Being away from home for an extended period of time for a farmer is like a barn sour horse. You can physically get away but it’s always in the back of your mind. Going away from the “barn” the horse goes increasing slower. Coming back, hang on! I’ve worked horses that appear dog tired only to have them suddenly come to life like colts when you turn and head them back towards home. Logging horses are the same way. Coming out of the woods with a log, they have pep in their step. When you turn and head them back for another log, you would can almost hear them saying, “ah come on, do we have too?”
Growing up on a dairy farm, we always planned our lives to be home no later than five o’clock. There is a feeling of special responsibility to make sure the cows get milked at the same times every day. If you were late you almost felt like you needed to apologize. There is a saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk! If we spilled the milk or broke an egg, mom would say, “You better apologize to the cows or the chickens”.
This feeling of responsibility never leaves a farm born person. The snowstorm raging outside tonight reminds me of a time early in Mr. Ed’s Farm’s history. It was the time I almost made it home. It was the time Mrs Ed saved the day.
Doing chores is not her favorite job. Occasionally she will help me, probably just because she enjoys my company. If I’m running late I’ll say, “So, did you do the chores?” “No” she replies, “you better go apologize to the animals”. I know I’ve pushed the wrong button when she asks me “So how much are those sheep and horses worth and do you know of anyone who might want to buy them? ” “No, I don’t know anyone with enough money to buy those valuable animals”. “Hummm, I could almost hear her thinking”.
The night I almost made it home began two days earlier. It was March, about state tournament time, about the time when blizzards hit the Range. I had to go to St. Paul for a three day meeting. Reluctantly, Mrs. Ed agreed to feed the animals. I gave her a list of things to do and laid out extra bales of hay.
By the time I headed down the driveway, the uneasy feeling began to creep into my mind.
By the time I reached Floodwood, the car was slower by three miles an hour. By Hinckley cars were passing me with ease. At Forest Lake heads turned to see who was driving. I reached the motel, had supper, and called home. “Everything ok?” “Yes, everything is fine”. “So far, so good”, I thought,
I woke up in the morning and called. “Everything ok?” A less than enthusiastic “Yes” followed. I concentrated as best I could on the business at hand until someone asked “So who’s doing the chores?” Thought of heading to the barn crept into my consciousness. Only a day and a half to go.. Supper and time to call home. “Everything ok? A quiet pause on the end of the phone. “I guess so”.
“How’s the weather?” I asked, trying to move the conversation along. “It’s snowing”. “Really, it’s not snowing here”. Quiet pause. “I watched the six o’clock news. They said there’s a blizzard coming”.
Not thinking I blurted out “Make sure you put the sheep in. Don’t want them to get wet”. Pause in conversation. “When do you think you will be home? “The meeting gets done about four”. “I’ll call you in the morning”. Pretty much end of conversation. Better check weather channel. Yup, there’s a blizzard hitting tomorrow. Travel warnings and all. Restless night of sleep, dreaming about wet sheep and a less than happy spouse calling around to see if anyone is shopping for livestock.
Morning call. “Hello. When will you be home?” I sense a hint of tension in her voice. I tried to explain my dilemma “I’m not sure. There’s a blizzard coming and the roads are supposed to be bad”. “So what time are you leaving”? “The meeting is over at four”. “So you will be home by 7:30.”?
I didn’t ask how it was going.
I’ll admit, I ditched out of the meeting about an hour early. By this time, the blizzard was approaching full force. I wormed my way out of downtown St. Paul and onto the freeway. It looked like it was going to be slow going. Then it hit me, I was heading back to the barn. The car creeped up to the speed of traffic. For some reason, about Pine City, the other cars started slowing down. I found myself passing cars with ease. By the time I hit Cloquet, I was passing snowplows. By the time I made it to the Hibbing cutoff at Highway 37, the plows were heading back to the barn too.
The drifts rattled the car. Oncoming headlights faded in and out in the darkness. My hands were numb from my grasp on the wheel. Eyes straight ahead, I found myself getting memorized by the driving snow. Pushing on into the darkness with low beams, not able to recognize landmarks, time seemed to be slowing. Finally my turn on highway five. It quickly became evident the county plows had long since headed back to their barn. Three miles to go. Snow billowed over the hood as I hit drift after drift. I slowed, looking for the sign for our road. Finally the sign. There must be a road there someplace, I thought.
Now in a situation like this, there comes a moment of truth. I can feel the barn. So close. Do I plow ahead and risk getting stuck? Do I hit it hard and if I keep it moving and hope I make it? Of course I did not have a shovel. The turn came up fast. Big drift left by the last plow. I hit it at a pretty good speed. The car lurched, the undercarriage screeched on the crust as I pressed the accelerator. I came to a roaring stop as the car hung up on a snow drift, wheels spinning helplessly. One mile to the barn and going nowhere. At least I’m off the highway, I thought. Time to bundle up. Wish I had remembered to bring my boots and maybe a flashlight.
By now I was long overdue. This was the days before cell phones. I had just driven 199 miles. Now I had the longest one left. It was then I empathized with a tired horse when he knows he’s made the last round and you point him towards the barn. Somewhere down deep I found the strength to push on. One step at a time, one snow bank, then another until I could see the yard light. Up the driveway, to the side door of the house. Too cold to find my house key, I pounded on the door. “Who is it” I heard from inside. I don’t know if I said ” It’s me” or what I was really thinking.
The door opened. Now I know why the horses try to run over me when I open the barn door. “Did you miss me”? I asked, to see if she was still speaking to me. Then I made my first mistake. “Did you do the chores”? If looks could kill. Second mistake “No? Well you better go apologize to the animals” I joked. Daggers. I didn’t ask her if she locked up the sheep. Figured I’d go out and see for myself.
Doing chores is one thing. Doing winter chores is another. Doing winter chores in a snowstorm tests even the most ardent farm person. Mrs Ed, as it turns out, did a great job. The sheep were dry and snug in the barn. This was the winter before we dug in the waterline. She had carried pail after pail of water to the sheep. She had opened the barn and let the horses in. They were grateful to get out of the wind and had a great time running loose in the barn.
By the next morning, the storm had passed. The plows had not been by yet. I knew I had to get my car off the road. Thank goodness for horses. I had made a heavy v plow with a three horse evener. I harnessed the trio of horses and headed down the road. It was a heavy pull even for three horses. They were steaming and breathing hard by the time we got to the car. I turned them around on the highway. An amazing thing happened. They were headed toward the barn. Away we went, three colts and a guy hanging on for dear life.
Lesson learned: Don’t leave the farm when there is a blizzard coming. If you do, you may have to do some serious apologizing.