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The Good Life: A time to be proud of our ancestors
July 11, 2013 Lisa Betz   

Read more by Lisa Betz
They’re here! Oregon Trail Days are finally here! Nebraska’s oldest community celebration is much anticipated and always a memorable time in Gering. For weeks in advance everyone pitches in to spiff up the old girl, making sure that Gering sets her best foot forward for the thousands of people who visit each year for Oregon Trail Days.

Every year as I watch the Kiddie Parade and again during the Big Parade on Saturday, I never fail to get nostalgic to the point of a lumpy throat and leaky eyes. What is it about Oregon Trail Days that tugs my heart so?

I’ve often wondered this. I think it must be that for my family at least, there is something almost sacred about this old community celebration. I think about all of the family members who treasured it as much as I do, especially my grandpa Cleo Gering. I remember a time when I was in college and I decided that I had better things to do that year than come back for Oregon Trail Days. I think it broke my grandfather’s heart. I remember telling him on the phone that I wasn’t coming back that year, and it didn’t compute, he wouldn’t accept it and I had to explain to him just what was so important that I could not make it back. Because I was a willful, somewhat self-centered young person, I didn’t think too much about it at the time. Yet the memory comes back to me in flashes how disappointed he was in me that summer.

Perhaps I get nostalgic also because Gering got its name from my third great-grandfather, Martin Gering. Even though I had nothing to do with that, it still makes me proud to have Martin Gering as an ancestor. It isn’t about the name as much as the things he did for the young community of Gering and the other men who also rolled up their sleeves, along with their wives, who rarely get proper credit, but ought to, that created a civilized town out of nothing but prairie, hard work and plain old gumption. Gumption is something that I definitely inherited from them.

Really, everyone should be proud of their ancestors. I’ll bet that you also have someone in your family tree that made a significant contribution here. Maybe your ancestor helped to bring irrigation to the Valley, or perhaps they worked on the Summit Road project when it was built. Did your ancestor work on the Boy Scouts’ path up the monument?

Each of us contributes to our community in our own unique way. For me, it’s the Gering Citizen. I like to think that Martin and Sarah Gering are up there in Heaven smiling at me for what the Citizen does each week. I know that my grandpa Cleo and great grandma Pansy, even Goldie Ewing, who was my third cousin, is probably thrilled that I’m helping to keep the history of today alive for future generations. Perhaps they are having an OTD party up there, much like we do for the Oscars, and celebrate right along with us. I’d like to think that they do. I know that I always feel their presence during the parades.

Oregon Trail Days is the largest family reunion in the Valley, because all of us are family here. People return to visit their roots, to nod at their memories while eating too much, perhaps drinking too much, but always, to see people and places they’ve missed and remember those that have gone away.

Oregon Trail Days is an opportunity to ask yourself what you are doing that’s meaningful to your community. What memories are you making that will anchor in the hearts of younger generations? How will they remember you? Someday we will all become dust blowing along the prairie hills of our beloved Monument but I know that at least for me, there will be an Oregon Trail Days parade-watching party in Heaven. I promise you grandpa that I will be there for it too, and hopefully, it won’t be quite as hot!
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