The Ostrander family name is of Dutch origin and is translated as “from the east border.” The first Ostrander came to America from Holland while New York was still the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.  Their arrival would be sometime before 1664 and places the Ostrander family among the oldest on the American Continent.

The David and Caroline Ostrander Family

The Ostrander family in Canada stretches back through five generations to Andrew and Jane (Davis) Ostrander they had ten children together.  Andrew had refused United States citizenship following the American revolution and migrated to the wilderness of Ontario.  They settled in the Niagara Peninsula about the year 1783.  They were loyalists and devoted to British ideals and institutions.  The intense loyalty is an Ostrander pride and tradition. It has been carried by five generations of Ostrander in Canada.

Andrew Ostrander with his flowing white beard and his wild white hair could be found in his prime, canoeing down the Muskegon River in his buck skins and a raccoon cap, camping with the Indians, and swapping supplies .

Andrew Ostrander

David DeShered Ostrander was a son of Andrew Ostrander, and the father of James Ostrander, and the grandfather of my grandfather Roy Ostrander. He was born in Michigan in 1894, he married my grandmother Jessie J Green and they had six children together.

Jessie and Roy Ostrander

I looked forward to spending time with Caroline’s side of my family at the Ostrander farm because my cousins were sometimes there.

I did not have much interaction with other children daily, so I always took advantage of any opportunity to play with them. I was the youngest of the seven cousins, and I looked up to each one of them.

Seven cousins

I always thought of the Ostrander farm as Uncle Jim’s farm. He was the only one of six children of Jessi and Roy Ostrander that wanted to keep working the farm. Jim bought out his siblings when their parents died and held on to the Ostrander tradition of farming.

Jessy and Roy Ostrander farm 1946

I grew up on that ground, and even though I lived elsewhere, that place was always home to me. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and other holidays were celebrated there in that farmhouse that was built before my time.

Ostrander family holidays

Jim Ostrander was my favorite uncle. He was a “before dawn and after dusk” worker of the fields. Jim never smoked, drank, or swore. He was always happy to see me, and I still love him today. He used to put me on a cow’s back while he was doing the milking. The cow was so wide that the experience seemed to be like setting on a chair. It was not like riding a horse. The cow’s body was hot, and their sweat saturated my pants. But the smelly ride was worth it.

My favorite thing to do at Uncle Jim’s farm was playing in the hayloft in the barn. A rope hung down from the roof that was used to lift bales of hay, and I used it as a Tarzan swing, always landing in a soft pile of alfalfa and straw. All my cousins, aunts, and uncles were all older than me, I was the youngest of my generation.

I still choke today on the memory of the first time I got the wind knocked out of me. I fell off the hayloft in the barn many times, always with a soft landing, and never got hurt. The chain came off my bike once, and I crashed, but I did not get knocked out.

One day I was being entertained by my mother’s youngest brother, my Uncle Charlie. He was about the same age as my oldest cousin and sometimes I got to play with him. His idea of having some fun with me was to put boxing gloves on both of us and have it out in the middle of grandma Ostrander’s living room.

Boxing in Grandma’s living room

The combat was just fine for a few pictures, then my grandma Ostrander had to put the camera down and try to revive me when I got the wind knocked out of me.  A boxing glove placed firmly on my chest sent me into a panic mode that I had never experienced. I could not breathe. I can remember Charlie holding me up by my belt, trying to help me breathe. And I can still hear Caroline yelling at me, “stop acting like a baby.”

Boy! That was very scary! I went completely out and woke up not knowing what happened, choking, and gasping for air.

The knockout punch

Even though Uncle Charlie played a little rough, I’m sure he was trying to toughen me up a bit, which I am sure, it was well needed. I was a little bit of a softy.  He was hitting me like I was a big kid. And later in life, Uncle Charlie would hit me again when I was an adult, that was  acting like a big kid.  He would knock the wind out of me one more time before he died. I was glad then, and I am still happy today that he did.

Part of Uncle Jim’s farmland was second-growth trees that came up after the early Michigan loggers had cut down the big ones. Over time the forest reclaimed the butchered landscape.  Red and White Oak and Northern Pine trees encircled the Ostrander farm.

Jim and Roy Ostrander farming

There was a lane behind the barn the cows used to get to and from the fields. All along this cow path were huge pine stumps that were used as a fence to hold back the livestock. They were all that remain of the virgin forest behemoths.

I built forts with my cousins Linda and Judy out of the rotting moss-covered pine stumps that were all over their dad’s farm. I used the twisted wood to make golf clubs and hit rocks as golf balls. I even had an old gunny sack I use as a golf bag.

