A few weeks back my mom's last aunt, my last great-aunt on either side of my extended families, passed away. My great-aunt Helen was 98 years old and she was still living on the farm by herself, which was a pretty amazing feat itself. The old O'Hern farm is near Barnum, just west of Ft. Dodge in the north-central part of Iowa.
Helen's home is the same farmhouse my late grandmother, Genevieve (O'Hern) Burke, was born and raised in until she graduated from high school and moved to Omaha for nursing school in the late 1920s. Aunt Helen was the wife of my grandma's youngest brother, Daniel O'Hern, who took over the family farm after my great-grandpa retired.
There were nine kids born to my great-grandparents, M.F. and Mary O'Hern, on that farm in the early years of the 20th century. My great-grandparents were "good Irish Catholics" having enough children to field a complete baseball team or work the farm at least.
My grandma always told me it was so nice I liked the farm so much when I was teenager, which was really ironic considering how much she despised the farm life of her childhood. She told me stories about why she did not like the farm, but one tale in particular always sticks in my mind.
In the fall of the year, all nine kids had to help my great-grandparents harvest the corn crop. Mind you, this was the 1910s and into the 1920s -- way before combines and even before machinery like corn pickers.
The boys helped my great-grandpa pick corn by hand and the girls had to drive the team of horses and pull a wagon nearby so they could toss the ears of corn into it. As with any siblings, the brothers sometimes took the chance to "accidently" hit their sisters with ears of corn.
Whether or not these tosses were truly accidents is lost to history, however I know she did NOT enjoy this family time together and it probably only made her want to the leave the farm that much more. So much so, in fact, she lied on her nursing school application to get in at age 17 instead of 18.
And now, more than a century later, all the children and their spouses of M.F. and Mary are gone.
I will freely admit when you get that far out on the family tree and your grandmothers combined have 16 siblings and spouses, it is hard to know any one of them very well. Plus we lived three hours away; in later years I usually only saw this side of the family every few years.
I didn't know Aunt Helen that well but we did stop and visit her a few times over the years. A few years back, I was through that area on a story assignment and I stopped at the farm and visited her on my way home.
One of her daughters was there (she and Dan had eight children) to take Helen to funeral, so my visit was a fairly short one. We talked about her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and my family, she told me a few stories of my grandparents I had never heard before and then I was on my way down the rural highway.
She told me to come back again and next time bring my family. I told her I would, but we never made it up there to visit her as life and 175 miles got in the way.
I drove my mom to Helen's visitation and all eight of her children were in the receiving line at the funeral home. My mom introduced me to her cousins and several of them said the same thing to me.
"You are the one who visited mom that time," they said.
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