Friday, August 22, 2008

Sioux Twnshp. sect. #16, Lyon Co., IA

I wrote the following back on June 7, 1989, while taking an Iowa Writing Workshop through the University of Iowa.

Everything has to start somewhere at sometime and a home is not an exception to this statement. The former generations of my family came over from Sweden in 1869. My Great-greatgrandfather bought 160 acres in what was then Dakota Territory and built a one-room log cabin and a hay stable for the cow and horses. His land adjoined the Big Sioux River, and from those timbered slopes he received wood to burn and build with.
My home had its beginnings back the the 1920's when my grandparents, Joe and Phoebe Johnson, were starting their family in Lyon County, Iowa in the extreme northwest corner of the state. What was once just a cornfield was about to become a building site. It was a time of strong family ties, religious beliefs and community closeness. People took on enormous responsibilities and were rewarded by the lifelong friendships formed and respected.In 1923 my newlywed grandparents lived with great-grandpa and grandma for a couple months until their temporary structure a quarter of a mile away was built. A farm was being built starting with the barn, the most important structure, by two men Sievert Thompson and Otto Lund. They mixed the cement by hand and painted the wood red twice, once on the ground and the second time while the barn was all erected. The 60 feet long by 40 feet wide structure complete with bunks and a full length hay mound was built at a cost of $500. for labor charges plus the cost of supplies. To celebrate the completion of the round roof barn, they hoisted a piano up into the hayloft and a barn dance was held for those friends and relatives from both near and far. The church ladies aid group also held a meeting in the hayloft to commemorate it's completion. To this day the crowd that attended that meeting was the largest crowd to assemble of the Grandview Covenant Ladies Aid. Imagine the hymns floating through the windows after ladies young and old climbed the stairs, especially built for that occasion, or ladder to the loft and sat on fresh bales of hay to share God's word. Other buildings appeared soon as my grandparents attempted to complete this farmstead. The "little garage", a white two car garage, was built before the large house to provide shelter for my grandfather's Franklin car and 1916 Luverne truck.
Right: Grandpa Joe with his Franklin in the driveway in front of the house.
My father was born in what has now become known as the chicken house on our farm. It was a home at that time with ruffled curtains hanging in windows that welcomed the south breezes in the summer and fought against the cold winter winds. Grandma fixed her two room home up with little touches like flowers, pictures on the walls and clean linens and cloths covering furniture arranged carefully in the close living quarters. Dad's bed was a bassinet seated upon the piano bench, a simple start to a life spent calling the same address home.
Moving into the big house came about three weeks after dad was born. Imagine a young wife and mother of two children, Joyce at 1 1/2 years and Calvin only 3 weeks old overseeing such a transformation of environments and lifestyles. It was December of 1925, and the young family was in the new house by Christmas. The house was a large two story yellow stucco structure with white wooden trim. It was positioned on top of a hill overlooking Blood Run Creek and family farmland. Paths were still in nearby fields where the stagecoach trails of not so long ago transported passengers to their destinations. Trees had been planted to accompany the driveway up the hill. They also provided windbreaks and shelter for wildlife and for the house and family within. Many of the groves surrounding the buildings were planted by Grandpa Joe and his young son.
Right: the Johnson Home in 1957.
Grandma Phoebe was a magician with flowers and transformed the yard into a showcase of colorful flowers on all sides of the house. There was a hedge around the front yard with a white picket fence standing next to it. Rows and rows of flowers added backdrop for many family pictures taken outside the home over the years. Lilac bushes now ran the length of the little two room home that had by now been turned into a chicken house, dividing it from the large house and yard.
Uncle Carl, grandpa Joe's older brother, joined the family of five in 1931. At one time Grandpa fed cattle with farmers on 13 different farms, splitting profits on up to 1200 head, the bookkeeping tabulations he must of performed at his desk without the benefit of modern aides. The time came to add cement to the barn floor and troughs. The youngest Johnson at that time, Carol Ann, lent her feet for footprints into the yielding wet cement. In 1936 the first Johnson owned tractor came on the farm; before then grandpa had rented the land to others because he also farmed by Tea and Flandreau, South Dakota. In 1938 the "big garage" came after the purchase of two Diamond T trucks on the farm. The farm was growing out of necessity and progress. Grain needed to be weighed and stored so a scale house and corn crib appeared as did feeders for the feed lots and buildings to house hogs. The set of buildings started to surround the family as if to provide for and protect them.
