They say that when an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.
That is certainly the case with Alfred Haagenson, Jr., who my family knew better as “Junior.”
Junior was a neighbor of ours and even though I didn’t spend much time with him, my husband would bring home Junior’s stories about the old days and I saw him as a link between us and the past.
One day in 2007, I was driving down a gravel road to visit my soon-to-be husband. I passed a man driving a four-wheeler who was wearing overalls with no shirt, with a handsome, stern face and sun-bronzed arms bared to the wind.
That was Junior.
I soon learned that Junior was a force to be reckoned with. Woe to you if you were an elected official who attracted Junior’s wrath. He once followed tracks through the snow to discover that township board members were using public equipment to plow their own driveways as well as those of relatives. After he alerted the community, residents demanded the board members stop. And they did.
Woe to you if you messed with Junior’s stuff. When he discovered some random items missing from his property, he again employed his tracking skills, noticing a bald spot left by one tire. Footprints with a lengthy stride indicated the suspect was probably a long-legged man. The items stolen were not high-value (they included a used battery and a fence post) but the outrage of someone trespassing on his property was more than Junior could tolerate.
He had an idea of who the suspect might be. While passing a bar one evening, he saw the man’s truck and sure enough, a rear tire had a bald spot. At Junior’s behest, an officer talked to the man, and the man’s father later confronted Junior at his place while Junior was doing chores.
“I hear you’re a no-good SOB,” the father said.
“Yeah?” said Junior, leaning on his pitchfork. “What else do you know about me?”
I don’t believe Junior ever recovered those items. However, he had made his point.
Junior liked to visit and tell stories, bringing to vivid life the characters who once peopled our township.
There was a guy named Dan’l, who had a unique way of drying his clothes. He would hang them from the hayrack on his Model A flatbed truck as he drove home from the laundromat in Parkers Prairie. Women and children were known to flee the laundromat when Dan'l arrived, as he only wore a nightshirt, tennis shoes and his beard. Everything else was in the wash.
Dan’l was also so strong he would remove his truck engine and carry it by hand into his house on cold nights so it would start when he needed it.
There were two neighbors who were fighting over a property line in the early 1900s. One pulled a revolver and a third neighbor stepped between. This happened before Junior was born, but he was there years later when someone asked the third neighbor if he hadn’t been scared.
“Nah, nah,” he said in Swedish. “That rusty thing never would have fired.”
When World War I began, Junior’s dad and his best friend and business partner decided together to sign up. They agreed to meet at the train station in the Twin Cities but his friend never showed up and in fact never went to war at all. Junior’s dad saved one rifle cartridge from the war and said if he ever saw his friend again, he was going to use it on him.
It is my husband’s understanding that Junior’s dad never did see his “friend” again. But he still kept the rifle cartridge.
Junior is gone now, and I wish I had found the time to interview him on camera the way I had always thought about doing.
It’s too bad COVID-19 restrictions prevented him from getting the send-off he deserved, as it has prevented the proper good-byes for so many of our loved ones.
Good-bye, Junior. And good-bye to all the stories that gave us a sense of what our community was once like, when neighbors dropped in and the coffee pot was always ready.
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“It’s My Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.