Lessons from the Past

The surroundings of the west, living out of camper definitely has the feeling of a 21st century pioneer. And yet I have to admit, I do not want to give the impression we are roughing it. Not at all. Our camper is more like ‘Trailer Glam.’  Travel days are definitely hard on Derek as it builds the pressure in his head. Slow and steady, is the name of the game as we are inching our way across the country. Along the way we make many stops to give him a break.  It’s the authentic real people we are visiting that is inspiring us the most and giving us a glimpse of what real pioneers are made of. There stories are impacting our lives and our hope is that they inspire you as well.

Since we were traveling out west, it was very important for Derek to make a stop at his birth place. Rapid City South Dakota. He wanted to see his grandma.  This amazing woman is Derek’s mom’s mother. She is 99 years. To get to this age is pretty outstanding. But what is even more remarkable about grandma is she still lives on her own and is in incredible shape. She still drives to get her groceries and go to church. You will only find her wearing blue jeans. In fact she noticed the stitching on my jeans and thought they were pretty cool and wanted a pair of blue jeans like mine. An old exercise bike is in her bedroom and she tries to exercise every day.IMG_0240

“Sitting still is for the birds!” She says. Constantly up and moving around, is her mindset. We wanted to help her take her outside table and chairs out of the garage for the spring. But she refused. She likes to roll them out herself.

Unbelievable. When I grow up, I want to be like Grandma.

This God fearing woman has lived a full rounded life. Her stories of the past inspired us, and gave us great reflection on our own lives today.

As a child, her father passed away when she was only 12. Her mother suffered from a horrific experience, became severely mentally ill and was institutionalize Grandma’s whole life. Leaving the oldest brother to raise her. From her earliest memories, Grandma worked to earn her way through life, always pulling her own weight and also providing for her younger siblings.

Eventually she married a logger. Together they were married for 50 years. Hard working, raised five children, Grandma cooked for the loggers. Butchered chickens, gardened, canned her food. And boy, can she ever cook.

Watching her face light up as she remembered the days from long ago growing up in the black hills, made me feel like I was stepping back into time with her. Fond memories of horse and buggy rides to church with her father, meeting up with other families along the way and racing the buggies to church. Grandma and her siblings would be hanging on for dear life as they sped down the gravel dirt roads, into ditches, screaming with delight.

Her school bus in the winter time was a horse drawn sleigh. A one room school house is where she learned to read. Though her weathered hands mark her life as a true pioneer, her spirit and sharp mind is what captivated me the most.

Grandma doesn’t look at the negative in life, instead takes every day as it comes. Through the tragedies in life, the joys always succeeded. Her simple way of life not only worked, but worked well. A true success story.IMG_0252

We went out for breakfast with Grandma and we met up with other pioneers. Derek’s Uncle Eldon and Aunt Shirley. Uncle Eldon has been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and has been told his days are numbered. Most would be depressed. Not Uncle Eldon. He told us with a calm confidence that he is not afraid of death. Because he knows heaven is his home. IMG_0245So until his time here is over, he fishes as much as he can, goes to church often. His family is his pride and joy. And he hangs with his loyal, trustworthy group of friends who are as hilarious as they come. We had breakfast with this wonderful group of people. They are what I call, salt of the earth, hardworking, pioneers. Their stories of the past had us belly laughing till our sides hurt.

Many of them grew up without electricity. Out houses were their bathrooms. Heating hot rocks up at night and putting them between their blankets to keep warm. Rattle snakes  slithering through their floor boards of their home. Patching the floors with tin can lids. They worked on their family farms, or family businesses. Sunday was for church. Pride was in their work. Their childhoods weren’t spent in lavish schooling, club sports, or in private lessons. They learned creativity and problem solving skills as they worked hard. They became inventors, mechanics fixing their own vehicles, and farmers as they raised their own food. Paid for everything on their own. Listening to these countless stories mixed of course with humor and even some, let’s just say naughtiness along the way, was nothing shy of inspirational.

