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Memoirs of a Country Boy/Newspaper Man
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
November 6, 2006
Leslie O. Anderson

Leslie Anderson, 78 years old and a 100% Swede, grew up on a farm east of Princeton and has lived in Elk River for 37 years.  He has worked in the newspaper business for 58 years.  Leslie Anderson is the author of “Memoirs of a Country Boy/Newspaper Man,” “The Homestead,” and “My Life with Polio.”

“Memoirs of a Country Boy/Newspaper Man,” published in 2004, is about his experiences growing up on a farm six miles east of Princeton during the Great Depression and the terrible drought of the 1930s.  Mr. Anderson chose to write this book in segments, each chapter being a story in itself.  He sat down with a ballpoint pen and tablet, then he bought a typewriter, and eventually purchased a computer.  A difficult part was finding photos that properly depicted his life.  The process of writing the book from inception to publication took two years.  His experiences are common to most people who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s.  

Mr. Anderson started by telling about his parents, grandparents, and siblings (two brothers).  Chapter Two is titled “The Farm.”  He told about the sandy soil on the farm  and the tough times, the crops, and the livestock.  The family didn’t have any money, but he didn’t know anyone who had money.  Leslie’s dad inherited the farm.  He never had a loan, but he couldn’t pay the taxes. Times were tough during the Great Depression of the1930s.  After five years of not paying taxes, Leslie’s dad would have lost the farm, but he had a good crop and was able to save the farm.  The crops grown were soybeans, corn, hay, oats, rye, and eight to ten acres of potatoes (the biggest cash crop, but the toughest of all field work).  The farm included many acres of tamarack, which was cut, split, and used for cooking and to heat the house.  Leslie said that burning tamarack is like burning paper.  The fire would go out at night, and by morning the dipper would be frozen in the water pail. On the bright side, there was always company (neighbors, relatives and friends, and other kids to play with). 

In 1941 times were better on the farm, and Leslie’s father purchased a new John Deere Model H tractor, which greatly improved farming.  Leslie still has the tractor.  It is presently being repainted and will be driven in parades.

Mr. Anderson’s education was in a 24 ft. x 34 ft. one-room schoolhouse with eight grades.  The school was close to the Anderson farm, so the teachers always boarded at their house.  He went to high school in Princeton, and wrote about the challenges of a country kid going to school in town.  He later went to Dunwoody Industrial Institute to become a Linotype operator.     

“The Homestead,” published in 2006, is about his grandfather, who passed away when Leslie was five years old.  His grandfather emigrated from Sweden in 1879 and homesteaded 120 acres of land east of Princeton in Isanti County, where he built a log barn and other buildings.  Since Leslie didn’t know his grandfather, he wrote about his grandfather’s life as he thought he would have lived it.  

“My Life with Polio,” published in 2006, is about his experiences as a polio patient. Leslie got polio in 1946 just after graduating from high school.  He spent seven months in the hospital.  In the 1940s, polio was the most feared disease.  Leslie is not sure how he came in contact with the polio virus.  He was home sick for ten days, during which time he visited the doctor five times.  He was diagnosed after his leg became paralyzed. He was taken to University Hospital in a 1946 Ford ambulance driven by the funeral director, John Archer.  A spinal confirmed the diagnosis. Leslie was taken with many other polio patients to Fort Snelling barracks where patients in iron cots were lined up in rows.  At the time, Sister Kenny was working with General Hospital, and Leslie met her when she visited polio patients from that hospital.  Treatment included hot packs and muscle stretching. The patients at Fort Snelling were six years to 40 years of age.

The March of Dimes paid for 100% of the hospital bill.  Leslie’s folks could not have paid for his treatment.  Leslie wanted a way to give back and found his avenue with the Lions and Rotary Clubs.  He has been a Lions Club member (30 year perfect attendance award) and the Rotary Club (25 year perfect attendance award). 

In his book, Leslie includes the history of polio, the iron lung, March of Dimes, Sister Kenny, post polio syndrome (50% of polio patients have been affected, but not Leslie), and the Disability Act.

Leslie Anderson told about why and how he wrote these books and why each one of us should write something about our life.  By telling our stories we prove that we were here, we mattered, and we made a difference.  We can leave a legacy for our descendants, not just three lines on the family tree and those same lines on our cemetery marker – name, year born, and year died.

Your story can be written in longhand, typed on a computer, or recorded on audio or video tape.  It doesn’t have to be published.  The story is the important thing.  100 years from now your descendants will wonder what grandpa or grandma were like.

Leslie said, “Each of you has a story to write about your life.  Who can tell it better than you? Your memory will never be better or your mind sharper than it is today.”  He urged each one of us to think about it and start writing, so we have something to pass along to our children.  Since the Annandale History Club members are mostly seniors, he suggested writing about such things as farming with horses, shocking grain, threshing, heating with wood, kerosene and white gas lamps, shivarees, cranking cars by hand, riding in cars when heaters didn’t work, automobiles owned, how you met your spouse, organizations you joined, religious and political philosophies, and much more.   

Writing these three books instilled in Leslie the desire to write more, and he has written two novels, which he hopes to have published.  He also plans to write about his association with former Governor Elmer L. Anderson when Leslie worked for him at the “Elk River Star News.”

Notes by Annandale History Club Secretary