Reuben Streich didn’t hear many bedtime stories when he was a boy. Once in a while, his mom would read a Bible story to him and his brothers and sisters before they nodded off. The story about the Good Samaritan was Reuben’s favorite. He was one of seven children, living with his parents on a dairy farm, near Maple Lake, during the Great Depression. Their days were filled with hard work, and there were few modern conveniences. Reuben learned, at a young age, the importance of responsibility, respect, helping others, caring for animals and protecting the earth. He credits his parents and grandparents for his strong values.
Years later, when Reuben and wife, Joan, began raising their children, and teaching them those same values, Reuben started telling bedtime stories. Night after night, he sat at their bedside and made up new adventures about a dairy farmer who was kind and generous, who helped his neighbors, who took care of injured animals. Mr. Kaboodelboo and Big Fat Dog became part of the bedtime ritual for the five Streich children- Bonny, Brenda, Bradley, Brian and Bruce.
In the 1960s, the Streichs were farming, milking five cows by hand and raising a family when Reuben got rheumatic fever, which resulted in complete paralysis and a month-long hospitalization at the University of Minnesota Hospital. His doctors were concerned about his health and advised him to quit farming and move the family to either California or Arizona. They had little choice but to relocate across the country, to Upland, Calif., leaving home, family and friends, and their way of life behind. They had only one relative in Los Angeles, Joan’s aunt. For the next few years, Reuben worked in the area of artificial insemination for American Breeder’s Association.
The move to California may have motivated Reuben to become the storyteller he is. He wanted his children to feel connected to their old way of life.
“I made the stories up,” Reuben explained. “They were about a farmer named Mr. Kaboodelboo, and his wife and dog. Every story had a lesson in it, like ‘help your neighbor.’ I want kids to grow up with good values, to have respect for people and property and be kind to animals.”
Reuben recalled his own childhood and how neighbors helped each other. When a tornado ripped through the area when he was young, destroying a neighbor’s barn, everyone gathered to help him rebuild. “Now, people are so busy, and they don’t always know their neighbors.”
The bedtime stories he told his children often came from his own life experience. “Children love animals, so I have lots of animals in my stories–dogs, cats, birds, deer, wolves, bears.” One of Reuben’s favorite stories is The Sad Little Christmas Tree.
“There’s so much importance placed on having material things today,” he said. “In the story, there were only three gifts under the tree… warm gloves for Mr. Kaboodelboo, an apron for his wife, and a bone for the dog.”
He wants children to realize they don’t have to have everything, and that getting socks for Christmas could be a welcome gift.
“We live a simple life,” said Joan.
Getting lost is a theme in some of his stories and may have been inspired by a scare the Streichs had when 2-year-old Bruce disappeared at a department store where the family was shopping.
“He was there one minute and then, he was gone,” Reuben recalled. “All of the kids spread out and helped search for him.” He was found before too long, safe and sound, but it was a terrifying few minutes. In The Lost Baby, Mr. Kaboodelboo shares some wisdom with the little elephant who becomes lost—when you go somewhere, stay close to your mother and father and know where you live.
Reuben’s stories have been told and retold to his children and eight grandchildren over the past 50 years. He was even invited into elementary classrooms to tell stories to the kids when they lived in Eden Valley.
“It was the grandkids who wanted me to publish the stories,” said Reuben, “and they finally coaxed me into it.” He had a lot of stories to choose from, so he chose five of his family’s “favorites” and began drawing simple illustrations for the book. A friend commented that she loved the pictures because they weren’t perfect but were more like her own drawings.
Reuben’s daughter, Bonny, who has a desktop publishing business, helped edit the original draft, and some changes were made. Both Reuben and Joan admit they had to jump through a few hoops during the process, but, in 2017, Mr. Kaboodelboo, A Collection of Short Stories, was published. The book is available at some local libraries and at Amazon.com. Reuben feels humbled by it all. His one regret? “I wish I would have published it 20 years ago.”
Reuben’s health improved in the California sunshine, and the Streich family returned to Minnesota and life on the farm after living on the West Coast less than four years. They moved to South Haven, and their children all graduated from Annandale High School. They also lived in Howard Lake and Eden Valley, but, for the past 12 years, their home is south of Maple Lake, on Reuben’s “home place,” where he grew up. Their house sits at the top of a hill, where the cow pasture once was. “The cows found shade and a little breeze here,” Reuben recalled. They are retired, sort of, but still have 40 acres of corn, oats and hay. “He still drives the tractor,” Joan said, “and Bradley and I help bale hay. We don’t want to stop. We want to stay busy. We have too many friends in nursing homes.” The couple has been married 63 years.
Last spring, they were watching the news and heard about the devastating wildfires in Kansas that killed four people and destroyed 40 homes, in addition to crops and livestock. When they learned about the need for hay, the Streichs wanted to help. “We have been helped along the way, and we’ve had so many blessings,” said Joan. “We need to share.” They contacted their daughter and son-in-law, who made the arrangements for transporting the hay to Kansas.
Cargill and Coyote Logistics donated a semitrailer to haul the hay, and the Streichs, including some of their kids and grandkids, sprang into action to find volunteers and make preparations. Future Farmers of America (FFA) students from both Howard Lake and Buffalo High Schools arrived to help load the hay bales on April 4.
The hay bales weighed between 50 and 60 pounds, and Reuben was impressed at how smoothly everything went. “They loaded seven bales a minute,” he calculated. “It took longer to put a tarp around the load for the long drive than to load the truck.” There were 460 bales loaded on to the truck, which was sent to Ashland Feed and Seed in Ashland, Kan., to help some of the farmers affected by the fires.
They received some media attention and many thank yous for their contribution, but Reuben and Joan were just happy to be able to help. Helping a neighbor in need is what they do.