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Historical Novels -Bobi Andrews

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

PILGER, NEBRASKA, Small Town, Big Memories

The town of Pilger, a small village near Humbug Creek, in
Stanton County was largely destroyed on the afternoon of
June 16, 2014.  However, the memories of Pilger and of my family
roots can never be destroyed by a tornado.  Growing up in
Nebraska, tornados were a rather common threat, but often
limited to small, open farm areas.  But wind storms came each
summer. As a child, I remember the heaviness of a searing,
hot afternoon, the dead ominous silence while leadened storm
clouds formed and turned black,and the hurried escape to the
outside cave before the circling wind tore down trees in our
cottonwood grove.  On one occasion in the late 1940's, the
neighboring town of Winside was hit especially hard and I
remember seeing bathtubs in the field and stalks of corn penetrating
clear through telephone poles. 

Pilger is special to me.  It is where my grandfather and
great grandfather are buried. It is where on Decoration Day
(yes, that's what we used to call Memorial Day), my extended
family drove from Wayne and gathered in the Pilger
Cemetery placing on their graves large red peonies and multicolored
bearded irises, which we worried would bloom in time
for the occasion.  While older folks placed their memorials
and remembered, my cousins and I roamed the graveyard,
tangling sky-blue buffalo beans into long strings of necklaces. 

My great grandfather, Cephas Ellis, farmed near Humbug
Creek, but loved best fishing in the Missouri River.  It was
here, he, a converted Quaker, carried on his own lay ministry
and earned the affectionate title, Father  Ellis.  It was here
Gr Grandma baked those so-good cookies and believed that
God intervened and saved her husband from a broken ice floe
in the Missouri River when bringing their son's family from Iowa
to Nebraska during an especially frigid January.

Grandpa Charlie Ellis owned a livery barn, a gathering place
for boasting,  carrying on local gossip, and hearing the latest
news.  Now, you have to understand, Charlie (I was old enough
to remember him) was a special Charlie--a bronco rider, and
teller of great stories when the Indians inhabited the great prairies. 
He wouldn't have been Grandpa if he didn't fish at Two-Bit
lake and crank home-made ice cream.  He made for my sister and
me a special fishing pole from a broomstick, eye screws,
and an old reel to use during our annual fishing trips to
Park Rapids and Bemidji Minnesota lakes.  There was something
special about this fishing pole--it attracted bullheads better than
my brother's store-bought pole. Grandpa with loving patience
and with copper twisted above his forearm to take  the pain from
rheumatism, cared for my grandmother through years of debilitating
illness.  He was a man of good humor and extraordinary kindness.

Over the years, there have been many coincidences where I have
been reminded of my Nebraska roots.  In the 1960's my husband
and I moved cross country to Delaware.  As it turned out, our new
next door neighbors were from Stanton, Nebraska. Although I'd found
extensive Quaker records of Ellis's, during my early genealogy research
I was at a brick wall needing to discover the identity of my great
grandfather.  My brother returning home to Broken Bow happened to
stop by the Pilger cemetery where he found Cephas Ellis RIP waiting
to be discovered.   

My brother, celebrating his 84th birthday this year, has lived most of
his adult life in Broken Bow. My  Nebraska nieces and nephews frequent
Facebook and generously share their families and activities. The Pilger
Centennial Book published in 1987 has been a genealogist's dream.
The church organist in Sugar Land Methodist is from the same area in
Nebraska. And wherever Nebraskans congregate, the by-gone feats
of Saint Tom Osborn and the return of good fortune for the Big Red
Nebraska football team is to be forever hoped for.

My thoughts, prayers, and best wishes for the victims of the Pilger tornado
are in my heart.  God Bless!

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