Those sweet memories
Of the way it used to be
When I was safe in my mother’s arms
On the infinite Dakota prairie.
Where life could be hard
And money was in short supply.
But, love would surround me
While adversity passed by.
Passed between these ladies
I clung to their arms
Knowing they’d protect me
From dangers on those family farms.
They were with me when I was young
Advising, suggesting, sometimes stern.
Leading protectively on the long dusty roads
Teaching me lessons, they hoped I would learn.
The peonies are blooming again in my front yard, just as they have for nearly 18 years. In a few weeks, I will be digging them up to transplant them into my new home. I know it is the wrong season to move them, but the purchase of the new home dictates the schedule.
These are hardy plants! They have been dug-up and moved at different times by six generations of my family. I‘ve been told; my great, great grandmother (Victoria) planted the original shrubs soon after she arrived in the “Big Woods” near Chaska, Minnesota from her home in Bavaria, Germany in about 1850.
These flowers thrived and grew in that location until they were dug-up, split, and moved to my great grandmother’s (Crescentia) 1886 home in Laketown, MN where she was married and bore 4 children. Within 6 years, three of the children along were her first husband succumbed to harsh life and disease on the prairie. She married again, this time to a widower, who had five children from his first marriage. She brought her daughter and her flowers to live with him in Cologne, MN.
The peonies were relocated with her and quickly established with his family. Over the next 14 years, she bore him nine healthy children before she died in childbirth with the tenth child. My grandmother took over the duties of raising her children until she met and married my grandfather and moved to his farm in Cuba, North Dakota in 1911.
Once again the peonies were moved to a new home, this time to the flat prairies of North Dakota. There my grandmother (Victoria) planted and propagated them on an open field near her farmhouse. She weeded, watered, and cared for them until her death in 1972.
My parents (Clarence and Hermione) moved many of the plants to their yard in Valley City, North Dakota. They shared the spring peony blossoms with friends and family until their deaths within a week of each other in 1999.
The peonies were moved again with each of the six siblings taking a share of the plants. I planted mine in my front yard in Delano, MN where they have grown and bloomed each year.
My move to Ormsby, Minnesota may well be my final time planting and moving these living testaments to my family’s history. I’ve already shared them with the next generation (my daughter Kathleen) and they have been firmly rooted in her home in Dowagiac, Michigan.
Each spring when I see and smell the fragrant peony blossoms, I am reminded of the history of the flowers and the people who loved and cared for them.
Maroon, pink, and white
The buds bloomed again this year
Welcoming the spring
I thought again of prairie fields
And remembered warm summer suns.
I felt the wind that blew back then
And played with my family again.
The big front yard, the pasture gate
Sweet memories swirl around me.
I hold the thoughts tighter now
I’m scared that I won’t remember.
Baseball games at reunion parks
Our families played there together.
The children ran, while old folks looked
And the winners called for their treasures.
We grew older then and some moved on
Black and white pictures replaced the elders.
The family picnics are much smaller now,
I’m missing so many aunts and uncles.
To return once more to yesteryear
Will have to wait for awhile.
I have dreams to share and kids to hug
Before I lose another smile.
I had originally written this as a Christmas Letter to my family. It talks about when I was young and what I remembered best about the Holiday.
I Hope your Holiday is as special as I know mine will be!
– Recollections of Christmas Eve, Abt. 1958 – Cuba, North Dakota
Of course it was Christmas Day that included a holiday feast with ham, turkey and all the trimmings, but it was the Christmas Eve meal that would become our family’s favorite tradition. My parents loved oyster stew and crackers, and would served it as our family’s “pre-gift” Holiday Eve treat. Unfortunately, my brother Eugene and I wouldn’t eat it. To placate us, the youngest of the six children, they would serve a second type of soup, Campbell’s chicken noodle. Even though we had different soups, we all shared the other part of the menu, the little round oyster crackers.
Other holiday meals included richer foods, but the sights and smells of the chicken and oyster soups along with the crackle of the cellophane bag containing those crackers, remain in my memory.
The soups were served at our table in…
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This weeks challenge
Pick your favorite song and use the title for the title of your story. No, you are not to write a story about how you like the song.
Get rid of adverbs outside of your dialogue.
No word count limit this week.
Digging To China
–The Sunshine Fix
“Right after breakfast we’re gonna start digging!” Jim said from under our blanket. “The sooner we start the better; China is a long way down.”
“…You know, the world will be upside down when we get there.” I declared.
“I hope mom made cornbread for breakfast, I’m hungry.” Obviously Gene was not as excited about the project as Jim and I. We were going to have to drag the youngest of us out of bed-again. We dressed and ran down the stairs
“Morning mom…” We called.
“Did you make me cornbread?” Gene still had only one thing on his mind!
“How far is China” I asked. “and, where did Dad leave the shovels?”
“Sit down and eat your breakfast” Mom said. “China is far enough away that you will need energy to get there and why do you need shovels?” My mother may not have heard us plotting our morning, but the words “china’” and “shovel” could only add up to a digging project!
“What type of adventure are you boys planning?” As far as mom was concerned, deep holes out in the pasture were acceptable. They required digging and lifting – two items guaranteed to keep boys occupied and tired! That was always good.
“Mom, how far down should we go, before we turn ourselves upside down?” I asked.
She looked at me to see if I had hit my head on something during the night. Satisfied I was not injured mom said. “You boys make sure to wear your jackets, it’s been chilly out lately.” “…And if you are going to be digging, make sure you do it on the side of the pasture, by the tree and your fort.”
