By guest contributor-Bonnie Schantz.
Farming is big in North Dakota, and so is family. And when something big is about to happen on a ND farm, it causes a lot of excitement. BIG for me is when all our kids and grand kids gather, especially since one of the twins lives 3000 miles away and hasn’t been back for two years.
For this reunion trip back to ND, Michael’s carrying more than his backpack from Boston: his wife and our 9-month-old grandson are in tow. We’re truly blessed as parents and grandparents as nothing makes my husband, Chester, and I happier than when our “chickens come home to roost.”
Our children enjoy spending time together. Our eldest son, Jordan, who lives an hour away from our farm moved his camper here so his family could spend more time here and less on the road. Amanda’s family commuted 70 miles between Bismarck and the farm.
Little did we know that our reunion would be disrupted by big events. Despite these, we stuck together, laughed through each and created lifetime memories. It started out with a six row honeycomb discovered on the corner of the house. As a farmer’s wife, it saddened me to see the local bee keeper destroy this because of the severe bee shortage, essential to pollination. But to protect the grandchildren around the house, he advised us that capturing bees in a wooden hive would take days and could be dangerous for the kids. So, it was destroyed.
Insects are apparently attracted to my family. Shortly after Michael arrived, he was repeatedly texting his physician. Finally he admitted he had a blood test before leaving and just learned he tested positive for Lyme Disease, though he never found a bite on his body. So, he made a ‘beeline’ to the local pharmacy for his 21 day treatment. Oh boy!
Michael wasn’t the only one facing health challenges during the homecoming. Chester, 67, became ill three weeks before everyone arrived. He suffered with a high fever and body aches for days. Even after a couple of trips to the ER, the local doctor remained stumped. Antibiotics, lots of fluids and two and a half weeks of bed rest helped nurse him back to better health. Though weak, he was able to enjoy the family gathering, sneaking in a nap or two. Having his kids and grand kids home was enough for Chester to jump off the farm equipment and tend to his health-a rare behavior near harvest time.
Not certain as to when all 12 will be able to gather again, I couldn’t let this time go by without capturing photos of our togetherness on the family farm. Our house never would have worked as a backdrop because it looked like a closet exploded while getting everyone ready for the photographer to arrive. All willingly agreed to do the photo session outdoors and since farming is our heritage, we included a few rusty old junk yard tractors.
On Sunday we invited extended family and hosted a potluck for 33, which included frying fleishkeukle (German beef pocket) on the patio. Lloyd, my brother-in-law, offered to bring a deep fryer and be the chef since Michael requested it. That is what German Russian families do-celebrate family with food, including German potato salad. As I watched everyone interacting, my heart was full and ready to burst. This was my big family sharing a big meal, and I never felt more pride as the mother and oldest sister of this group.
After five nights it was time to take the travelers to the airport. Hugs and kisses were exchanged and a little of my heart went with them. I didn’t get time to be sad, as I had laundry and cleaning to do as I prepared to watch Jordan’s two kids while he and his wife attended the 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. They play so well together and I treasure listening, watching and sometimes joining in. I let them jump in the mud puddles after it rained, ride bike, dance to a Michael Jackson tape and make a fort out of lawn chairs. In between I would send up a prayer for a safe return of their parents. The excitement of the previous week continued with the discovery of three bats in our glass enclosed fireplace. The day after, the dishwasher broke.
That’s life on a ND farm. It’s been a hectic six weeks with lots of activity-bees, Lyme Disease, sick husband, bats in the fireplace, broken dishwasher and even a broken ceiling fan. But as Chester said, “At least we’re still alive!” That’s why I love him. He has ND farmer perspective. All the family was together. He feels better, as does Michael who returned safely to Massachusetts. The grand kids didn’t even have a scrape on them when their motorcycle-riding parents returned from South Dakota. I cherished this extra time with my grand kids and secretly shed a tear when I overheard him read a story to his younger sister. Does this mean my bedtime story reading days are over?
I know some believe North Dakota is a wide open prairie with nothing to do. That’s okay. For me, North Dakota is a big farming state with big families with big hearts. I was happy to have mine all gathered around me, even as I prepare to gather a big harvest to feed this big country.
Bonnie Huber Schantz is a chic farmer’s wife of 44 years, living with Chester on their 6000 acre grain farm near Hebron, ND. She is the mother of three, including a set of twins, and grandmother of four. She is Chester’s support, doing payroll, monthly expense accounting, taking hot meals to six men in the field at harvest, helping maintain the 6 acre farmstead and motoring to their “retirement” home in Bismarck to mow the lawn. She enjoys the freedom of being able to be fill-in day-care for the grand kids and watching the 4th segment of the Today Show, while enjoying a good cup of coffee.
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