I was born in 1927, and the name listed in a bible was Albert, but the name on the birth certificate was Alfred. So that is who I am. Sometimes I use the nickname Al, but never Albert.

Some of my earliest memories were of the Depression, which was accentuated by drought and black blizzards during the dirty thirties in South Dakota. It was a time when crops failed, and when there was no market for what little farmers were able to produce. My grandfather died in 1930 so he was not subjected to the agony of seeing the farm he built claimed by an insurance company that had no desire to own it.

My father’s name was Gottlieb and everyone called him Butch. He was establishing himself as a farmer when the bad times hit. He was still renting the farm he worked, but had acquired the machinery and animals needed for a productive farm. In 1929 things still looked promising and money was still available to buy some extras, so he indulged and bought a twelve-gauge Remington automatic shot gun.
The Remington automatic shot gun was one of the finest hunting guns available when he bought it. Five shells could be inserted into the magazine, and once one of them was injected into the firing chamber, all five rounds could be fired by just pulling the trigger. It was the last significant thing my father bought that was not an absolute necessity for the next ten years.My father had very little formal education. He said they went to school when there was nothing better to do. Planting and harvesting the crops were perceived to be better things to do. Despite this lack of formal education, he had many skills. Farmers in general have many skills and this was particularly true of my father. He was an excellent animal husbandry man, a crop’s expert, a passable carpenter and an exceptional mechanic. He could take a car or tractor engine apart and put it back together and it would run. If some machine didn’t perform the way he thought it should, he would redesign it so that it would. Farming was the perfect vocation for him. He loved it.

My mother on the other hand found that housework, her main responsibility was a necessity but it was not her first love. She loved reading. She read books, periodicals, and newspapers. She would read every night in the dim light of a kerosene lamp. She would have a book open when she was making bread and at the dinner table while she was eating. I picked up the reading at the dinner table habit and did it regularly until I married my wife Joan, who cured me of the practice in short order. Our mother also read to my older brother and me. I can remember vividly stories like Robinson Caruso, Treasure Island, and Tom Sawyer. She would read a chapter, and then we would have to wait in suspense for the next chapter to be read the following night.

My early education started and ended in a one room school house which had no plumbing and was heated by a pot bellied stove. There was a picture of Lincoln on one wall and one of Washington on the opposite wall. The students all had chores to do. This included bringing in coal from the coal shed, cleaning the erasers and blackboards and going to a nearby farm at noon to fetch a pail of water to fill the Redwing pottery water cooler. One teacher taught all of the eight grades. In the years I attended, we never had all the grades represented at any one time. The largest number of students we ever had was seven, and one year we only had three. By the time I was in the sixth grade, I had read every book in the school, including two sets of encyclopedias. I also knew what I would be studying a couple of years in advance of taking a class. You might compare it to home schooling as we know it in the twenty first century. When I graduated from the eighth grade, my father and I believed I had all the education I would ever need. I started helping on the family farm on a full time basis.

The prospects for South Dakota farmers began improving in the late 1930’s. Rainfall became normal and the market for what they produced improved. When WWII started the need for all kinds of commodities soared, and farmers prospered. My father bought a farm and paid for it within a few years.

By the time I reached my late teens, I knew something was not right. I found a diversion in taking flying lessons and acquired a private pilot’s license but knew that a flying career was not likely without a high school diploma. I regretted not having gone to high school. I lost interest in farming but did not have any viable alternatives. When I was eighteen years old I joined the navy, not because I was patriotic and wanted to serve my country, but because it was one of the few options I felt that I had. It was somewhere to park my life until it found its direction. I enlisted for three years. Shortly before my enlistment was to be completed, the Korean War erupted and all enlistments were indefinitely extended. I still hadn’t figured things out, so opted to reenlist and collect a signing bonus of about two hundred dollars, which I used to buy a shotgun.

They reinitiated the GI bill during the Korean War and I perceived a direction for my heretofore rudderless existence. The navy had trained me to be an electronics technician and with that background I felt that technology was where there would be many future opportunities. I decided that I would go to college and get a degree in electrical engineering. There were a few small problems with that notion. One, I didn’t have a high school diploma, and two, I certainly did not have the math preparation needed to study engineering at the college level. I took a GED test to remedy the high school diploma problem, and took correspondence courses and attended night classes to take care of the math deficiency. The navy discharged me two months early, enabling me to return to South Dakota and enter South Dakota State University for the fall quarter of 1954.

The engineering curriculum required students take a number of elective courses outside of the core requirements. I found that I was choosing mostly English literature courses for my electives. It gave me an excuse to read stories and books, something I otherwise would have felt was a diversion from my engineering studies. I ended up taking so many English courses that I qualified for a minor in English when I graduated. Unfortunately, this did little for my deficiencies in grammar, punctuation and sentence structure, as I discovered when I decided to become a writer.

During my junior year in college, the English department sponsored a writing contest. The entries were to be short stories. I entered a story and it was selected as the winner. That may have been the seed that grew into the decision to become a writer after retiring from my working careers.

During my senior year at South Dakota State I married Joan and after graduation we moved to the Twin Cities, (Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota) where I took a job with Sperry Rand. Many years and three children later, we are still in the Twin Cities. I spent three years with Sperry Rand and then thirty years with Control Data in engineering related positions. At 63 years of age I took early retirement from Control Data but with no intention of really retiring. For the next ten years I worked in the real estate field. I could have continued in that line of work for a longer period of time, however I decided to retire from that line of work and devote my time to writing. Since that time I have taken many writing classes at the University of Minnesota and at the Loft, attended writing seminars and conventions, and started writing. Four years after retiring from my last real job, I published Finding the Way. I have a number of short stories in various states of completion. I have ideas for at least three more books. I may have more ideas than I have time.

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Copyright Al Wellnitz. All rights reserved.