Linda and Judy Ostrander

When I was a young adult, I walked the same lane to go deer hunting in the backwoods behind the barn.  These trees had not been cut down for farmland because of the steeper hills and ravines that the deer used for cover. There was a spring-fed stream that ran at the bottom.  We used to have picnics there.

Picnic in the woods

On the first day of deer hunting one year, Uncle Jim took me to a stand of young trees on the south side of the farm.  He placed his two feet in the fresh snow, and he said, “now you stand right here, Ronnie, and don’t move.”

He had already made sure I had a sack lunch with me and in a whisper to told me, “if you hear a shot, don’t move just wait, even at noon when the other hunters leave the woods for lunch, don’t move.” He smiled and said, “you’ll get him.”

He was right.  That year I shot a six-point in the morning and a seven-point about dark standing in his footprints.  I told everybody that I got a 13-point on the first day. But when I went over to field-dress my first kill, two other hunters, who I did recognized, ran to my deer and started without me. The way they stumbled through the brush, trying to beat me there, told me these guys were very drunk.

One man had the perfect circle of a rifle scope imprinted into his forehead. Blood was dripping down his face and both eyes were swelling shut and turning black.  It was very obvious that he had taken a shot with his face too close to the gun.  The man flipped the deer over, took out his knife, and started gutting the animal. The second man held their guns, semi-pointing one at me as I walked up. I explained to them, “that was my shot that killed the deer.”

And they told to me, “there are two of us, and we have guns, what are you going to do about it?”

We’ll, there was one thing for sure, I’m was not going to have an argument with, drunks with guns. So, I leaned my rifle down against a tree and tried to cool down the situation.

Just then, Uncle Jim arrived on the scene. He was like the cavalry riding in at the last moment, arriving just in the nick of time to rescuing the stagecoach from the outlaws. He said, “I recognized the sound of, YOUR, 30-06 going off. Only one shot, and you got him, good job.”

Uncle Jim

Both of these men recognized Uncle Jim, and they got a more sober attitude as I told him, “these guys are trying to take my deer.”

Uncle Jim looked at both of them and asked, “boys, do we have a problem here?” They took too long to answer, so Uncle Jim said, “Ronnie let’s take your deer to the barn.”

By the time we got back to the farmhouse, the rest of the family was waiting. They were in the yard because they had heard a shot in the direction I was hunting. They were saying to each other, “Ronnie got his deer, Ronnie got his deer.” I heard them saying that as we got out of the truck and hung up the deer.

Charlie, Roy, and Dixie Ostrander

Now, there are many times in a young man’s life when an event is greater, than the person experiencing it, like your first big buck.  This would be a memory for a lifetime.  But Uncle Jim stole the glory from the moment by what he told the rest of the family.

“Ronnie shot his deer, and two guys tried to take it away from him. By the time I got there, he had already beaten up one guy so bad he had two black eyes and blood all over his face, and Ronnie had him down on the ground, cleaning out his deer for him.”

Uncle Jim’s farm 1957

That was my Uncle Jim. The next year he and Uncle Charlie built me a small hunting blind right in that exact spot.  All the deer antlers I have mounted in my home come from kills standing in Uncle Jim’s  footprints.

Michigan Whitetail 9-point

As I got older, I spent much of my time away from my home as I could.  I took an extra subject instead of a study hall.  And I joined any sport that would let me play.

I was never any good at any ball game.  I lived alone in the woods with my parents.  The closest kid I could play with was over a mile away.  Sometimes I would ride my bike to his house and he always wanted to play baseball.

When I came home, I would try to play the game by myself.  I place sticks around the yard in a diamond shape.  And I was the pitcher, batter/runner, outfielder, and catcher.  To play this game of, “one-man-baseball,” I would through the ball up into the air, the pitcher.  Then if I could swing and hit it, I would run the basses, the batter/runner.  Before I got to home plate, I switched roles, became the outfielder and chased the ball across the yard.   With a mighty arm I would throw the ball at home plate.

When there was no catcher, I switch roles again and chase down the wild pitch.  At this point I could decide if whether I was out or safe at the plate.  Some game, I played it a lot.

When I got to Junior High School in 7th grade I joined the baseball team.  I was not good enough to play so they made me a team manager. It was great.  I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself.  And I was surrounded by boys and a great coach that accepted me as part of the team.  I was somebody.  And for five more years of school I was part of the team.

