North Dakota, a Trip Back to My Roots

North Dakota – A Trip Back to My Roots & These Things of the Heart

Have you ever taken a trip back to your roots? This is assuming, of course, you live in a different corner of the world than you did in your earliest days. Taking such a trip stirs up wonderfully nostalgic memories, reopens feelings of loss, reminds you of your very temporary status in this world and so much more, at least this was the case for me recently.

Recently Dear Hubby and I made a trek to North Dakota, a trip back to my roots. As you might suspect, my emotions were all over the map.

I was born in North Dakota. I didn’t stay long though. My family and I moved to Minnesota when I was only six weeks old because my dad got a teaching job there. And the rest as they say, is history. Well, it’s my history anyway.

Every summer, my family and I went back to North Dakota for a visit with the grandparents, always my mother’s parents and sometimes my dad’s as well. All four of my grandparents were  North Dakotans, children of immigrants. Somehow my grandparents’ parents all had landed in North Dakota many years earlier. Why North Dakota? I have no idea. But then again, why not?

Summer visits to my maternal grandparents’ house were filled with the usual stuff:  Fourth of July and birthday celebrations, shopping for school clothes, spending time with aunts and uncles and cousins, long-awaited-for trips to the local swimming pool and Dairy Queen, watching what seemed to me, unlimited TV channels and going to drive-in movies, to name a few. Mostly, my siblings and I enjoyed being doted on by loving grandparents who naturally, saw only our good sides.

Then there were the perhaps more unusual things like road trips to the Canadian border, attempts at pet behavior management (long story) and the always-to-be-counted-on car rides with my siblings and Grandpa to look at Grandpa’s crops.

Grandpa farmed fields all over the county, and showing them all off to us was quite time consuming. At times, we grew bored with the seemingly endless fields that all looked the same to us, but we never let on. At least I hope we didn’t. Often he would stop the car in the middle of the road, pull off into a ditch and drive straight into a field, all the while jostling around his grandchildren who, of course, wore no seat belts. Our eyes would pop open wide as we marveled at the sounds of rocks and overgrown grass scraping underneath his vehicle. Such rides took place not in a pickup but rather in whatever large, impractical sedan he was driving at the time, such as a Lincoln Town Car or Buick Electra. All that scaping and bouncing made us feel quite wild and adventurous.

We knew our parents, but especially Grandma, would not approve of such shenanigans, so we and Grandpa kept our wild-ride secrets to ourselves.

When we were old enough to see over the steering wheel, Grandpa would often turn the driving over to one of us, though of course, we had no license or permit, much less any actual driving skills.


I thought about those childhood excursions and other memories as well as Dear Hubby and I studied plat maps (maps are not my forte, btw), navigated confusing, country roads and found our way to four of those very same fields I used to tour as a child with Grandpa. My siblings and I now each have a parcel of Grandpa’s beloved land. A piece of North Dakota is now mine. Literally.

Grandpa would be so pleased. As am I.

They say a person isn’t really remembered more than two or three generations after dying. I never knew my great grandparents, so I guess this is true, although I did hear stories about them from time to time. Stories help keep families alive. Perhaps this is why I love stories about families so much.

After my siblings, my cousins and I are gone, will my grandparents be remembered by anyone?

And how long will you and I be remembered after we’re gone? 

Who knows, but likely in the scheme of things, not that long.

Land, on the other hand, has a permanence to it, a reliability like nothing else. (Unless, of course, we all totally screw up our stewardship of the planet).

These things, along with many others, gave me pause to remember and reflect.

Trips back to your roots tend to have that affect. Family. Memories. Connections. Bonds that last forever. Love. Things that matter most.

My trip to North Dakota, back to my roots, was about more than a road trip, reading maps and finding parcels of land.

It was about dear ones, fond memories and more; it was about these things of the heart.

If you like this post, you might be interested in reading my memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person:  A memoir about cancer as I know it. The three paragraphs in quotation above are from my memoir.

Where were you born and where do you live today?

Have you taken any trips back to your roots?

I would love it if you shared a childhood memory about your grandparents or someone else.

Do you recognize the crop in my photo? (I didn’t either. Answer below.) 

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North Dakota, A Trip Back to My Roots
This is my piece of North Dakota. The crop, which had just been swathed, is the plant canola oil is made from. Next year, it’ll likely be wheat. Can’t wait to see that! (see below)


North Dakota, a Trip Back to My Roots & These Things of the Heart
Isn’t it pretty? Wheat crop, August 2018

North Dakota, A Trip Back to My Roots & These Things of the Heart

16 thoughts to “North Dakota – A Trip Back to My Roots & These Things of the Heart”

  1. I was interested to see the canola field as there is a huge canola factory not far from where I live in Iowa, but I have never seen the plant!!

    I was able to return to my Grandfather’s roots in Sweden and meet long lost cousins. We found each other after everyone had a computer and scanner in the mid-1990’s, and we had matching pictures of ancestors on opposite sides of the ocean, so we knew we really were related. It was very exciting for me to see the house his father lived in, which still stands, and meet charming cousins and we kind of started our own travel agency between Sweden and the US. I still live close to where I was born, and am fortunate that way. Thanks for a fun post.

