I went to the farm this weekend. In my husband's family, that means either his parents' house on 1000 West in Rensselaer, Indiana, or his uncle's (now his cousin's) house in West Liberty, Ohio.
In my family, it means Stillman Valley, Illinois, southwest of Rockford.
My mother's uncle and his wife farmed the land on that Nyberg farm for as long as I can remember. And Uncle Len and Aunt LaVerna would have us out for a Memorial Day picnic every year when I was little.
I hunted out these pictures at my mother's this afternoon. This is what I remember of the farm - playing with the cats, eating Aunt LaVerna's homemade Swedish pastries, playing by the creek, driving a tractor, and hay rides.
Most of all, I remember big hugs and big laughs from Uncle Len. Uncle Len was my grandfather's youngest brother. I don't remember my grandfather much because he died when I was six. Yet, there he is in the bottom picture, in the little jalopy, sitting up behind my dad.
I do remember Uncle Len. Dear, laughing, teasing, oh-so-much-fun Uncle Len. I took three of my children to Stillman Valley this weekend to remember Uncle Len, who died a week ago. I had not seen him in a very long time, but he's the closest I remember to a Nyberg grandpa.
And I feel so lucky to have him.
Our visits slowly stopped after Uncle Len's son, Dan, and his family, moved out to the farm when I was about 10. I remember feeling an insane amount of jealousy towards those tiny little kids I didn't really know. I wanted to live on that farm so badly!
Uncle Len's presence in my life lives on. His family chose to include this poem in the program for his memorial service. I was amazed at the words, and how they describe my great-uncle. Uncle Len chose to build a strong bridge into my life and the lives of my siblings, I think, especially after my grandfather died. I appreciate him so much for that!
At the farm, after the service, I overheard my mother's cousin, Marsha, telling Aunt LaVerna what she remembered about the poem. Marsha's dad, Uncle Phil, was another Nyberg brother.
"I remember being out here on the farm, and Uncle Len and Dad had figured out a way to build a bridge across the creek. So they started every single engine on the farm and lined them up along the bank, not because they needed them, but because they could. They had a crane from somewhere and dropped an I-beam across the creek, and my father stood there, next to the bridge and quoted this poem. Then, Aunt LaVerna, you were the first to cross the bridge and you fell off into the water!"
Aunt LaVerna laughed a big laugh. "That's true! I was stepping high, making a big show of it, and I lost my footing and fell in that creek! Oh, your memory is amazing."
My family is amazing. Amazing that I knew every one of my great-aunts & great-uncles on both the Nyberg and Gustafson side, and can probably name most of my mother's 20-something cousins on each side. Amazing that we all consider family so important that Aunt LaVerna said to us, "Relatives are the most important. I am so glad to see you all could make it."
Uncle Len and Aunt LaVerna never met a stranger and couldn't count the number of friends they have. Yet, they still value us, as distant relatives as we are. Dear Aunt LaVerna recognized me as soon as she saw me and could name all four of my children by name.
Family is so important. Thank you Uncle Len and Aunt LaVerna for all the wonderful memories you created through your love, laughter and hospitality. I love you dearly.
The Bridge Builder
Will Allen Dromgoole
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide --
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?"
The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pit-fall be,
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."