Pat, my stepfather, was born Gerald J. Patten August 25, 1922, to his parents William and Rose Patten in Millbrook Township, Mecosta. Three years later, his younger brother died at birth.

William and Rose Patten – Pat and his mother Rose

From his youth, he was called Pat, and throughout his 44 years working at the Gibson Refrigerator Company in Greenville, that’s what they called him. But they called him something else too.

When I was a student at Greenville High School and during the summer months when school was out, I worked at Gibson’s but at the Belding factory that made air conditioners. The welding department they assigned me to, got higher pay, and I found out right away why. It was a hot nasty and dangerous job. All the welding was done by a big and cumbersome spot-welding gun that hung from the ceiling on a spring.

1969 Gibson ID badge

At that time, I was on the wrestling team at school in the 95lb weight class. The welding guns weighed much more than that. If I ever missed the mark and did a lousy weld, the gun would kick back, picking me right up off the floor. It would send sparks in every direction that would burn their way through your clothes and into your skin. Later in life, I would still have to deal with little sparks of metal that work their way out to the surface of my skin like a pimple.

Gibson Refrigerator Division

Greenville, Michigan

I went to high school from 1966 to 1969 during the hippie movement of peace and love, not war. I started playing in a rock band during my freshman year when long hair was, “the cool thing,” for both sexes. When I first started working at Gibson’s, the men I worked with used to ride me a lot about my long hair.

Ronald Lee Knauss 14 – 9th, 15 – 10th, 16 – 11th, 17 – 12th

But within a short time, they told me, “Hey, you got to slow down, you are making everyone else work too hard.” What they meant was that when you are working on a manufacturing production line, all workers must work at the same pace. I was just trying to do my best by working fast, the men knew that, and took me under their wing and in their confidence.

Once during lunch hour, when we were all sitting around resting and talking, I mentioned that my dad worked at Gibson’s in Greenville. One of the men asked, “Oh ya, what department does your dad work in?”

I answered him, “the tool crib.”

Two men at the same time responded, “you don’t mean Grumpy, do you?”

I said, ‘no, my dad’s name is Gerald, but they call him Pat.”

The conversation went a little quiet then, and after a short pause, one of the men said, “we would have never known that you were Grump’s son because you are nothing like him.” He went on saying, “we can talk to you, and you listen, and you sound like you have an adventurous life with your little musical orchestra.” They knew I played in a band that was their way of poking a little jealousy at me, but all in good fun.

One of the men also told me, “ After work every night when I drove home past Pat’s property, he would be out in the brush cutting down trees.” The man went on to say, “and I used to see him out there, digging the basement for his new home with a shovel. Finally, I could not stand it, and I borrowed a one-man digging machine from a friend and loan it to Pat. And he did end up digging the entire hole by himself.”  Pat was a man’s man and a very hard worker.

Pat cutting down the trees of Michigan & digging a basement

The Gibson children went to the same public school as I did.  Sometimes they would get dropped off at school by a chauffeur-driven black car. One of the boys in the Gibson family played in a band from my high school called “The Blues Reaction.” They had all the best guitars, keyboard, and Super Beatles amplifiers. I played in a band from Lakeview, The Soul Generation, and I did not always have enough musical equipment to play live.

The Soul Generation 1966 – 1969

The Blues Reaction used to loan me an amplifier and keyboard, so I could perform. The generosity of these boys to a competitive band allowed me to further my musical career. When I first started playing in a group, I would have never been able to play in public without their help. I have always been very grateful to them.

The Blues Reaction

Pat never spoke much about his family but, I did meet his mother, Rose, and his uncle Earl and aunt Lovrsa “Vice”. He lived with his aunt and uncle when he was younger. Pat had some siblings, but he never talked about them or his father. Rose was a gentle woman with a sweet personality. I remember eating stale cookies at her house. Shortly after I turned my heart over to the Lord as a child, I had an opportunity to witness to her. She always seemed uncomfortable around me. She did not have the excitement in her face when she saw me as my grandmother did. She was very kind and tried to make me comfortable in her home.

Uncle Earl and Aunt Vice

Pat was involved in a high-speed automobile crash that killed the driver. Pat spent several months in the hospital recovering with a steel rod in his leg. He stayed with his aunt and uncle after he got out of the hospital. As a child, whenever I bumped him, he would flinch in pain, but he never complained or talked about the accident.

Pat’s auto accident

Pat survived the crash and sent this card

One afternoon while visiting Rose at her home in Millbrook, I told her about my personal experience with the Lord. I asked her if she wanted to give her heart to Him, and I talked her thru with the words I learned in Sunday School.

