ImageImageWhen I think of the house on Burma Road, memories include the property on which it stood.  The land surrounding the house wasn’t large enough to support the horse that I always dreamed of having, but there was enough room for many other things, one necessity being the garden that Dad tended.  There were the lilac bushes in front of the house, mulberry trees and catalpa trees sheltering its sides, and hedge rows on the east and south perimeters.  Currant bushes nestled in the hedge rows.  When I was very young there was a wooden garage east of the house.  Its worn, broken floors housed mice and skunks.  That building was gratefully razed.  The new garage/workshop rose to the south of the house and I remember how in awe I was of the process of seeing it built.  There was the chicken house with its three sections; one housed the chickens, another section was a room for a tractor and storage, and an even smaller room held miscellaneous stuff.  Dad had a lot of tools that were used for the property and the company.  

There was the outhouse.  It was a major improvement to have indoor plumbing put into the small bedroom inside the house.  Before the indoor plumbing, water was obtained from the well located by the garage and operated by a muscle driven pump.  There was no need for a fitness club in those days.  It’s amazing to remember when all the water we used-for cooking, bathing, washing, drinking, everything- had to be physically pumped from the ground or the cistern.  Baths were taken in a galvanized tub with water heated on the stove on Saturday nights so that we might be clean for church on Sunday.  

All of our holidays were celebrated at the house.  We could not leave the switchboard to celebrate at others homes, so the family and friends came to us.  Those were joyous times indeed.  The house would be cleaned and readied and then Mom would begin to cook.  It was home-grown turkey for Thanksgiving, tons of cookies to end a meal of Swedish and American specialities at Christmastime.  Easter festivities revolved around the church and ham.  Fourth of July was big with fried chicken, corn on the cob, homemade ice cream, and Dad and Uncle Buddy supplying the entertainment of fireworks.  And Halloween- Mom loved Halloween!

One year Mom and Dad decided to host a Halloween party at the house for my grade school and Sunday School friends.  Dad and I traversed the countryside scouring the creek beds for sumach and colorful leaves.  We even swiped a stack of corn stalks from a farmers field.  From that we hung the sheet ghost.  I pulled my costume together from the old clothes found in the upstairs bin of discards.  Games included the usual blindfold/pass the bowls around the circle in which were “brains” and “hearts” and all that gross stuff.  But then my father got really creative when, as we sat in a circle, eyes closed, holding hands, he hooked me (the first person in the circle) up to the end of a wire which just happened to be attached to a magneto.  There may not be very many out there that remember when an electric current was created by cranking up a magneto, so for those who do not know, the end result was that my friends and Sunday School mates were introduced to shock treatment.  That I remember!  And we didn’t need horror films in those days as Mom would go outside on Halloween night and stand outside a window, shining a flashlight under her chin, bringing the ghost of Salemsborg into existence.  

Fourth of July was always so hot.  Farmers were very active that time of year in harvest and maintenance and it made the telephone company a busy place.  A tractor or combine would break down and without a cellphone, sometimes the closest place to make contact for repairs would be the telephone company on Burma Road.  

Storms would wreak havoc on the telephone lines, cutting off communication around the community, but there was always a celebration on the Fourth of July no matter what the weather.  The day would begin with Mom rising early and setting off firecrackers outside my bedroom window.  Later that action would be repeated outside the office window giving the operator at the switchboard a taste of the holiday.  There was spring chicken for Mom to fry, served uo with corn on the cob from the garden; freshly picked tomatoes, cucumbers, mashed potatoes and gravy rounded out the menu.  The highlight of the meal was homemade ice cream.  

