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JERRY NELSON

By Staff | Aug 21, 2009

Gus, an old friend of ours, has decided to sell his ancestral farm. This will be only the second time the land has been sold since it was homesteaded by Gus’s grandfather, a harness maker who emigrated from Sweden to carve a farm from the Dakota sod.

I met Gus and his wife, Helen, some years ago through a mutual friend. A retired English teacher, Gus soon became my literary mentor. He has been a coach and a champion, the only person I know who loves to explain, in exuberant detail, the tangled roots of our curious language.

Two decades ago, Gus and Helen purchased his family’s homestead for use as a summer home, a getaway from their hurly-burly lives in California. Their farm served this purpose beautifully.

Gus and Helen spent their summers enjoying the splendid isolation and revelling in the quietude. Helen, who was a force of nature, would often invite neighborhood ladies over for old-fashioned teas. A spark of elegance flashed across the prairie in the vicinity of Lake Whitewood.

Helen has been gone almost six years now. Her ashes rest in a churchyard located just a short distance from the farmhouse where she and Gus spent so many insouciant summers.

Gus has decided it’s time to follow Thoreau’s dictum of “simplify, simplify.” I know how he feels about selling the family farm and have been doing what I can to help him through what must seem like a family funeral.

Selling a home – even one that was only used during the summertime – means deciding what to do with the accumulated bric-a-brac of daily life.

For instance, here’s an eggbeater. What’s it worth? Not much. Should we put it in a box for the auction? Probably.

But remember the excellent lemon meringue pie Helen made using this eggbeater? How can we even think about selling it?

On the other hand, it’s just an eggbeater …

One item Gus deemed was too precious to sell was the massive wood-fired cookstove that sat in his farmhouse kitchen for the past 80 years. Gus opted to honor and preserve his family’s legacy by donating the stove, a Copper-Clad Malleable Range, to the Ag Heritage Museum.

Jill, Gus and Helen’s daughter, flew out to help her father sort through stuff. It was decided that some things should be sent to California, so my pickup and I were asked to deliver an assortment of household items to a moving service. During our trek back from the mover, Jill lobbied me to support her in her quest to acquire a lightning rod that’s perched atop a peak of their old farmhouse’s roof.

Asked why she needed a lightning rod, Jill replied that she didn’t need it; she simply wanted it as a memento of the farm. Plus, it’s a really cool-looking lightning rod.

By the time Jill and I got back to their farm, the museum folks had arrived and were disassembling the stove. I could see immediately that Gus’s stove was in the hands of highly-trained experts. This conclusion was based on the main tool they employed, namely, a sparkling new Vice-Grip pliers.

A rusty old set of Vice-Grips would have been utilized had the task fallen to me.

I asked the museum guy what the stove weighed and he estimated that it tipped the scales at about 400 pounds. Thanks to my vast experience with moving such hernia-inducing objects, I knew exactly what to do next: watch from a distance that was close enough for me to give advice, yet not so close that I would risk being asked to help lift.

The cast iron cookstove was eventually reduced to a size that allowed it to pass though the narrow kitchen doorway. Gus and Jill and I watched as the stove saw the sun for the first time in eight decades. It was soon grunted and muscled from the house and onto the bed of a 1958 Dodge pickup.

The stove, the farmhouse and the old pickup all fit together perfectly, forming a tableau that could have been lifted from a photo taken half a century ago.

As the museum crew strapped the stove down, my gaze drifted up to the roof of Gus’s house. I unthinkingly remarked that the coveted lightning rod was indeed pretty cool with its elegantly filigreed weather vane and delicate glass ball.

My remark sparked an electrified discussion about the disposition of the lightning rod. I certainly didn’t intend to be such a lightning rod!

The Gustafson farm will soon pass into new hands. As sad as this may be for Gus, I’m betting he’ll wish the new owners the best and will hope that they’ll enjoy the farm as thoroughly as the Gustafson family has over the past century.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com

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