Yesterday's Magazette

8 – A Scrap of Time and Place




By Madonna Dries Christensen


As newlyweds in 1921, my parents set up housekeeping on a farm near Ashton in northwest Iowa, one of two owned by my paternal grandfather (he owned another in Minnesota). When my widower grandfather died in 1937, his will called for the farms to be sold and the money divided among his seven heirs.


My father could not afford to buy the farm we lived on and, due to the Depression, farms did not sell quickly, so our family remained there until the farm sold in 1940. After moving to town, my father worked nights at a construction company keeping a pump operating. Later, we moved to another small town a few miles away, where he worked as a carpenter for a construction company. After a heart attack in 1943, needing a less strenuous job, he became a veterinarian’s bookkeeper.


Over the years, my mother sometimes talked about leaving the farm: “On the night before we moved to town, I found Frank sitting in the barn, crying. He had sixty-five cents in his pocket. I don’t think he ever got over losing the farm. At least we had food on the table, and when things got really bad, Frank sold a pig and we got by. We struggled for years and then had to leave the farm just about the time farmers were beginning to make a profit again.”

The new owner once told my brother Daryl, “When your dad left, he took everything that wasn’t nailed down. He didn’t leave as much as a scrap of lumber.”

But he did leave something––something that would not be found for fifty-five years in a serendipitous discovery.

In 1995, on a visit to Iowa, Daryl drove out to the farm. The dilapidated barn looked as if a strong wind and a heavy rain could make it implode. When the owner said he intended to raze the structure soon, Daryl asked permission to take some boards for souvenirs. The owner told him to help himself.

Daryl searched inside and outside the barn, looking for pieces suitable to use as picture frames. He finally spotted a board that seemed the right size and shape. When he picked it up he noticed the letters F.D. carved into the board. Our father’s initials.

When had he done this? Maybe as a kid, trying out a pocketknife he got for Christmas? Or before he left the farm as an adult––leaving his indelible mark on it? We’ll never know. But had Daryl gone to the farm even a day later, the entire barn might have been gone, and with it the slab of board bearing those initials.

I have a piece of the weathered wood (not the initialed one) in a frame, along with a photo of the barn and another of the farmhouse where my father was born and raised and toiled and began a family. The collage hangs above my desk, grounding me to a place and time that meant a great deal to my father. And to me; it’s where my life began.


(Madonna writes at her desk in Sarasota, Florida. Check out her Web site for more of her writing, pictures, and information about her two books:


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