Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stella on 9/11

I had the occasion to ask my Grandma about her reaction to the 9/11 tragedy in Manhattan and the fields of Pennsylvania, & Washington DC. She had lived through many American tragedies during her life, so I wanted to ask her how this compared to events such as Pearl Harbor, D-day, Kennedy's assassination, and Reagan's attempted assassination.
Just in asking folks what they consider Great American tragedies over the last one hundred years, most of them say 9/11 as their first response, but we also remember Hurricane Katerina, BP oil spill, and the Val dis oil spill, Mt St Helen eruption, plane crashes, wild fires spreading 1000 of acres, the sinking of the Titanic, and one tragedy close to home, the collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis MN.
My grandmother lived through all of these events, but never once doubted the survival, or for that matter the continued success of the nation.
I know for myself, I wondered what was going to happen when President Reagan was shot. What did that mean for us as a Nation? Could we go on from here? It turns out this was nothing new to the country, but for me it was. I was in junior high at the time. School was released early. I remember that, but it turned out that as a whole the country was no worse for wear. Reagan returned to his role, the criminal was sentenced, and some other topic took over the front page of our nation's newspapers.
I visited my grandma about a month after 9/11/2001. She said this event seemed so much closer to home. Why, I asked. She said mainly because it happened right before our eyes on the television. It made it seem so real, so right out our back door when the television was showing each event as it happened. Pearl Harbor happened on the radio, half the world away. The news was delayed. It took a few days to really now what happened, and it was only words on the radio.
Interesting enough, to my mother WWII was part of her youth, she remembers going door to door to gather items for war relief. Everyone took part in gathering the needed items for the war, whereas at home items were rationed like sugar and flour. In my opinion we don't seem to share in the pains of war like we did during the world wars. That is good in one respect that our country is more prepared for crisis, and bad in another that the cruelty of war is somehow overshadowed.
In honor of the men and women for centuries who have defended freedom in this country I salute you. It is because of so many sacrifices that I may express myself so freely here, and I am humbled. I am humbled by you and by the women and men who have paved this path I walk before me. How can I not value life in the USA when it has been fought for so passionately?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Grandparents Legacy - Babe

My grandparents worked hard to earn enough money to buy the farm. Grandpa Louis was an electrician who would work on high lines. He had no fear of high places. Growing up, Grandpa always had a collection of poles, and glass conductors for the repairs that needed to be done at the most inopportune time. Electrical wires are susceptible to the weather. The cold, ice freezing on the lines, just when you want to stay indoors he would head out to climb these tall poles with a thick rope and foot pegs.

My grandmother always reminded us of how often they sacrificed to have the farm. They ate eggs at many meals because it was a cheep protein source.
My mother was no exception in this quest for land. Since she was the oldest with no boys in the family, grandpa recruited her to help with the farm work. I should include my aunt at this point, the youngest. She was always left to stay inside to help grandma with the work in the house. From what I understand today, it was clearly a "grass is greener on the other side scenario". At times the work on the inside was no "piece of cake", there were hired hands to feed, homemade bread, and pies to bake. Life was very fulfilling on the farm, but very hard work. The forty hour work week was a figment of some bureaucrats imagination to this family.

Why do I bring all this up you may ask. I'm getting to the story. Grandpa wanted a farm for many reasons. One was that he always believed owning land was a wise investment. I think he was (and is) right about that. Second, he loved animals. He worked for the Arthurs family from a very young age, breaking horses, sorting cattle, whatever chore that related to animals that needed to be done. The neighbors called my Grandpa, a cowboy, or a horseman. Today they would probably think of him as a horse whisperer. My grandfather looked forward to his time in the evening on the farm when the field work was done, and it was time to visit his horses, Gypsy, Billy Bar, and Chico. All of these horses were pedigreed quarter horse mares through the AQHA. Gypsy was our babysitter at the farm. This started my love affair with horses. She would let all four of my siblings on her back, and take us around the pen. Just a lead rope, no bridle, and sometimes I don't think we had a lead either. Billy Bar was a spirited beautiful dapple grey. Chico was a beautiful chestnut mare. She was the horse that officially made me a horsewoman. Grandpa spent most of his training time with Chico, during the time I was a child. She became a world class western pleasure horse under Grandpa's lead. Unfortunately, Grandpa passed in 1972. I was seven years old. That story alone is probably worth an entire blog, so I will move on to our family moving on with life on the farm.

