homesteading women…


cellular residue

Do you possess some form of heartache, pride or even a sense of neutrality, depending on how things turned out for your ancestors?

While researching the stories of female homesteaders on the upper plains one dominant trait surfaced again and again.

Women are remarkably capable of creating something out of nothing.

Leaving all things familiar to take a chance on a new life for themselves and their families was an enormous sacrifice, requiring great courage. So often they were very young women, ages we still consider to be children by today’s standards.

It seems that perhaps we all possess some cellular residue from the migratory ventures of our ancestors. This courage is exhibited (and often maligned) every day, all over the world, as people are forced to leave their homes.

They’re not fleeing for the heady chance to “prove up” 160 free acres as the homesteaders did. They’re most often trying to stay alive and feed their children, a brave migratory gamble in hopes of a better life.

homesteading my psyche

At fifty-two, I feel betwixt and between, no longer young and not yet old. Looking back I can see my life as remarkably valuable training and experience. To hell with regrets. I can’t change a damn thing. I know myself much better in midlife and that’s truly a gift. I also know I still have a lot to learn.

Like my prairie ancestors, I have an inherent longing now to settle or “prove up” one hundred and sixty acres. A sort of cognitive Homestead Act of my midlife psyche. A bit of a gamble, rife with elements of uncertainty, the heady buzz of adventure and the resilience to know I can handle whatever comes my way.

Funny to think about cognitive growth using these terms. However, metaphorically, it works pretty well. Claim my section. Select the crop.  Prep the land. Plant the seeds. Irrigate. Fertilize. Monitor growth. Harvest. Review.

These 3 simple questions help me often and perhaps might’ve helped my prairie ancestors as well. The trick is being able to actually answer them.

What’s working?

What’s not?

What’s next?

Homestead Act of 1982 “…and that such an application is made for his or her exclusive use and benefit, and that said entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation, and not either directly or indirectly for the use of any other person or persons whomsoever…he or she shall thereupon be permitted to enter the quantity of land specified.”    

Thank you Grandpa Lillibridge for the enormous influence you’ve had on my life.

photo

Lowell Louis Lillilbridge, Burke High School Graduation photo taken 1927. He was a young man way ahead of his time coming from a small town in South Dakota.  I don’t think this was the graduation photograph that his father and stepmother particularly liked-it was perhaps even a bit scandalous in the day. Lowell (known as Louis) was graduating a year early and heading off to The University of Chicago to begin his studies. He had a remarkably keen intellect and was the most generous man I’ve ever known, both with his resources and spirit.

Lately, Grandpa has been visiting me in both my dreams and my waking life.  I often ask him what to do when I have challenges in my life.  I promise I am not going to get too (new age-y) here, I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about how much our ancestral knowledge plays a huge role in who we are and how we navigate the world.  Grandpa died July 24th, 1986. I was 19 years old then and my sorrow when he died was felt into my bone marrow.  Now as a 48 year old woman my access to him is much better understood.  He’s a part of me physically (deep set Lillibridge eyes and a decent inseam) and in my spirit.  In my dream last night he told me to “keep going and push harder”.  I can interpret this a lot of ways right now in my life and I am going to pay attention.  Thank you Grandpa for all that you’ve instilled in me.  I am eternally grateful and I am listening.

photo

A portrait of my Grandfather done by Linda Frasch in the late 1970s I would guess. My Mom just sent me this painting for my birthday.  I have always loved it because of the style.  It very much reminds me of the New Yorker artist Maira Kalman whom I adore.MK_Chapter2-4._V196582876_

Maira Kalman illustration from her 2012 book:  And the Pursuit of Happiness