From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Ranch Home of My Childhood

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.

2 comments:

RunAwayImagination said...

"You can never go home again."

What a true statement that is. I shared that feeling this week when I found out that my childhood home in Northern Virginia was on the market. You grew up in the same part of the country as my dad, whereas I grew up in suburban Washington, DC - where he came to put himself through law school after graduating from Chadron College in 1937. The man to whom I sold the house to in 1998 had passed away and it was being sold. My mother had designed it, and my dad hired a general contractor who built it in 1958 when I was 12. My dad developed a passion for propogating azaleas; at one time there were over a thousand varieties in the yard. You can imagine how it looks after almost 50 years.

Now that area is an island in the midst of the urban jungle that the area has become. When I drive by on rare visits to the area, I mostly feel sad.

I enjoy riding along on your well-written and descriptive road trips of the mind.

Wifie and I are going to be visiting Chadron and Gordon on May 29-30 on our way from Denver to Rapid City for the 100th birthday of my great aunt. I believe the area where you grew up is east of Gordon,which is just west of the sandhill region.

Genevieve said...

Yes, I grew up about 30 miles south of Bassett. We always said it was 180 miles to Gordon, but I think the distance is probably a little less than that as the crow flies.

I went to Chadron State College for my first two years and finished in Missouri.

About childhood homes and the loss of them, I feel fortunate that I had a stable, happy home as a child and that I have a place of which I can say, "That's where I'm from."

I hope you and your wife have a great trip!

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

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