Dad took over the farm from Grandpa. He soon realized that his girls especially loved horses as much as he did maybe even more. The family set out to develop a Quarter Horse breeding farm. We went to auctions and bought breeding stock. At its peek the farm sustained nearly 40-45 brood mares. They were all registered quarter horses. The whole venture of having such a farm is worth another blog, but again I need to get to the story I want to tell you today.

It was another auction during the summer in Ellendale ND, 1980 I believe. My Dad and I set out through the barns to get a close look at the horses for sale that day. My Mom saved us seats in the sale ring while we scoped it out. My father was checking out the brood mares, while I was patiently waiting to find just the horse that I could ride for 4-H Horse shows. This horse would be my pal all summer every summer for the rest of my life as far as I was concerned. I observed conformation, behavior, I got really good at it. I won a couple of purple ribbons in my day judging horses at the state level. By the time we had viewed all the horses destined for the sale ring I could tell you the gelding or mare that would be sold for the highest price because she/he was the ideal western pleasure horse at the sale. This might be good for purple ribbons, but not so good when the farm had a limited budget to buy brood mares, not geldings.

While I dreamed of an unlimited budget for the purpose of my own enjoyment, there was a ruckus in the barn. Just a few pens from the entrance to the sale ring. A mare had gone balistic. Dad and I drifted towards the commotion. Could we be any help? We better stay out of the way. It was hard to tell anything during the time. The thick board fences were dense and limited any view of the situation. Random slur words and utterances came from the cowboys on the inside line.

"Check to see if there is a vet available" "Damn mare has injured her foal". That got my attention. I hate to see an animal suffer. I kept poking at my Dad. "What is happening" "Is the colt going to be okay". My father is the kind who only speaks when he has something important to say. "I don't know" doesn't count. After awhile the colt is let out of the barn to just wander on its own. His insides are falling out of his tummy and he really can't do anything more then curl up in a ball in the grass near the barn. The mare is still on the docket to be sold, but the crew working think she maybe too wound up to get in the ring. She is not happy about being separated from her baby. Meanwhile, I'm pleading for my Dad to take action. "What is going to happen to that colt?" At that point my Dad tells me to go sit with my mother. I really don't want to do that, but I was never a child to disobey my father at 13-14 yrs of age. I head for the sale ring, head hung down, another example of life farming, and ranching, and overall misery on the prairie. I hear my ancestors chime in my head "Pioneer life is tough on the prairie, kid, suck it up, cowgirl up." Before I get too far away I hear my Dad tell one of the Sale Barkers that he is willing to pay $50 for the injured colt if they can get him in the ring. I'm hopeful at that point.

I tried to explain to my mother what was going on. We never saw the colt, or the mare enter the sale ring, but shortly after that Dad comes up to our seats and says "lets go home".

I'm delirious with questions. "Did you get the colt?"

Dad says "Yep, he is in the trailer."

I had many more questions. I didn't see anything in the horse trailer. I spewed questions, but Dad said nothing apparently at that point there was nothing to say. We had a good hour to go to the farm. I had fallen asleep on the trip, and went to bed as soon as we got back to the farm it was late. Dad insisted that he handle this on his own.

He first called his Nephew who was a large animal vet. I heard Dad's side of the conversation, but I was sure Dad would wait for first light to try any kind of surgical procedure, or maybe Reynold would be over. He lived a couple of hours away, and that would mean a vet bill as well.

The next morning I woke to the sound of my father entering the house with the declaration that he had performed the surgery on his own. Babe, as we called him, is all sewed up. He has been neutered, and a metal plate has been placed in the bottom of his tummy to keep his insides in. He had a stomach hernia, but the gelding was up and moving around. Hooray, I had my gelding that would be my riding horse for life.

