By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Growing up a Boomer

Wick's World


November 22, 2018

Born in February of 1947. As a matter of fact, I was among the first batch of ‘Baby Boomers’. I grew up on the water in an old ramshackle house that was as close to the Missouri River that the city of Chamberlain, South Dakota allowed. If you stand at the farthest southern edge of Barger Park, look about 50 yards across the water. That’s where our house sat. I remember Old Lady Kierkaufer lived on the opposite side of our dirt road just a short way up Clemmer Street. The path down the hill from us led to the railroad yard and the Big Muddy. That was one path my sister and I were not allowed to take.

To this day I remember how indoctrinated I was about the dangers of the river. We heeded Mom’s words of warning, “The (blank) boy/girl drowned in the river.” Every few years the blank would have a different name. One time it was a Brother from St. Joseph’s Indian School who drowned while taking his annual polar bear plunge. That story may be fact or fiction but it’s the way I remember it.

I do remember this. My sister and I knew better than to take the path that led downhill to the riverbank. As for the other path, Mom should have clarified just how far a six-year-old was allowed to take her little brother. Recently, during a visit to our St. Paul home, my sister asked if I remember her taking me to the movies. It was so long ago that I don’t remember if I remembered.

Here’s how Sis tells it. One day she took me by the hand and walked me up the hill. She knocked on Old Lady Kierkaufer’s door. She would ask for money and the old spinster would oblige her with a penny or two. We were soon on our way downtown going to the movies! Mom and Dad were big movie buffs and of course the children were always allowed to tag along. This time, however, we flew solo. When Mom found us missing, she knew exactly where to find us. I don’t know how far we got when Mom found us, but according to my sister, we made it all the way to the theater.

In small town America, the local movie theater was the place to be and none was more appreciated than Ed Sorenson’s Chamberlain Theater. Tuesday nights featured an intermission when a drawing for dollars highlighted the evening. On Saturdays, my sister and I were given a dime for the movies. Half was spent across the street from the theater at a small popcorn stand run by John Mohr’s sister.

John Mohr was a local legend back in the 1950s and remained so for the next half-century. He could often be found on Chamberlain’s Main Street, either at the theater or popcorn stand. This story went around town about how intensely involved John Mohr was in the picture shows. Once during a shoot ‘em up western, the Cowboys were chasing the Indians when, lo and behold, the cowboys had to open a gate to a fenced-off area. In classic “Blazing Saddles” mode, John Mohr stood up in the theater and loudly yelled, “I’ll get the gate, boys.”

John Mohr was one of those rare breeds of men who were always revered with both their first and last names. When baseball season came around, John Mohr was the first man in the stands and the last man to leave Chamberlain’s Athletic Field. He was a stalwart baseball fan, be it the Basin League’s Chamberlain Chiefs or the local American Legion team. When the first player would take his stance in the batter’s box, John Mohr would yell out, “Batter up!” Following the last out, the refrain changed to “That’s the old ballgame!”

By the mid 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would no longer allow our home to remain a Tom Sawyer paradise. Although we only moved a few blocks up the street, the river now seemed miles away. Soon I learned there was a short cut to water. If I headed a block north from our new house across from Axel Soderstrum’s Bowling Alley, at the top of Toboggan Hill lay a small brush-tangled dirt path that took a steep dive down to American Creek. It was there I lived out my youth with pseudo Tom Sawyers and Huckleberry Finns as friends. As a matter of fact, one day a gruffy old man got in my face and growled, “You’re the Finn kid. They call you Blueberry!”

Never trust anyone who begins or ends their story with, “As a matter of fact.”


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