A little more than a hundred years ago, my Opa and Oma chose a spot for their new farm house. Around 1912 they built a new barn and out buildings, and finally the new house, thanks to the prosperity of that period. It would become my home three decades later.
They chose the brow of a hill that rose like a large swell in the vast ocean that had once been the age-old grass land of the southwest Minnesota prairie. From this modest rise, the east side of the house looked across a few acres of prairie grass sloping down the hill that Opa left uncut. The view took in the neighbor’s fields that started at the bottom of the hill where a narrow line of shallow marsh divided their properties. Beyond those fields they could see the village of Clara City two miles east and slightly north. Looking to the south a cluster of willows marked the edge of the blue waters of a shallow prairie lake surrounded by bull rushes. Spreading over the farm boundaries, it covered about fifty acres divided more or less evenly between their farm and the neighbors’, the Andresens. Finally, stitching a border along the south edge of the scene, the railroad headed southwesterly near the edges of both farms, its grade marking the south edge of the slough. From this vantage point Oma and Opa could watch the puffing steam engines pull their loads framed in the showcase of natural beauty.
Opa planted a grove around the north and west edges of the farm yard wrapping their new buildings in a shield of trees to dampen the winter winds. The driveway came up from the east along the north fence line. Where it met the top of the hill he added a row of box elders on each side for about twenty-five yards before turning left onto the farm yard. The scene was bountiful with peaceful views in every direction.
Before my time, my father, Carl, took over this place after his wedding to Minnie. Opa and Oma had moved on to a new place. Life was still paced by the clip-clop of horses’ hooves in those days. The loudest noises came only for a few days when the big threshing machine and crew were hired to complete the grain harvest, usually in July. Minnie died in 1935 after ten years during which they had no children. After his grief subsided, my father, Carl, married Gertrude in 1938, and started a new chapter. Otherwise, the scene moved along with the quiet pace of the changing seasons, the waterfowl migrating north in the spring and south in the fall, finding respite in the slough.
This same view I inherited as I grew up on that farm. From my earliest years, I remember quiet summer evenings when we would sit on the edge of the open porch or lawn chairs out on the grass on the east side of the house after supper. The westbound sun cast a sharp shadow of the house’s outline before us. While Mom and Dad talked, the shadow lengthened like a tent of refreshing cool after a warm summer day. By this time the village had added a water tower that stood high on four legs topped by a tin hat roof plainly visible along with the tall grain elevators that had grown up with the town. Summertime visitors often came by and enjoyed the evening with us out on the lawn.
During my childhood the big smoking steam engines slowly gave way to new diesels and caused a stir of conversation as their smooth growls became familiar. But overall, the scene was richly flooded with peace and contentment. All this I took for granted, as children do. My father was not a worrier and not bothered by ambition. Conversations were generally quiet and silent observations blended with the evening breezes. Those years are now long past, the farm sold and the buildings gone. But the gift endures. The scene is embedded in my mind.
When I find myself awake in the middle of night and a parade of concerns starts to flow through my mind, sharpening my wakefulness, then I return to the scene that my Opa, Oma, Mom and Dad gave me. I can call it to mind with all its rich variety. I see the full picture, the green grass in the shadow of the house while the bright evening sun illuminates the wider scene and all its features. I turn my attention to one part or another; see the breeze stirring leaves here and there. I can hear a low murmur of voices, and the presence of time that still flows quietly like a stream. Then my troubled mind is blanketed with peace that leads me back to sleep.
The scene they gave me is a gift that never ceases to bless my life.