A few days before he died, I sat by Grandpa Jones’ bed in the nursing home. He fiddled with the blankets, frustrated that his life was nearing an end. He wanted to be home. He wanted things how they used to be. The silence was painful for me, and since I don’t believe in silence I started the conversation with a question. “Grandpa, what was the favorite place you ever lived?”
Without hesitation he answered; “Survey Valley.”
I wasn’t surprised. The Survey Valley is in the Sandhills of Nebraska, north of Ashby. It is the place they moved to, by covered wagon, in 1913. Grandpa was eight. He grew up there, he married there, and his heart really never left. He wrote about it in his books; the people and the places.
From 1978-2005 the places I lived in Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota all led to a frequent traveling of Highway 2 through the Sandhills to get to Grandpa and Grandma’s. Even now, when we travel to Rapid City, we travel via Highway 2 most of the time, just from the opposite direction. So indirectly, I have developed a love of the Sandhills. It feels like home. It is the place of my roots. My Daddy was born in this sod house in the sandhills during the depression. My Uncle Jim is the boy in the picture.
I remember once, when I was about seven the family made a trek one Saturday up to the site of the old sod house. It wasn’t there anymore. If I remember right, we found some foundations on the property and an old garbage dump. What I remember most though about that day was the feeling that pervaded the air. It seemed everyone was a little excited mixed with sadness. Everyone wanted to see the place where. . .
Last September my sister and I drove Highway 2 on our way to, and from Grandma’s birthday party. I realized that I didn’t remember traveling the Sandhills in the fall. Maybe it was just the fact that the Sandhills never look quite the same any two years. This year, in particular the colors were amazing. Oh, not the bright colors you see out east, but subtle hues. It was awe-inspiring.
Yesterday I spent a lovely sweet hour reading a book I ordered. The name is Like No Other Place – The Sandhills of Nebraska by David A. Owen. My cousin Gordon and his wife Jan brought the book to the reunion and I really wanted one of my own. Mr. Owen is from Connecticut and spent a year in the Sandhills learning the people and the land. He took pictures and then he put together this fabulous book. I could hear my Grandpa talking as I read the stories in the book. I can tell you, that if Grandpa and Grandma Jones were living, they would not only own this book, they would be its best promoters. Grandpa liked books with lots of pictures. Grandma loved the Sandhills too.
Gordon is pictured in the book which is fitting. I’ve always felt that Gordon is the most like Grandpa. He is the oldest grandson and benefited from the most years around Grandpa. He and Jan moved their family to the middle of the Sandhills. I still remember the pride in Grandpa’s voice when he spoke of their move. He was sad they would be farther away from him but oh my, there was a bit of jealousy that he couldn’t be the one moving there.
So, my recommendation today is that you go to Amazon, or your local bookstore and buy this book. Whether you have ever been to the Sandhills or not it will be interesting for you to read. I think he caught the essence of what the Sandhills are as well as what it means to be a Sandhiller.