The fulfilled life, with Conrad Schmidt
It was great fun to discover that our new resident, Conrad Schmidt, is an old friend and neighbor, teller of interesting stories and tales, an avid sportsman. A fall that broke bones put him under our big roof.
Conrad was born in 1922 to Jacob and Anna Schmidt in North Dakota, with the nearest town being Bismarck although they never went there. It was not farmland or ranch land, it was just country. Jacob worked for the railroad.
The house Conrad was born in was a 16' x 20' neat sod shanty, dry and warm. When he was 2, they moved to a house made of used railroad ties. Where they found used railroad ties in a country where everything else was so new has always puzzled Conrad.
The road to their country school was 2 miles up a steep hill, then 2 miles down the steep hill. Conrad was in the sixth grade when the teacher stopped by his desk to tell him he was smart enough now. He could go home, which he did and never had another day of school. The Schmidts had six children.
Next, Jacob built a 24' x 28' two-story wood house made of boards. He borrowed $2,200 from the bank to build it in 1932, he died in 1933 and Anna gave it back to the bank in 1938 when she could not make it. Conrad recalls grass above his knees grew right up to the house, miles in every direction.
To help his mother, Conrad convinced the folks in a CCC camp that he was 18 years old when he was 15. What a relief when they bought his story and sent him to Walker, Minn., to plant trees. It was one of the best times of his life.
After that Conrad spent a number of years in Shoshone, Ariz., fighting for space among snakes, scorpions, spiders and other mean critters while he worked building small dams for sheep ranchers in the big Wind River Canyon Dam area. That was another puzzler, why was a million dollar dam needed in a spot where it never so much as sprinkled once during the the years he was there?
There was the tough old Russian rancher Conrad worked for in North Dakota. His job was driving a six-horse span of wild half-broken young horses pulling a harrow ground cultivator. It was a horrible job. After the first few rounds they got tangled up turning around, all that harness and six wild horses in a pile with Conrad on the bottom. He managed to get them back, then crawled into bed, just one big hurt. He couldn't get up the next morning.
Well, when the boss came to tell Conrad anybody too fragile to get up every morning might as well go home, Conrad agreed. He said, "You got that part right," groaned his way out of bed, and headed for home, not that Conrad hadn't broken many horses along with some of the bones in his body.
Conrad met Viola when they happened to meet while hunting pheasants along the river. They were married and have one daughter. Viola died 20 years ago.
For Conrad: "Life has been interesting and good, I've never wanted to go anywhere I haven't been, or see anything I haven't seen. I've never wanted to own anything I couldn't have."
Conrad was known to be a better than average tractor mechanic with a special interest in getting antique machines running again.
Conversing with Conrad could take a long time, but a visitor is waiting and I want to tell you one more story.
Several years ago, soon after Conrad moved to Humphrey Manor, he saw no reason why he couldn't go down to breakfast in his pajamas. When an employee said, "Conrad, I think you should dress in day-stuff to come to breakfast."
"Why? I'm covered."
"Because, it just doesn't look decent to come like that."
"Well, I think it does, an' besides, I'll bet I've got on more clothes than you have."
"No, I don't think so."
"I think I have. Let's prove it!"
"We can't, how?"
Pointing at a spot in front of the woman on the floor, Conrad said: "You put all the stuff you got on right there an' I'll pile my stuff right here. Then we'll weigh 'em."
He started unbuttoning buttons.
"No, Conrad, we can't do that."
"Sure, we can. It is the only way to prove it, c'mon!" He kept unbuttoning.
"Stop, Conrad! We can't do that!"
Conrad was reaching for the last button when she split for the kitchen.