Wednesday, October 02, 2013


During Mama Iva's visit last month, we spent one sweltering day trying to clean up the homestead house that we donated to the Pembina Historical Society in 2003. Built in 1882 by my great-grandfather, Adam Curie Paton, it now sits on the grounds of the Icelandic State Park about 18 miles south of the farm. As the old timers will tell you, it was the first saw-cut house in the region - literally cutting edge.

Mama Iva, in the kitchen
The house was part of the the Paton's Isle of Memories, Grandpa Wilbur's historical project, his lifelong obsession to document the lifestyle of the regional farmers and homesteaders in the early 1900s. The Museum, located here on the farm was originally four buildings: the homestead house (where Wilbur and his siblings were born and raised), the one-room schoolhouse where my grandfather, grandmother and mother once attended, the church (he purchased it in Canada and drove it back, the only church known to have served two countries) and the Museum Shed, which once had small rooms displaying era-accurate kitchen, dry goods store, blacksmith shop, barber shop, music room and parlor. These days, the Shed holds all my furniture, worldly goodies, trinkets and treasures - a museum of my life now, I guess.

School and church, as seen from the Mae Flower
We were fortunate that the Park wanted the house, its contents and the great majority of the other buildigs. Once upon a time, the Isle of Memories was busy with visitor tours weekly. But no more, so we had it moved, where it now sits amongst the antique tractors, train depot, cook car and barns.

Homestead House, far right, at Icelandic
Cleaning the house was an awful task. There is no electricity there so vacuuming up thousands of dead flies and ladybugs was just a dream. I tried to sweep them up with a broom but they didn't go easily. Mom and I dusted everything best we could and took frequent water breaks. We wanted it to look nice for the upcoming Pioneer Machinery Show where all the buildings are opened up, the old tractors are dusted off and there's all kinds of nostalgia going on - log-cutting, flour mills, including the world's shortest parade.

Cousin Walter, age 92, on his 1959 John Deere 730, in the 2012 parade
Cousin Royce, in 2012, on a John Deere 4010

Miss Teen North Dakota pitches in during an antique demo
Everyone on the bench, and behind it, are family - minus the purple lady, who I'm sure is still very nice
During the Show, we were able to give some personal tours and allow some folks to come upstairs. (Normally, a chain blocks the super-steep stairs for liability issues.) A young family stationed at the nearby Air Base couldn't believe their luck - ironically, they were actually Californians so it all came full circle. They couldn't believe all the turn-of-the-last century clothing and china and the straw beds.

Adorable family
Soon, other folks came in the house and we were able to show them around too. A little boy tapped me on the arm and said, "Do you remember me?" I looked at him and had a memory flash from the previous summer.

"Did you come here last year with two of your buddies and I gave you guys a private tour?"

He nodded. "Yes! That was me! I came back!" (He's the one in the middle.)

Precious! The ropes are for the tractor pull, I think.
Those boys were the sweetest - so interested, so polite, so smart, so huggable. Pure North Dakota farm boys, every last one. (Wish I'd met their parents so I could gush.) I remember one of them saying, "Boy, we were sure lucky that you were here so we got to go upstairs!" - pure genuine gratitude.

I swear, kids here still talk like its the 1950s. If "Golly, gee whiz!" were to come out of their mouths, I would not be shocked. It's delightful.

This year, a few lucky folks even got to hear Mama Iva talk a bit about being in the house as a child and how meals were made in the kitchen, which seems so primitive to us now - no microwave, blender or dishwasher!

And at some point this summer, some true genius put in an honest-and-true Victory Garden right next to the house! Picnic table too! Oh, the sweet poetry of this delightful development - it was like getting positive confirmation from the Universe on everything I am trying to do here. 

Mom and visitors in the living room
Apparently, the garden was planted as a student project, to teach kids about the history of the Victory Gardens, a government campaign (here in the US, plus UK, Canada and Germany) that encouraged citizens to plant their own food to help free up rations for the war effort. Imagine that! Of course, this was before processed food became such a giant industrial diabetic bully and BFF to the government, but I digress...

House and Victory Garden
From Wikipedia:
Amid regular rationing of canned food in Britain, a poster campaign "Plant more in '44!") encouraged the planting of victory gardens by nearly 20 million Americans during the course of WWII. These gardens produced up to 40 percent of all the vegetable produce being consumed nationally. 
Hard to imagine this kind of national effort now, isn't it? Nevertheless, I think food gardens are making a serious comeback, just judging by the number of my friends who asked me to help me start theirs last winter. Then you have the tangible rise in demand for organic produce, school/community gardens, farmers markets, locavores and the comeback of canning - people are starting to take part in their own food sourcing and again, we move forward by looking back. Sure, it takes effort, you get dirty and battle bugs but the payoff - nutritonally and financially - is immense. Plus, kids get really into it. As my hero, Ron Finley says, "If kids grow kale, kids eat kale."

My grandfather's legacy was one sweeping gesture of remembrance, a museum to remind us of the past and rekindle just how much hard work and ingenuity played into our survival and success. It makes me think about my own legacy and I think it is seeds, not just the literal ones that grow into food but seeds of ideas on self-reliance. On this day when the government is MIA, it's the perfect time to remember when we did much for ourselves.

Before our food became overly processed, before our lives were saturated with chemicals, we made due and did just fine, we thrived with fewer ailments, allergies and syndromes and did not need 13 prescription medications (the national average, per person) to live. There's got to be a reason why all my farming relatives live - and thrive - well into their 90s.

At the risk of sounding like a ranting old lady (at 47, do I qualify yet?) I aim to plant seeds of independent consumer thinking and self-reliant actions. And that, I suppose, will be my legacy. 

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