Six years ago, my husband retrieved a sock monkey from a huge pine tree in our yard. The hand-sewn toy was grungy and stinky from what surely had been decades of dangling from branches high overhead.
We speculated that the monkey was marooned as a result of some childhood mischief. Boys, perhaps, teasing girls to tears.
The question was answered on a recent summer afternoon by an unexpected but welcome visitor.
I was sitting in the front yard when a two-door white Ford stopped at the end of our driveway. A man, about 60-ish, hopped out and made a beeline for the massive linden tree in our front yard.
“This is awesome. I can't believe it's still here,” he said as he circled the trunk. “My great aunt planted this tree. The Mormons supposedly bent that branch.”
Our visitor, Alan Dale, is a descendant of the Lonergans, for whom our small development and a nearby lake is named. The family patriarch, Dennis Lonergan, was an Irish immigrant who sold supplies, livestock and push carts to Mormons who stopped at Winter Quarters in nearby Florence from 1856 to 1860. We learned about him in a family scrapbook that had been shared with us by another Lonergan a few years ago.
In about 1870, Dennis and his wife, Margaret, bought 80 acres along what was known as Old Ridge Road. They built their house on the highest point (near present-day 72nd Street and Northern Hills Drive), and spent the next 50 years rearing a family (they had five kids), tending the land and breeding prize hogs.
“So much is the same, but so much is different,” Dale said as he surveyed our grounds where he once played and later lived.
His voice turned wistful as he recalled the sunsets over nearby Lonergan Lake; the sledding hill; the fence that he started but never finished (still marked by a solitary weathered post); the family cat's grave; and the sock monkey dolls that brother Stephen had taken from his sisters and flung into the towering pine tree near the farm road.
Dale took care of the farm from 1971 to 1992, but the job got to be too much. So he and his siblings sold the family's land to a developer, and Dale moved to Benson.
We found evidence of the farmhouse when we dug our own foundation in 2005. And, of course, there are the trees with more than 140 rings to mark their years.
“It was fun taking a trip into the past,” Dale called over his shoulder as he walked back to his car.
“Thanks for taking such good care of the place.”
Here's to a summer of more happy surprises!
~ Chris Christen
Editor in Chief
P.S. Stay in touch between issues; like us on Facebook.com/InspiredHomeOmaha
Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.