We sat down to lunch, and Dad filled us in with a few of the details that he wasn't willing to talk about the night before. He had only payed $25 for the colt. My Dad along with one of the line crew had layed the colt in the horse trailer and secured him with rags and ropes to keep him from moving and doing more damage. When he talked to Reynold he gave him the information he needed to fix the colt up. It would probably be smart to neuter him. Reynold mentioned that they usually stitch up the hernia and put in something to support the stitches while it heals. Dad opted for the metal plate. Now it was a matter of wait and see. He was vulnerable to other horses pulling at his incision, or even himself. Also, infections. Dad had introduced a foreign material to the horses body. There was no way of knowing if this colt would survive.

A lot of work ensued. The next year was a constant check to see if the horse was surviving, or even more so thriving. He was weaned from his mom about a week too soon, so that was a factor as well. He was thriving. He got a lot of attention that first couple of years. He was on a halter and lead early, and he was used to the human attention. I couldn't wait until he was ready for the show ring. As a yearling I took him to the first horse show. I showed him on halter, we got a blue ribbon. That was good, but I was hopeful that next year would be a purple ribbon.

I loved this horse. It was simple. He belonged to me. Babe and I practiced for Western Pleasure, and halter for the next year. I decided that before the show I would take him to the local centennial parade in our hometown. I was already committed to playing in the marching band, but I could still bring up the rear on Babe on horseback. After all the marching band went first. There was plenty of time to change clothes and ride my beautiful Babe in the parade.

He was two years old, he was so nervous about all the people, and things. He held his head up proud. He made me feel like I was riding a graceful Lepazaner Stallion at a fancy horse show. I held him back. He wanted to leap right back to the farm with his other horse buddies. My mother took a picture of us. It was incredible the way he held himself. He would naturally cross over his legs and look like he was performing dressage.

After the parade, my dad and I had decided that Babe needed some formal training which we sent him for six weeks. The report came back that he was a natural for reining. He would stop on a dime, and pivot on his haunches.

Looking back the thing that needed training was me. I had this gifted horse, and his spiritedness challenged my every move and thought. The next horse show I would take Chico, she was more evenly tempered. Again I received a blue ribbon. Chico would not let me trim her ears, and I refused to fight with her. That was the only reason I didn't get a purple the judge told me.

Babe was thriving at that point. We registered him through the AQHA, and his registered name was Reno Coteau. Coteau being the region he came from the Coteau Hills. I was starting to gain more interest in school activities, and there was less time for riding. Babe was still my horse and we went for lots of rides during the summer when school was out. But, I had other life ambitions.

In the fall of 1984, it was time to head to college. There was no more time for riding. It was about school, and summer jobs now. In the fall of my sophomore year my Dad sold Reno. It wasn't good for a gelding to not be "working" all the time, he would say. I never said goodbye to Babe. I asked Dad for information about who he had sold it to, nothing. I had vowed to buy him back when I had the money and a place for him to live.

Life went on. I graduated college, moved farther away to the state of Missouri(Misery, which was what it was to me.) I hung on to my dream, endured hardships, and dreamed of riding again.

I had become a city girl on the outside, but seriously you can never take the country out of a country girl. Every horse I saw reminded me of Babe. I particularly noticed the sorrel horses that had similar markings on them.

Eventually, I had to let the dream go. I was in my forties. Certainly, he was long gone now. Horses don't live much past twenty-five.

A couple of months ago, I got a call from my sister. The therapeutic riding center where her daughter rides has a horse they received that looks like Reno, and the horse is called Reno. Could he be my horse from my youth? I wanted it to be true. I was delighted with the idea that he could still be alive. He would be thirty to thirty-three years old by now.

I made arrangements to go back to see the horse. There before my eyes is an old man of a horse. I'm analyzing his conformation. Two white socks, all white hooves, star and stripe on his head. I don't remember that small white spot on his ear. He was always head shy, but not anymore. The cannon's on his legs are higher up then the average horse just like I remember on Babe. His facial line is deeper then I remember, and he is so skinny. He is not as big a horse as I remember. I doubted this was Reno. I wanted to take a picture of his belly. He had a scar from his surgery, and the metal plate made his tummy the hardest thing about him. The picture didn't turn out that good, and I wanted to compare it to another horses belly. More doubt, more investigation was necessary. The belly was certainly hard by touching it. It certainly could be Reno, but I wanted certainty.

