Book Review: Telling It the Way It Was

In David Jussero’s book, Telling It the Way It Was: A Country Boy Survives Life in the City, he urges his readers to get the most out of life, because “Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you come to the end, the faster it goes.”

I do agree with his philosophy, but that’s not the only reason David’s book struck a chord with me. As is true for many Washingtonians, David and I both have roots in the North Dakota prairies. My grandparents were German immigrants. His were Finnish. Hard-hit by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years, my family left farming to seek better opportunities on the West Coast. David and Caroleen Jussero did the same thing. North Dakota roots run deep, especially when one leaves family and good friends behind. Even though we’ve both spent most of our lives in the Pacific Northwest, that sense of connection to our state of origin is not easily severed.

David Jussero’s grandparents, John and Anna Jussero, immigrated to the U.S., married, and homesteaded near Rolla, North Dakota, not far from the Canadian border. Four children were born while they lived in a sod house. Then John built a wood frame house for his family which expanded by five more children, one of whom, Richard, became David’s father.

The tight-knit Finnish community somewhat reluctantly accepted Richard’s marriage to a pretty French girl from Lac la Biche, Canada. Their oldest child, David, was born in 1936. David’s often humorous tales of growing up on a small wheat farm, going to one-room country schools, and dropping out of school at age sixteen to undertake a series of farm jobs draw a picture of a life that emphasized self-reliance and hard work. But Dave had bigger dreams and by the time he was nineteen, he’d left the farm behind to seek a new life out west.

He found work in Portland, Oregon and sent for his neighbor and sweetheart, Caroleen Messier. They married, had a daughter, and moved to better jobs in Seattle. Soon Dave was also buying and managing rental houses. He was so successful in his sideline, he retired at age forty to spend time at the things he really wanted to do, such as volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and other humanitarian groups, traveling extensively with Caroleen, and bicycling twice across the United States.

Dave’s observations on history and his stories of human interest, interspersed with homemade verses, witty comments, and many photographs make reading his book a pleasure.

David and Caroleen Jussero live in Snohomish, Washington. Telling It the Way It Was is available at or may be ordered through booksellers or at

North Dakota Schoolteacher, Winter of 1949

New Leipzig, ND, 1950 Kids on their way to school

    While searching for another document on my computer, I came across this story, sent to me in the winter of 2008-2009 by my mother’s cousin, Ursula Wunderlich, of Voltaire, ND. Since then, Ursula has finished her time here on earth so I can’t ask permission to use this, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. She wrote it originally for her home-town newspaper, and I know there are many mid-westerners who can identify right now with the weather she describes:

    “This bad winter weather brings to mind a time in this writer’s life,
60 years ago, to be exact. It was January 1949, and I was teaching a rural
school in McLean County, Otis Township, in the Strawberry Lake vicinity.
Fresh out of high school, I was asked to take on the job, as teachers
were hard to come by. Having no college degree, or practice teaching to lean on, this was quite a challenge, to say the least. I had 11 students in
all grades except the second & sixth grades. Patron families represented
were Alvir Anderson, Ervin Golly, Miles Harmon, Palmer Madsen, and Henry Sheelar. [The Andersons were also cousins.] I was my own janitor, hot lunch cook, and custodian of whatever needed to be done. This included carrying coal from the shed near the school house, storm or no storm.
     I stayed at the school during the week, if possible. Didn’t think of it at the time, but I should have had a rope strung from the school building to the shed, so as not to lose my way, as there were times when one could not see one building from the other. I firmly believe that the good Lord had angels watching overtime, or I wouldn’t be here today.

    That January, we had full-fledged blizzards every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. No one came to school, except teacher and her pals– mice! Thursday & Friday as many of the students as could, arrived. On Friday I would ride home with either of two families to spend the weekend. This arrangement was designed to save the precious coal supply, as the weekend coal then could be on hand for [school] days.
    Sundays were usually calm, & I’d either walk the mile from one family to the school late Sunday afternoon, or the patron would take me there with horses & sleigh, depending on where I spent that particular weekend.
    Monday morning..another storm [moved in], no kids. Since the teacher was on the grounds and as long as the students got their work accomplished, we did not have to make up all those days. Good thing, as Don Wunderlich and I had our wedding date set for June 7th, and I fully intended to be married, not teaching until mid-July!

    One Sunday in late January, a neighbor flew south to the
Anderson farm with a visitor from out of state. (I still wonder how he
got to this area, as nothing we knew of was moving, no mail service, and we didn’t have phones, although we did have electricity.) I asked the
gentleman if he knew whether Don Wunderlich was back from a trip to Michigan, where he’d gone during the holidays, [to] bring back a new car. He responded, ‘Yes, and I’m going to the Wunderlich farm from here, want to go along?’ If I had had a few more minutes to decide, I probably would have declined the offer, but I said ‘Okay, let’s go!’

    What a sight  from that little plane! There was no bare ground to see anywhere from the time we got in the air until we landed on a field near the Wunderlich farm. Every thing was WHITE!

    Made it back to the Anderson’s and of course, the next day–no kids due to another storm. We were blocked in till the 4th of March, when the Army plowed us and the entire area out. That evening Chuck Sheelar’s Mom sent him to the school and we drove to Kongsberg for needed supplies. The next day it stormed so bad and really blocked everything, rock hard. The Army couldn’t come back a second time so we had to wait until spring when Mother Nature took over and melted all that snow!

    Yes, this winter of 2008-09  brings back memories and also reminds us that this is North Dakota, and winters can be open or they can come with a vengeance. So, stay warm, close to home, and be prepared!”

 More About Ursula:

Ursula did marry Don Wunderlich. They lived all their lives on a farm near Kongsberg and raised their family there. Ursula was active in the little German Lutheran church at Kongsberg until her recent death, but nothing is left today of that busy little town except the church. Most of the people buried in its cemetery are Ursula’s relatives.