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The Good Life: Honoring our pioneer legacy
July 01, 2016 Lisa Betz   

Read more by Lisa Betz
Over the last few years, Iíve asked numerous longtime Gering residents about family collections of historic images of Gering and the wider North Platte Valley. You see, I canít get enough of these old historic photos of our valley. Last Friday, I received a disk containing 249 photos of the old days, and I canít wait to share them with you, our readers.

When I think about early Gering, of the settlers who traveled here with a pioneering spirit and a whole lot of gumption, I canít help myself, I get teary. My heart swells thinking of how hard they worked to scratch a living here, creating businesses, starting clubs and churches, and providing services, collectively founding a civilization in the middle of miles and miles of nothing but prairie.

Outside the windows of our family homestead, I am daily reminded of the tenacity of these settlers when I gaze upon the prairie and the hills that line our valley. Imagine what it was like to arrive here with only a few necessities, and if you were lucky, one or two treasured possessions, mementos of your former life, ready to roll up your sleeves and make this wild place a home.

Though my grandfather Cleo Gering was just a boy in the early days, he grew up in a pioneer family. His youth was spent helping his family on the farm in any way possible. He told me stories about how he and his siblings stopped at houses selling eggs on their way to school. Half the money was turned over to their mother, Pansy (Scott) Gering. The other half belonged to each child. Grandpa usually spent his profits on the movies. He loved the cowboy western shoot Ďem ups, he said. If eggs went unsold, there was no movie that day.

Sometimes I think about modern life and how easy we have it. To be sure, we do work hard, but our work is different than that of the early pioneers. They probably wouldnít even recognize what we do as work.

My grandfather had some quirks I didnít understand too well. For instance, he never liked eating outside. So I asked him why, when we live in such a beautiful place, he wouldnít want to have a meal and gaze at the hills and his beloved Dome Rock.

He said heíd spent his whole life outside working on the farm. By the end of the day he was tired of the dirt and the wind and the sun, and when it was time to relax, he thought only of being inside where it was quiet, cool and clean and work was done.

Another quirk I unraveled was his love of eating cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. In the year and a half I lived with him toward the end of his life, grandpa never wanted an eggs and bacon breakfast. Weíd sit across the table from each other, I with my egg on toast, and he with his oatmeal and craisins, with never a variation.

He explained how in the early days, milk and eggs were plentiful and cheap, itís what they ate each day. As he told it, grains were expensive and hard to come by. So when the industrial age made food manufacturing common and grains were easily obtained, it was an exciting novelty. He recalled how exciting a box of cereal was when boxed cereal first appeared. He said he never wanted to eat eggs for breakfast again.

Working in an air conditioned office, sitting in a chair at a desk as I do most days, grandpa wouldnít comprehend my being tired after work. Mental tiredness is completely different than being physically tired after working outside. Funny, though physical activity is the remedy for mental tiredness, one doesnít always have the energy to do it after a long day at a desk.

On the weekends, I fantasize what it would be like to spend every day on the farm, working with animals, growing a garden, cooking delicious meals for the family. It all sounds so delightful, and yet I know it wouldnít be. Work is work, no matter how one considers it.

Even were I to have this kind of life today, our many conveniences would still make it easier than my great-grandmother Pansy had it. She had to wash clothes by hand, pump water for drinking, cooking, cleaning. She would have even had to burn fuel in a stove to cook with.

One of my grandma Pansyís stories was of the birth of one of her children. They lived in a log cabin far from any help, and it was during a blizzard when her labor began. She dispatched grandpa Charley to fetch the doctor before it was too late but the storm delayed the doctorís arrival. By the time they arrived, grandma Pansy was in bed cradling her new baby daughter, Inez.

Grandpa Cleo raised registered shorthorn cattle. He got up early every day to check on them, making sure their water wasnít frozen or dried up or that a calf didnít come out the wrong way or get lost or sick.

Back then, a farmerís work was never done. Irrigation was managed by gravity flow, not pivots, and required constant care and attention. I read somewhere that farmers with cattle would check every inch of their fence each day for possible breakdowns. Perhaps they still do today, but it doesnít happen in our pasture.

My early memories of the farm, and photos prove, that grandpaís farm was beautiful. How he managed the weeds, Iíll never understand because I sure canít. The job is overwhelming. The farmyard was orderly too. Each month, heíd have a clean up day when every piece of equipment would be serviced, washed and everything put back in its proper place.

I always admired his orderliness. Before the fire we had last April, I could go into grandpaís tool shed and see evidence of his ways. Everything was always in its place. Though when he reached his late 80s, his tool shed became less important to him. One look at my desk and you can see I didnít get that trait from him.

What is it about our ancestors, that sturdy stock of people who came here and worked so hard to make this valley thrive? They passed it all to us, their descendants, so we could enjoy the good life of easy living we have today.

Yes, we work hard, but itís not the same kind of work. If everything we knew were wiped away tomorrow, computers, cell phones, television, radio, the internet, even cars, how would we fare? Would we be able to pick up the yoke of hard work and make this place thrive again with hard physical labor, sweat and tenacity? Do we contain within our make up, the same perseverance our ancestors had? I wonder.

Next week weíll be celebrating the 95th Oregon Trail Days. As usual, at some point Iíll get choked up and try to hide my unexplainable tears as I get overwhelmed with emotion. Am I the only one who does this at Oregon Trail Days? I sure hope not.

This year during Oregon Trail Days I challenge you to consider your ancestors and the contributions they made to your life and the lifestyle we enjoy in this modern world. Maybe your ancestors didnít land here but chances are, they labored heavily wherever they were, making possible the many conveniences we enjoy today.

Honor your ancestors, whoever they were, wherever they were, whatever work they did, and know that without them, all that we are today, all that we have today, would not exist.

We often complain about modern lifeís inconveniences; a weak cell phone signal, heavy traffic, a poor internet connection. These modern day problems are nothing compared to the challenges faced by our ancestors in creating the foundations of our community.

We stand upon their shoulders. What will our generation leave for those who follow us?
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