When my grandfather died of leukemia my ninth year of life, much was lost. Most importantly, my only living grandfather had left the earth, but along with that went the regular arrival of homemade bread from the priory at Mary College (grandpa had a great relationship with the sisters who made it), as well as the “big house” where all of my summertime and holiday memories had been fashioned up to that point. We knew life would never be the same with the selling of the family home, but it was too big for Grandma to care for herself and no one in the family was positioned to take it over. I visited that house this past summer. Its current owners, who have lived there ever since, graciously took me on a tour. I also found the house online. Having been designed by architect William Gray Purcell (http://www.prairiestyles.com/purcell.htm) of “Prairie School Architecture” fame, it’s on the historic register. You could call the house (http://www.organica.org/pejn69.htm) itself famous, perhaps, but to me, its value is connected to my memories of my sister and I throwing toys down the laundry shoot; sleeping out on the second-floor screened porch on warm, star-speckled nights; walking around the neighborhood via the rising and falling curb that hugged all the homes on the square block, and watching my grandfather trimming the hedges out front. My own children have memories only of Grandma’s “new” place, and yesterday, we had the pleasure of hanging out there once more. One unit of many, it has its own virtues, including a spectacular sixth-story view of the North Dakota capitol. It is there where my parents met one summer, and the iconic prairie building my sister and I would search for on the long trips from Poplar, Montana, to Bismarck, North Dakota, several times every year of my youth. We’d have a contest to see who could spot the capitol first. My father had put us up to this “game” earlier on when our discontent in the back seat had gotten out of hand. So while some things change, some remain constant, like the capitol, a landmark which has overseen the making of many memories, old and new.
Along with yesterday’s Thanksgiving, we celebrated the “real” birthday of Child #4, who is finally officially six. And yes, we renewed our gratitude for all the good things in our lives, including a 94-year-old grandmother who has lived through two different versions of the North Dakota capitol and was a witness to the first one’s burning in December, 1930. We ended our time together with the grandchildren decorating Grandma’s Christmas tree. Naturally, there are some spots on the tree (around the height of our youngest two) that are heavily-laden with decorations, while other areas higher up remain bare. Nevertheless, their touches bring life to the tree, and I loved watching the kids discover old, worn ornaments as if they were brand new. I am grateful for family, another round of memory-making and the clear, blue North Dakota skies that guided us safely from here to there and back again.
P.S. My sister is a wonderful cake-maker, and I asked if she’d be willing to make a birthday cake for our birthday boy. She said she had time to make something simple. His request was that it be chocolate and decorated with candy corn. Here is the scrumptuous result just a few moments after we began removing the six candles (yes, it’s homemade chocolate frosting — delicious). Thanks Sis!