An old letter, a new e-mail

Yesterday, Mike, my very nice East Grand Forks mail carrier, dropped off an envelope from my cousin, Idamae Hauf, Max, N.D. Inside was not only a note from her, but a copy of a letter our grandfather had written in 1938 to Idamae’s mom and dad (his daughter and son-in-law). Grandma and Grandpa Niewoehner were keeping in touch with family back home in North Dakota while having a little R & R in Del Rio Texas. One of his sentences reads, “We had a weather report stating the Dakotas are having a storm and 25 below and trains are stalled in 10 feet of snow. Here the peach trees are in bloom.”

I had never seen this letter before and how beautiful it is to read words penned by the grandparent(s) who homesteaded on the very “Holy Ground,” where we recently gathered for our big family reunion.

I’ve had three or four posts on my family reunion and still readers are asking for more. I heard from someone named Paula who wrote, “I want to say, ‘thank you,’ for sharing such a precious story of your family and childhood. I am not from North Dakota, but most of my life, I have been drawn to the state. I have always wanted to visit and maybe someday move to the state. I want a community like your stories describe. Need more pictures of how your reunion went!”

Well, you know me! Always happy to oblige! And I do so – with a letter albeit electronic. It is, after all, not 1938 anymore.

My nephew, John Duesenberg, the only son of my Ruby Girl sister, Lori, is an attorney living in Denver. He was at our reunion and afterwards penned a beautiful e-mail to my cousin Ken Niewoehner, and his wife, Cheryl. The reunion was Ken’s long-awaited dream come true.

What makes this reunion even more monumental is knowing that the offspring of my generation enjoyed it every bit as much as we did.

John gave me permission to share his letter and so I do. It is as follows:

Photo by Josh Baneck of John sitting on an old grain wagon as he and his Uncle Myrlin (Ruby Girl's brother) tried to figure out how to pull the wagon out of the shed.

Ken and Cheryl – I returned to the yard the next day with Tom to help gather some things, and then again on Tuesday morning with Uncle Dave before heading to Minot where he also dropped me off at the airport. I was struck by the silence of the yard as well and, given a personality inclination of mine which I attribute to the Niewoehner gene, a sense of melancholy moved over my soul.

For the most part, “the farm” of my youth was Grandma and Grandpa’s (Hall’s) farm. But there were few of our annual summer visits (if any) when I did not visit the Niewoehner homestead; “Great-Grandma’s,” then “Walt and Bernie’s,” and of course, what we in our clan have come to refer to it now as, “Bernie’s place.” After Grandma’s and Uncle Bernie’s deaths, I recall returning to the yard with mom and Naomi… just the three of us. As we entered the quiet, empty house, both mom and Naomi said in unison, “Hello Grandma, we’re here!” I realized then the depth of attachment your generation of cousins has to that homestead. I understood the feelings of joy, beauty, peace and wonderment that that place brought to you “cousins,” and which mom has related to me in many, many stories about her youth.

Oh how she loved that place! And, of course, it was easy for me to understand that attachment and those feelings. They are the same ones I felt every time I visited “the farm” in my childhood, teens, and yes, feel unto this day. A “Place.” And a “Family.” A wonderful family! I would doubt many people with whom I interact daily are acquainted with the blessings of such an attachment. (There is yet one peony growing in my parents’ yard in St. Louis which, I understand, is a descendant of the many peonies Great-Grandma had in her yard. My mother had more, when I was a child.)

I’m told my mom was not much for farming. She wanted to be in a city. And so, she landed in St. Louis, married a young lawyer who fell in love with her the moment he saw her (dad has told me he had no doubt in his mind that she was the woman he would marry – being a confident man. I’ve often wondered whether he gave much thought to whether she would want to marry him. I, consequently, landed in a city as well, and am a city-boy by default. But, much of me is tied to the land and family of my North Dakota ancestors and relatives (all of you), not by inheritance or by aptitude for anything having to do with agriculture – although sometimes I wish it were so; rather by a love of the “Place” and of the “Family,” and of course the many, many days spent on it and the reciprocation of that welcoming love by my family, my grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and second cousins.

The reunion meant a great deal to my mother. Toward the late afternoon of Sunday, mom was tired. Vespers was just beginning. I walked out of the machine shop with mom and dad and down the lane mom must have walked hundreds of times. She was walking slowly, as she now does, and watching her steps, dad holding her hand, as he always has.

As the Vespers opened, the melody and phrases of the first hymn were drifting out of the shop in beautiful Lutheran a capella harmony. Mom, still watching her steps, began singing to herself, “Children of the Heavenly Father . . . ” I drove the car down the road. As we neared Bethlehem Church, I asked mom if she would like to stop. She said, “Yes.” I drove up to Grandma and Grandpa’s and Wally’s graves. As we got out of the car, mom looked first at Wally’s headstone, and then at Grandma and Grandpa’s . . . and started to cry. Dad put his arms around her and cradled her head in his shoulder. Family! And, great love!

I suppose the generation before mine will begin to pass. Two have already. I have wondered what would happen to the homestead after this reunion. Would we, our family, ever gather there again? It lifted my spirits greatly to receive your email and your words, “Let’s do it again sometime!”

To you, Ken and Cheryl, thank you so much for following your dream of making this reunion happen. Thank you (and all the others) for all you did to make it happen.

Yes, TO GOD BE THE GLORY! And much thanksgiving for Family!

John

This Ruby Girl has nothing more to add. So,

Until Soon.

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