Deceased uncle represents triumphant generation
The last of my mother’s siblings died last week. My Uncle Vincent Youngren was the only son and second child in the family of six children brought up by Amos and Gladys Youngren in Stevens County, Kan. Amos and Gladys were only the second generation of non-Native American settlers to live in Stevens County. Their parents were the first settlers to make their homes in a part of Kansas more akin to the arid, desolate plains of New Mexico.
I often heard my parents remark the land was “No Country for Old Men,” a phrase that much later became the title of an award-winning movie adapted from a story by Cormac McCarthy, about the same kind of country.
My grandfather was the first child of European descent to be born there. His father and mother were Swedish immigrants who found a home in the New World, a home that could be obtained by hard work and material deprivation. My grandmother was the child of people who had moved west from a hard scrabble existence to find homes that could be claimed by homesteading them — living on them and turning the soil to coax enough crops up from the earth.
They didn’t build log cabins because there were few trees on that desolate semi-arid prairie land. The earth itself was the source of their building materials. They built sod homes, and often made what I knew as dugout houses — homes made by literally making a hole in the ground and roofing it with whatever they could afford. The homes were warm in the winter and substantial until excess water, either from a rare rain or melting, made it squishy.
I have copies of photographs of those families and a couple of books recording their experiences written and published by my aunt Evelyn Ford. One of my favorites is of my grandfather Amos Youngren and his older brother Hugo with their dates, all seated on an assortment of mules and horses, ready to go on a picnic or some other outing. Another photograph shows my great grandfather Clarence Youngren sitting on the driver’s seat of a buckwagon hitched up to a team of good stout horses. An elementary-aged child looking out from the wagon bed could have been my mother or one of her siblings.
One of my mother’s favorite stories about her older brother concerned the time they went to school riding in a buggy pulled by a horse known as Old Blacky. My uncle loved to urge Old Blacky to go faster and run up a hill on the way so that the wagon almost flew going down on the other side. My mother said she was terrorized by the speed and force of the wagon going down the hill.
When I think about that story, I smile to myself. Men haven’t changed that much in several generations.
My Uncle Vincent belonged to a generation fast leaving us. They were born during a tumultuous time in our history. He was born during World War I, lived through the Great Depression, World War II and numerous other wars and fluctuations of our economy. This was a time when it was just a feat to exist, let alone bring up a family and make a good living. Uncle Vincent did just that very well. He will be missed by his daughters, grandchildren and nieces and nephews.