Friday, August 12, 2022
Aug. 12, 2022

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Everybody Has a Story: ‘Farm kid’ survived to tell the tale

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Cows are domesticated animals with friendly personalities and soft, large bovine eyes that look at you trustingly. The luckiest ones are accustomed to being pampered in air-conditioned milking areas with soft classical music in the background (it really does help them “let down” their milk). Bessie is provided with soft bedding, fresh fragrant hay, verdant pastures and grain with meals hand-delivered.

Horses are also domesticated — the high-spirited, independent icon of the old West. Some grain is delivered, usually when you are trying to catch them, but most of the time they forage on their own.

In winter, cows will stand in 6 inches of snow waiting for food. But horses paw (or perhaps we should say hoof) their way down to the still-good but cold grass.

On our Idaho farm during the winter, the hay was always delivered to the cows. Tractors were useless in 3 feet of snow and below-zero temperatures, so Dad would harness the team, hook up the sleigh, load the hay and with a click, “gee” or “haw” shouted out, head to the field. Then he would go to the back of the sleigh and fork the summer-fragrant hay onto the snow.

The cows would gather ’round with great anticipation, their frosty breath clouding the air. We kids loved it. We could tie a rope to the end of the sleigh, and if we angled out at 45 degrees, we could really get some speed on a pair of skis. Of course the return trip, pulling back behind the sleigh, was slower, and you had to watch out for cow pies.

The horses, on the other hand, spent the winter across the river, exercising their independence. There was a large pasture that was never hayed and had good grass under the snow. It contained several willow trees that provided some shelter and a source of easy to get grass, as there was less snow under them. The river was frozen, so they could cross to get water, and there was some hay in the barnyard, but mostly they stayed on the other side.

One day in February, we realized that we hadn’t seen the horses recently, so Dad decided that someone needed to check on them. Since I was the “tomboy” farm hand, and the oldest kid at 13, the job fell to me.

Cold weather produces powder snow — beautiful, fluffy, sparkling and loose. It had been a couple of snowstorms since the last slight thaw, so the frozen-firm top you could stand on was about a foot down under the powder. That doesn’t sound like much, unless you’re only around 4 1/2 -feet tall and encased in winter clothing.

I headed out, dumb and happy, and started on the half-mile trek. Stories of stranded old-timers frozen in similar situations never nagged at my teenage brain. Nothing like that bothers teens!

As time went on, walking got harder and I began to get tired. I was pretty well winded by the time I got to the horses. Judy, my sister’s bay mare, greeted me with a soft head-butt and friendly nicker. I rubbed her velvety nose and checked her ribs to see if she’d been eating enough. Polly, my bald-faced bay, nodded at me a couple of times and rubbed up against me while I idly rubbed behind her ears. Like Judy, she was in good shape. Then came Georgie, our cantankerous, stubborn, bad-tempered buckskin. Her greeting consisted of laid-back ears and a bite on my shoulder, hard enough to break the skin even under the snow gear. I twisted out of the way as she tried to kick me. I didn’t spend nearly as much time checking her.

Inspection completed, and favoring my sore shoulder, I headed back. It was getting on toward dusk, with a light fluffy snow beginning to fall. I knew that if I didn’t get back before dark, I could freeze and not be found until I literally showed up with the daisies. I’d walk and stop, walk and stop. I was really getting tuckered out. Suddenly, lying down and resting until I got my breath back seemed like an excellent idea.

I lay back in the light, soft powder, my warm winter cloths snug around me. I dozed. Not a good thing, with light snow covering you and darkness coming on. Fortunately I woke up. The adrenaline rush, as I realized the potential for disaster, quickly removed any feeling of being tired. I hightailed it back to the house as quickly as I could.

Dad met me at the door, a little worried. Of course I played it cool, nonchalantly giving him a detailed report on the condition of the horses and dropping my shirt to show him my “greeting from Georgie.”

The next day saw me safely headed out to school with the evening’s adventure neatly added to many others I had while a “farm kid.” I look back now and am grateful I survived them!


Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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