Left: An early view of the farm from around 1940, looking west from the pasture.
When dad went to the army, grandpa rented the land out again selling off some equipment; any changes awaited the return of the only son. Upon dad's return home he and Uncle Carl lived together in the big house. They bached it from 1948-1950 while Grandma and Grandpa moved to Sioux Falls, leaving their home in the hands of future generations.
My parents, Calvin and Darlene Johnson, were married in 1950 and added their own touches to the Johnson farm. Uncle Carl lived with mom and dad for five years after their marriage, sometimes resisting changes they wanted to bring about. Starting their own family brought about changes to the grounds. The picket fence was removed when Dad thought my oldest brother Joe would hurt himself after he was found climbing back and forth over it. The hedge disappeared also, bringing about change in the landscape that had grown so familiar. Vines have grown up the side of the house adding character to the stucco and shade. Cool green leaves of the vines fly in the breeze to make you feel refreshed and protected. Mom took over grandmas love for flowers and adapted the gardens with care and patience.
Right: In 1961, the Cal Johnson Swap Meet was held on the farm.
As four kids, Joe, Deb, Steve and Diane, grew up on the farm we managed to explore and utilize all areas of it. There were the games of hide and seek where we'd climb onto the roof of the chicken house and jump back and forth to escape being caught by those on the ground. We inhabited the big old tree back by the garden when dad transformed an old garage door into a two story tree house. The big house lent old green and black screens to enclose the "upstairs" to intruders while a child's imagination supplied other necessities. The corn crib and the barn were places to explore and defend, where plans were made and secrets told and shared. With a young family on the farm again, the barn's hayloft lent itself to a Halloween party for the neighborhood. To clean a 40 year old barn is not an easy task; but shovels, brooms, mops and buckets along with helpful hands transformed it again into a party sight.
Modernization brings about change and the farm soon outgrew it's storage capacity, and again it was time for a new building. It was the early seventies and the need for a machine shed location overshadowed our childhood treehouse, family garden and some favorite trees. The machine shed was to know dances like the barn had known; but it also has held neighborhood rummage sales, family reunions, grain, machinery, antique and modern auto storage. It has become a dry refuge to stand and watch rare summer rains and rejoice in their arrival. Its utilization still continues as it acquires memorable events as the years go by.
A huge tree that provided shade to the front of our house was cut down in 1988. Its day had come and gone. Dad remembered jumping over the newly planted tree as a boy and was standing with remorse as the family gathered to watch the old elm being cut down. Three log chains gave the length needed to provide safety to the driver of the tractor as he pulled the tree over. It had reached it's branches toward the sky for over 60 years. Dutch Elm disease took its toll on much of the grove. Trees started to turn leafless and gray as their branches broke in defeat. This spring a skidloader operated by dad and a bulldozer came and leveled the ground where they once stood. Seventy-five trees stand no more. Now the barn must accept defeat after a full life of usefulness. The weather elements have not been kind. Tornados toyed with the structure weakening it's supports. It has not aged as gracefully as dad, its closest living kin. Now it comes down ever so slowly, board by board, as if it's slowly saying goodbye. What has come to be known as a friendly joke, about when the wind would allow it to completely lie down, has refreshed memories of days long since past. Gone now are the days of cousins coming out to the farm to hold shooting practice in the hayloft with unsuspecting pigeons as the targets. Memories are the only place where baseball games will be played in front of the barn and automatic homeruns will be declared when the ball flies over the top. I long to see what the barn has not allowed anyone to see for over 65 years, a view to the east. A large morning shadow has vanished forever.
Certain changes over the years have been brought about by the changes in our environment, the people living there and the deterioration age brings. The memories will live on forever if only we share them with others. Home... many places will earn this title throughout a person's life, but specifically it is a place that is full of acceptance and welcomes you with open arms. I am accepted there without question and allowed to give and take in situations that will form memories and direction for those to come.


Lonely Paul said...

Peace be with you

cwcad said...

Your memories are so real in my mind. Your recollection of your farm life brings to mind the life I once had. Such a wonderful feeling!


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