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All too often, a road trip down memory lane reveals the
erosion of time on the rural landscape of our childhood: abandoned houses
shrouded by trees and old barns standing sentinel on razed farmsteads. It’s
often best to recall these beloved places only in our mind’s eye.
Through the years, I’ve been fortunate to visit the farm
where I grew up. My grandparents began their married life here in 1902 when
they built this house (shown above) at the base of the Loess Hills, overlooking
the Missouri River bottomland.
My mother was born here. When she and my dad were married,
they moved the hired man’s house there from my great-grandparents’ farm up the
road and began farming with my grandparents. Three generations, including mine,
lived there side by side from 1942 until 1978.
The old households treasured memories. Many of these revolve
around family gatherings hosted by Grandma and Grandpa. Sometimes my birthday
fell on Thanksgiving, and it was a treat to enjoy pumpkin pie there.
The preparations leading up to Thanksgiving whetted us kids’
appetites, especially when Grandma began setting food items on the round oak
table in the unheated sunroom entrance from the porch. The leaves were added to
the dining room table, Grandma’s good silverware was removed from the buffet,
and her best dishes were brought out of the china cabinet.
Grandma was a wonderful cook. So was Mom, who contributed to
the menu of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce,
scalloped corn, dinner rolls, gelatin-and-whipped cream salads, and an array of
homemade jams, relishes, and pickles.
The dessert menu featured pumpkin, mincemeat, and apple
pies. At Christmas Grandma made date pudding, suet pudding, and sometimes her
favorite, gooseberry pie.
Grandma’s house was a house for all seasons. On a hot summer
day, it always seemed refreshingly cool as I pushed open the swinging door
between the kitchen and dining room to find Grandma reading in the rocker, with
the floor fan humming nearby.
As a child, I loved exploring the drawers of the dining room
secretary and asking Grandma to identify the people in the old photographs. My
sister and I spent hours practicing on Grandma’s piano in the living room. I
loved the glass figurines on the wall shelf above the couch.
Upstairs, we had fun trying on the vintage women’s hats
stored in the attic. We tried to imagine our mom, her sister, and brother as
small children tucked into the beds upstairs.
During the month of October we celebrated Grandma and
Grandpa’s 50- and 60-year wedding
anniversaries there with family open houses.
The holiday dinners continued after Grandpa died. Grandma
eventually outlived most of the relatives who had gathered at the table.
She was 95 when her hip gave out one day while she was
making pies at the kitchen counter. She returned home for a year afterward, but
Mom’s health didn’t allow her to stay longer. After Grandma moved to a nursing
home, the house remained empty until after her death at age 98.
The house was rented to unrelated families for almost 30
years. Repairs were made, painting was done, and carpeting was replaced as new
tenants moved in.
A year ago, my brother, Dennis, and his wife, Glenna,
announced their plans to retire there.
Naturally, the house needed renovation, including a
first-floor addition to the rear. They also removed the wall between the
kitchen and dining room to open up their living space.
Anyone who has lived in the family farmhouse knows that
renovations are a touchy topic, because every member of the family thinks of it
as “the homeplace.”
Denny and Glenna wanted to preserve the character of the
house, so they matched the woodwork in the new addition and stripped and
refinished the original woodwork that was darkened with age. They asked advice
on the decor from a niece, Jori, who has a degree in interior design. As with
any old house, one renovation led to another. The roof had to be shingled, and
the wrap-around porch repaired.
As I toured the house last spring, Denny asked me, “Didn’t
it seem to you that the house was much larger when we were kids?” I agreed. How
did Grandma squeeze in all the guests at the dining room table? We kids were
seated in the kitchen, of course.
Family celebrations once more
Denny and Glenna’s 5-year-old grandson, Anthony, already has
played in the yard, and explored the old house. This year, for the first time
in about 35 years, our family plans to celebrate Thanksgiving there. We’ll
gather around the dining room table and give thanks for our family and for our
memories of loved ones: Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, aunts and uncles, and
cousins who made up the landscape of our youth and left a rich legacy for us to
share with generations to come.