STANDING THE TEST OF TIME — After seven decades of give and take, Harlan and Leah Berg’s love for one another is as strong as ever. (Star Eagle photo by Rachel Rietsema)
By RACHEL RIETSEMA
Oblivious to the cumulus clouds forming outside, Leah Routh scurried all about the house preparing for her New Richland Dairy Days date. Of course the butterflies were a raging for this soon-to-arrive escort dressed in green. And, believe it or not, those winged creatures are still at work 76 years later.
Now wedded for a whopping 72 years, Harlan and Leah Berg look back at that rainy date and do one thing. They smile.
"When you get married, it's for always," Leah said. "Those were the only words my mother said to me when I told her about the engagement."
Tying the knot at ages 18 and 20, they had to do what married couples must. They learned to give and take.
"We started out with nothing," Leah said. "Nowadays when kids get married, they want to start out with everything, not just a little bit."
As both Leah and Harlan's upbringing took place on a farm, they knew what hard work was. And they wanted all nine of their children to carry on that legacy.
"The good Lord gave them to us, so we took care of them," Leah said. Harlan added, "All the kids helped with the hogs, cattle, chickens, horses, lambs and chickens."
In addition to all the little animals, Harlan raised corn, soybeans and alfalfa to meet the needs of his ever-growing family.
"I had to have a garden too," Leah said. "I canned 100 quarts of pickles every year. Tomatoes and apples — whatever grew, I canned."
Harlan added, "We had about 100 leghorn roosters that we dressed too."
Leah also dutifully chose to get her hands dirty at the canning factory in New Richland for 17 years. Before that, she worked at the hemp plant for a couple years.
"For a while there, we also worked at the sweet corn factory at nights," Leah said. "When money was short, we always found something else to help out."
Even in the not-so-luxurious times, they made do with what they had been given.
"When we moved in, there wasn't even a drain in the kitchen sink," Leah said. "Eventually, we got running water when they put the well in down by the barn and piped it to the house. But before that, the water ran when we ran with it."
On the bright side, each room in the farmhouse had wiring for one light bulb. Also readily available was their recently purchased freezer.
"Those were the years when hard work came first," Leah said.
But at the end of the day, the time came for relaxation both for the body and mind. The kids' taste buds often received the royal treatment as well.
"I remember she would always make a big pan of cinnamon rolls after school," Harlan said.
Those tasty morsels imprinted in his brain, Harlan also recalls the race to the front door. Everyone wanted the very first bite, you see.
"The screen door slammed and pretty soon I heard it again and again," Leah said. "I was actually very thankful for the quarter of a mile long driveway because they were never down by the road."
Later in the evening, Leah always forged ahead in the routine set out for the children. Next on the agenda: taking a much-needed bath.
"We had a round bathtub in the kitchen," Leah said. "I started out with the cleanest kid first."
For nine years this ritual ensued, until they sold their two Shetland ponies. These spotted buggers financed the installation of a new indoor bathroom.
"Boy I tell you that four-foot tub was the most thankful thing you ever did have," Leah said. "I remember the fall we did it. There was so many cotton pickin' flies with the door open all the time. My son Bruce was sitting in the highchair and it made me so mad with all the flies landing on him."
Summer time annoyances didn't seem to bother the remaining children though. Usually, once they were out the door, they stayed that way.
"We had a ball diamond on our front yard," Leah said. "They played ball every weekend and every once in a while, the ball would hit the window."
Weekends for Harlan and Leah were spent a little differently. These two put on their dancing shoes, ready to waltz, polka and two step their nights away.
"We also played a lot of card parties with friends," Leah said. "Our favorites were pfeffer and euchre."
Their retirement years also included vacations to visit their two sons in Arizona. For 20 years, this is what these two snowbirds did.
"Down there, he got a job at the Montgomery Ward's Store," Leah said.
Spending quality time with these two sons still means a great deal. So does the time spent with the rest of their family.
"We have 27 grandchildren, 43 great grandchildren and seven great-great grandchildren," said Leah. "They just are great. We love them all. Big, small, little."
Awfully close to tallying 100 ancestors, Harlan and Leah look back on that monsoon of a first date and marvel at how God has bestowed a light for their marriage that has never dimmed.
"She is a real good lovable wife," Harlan said. "I don't know where the last 20 years went."