Humboldt One Last Time

Humboldt Diamond House
Humboldt Diamond House

This last June and July, there was an opportunity to return to America for a conference and a family holiday.  During that time, we travelled yet again to Humboldt, Minnesota.  We went there to see my Mom who was planning to stay up there for about a month.  We stayed for ten days and got a chance to capture some new memories, perhaps for the last time.

Grandma Diamond passed away in February and the house has been empty since then.  The idea was that in June, Mom would return to start the process of sorting and packing everything.  Eventually, the house will be listed on the market.  Until then, the process of preparing for a new owner will continue.

It’s sad really.  It’s something that happens all the time but somehow is always more immediate when it happens to you.  It is tempting to leave things as they are.  It seems a bit disrespectful to disrupt the work of a lifetime.  However, like all generations before, it has to be done.  There is a need to treat it much more organically and split up possessions to family members for the sake of future generations.  It is much more like nature to reclaim than to preserve.

On one of the first days there, I sat at the dining room table and looked around.  Slowly, I became sad as I realized that Grandma had built this great environment but could no longer enjoy it.  It was almost like part of her still lived in the house but the most important part was missing.

We went to the graveyard later to see where she was buried.  She was in a newer section of the Hallock cemetery but still had a temporary marker.  Apparently this is the custom for the first few months.  It made it that much more strong that she was really gone.  It has been hard to accept that she is no longer here.

Somehow I knew that only by visiting Humboldt would I finally realize that she had gone.  It gets easier each time I think about her life and wonderful she really was.

We were lucky enough to see Grandpa Diamond at the nursing home in Hallock.  He was in great spirits and was much more talkative than usual.  At first he didn’t recognize me but it didn’t take long to realize who I was.  He noticed my beard and mustache and said “Whiskers”.  Apparently he was never a big fan of facial hair and perhaps he was gently teasing me.  Ever since his stroke in 2003, he has had a great deal of difficulty communicating.  He tends to talk with his eyes and smiles.  Grandpa seems happy with where he is and loves receiving visitors.  He even got a chance to attend the Kittson county fair.  He’s a great man, even now.  When I first saw him again, it was really hard not to feel sad.  He had really enjoyed talking with people and he never wanted to end up in this situation.  Things have changed so much but he has re-adjusted.  It is just hard since I would love to have him as he was so that we could talk again.  As I might have explained before, he was always such a strong positive influence on my life.  He was certainly a role model.  Sometimes I wish I could be a bit more like he was, even now.  I don’t know honestly how he did it.

As has been explained before, Humboldt is not the hotbed of activity.  In fact, the town is slowly dieing.  It is somewhere around 50 people now compared to the 120 of my youth.  Slowly but surely, the houses are being torn down and buried.  Every time I have gone back, a few more houses are missing.  There is very little indication of it growing bigger again.  Northcote is not even counted as a town and it only has three houses still in operation at where the town used to be.  Hallock is still continuing but is not as strong as it once was.  Some form of hidden consolidation is taking place.  Most people prefer to live in bigger towns or cities.  More opportunities and things to do.  Most of my relatives in the area have scattered.  Very few have stayed close to Humboldt.  Really only my one Uncle and Aunt have stayed in Humboldt this whole time.  Another Uncle and Aunt are in Hallock with some cousins families residing in Lancaster.  There really isn’t enough work on the farm to justify the family staying close by.  Most of us are not farmers anyways.  Last I heard, it only takes about one farmer to keep one hundred people fed.  I suspect it is actually much higher than this.  It is probably something like one in five hundred.  This is keeping in mind that America exports a great deal of grain.  The point is that by using the latest machinery and technology (fertilizer and pest control), it does not take hardly any people.  Add to this the ability to process centrally with trucks and trains, very few people are needed.  It largely becomes an excercise in managing capital and energy.  It helps to have a big farm with experience.  Too small means that it is very hard to stay afloat.

Anyways, I always ponder why the town is shrinking.  The bottom line answer is that people just don’t stay because there is nothing there to do besides farming.  There is some hope working for the elevator or even the bus factory and potentially for customs but these job choices are fairly limited and in high demand.  Most likely people would work from Hallock or Pembina instead.  It really doesn’t look good for Humboldt in the long run.

Nature returns near Hallock
Nature returns near Hallock

We tried to find my Great Grandparents house on my Grandma’s side.  I couldn’t remember exactly where it was.  This one looked like it might be but now I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.  It does not really matter.  There are a number of houses being reclaimed by nature.  This one is fairly recent one.  The house still looks livable except for the fact that it is overgrown.  From the driveway you can tell that people still stop by but that it is not a common occurance.  Knowing that this used to be a family farm house can be a bit disturbing.  Perhaps that is the price of progress.  Without change, we would still be living a much simpler life.  We like things complicated as contrasted later in the trip when we drove through several Amish communities in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Sunset in Humboldt
Sunset in Humboldt

I was incredibly nostalgic when we visited Humboldt.  Without limits, I wanted to soak up what it was and what it is.  It is a hidden refuge, a placid timekeeper, a stabilize force.  It is my roots.  I did what I could.  I took more than 100 pictures in and around the house and tried my best to remember what it meant to be in Humboldt.  Hopefully that will be enough.

Now that my Grandparents are no longer in Humboldt and the house will potentially soon be gone, there is much less of a reason to go there.  There is still some family nearby.  However, things are not quite the same.  Another factor is remoteness.  If you are going to Humboldt, there really is not anything thing else on the way unless you are going to Canada.

Hallock Parade - 125 Years
Hallock Parade - 125 Years

On a lighter note, we were there for Hallock’s 125th birthday.  This happened at the same time as the fair and they had perhaps the longest parade I’ve ever seen a small town have.  The kids really enjoyed the show and loved people tossing out candies even more.  It is quite a novelty to chase down the goodies, hopefully not in front of the next parade participant.

Memories… store them up.  Consume them the rest of your life.  They get better with age.


3 thoughts on “Humboldt One Last Time

  1. Looked like you all had a great time Jeff! I am glad you had the chance to spend some time in Humboldt with your family.

    It is always a great feeling to visit the place that you grow up in, I can relate to that having lived in Australia for more than twenty years away from my home town. Things change every time you go back and visit, some old, and some new, but always a refreshing contrast from what you used to know.

    I guess in my case the town of Kuching has grown into a small city instead, and has lost some of the small town feel, though the people have stayed much the same I find. Capitalism and progress have definitely changed the makeup of the landscape, and materialism has changed the value and quality of life. But your home town will always remain the same in your mind, however far your travel, it is always good to be home…

    Anyway, I digress… 😉

  2. You do a wonderful job of telling the Humboldt story and what it has meant to you and to me. It is a sad event but there are so wonderful memories of life in Humboldt and the people who made it wonderful. Thank you for putting it all down on paper.

    Here is some additional information.

    Oliver and Maud Pearson’s home was located on Highway 175 which takes you east of Hallock to Lake Bronson. The home was about 1/2 mile west of Highway 59 which goes to Lancaster. Willard and Bonnie built a home on the Pearson homestead and eventually had to tear down the old home place.


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