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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Write in the HISTORICAL genre (05/03/07)

By Noreen Ophoff


Jacob and Helen Jost loaded a two-wheeled oxdrawn cart and embarked on the last leg of their journey, through Pennsylvania and Ohio. The year was 1864. Departing Baltimore, Maryland, where Jacob had worked as an overseer for twelve years, since leaving Baden-Baden, Germany, they now headed to purchase land from a Native American, Abel Blood, of the Ottawa Tribe.

They arrived in an area eight miles northwest of Grand Rapids, Michigan where 80 acres of rolling farmland lay next to Indian Mill Creek. Clearing the land by piling stones and boulders at the west edge of the woodlot, they built a log cabin next to the flowing creek, and began to prepare the clay and rich muck soil for crops.

It was early summer, the children, William, Margaret, Nicholas, Mary and Frank, ran happily through the long grasses growing wild. Other families were settling here; Marcus Alt was planting apple trees a few miles north. The families of Thome, Brechting, Cordes and Dunneback were starting new lives too.

Many of the rocks the family had cleared from the land, were used as the foundation of the barn, and later the farmhouse. Huge iron lengths were laid into the barn bridge along with the boulders as support for the barn walls, and then the 30 foot silo. Wooden pegs were hand whittled into shape as nails for the barn construction.

A corn crib was built to keep ears of corn at the ready to feed the animals during harsh Michigan winters. A work shop was put up across from the barn, where Jacob and his sons could mend harnesses, build feed boxes for young Guernsey calves, maintain equipment.

The children grew up, married friends in the area, and settled into their own lives. Frank remained on the farm, married Caroline Cordes, whose family lived across the fields. Their first child was a boy, named Raymond Joseph, born on January 2, 1902. On the occasion of the birth of their first daughter, Leona, in October 1904, a maple tree was planted just south of the house, out the kitchen window. Berneice and Lillian were born a few years later.

The farmhouse and barn still stand on Baumhoff Road. Electricity was added in 1939, an indoor bathroom in 1941.

Leona and Berneice grew up and married, each raising three children. Lillian married Clarence, a farmer from Marne, rearing three daughters while making their living growing vegetables to sell at the Farmer's Market.

Raymond worked the farm with his dad, Frank. Eventually purchasing it, giving his sisters each a portion of money. Over the years, Leona and Berneice, and their husbands, Jerry and Harry, and the nieces and nephews, came to the farm, especially during the Depression years, for chicken dinners, and were given apples and peaches from the plentiful orchards; squashes and tomatoes from the half acre garden.

Just when neighbors thought Ray would always be a bachelor, at age 40, he married Nellie Ponne, on May 15, 1943; she was 33. On March 9, 1944, son Donald Raymond was born. Catherine Marie came along on January 19, 1946, and Noreen Ann on August 26, 1950.

Peach trees were pulled out and new varieties of apples were planted. When horses couldn't be in a barn with registered cows, they were replaced by tractors. Milk production and sale, was money in the bank. Ray built a chicken coop, painted red and white, that housed hundreds of chickens.

Time marches on. Jacob and Helen are buried side by side in Holy Trinity Cemetery. Frank and Caroline are in the same plot. Don, Cathy and Noreen grew up, married and have children of their own. Don and Becky have Nathan and Aaron. Cathy and Pat have Tricia, Abby and Brady. Noreen and Jerry have Erin and Katie. How the years go by quickly. Tricia and Rick have Jake, Jared and Sydney. Abby and Scott have Avery. Brady and Kathy have Megan and Owen. Erin and Josh have Ava and Keller. All the adults are working at their own varied careers. The blond hair and big blue eyes of Frank are seen in these subsequent generations.

Raymond was laid to rest in the cemetery, next to his parents, in April 1958, and Nellie in September 2001.

The roots of this family are deep. They are in the land upon which the barn and house still stand. A rambling rose bush was transplanted into the yard in 1914, it still blossoms today. Trilliums and Spring Beauty wildflowers blanket the woods. The rock piles from Jacob's clearing of the land await the newest generation to handle them, to learn the stories, and live full lives.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 05/11/07
I suspect that this is your family history? I hope you get an opportunity to share it at some reunion or similar gathering.

Consider narrowing the scope of this some day, and writing just one small story, with one person's POV. A collection of such stories might be a family treasure.
Alfreda Byars05/11/07
I loved reading your story. It was if I could actually see time pass. Good writing.
Angela M. Baker-Bridge05/12/07
Your family will value this piece long after the Challenge is forgotten, which makes you a first place winner!