About three years ago I accepted a project. It was a huge project, didn’t seem so at the time. In fact, the idea for a food culture book about my aunts and uncles had been brewing in the back of mind for some time now.
But I just didn’t get around to it. Then, one day, the opportunity – or rather the impetus to do a book – appeared before my eyes. Not being one to turn away from opportunity, I said, “I can do that.” And the journey began. Little did I realize it was a path to home. Like most folks, I thought I was at home all along. But researching and writing and collecting photographs and recipes and making connections to people from my past made me realize what home really was.
Future generations will never know what growing up in a rural community in North Dakota 30 to 40 years ago was like. Never, we cannot go back. Too much has changed. And, most certainly there will never be a concentration of Germans from Russia with their own language, religion and customs gathered in an area like Logan County, Emmons County and McIntosh County. When my parents and their siblings and that whole generation is gone… something incomprehensible will happen. Like the extinction of animals, an entire dialect will disappear along with an incomparable way of life. And, it took me until now to realize it.
We have gone from local to global in one fast-moving decade. It is something that carries us along at such a fast pace we have little time to deal with the things that made the time of my youth so wonderfully peaceful. Some days the mourning dove’s song at dawn evoke stirring so deep in my soul, it hurts. It’s the same sound that woke me to my daily life when I lived under the same roof as my parents. I went to middle school and high school in a small community. I graduated from a class of 28. There were about 500 people in town and the surrounding area was filled with farm families all contributing to the economic health and the social well being of everyone. There was a drug store, hardware store, clothing store, gas stations, two car dealers, a hospital, a locker, a bank, two grocery stores, a cafe, a bar, a creamery and a laundromat. Everything everyone needed was grown or sold in that area. It was a local economy and nearly everyone was of the same ethnic background, spoke the language, celebrated the holidays and attended church. They were a hard working bunch of farmers and for a large part “related” through blood or by marriage. Entire communities of relatives.
I thought the entire state was made up of Germans from Russia. I was wrong.
My research resulted in a book. It is my pride and joy. My only regret is that I didn’t begin sooner. I thought I knew where I came from. I did not. I did not have a clue about my ancestors; until now.
Where once I may have been a bit uncomfortable about who I was and how I was raised I am now extremely proud.
This project nearing fruition has been my atonement for wasting my youth uninterested in my family’s history.
It could be my age or the fact that my parents are closing in on 86 and 83 years old. But the desire to continue this project has me scurrying to find the time and resources to collect as many photos, interviews, recipes and stories as possible.
Now, if you were waiting for a shameless plug about the final product. Here it comes. First off, remember I did this as a volunteer for an organization called The Tri-County Tourism Alliance. We, Carmen Rath-Wald and myself, collected the data. I edited it and sorted through the stuff and created a 128-page full color 12 by 12-inch coffee table book that has sold nearly 500 copies. It is not back from the bindery yet.
All the proceeds go to the alliance to work on heritage tourism in an area that is rapidly losing its original identity.
It hurts to even type that sentence.
If I could go back… I would surely have paid more attention to my family and not been such a snob. This is my gift to them.