That night we had arranged to see Clay Walker in concert. It was a fabulous concert, with lots of joyous moments. Clay was celebrating his Birthday. At one point I found tears dripping down my face. Nearly eight hours earlier I had seen my horse from my youth, we had pulled him back from the brink of death. Babe would not let my dream die. He would let me visit him every day that week, always being near the front of the pasture where I could pet him. I brought him alfalfa tabs, and he waited for me every morning. He came to me when I called him Babe, and he nudged me on my left side just like he always did.

Yes, there is room for doubt. I continue to search for his registration papers to confirm that he was owned by my father when he was initially registered. We have tried to get into contact with the present owner but no return call has come. She gave him to the center because she had run out of money and hay. I fear that she will not return our calls because of guilt, and fear. I just want her to know that it was a good decision to give him up.

Reno will spend the rest of his life at the therapy center according to the therapy center manager. He will be "working" as a therapy horse. So far they use him for a "walker". The children do exercises on his back while he keeps a steady pace around the arena. He still needs to go through some testing before he is certified for students to ride. My niece is ambitiously hoping that she will get to ride Reno during her riding lessons.

My mother says I willed this to happen. I say it was Reno that willed it. Or, maybe it was my Grandparents wishes from heaven. That we continue to love the country and the animals that they loved and connected with in their own youth.

My Grandparents left a legacy - the farm. They also instilled in all of us a pioneer philosophy. Conservation of the land, love of life, and a priority for survival of all men.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Stella Ripple Afghan Pattern

In honor of my Grandma who made me my Sunny Ripple Afghan 30 some years ago. Here is my interpretation of the pattern in crochet.

Crochet hook size G
Several colors of soft 4 ply worsted yarn (about 20 oz yarn total)

Baby Sized - Chain 152

ROW 1: 2 sc into 2nd ch from the hook. *Sc into next 10 ch, skip 2, sc into each of next 10 chs, 3 sc into next ch, repeat from * 8 more times. Sc in next 10 ch, skip 2, sc in next 10 ch, 2 sc in last ch. Ch 1, turn. (RIGHT SIDE)
Row 2: from now on sc in the back loop of each stitch. 2 sc in first sc, *sc in each of next 10 sc, skip 2 sc, sc in next 10 sc, 3 sc in next sc (which should be the middle of the 3 sc of row 1). Repeat from * 8 more times. Then sc in next 10 sc, skip 2, sc in next 10 sc, 2 sc in last sc, ch 1 and turn. Repeat row 2 for the entire afghan.
Repeat Row 2 throughout. Finished blanket should measure about 4' long or desired length. Change colors after every 4 rows or so. This is a very flexible pattern.
I have seen ripples with color changes mid-row.... just depends on the look you want.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stella crochets.

This blog today is dedicated to my grandma's favorite hobby, Crochet.
I picked up crochet from my mother, and my grandmother. I can't say they taught me, but they let me watch them crochet. My grandma was a pencil crocheter where the needle goes up from the hand when you crochet. I ended up being a knife crocheter where the the needle goes down through your palm. My mother bought my sister and I a collection of books which I refer to as the "Golden Books". It was full of great explanations of the stitches. It had patterns, and colored photos. Probably the equivalent of watching You Tube videos today.
My first project ever was a huge Granny Square. Did you know that you can crochet a granny square indefinitely? I just kept going around and around. It was the 70's and it kept going "around and around" in beautiful orange and brown variegated yarn. It was very dated. Not sure what happened to that piece.
Grandma made beautiful afghans. She liked to do "Mile-a-Minute" patterns. There is great joy in completing a project. I can think of a least two afghans I still have that my Grandma made me. I have a purple and green "Mile-a-minute" that she made me maybe ten years ago. I also have a sunny yellow ripple afghan that she made me when I was in high school. Do I dare say it was the late 70's, early 80's?
The Stella Ripple afghan is a pattern I put together for my Grandma just a couple of years ago. The original ripple pattern had been passed among friends in the little town we all grew up in. It needed to be drafted to paper before the simple combination faded into the earth with all those crafty ladies.

