Written By Barbara O'Brien
My sister writes a blog about our family’s history. It’s fun to read about where your people came from and see how far you can go back. A few recent posts have really hit home with me.
In the spring of 1911, my great grandmother, Lena Hymers, a city girl through and through, left St. Paul, Minnesota and followed her husband, Frank, and his dreams to the vast, open and unsettled plains around Kincaid, Saskatchewan. They had a one-year-old daughter, Ethel. She was my grandmother. My grandmother wrote down these experiences in 1988 and my aunt gave copies of the reminiscences to my sister to share.
We had names for the cows also. There was white-faced Daisy and black-faced Daisy, then Sutton who belonged to a farmer named Sutton who died and his widow gave us the cow when she left the farm. There was Bessie, Nancy, Patsy, and my cow's name was Bertha. I have my picture taken with it when it was a calf. It was our first calf and Grandpa said it was a girl so he would name it after his first daughter. (I wonder if my Aunt Bertha ever knew we had a cow named after her?)
My grandmother and I were very close. She understood my love for animals and especially horses. I loved it when she would visit me at our farm. She was always happy to pet the horses and whisper sweetness into their ears. Throughout my life I always thought of her as an old woman, someone who volunteered with the Girl Scouts and the church, cooked the best waffles, and took good care of me and my siblings when my mother had to go to work part time.
I never thought of her as a young girl, living the life of a pioneer on the Saskatchewan prairie while the daughters of great-grandmother’s old friends in St. Paul were going to city schools and living in houses with modern plumbing, electric lights and telephones.
We had some pigs but we only named the mama pig. She was Sally and she had a lot of little pigs every year. Sally was very tame and if we was alone in the pen Papa would put me on her back and I'd hold onto her ears. She would give me a ride all around the pen. I used to scratch her behind the ears. She would come over to the fence and wait for me.We had some white turkeys. Turkeys are a very difficult type of fowl to raise. They keep close together in a flock and sometimes become attached to a leader gobbler, who might decide to leave the protection of the farmyard for a hollow in a field or a dry creek bed. This was dangerous to their safety. At night they would huddle together with no protection from the prowling wolves or coyotes. You can't drive turkeys - they just won't go where you want them to. Once Papa had to search them out and it was a good thing they were white because Mama, Papa and I sneaked up on them and caught them and put them in sacks. Some got away but we got the gobbler and the next morning the stragglers had come back home. Papa cut their wings so they couldn't fly away and we had to put up a fence to keep them home. Mama didn't raise many turkeys after that. We had ducks and geese but Mama didn't like them. They were such dirty fowl. They always tried to bathe in their drinking water. We couldn't waste so much water. Mama had to make a special drinking pan just for the ducks. They didn't wander away, they stayed in the farm yard. I didn't like the geese and the old gander always wanted to chase me and he'd scare me. Mama always canned chicken and turkey, but we sold the geese and ducks in town at Williams' Store. Sometimes Papa would shoot rabbits and Mama canned them too. We always had some kind of meat over the winter, later we even smoked meat when we butchered a pig.
I had heard a few of the stories over the years, of course. I knew how sad she felt when her little colt got into the chicken feed, got the colic, and died. I knew she rode her horse, Prince, to school while keeping a watchful eye out for the coyotes who frequented the washes and gullies alongside the road.
My horse's name was Prince. He had a white face and was a trained cow pony. Then we had Kit, a beautiful dapple grey and high-stepping Fly. Nugget was a bronco and if you weren't careful, would buck you off. We also had Maud, Jenny and Lady. Maud and Jenny we bred and let run with their colts. Lady was a pacer and Papa had bought her from a racing horse stable. Allen always rode her to school. She always wanted to race, and when I rode to school on my pony, Prince, we often raced the half mile to the crossroads on our way home from school.
By reading the rest of her stories, I learn about what her early life on the prairie was like and how much work it was for her and her family. I have a ten-mile trip from my farm to the store to buy milk, but it only takes me a few minutes by car. Their trip by buckboard and team to town, also only ten miles away, could take half a day or more depending on the weather.
When I read my grandmother’s stories, I am struck by our common love and appreciation for the horses and the other animals in our lives. When I look out my window and see my horses, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, and geese I feel a strong connection to my grandmother and to the people who came before me.
When she writes of how the ducks and geese mess up their water pan I laugh because my ducks and geese do the same thing. And when she expresses her love for her horse, Prince, I think of my love for my horse, Finnian. This love of the land and animals ties us together through time and space. I know when I smile at the thought of my grandmother, she also is smiling on me and mine.
—Quotations and photographs from the reminiscences of Ethel Hymers Glewwe, South St. Paul, Minnesota, 1985.