Gratitude Day 652
Psalm 78:3-4 – We’ve heard true stories from our fathers about our rich heritage. We will continue to tell our children and not hide from the rising generation the great marvels of our God— his miracles and power that have brought us all this far.
The last couple of days have felt like an extraordinarily rich trek down my family heritage. And it’s been so wonderful and rewarding.
Hubby Rick and I left Wisconsin a couple days ago. We’re on our way to visit my Aunt Beverly in Denver, CO. Along the way, we are taking our time, visiting friends and poking around the areas that we are driving through. It’s been the somewhat unexpected and spontaneous stops that we have made that challenge me to appreciate my heritage, history and upbringing.
While I am a Wisconsin farm gal, my parents grew up in central Iowa. They met at a county fair, dated in high school and were married while my Dad was in the service and stationed in Germany. On their short honeymoon before my Dad returned to Germany, they visited southwestern Wisconsin, which eventually lead them to buy a Wisconsin dairy farm.
Meanwhile, my grandparents lived in central Iowa. By then, both sets of grandparents lived in town, just eight blocks away from each other. They attended the same church. They had the same friends. They made sure that when my siblings and I visited, we had equal time at both houses.
For many years, my sisters and I visited my grandparents for about a week in early August. This was our summer “vacation” – and quite honestly, the only vacation we took as kids, minus one family vacation to Michigan to visit Aunt Beverly and family.
During our summer grandparent vacations, there were certain things that we did every year. Other years, one set of grandparents might plan an extra-special outing, like the time we visited the Living History Farms near Des Moines. I was maybe 10 when we visited there in the late 1970’s. Over the weekend, Hubby Rick and I spent an afternoon there, taking in the three early Iowa farms, Walnut Hill village and family homes from the turn of the 20th century. There were little parts I remember … and I bunch that I didn’t. In honor of Independence Day, there was a historical baseball game, which of course, we took in as well.
Then, we drove to Saylorville Lake and Dam on the northwest side of Des Moines. This reservoir was constructed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The last time I was there was when I was in my early 20’s. We were celebrating my Grandpa and Grandma Deaton’s anniversary. My brother brought his boat to Iowa, and we spent an afternoon boating in the Saylorville Lake.
Rick and I have often mentioned that when we return to a sight that we saw in our childhood, it looks so different now. For me, Saylorville Lake is a rare instance when it looked much like I remembered it.
After camping near the lake, we headed north and west towards the area when my Deaton grandparents grew up and began their married life. First stop was Jamacia, Iowa. My grandparents lived here for years after they were married. This is where they lived when my Dad was born in 1933, during the Great Depression. In 1991, my Grandpa Deaton took my parents and I on a rode trip, showing us where various family members were buried. He was concerned that no one would know these locations after he passed away. We drove through Jamacia then, and they showed me this farm.
I knew the farm was located just a mile or two north of town. We would drive through a small squail, across a bridge and the farm would be immediately on the west side of the road. The amazing thing? We found it in on our first turn out of town!
Yes, the bridge has been replaced. From the road, none of the original farm buildings remain. But as soon as we turned into the driveway, I KNEW this was the right place. My heart knew it. My head knew it. I could feel a strong sense of returning to the very place where my grandparents farmed during the Great Depression. Where my Dad began his life. I got out of the car near the creek where my Dad and his brother went swimming with the neighbor girls. It looked much like it did 30 years ago.
A closer inspection of the farmstead (from a distance), and we could see the old hog shed in-between two newer buildings. We picked out the footings from the chicken coop where my Grandmother raised countless chickens. During the Depression, she sold and traded eggs and met for other things her family needed. While no longer there, the icehouse used to be next to the chicken coop. Their only source of refrigeration for years, my Grandparents cut blocks of ice out of the creek. They covered the blocks with sawdust which kept the ice as cool as possible and in turn kept food cooler during the warm summer months.
I saw the old light pole, still standing in the yard, which was the main electrical pole on the farmstead. Electricity went to the barn before the house. During the Depression and World War II, my grandparents and family made so many sacrifices just to keep their farm. While they had a truck during the Depression, they could not afford gas. So, it sat. During World War II, my Grandfather put steel wheels back on the tractor when rubber tires were no longer available. While these sacrifices may seem minimal to us today, for my Grandparents, they were huge and yet very necessary.
My Grandparents moved from Jamacia when my Dad was in high school. They bought a farm close to Story City, Iowa and farmed there until the 1960’s. After this move, my parents met. And yes, the rest is history.
After Rick and I left Jamacia, we drove through the towns of Bayard and Coon Rapids. My Grandma Deaton grew up in Bayard. We looked for the high school where she graduated from but found a memorial on the previous building site. We did a quick drive through Coon Rapids and became part of the downtown 4th of July parade. Everyone else was driving a golf cart or ATV. I think we were the only car and clearly stood out because our vehicle was not appropriately decorated like everyone else’s.
Our last stop of the day was in Elk Horn, Iowa. I had not been there before, but we stopped in this a Danish community. My Mom’s side of the family came from Denmark. Elk Horn is home of the only operational Danish windmill in the United States. We stopped to check it out. Later, we drove to the nearby architectural gardens, designed by Jens Jensen. Interestingly, my Grandma Sower’s maiden name was Johnson. When her dad started school, his last name was Jensen. The schoolteacher felt there were too many Jensen’s in the school and found this confusing, so she changed my great-grandfather’s last name to Johnson. One generation was Jensen. The next generation was Johnson. I am not aware of a direct connection from my family tree to this Jens Jensen, but I found it interesting, nonetheless.
As you read this rambling story, I’m sure you are wondering what the point is. Yes, there is a point, and this is it: share your stories with your kids and grandkids. Help them understand where you came from and what is important to you. Take them to sites and places that you hope they will remember and maybe visit 30 years later. Rather than buying them a gift, take them on a driving tour and show them places that are important to you and their family tree.
While I know some stories from my parents and grandparents, I now wish I had asked more questions. Questions about their normal, everyday life. Stories about their parents and grandparents. What lead them to make the decisions that they did? I’d ask them to share more about the difficult times in their lives and how faith was a part of this. While my Grandma Deaton shared openly with me about this, I wish I would have dug deeper with my parents and my Grandfather.
These stories are part of my rich heritage. You have this same rich heritage. Yes, sometimes asking questions means discovering things that you may or may not want to know. There can be incredibly challenging parts of our histories. The long-standing story of God’s people in the Old Testament is riddled with these happy and challenging stories. But they are all part of the rich heritage that we can claim as our own if we choose.
These days, I view one of my roles as helping pass along some of these family stories and heritage to the next generations. I’m aware of how important it is for Hubby Rick to share his stories with our grandchildren, so these stories become their stories as well. Without oral and written traditions, these stories get lost. We lose some of our heritage. These are the stories that bring us from afar and prepare us for the future. I pray we value these stories and heritage … and treat them appropriately.
For rediscovering some of my heritage recently, I am grateful.
Dear God – Thank you for giving us words that we find in the Bible; words that provide us with our deep heritage. May we value our heritage and share the stories and experiences with younger generations. Most importantly, may our faith be part of this heritage as well. Amen.
If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.