Learn your family’s history
As I have noted in the new hit show “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?,” children of all ages spend ample time in school learning the history of other countries, other cultures and our own United States. And as many adults are discovering, our children know some amazing facts that seem to have “escaped” many of us. However, ask the same child if they know the names of their great-grandparents and where they were born, and you will doubtless see a disillusioned face looking back at you. Our own personal histories are often lost in the pace of today’s lifestyle and culture. If I am to learn my family’s history, I need to ask the questions now before the answers disappear forever. Grandpa Heiser will be turning 89 in September, and my wife and I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days with him in the farming community of Henderson, Neb. As my wife of two years had never been on his driving tour, Grandpa sat us in his latest Buick and thus began a short history of the Heiser family as we drove for miles through the picturesque, shoulder-high corn-blanketed countryside. As stories were related of locations of births, baptisms and burials, a disturbing theme arose. Accounts were continually shared of events that took place in homes and on farms that no longer physically exist. Much of my grandfather’s history, along with that of my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents, has been razed and replaced with fields of corn. Only through this brief oral history did I learn of an empty lot in El Dorado that once housed a church built by my great-great-grandfather. Surprisingly, the church was not leveled as I assumed, but rather moved by a congregation to Gibbon, where the church still exists today. A nondescript corner of a field, now immersed in corn, brought about a story of where mailboxes once stood, in which Grandpa received correspondence while he was courting my grandmother as she worked in a nearby York hospital. Seemingly every mile of country road we traveled had a driveway ending in the cornrows, accompanied by a recollection of who had lived there in years gone by. Even the barely-recognizable remnants of an apple orchard inspired Grandpa to bashfully admit to having swiped an apple as a young teen walking home from a baseball game in Stockham. As we approached the final vacant driveway of the day, tales arose of Grandpa’s farm of 42 years. Today, aside from the photos and the memories, all that remains of the farm is a center pivot in the midst of acres of corn. I now cherish these places and stories in my heart. If only I had begun to inquire earlier, who knows how much more I could have learned. “Before it is too late” is a phrase we too often take for granted with family. “If only” awaits those of us who repeatedly allow today to pass without seeking to discover the treasures of yesterday. Jeremy Heiser is a former YouthZone case manager.
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