Uncle Eldon, in his youth when he was 14 years, took his 12 year old brother and with his dad’s permission traveled across country driving in a 1955 Ford pickup to Wisconsin to go fishing with his uncle.  In Minnesota he got pulled over by the police, and when he was asked to hand over his license, he explained he didn’t have one. Back then in South Dakota you didn’t need a drivers license, so he was let go.  To this day, he says it was the best trip of his life.sdakota

Can you imagine? That would be like Gavin driving across country by himself.

Uncle Eldon’s father started a garbage business in Rapid City. All he knew his whole life was hard work, driving a truck and later in life took over the very business and became a huge success. Providing garbage removal for up to 90% of Rapid City.

Because he had driven a truck since he was a kid, literally, he was always backing up. And in his early 20’s, got caught doing 55 mph driving backwards down a deserted main street at midnight. At least that’s what the officer clocked him at. (Of course I covered Gavin’s ears during this story.) LOL.

Then there was sweet Iva, who is 98 years old. She raised 4 children and was a teacher for 36 years in a one room school house. She shared how teaching in a one room school was such an advantage to the students. The younger students were always learning ahead from the older students. The older children were always reviewing from the younger children. The younger children respected the older ones. The older children protected the younger ones. It was the cycle of learning that she said proved to be a valuable way to learn.

The school yard was the science lab. Nature was their field trips. Collecting different rocks, bugs, and studying nature from personal experience taught the children more deeply than just reading it in a book. It was a hands on way of learning. Iva was not only the teacher, but the school cook, janitor, counselor, nurse, and disciplinarian.  However, she said that she didn’t need to discipline much. Children knew how to respect their elders.

sdakota1Iva was convinced the best way to learn was in a one room school house. It saddened her deeply that children didn’t learn like this anymore. ‘People are so busy now, no one takes time to just enjoy nature and each other.” She said. Her encouragement to me was to have more pot luck dinners, get to know neighbors and help one another out. In good times and bad.

Iva wrote in a journal every day of her adult life. Can you image the books she has waiting to be published?

Listening to these amazing people, was incredible. And yet to hear their view point of what has become of our society saddened me. As they looked at what the culture has become of our youth, it shocked them. In their reflection, they didn’t expect anything as kids. Food on the table and a roof over their heads was all that mattered.  The lack of work ethic and respect many of our youth of today concerned them. The entitlement era children are being raised in, made them fear for the future.

It made me reflect my own parenting. Was I teaching my children respect, strong work ethics, and to not expect things? Was I teaching them to take ownership? Did I allow them to be kids and figure things out one their own? When is too much not good?  Much for me to chew on as I listened to the wisdom of these pioneers. I was so glad that Gavin was able to hear these stories and what a wonderful learning experience for him. He laughed non stop at all the wonderful stories.

After spending time with these amazing people, I knew that it will be a new goal to encourage our children to spend as much time as they can with their elders.  They are full of wisdom, inspiration, and their stories are what we can learn from.

As we said our goodbyes to our new friends, and dear loved ones, it was time to continue on our journey. I have to admit, the ability to meet new people,visit with family, hear their stories, learn from their hardships and successes, is a privilege and honor. A true blessing that we have been graced with. To experience this during the trying time in our life motivates and ignites us with passion and courage. To continue fighting the good fight.

Our drive out of South Dakota into Wyoming was a hilly one. Derek’s head pressure was high as we began to climb elevation. As I drove through the hilly landscape, each mile that passed, I became more confident driving this outfit.  Climbing up and down the hills, made me think of how far we have come, and yet so far to go.

IMG_0264We hit rain, snow, fog, and just about every kind of precipitation one can experience. I think I have now been seasoned in driving in just about every kind of weather  mother nature has to offer.

Rolling into Colorado, my arms were tired from driving and white knuckling the steering wheel. Derek’s pressure was really bad. Elevation is horrible for him. With his condition he cannot equalize pressure. The feeling you get when you go up in an airplane. He has all the time. Except his pressure never pops or releases. It builds until he gets a horrible migraine. So, we decided to give him a break and spend a few days to give him some needed rest before we head on.


Arriving with the glorious views of the Colorado front range before us was truly an awesome sight. A great place to stop and rejuvenate ourselves.

And the journey continues…..

Sarah Hein the Pioneer

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