By Marcia Brakke
If you have lived in Rutland, North Dakota, small town America, all of your life or nearly all of it, I imagine that the day to day events can become ordinary or even dull. But on August 30, 2016, we had an “anything but ordinary” event that will not soon be forgotten.
I have recently moved to Rutland, just 4.5 years ago. So for me every day living here is far from ordinary. It is stepping back in time to a community where everybody knows everybody and the way of life embodies simplicity and purity that take my breath away. I hope I never take any of it for granted.
That Tuesday began as another “ordinary” lefse-making day. We make lefse in Rutland every August and September for “Uffda Day” held the first Sunday in October. Uffda Day is a festival started 32 years ago celebrating the town’s Scandinavian heritage. Approximately 4000 lefse are hand-made at the town hall for the event each year. The dough is made the day before and then stored in a cooler overnight. Early in the morning, Larry, Doug and Paul add the flour to the dough and then roll the dough by hand into 320 balls approximately ¼ cup size. Then the lefse rollers, turners and packagers take over to complete the process. The lefse are packed away in a freezer ready to be sold on Uffda Day. They sell like “hot cakes.” We had just finished making lefse on that day. It was a good sized group, about 15 of us, mostly women of all ages and a spattering of men. We left the hall and walked in to the sunshine laughing and talking, covered in flour, some of us wearing more flour than others. Just to the side of the hall is our town’s war monument erected to honor all the men and women of Rutland who have served in the armed forces. A man stood looking at the memorial. A life-time town resident and lefse maker, Yvonne, recognized that he was a stranger and called to him, “That’s a good looking monument, isn’t it?”
From that moment forward the events developed as if we were in a movie. It was surreal. The stranger agreed that indeed it was a fine looking monument. He told us that he was there from Rutland, Vermont and that for a long time he had wanted to visit Rutland, North Dakota and that today here he was. We learned more about him as we gathered around him and quickly showered him with Uffda Day t-shirts and fresh lefse. His name was Bob Laird and he was on his way home from delivering his son to college for another year at Montana State in Bozeman. He lingered, all of us sharing information with each other. Bob told us he is a math professor at the University of Vermont in Burlington. For a long time he has read the Rooster Crows published weekly in the local newspaper “Sargent County Teller.” Bob reads The Rooster Crows on the town’s website. The Rooster Crows editorial/article tells all about Rutland’s events from how much rainfall and how high the corn is to Rutland’s resident’s travels and experiences with a good bit of history thrown in. All of this is told in a Mark Twain fashion by the one and only Bill Anderson, county commissioner and retired lawyer (among many other titles). He brings to life small town America that is nostalgic and poignant and laugh out loud rich. The article has been appearing in the paper as long as anyone can remember and quietly documents the town’s history week by week.
Bob said to us, “You sound like a close knit community.” He asked if the author of the Rooster Crows could give him a call so they could have a chat. Bob asked more questions and eventually decided to stay longer. He found his way to the Lodge just south of town where he spent the night and experienced more down home hospitality from Joe Breker, proprietor. It was arranged for Bob to meet Bill Anderson the next morning for coffee at the only place in town still serving breakfast, the Lariat Bar. Word spread fast and soon Bob found himself surrounded by other Rutland citizens eager to get in on the fun.
Bob Laird left us that morning but has promised to visit again, next time bringing his wife. We are all still talking about his unexpected visit and how we hope he can return on Uffda Day at which time we will put him in the lead car of the Uffda Day parade. Thank you for stopping to visit us, Bob Laird. You made our day and you made our week. But this story is also about Rutland, North Dakota, a small town where ordinary people still come together as our ancestors did to roll lefse or put on a town play or any number of different activities while at the same time nurturing life-long friendships. Bob Laird gets us. In our simplicity and ordinary days lie the essence and goodness of life. It just doesn’t get any better!
See you down the road, Bob Laird. You are no longer a stranger.