Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Home Place & Family History

This past weekend, Ron and I spent several days in Melvin, IL at his family’s farm. Along with two of his brothers, Tim and Ken, and Ken’s wife Joy, we began the process of cleaning out some old belongings from the “home place”. No one lives in the farm house now, and it is suffering from inattention and disrepair. A weekend of dusty work made a dent in what needs to be done, but the hard part is still ahead of us – deciding what to do with the house and the farm land for the long term. Sharecroppers still plant and harvest corn and soybeans on the acreage. There are no longer any farmers in the immediate family, and the sensible thing to do is to sell it all. But the history is long (back to the early/mid 1800’s) and complex emotions run deep, swirling around family memories. It’s not a decision to be made lightly.

Joy and I spent a good deal of time working our way through boxes and boxes of family photos, spanning generations back to Civil War times. The images are with me still, and I am intrigued by the people long gone. Now that I know their faces from so many photos – baby pictures, class photos, wedding portraits, and on into old age - I want to know their stories. Many were not marked with names or dates, so are part of a genealogical puzzle to be slowly pieced together. When we opened a box that included old newspaper clippings with obituaries, it was a jackpot of names, dates, and lists of relations. The experience made me want to go home, write on the back of all my old photos, and better organize and tag my digital images.

There is lingering feeling of sadness after this weekend of work. So much of what we saw, handled, and in some cases threw into a dumpster, were belongings that were important to people that were dear to us. We have the memories, but parting with the evidence of the details of their lives is painful. The photos make it a little easier, I think. In the photos is proof of love, happiness, vitality, and loads of personality across generations. In the Buchholz lineage (Ron’s mother’s family) you see serious and hearty German stock that settled farmland in Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Here, the Buchholz men consistently married the prettiest girls in town, as evidenced by class photos from Melvin high school. There was also sadness in lives cut short by accident or illness. It’s all part of the texture of rich and complex lives.

This walk through history somehow makes the present more precious. We inhabit just brief blips in time, and we all should relish every moment we have to enjoy life.

Photo is circa 1890, of Dr Charles Buchholz and his father August Buchholz (Ron’s great-great grandfather) at Balanced Rock, Gateway Garden of the Gods, in Manitou, Colorado.

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