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  • Writer's pictureRogene "Jeannie" McPherson, Country Notebook

The final sunset over Grandma's house

Updated: Jun 10

The old Nebraska farm house was already deteriorating, but it was site of many memories for the family. (Photos by Rogene "Jeannie" McPherson)

Country Notebook

By Rogene "Jeannie" McPherson

It was a story to write home about, except there had not been postal delivery at this location for more than 20 years. The home was not gone in our memories, but the house was now reduced to a home for critters. 

It was a big fire, bigger than a bonfire.  Surprisingly, it took more than an hour for the two-story farmhouse to fall to its knees. A couple of rooms made up the earliest structure, a requirement of the Homestead Act of 1862. With the passing of time, there were five bedrooms, a parlor or what we call a living room, one bath, dining room, kitchen, two porches and a “cave” primarily used when the occupants sought safety from an on-coming storm. Oh yes, Grandma used the cellar to store canned goods and the wringer washer, used once a week on Monday.

Great-grandparents, William and Louisa, bought the farm and buildings not long after the turn of the century, around 1903. Already having several youngsters, their family continued to grow in size and number until there were 15 children, most born in the back bedroom. The farm was passed on to Grandfather Charlie. Three of his children were born in that same back bedroom including our father, Wayne.

It wasn’t easy to say good-bye to this grand structure that had been witness to many beginnings, sadness, the Great Depression, and two World Wars.  Sun, rain, and wind had taken its toll, and my siblings and I decided it would be more kind to honor the people living in the house and the house itself, to help it become ashes.  It was painful to see the deterioration.

Members of the local fire department watch as the old house is reduced to ashes.

This was not a simple act of kindness. My brother spent many hours working with an inspector to ensure the house was asbestos-free before the burn.  I was surprised to learn there was any, but even more perplexed to learn it was primarily in the putty used more recently on the windows. 

After passing inspection, the local fire department chief began the process of seeking approval for this controlled burn from the Nebraska State Fire Marshall. We set a date for the big burn working around a number of participants' schedules and praying the weather would cooperate. Fortunately there had been an inch of rain earlier in the week and only an occasional breeze in 50 degree weather.  What a message from God, or maybe Grandma Hannah, to continue with this decision. 

Numerous young adults recently volunteered to become a member of their respective community fire department within Franklin County, Nebraska.  It was the perfect opportunity to assist with their training. The newbies even had a chance to catch then carry out a bewildered raccoon. I overheard the laughter, “Do you think we should practice our CPR skills on this guy?” He ran away into the trees, likely living yet another day.  

At one point, someone asked, “What do you think Grandma would say?” I spoke up quickly and said, “My, my, my” a frequent response to any event from older women of this generation. Then, under my breath, I remarked to myself that she probably said, “What took you so long?” Grandma took great pride in her home, making a priority of annual spring and fall extensive house-cleaning.” I know because I was one of her helpers in this event. Precious items like her treadle sewing machine were stored in a walk-in closet then covered with a bed sheet. 

The introductory photo was taken looking west at the house the evening before the big fire recording  the final sunset over grandma’s house. My siblings and I grew up in a house on the same farm and visited our grandparents every day, sometimes eating with them if the dinner was more to our liking. I’ve seen many sunsets from this location. 

I share this story with readers for several reasons.  I suggest recording family history in a way that best represents your family. Our children don’t have time to appreciate this history now, but someday they may. Another option is to interview a family member using a tape recorder or smart phone and later documenting the dialogue.  I’ve heard the comment too many times, “I wish I had….”

After the structure fire was complete, the volunteer firemen smothered the ashes with water, then made the trip back to the fire barn to clean and store the equipment and trucks.  Most spent at least six hours away from their family without an expectation of being paid. It’s a debt we can’t repay in dollars, but we can express our gratitude for their willingness to help keep our community safe.

Rogene “Jeannie” McPherson, from the Centerville area, is a regular contributor to the Linn County Journal. Her latest book Posts from the Country, Adventures in Rural Living is available online in both virtual and printed editions. Copies are on the shelves at all Linn County libraries.

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