I'm writing this a few days after the reunion finished, at Dinosaur Provincial Park, where we have no internet. I'll be posting a bunch of posts when we get to Calgary on Friday, Aug 8th.
The days at the reunion were long so I never got a chance to write about them before I fell into bed. Suffice it to say, we had a wonderful time and spent time with so many lovely relatives. I already wrote about Friday night's chili. Saturday we had a hotdog lunch, and pulled beef buns for supper, of course with all the fixings. Sunday we spent the day in Buffalo, then Monday morning we finished the reunion with a breakfast of pancakes, sausages and eggs. I think I'm out a belt hole...
Sunday was a pretty special day, and I was excited to share it with Carm. We would be covering territory that is dear to my heart and I so wanted for him to see it. I know that the prairie landscape is not for everyone, but I felt certain that Carm would love its wide open beauty – and he did.
We left at 8:30 am to head to Buffalo, where the century farm is, for the day. Unfortunately I had forgotten my good camera, but luckily had my little camera tucked in my bag. Many people took the bus that my dad had arranged, but of course Carm and I drove as we had the dogs with us. (more about the dogs later – they’ve been amazing)
We headed east out of Medicine Hat, then took the highway north towards Empress. The views were spectacular (kicking myself again for forgetting my camera!). They just went on and on as we crested hill after hill. We drove miles and miles without even seeing a house or farm - it is so remote. When we got to the South Saskatchewan River we stopped at a little campground to stretch our legs and use the facilities. The river was so pretty, although the current looked strong, and in fact we weren't all that far from "drowning ford".
Some of the Norwegian cousins wore their bunads – traditional costumes from the region of Norway that the original farm is located. Although the day was hot, there wasn’t one complaint from them in their heavy wool outfits. They are good sports!
(Bjorn, Rolf, Ingborg, Anna-Kari, Ulf)
We continued to Empress, where we struck out cross country across Texas gates to the cemetery where great-grandfather Olaf and great-grandmother Mari are buried. It is as remote as you can imagine. Looking out across the lonely wind swept land I could imagine spending my eternity there.
Next stop, Bindloss where my dad was born and spent some of his youth. It is basically a ghost town now, with only 2 occupied homes.
Cross country again at Cavindish brought us to another remote cemetery where some of my great uncles are buried.
It was just a short drive from there to Buffalo, the "village" near the family homestead. There isn't much left of it, just a little store/post office that is only open a few days a week, and a really great community centre. No gas station is left, the grain elevator was burnt down and the train tracks have long been pulled up. The little one room school house was closed decades ago. I think there is only 1 house left. In fact the whole area has become deserted as the farms have been bought up by large companies and families have moved out of the area.
Talking with Melvin, who farms the homestead we are celebrating, it became clear that the farming way of life will not endure, at least not here, nor for our family. It isn't clear who will next take over the farm, but it is likely that it will be sold. It is sad to think of a legacy coming to an end.
At the community centre we stopped for lunch and then all drove out to the homestead. The presentation of the Century Farm plaque was made and then we all fanned out across the farm on a treasure hunt. We looked into the little home that was built not long after the farm was settled (the first house was sod). The second house had been moved to a new foundation so we got to explore that as well. Some of the original linoleum could still be seen. In the house was a treasure trunk full of diaries written by my great-grandfather. (If I could just read Norwegian!).
Late in the afternoon we headed back to the community centre for supper. Carm and I made sure we were one of the first ones there as there was a line of tall trees that we could park the truck under. Shade for the dogs was sometimes hard to come by! After visiting some more, supper was served then we settled into our chairs for the speeches. Deryl, one of my second cousins, was the MC - he read an excerpt from a diary, then my Norwegian cousin Bjorn got up to make a presentation to the farm. He revealed a beautiful plaque, carved in Norwegian style, with the name of the farm, and the years carved in. It was beautiful, and I'm pretty sure there wasn't a dry eye in the place. A new heirloom to be treasured for the next century.
As we said our good byes and started on our way home I felt sad - although there was the final breakfast on Monday, many of the people would not be attending. Would I ever see many of these newly re-discovered relatives again? Will we keep in touch?
The drive home was through more beautiful country, but our eyes didn't stray very far from the edges of the road as this is a notorious stretch of road for deer and elk. The people on the bus saw many, but we only saw the 6 elk that were actually on the road. They were magnificent, and although it would have been better not to see them at all, I was glad we had. (missing my camera again) We had the school bus ahead of us to "clear the road", and were especially glad of its presence then.
As we pulled into the campground, the clock was getting close to 10pm. It was a long day, but a wonderful one.
Monday morning we were up early with Rolf coming by to do his laundry, then it was off to Echo Dale for the final event - pancake breakfast. We all pitched in and got breakfast served to 50 people, and then... time to pack up.
Oh, but first, some family photos. We all took "rolls" of photos of each family group, and then a bunch of us all together. Who knows when my immediate family will be together again - with 2 of my siblings living in NZ, it seems likely that it will be years. The last time was 6 1/2 years ago...
There were lots of helping hands to take down all the shade tents, pack up the piles of remaining food, and generally make the place look like we'd never been there. And then it was over.
I said earlier I'd talk about the dogs - they were along for every day of the reunion, mostly spending their time in the truck. Unfortunately there were some kids that were very afraid, so they didn't get out to run much on Saturday. It was hard to keep Spike from running over to the gathering to get some admiration... They were such good dogs about staying in the truck and settled into the routine of short walks to stretch their legs. We were lucky with the weather in that it wasn't too, too hot, and with angling the truck into the sun, reflective sheets, and windows open into a good breeze we kept the truck safe for them. I thought they'd be sick of the whole thing, but when we packed up to come to the next camp they were waiting at the door, ready for the next adventure.
Without a family, man, alone in the world, trembles with the cold.