“Can you pack us a lunch?” Gene was warming to the plan.
“Let’s get started.” Jim and I yelled!
Another day had begun on the farm.
“Grab that nail, set with tap
Hammer it down, just like that.”
Prairie work song – Clarence Holm
They stood as sentries of the prairie! Tin clad collectives, towering over the glacier scraped wheat fields of Dakota. Each one decorated with a city name, reflecting a community’s pride and showcasing the prosperity of the area farms.
From the exterior you would be hard pressed to guess that thousands of board feet of lumber were used for these wood cribbed structures. Each wall was made by laying lumber flat, one atop another. The base was constructed using 2X10s and then would progressively slim the walls by switching to 2X8s, than 2X6s and finally 2X4s near the top. Above the storage line a frame building (cupola) was constructed to house the mechanical top of the elevator.
They were purpose built structures. Tall nested bins, surrounding the steel legs of a gravity driven storage system, designed to move bushels of grain from the boot to the header in the cupola. The grain was dispersed at the header by the elevator manager to designated bins. This header (looked like a giant tin octopus) was accessed by a series of vertical ladders or when working – a rope powered “man lift”. The grain was lifted up through the legs by a continuous belt, holding tin buckets which scooped the grain from the bottom of the elevator.
The elevator manager could store grain based on type, quality, moisture content or any of a more than a dozen criteria. Grain was constantly in motion throughout the system as it was moved from dryers, to cleaners and back to storage on its way to market.
The elevator co-op that we brought our grain to was in Cuba, North Dakota and was owned by the Miller Elevator Association. It stood alone on the prairie, next to a spur line of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The town at one time boasted a mercantile, a school, a small grocery and a lumber and implement dealer. All but the elevator eventually closed due to the dwindling farm population and the competition from the bigger cities.
As a young man, my father was part of the crew hired to build that elevator (about 1940). He reported to work daily with his 16 ounce hammer and crosscut handsaw to pound the 16 penny nails holding the cribs together. My father was proud to be part of building the 125 foot tall structure, which rose high above the prairie. It was with pride that he was able to say that he “tinned the top of the elevator”. (Tinning refers to the corrugated steel used to cover the entire building.) As a young child I was in awe that my father had ever been that high in the air and couldn’t imagine anything that could have been bigger.
In 1972 I carried on the family tradition as I worked on one of the last cribbed granaries constructed in the United States at Luverne, ND. (Cribbing was later replaced with steel and concrete) The one I worked on exceeded 140 feet and took about 6 months to build. By that time hand saws were replaced by powered circular saws, but the 16lb nails were still driven by an arm powered cribbing ax. I learned to set the nail with a tap and drive it home in one single swing of the ax. It was tedious and boring work and I constantly sang a song to myself to set my nail timing. “Grab that nail, set with tap. Hammer it down, just like that.” For some reason Peter, Paul and Mary never made a recording of my work song!
I too learned to “walk the top of the crib walls” and hung over the side to “set the tin”. When it came time to tin the top, I had a rope tied around my stomach as I went on the roof to put on the highest pieces of tin. (I still can’t believe I didn’t kill someone when I found out no one was actually holding the rope I wore around my waist. They figured they had told me to be careful!)
Over forty years later both buildings still stand, although my father is now gone. I am proud to tell both of our stories.
I very rarely get back to Luverne, ND but when I do again, I hope I have my grandchildren with me so I can point to the top of the building and say “I did that”.
Earlier this week my wife and I received an early morning Skype from my daughter who is currently attending a Peace Workshop in Oslo, Norway.
This week she had a break, so she joined a student tour that included the city of Bergen, Norway. As she followed the tour along, they came across an old Castle in which was located The Rosenkrantz Tower. As my wife’s maiden name is Rosencrans she was pretty excited. My daughter knew from my family tree research (which goes back to 1270 A.D.) that Rosenkrantz was the original spelling of my wife’s family name. There were other variations too, including Rosenkrans, Rosecrans, Rosencrantz and many others – but all were part of the same family tree.
My daughter said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were related to the person who built the castle.”
As an amateur genealogist I have researched my wife’s family history and I have documented it through over 20 generations. So when she asked that question, I immediately pulled up a Wikipedia article on the Rosenkrantz Tower and found that it was built for Eric Rosenkrantz in about 1520. I checked my database and found Three Eric Rosenkrantz, one of which lived in Norway at that same time. This Eric Rosenkrantz was also the great great great great grandfather of Harmon Hendrick Rosenkrans, who sailed across the Atlantic in 1650 (30 years after Plymouth Rock) and joined others in establishing New Amsterdam AKA (New York, New York).
So after a little more checking I was able to tell my daughter (with a high degree of certainty) that the Rosenkrantz Tower was indeed built by her 14th great grandfather.
My daughter’s tour group took a break to do some shopping and she took the opportunity to go back to the Castle to see if she could get a tour. When she told the receptionist that she was a descendant of Eric Rosencrantz, the receptionist was thrilled as this was the first time to her knowledge that a real descendant had visited the Tower and arraigned for her to get a tour of the entire building.
In the thousands of hours that I have devoted to the study of my family tree I have come across many interesting things, but being able to verify that a random sighting of a castle during a European tour was connected by blood to my daughter, gave me the ability to allow my daughter the thrill of a lifetime. For her, History came alive and she was able to enjoy a lesson in her heritage.