Rivers and time are unending movements which cannot be controlled. Our frail efforts seek to manipulate, and out smart both, but nature and time determine their own rhythm.In our rush to become adults both seem to stand still, and once we have reached a certain age we long for them to once again cease.
Our farm was close to a small town. I had always heard of the people who lived and worked their farms “back by the river,” which meant they lived in a remote part of the county. I was always curious who those people were, and how their lives were different from ours. There was always the emphasis on the phrase “they live back by the river” when referring to a family, who seldom came into town to shop, as if they were from another planet. I left home and never made the time to explore the “back by the river” territory.
Many years later I arrived at my sister’s farm to celebrate her wedding anniversary. Her son Gary, had arrived shortly before me, and was shyly waiting to greet me. Having seen him only once as an adult, I had to look twice before I recognized him. He is a very handsome young man, and I remember visiting my sister in the hospital right after he was born, and being struck by how he was the most beautiful new born I had ever laid eyes on.
We fell into an easy conversation. Suddenly I thought of “the river” where I had never been. It didn’t take much to persuade Gary to take me on a tour, and within seconds we were on the road.
The river’s wide curves held farm steads nestled amongst dense stands of trees. We crossed the Souris River on a trestle bridge and began a gentle, up hill climb, that led to alternating fields of wheat, corn and oats; each crop flaunting it’s spring greenery as if in competition at an Easter Parade.
As we rounded a curve the small, *Norway Lutheran Church came into view. Standing proudly on a hill over looking the Souris, and fields of grain; the immaculate grounds and structure had an air of heavenly elegance that seemed to dominate the plains on which it was built. Driving towards the Church it looked lonely, but the near by cemetery, surrounded by a beautiful wrought iron fence, and what looked like pearly gates, is it’s constant companion.
I couldn’t help but wonder about all the memories this beautiful, small, church must hold; people traveling on horse back and in horse drawn wagons to attend Sunday services. How proud and happy parents must have been watching their children christened. How sad the gathering of friends and families must have been at funerals, bidding farewell to loved ones as they laid them to rest.
How many happy couples were married in this Church on the lonely prairie? Hmmmm. Ok, I have seen countless wedding pictures around the turn of the last century and not one bride or groom was smiling. It does make one wonder if happiness was ever contemplated in those days.
Small communities customarily have their cemeteries at a considerable distance from their churches. Cemeteries are usually situated on a donated plot of land outside the towns’ city limit’s, making it seem a lonely place for the departed. The beloved who are laid to eternal rest in the Norway Lutheran Cemetery are comforted by a soaring, divine, spire watching over them, the river, and the surrounding grain bearing fields.
As Gary and I lingered watching the sun set behind the church, chatting about various topics; I couldn’t help but admire his soft-spoken ways, his gentle, sweet, demeanor and wisdom beyond his years. I was grateful I had those few precious hours with him, and for a few moments time and the river seemed to cease their advances.
*(Built in the late 1800’s, by Norwegian immigrants, The Norway Lutheran Church has been in constant use. Tourists, from as far as Norway, drive many miles to admire the late Gothic architecture once they arrive in North Dakota.)