Here is my latest pattern for a Square to hold button "chocolates".

Chocolate Box Crochet by Melinda Miller

41 chains.
Row 1: dc across.
Row 2: In second chain from hook: 2dc, fpdc, 6dcfive times, fpdc, 2dc, ch & turn.
Row 3: 2dc, bpdc, 6 dcfive times, bpdc, 2dc, ch & turn.
Row 4: repeat row 2
Row 5: working in front loop only in dc, repeat row 3.
Row 6-9: Repeat rows 2-5.
Row 10-13 Repeat rows 2-5.
Row 14-17 Repeat rows 2-5.
Row 18-21 Repeat rows 2-5. Fasten off.

Overlay with CC: In the loops remaining in row 5, 9,13,& 17 sc across. Tuck in ends.
Trim in CC with sc around. Three sc in corners.

Copyright 2010 by Melinda Miller

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Stella continued

The first great tragedy Stella had to suffer in her life was the lose of her brother Willie. Willie was 19 years old when he died of pneumonia, about 1920. Penicillin would not be discovered for another eight years. It would not be readily available until 1945. Willie had gone to a local gym to play basketball. He left the gym with a wet head making his immune system weak and susceptible to disease. Willie had everything to look forward to in life. He was engaged to be married to his sweetheart. He left many hearts broken the day he left this earth. The remainder of Stella's life she would talk fondly of her brother. One of those rules my grandmother Stella lived by would be "let bygones be bygones". She didn't talk much about tragedies of the past. The people who had gone by were exactly that. We should live for the here and now, she would say. I like to believe all that is true, but I like to throw in the rule that we should remember the past lest we repeat it. I want to remember the past. I want to not repeat the lessons others have learned before me.
Stella finished high school in Ashton. She and her parents had moved to a farm closer to Mellette. Garrett was share cropping now. Stella was looking forward to finding a job. Northwestern Bell had opened a new phone office in Mellette and they were looking for phone operators. She took the job. She also took a boyfriend, Louis. Louis was a Mellete boy, very handsome, a wild child. Stella's parents didn't approve of this character she had connected to. Louis' mother and father were divorced. His mother had moved to Minnesota, and his father had taken a new wife. He was being raised by the village who were keeping an eye on him for their own sake as much as for him. The Arthur's took him in on occassion. The Howard's on the east end of town looked after him some too. Louis was good with animals, the farmers liked to hire him to help with weeding of the herds. He got involved in some of the local cattle drives too. He was a teenager. He could look after himself. It was the late twenties early thirties. He could run some moonshine around the county, he was good at evading the sheriff. He made good money doing that. He was determined not to work with his brothers who wanted to take over their father's butcher shop. He would take on his own adventure. He decided electrician. He didn't mind high spots. He went out on the trucks to fix high wires all over the country. It made him good money. He wanted to make an honest women out of Stella, make her parents like him, and he mostly wanted a farm. He wanted a farm with his own horses more then anything in the whole wind world.
One night he went on a moonshine run. Everything was typical the pickup went smooth. He did the drop off successfully, but the sheriff saw him. Louis jumped in the car and high tailed it to the Howard's barn. He lost the sheriff long enough to store the car in the barn. He casually walked from the barn, but the sheriff saw him. The sheriff and him were now on foot. Louis dashed to the phone building where Stella was working. He was hoping the sheriff hadn't seen him.
"Stella hide me. The sheriff is chasing me . . . He just saw me leaving my drop." he said.
Quick thinking Stella told Louis to hide under her petticoat, he did. The Sheriff entered the building.
" Stella have you seen that young O'Donnell boy in here?"
"Why no officer, not in here." Stella said innocently, grabbing the next call to the party line.
The officer after scanning the room left knowing he could have a talk with boy later.
Louis was right where he wanted to be, wrapped up in the legs of the girl he knew he was going to marry some day.
"When are you done?" said Louis from beneath the skirt.
"Shh, he might come back", hushed Stella. She knew he wouldn't but Louis needed to be put in his place.
Louis and Stella did make a date of it that night, and in the spring of 1935 they were pregnant with my mother. They were not yet married, since Stella's parents didn't exactly approve of Louis. Plus that Louis' family life was complicated. Stella and Louis grabbed a couple of friends for witnesses and headed to the next county in Faulkton SD. They got hitched in May 1935, and Coral arrived in October 1935.
The first eleven years of their married life they lived in a small house on the north side of Mellette. They both worked as hard as they could to earn enough money to buy a farm. They ate food that the neighbors would give them. They raised chickens and ate eggs sometimes three times a day. Louis' new wife turned out to mellow his father. That helped. Louis' father Mike ran the grocery store, and Olive his new wife was more than happy to watch Coral when they needed time to themselves. Stella had her work cut out for her. Louis was ambitious, but also reckless. He still wanted to run moonshine. She had to put an end to that. It did end one night when Louis came home with gun shots all along the car. Louis also liked to drink the stuff way too much as well. Stella decided that the one piece of amunition she had against this wicked evil of alcohol was his reputation. Louis wanted people to like him, it was very important to him. She was vocal to all of Louis' friends whenever he would get out of hand with the alcohol. Eventually, Louis did grow up. The ambition won. In 1946, Stella and Louis bought their farm. They moved to the farm with their two daughters. My mother became the boy of the family since Louis needed help. They worked hard. Eventually Louis bought a couple of real nice quarter horses with blood lines to boot. He was not a rodeo person. He was a horse show kind of person. He took his Chico, & Billy to the horse shows and won many ribbons. Stella's man was a prim and proper cowboy. The hat, the jacket, and the well polished boots.
It was a good life, with good friends. Louis pondered the corn crop, and Stella focused on raising her girls to be proper ladies, proper pioneer ladies just like her mother had done with her. Coral was a tom-boy, and Joy was her little girl. Joy helped her with the house and the farm yard, and Coral was out in the fields helping her Dad.
Before Stella and Louis could blink their eyes their girls were grown up. Coral wanted to go to school in Kansas City, Joy wanted to move to Minneapolis. Another turn and their girls were both married with children of their own living their own lives.

