We just got back from a little road trip out to the far side of North Dakota for a family reunion on my mother’s side. The Langager family is very dear to me, and this reunion was unique in the fact that the location was picked based off of where my great-grandparents homesteaded when they came over from Norway. Another thing that made it special was my grandparents decided to come, even though they decided awhile ago that they were not traveling anymore from their home in Arizona. (It wouldn’t be the first time they went back on this decision, but this was especially surprising as my Grandpa has suffered from some mini-strokes and dementia and has had to be in a secure living facility to prevent him wandering and getting lost.)
Well, when Grandpa and Grandma decided to come, Grandpa’s little sister (and only remaining living sibling) who also has declared her traveling days were done decided to come from Florida, because she was not going to passed up by her big brother.
It was about a half a day drive for us, which isn’t too bad. Our kids have trouble traveling long distances, and so we planned into the travel day several stops at playgrounds across the state.
From there we all caravanned to all the old sites. First stop was the graveyard.
Every family reunion we went to when I was growing up had my grandpa and his siblings and all their families. My grandpa was the 7th of 8 children, and when all 8 got together we nicknamed them the “Super 8” and they were each so incredible and made a huge impact on each of our lives. My great aunts and uncles were the kind of people who would pull me into their laps when I was a child, and with great love say, “Gretchen, do you know I pray for you every day by name? You are a treasure from the Lord.”
They were that kind of people.
Actually, though, there were 9 siblings, as little Ester died when she was about 3 weeks old of pneumonia out there on the prairie.
The graveyard was very small, next to the foundation of a church. The basement was dug, and the homesteaders in the area met there for services where my great-grandpa preached until a proper pastor could be obtained. My grandpa was baptized in that little basement. However, they never got the money to build the church past that, and eventually the tiny congregation moved to churches further out. All that remains now is the foundation to that basement next to a few graves, including my Auntie Ester’s here. “Budded on earth to bloom in heaven” the marker says.
The story goes that it was so cold that time of year that she could not be buried until spring. So they laid her body in the attic of the barn in a little cradle. Her big sisters would do their chores out in the barn and sneak up there and pet her head, tuck in her frozen body, and silently mourn her loss all winter long until the ground thawed enough to dig a grave. It definitely put a picture on how hard and cruel life was out there on the frontier.
Of course the scenery has changed since the early 1900s, or even 10 years ago, as there were oil fields across the horizon. I went to Williston often as a child, and I could not believe how much it has changed. I wonder what my great grandparents would have thought of that. In town, parking lots were full of pick up trucks, and scattered across the horizon were temporary homes that looked like a field of shipping crates with a door and window slapped on each of them. Construction was everywhere.
The next stop was the 2 room schoolhouse where my grandpa and his siblings attended, as well as several of my mom’s cousins. I’m told that it was actually in very pristine condition up until a few years ago when the oil workers filled the town to the brim, man camps became a common sight, and this was a common squatter’s spot and it became quite vandalized.
(Knut and my cousin James walking my grandpa over the rough ground to tour the inside of the school.)
The ground was knee deep in grass and wild sage, and it smelled incredible. Grandpa showed us which was the primary school room and which was the secondary. All the stories Grandpa told me growing up all of a sudden has a visual picture to match the action. Like when a bully loosened the wagon wheel on his buggy as a prank, and Grandpa’s little sister Marie nearly got hurt so Grandpa challenged the bully “Arne” I think, to a fight in the school barn amongst the horses. Grandpa lost and got his nose broken.
The last part of the tour we went to the original homestead site, and got to experience how far exactly the covered wagon with a coal stove inside drove the kids to school those cold winter months.
My grandparent’s actual home is no longer there. It was moved to the city of Williston long ago, and still stands there. The foundation has been plowed under, making way for a wheat field. The neighboring homestead, though, belonged to my great-grandpa’s brother, Tonnes. When my great-grandparents came over from Norway, they stayed with his brother Tonnes in a shack behind his house, (about the size of our chicken coop), until their house was built down the lane. My great-grandma birthed a few of her babies in that little chicken-coop sized guest house as well. (The shack is behind the house, and not pictured here. The little building that is seen next to the house must have been some kind of barn or carriage house.)
Tonnes eventually sold the place to my great-grandparents who then passed the place onto my grandpa’s oldest brother, Otto, who lived there many years. It has been abandoned several years now. I wish we could have toured the place on foot, but we were all tired and ridiculously hot, and the Bible camp we were all staying at was serving supper at 6 and we were running late. So our caravan just drove past.
I hope to share with you 1 more post about our little trip tomorrow. Today was the good pictures and history, and tomorrow is the fun stories of the time with our family. I have to write out the memories of this trip before they get lost up there in my head. These people are just so precious to me. I’m overflowing with thankfulness.