Minn. man recalls his rural upbringing

Gordon Fredickson
In this May 12, 2011 photo, Gordon Fredickson stands with an antique "dump rake" that is used for harvesting hay, in Lakeville, Minn. Fredickson has fond memories of growing up on a farm in Lakeville, Minn. Afraid that rural life is disappearing, he's on a mission to educate kids about that life through the six children's books he's written about farming.
AP Photo/The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Chris Polydoroff

By Jessica Fleming, St. Paul Pioneer Press

LAKEVILLE, Minn. (AP) -- Gordon Fredrickson grew up picking rocks and milking cows.

Chores came before fun.

But Fredrickson, 65, wouldn't change a thing about his childhood.

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Growing up on a Lakeville farm shaped him and bonded his close-knit family, and the former English teacher worried that as agricultural practices changed, their way of life wouldn't be remembered. So he decided to write a children's book that captured his experiences.

He finished one but discovered he had many more stories to tell. Six books -- sentimental, sweet tales that portray farm life in the 1950s - have been published. A seventh will be available this summer.

His life as an author began the day after Thanksgiving of 1999, when Fredrickson's wife, Nancy, had decorated their home, which sits on 5 acres carved out of his parents' original 120-acre farmstead, for the holidays. His mother had recently died, and his father was in poor health.

Fredrickson spied two vintage versions of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" that Nancy had put out.

Farm gate
In this May 12, 2011 photo, the gate Gordon Fredickson's parents bought new in the late 1940s stands in the side of his home in Lakeville, Minn.
AP Photo/The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Chris Polydoroff

"What I remembered was that Clement Clarke Moore wrote the book in 1822," Fredrickson said. "Immediately after he wrote it, adults actually asked him to read it to them at parties. I also thought how almost 200 years later, people were still buying that book and it's become a kind of Christmas classic tradition.

"So I thought, why not have a traditional Christmas book that is something that actually has something to do with our heritage."

Shortly thereafter, his first book, "A Farm Country Christmas Eve," was born. It tells a story based on a Christmas Eve from Fredrickson's childhood, one in which some of the magic might have fallen out of the holiday for him.

Instead, the last line of the book reads, "I knew in my heart I would always believe in farm country magic on Each Christmas Eve."

Fredrickson hired an illustrator and sent the book, written in a narrative rhyme similar to "A Visit from St. Nicholas," to publishers.

"But no one was really interested," Fredrickson said. "So we felt we had to do it ourselves. It was my goal that in 150 or 200 years, people will be able to pick up this book and say this is how it was for children on a farm in the 1950s. To me, it's our heritage, our farm heritage, told in an accurate way, with humor and love."

Fredrickson, who retired from his job teaching English at St. Michael-Albertville High School a few years after he and Nancy built a home on his parents' land in 1986, wrote more volumes in the years that followed. Nancy printed them and put them together with a plastic spiral binding, and they took his show on the road, giving presentations for schoolchildren and senior citizens, talking about his childhood and reading and selling the books.

Finally, in 2008, Beaver's Pond Press in Edina published the books, two others of which are about holidays on the farm. The other three are geared toward younger children, and the protagonists in the books imagine themselves being a farmer.

"You know, I read a lot of history books," Fredrickson said. "And history does a really good job of telling about the wars and the politics and the rich and famous, but they don't really point out what farming was like for regular people."

Fredrickson still takes his books, now properly bound with hard covers, on the road, often several times a week.

He wears denim overalls, work boots and a cap, and he keeps his dad's trusty pliers in a side pocket.

"We were delighted with him," said Betsy Hermanson, manager of the Wells Depot Museum in Wells, Minn. Fredrickson spoke there last month. "I think he appealed especially to the older people....Through telling his stories, he's able to elicit other stories from people in the crowd, and that was fun to listen to."

Listening to others' stories is as enjoyable as telling his, Fredrickson said.

"I always say, a story not told is lost forever," he said.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.