The last parcel of our family homestead is up for sale. The Minnesota farm, which was homesteaded by my Norwegian ancestors back in the 1860’s, has been held by our family ever since. My great grandparents, Lars and Louise Troseth, whose parents originally laid claim to the land, worked it as a dairy farm for many years, raising a family and building a good life. They were successful dairy farmers complete with a delivery wagon emblazoned with “Troseth Milk and Dairy” on the side. They were the last of the family to truly work the land. The acres hold the remnants of the original sod house, built into the side of the hill leading down to the creek and nearby woods. Later, they would construct a log home and then a simple wood-framed house. And as they prospered, they eventually built the “Big House” in 1912 for $5,000 cash. When farming became difficult for the aging farmers, portions of the property were quarried for sand and gravel and this sustained the farm for many years. The fruits of this property helped fund Gol Lutheran Church, St Olaf College and later paid the tuition for my grandfather and great aunt Gertrude to attend that same school in nearby Northfield. Gertrude and Grandpa eventually left for careers and marriage, and created lives of their own off the farm, returning to that place when my then widowed grandpa and aunt Gertrude, retired in the seventies. As kids, we loved to explore the barren gravel pit; a tomb for the rusty old dilapidated steam shovel, abandoned when the digging stopped sometime in the fifties. We’d wander the woods, wade in the creek and search for treasures in the attic and the remains of the old clap board house. This was the place of births, weddings and wakes. One hundred and fifty years of living and dying.
The majority of the good land was sold a few years ago, and now, just the old big house and woods is left.
It’s sad, but none of us have really had much to do with it for a number of years. As the family is scattered across the country, it’s difficult for any of us to care for a crumbling farm from afar.
I had the privilege to live there for several years with Willie back in the late eighties and have some wonderful memories of holiday gatherings, hayrides and walks in the woods. We raised chickens, ducks and goats and planted trees and tilled a large garden. We made good friends, canned hundreds of jars of pickles and learned to shoot a 12-gauge shotgun. It holds secrets and it spawned legends. Love was found and hearts were broken there. And it was the place where my mom danced with my dad for the very last time.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that the farm itself is the keeper of memories and that the house is the urn that holds the ashes of all that has been. It’s not. Lars and Louise left homes and family in Norway to create new memories in America. And so it was with my grandparents, my parents and now with me. I get really emotional when I think about our home in Seattle. I loved it so much; the design, the view of Mt Rainier, the lake and the fabulous kitchen. But without Scott and Henry, none of that has any real value. Everything that is good in my life is about them and the rest of my family. And our four years in this one hundred and sixty year old Philadelphia home is just a blip in its many years of memory making. Eventually, when we leave, we’ll pack up those good times and take them on to the next place.
As for the Berg farm, it is time for some other family to make some memories in that special place. Because without the joys and difficulties of life happening there, it’s just a house, a broken down barn and woods.