The wind was gently blowing and the sky went back and forth from cloudy to sunny. Driving on the dusty gravel roads of North Dakota, we went past mile after mile of open fields and swollen sloughs. We were traveling through the prairies where my parents were born, grew up, fell in love and married. Most of the houses are gone and most of the churches are remembered only by the big bells displayed by the roadside.
But the cemeteries are still there. Cemeteries that are far removed from city streets and noisy activities. How appropriate that my ancestors were laid to rest in these beautiful and peaceful spots; close to the churches they helped build; near the farms they carved out of the prairie grasses. Most of them spent their lives toiling just to survive. Most had little more than the necessities. Some were so poor they could not even afford a granite stone to mark the grave of their infant child.
It was in this setting that I found my grandparents, Lars and Petra. It was here that I found my great-grandmother, Christine Westad, from whom I got my middle name. It was here that I found the "temporary" grave marker of my aunt Florence, who died at age 2, nearly 85 years ago.
Enjoying the peace and beauty of this balmy North Dakota summer day, it is easy to romanticize about how life must have been. But I know North Dakota. I know the long, cold winters. I know what it is like to lose crops to hail or to drought. I remember the three day blizzards. I understand the devastation of a sick cow, a horse that needs to be put down, chickens that are killed by the foxes. Life was hard. But it was also full. Families were important and neighbors took care of each other. There was love and laughter. There was a sense of belonging, there were deep roots.
Thanks, Susan, for taking me on this trip through the past. It helped to anchor my soul and give me hope for my own life and for the legacy I will be leaving my descendants. It helped me focus on what is really important in my life.