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Husband, Come Home!

Is there still musical performance in the legislature since Representative Carolyn Nelson retired? Is there a legislative choir? If not, then Senator Erbele, how about it? Somebody needs to make a place for harmony.

And perhaps for balladry — who is singing the heroics and the foibles of our legislators since Senator Lindaas retired? (Elroy, but the way, is still singing, just not in the legislature. Check out his Facebook postings about the Lindaas Barn Dance, which will be convening in Elroy’s barn again this summer.)

We hope Elroy is not the legislative assembly’s last balladeer, and he was not the first, either. Early in the twentieth century a Norwegian immigrant named Ole Ellingson Ettestad filled that role. He was born in Telemark in 1876, immigrated with his parents, settled in and married and farmed near Balfour.

I can’t get a firm grip on Representative (later Senator, and finally Lieutenant Governor) Ettestad’s politics. He was a Republican, and moderately progressive, although cranky about game laws; he was NPL, but not a fire-breather. He seems to have been simply a representative of the people of McHenry County who listened to them and also got along well with his peers.

And he wrote ballads, and he sang them. We read in the Nonpartisan Leader of 10 February 1919, “State Senator Ole Ettestad of North Dakota livened up the League legislative caucus recently with a few verses in which he paid his respects to the politicians. . . . The politicians have behaved so badly that the farmers are taking the job away from them, and now it looks as if the farmers would have to turn out their own poetry, too, because the poets refuse to turn out the right kind of stuff.” There follow seven stanzas composed by Senator Ettestad, concluding,

Oh farmer, so long as you mortgage your days,
And let someone else control what you raise,
Just THAT long you’ll be in the middleman’s care,
And the hayseeds never be combed from your hair.

That’s not bad, but I do not think it exceeds Ettestad’s earlier composition, a ballad published in the Ward County Independent of 1 March 1917. The editor explains, “Many of the legislators are hearing from home in the shape of the following poem. Each is accusing the other man’s wife of starting the insurgent movement.” And here is the poem, which was sung to the tune of a prohibition ballad called “Father, Come Home.”

Husband, dear husband, come home to me now,
I’m sniffing the odor of spring;
You’ve stayed along enough in the Capitol there,
You’re much safer under my wing.
The old horse is pawing the stable like mad,
The colt’s in a terrible stew.
The small brindle heifer has got a white calf —
And the cattle are bawling for you.

The voice of our Betsy is calling you, dear,
It’s nearly time to make soap;
And some of the women are saying, my love,
I’m giving you most too much rope.
They say there is desperate flirting up there,
With widows and maids not a few —
I haven’t been kissed since the morning you left,
But, dearie, how is it with you?

This ballad is still in living memory of legislators of my acquaintance. Be careful where you sing it.

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