I’ve recently agreed to collaborate with two of my cousins to try to compile stories of our parents, grandparents and what little we can find on great grandparents, who emigrated from Germany. They ended up homesteading some acreage in the Otsego, MN area between Elk River and Albertville. Our grandfather homesteaded immediately north of the original family farm, once he was old enough to move out and apply for the grant. The bond that held them all together, during tough times, was their Catholicism and their German traditions. What I found fascinating was several of the same last names as are members of Holy Name, a parish with Germanic roots. It took me back to some of the German stories Fr. Arnie used to share with our parishioners.

In discussing how our relatives homesteaded eighty acres in an era of pre-gasoline engines and pre-automated farm equipment, it pretty much meant hard work with horse teams, axes and shovels to remove trees to convert to tillable land. Depending on what species of tree, (oak, elm, poplar, pine), the wood served purpose for a wide variety of lumber uses for buildings and fences. Most residences were heated with wood and food was cooked on wood stoves. I recommend you all go out into your yards and contemplate what it would take to remove one tree from your yard with axes and shovels.

Their “Cub Foods” store was Gods abundant nature. Trapping, hunting and fishing, was the main way to acquire meat and growing root vegetables served much of their produce needs. Learning to store and preserve enough food to feed twelve hungry mouths in one family can become a little overwhelming during normal Minnesota weather. Now couple it with a three year “dust bowl era”, a stock market crash, an Armistice Day blizzard and really make it interesting.

Toil or suffering, struggling, and surviving back then was different than it is today, but handled similarly.  The community banded together to take on big projects and traded labor or skills. They prayed. The Rosary was the go-to prayer that cured all and kept hope alive. Families and neighbors rallied together to assist, entertain and spiritually motivate one another. I honestly don’t think they knew they were poor. It was the only way they knew it was for their entire church community. Grampa hooked up the hay wagon or sleigh to the team of horses, every Sunday, to ride into town to attend Mass at St. Albert’s. On the way to town, all the straggling walkers and neighbors jumped on board and joined in on the rosary or singing and storytelling. Simple beginnings, simple times, simple lives.

If you want to enter a different part of you logical mind, immerse yourself into your family history and chat with elders and credible historians. You may find answers and insights as to how you are the way you are. I often ask myself, how I came to be what I currently am. How’d I get here? It sneaks up on you and probably wasn’t what you thought it would be on graduation day. Gentlemen, as we celebrate the Lenten Season, make time to add the Rosary to your spiritual routine and simplify your lives. If you toil with sin, meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries and open your heart and mind to God’s special way of making you say hmmmmm.

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