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She’s been here a long time, 111 years to be exact. She is poised between two hills, another house is about a half a mile west, and another a half mile east. She sits maybe twenty feet from the road, surrounded by a wooden split rail fence and a grassy lawn. Three oak trees make for a towering facade between her and the 2-lane country road, they’ve been there nearly as long as she has. She’s front and center on roughly 300 acres of farmland that stretches in every direction, fields of soy beans, corn, and alfalfa. A stream runs through the land, and above its steep ravines there are forests of walnut and oak trees. Along the dirt road that leads to the back fields are the barns that shelter the farming equipment, an old car and hauling truck, and beyond that an old dumpsite holds disposed of artifacts, the decrepit outhouse lingers along the tree line.

When I first saw her about 12 years ago, it was a frigid, windy Kansas day, and we were anxious to get inside and out of the cold. I knew of this home, but had never actually seen her up close and personal. She is a traditional, flat front two-story farmhouse with a white exterior and a green shingled roof.

My husband and I stepped up onto the front steps and entered through the dilapidated front door, a wooden beveled style with three glass window panes and a brass knob handle. We walked directly into a dining and living room area, the walls were covered with wood paneling and the original floors were concealed by a 70’s moss green carpet, parts of the plaster ceiling were falling to the floor and there were remnants of expired items tossed about. The kitchen was in rough shape, it was rodent-infested and filthy, and the bathroom’s condition was even worse. We tentatively stepped back through the living room and pushed open a small door at the base of the narrow wooden stairwell to make our way to the second story. The three bedrooms were also blanketed in age-old carpet, and the plaster walls were water-stained and peeling. The few pieces of furniture that remained were falling apart, and a neglected porcelain baby doll lay on a bedroom floor.

She had been in this state for at least ten years, and had been decaying for almost fifty. The sadness of this place was permeable, knowing that she’d been uninhabited all this time, and knowing the history she shared with my family. She had held my grandmother, her two sisters, and my great grandparents in her rooms for nearly 36 years altogether. Little did I know then what she would come to mean to me.

My Dad had been focused on renovating, and even rebuilding, parts of her, for some time. This place has meant a great deal to him — it was his mother’s childhood home and he had fond memories of running around the farm with his cousins as a boy. It was during this time that I began my genealogical research in earnest— driven by the desire to learn more about how she came to be. Over the next five years, she would be completely transformed through a long list of restorative undertakings; plumbing, electrical, plastered walls, roof, a re-configured kitchen and bathroom, new appliances and windows, wood trim on windows and baseboards, interior paint, exterior paint, and refinishing the original floors that had been hidden under the moss green carpet. Eventually I was able to contribute to the final finishes; paint color, fixtures, tile and floor treatments, it felt like such a privilege — to revitalize her in this way.

By the summer of 2013, she was ready to welcome us in. We moved in the furniture, made the beds, put up curtains, unpacked dishes, pots and pans, and put up artwork and memorabilia on the walls. She was now warm and inviting, she embraced us all — she finally had the family in her rooms once again.

Now, about two or three times a year our family retreats to this ancestral place. She is the connection to my grandmother and my great grandparents who built her in 1911, and to my ancestors whom bought the land she resides on nearly 150 years ago. I often lie in the upstairs bedroom that once belonged to my grandmother and look out the east-facing window contemplating the significance of her and how we came to land here — in this place. Through her, I feel an overwhelming sense of belonging, even otherworldliness. And because of her, I have come to better understand my ancestors, the roles they played as settlers, and their place in history.