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Nebraska Family Drive
April 2003
Nebraska, April 2003
Colin my brother had a sort of revelation and realized he wanted to get more in touch with his family. So he inspired a family reunion in April, 2003. Mom, Colin and Jane and I flew to Nebraska to meet Uncle Jim and Aunt Lori. We arrived Friday evening, ate a wonderful meal in the company of some of Lori's family that we have come to know over the years - including two nice kids just now leaving high school. Here we share a mess of steaks around the table.

Colin tested us on U.S. statistics:
What percentage of Americans are incarcerated?
I guess that one right - around 1% (or 2 million out of 270 million total population).
What percentage of the U.S. government budget is spent on foreign aid?
Lori guessed 20-30%. The answer surprised all of us - less than 1%.

Nebraska, April 2003
We woke up early Saturday morning to hit the road, heading west. Six people, one minivan. My uncle drove the entire day.

After we turned off highway 80, the countryside soon turned into the sand hills. Basically, Uncle Jim explained, these are sand dunes covered in grass. And the landscape is fragile - you can see where wind or construction has broken the surface. It takes years for the grass to grow back. Oftentimes, the wind keeps up steady and the patch of sand just grows into a blow-out.

If no human being planted a tree here for 200 years, Jim continued, this would be just grass. Savannah.

Nebraska, April 2003
Great Aunt Sara

We stopped briefly to meet with Aunt Sara, a relative of mine revered for having opinions and an active mind. There was probably only one subscription to the Atlantic Monthly in that part of the prarie, Jim remarked.

We sat in her livingroom, looking over photos of her many grandchildren. She had written two poems in the last few years, both were inscribed on framed scrolls. My mother read them out loud - they were paeans to the Lord's presence in nature.

Sara had just read Dereliction of Duty, a book by the Air Force colonel charged with carrying the Nuclear Football during Clinton's presidency. This Colonel charges that Clinton refused to give an order to kill Osama Bin Laden since he was too busy watching a golf tournament. Afterwards we wondered, wouldn't we have read about that if that had happened? I thought about the different sources of news and opinion Sara and I have.

We spoke of Colin's life and future plans. Where are you living now? she asked, a nice inquisitive style. "California," Colin smiled. "We hear California is wicked," Sara remarked with a laugh.

Nebraska, April 2003
Jim stands at the gates leading out of the Cleveland Cemetery.

The wind out on the plains was fierce.

We drove another hour then to the Cleveland Cemetery. If I have an ancestral burial plot, this is it. A windswept hill North of Stuart, in Holt County Nebraska. Not much in sight besides grassy hills, save for a few farms and the Cleveland Church. Since my great Uncle Elmer and his wife Alma have retired to the assisted-living center in Atkinson, there are too few people to participate in the revolving church service there and the place is closed.

There's family invested in keeping the gravesite tended, the grass mowed, the fenceposts upright. Jim plans to be buried there, and my Mom says she might like to be laid to rest there as well. I was offered a chance to buy a plot there, still priced at $5. Elmer has the Cleveland Cemetery record book - you can see the handwriting of each of my relatives there for two centuries, inscribing their purchases. I thought briefly about asking my friends and family to mourn me a four-hour drive west of Lincoln Nebraska, it brought a smile to my face as I imagined the dumbfounded curses.

Nebraska, April 2003
This child died in 1910, no first name, just "Baby."

Nebraska, April 2003
This Lofquist baby died in 1894, there's a small marble lamb on the grave.

Jane walked around looking at the old graves. The oldest seemed to date from around the late 1880s. In most cases, the men outlived the women, she noticed. Even if the women lived past childbearing age, they seemed to have been worn down sooner.
Nebraska, April 2003
Nebraska, April 2003
Colin supervises while Jane and Jim do the heavy lifting.

As we neared the resting places of Warren and Delia, my grandparents, three horses of varying color loped over to the wire fence. They stood nearby, watching us intently as we planted a few hearty shrubs near the graves we'd come to visit. Turns out there wasn't much else for them to visit, or eat in the surrounding turf - I think they were hoping for some leaves or grass to munch on for moisture.
Nebraska, April 2003
BLT and deep fried velveeta bits (served with ranch dressing).

Nebraska, April 2003
For years my family has been eating at the Range cafe (my Uncle ate there during high school). As long as I've been eating there, we joked about the oyster stew on the menu (Nebraska is a long way from the ocean). This trip Jane ordered the oyster stew. Creamy and so-so I think. Stick to bacon-based dishes I say.

We stopped for lunch at the Range Cafe in Bassett. The town and the restaurant continue to function as a vortex of time travel, seemingly fixed in the fifties.
Nebraska, April 2003
We stopped off to see our 96 year old Great Aunt Cora, who lives with her daughter Corrine. We visited for a bit, playing with the dog Brandy. Corinne spoke of the three year drought. "We can't sell anything" she said, wearing a Nebraska t-shirt, "only some hay."

Rock county has the most rapidly shrinking population in Nebraska. Life seems hard. Jane remarked that the landscape of farms and churches is what she had been shown of America all her life in media.

Nebraska, April 2003
We drove back to Lincoln, for a total of nine hours in the car together. Colin munched out.
Tablet computing, Nebraska, April 2003
We had time to stop by Jim's house, here Jane plays with Jim's new tablet PC while cousin Adam looks over her shoulder. Jim is a technology buff in that he has been looking for a way to minimize the size of his briefcase and use handwriting for data entry as long as I've known him. Now he carries a tablet computer, draws his notes into that. He seems quite happy about it! He had his secretary scan decades of documents and he keeps the graphical images on his harddrive, a few gigabytes of images filed in nested folders. Wild!
Nebraska, April 2003
On Sunday morning, we gathered to have a breakfast to celebrate my Mother's birthday. Happy Birthday Mom!
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