North Dakota-native author to appear at Ferguson Books and More
Norma Thorstad Knapp’s experiences growing up in western North Dakota are described in her recently published memoir, "Scoria Roads: Twenty Houses in Twenty-One Years."
The collection of 36 stories takes the reader on a journey of her life from 1942 to 1963, particularly the years she spent living in Dickinson.
Speaking from her home in Alexandria, Minn., Knapp said the inspiration for the book is credited to the family of her sister, Evie.
"This particular book started out after my sister died 20 years ago, and her children and grandchildren kept asking for more stories," Knapp said. "I later realized, that, oh my gosh, I need to throw in the oil story and how sweet, western North Dakota is changing," she said. "It’s multilayered. There are stories of my own Scandinavian ancestors and a synopsis of Dickinson’s history."
A 1959 Dickinson High School graduate, Knapp went on to become a registered nurse, an educator and a bereavement facilitator. She has published numerous stories, essays and poems. Her children’s book, "Missing My Best Friend," was released in 2011. Knapp lived in Grand Forks at two different times in her life for a total of six years.
Knapp was born at what’s now the ghost town of Werner in Dunn County, one of seven children. The family moved to Dickinson when Knapp was 9 years old.
"We lived there for nine years — nine houses, but there might have been 10 or more," she said. "We first moved to the Scheeler apartments on the south side of town. After that, we lived in different little houses, depending on what dad was doing and what job he had."
Each incident is linked to the homes they rented — the Nodland farmhouse, the Barkley farmhouse, the Queen City Motel, the Garden Motel, the Little John House, the Little Gray House, the Schwindt House and the Gress Addition House. Each of the dwellings is depicted with a drawing.
The stories include the discovery of a rat in a house, the fear that her brother had contracted polio, the time a landlord asked for 10 months back rent, and when the welfare board inspected their home.
She wrote of that inspection, "‘What right do these people have, looking down on us?’ I wondered. I looked up smack into Lah-di-dah’s penetrating eyes. Humiliation came in cold shivers. ... I stepped forward, but Mom reached over and wrapped one arm around my shoulders."
She tells stories about growing up in a household where domestic abuse was commonplace. This abuse led to her parents’ divorce.
"Divorce was not a common thing around the town," she wrote. "Some parents still wouldn’t let their kids play with my brothers and me."
Knapp described her dad as a "mean son-of-a-gun, trying to get out of work."
"He was always looking for the easy way out," she said. "We went from farm to farm, from house to house, from job to job."
However, the prospect of moving every year taught Knapp to be flexible and resilient.
"I learned how to conduct myself in new situations, I made friends easily and, of course, when Mom and Dad parted, I took care of the other children even if I was 11 years old, so she could go to work."
Her mother ironed clothes, cleaned houses and worked as a waitress until taking a six-month secretarial course, which led to office work in Dickinson. Wages at the time were about $1 per hour.
"I had caring teachers, and my mother’s dad and extended family made a difference," she added.
The book also tells of happier times, including when the children would go sledding and ice skating, roam Rocky Butte Park or have picnics at Medora.
"Medora is one of my favorite towns in the whole world," she said. "I loved the Badlands."
The book’s title, "Scoria Roads" has a tier of multiple meanings, she said.
"I lived on or near those roads my whole life," she said. "What I realized not so long ago it’s a metaphor for my life. Scoria will tear up a pickup tire until the road smooths down. I was a feisty, maybe angry little girl, but through the years, fine-tuned like the smooth road."
Reflecting on "Scoria Roads," Knapp said, "I wrote the book thinking I was writing stories for my sister’s family, but it ended up as a healing for me. I didn’t realize how it healed my heart over the loss of my sister. And now with marketing the book, I’m finding cousins I never knew I had. What a treat — such a gift."
Knapp will have a book signing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Ferguson Books and More. For more information about Knapp and “Scoria Roads,” visit normaknapp.com.