More next time . . .

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Beginning - Stella

July 6, 2010

I've spent my entire life in the Middle Border. Hamlin Garland, who was the original son of the middle border, inspires me to tell you the story of my life from the Middle Border.
I am the spawn of the Pioneer. I can trail my roots back to some very interesting people who wanted a better life. Some of these people experienced nothing but great tragedy. They took a risk to move west and grasped the horns of life with both hands.
Let me start by telling you about my Grandma Stella. Stella was first generation Dutch in America. Her parents thought Ashton, SD would be a fine place to farm, and make a life for themselves. Stella was born at home, no hospital. The third child and only girl. She was the apple of her father's eye, Garrett, and as most teenage girls, lacked understanding of her mother, Cora. She enjoyed the attention of her older brothers, Willie and Rob. Willie was her favorite, sometimes not quite understanding the complexities of Rob who was the middle child.
Garrett worked as a hired hand, and share cropper. Cora raised the family with a strict hand. Garrett was content with his life. He had married his dear, Cora, whom he had known almost his whole life long in Finkum, Netherlands. He had sent for his bride to come to America. Cora arrived in the spring of 1905, and they were married in the Methodist Evangelical church on May 17, 1905. Their friends Adelaide and Fred, stood with them to recognize their union before God and Country.
It may sound quite romantic at this point, but there were struggles. After all this was the frontier they were living in.
Stella grew up learning how to be a proper Pioneer woman. There were few modern conveniences. It was lots of hard work and few rewards. One of the best rewards to Stella was her toy dog. When she was good her mother allowed her to play with this little ceramic dog that was black and white about three inches tall. In Stella's world there was not much time to play. Everyone had work to do.

- to be continued -