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.


  1. This girl back east wishes PASSIONATELY that I could have been there! I have always loved that house, and wish I could have a tour. Our roots go deep there!

  2. I love the last picture. It looks like he is going off on an adventure!
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)