Sunday, July 17, 2011

The House that Love Built

On July 9, I stood where my father was born 95 years earlier—the master bedroom of the home my grandparents built between 1913 and 1916.

Grandpa Joe homesteaded in Clementsville, just west of Teton Valley in Eastern Idaho, in 1906. Grandma Alice, his bride, didn’t join him permanently in the remote area until 1908, when he completed a two-room cabin.

As their family grew, they needed room, and unlike many at that time, they didn’t dream small. It took years to build their two-story, four-bedroom frame house in a Victorian style, but without gingerbread: solid, welcoming, homey.

They paid for building materials as they went along, finishing it section by section. “Neither Grandpa nor Grandma would have borrowed a dime, even to build their house,” according to my cousins Mary and Whitey.

It was pretty much a one-man job, though Joe’s boys wanted to help. The problem was, they were just little tykes. So he’d give them each a block of wood and some nails, and while he was framing, they pounded a lot of nails, quickly learning which was the business end of a hammer!

Joe followed this pattern in every aspect of their lives, and eventually, the four sons drove teams of huge workhorses and helped their Dad do all the labor on the dry farm homestead. The three daughters learned to garden, cook, can and bake the quantities of homemade food that were required to feed a large family, occasional hired help and neighbors who might drop in.

But I digress. Weather in the area is historically changeable, and family legend has it that it snowed on July 7, 1916, the day Dad was born. (Sticklers for accuracy point out that the snow fell about 10 miles from the farm in the mountains, at Packsaddle Lake. But still, it WAS July! I daresay a fire blazed in the stove to warm the house for the new arrival.)

I don’t know who delivered Dad. There was a doctor in Newdale, 17 miles away, and one in Sugar City, 23 miles away. However, I believe his grandmother, Alice’s mother, Sarah, probably delivered him. She had taken midwife training from Dr. Ellis Shipp in Salt Lake City and had delivered many babies.

Joe was lucky to have such a mother-in-law—a neighbor, Joe Umphrey, wrote: ”Had 14 children born. . . During the birth of the children there was a doctor present about three times. About three times I was midwife myself. Bessie told me what to do and I done it.”

The large home became the center of the Clementsville community. Summer Sunday afternoons brought family and friends for fried chicken and homemade ice cream, frozen with snow kept from melting by covering last winter’s snowdrifts with straw.

Joe Nelson worked the farm until 1941, when his oldest son, Henry, took over. Henry and Saville and their young family moved in, and voices of another generation rang through the rooms. In 1971, Henry’s oldest son, Albert, took over. I’m grateful Al and his wife Joan haven’t changed things—my girl cousins’ bedroom still has 1950’s pink and blue wallpaper decorated with skunks and bunnies, and the dark hardwood banister shines, worn to a patina by the hands of generations of Nelsons, Dad included. Every room has a transom above the door, and an antique tear-drop shaped fire extinguisher near the ceiling.

When Mary’s granddaughter told a friend back East she was going to a reunion at this home in Idaho, her friend said, “Why would you want to go there?” She replied, “That’s where I come from, that’s where my family lives, AND – we all like each other!” There’s magic in a home built with love.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

“When free men shall stand between their loved homes, and the war’s desolation…”

An Idaho Marine, 21-year-old Cpl. Phillip Baldwin, lost his legs in Afghanistan recently. As I saw the worried faces of his family, I pondered what makes people lay their lives on the line in battle. From Phillip, to my uncles who fought in World War II, to the brave men who fought on both sides in the Civil War—what, or perhaps more importantly, WHO do they fight for?

Today we celebrate the Fourth of July, and proudly fly the flag of the greatest nation on earth. What makes it great was best explained by Neal A. Maxwell: "Isn't it interesting that at a time when patriotism is called into question, that some fail to realize that one cannot really have a sense of country without a sense of kinship, that one cannot have a sense of kinship without family, and one cannot have a sense of family without parents?"  In other words, Americans fight for their families, and for ideals which they believe will make life better for their families. The last verse of “The Star Spangled Banner,” says, “And thus be it ever, when free men shall stand between their loved homes and the war’s desolation. Blessed with victory and peace. May the heaven-rescued land praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation. ”

Phillip confirmed that—his first concern after his injury was to give a rubber duck belonging to his three-year-old daughter to his buddy, to get it back to her. His thoughts were not so much of America as of Americans who are precious to him.

History offers ample proof that tyrants don’t care about families. Monarchies ruled Europe for hundreds of years, controlling economies, speech, and religion, and stepping on the rights of the common man. And the colonists who founded this nation wanted something better for their families, both at that time and down through the generations to us.

So we must teach our children about America’s beginnings, even while we enjoy fireworks and parades. They must learn of the unselfishness of those who died, and who still die, for THEM.

Today, we remember:

Facing a large national debt, the British Parliament taxed everyday items such as glass, paint, paper and tea in the American colonies. And there were other abuses. British soldiers could live, or “quarter” in American homes if the colonists did not build sufficient barracks, and colonists were enraged to have to support Britain’s large standing army. On December 16, 1773, a group of Boston citizens dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor.

In retaliation, Britain closed the harbor and passed the Quebec Act, which threatened the colonists’ Western borders and freedom of religion.

King George III sent more troops, and when they moved to seize gunpowder stored at Lexington, Paul Revere rode his horse through the night to sound the alarm, “The British are coming!”

Patriots mustered Minutemen troops along the road to Concord, Mass. Captain John Parker told his men, “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon; but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!” Thus the Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775.

As the war progressed, it became clear that the 13 colonies needed to make their rebellion official in the eyes of the world. On July 4, 1776, the 56 members of the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, stating, in part, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This document rallied the American troops, who won the war in 1782. Americans then adopted a Constitution as remarkable as the Declaration. Both have become a model for republican governments the world over.

In the 235 years since, millions of Americans, both native-born and immigrants, have trusted in this country’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the core of that promise is family—what good are life and liberty without them? How can we pursue happiness without people to love?

May we work to make our families a little more kind, a little more generous, a little more functional, in honor of the brave people who fight and die for those they love.