Pat at his mother Rose’s house

Years later, when she was in the hospital during her last days, a preacher asked her the same question. He led her in prayer to the Lord before she passed. I always felt sad that she did not remember her conversation with me. Why didn’t she just tell the preacher she was led to the Lord already by a child. The feeling that I messed up my first real chance to witness stayed with me for years.

Pat’s uncle Earl taught me how to trout fish in the stream that ran past his house in Millbrook. He was a kind man that was always smiling, showing some missing teeth. He was a master Michigan angler, and he had a particular way to bate his hook. Two worms hooked through the middle made a beautiful little “wiggly” thing to tempt fish to bite. But when he wanted to pull a big one out of a hole or from under the bank Uncle Earl would make a mass using 5 worms on his hook. I still use his two worms and five worm secret he shared with me that afternoon because it works.

Millbrook Mills trout fishing – Uncle Earl and Pat

Uncle Earl unknowingly gave me good advice while teaching me how to fish. He said, “always walk upstream while fishing so the gravel you stir up as you walk will not spook the fish in front of you.” Years later, when I felt like I was always walking upstream, against the current of life, I remembered that the gravel of failures will float away if you are walking in the right direction.

As I walked upstream with him, my boots would fill to the top with water because they were not high enough on my legs in deep places.  First, the water was ice cold as it soaked into my socks, then it became a warm layer between my leg and the stream.

Uncle Earl also told me, “still water runs deep.”

Later in life, when things looked to be going well, I was careful not to fall into a hole that would be hard to get out of later, like financial debt or a bad relationship.

Uncle Earl also told me how to fish on a lake with artificial lures. He always said, “dark days, dark bait, bright days, bright bait.” He told me to choose what kind of fish you wanted to catch, then use a bait that will fit the weather of that day. He said, “try to make your bait look like the fish’s natural feed.”

As a teenager, I made a serious decision on what path I would follow. I looked for professional musicians that were already successful at what I wanted to do. I always tried to play with musicians that were better than me, so I could learn something new. Uncle Earl taught me whatever you choose to be successful in, learn all you can from people that already are. Their experiences can shine a light on which path you should to take. Later in life, I called the big fish in my lake that I could never catch, old Uncle Earl.

Pat had a dog he called Susie.  She was a small rat-terrier with a salty attitude.  It took a while for her and I to start getting along.  She like to nip at my bare legs when I walked by her.  The traffic in front of Pat’s house was a lure to pets and over the years I lost many that wondered out in front of their path.   So, sometimes Susie was kept in the garage.

Susie the dog

Saturday mornings it would be my job to clean up the dog mess.  Saturday mornings there was also cartoons on TV.  Children’s programing was limited to Saturday morning western shows like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and some cartoons.  Pat seemed to want Susie’s messes cleaned up right when they were on.  He would say, “you don’t want to watch that, those things are just for kids.”  I was never sure what he thought I was either, because I liked them.  I don’t think he had much of a childhood.

It took a while and then later Susie and I became closer, but she was always Pat’s dog and they loved each other.  The dog became so excited when Pat came home from work, she sometimes peed on the floor.  And I had to clean it up.

Pat’s school picture

TV was in its infancy and there were only three channels we could receive.  ABC, CBS, and NBC were the only stations broadcasting on the air at that time.  An antenna was needed to pick up the signal by Rabbit Ears attached to the TV set or something usually mounted upon the roof.

Pat and Caroline always went to bed early so the TV was turned off.  They both worked and had get up early.   But I would wait until I hear Pat snoring, then I would sneak out to the TV for some late-night viewing.

There was only one problem.  The sound and the light from the screen would wake Pat up ending late night TV for that night.  So, I would keep the sound off and use the brightness button to turn down the screen.  Sometimes I would forget to turn it back up when I went to bed and the next day Pat would think something was wrong with his TV set.   I watched several classic moves with the darken screen and no sound.  It was only years later as an adult when I watched them again, did I know what the actors were saying.  I wrote a song about this when I was a teen called “Late Night TV.”

 Late Night TV –  “Rock, a musical experience”  Rocky Lake Recording Studio 1980’s

Pat had built his home in the woods surrounded by large oak trees.  The Flat river ran just across the road and there was a roadside park there.  We had a family reunion there before it was finished, and everyone had to set on building material to eat the meal outside.

Ostrander Family dinner outside at Pat’s house


Next: The The people from the east border – part 2

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