The 1960s was dominated by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Protests, the assassinations of US President John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Cuban Missile Crisis, and finally ended on a good note when the first man is landed on the moon (U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report). Technology was advancing as well, with black and white televisions and landline telephones. Charlene Peterson was born in 1952 in the small town of Frazee, Minnesota and was just a child when these events were going on.
Charlene was only 9 when she was sitting in Frazee elementary school listening about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. She recalled her teacher making them put their heads on their desks while they listened on the radio. She later watched the coverage on their black and white television in disbelief that something like that could ever happen.
She grew up on a farm where things were simple. She had 4 other siblings to play with when they were younger. They rode bike, played kickball and softball, played in the woods and made forts, along with playing with the neighbor kids. They started helping with the farming chores at a very young age and once they turned 11 they were old enough to start driving tractors. Technology was advancing and if you had a tv then you were doing pretty good. She remembers getting their first landline phone and thinking how amazing it was for something to work like that. There was a lot more face to face then and if you needed to talk to someone you would either walk or ride your bike there. She had remembered that if they ever needed clothes, they would tell their mother and she would sew whatever they needed, or they would get hand me downs from older siblings and cousins. They rarely went into town, but if they were lucky enough their mother would bring a couple of the kids with and buy them 5 cent cones from Dairy Queen.
Not many people had radios when she was growing up. But everyone had record players to play music with and photographs. When she was in 10th grade, she remembers having to take a typing class. In this class there was a total of 20 manual typewriters that most the students used, and 2 electric typewriters.
Dating back then was also a little different then it is today. You had to be 16 to even be thinking about going on a date with someone, and you usually met them because they went to the same school or church. There was a lot of double dating to the movies or the rollerskating rink but before any of that your parents had to meet and like the person you wanted to go on a date with. Your grandparents had to like them as well and if they weren’t their preferred religion then it was highly frowned upon.
When Charlene was 16 she got pregnant. Her parents weren't happy and didn’t talk to her for months. She got married to Terry Engel shortly after she got pregnant, and gave birth to a little girl and named her Toni. By this time her parents started talking to her again and agreed to take care of Toni while she went back to finish high school. In 1970 she graduated at the age of 18. If women wanted to go to college for a career, they went to be a nurse, secretary, or a teacher. Teachers in her high school didn’t encourage women to seek any higher profession that were considered a man's profession. If you ended up marrying then it was most common for women then to be stay at home wives, which is what Charlene did.
On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon (Wilford). Charlene and Terry were living in their tiny, one bedroom rental house while they watched the coverage on the moon landing on their 13 inch, black and white television. She described the moon landing being just as amazing as when her 7th grade history teacher told her class they would see electric cars in their lifetime.
When Charlene had her first kid so young, it changed her whole life. Terry had a job as a carpenter and she was a stay at home wife. They lived in a small house for awhile until they had enough money to get something bigger. When she was 21 she gave birth to her second child, Darin. By the time Darin was 1, they noticed something different with him. He didn’t show the mental grow of an average 1 year old, and they then knew that he would be mentally challenged his whole life.
About 5 years after Darin was born, Terry and Charlene decided to move and start their own farm. Farming was hard to start but that came no surprise to her as she had grown up living on one. Her day started at 5 o’clock in the morning milking cows and ended around 10 at night doing the same thing. They worked 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Dairy farming wasn’t an occupation that you could just take a day off. It wasn’t an easy life but it was a life that she loved. That same year she had her last child, a boy who they named Wayne.
By the time that Darin was more grown up around the age 18, he became more and more difficult to handle. Darin has the brain of a 3 year old but the body of a man. He can speak some words but not many, and he is unable to do simple daily tasks. He needed help dressing himself, feeding himself, and going to the bathroom. The doctors tried to get him on the right type of medication, which required trial and error. Some of the medication that he was put on would either make him depressed, anxious, bipolar, or violent. There were many instances where people tried to get her to bring him to a home where he would get constant care, but she didn’t care how bad Darin got, he was her son and she was going to take care of him for the rest of her life.
When she got diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2015, she knew that things would only get harder. When she got cancer she decided to stop farming completely and hand it down to their son Wayne and his wife Lesa. When she was going through chemo, she did her best to not only take care of herself, but take care of her 42 year old son. Her husband did his best to help her out as well but it was difficult because he was still helping his son out on the farm.
Charlene Engel is one of the most courageous people I’ve ever met. The whole time that I interviewed her she had a smile on her face, and a really positive outlook on the life that she had lived. I am lucky enough to know Charlene from more than just my interview I had with her; she happens to be my grandmother as well. If there is one thing that I’ve learned about my grandma, it is that she is always thinking about others. She is completely selfless, and always puts others first. Even when she got diagnosed with cancer, she always tried to turn the attention away from herself by telling people that she was doing and feeling good. She has always gone out of her way to help people; she may not have influenced the entire world, but she has influenced every person that has been lucky enough to know her.
Having a child and getting married at the age of 16, raising a mentally disabled child, and working on a farm wasn’t her ideal life that she was planning for herself.
When I sat down and talked to her, I asked “If you could've change one thing, what would you change?”
She just smiled and replied, “I have 3 wonderful kids and an amazing husband, there’s not much I can complain about.”
Wilford, John Noble. “Men Walk on Moon.” New York Times, 21 July. 1969. Print.
Engel, Charlene. Personal interview, 29 Dec. 2016
“U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report.” Web. 09 Jan. 2017