Friday, September 7, 2012


It’s been a treat of a late summer. 

The State Fair, which ended Labor Day, was second in attendance surpassed only by the 2009 crowds.

Fall is in the air as the gates to the fairgrounds swing shut. Wind blowing through dry leaves and migrating waterfowl in their overhead groups give proof to the fact.

We remarked at supper that a week of September is gone. With the holiday weekend behind us, and the big yellow buses stopping in front of the house as if never on hiatus, the first days of the month have simply vanished.

Labor Day, including the preceding nine days at the State Fair, was warm and sunny. It was a delightful period of weather. 

A blue moon (second full moon in August) illuminated the starry night skies. Sunrises were rivers of pink and plum. Sunsets were glowing bands of deep orange and violet.

Our family used the holiday weekend to deepen connections with our family tree. We had so much fun in the process that we propose making the holiday, or another such time as we can get together, an annual heritage event.

The family project came about because we located the lake on which our antecedents, four generations back, laid out their homestead.

The lake is unnamed on county maps but identified in the old platbook we used as our guide. Lakes, rivers and roads, and the owners on each section of land within the townships, give unique translation to this area our family settled.

Visiting the site of the homesteading years was an adventure to undertake. One of us volunteered to drive and the rest  piled in.

Some of us haven’t been in a car together since we were kids. Maturity ruled and no one elbowed others as could have been reported in the past.

This lake to which we were going was the farm of our great-great-grandparents. We couldn’t have told you their first names until we stopped at the rural cemetery afterwards.

The couple are buried side by side on a west-sloping hill. A large lilac bush is in front. 

The bush will be heavy with blossoms and sweet with aroma in the spring. It is a planted bush, put there as a sign of someone's remembrance of them in that neat graveyard of country neighbors.

This couple – Peder and Bridt  – came to America in 1880. In Norway they famed and had a small herd of cows. Peder traveled the nearby countryside repairing windows and doing odd jobs.

The incentive to immigrate might have been economic. More likely at its core was family considerations. 

Family in all its complexities is future oriented. Its momentum is forward. Sometimes all we can do is latch on and go with the flow, which is maybe how it was for them.

The oldest son drowned at twenty as he moved away from home to start a new job. This was their recent past. It was a devastating blow. The desire to put space between them and the tragedy is totally understandable.

Equally important, their oldest daughter was in Minnesota and mother of an infant son. The yearning to see their first grandchild served as a force for courage to direct them.

They left their mountain valley in Norway throwing their hats in for America.Their younger daughter and son came with them. Another son followed the next year.

The sea route was from Kristiansund, Norway to Philadelphia via Liverpool, England. The three-week Atlantic crossing was aboard a steamship with auxiliary sails.

They traveled by rail to Minnesota. The last eleven miles were covered by oxcart.

The middle-aged couple (47 and 45 respectively) were not young bones who could lightly toss off a trip of this magnitude.They must have been weary and almost awestruck at their accomplishment of coming so far.

They had completed an Atlantic passage. They were still absorbing the speed of the railroad across the Midwest. They watchfully kept their children in tow and were in wonder of the new sights and strangeness of so much of the new world.

Safely arrived, and with their first grandchild to bless, the greetings exchanged would have been fervent. A mingling of tears, relief and happiness sealed the welcome as they moved in temporarily with their daughter.

Eventually they found a farm about an hour’s walk from their daughter’s farm. The homestead had been previously occupied. They lived the first year in the 8 x 12 foot dugout cabin on a steep hillside above the little lake.

The lake, when we got to it by way of gravel road, hides behind steep hills on two sides. It’s marshy at the other end. 

No development has come to the lake. It makes it easy to picture the hills as they first saw them. Not that much has altered since then.

The next year they cleared land for a garden. A small log house was built. From this home they lived to usher in the twentieth century.

The new millennium was a time of wonder for the pioneer families who toiled bravely and supported each other generously. 

Hope walked alongside them as they plowed the fields, educated the young, built their churches and rode out the hard times and harsh winters.

The youngest son – seven when he came to America – farmed with Peder. When Peder died he left farming and eventually went West.

He explained the move as an action originating with Peder. He said his father had a desire to move on to the Pacific Coast but lacked the means.

In the years the father and son worked together on the farm he learned to share this  longing.

Great development was happening in the West especially in Oregon where the Great Northern was building a railroad from the Columbia River into central Oregon. 

With a desire to get in on the enormous opportunities talked about the son made his decision to turn his head to the West.

I thought of all this as we studied the hilly terrain where their home might have stood. Imagination placed the doorway so that it would fill with the setting sun.

The aging immigrant farmer, bent with labor but with dreams aplenty in his heart, might have paused from that vantage point and scanned the western skies. He could plot his course over the mountains he would never travel.

His hope was the roadbed for his son. When his time came he said goodbye to the land which had nurtured him. He went forward to his future laid out long before.

Ro Giencke – September 7, 2012



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