Last week my wife, daughter, nephew and I traveled back to my homeland in northwest Iowa to a cousins family reunion. It was billed as the Bohemian Bash and a group of my cousins put together a traditional Bohemian meal that we first cousins had reveled in during our growing up years. There were potato dumplings, caraway seed gravy, roast duck and goose, pork and all the good things that went with the meal. If the greatness of a meal were ever to be judged by pure weight of the dinner plate, this would rank about No. 1. Now I know what a stuffed bear feels like after gorging itself with food before hibernation.
After a great day of eating and visiting we adjourned to our various abodes, mine being my sister and brother-in-law’s residence in South Sioux City, Nebraska. I slept the sleep of the dead that night and awoke to a vastly different weather pattern. A cold front had moved through that night and dropped the temperature about 40 degrees and the northwest wind I knew so well as a youngster was howling outside our bedroom window on Sunday morning. One tends to forget how hard the wind blows on the prairie after living in the deep woods for over 40 years. But, blow the wind did and that was soothing to me.
I wanted to give my daughter and nephew a tour of my old stomping grounds and Sunday afternoon we hopped in the car and headed for the farmland of my youth. We toured my old school grounds and I showed my audience the levee that my Dad and I helped fortify during a flood in the 1960s. My old Little League baseball field was still in place where I collected my first base hit and got bawled out by the coach for overthrowing second base. I never did like that coach and it still rankles me that I saved him a game or two during my career, but he forgot all about those efforts when my errant throw sailed over the cut-off man.
The lay of the land hasn’t changed much in my homeland. The gently rolling hills still remain in place. Corn and soybean fields cover the landscape in every direction. The crop was poor in this part of the country this past year, but I could almost hear the plans for 2013 being laid in farmhouses. These farmers never have been quitters and they’ll be back in the field next spring with hope in their hearts and seed in the seeder. If you live in the USA, you should be thankful for that type of thinking.
As I motored over the hills and across the flats, there was something that had undergone a radical change. Many of the farmhouses of my youth were no longer present. Each section used to house at least three or four farmsteads complete with a grove of cottonwood trees and a scattering of outbuildings. Now there were no outbuildings and no livestock. Two farmsteads within a mile of our farmhouse were totally missing from the landscape and a cornfield stood in each place where in the 1960s buildings and hog pens were present. Huge piles of uprooted tree stumps had been bulldozed into heaps ready for burning where my Uncle Marvin’s farmhouse once stood with the yard light glowing during the milking hour. Next year there will be no trace of this place where I once played tag with my cousins and helped milk a barn full of Holsteins.
Neptune and The Station were no longer in business. One completely gone and the other sitting empty on the corner where we had once filled up our cars and tractors. I pulled our car up to the now vacant pump site and hollered out our car window, “Fill er’ up!” to no one but the northwest wind that was howling across a now combined soybean field. It was kind of an eerie feeling to think of all my old neighbors who had visited this place during my growing up years and now were nowhere to be seen.
They say you can never go back, but I would beg to differ with that statement. You can go back in your mind, if you were paying attention in your younger years. We visited my family’s old farm site and were allowed to enter the barns that I knew so well. The horse barn still smelled like horses and the milk barn still smelled like cows. I could almost hear that vacuum pump pumping, keeping our milking machines running. My initials were still carved in the concrete floor as were my dad’s and my uncle Frank’s.
You can go back, but it is not ever going to be quite the same. Time moves on and so do we. As my brother-in-law Bill said, “Where did those good years go?”
Some things shouldn’t be allowed to change. Thank goodness those potato dumplings, caraway seed gravy and roast goose stayed the same. That was a blessing.
See you next time. Okay?