Thursday, December 4, 2008

Friday in Fremont

The day after Thanksgiving, four of us got up at an hour which was wretched (Eastern Time Zone) or obscene (Central Time Zone), depending on your point of reference, and headed off to the local Wal-Mart for the show. I admit, there were some pretty good deals and I did pick up some gift items; but it was amazing to see the frantic gridlock of carts and people reaching frantically for those $4 crock pots and $99 GPS units. If I'd actually done the research ahead of time, I would have picked up one of those 8 gig thumb drives for $17 - but I didn't actually look at a flyer until I was waiting to check out (a 35 minute experience), and there was no way I was going to try to cross the store again.

Later in the day, Henry took me out to see the cattle he was raising and asked if I could take a photo for him. (Did I mention how much I love it when people ask me to take photos for them?) We sprinkled a bunch of corn behind him to lure the cattle in, and Henry did his best to make his dog - who doesn't like cows at all - look comfortable and confident. Henry looks great, and I'm very impressed with all the work and investment he's put into this venture. He's fronting the cost of the cattle, plus their feed and any meds, plus the rent for the land, plus a couple hours a day (7 days a week) doing chores there on top of his regular job. And no payout until the first group is a lot bigger. It's a big investment and a significant commitment, and I'm really proud of him for doing it.
Late in the day, Carl took me on a tour of some of the main scenes from Grandma B's childhood. There'd been some discussion after my recent blog about her education, and he wanted me to see some of the real-life locations behind the family stories.

I got to see the farm where she grew up (although the house has been remodeled considerably), and the school she attended through 8th grade. I understand now that she completed 8th grade, along with her siblings, and in that day and age 8th grade was really all that was expected of a farm kid in the Midwest. (Her brother went on to high school, which involved a daily walk of 3 miles each way and a fair amount of ribbing from relatives who thought it was a real waste of time.) I saw the stretch of "muck land" where her family grew carrots as a cash crop one season during the Depression, only to have their buyer go bankrupt when they tried to deliver the contracted crop. I saw the surprisingly modest house where she worked as a "hired girl" for room and board and a small stipend, and then the old button factory (a little cinder block building which now houses part of a metal recycling operation) where she worked before her marriage. Amazingly, you can still pick up little shards of oyster shell and round reject button blanks from the ground between the building and the train tracks. I've heard stories that this reject shell materials was a cheap substitute for gravel driveways when my mother was a child, so there must have been large piles of it sitting around 70 years ago.

By the time Carl and I finished our little tour, it was past dark; but Christy and I drove back there the next day so I could pick up a little handful of old button shards and we could bring some flowers to the cemetery. Grandma never talked much about what life was like when she was a young girl, but the day's explorations did make me feel as though I'd gotten to know her a little better.

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