Going home to Brown County
April 11, 2011
I have mentioned before in other articles my roots are deep in Brown County, Neb. On a whim and having some time to spare, my friend and I while driving to Uncle Buck’s in Brewster, for a steak dinner for my birthday, decided to drive to Clear Lake in the southern part of Brown County.
When I was a child we lived on the south side of the lake for a while. I don’t think I have been back since. We stopped on the north side where the cabins are and I looked across trying to determine where the house was. There are some big dead trees standing in the lake near the south shore and I figured the house had been in those trees.
Clear lake had dried up during the terrible dry times of the Dirty ’30s and Dad had a cornfield there. There is a lot of water now and difficult to recognize the landscape I knew. There were some willow bushes that I thought I remembered as being west of the house.
I knew my granddad Hollopeter’s homestead place was around a mile over the hills straight south of where we lived. We had stayed with my grandparents for a while after moving back from Colorado. I hadn’t been there for many years and had been planning on going sometime. The visit to Clear Lake increased my desire to do so. So, on Saturday afternoon we again drove out on the Clear Lake/Willow Lake road. I was in familiar territory, yet unfamiliar because it had changed so much.
We missed the road going to Granddad’s place and drove on west to a lake I knew had to be Enders Lake. We turned around and drove back to Willow Lake. My Uncle Ab Fletcher owned the lake and had some royal battles with Game and Parks, which he always won. He has been long gone and Game and Parks finally has control of the lake.
I tried to determine where Uncle Ab and Aunt Grace’s house stood northwest of the lake and where the boathouse was on the north shore, but I wouldn’t have recognized it as being Willow Lake if not for a sign stating that it was.
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I knew Granddad’s place was not far east of Willow Lake, on a small lake of a string of lakes called Chain Lakes, so we backtracked until we found it. It was in a sad state.
During the wet years, I think it was in the early ’90s, when many of Brown County roads were under water, the site on which the buildings were had become a virtual swamp, with tall swamp grass and water squishing up as we walked to the house, which was in bad condition. The two-story barn had fallen and I probably wouldn’t have recognized it as being granddad’s place but I had a vivid memory of the house, even in the state it was in. And I remembered the grove of big trees many of them had fallen.
Continuing east down the road on the south of Chain Lakes, I recognized the Jess Snyder place. I remembered the house and it was still there. Then, wonder of wonders, I came upon the Chain Lakes School I attended in the early grades. It was right where I remembered it should have been, but had been built onto and converted into a dwelling.
It was sad seeing so many changes and seeing the devastation to the place where my dad had grown up, but it was also an enjoyable, fulfilling afternoon. I was allowed to go home once more, likely for the last time.