Kidnapped, or Perhaps Not?

By Barbara A. Robinson

My mom’s life has been difficult and always an adventure. As a baby born on July 1, 1923, in New Salem, North Dakota you would think Olinda Dorothea Altenburg Holze would have led a quiet midwestern lady’s life. Not my mom, she was born for adventure, fun and lots of hard work.

Growing up on the farm gave mom and her siblings a great deal of freedom and demanded that they all work together with their neighbors to survive the harsh Dakota winters, the depression, and the war. I remember Mom telling of times when the snowstorms were so blinding that the family had to use a rope line mounted from their house to the barn so they could care for their animals. Once, during a visit back home Mom pointed out the culvert where, during the depression, she saw her Pa line up the family’s dairy cattle and shoot them one by one as there was nothing to feed them. Mom also shared some of her WWII stories when she and her elder sister Lorraine headed west to work for Boeing to help with the war effort. They identified themselves as being Swedish as they were not sure they would be hired if they confessed their German background.

Although the family of seven lived somewhat isolated lives on those rolling plains just shy of the Dakota “Badlands.” They were able to keep up on current events by using the temperamental radio and by listening to either Grandmother Minnie or Granddaddy Guz read the news aloud from the local paper “The New Salem Journal.” Milton the only son, my Mom, Olinda, eldest sister Lorraine, middle sibling Delphia and baby Vianne were as my Mom put it in the know!

It is the depression years and Grandpa would go out and work in the local coal mine besides caring for the farm. He and Milton would both come home covered with soot and grime from tending the animals, keeping the garden and making sure the coal bin was well stocked. My grandma, Lorraine, and Olinda would spend countless hours getting food ready to lay-by (preserve) for use during the long winter. Grandmother canned everything that could be canned and pickled the rest. I’m going to let my mom tell you the rest of her story.

Lorraine and I were helping with a bunch of elderberries getting them ready for jam and wine. Those tiny berries have a unique taste all their own. These tiny fruits would be very popular if it weren’t for the way the berries cling viciously to their tiny thick stems and each berry has a seed nearly the size of the whole berry leaving little real fruit.

Well, I had had enough of cleaning those pesky little berries and Ma could tell by the way I was dawdling by swishing my hands back and forth through the pile of berries. She looked at me and decided my efforts at dawdling could be put to a better use.

“Olinda, if you please I want you to take these empty buckets and put them in your wagon and go over to the Hochstadt’s and ask them if you can pump some water from their well.” Ma called out to me as she poured more berries into my sister Lorraine’s pan of berries.

I saw my sister sigh slightly as she obediently continued to work with the berries and mouth the words, “No fair.”

“Ma,” I retorted, “We have plenty of water here, why not use the water from our own well?” I reached out and gave the pump over the sink a quick up and down push.

“Alright, Olinda the way I see it you have two choices, one is to take your wagon and walk over to the Hochstadt’s place or you can stay here and continue cleaning both your share and your sister’s share of the berries.” Ma walked over to our kitchen cupboard and sighed. “Do you remember the corn we had with supper last night?”

“Yes, I do, and it tasted terrible.” I judiciously moved behind the sink in case my sass about Mom’s cooking earned me a good rap.

Mother was especially sensitive where her culinary skills were involved and she was especially proud of her ability to preserve and prepare food in the most delicious ways, so I knew I was treading on dangerous ground.

She gave me a surprise, “You are right and that is why I need the better water from the Hochstadt’s well. The corn I put down last summer was ruined with our well’s water, it’s just too alkaline. Now you go on, take your wagon, and don’t dawdle on the way. I’ll need that water before noon.” Ma glanced at the clock and then at me. “So that means you don’t stay for lunch at their place.”

The day was a scorcher for mid-September and Ralph our family dog lay under the porch barely wagging his tail as I loaded our red wagon with two empty milk cans. I was also looking for Victoria and her gang of barn cats that haunted the kitchen door hoping for a scrap of meat or a bit of whey from this morning’s milking. I was missing the feel of their soft little bodies rubbing against my legs and seeing them jostle each other over a bowl of food.

Pa and I would sometimes watch them in the barn as their little pink kitty tongues dipped in and out of the white liquid extracted from the milk separator, he would say “That’s their salary for keeping down the mice and vermin in this barn.”

I started somewhat begrudgingly down the road to our neighbor’s place. Thankful that the Hochstadts lived only a mile away I could feel the temperature climbing and the road felt gummy against my shoes as I watched the heat waves hoovering above the asphalt.

“Oh well” I thought as I dallied along the path through our pasture and onto the county road, “the Hochstadt place is always cool and if I continued to amble along, I should be there just in time to be invited to take some lunch. Mrs. Hochstadt always had rhubarb kuchen for desserts and it was the best around! She will certainly volunteer to drive me and the water home.” My Mom’s warning about making it home by noon was haunting the back of my mind.

It was so hot, and totally windless with only the noise of the milk cans bumping against each other as I strolled along. This was a recipe for daydreams. I thought about the cold weather that was due to come soon and the fun of skating on the ice and making snow ice cream.

I remember Ma reading the latest news yesterday about the Lindberg Kidnapping, a tragedy that haunted all the world. How could someone dare steal and then murder the sweet little child, right out of his nursery? Creepiest of all was that the kidnappers had not been caught. Even at school we were haunted by the headlines. We all tended to stay near the school building at recess and share gossip and stories about local characters and strangers new to the community.