    1. Sheri, After reading your comment, I added the bottom pic so you (and others) could see what a field looks like before harvest has started. Actually, canola oil is the product that is made from this crop. A reader corrected me about calling it a canola field. My readers are so smart. 🙂 Thank you for reading and sharing about your roots, too. One great thing about the internet, among many, is that it makes it easier to connect and reconnect with dear ones from around the world. It’s wonderful you were able to visit Sweden.

  2. I remember saving my money from working at the Lyric Movie Theater to take you, Susan, and Kay up to have rides at the carnival that always came to Park River for the 4th. I’d run out of money bfore you girls got sick of the rides, and sometimes my boyfriend, Butch, would pay for your rides. It was great to see you girls so happy. I shold go through my old photo albums and send you some pictures. Albums: old fashioned selfies. Ha Ha Except I was always taking pictures of other people, never myself. Your Grandmother and Granddad would be so happy to see you enjoying your quarter of land. They worked very hard for everything they had and took excellent care of it. With fond memories of you growming up… Aunt Betty

    1. Betty, I have so many wonderful memories from our trips up there. You are definitely a huge part of many of them! We must have been a handful to supervise at times, and for Grandpa, too! ha. And remember those times I got sick after drinking orange pop? You were always so patient. I would love to see some of those old photos if you do go through them at some point. Thank you for reading and commenting. I think of you, and all of us who share our ND roots, often.

  3. Thanks for this post Nancy. I am not too far from my roots in northeast Iowa, and more of my siblings and their families live in that area than anywhere else. I am proud to be a native Iowan and I lived there for 33 years. I may end up back there someday. I very much appreciate my farm upbringing and the hard work of the generations that preceded mine, as well as that work ethic that continues in my generation and beyond. Summer days when hay was baled and we got to help in small ways–like pulling the rope in for the fork and pulley system used to get hay higher in the barn–were special days, with special lunches in the mid-afternoon. I can still picture the team of my dad and uncle baling and packing the square bales one by one on a moving hay rack as it made its ways across the field. Good memories, great legacy.

    1. Lisa, I had forgotten about your Iowa roots, so thank you for sharing about that and for sharing a few memories. You’re so right, good memories, great legacy.

  4. Hi Nancy,

    I love this post! I think it’s awesome that you own a piece of North Dakota. The pictures are stunning. It’s so important to cherish our roots. As you know, I was born in New York City (born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx), so I never saw land even remotely like that of North Dakota. My grandparents (my mom’s side) lived in Manhattan, and we were very close to them, seeing them often. I was also close to my dad’s mom, who lived in the Bronx. Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to trace my roots, as most of my relatives perished in the Holocaust. That has left a gaping hole of loss for me.

    1. Beth, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I had fun writing it. It is important to cherish our roots. It breaks my heart to read your words about so many of your relatives perishing in the Holocaust, a gaping hole of loss, for sure, and for so many other families as well. We must never forget that time and the pain inflicted on so many families. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  5. Nancy,
    I enjoyed your post. I only live an hour away from where I grew up but rarely get back there but when I do it is just such a special peaceful feeling. Brings back all those special childhood memories. I had a chance to go to see where my father was born in Montana. I believe your hubby’s father was born while they lived in Montana as well. I also have had the privilege of going to the homestead where my great grandfather Stordahl homesteaded in Telemark Norway and seeing the land where they lived as well as farmed! That day was the highlight of the entire trip to Norway as I also got to see where my mothers grandparents homesteaded not that far from my dads.

    1. Lois, The place where a person grows up brings back a lot of memories, no matter if it’s nearby or many miles away. That must have been an amazing feeling to visit the homestead of your great grandfather. No wonder that was the highlight! Thank you for reading my post and for sharing some memories of your own.

  6. Nancy, I love this post! It bought me back to my childhood and I appreciate everything that brings me back to those magical years. You had a very cool grandpa! Love the memories you shared. And I agree, going back to your roots makes you feel nostalgic. I was born in the Dominican Republic. As you know, I was raised by my grandparents. I have visited my little town, Barahona, and even visited the house where I grew up, which my family sold (UGH!!!). I am still very upset that my family decided to sell this house. Actually, there are some things that haven’t been resolved that I need to be open about one day. But going back to my childhood, the best memories I have are from my grandma. She was my best friend. One of the things I remember is that I would always bring her a flower after school. And she would always sing the same song to me while holding my flower.

    I must also share a memory about my grandfather. He once took me to the family farm in the middle of the night. He didn’t speak to me once but I saw how hard he worked for us. Being a farmer is no easy job.

    I’ve lived in New York for years now and I still don’t consider it my home. I am grateful for the opportunities, of course. But my real home is Barahona. Here’s a picture of the coast:

    Thank you for this post. xoxo

    1. Rebeca, Yes, my Grandpa was quite the character and very special. I still can’t believe those rides we took with him. I’m glad you’ve returned to the DR to visit your hometown and the house you grew up in. I know how special your grandparents, especially your grandma, were and still are in your heart. How sweet that you brought her a flower every day after school and that she sang the same song every time. What a lovely ritual that is now a special memory. Thank you for sharing a couple memories of them both. And thank you for sharing the gorgeous photo as well. xo

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