From the book about Southwest and South Central Kansas
My Horse, Nellie
Submitted by Ralph Wedeking of Clarksville, Iowa
Horses were a part of our farm for most of my childhood. We lived on the family farm in Northeast Iowa, Butler County, Fremont Township, about halfway between Clarksville and Plainfield. The farm was a quarter mile south of a crossroads where our rural church and one-room schoolhouse stood. We were the only farm on a dirt road with small, shallow ditches. For several hundred feet north of our farm buildings there was a large grove of trees. In the ditch beyond the trees, extending perhaps another hundred feet was a patch of elderberry bushes. The ditches were never mowed. In winter, the snow tended to blow in and pile up.
We moved to the family farm in 1939. I was 5 years old. This was the end of the Depression and the beginning of World War II. The farm had been in the Wedeking family since the 1870s when the family came over from Northwest Germany from villages around the city of Neinberg. My grandparents, Herman and Sophie (Rothchild) Wedeking had moved to nearby Clarksville. My parents Martin and Edna (Weinberg) Wedeking were the third generation to move on to the farm. I had one sibling, a brother, Roger, two years younger.
We had tractors, but also still had a few horses. My grandfather had raised and sold horses. My father said he preferred horses for certain farm tasks, such as corn planting and manure hauling. There was a large barn on the place, built in the late 1800s. It had space for the milk cows on the south side and the horses on the north side. In the middle of this barn, from ground to the ceiling was a large space usually filled with loose hay. There was a covered walkway between the two sides of the barn where one could walk under the piled hay above. There were two bins along this walkway, one for ground corn for the cows, and one for oats for the horses.
Early in my childhood, there were regular chores I was expected to do. We had five horses most of my childhood. One of my chores was to give each horse a small pail of oats from the nearby bin. Then, next, to clean out the manger in front of each horse and put in fresh loose hay from the great supply in the center of the barn.
Nellie was a large tan colored horse, with a white blaze on the front of her face. Her stall was the first inside the barn’s west door. She seemed to consider herself the queen of our farm. All the other animals respected her presence and she got whatever she wanted. For example, at the large water tank it was always her turn to drink first. One day, I witnessed one of the young, year-old, colts pushing ahead to get a drink. Nellie gave him a severe bite on the rear. I remember my father had to put a special salve on the bite to prevent infection.
Nellie seemed to have a special place in her heart for small boys. When I would come through that west door, and she was in the first stall, her beautiful large brown eyes would be on me and follow me, as I would do my chores around her. She let me pet her. I would rub the middle of her face, play a bit with her ears, and even rub her soft nose. The horse’s nose is surely one of the softest, most tender, things nature produces. If I happened to be out in our large 30-acre pasture, and the horses were there, Nellie would often come over to me and put her head over my shoulder. I can remember feeling her neck hair against my cheek, and the smell of her breath.
One winter night, when I was in first grade at our one-room elementary school, we experienced a particularly fierce winter storm. The next morning I looked down the road and saw huge drifts of snow on the road, some piled higher than my head. I figured this was a day I was staying home and could play with my younger brother. But a phone call let Mother know there would be school. Most of the 21 other children’s farm homes had been plowed out. Our road was always last to be plowed out. As I got ready to go up to the school, Mother told me not to put on my big overshoes, just the tight pull-ons. I wondered how I would ever get through those drifts.
Soon I saw my father at the side door of the house, leading Nellie. I was hoisted up in the back of the great horse. There was no saddle, just me and my dinner pail on Nellie’s back. I held tight to Nellie’s mane. Her mane and tail were a lighter color than the rest of her. There was no harness needed. Father walked beside the horse with me on the back. Up the road we went, easily walking through the quarter mile of snow piled high around us. The other children all saw me arrive and carefully climb off the horse. I knew I was the center of attention. I petted Nellie a thank you, and she and Dad returned to the farm. By the time, school was out Dad, and some others who came to help, had shoveled a path through the snow so I could walk home.
I remember the day the big truck came to take Nellie away. Dad said she was getting old and in pain. It was time for her to go. I watched as they loaded her on to the back of the truck. I watched the truck go down the road until it was out of sight. On the farm, one learns early the joy of companionship with animals, and the sadness of parting.