We were all scared but David, bully, oldest, and biggest kid on the playground would laugh at us.

He would point towards those of us who were obviously less well off than others and shout, “You guys aren’t worth kidnapping. Your parents have to be rich for you to get kidnapped, and none of you is worth the trouble.”

I let my mind drift with the heat haze of the early afternoon. The latest news headlines ran through my mind, “ The Search for the Lindberg Kidnappers Continues.”

As I Pull my wagon a little faster, I am wondering about those awful kidnappers. Where could they be? They must be hiding someplace very secret and far away from New Jersey, someplace with few folks to spy on them. Someplace like well here in North Dakota! What if they were on this very road watching me! I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as I heard a car engine. I glanced quickly behind me and did not recognize the car. A Strange car and the sun rays blocked my view of the front seat of the car, an unknown driver! It had to be the kidnappers I was sure of it! I dropped my wagon’s handle, jumped into the side ditch of the road and waited for the strange car to pass. The car had slowed down and started to stop. Quickly I pulled myself up and started running, I ran so hard I thought my lungs would burst but I knew those kidnappers were behind me. Forget the wagon, buckets, unretrieved water and Mrs. Hochstadt’s kuchen. I had to hide somewhere and fast, but where? I saw our cows grazing near the slough and there beside it, a place to hide. The storm cave Pa had told us about, it was part of an old homestead that had been deserted years ago and was only a few feet away from where I was standing. Quickly I sprinted towards the broken wooden slats covering the cave’s entrance. Ignoring the worn earthen steps, the spiders’ webs, and the wasp nest I threw myself into the shelter.

I lay on the cool ground in the cave and listened for the voices or footsteps of my would-be kidnappers. All was silent and best of all the floor of the shelter was soft and cool. I was exhausted but safe in the little cave shelter and I uttered a prayer of gratitude for that long ago family that had built this tornado shelter. My mind brought visions of this family and the hard life they must have had here on the prairie, and I fell into a deep cool sleep while the afternoon brought more sun, heat, and a very worried mama over to Hochstadt’s farm.

Mom received word that I had never made it to the neighbor’s place with some alarm. Mrs. Hochstadt got on the phone to check with some of our other neighbors. “Minie I am sure Olinda is fine. She is such an imaginative child I am sure she must have found something that attracted her attention and caused her to forget her chores. We will find her. You and I can take the car and backtrack the route to your place, and I will get Hank to saddle Cloe and ride through our pastures.

Evening began to spread across the prairie when I finally awoke, at first not recognizing or remembering where I was. By this time Mom and Mrs. Hochstadt had discovered my deserted wagon and milk cans. Hank had screened most of the prairie between our place and New Salem. And the entire community had been put on alert including the sheriff and his deputies.

I scrambled up through the opening of the shelter and gazed over the darkening landscape. I knew I was safe from the kidnappers and knew I was in a heap of trouble. How could I even explain my long absence? Ma and pa would be frantic.

Turning to face the pond by the slough I saw a horseback rider headed toward me and I recognized Cloe and Hank Hochstadt, not far behind him was Pa in his pickup.

“Are you ok?” Hank asked as he slid off Cloe.

Pa pulled up beside him and jumped out of the truck. He grabbed and hugged me tightly. “Girl where have you been? We have the whole county out looking for you.”

I could see the tears starting to form in Pa’s eyes. “Pa, the kidnappers tried to get me!” I struggled with the words which now had become a huge lump in my throat. “There were strangers in a car driving up behind me on the road. I knew it was them the Lindberg kidnappers, so I had to run and the storm cave was the only place to hide. There were people in a big strange car and they came right up behind me. I think they may have even stopped to try and catch me, but I outran them and dove into the cave.”

My tears worked on Pa as he put his hand on my shoulders and helped me into the car. I think Hank was also shaken as he mounted Cleo and headed home.

My sister Lorraine was the first one to meet me at our home, and she actually hugged me. Mom wasn’t far behind.

“Olinda Where have you been?” She looked at me with tears in her eyes.

“Oh mama I am so sorry about the water, and the wagon, but I had to hide from the kidnappers. There was this strange car that came up behind me on the road. I started to run, and I know they stopped. What could I do but run with all my might? I know it was those kidnappers you read to us about in the paper, the ones who took the Lindberg baby! I hid in the old storm cellar by the deserted homestead and fell asleep.” I was fighting tears as I choked out my explanation.

“Olinda, I want you to go over and look out the front window,” my brother Milton said and pointed to our front living room window with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

I walked over to the windowsill and pulled the curtains apart only to see a strange car parked near our front door.

“Whose car is that?” Frightened and puzzled I looked again at the large green Studebaker. “I think it looks like the car the kidnappers were driving.”

Milton stepped beside me, shaking his head. “Sis, you have to get your head out of the clouds. That is Grandma and Grandpa Altenberg’s new car they brought it out here for us to see. They were sure they had seen you walking by the side of the road, and then you suddenly disappeared.”

I couldn’t believe it, as I looked around the room. “Well, if that’s so, where are they now?”

“They are out with the whole county looking for you.” Milton pointed at me with an accusatory gesture. “Pa is out now alerting folks that you have been found. If I were you, I would keep my mouth shut about kidnappers and get a grip on your imagination.”

Ma brought me a big glass of cool water and stroked my hair, “kidnappers or no kidnappers your sister is home and she is safe l thank God for that.”

While typing the above, I could almost hear my mother’s voice again!

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