. A “helper” was circulating around in the audience while she was talking, and he was the one who was quietly asking individuals if they had a question that needed to be answered. It was totally fascinating. The Gypsy would finish answering one question, and then begin to answer another without seeming to break stride, but somehow she knew or heard what was on the minds of those various people in the crowd.

As we watched, mom said to us in a quiet way, “I think I would like to ask her a question”! My mother was not one to be the center of attention, but now she was committing herself to get something answered that was obviously on her mind. I thought to myself, “This is going to be interesting”, but my husband and I had no idea what she was going to say. When the helper came around to us, he listened to mom’s question, and in no time the Gypsy spoke up. “There is a woman in the audience who would like to know if there is oil on her land in North Dakota”. After some slow contemplation, the Gypsy then said, “Yes, but you will not see it in your lifetime”. That brought a smile to Mom’s face; actually a satisfied smile.

Oil had been discovered near Tioga, North Dakota in 1951, and Tioga was only about 20 miles south of McGregor where mom still had farmland. There was great anticipation in the air about this new discovery, and everyone connected to land in this part of North Dakota had a feeling of hopeful but repressed expectation of what the future might hold. But now, mom had her question answered, and the anticipation and expectation seemed to be somewhat relieved (or diminished) although some hope would always remain.

The family has kept up on current “oil news” through out the years with this same kind of hope. But now, in the year of 2009, the excitement and expectation is back in full force because of all the flurry of activity that occurred last year with oil exploration in high gear probing the Baken formation. Active drilling began again in the area (and is still taking place), but the situation is a little different than in those years during the fifties. Now when you climb The Butte, the view is lightly spotted with scattered oil wells and associated oil tanks for as far as the eye can see in every direction. Despite an economic downturn at this current time, the McGregor saloon now welcomes a few oil workers now and then, and also another breed of prairie farmer.

Gravestone with oil well in background
Marlene 1-10H

The drilling last year, and also this year has yielded benefits. From the cemetery where mom reposes, she now has a close up view of two oil wells that are only a few hundred yards away. And, one of them is hers, the Marlene 1-10H! Another is on her land just a mile up the road to the North (the Lokken 1-2H), which is close to the old homestead, and The Butte!

My son, David, recently returned from a visit to the McGregor area, climbed The Butte, and then visited mom. He found himself looking from behind the gravestone of his grandmother toward the small town of McGregor in the distance and then to the two wells in the foreground. A great sense of wonder and awe struck him with a realization that the settlers of old, despite their hard work and toil, must be resting peacefully here and quite satisfied with the turn of events. David then brought home and presented to me a small glass jar that held a small sample of that liquid gold extracted from a tank at the Marlene well, a fine dark-honey colored liquid that was surprisingly fluid, like perfume; high quality oil, to say the least.

Yes, mom must really have a smile on her face now. The guarded answer to mom’s question from many years past was verified, and now her extended family can also smile along with her at the good fortune that the Gypsy foretold. The smiles are of remembrance toward a remarkable mother who really wanted nothing for herself, but left a legacy that she would be proud of – both of heritage and economic value. God bless her and her descendants that they may use the gifts wisely to help better the world in which they live.

Gravestone of Matilda and Victor

Note: All photos on this site are Copyright © 2006 - 2013 by David Schindele