Fairview Cemetery, Kidder County, ND
We recently celebrated the life of my favorite aunt, Esther. We left her ashes at the Fairview Cemetery, next to my mother (Esther’s little sister) and her mother and father. Fairview remains one of my favorite places.
If you have read this blog lately, you know that I’m a product of the North Dakota prairie. Fairview Cemetery, just south and west of Lake Williams, ND, demonstrates the stark beauty of the prairie. If you stand in the middle of the cemetery and look in any direction you won’t see much human activity outside the cemetery fence. No buildings, few fences, fewer roads (all dirt), no cell phone or power line towers. It’s quiet. Almost eerie. Relaxing. The solitude encourages communion with those resting there. I love the place. Continue reading
Grace is in the back row, third from the left.
The changes over the last one hundred years amaze me. Then this letter shows up and twists my understanding even further up the amazement scale. A general observation that things change is pretty banal. Once I hear about a specific change in detail, in a way that I can relate to, it gets personal. In this letter Grace tells us about the one room school-house on the prairie. They were all over North Dakota in the nineteen thirties. Did I say one room?
Then there was the school-house Grace went to. Two rooms. Maybe you can detect a little pride in her description of the school building and grounds. That school yard had everything a school girl would want, including the flowers that Grace described in another letter.
She didn’t describe the interior of the classroom. That’s something I’d love to hear more about. Last summer during the local Irish Fest at the History Center Judy and I attended a talk about bodhráns. The talk was in the one room school-house on the center grounds. Wooden desks nailed to the floor. A world/USA map hanging from the wall. A chalk board on the front wall, next to the American flag. A pot-bellied stove and a table in the front for the teacher and you’ve got it covered.
Compare that to school rooms today, with smart boards and iPads everywhere. The kids have a cafeteria, gymnasium, library and much more. And we still think it’s not enough!
Our schoolhouse was probably one of the biggest in N. Dak. The pioneers from two townships had gone together and built one with two rooms instead of the conventional one room you see all over the midwest. Continue reading
Grace on the farm
When a storm rolls through the North Dakota prairie, a couple of things happen. Buildings are destroyed. Memories are made. Although I’ve never seen a building flattened, storms certainly hold a special place in my memory.
There wasn’t much that scared my Grandma. The storm Grace describes must have come very close for her to hightail it to the house. Neither Grace nor I were ever afraid of storms. Perhaps I learned from those old farm gals?
My dear ones,
When I was about three or four years old there was a tornado that nearly blew us away. Continue reading
There’s something special about meeting someone nice for the first time. If that spark is in the air, you want to know everything about the other person. By the end of the evening you know all sorts of things about the new someone. Those stories become the foundation for a new, wonderful, relationship.
That sharing of stories didn’t happen between my mother and me until I was over forty years old. So many things seemed more important for those first forty years. I needed my allowance a day early, or it was time to get a driver’s license, or my own life filled my brain. Then I met Judy and stories about the past no longer mattered. Stories about Judy became my goal.
Since Grace died twenty years ago we’ve visited the Kunkel farm where she grew up a couple of times, and I’ve often visited the Fairview Cemetery where she’s buried. In the summer of 2015 the extended family gathered at the Luehr plots in Fairview to bury Grace’s older sister. The wind blew off our hats, and swept our words onto the wheat fields. Grace and her parents experienced that same wind, on those same hills in the first half of the twentieth century.
As much as the climate was similar, just about everything else was different.
To my four dear sons, their wives + children,
I want to start this story with some events that shaped my life before I was born
The story I’m enclosing was told to my sister-in-law Elaine. It’s about the farm where we lived in Buckeye township south of Lake Williams, North Dakota. Continue reading
Most of us were born in town, in a hospital, and grew up on a street with sidewalks and other houses. My mother had none of those luxuries, and a childhood quite different from mine, starting with where she was born.
Grace on the farm
Grace grew up on a farm in the middle of North Dakota during the Great Depression, just south of Lake Williams, ND, south of Kunkel Lake. These are the letters she wrote to me in 1991 with her memories of life on the farm, going to school in Steele, ND, and the first couple of years she lived in Jamestown, ND. The stories end with her wedding to Louie Havelick.
Kidder County hasn’t changed much since the days Grace lived there. It might be worth your time to visit that part of North Dakota. A highlight for me is the Fairview Cemetery where Grace, her mother and other relatives are buried. From the top of that hill, there are almost no signs of civilization. No visible buildings, no houses, few roads, but plenty of sky and birds. One day Judy and I were at the cemetery alone and a solitary pair of pelicans circled overhead the entire time we were there. They were marvelous birds, quiet and graceful. We thought “Maybe that’s Grace and her mother?”
Sunset is an especially captivating time there. Quiet really sets in, which is a surprise since it’s quiet during the day. The wind dies down and stars come out. For a city kid like me who’s interested in astronomy, there is nothing in the world more captivating. Uncountable stars, and the Milky Way. Stars and no sign of civilization. (There may not even be a cell tower nearby.)
Grace’s first letter relates a story of Native Americans on the prairie and how the railroad influenced rural development.