Monday, October 6, 2008

Searching for the Old Home Place

It was a gorgeous fall day, last Wednesday, driving home from Trenton to get our new vehicle licensed; so, I turned off Highway 25, to do a little road trip past the general area where my Dad lived when he was a little boy. It is between Palisade and Trenton, about a mile west of Baker's Acres. The last time I had been there was the summer of 2005, when my Uncle Al Peterson was here for his class reunion.

That summer, Uncle Al drove out to the old home place, with his son, and my cousin, David, to show us where he grew up with my Dad. It was really exciting for me to have his input of memories to add to what little I could remember of what my Dad had told me. Many times, I had wished I had kept a written record of what my Dad related through the years. Many times, I wished I had listened closer. Many times since then, I wished I had asked more questions.

As we made the turn to go east, and slowly drove the mile, Uncle Al told us that the field to the southwest was a piece of land that his older brother, Frank, had hoped to farm after he returned from the European theater of WWII. He got quite agitated as he remembered family history. He recalled some doings with a lawyer, in which the result was the family lost that piece of ground. As he gazed upon the oil wells that dotted the land on both sides of the county road we traveled, he showed a mixture of anger and sadness. He remembered they had been poor as church mice. Dirt poor.

As we came over a slight hill, he stopped in the middle of the road and though, there was nothing there, he expressed great disbelief. "It's gone!" he exclaimed. "There's nothing left!" he choked out. David and I were very quiet, for all we could see was plowed fields and nothing but horizon. Behind us was a large oil storage tank that probably sat where the old barn or chicken house formerly stood with the animals that kept the wolf from the door and starvation at bay, from day to day, for a family of 7 people.

"I can't believe there is nothing left!" he said, again. Then he pointed where there once had stood the windmill, the barn, the house they lived in, and the fields that my Grandfather would have plowed with the most primitive of tools and work horses.

"Mom used to cover the windows with quilts, at night, during the winter, to keep the snow from drifting on us while we slept."

"We used to take turns climbing the windmill to see how far we could see. On a clear day, you could see for miles and miles."

"In this direction," he pointed, "was the garden Mom planted every year. During the dirty thirties, when I was little, the grasshoppers literally ate the onions out of the ground, after they had eaten everything else. One of us kids made the claim that at least, we would have potatoes, if they ate everything else. Those damn grasshoppers ate the stems clear down to the ground, then ate the taters, too!"

He sat there for a long minute or two, and then he said it again, with sad disbelief, "I can't believe it is all gone." I couldn't believe it either, but I was so glad to be a witness to what he could remember from our emotional road trip.

Back to the present, as I slowly drove the same hallowed ground, and stopped and searched for anything that could be a sign, I discovered there was an old hand pump that may have been a part of an old windmill in that spot.

Is it where my grandparents once lived and where my dad grew up? I can't say, but, I have an idea that it very well may be. There is nothing else in that area to ever indicate a family once worked the land, and scraped out a living as they worked the land, and weathered the years together in this place on the prairie.

My next step is to try to locate land records that might support this claim. I am also hoping to find documentation of some sort to support the family history that my Grandfather Van A. Peterson was born in a sod house south of Palisade, about 1895.

I did not have my camera with me that day, but I hope to go back soon, and get some photos, particularly of the hand pump, at this place that no one can go home, again.

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