from the upcoming book about Eastern and North Eastern South Dakota
A Glimpse Through Grandma's Window
By Steve Riedel of Huron, South Dakota
When my stiff, old fingers tingle, I remember a warm, sunny day on our family farm near Ramona, South Dakota. My older brother and I were playing in my grandparent's large, white farmhouse while Grandma was busy making our noon meal.
"If anyone wants to see the horses hitched one last time, they better come quick," Grandma shouted from the pantry. The excitement in her voice rang all the way into the living room where we boys were playing. Since I had never heard Grandma, a petite and soft-spoken person, do so much as raise her voice before, her shout quickly captured my attention. I looked at my brother. "Let's go!" I said eagerly as I started toward the kitchen.
My brother hesitated. Having worked with the horses many times, he mumbled, "I've seen them enough." I heard his comment and now, torn between Grandma's excitement and my brother's indifference, I froze in my tracks. When Grandma saw that no one went to the window, she was overcome by a sudden sadness. "This is the last time Grandpa is going to work them," she said with a downcast tone in her voice.
For some reason, a reason I could not understand, Grandma wanted us to share in this moment. Her unspoken, "please, come look" drew me away from my brother and into the kitchen, where I was greeted by a cruel twist of fate. Too small to see over the window sill, too small to look down the gentle slope toward the gravel driveway where the horses would be, all I could do was gaze upward into the bright blue sky! Dejected, I stepped hesitantly closer to the window and reaching high, slipped my tiny fingers over the sill. With a tenuous hold, I pulled upward in hopes of getting my eyes high enough to see the horses. My slender arms trembled, and my little fingers lost their hold. My feet hit the floor without me getting as much as a glimpse through Grandma's window.
"I want to see the horses!" I said to myself. More determined than ever, I grabbed the sill again and this time held tighter and pulled even harder. My arm muscles grew tense as my little chin rose. Up and up it went until, sliding over the windowsill and there, like a coat hanger, it helped support my weight. I could see Grandpa's horses!
Coal black and standing only twenty yards beyond Grandma's kitchen window, Dick and Lady looked monstrous. Long leather straps were strung everywhere between them and a wooden wagon filled high with loose prairie hay. While the giant horses stood motionless as if stuck in time under draping fly blankets, I struggled to keep my grip on the sill. All too soon, my arms trembled again and just as my strength faltered, Lady twitched her leg, probably to shoo gathering flies. My chin slipped from the sill and my feet fell back to the floor. A sharp pain tingled in my fingertips.
"What will happen to the horses? Will they be slaughtered?" someone, maybe my mother, asked.
"Oh, no!" Grandma answered. The tone in her voice said that such an ending for Dick and Lady was unthinkable. "Grandpa sold them to a man who still needs a working team out west. Good teams are hard to find, you know."
"Good," someone else said. Even though Grandma had assured us that the horses would be fine, a heavy regret, one beyond a child's understanding, lingered in the farmhouse. A few days later, at a time when I didn't see, the horses disappeared and though there were still cows in the pasture, the green expanse of South Dakota prairie seemed empty to me.
Now, many years later, I understand the sadness in Grandma's voice. She knew Grandpa had decided to retire along with the horses that day. Shortly after Dick and Lady were sold, my grandparents moved to town and their house became our house. Their time on the family farm had come and gone; an era had passed. Of course, Grandma and Grandpa came to help around the farm from time to time. On those days, I'd rush to Grandpa's lap. If he didn't have a half-stick of Black Jack Gum to give me as a treat, he'd let me fish his railroad watch from the pocket in his bib overalls. I'd hold the shiny pocket watch tight to my ear and listen closely to the rapid "tick, tick, tick, tick." Time flies by so fast. Today, when my old fingers tingle, I remember fondly my glimpse through Grandma's window.