The Last Windrow: Thoughts of family are with us during Thanksgiving week

How much do you know about your great-grandparents?

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I never talked to my great-grandparents. Have you talked to yours?

I was asked this question by a distant cousin a week or so ago. He is investigating family history and finding not much about my great-grandparents who homesteaded the Iowa farm where I grew up. I honestly could not tell him much. They had died long before I was born.

It is Thanksgiving week and thoughts of family are among most of us. We relish the get-togethers and the food and the camaraderie.

But my cousin's question made me wonder about my great-grandparents.

There is barely a record of their deaths and burial place. I knew they had immigrated from what is now the Czech Republic in the mid-1870s. They built their little 10- by 12-foot sod and wood cabin on a corner of a homesteaded quarter section. I've written before about plowing up pieces of pottery and broken dishes on that space in my early farm years.


My cousin also sent me an early picture of the farmhouse my great-grandparents erected later on a different site. It was a two-story structure and three chimneys are visible above the roof line. I would imagine one was for the kitchen, one for the living room and one for the bedrooms.

There was only one chimney present when I was toted home from the hospital in 1946. Things had already started to change.

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In that early picture, one can see about three dozen white chickens strolling and picking their way around the front of the house. Trees that stood in front of the house at the time were grown to full height when I grew up. A wire fence surrounded the house but there is no gate seen.

Evidently the chickens were invited to clean up whatever bugs might exist next to the house. The house was painted white, but the chicken house that sat out back of the house had no paint showing.

My great-grandparents are nowhere to be seen in this picture, although I have a picture of them in front of that house taken later in their years. They raised their kids in that house and worked the land until the early 1900s, when they turned the farming over to my grandfather.

But, I know little else about them. My grandfather lived in my parents' house while I was growing up. I played checkers by the hour with him and we talked for many of those hours. He was great at telling me of his hunting and fishing expeditions to neighboring land and rivers.


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But, he never talked about his parents. I wasn't old enough or interested enough at the time to ask him about them. He had grown up on that farm with my great-grandparents and yet he rarely, if ever spoke, of them.

I did hear that my great-grandfather played a clarinet in the Sioux City Symphony and that he hiked the 23 miles to Sioux City to play his instrument. I would guess he caught a ride somewhere along the way. I found pieces of his clarinet in the junk under our car garage. No one knew what happened to the rest of the clarinet. It remains a mystery.

I also heard from my dad of a time my great-grandmother chased a "whiskey peddler" out of the farmhouse with her broom. I'm not sure what the "peddler" was doing there, but I have formed an opinion of why he was there.

Farm buildings were built during my great-grandparents' tenure on the farm - two large barns, a corncrib, a chicken house, a brooder house, a machine shed, a wash house and the house itself. Water lines were run underground from a windmill in the lower pasture up to a cistern located above the farmstead, allowing a gravity flow of water to the house and the livestock yards.

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Fences were constructed around the perimeter of the land. A lot of work had been done by my great-grandparents and yet there is no record of any of that activity. Only a slight journal writing here and there.

I'm thinking of them during this Thanksgiving week and how hard they would have had to work to sustain that farm into the future. There must have been little time for vacations! I doubt they ever had one other than visiting neighbors and relatives.

I'll be thankful this Thanksgiving for those who have gone before me and worked to keep my family going. Even if I can't answer my distant cousin's questions, I know those great-grandparents were there and they somehow made it possible for me to be here writing these lines today and sitting at the Thanksgiving table this week.

Do you know much about your great-grandparents and the lives they lived and the toil it took to put you here? I'll be thinking about that this week.

Happy Thanksgiving!

See you next time. Okay?

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