The smell of old moldy hay and old manure packed my nose as I swept out the old hayloft and moved the pile toward the side of the old barn, to the slots in the floor that fed down to the mangers. This dust and debris of 40 years then were pushed over these openings, fell into the mangers and soon I had the hayloft swept out, but the work was just starting.
As I finished the hayloft, I climbed down the 1X4 steps onto the stable floor, full of 40 years of accumulated manure debris of a working horse barn, now covered with all the hay debris from the hayloft. I worked all afternoon, shoveling this dusty accumulation into the tractor bucket outside the massive sliding door of this old barn. As I rested on my shovel, I noticed writings in yellow crayon of “His” over one manger and “Hers” over the other. Alongside these markings were vertical lines counting the days, with a slash mark perhaps indicating weeks, but this was a puzzle. These marks and writings caused a start, like a sharp knife into my work-slogged mind of that day, I thought of another man, a long time ago, working with a purpose and marking the wall, like the old pictographs in caves, what did he mean?
I thought of that team, heavy horses, with their harnesses on the wall next to them, how the bachelor farmer, Ole, who owned this place on Red Lodge Creek from the 1930’s to the 1970’s, as he walked through the snow into the barn every day, brushed their coats, picked up their feet while they ate the scoop of grain in the simple wooden box on the side of the manger. He would place the collar on the neck and shoulders, then lift the harness on their backs, moving the heavy straps into the proper places, putting the halter over the head, and sliding the bit into their mouth. Depending on the task, he led the team out to a hay wagon or some cultivation tool or planting device and hitched the team to go to work. This team and Ole then would do whatever the task of the day required, but as a team, one old man and his team, walking out of the corrals with a steady cadence of heavy steps and the squeaking of the wheels of whatever implement was required thru the aspen trees and onto the back fields.
The only break in this routine was Sunday. He hitched up the team to the wagon and drove to St. Olaf church, five miles away, about an hour. He tied the team to the hitching rail and walked into the church wearing his Sunday coat over his best shirt and trousers, took off his five-buckle overshoes and removed his cap and hung it on the hooks into the narthex with the others. He sat in his usual pew, where he had sat for over 20 years. The Norwegian service began and for the next two hours, following a liturgy he knew by heart, singing songs he knew as well as his own name, he relaxed and rested as God had commanded. The best was last, the “pot luck” in the basement, next to the huge wood stove, oh, the flavors, and there was that nice Andersen girl who brought him over a plate and chided him, “You are losing weight, Ole, ff da! slo du deg, you’re going to waste away, here, have another chokecherry dumpling.”
Too soon, he drove Sarah and Obbie on the road back to his small place on Red Lodge Creek, thinking about that nice Norwegian girl, well, maybe one day, I will ask her to sit down, yea, you betcha, that would be nice. The sun was out, he was warm, and the team had a nice walk, of course, as they headed toward home and the barn. It was a good day.
Signing off for now, Cowboy Bob
All of Cowboy Bob’s blogs are on gailcushman.com. Check them out!