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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) (02/19/09)

TITLE: Time Marches On
By Noreen Ophoff


Our farm was fertile rolling hills bordered by lush woodlots, full of cattle...until the hard times hit us. In Spring 1850, violent thunderstorms swept our valley, shaking lose shingles and fences.

Helen's cabbage and leek garden needed watering lest the seedlings shrivel and die, but without warning, the well started running muddy. I tried to hide my worry, but my wife said, "There are furrows in your brow, Jacob, where footpaths used to be."

On a sunny, hot day in mid-July, I heard a buzzing sound. Looking over the rye field I thought a dark cloud had settled over it, but our son, Nick, came running to us, shouting, "Papa, Papa, there are bugs eating all the grain." I ran to the field and saw the truth, the grain heads that had missed being shucked by hail, were now eaten away in moments, leaving only chaff, dry and shredded as far as the eye could see. Enthusiasm drained from my soul.

Helen and I took a stroll that evening along the river near Baden-Baden. All my life I had lived on this land. My parents carried me on their backs over the Swiss Alps as an infant, to escape religious persecution. They worked this land, and made the seventy acres our home.

Insects, storms, well going dry; I dared not think what else might happen to us. With three healthy children, we were in the prime of our lives. I was twenty-six, she was twenty-nine.
My brothers, John and Joseph, left us two years earlier for the United States. I drew out John's latest letter and reread the words about land and wages. As I did so, Helen began to cry because her parents' farm adjoined ours. She knew it was what we had to do too. She hugged me and I held her more tightly than I ever had. Among the quiet pines we wept.

We sold our farm to Helen's cousin, Walter, who always loved it. We packed trunks with provisions and our family Bible, boarded the ship The Garone, and sailed away from the familiar.

I was hired as an overseer for a man's property in Maryland, where we purchased a white brick row house in Baltimore. Helen grew vegetables and flowers in window boxes I made for her. We saved every penny for the hope of our own farmland someday.

Someday came after fourteen years. We bought a two-wheeled oxcart and a team, loaded our belongings and now seven children and we set off for Michigan. The roads were rocky but the team was sure-footed.

We arrived north of Grand Rapids in Springtime 1864, where we purchased forty acres of rolling farmland from Abel Blood, of the Ottawa tribe. It was almost like being home in Germany. We could grow wheat, rye and corn. After a few good years we bought forty more acres to the east, and that year, we built our sturdy red barn. The children and I moved stones from the fields to lay the foundation of the barn, and set hundreds aside for the house we would one day build.


The crystal ball of the future would show a large house was erected in 1875. As time went marching on, Jacob and Helen were laid to rest in the churchyard, and their son, Frank, took over running the dairy farm and apple orchards. He married a local girl, Caroline, and they had three children. The eldest, Raymond, carried on with the farm as he came of age. Neighbors thought he was a confirmed bachelor, but at age forty-one, he married a local girl, Nellie, and had three children. Upon Raymond's sudden death at age fifty-six, his son, Don, did not take over the farm. Cattle and machinery were sold by auction, and Don attended college, finding a pathway off the farm. Daughters Cathy and Jackie sought office work for its attention to detail.

Ray and Nellie's children hold dear the stories of their ancestors who left Germany and settled in the rich familiarity of rolling Michigan hills.

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Member Comments
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Beth LaBuff 03/01/09
The hardships of those days were daunting. All the "what if's" but how wonderful that this resulted in their immigration. Stories like this fascinate me.