Where I grew up in Rock County, Nebraska
Some readers may recognize the buildings in this photo. This is the ranch where I grew up, in the Duff Valley of southern Rock County, Nebraska.
I took this photo about five years ago from the road near the long-vacant Duff School. I used a zoom lens to look across the meadows that used to be the School Section, and another half mile or so of what we called the Little Meadow and the Milkcow Pasture.
There's my dad's big metal shop building on the left. There's one of his little blue spruce trees, big now and towering over everything. There's the bin with the spout in the bottom of it so you can drive under it with the pickup and fill sacks with cattle feed.
And there's our house on the right. Behind the house, almost entirely hidden by the trees, is one of the biggest barns in that part of the county. It was in sad need of repair when I last saw it.
This photo shows the original stucco house that was on the ranch when we moved there in 1957. That's the back side of the house. A few years after we moved there, my parents remodeled the house and added a large living room and garage on the west side of the house, facing the barn. That side of the house is the front because that's where the entrance doors are.
Here's a bit of trivia for those who will appreciate it. My dad bought the leftover limestone from the (then) new Nazarene Church in Ainsworth, Nebraska, to use for the exterior of the addition and a stone planter in front of the house.
About eight or nine years ago, I wrote to the people who owned the ranch and asked permission to visit with my kids. A young woman (daughter of the owner) and her son were living there, and they graciously permitted me to show my kids around the buildings and even invited us into the house.
By then, the ranch had changed hands several times. Many things were as I remembered, yet the place was greatly changed and there was much clear evidence of hard times. I was happy that the house was still in fairly good shape. It had a new door on the south side and different floor coverings, and of course it looked much different without my mother's furniture in it. I can't say that it felt like home.
That was the only time I've been back to the ranch buildings since my family moved to Missouri when I was 21. I've driven through the neighborhood with the kids a few other times, and the photo above is from one of those excursions. I wanted them to see where I grew up and to develop some appreciation of their own Sandhill heritage.
There are other places on the ranch I wish I could see again. I'd like to go back to our bridge over the Skull Creek where I spent many, many hours fishing. I'd like to see some of the shelter belts that my dad and mom planted. I'd like to drive back to the top of the big hill. (From its summit, we saw the distant glow of flames when Halsey Forest burned in the 1960's.) And my list of places to see could go on and on.
My brother told me that he heard that someone else owns the place now. I don't suppose I'll go back again. I learned when I visited last time that it isn't my home anymore. It's probably best just to enjoy my memories.