Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Family Legacy

It's a long story but here's the short version: My grandfather, Wilbur Paton, collected enough old stuff and buildings illustrating North Dakota pioneer life to create a museum called "Paton's Isle of Memories." Since his passing in 1976, my family has lain awake many a night wondering what to do with his passion project located in the northeast corner of North Dakota - not a high traffic area.

Bit by bit, the collection has finally found a home.

It began a few years ago, when we donated the crown jewel of the museum to the Pembina County Historical Society which installed it on their grounds at the Icelandic State Park. It was the homestead house that my great-grandfather, Adam Currie Paton, built for his family in 1882. As an old-timer pointed out to me, it was widely-known the first saw-cut house in the region (so cutting edge!) and, more importantly, it was where my grandfather was born. Here it is being lifted on its foundation - a delicate process which takes hours. I must have chewed off all my nails watching this while my mother stood nearby, fretting.

After days of inching the antique building up and over, it finally hit the road, the drivers careful to choose routes with no telephone wires. My family fell in hot pursuit; it was a surreal feeling to follow your grandfather's house along a country road. "Pleeeeeeease don't tip over," was all I could think. Built in 1882 and filled with ancient furniture, I could only hold my breath those long 16 miles to help the house reach its final destination.

Eventually, Grandpa's house reached its final resting place, the Icelandic State Park. For the last few years, the Pembina County Historical Society has carefully inventoried every single item in the house (including the hay beds, chamber pots and clothing from the late 1800s) while cleaning and repainting the building. This year, we revisited and it was such a joy to see it set up for public viewing. A placard had been placed on the front of the house, giving credit where it is due, especially to my mother, who was clearly pleased with the progress.

When the house was initially moved, it was a sad day for my family - the end of my grandfather's dream. The house had been nestled between an antique church, the one-room schoolhouse (attended by my grandfather, grandmother, mother and many others) and a quonset hut that included a music room, blacksmith shop, barber shop, country store, kitchen and machinery collection. With the house heading down the road, my mother stood where the house had been and cried, "It looks like a missing tooth." It was an emotional trip.

This visit brought more closure for us, in more ways than one. While we were at the state park, we noticed a young family visiting the grounds. The young mother of two approached us and I immediately introduced my mother, by now a local celebrity.

"Yes, they told me who you were," she said, "I just wanted to thank you for sharing your family's history so we can all enjoy it." I couldn't remember the last time I'd witnessed such a poignant moment.

My Mom just smiled, her face happy with relief. She did good.

To be continued ...


Kath said...

Such a cool story!

ps- your word verif is making fun of me by calling me an 'alhki'

ClizBiz said...

Well, Kath, if the word verifier fits ...

Heidi's heart said...

We touch so many people in our lives, but we don't often have such immediate and direct confirmation of that fact, as did your mom in North Dakota. Ah!