For all Dad’s creativeness he refused to submit to finding a way to make the ice cream freezer user friendly.  It was aged and after years of use had acquired a fine patina not unlike an aged wine barrel which is treasured for what it produces.  The mixture that created the end product came from Mom’s recipe.  It included locally sourced milk and cream from the neighbors cows, eggs from our “cage free” chickens, sugar, and Watkins vanilla.  In the middle of a sweltering Fourth of July afternoon, Dad would carry that mixture in its metal container to the garage, placing it into the wooden freezer.  Where and when he got the block of ice wrapped in the rough burlap bag I don’t know, but the ice was chipped by hand, tucked around the freezer container, sprinkled with rock salt and thus began the process of hand cranking ice cream.  It was a precise ritual whose end product was delicious.  Served up after supper, it melted quickly into a velvety liquid in the hot summer night.  

Fireworks, by todays standards, were meager, but much anticipated.  They were set off from the road leading to the church and Dad’s favorite were the roman candles.  As we all waited in anticipation, he would shake that candle until the last ball shot into the air and exploded with a pop.  He was determined to get his moneys worth.  I loved the sparklers and when the last of the artificial lights of the fireworks died, the celebration was carried on by the fireflies that blanketed the meadow below the cemetery.  Thus Nature brought its gift to celebrate the birth of our nation.   

Christmas! Ah, Christmas! The weather was always unpredictable on the Kansas plains. Part of the excitement lay in not knowing whether the family from Smolan and Lindsborg would be able to traverse the icy roads to the house on Burma Road on Christmas Eve. Dad would have, weeks before, begun the preparation of the lutfisk; dried cod that was softened by a mixture of lye and water. It would be taken from the crock on the kitchen porch, rinsed and cooked with a cream sauce. There was turkey and Swedish meatballs to round out the menu. All the amazing food that enhanced the main dishes would end up on the expanded, white linen covered table in the dining room.
Our Christmas tree would have been purchased in Salina and decorated by Dad. He took great pains to annually resuscitate the very old tree lights. Along with the ornaments from Woolworth’s we, in later years, added the modern touch of silver tinsel artfully arranged strand by strand. Presents would appear under the tree as the family arrived shedding their winter coats, hats, and gloves. Presents were opened that night. Dad would be at the switchboard in the office where the menfolk gathered for after dinner stories. The evening would end with goodbyes from the kitchen porch door, icy breath flowing from our mouths, cars creeping cautiously out of the snow-filled yard and onto the Burma Road, the glory of the Universe filling the Kansas sky. There seemed never as many stars as there were on a Christmas Eve night.
I have been amazed as my children have shared their memories of the House on Burma Road. They remember it being very large. To me, as I got older, returning to visit my parents in the later years, the house became smaller, more concentrated, with more essence.
There were two weeks of intensive work at the house after Mom became ill and my folks made the decision to move to Lindsborg. Emmie and I worked from sun up to sun down clearing away all those years of life in Salemsborg, capturing for ourselves what we needed in order to hold onto the memories of living in the house. I came away with the wardrobe from the upstairs bedroom which, in my childhood, held my comic books, Dads fishing bobbers, Moms rolling pin, the white linen tablecloth used for special dinners, the snare drum that Dad played when he was a young man in the Salemsborg band, the leather holster for my cap pistol, the scrapbooks that I created during my high school years, dishes from the china cabinet in the dining room, and the old photos. These things have surrounded me as I have written and have helped me to remember what it was like growing up in the Salemsborg Farmers Telephone Company.
As I got older and journeyed out into the world, the world began it’s invasion into the life of the house on Burma Road. More and more people became accustomed to the use of the telephone. This presented a burden to the antiquated version of communication in Salemsborg. The company died when my folks retired. Yet I do not believe that those feeling of community have passed. Instead we are still finding ways to share our thoughts, feelings and beliefs, In my mind those beliefs are not much different than the ones shared over a cup of coffee in the “office. We still talk about the weather, the economy, politicians, and politics. We still share our hopes and dreams, our loves and dislikes, our triumphs and our challenges, our joys and our sorrows. China and silverware have been replaced with paper and plastic, but potlucks endure. People still gather to celebrate and pray. So if I were to send out a “line call” today, perhaps it would sound something like this-
” The Universe today will be holding a Celebration of Peace and Joy. Bring what you have received so freely and share it with others. Women of the World will provide pie and coffee for dessert.”