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Prime Time/Grandparents' lives required fortitude

I've been thinking about Ida and Herman lately. They were my grandparents, who lived with their large family on a farm south of Bemidji at the beginning of the century. The last century.

These months of deep cold bring them to mind. By the time you read this, we may have passed through the worst of it. The sun will rise earlier in the morning, and the possibility of the summer garden will seem real again. But in the depths of winter, when I think of our utter dependence upon the electric grid, I think of Ida and Herman and how they made it through these months.

They burned wood. They fired up the furnace in the basement, and the heat floated up through a big grate in the floor, between the living room and dining room. Yes, the upstairs rooms were chilly. I remember when we came to Grandma's for Christmas, my sisters and I huddled beneath warm quilts, and when we finally had to get out of bed, we stepped on to the cold wood floor and pulled on our clothes fast. Real fast.

Ida cooked on a wood stove that kept the kitchen warm. A pump brought up water from deep in the ground. Shelves in the basement were stocked with fruits and vegetables and meat from summer canning. The cows in the barn provided milk, and chickens in the coop provided eggs. Herman would hitch up the horses to take the family to town for church, and the kids rode to school on a horse-drawn wagon, or sleigh in the winter.

Back in the days before Rural Electrification, which came along in the 1930s, the dark of night was pushed back with kerosene lamps. I like to think of my dad, the oldest of Herman and Ida's brood, reading by candlelight or kerosene lamp.

Eventually they got electricity. And the privy was replaced with a bathroom, and an oil furnace was added in the basement, although the wood furnace stayed and was used until my Aunt Audrey moved out of that house just two years ago.

Then there's this: Herman died at age 64, Ida at 77. They were married for 39 years. Along with the stunning changes in our wired - and wireless - world came equally stunning changes in health care. We are blessed with knowledge, inventions and medical research that were undreamed of back in 1904 when the two of them started their life's journey together. .

These days, a 50th wedding anniversary is marked with a picture in the paper of a couple who are still be enjoying winter trips south in their RV. Obituaries list children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-greats. I'm not sure that Herman and Ida ever went to the doctor. If they did, the physician they visited was up the stairs in a second-floor office in a red brick building in downtown Bemidji. He had limited tools and medicines at his disposal. And yes, I say "he." Women doctors were unheard of.

Dear Herman and Ida, I salute you, and all of the others of your generation who forged pathways - literally - for the generations who came after you. You were strong people, and we are blessed with your genes. I wish you could have benefited from the medical advances that are keeping your descendants unto the fifth generation alive and well. We are so blessed.

And I surely salute our medical world. We have family practice physicians, internists, surgeons, oncologists, cardiologists and an array of other specialists. Today's nurses have the knowledge and tools far beyond what was known in Herman and Ida's day. We all benefit from the research of people who devote their lives to forging the next medical miracles.

The old days hold a certain sentimental luster. But 2011 is an amazing time to live. I am grateful for family history.

And I am grateful that we live today.