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May 16, 2005 - Monday, 6:56 a.m.

North Dakota Trip

It was dark and rainy when I started driving. Camille drifted off to sleep and Maureen was already asleep. The radio played quietly as I watched lightening striking in the distance. We were driving right into the storm. It was quite a display. In some places the rain fell so hard it was hard to see the road. My speed varied from 85 to 45 MPH, depending upon how wet the roads seemed. Lynn’s car told us how many hours until our destination and I worked hard to keep it at one hour before the funeral. We were cutting it tight, but with little choice. Camille had a class that she couldn’t miss, so we pulled out the Springs at about 7 pm, a short 17 hours before the funeral.

I’d wanted to reflect on things, to think about the events of the past few weeks. Normally sitting at the wheel in the middle of the night is a good time to think, at least for me. However, the road conditions and concerns about being late for the funeral filled my mind. It was near dawn when I woke Camille up and we traded places. I drifted off to sleep in the passenger seat.

We were south of Fargo when I woke up. Still on schedule to arrive one hour before the funeral I began to gain confidence that we’d arrive in time. It was raining; a cloudy, grey, dreary day, some how that seemed appropriate for a funeral.

We arrived at Lynn Alex’s doorstep at noon, precisely on schedule. Now, Hunter is a small town north of Fargo – population 400. They have a number of churches, a grain elevator, fire department, post office, a bar or two and a café. My dad grew up in this small town; my grandparents grew up there, my cousins grew up there, and Lynn Alex is raising his kids there, in the same house he grew up in as a matter of fact. When we walked into the house it wasn’t much different from how it looked all the Christmas Eves we spent there growing up. We had just enough time to change clothes and we were off to the church. As I looked in the mirror I was surprised to note that I actually looked pretty good after 16 hours in the car, with about 4 hours of sleep.

The funeral was at the same church where grandma’s funeral was 24 years ago. We talked in the entrance to cousins, aunts and uncles, then gathered together to enter the church as family. One of my cousins, that I haven’t seen in a while, told me I looked GREAT, and happy and wondered aloud if there was someone in my life causing it. I responded no, and he seemed surprised. Really? I noted that there must be something wrong with all the men around me and he agreed. As the comment seemed very genuine it felt really nice.

Lois was quite a bit smaller then I recalled. Sitting in the church my mind wandered during the service. My memories went back to the last time I was sitting in that church, Grandma’s funeral. We’d arrived the evening before the funeral and we were sitting at the funeral home, just Camille and I and our parents. We said some prayers aloud and as we sat there quietly lost in our own thoughts my father quietly spoke, “Now I’m an orphan.” At the time I’d smiled briefly and thought, I guess if things happen in the right order we all end up as orphans. As I sat in the church at Lois’s funeral with my eyes closed, all I could think of was Grandma, and of how very much I missed her and tears welled in my eyes and a tear ran down my cheek. I could almost feel her standing in the church next to me. The service was very nice and I felt like the minister knew Lois.

We left the church and headed for the cemetery. It was raining again. We pulled up at the tent and got out of the car. Most of the family huddled under the awning, straddling the tombstones of my great grandparents, a few of Lois’s cousins commenting on their grandparents as we stood there. Everyone seemed comfortable standing on the graves, something that I’ve always been comfortable with as well. I knew my grandma was there somewhere, but her headstone was covered along with my grandpa’s. I knew we’d be back in the morning to look at the tombstones and made a mental note to take pictures.

The graveside service was short and we returned to the church for ‘sandwiches and bars’. I don’t know if there is some North Dakota ‘how-to’ for funerals, but I swear it’s the same fare at every funeral, and has been for all 45 years of MY life. We sat in the church and visited a long time. In one area sat all the cousins (my dad’s and Lois’s cousins)… they all have white, WHITE hair and those blue eyes. They are an eye catching crowd. At one point Lois’s oldest daughter got up at the podium and spoke about her mother. It was a touching recollection of Lois’ last few days and last moments and brought a tear to my eye.

As we stood in the church in Hunter, Faye, Lois’ youngest daughter, stopped to visit with my mother and my sisters and me. They were talking about tools. Faye is an upholsterer. Unlike most women, and many men, she has a vast knowledge of carpentry tools, and her daughter was marveling aloud at Faye’s abilities. She spoke in awe of her mother and her belief that the women in our family can do ANYTHING. All of us sitting there smiled. She is completely right, we are a capable bunch of women, intimidated by very little and armed with the belief that we CAN do anything, and for sure anything that NEEDS to be done, no matter what realm it lies in.

The crowd dispersed slowly and suddenly I noticed that only family was left in the church. We left the church and headed over to the café and sat there until after 6 pm. It was a nice visit. I don’t recall what all we talked about, but the conversations never dried up. My dad’s two brothers and my cousins were all there, except for Lois’ kids who had picked one of the bars for their after church venue. Eventually Lois’s oldest daughter and her husband and one of Lois’ grandkids joined us. It was a nice afternoon.

We returned to Lynn Alex’s house and I changed into my pj’s. I was groggy with sleep, but had little desire to crawl into bed. We ended up all sitting in the living room watching “Secondhand Lion”, ate a little popcorn and I eventually drifted in and out of sleep. Though the bed was hard, I slept like the dead and woke up refreshed in the morning. We ate a little breakfast and thanked Lynn and Jen for their hospitality. Into the car and off to the cemetery we went.

It was still cloudy, but not raining. I was surprised that I hadn’t felt any draw to stay at the cemetery the day before, as that had been a big issue a couple weeks earlier at my Grandma S.’s funeral. The site was tidied up, the fresh dirt on the grave and the coffin top flowers lying on the gravesite. Lois was buried in the family plot, 6 sites, three across, from the left to the right it was Grandma, Grandpa and Dan (my Dad’s brother that died at 2), then Lois at Grandma’s feet, and then Great Grandma next to Lois and Great Grandpa next to her. Interesting that Lois would chose to be buried next to her mother and grandmother and not her husband. The plot is full and I expect Orrie will be buried in a completely different cemetery once he passes.

The three of us said some prayers and then we headed away from North Dakota, aimed for home, with a side trip to Anoka on our itinerary. I was driving and it was hard not to think about this little corner of the world. North Dakota is the center of the universe for my family. Both my parents were second generation North Dakota homesteaders. My dad’s family arrived in eastern North Dakota and found land near the Red River Valley, my mother’s family trekked to western North Dakota and found fertile farm land in McHenry County. We are a strong crew of people and we are close.

My thoughts on the funeral drew to a close as they reached towards our next destination, Anoka and my childhood.

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