Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Bridge Across the Span of Years

My Great Grandparents, Samuel and Verena's Grave in the Freedom Cemetery
That's Rex's farm in the background

Thursday I went to Star Valley to the funeral of Rex, a dear friend and first cousin, once removed.  He was a dairy farmer in the family tradition.  We all admired Rex greatly for his remarkable tenacity.  Rex was born on that farm in 1922 and never left it until Parkinson's drove him to the rest home about a year ago.  Rex never went on a Mission or off to fight in WWII, he had cows to milk.  When others gave up farming in harder times Rex persisted and carried on.  I wish we had statistics of how many cows, how many milkings, how many cold, hot, rainy, snowy, windy, miserable mornings he trundled out to the barn.  On the other hand, how many sunrises, sunsets, births, gorgeous star valley days, did he enjoy while we were stuck in our offices or tucked in our beds.

It stirs my heart to think of countless hours spent alongside his children as his work hours were spent at home.  Growing up I had just enough taste of the dairy business and enough pragmatism to make me glad my Dad had given it up.  I couldn't see myself happily showing up in the barn at 4:00 in the morning and again in the afternoon, with tons of chores to do in between.  But I sure admire Rex for having done so, day after week after month after year for eight decades.

Rex lived in the little town of Freedom, Idaho/Wyoming.  Main street is the State line.  Our farms were on the Idaho side.  There is one Ward in Freedom.  The ward has never been divided or changed appreciably in over 120 years.  That's pretty remarkable as many people have lived in several different Wards without ever moving from their original home.  Like Rex, Freedom has a kind of stability that anchors those who live there.  More than that are the myriad people who grew up and moved away, yet still call Freedom home.  I moved away 55 years ago.  Even so, I've returned for reunions and funerals and simple touchstone visits.  And so, I can name Sheri, Lynn, Dean, Elaine, Dee, Fern, Fred, Farrell, Kelly, Robert, Curtis and others who've never left; as well as Rhonda, Julie, Larry, Wayd, Teri, Trudy, Merrill, Joanne, Gerald, Jim, Dan, Polly, Steve, Clark, Marion, Don and others who have.

Up at the cemetery are rows and rows of headstones whose names I am connected to.  Robinsons and Izatts, Heaps, Crooks, Haderlies, Jenkins and Hokanson's as well as my own Webers.  It is a most beautiful cemetery.  It is where my parents, grand parents, great grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins await the resurrection.  The cemetery overlooks the Weber farms that are gradually changing hands.  It is a place of peace and memory and I love to visit there.  This trip was unusual.  The weather was unseasonably warm for late September.  Most funerals I remember were cold and snowy.  My father was buried here in late September eleven years ago, the weather wasn't bad, but nothing like this.  Mom and Joseph, Grandma and Grandpa and Gerry were all buried in the cold and snow.  Statistically, the odds favor snow.  Dad used to say, "The trouble with Star Valley is that if Summer falls on Sunday you have to go to church."

Back at the chapel I sit down to eat ham and funeral potatoes while I visit with three of my kindergarten classmates.  Lynn, Rhonda, Larry and I were all in school together that year.  I left after two months, Rhonda after a year.  Lynn and Larry stayed, and grew up here.  We remembered the sloped wood desks with the lift up tops and having crushes on one another.  So much water under the bridge in the ensuing half century; we all turned 60 this year.  Only Lynn remains in the Valley, so I've seen him more recently.  I haven't seen Larry since 1974 nor Rhonda since 1967!  Still, because of our Freedom connection, we took up right where we left off.

I have not mentioned my brother Brad.  He and I drove up together.  Brad has never recovered from the loss of the farm and this place.  He returns much more often than I.  I remember, even when we were little boys, hearing him sing "Why Oh, Why did I Ever Leave Wyoming."  This trip he is investigating the purchase of a couple of Cemetery Plots for he and Wendy.  After 55 years the place is still calling him home.  He remains a farmer, avocationally at least, and has this place in his blood.

Last night after General Priesthood Meeting, I had a parking lot visit with Dan and his brother Jim.  Dan is a Star Valley expatriate, Jim still lives there.  Always we compare notes.  There are dozens of Star Valley ex-pats in the Basin alone.  You can go just about anywhere and find them.  Star Valley has produced a lot of children over the years but it's economy has never allowed the majority to remain at home.  I consider this a blessing because the result is that the place never really changes all that much.  This trip we noticed a new apartment complex in Freedom.  It looks and feels so out of place there next to the slough.  No body likes the change.  Perhaps with the loss of Rex a good bit of Freedom's long held stability has gone, certainly it will never be the same.


Utah Mom said...

I never lived in Star Valley but whenever I go to the cemetery and farms in Freedom I feel that deep stirring in my soul. I believe it is the long link of ancestors and the beauty. Also, I'm sure I am very influenced by my dad. There is no more perfect spot. You're post reminds me of the song sung occasionally by the MoTab, "Homeward Bound".

Anonymous said...

Rex and Fern's farm holds some perfect memories for me. I recall being anxious to wake up at 4:00 am to go to the barn and milk cows. Terry thought I was crazy. Once we got up early and tried to get the work started if not finished before Rex came to the barn. It is not so hard to do the milking once or twice, but for eighty years....Rex is a hero as is Fern.

I was thrown off my first horse on Weber lane. Larry set our horse on a run by driving pass Teri and I at top speed. I really don't remember how fast he was going but it spooked our horse.
Terry and I spent the rest of the day throwing up. I pulled Terry off the horse when I started to slide off. What a day. I have several more memories of that memorable stay at Rex and Fern's. I loved it and I love them.

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