Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Another story about Carlisle from my 90-ish parents during a visit at the nursing home.

On Sunday, when Tom and I brought my mom over to visit my dad at the nursing home, the conversation turned to horses. I think the conversation started because we were having some snow flurries, and my mother remembered that when they were kids, they always wished for snow at Christmas time so they could take the horses and sleigh to church on Christmas Day. Back in those days, Hedemarken Church had a barn on the north side where all the fathers would unhitch the horses, get them out of the wind and cold, and feed them a little hay while the families attended church inside. The barn was torn down when most people started driving automobiles to church in the 1930s.

My mother especially remembers their horses Daisy and Prince. They had originally belonged to the Pergande family, neighbors who were retiring from farming and were auctioning off all their farm equipment and animals. Mr. Pergande approached my mother’s father, Edward, prior to the auction, wondering if he wouldn’t bid on those two special horses because the Pergandes wanted them to go to a good home where they would be treated well. My mother seemed quietly proud that her father had been asked to do that.

Anyway, her father did purchase the horses at the auction. Daisy and Prince weren’t just any old farm horses; they were “small and quick.” My mother laughingly remembers that when they were hitched up to the sleigh in the winter, those horses would run with the sleigh. And when her father went to hitch up the horses after church was over, she would watch him running in circles with the two prancing little horses, around and around the sleigh to settle them down because they were so excited at the prospect of pulling the sleigh back home.

But although they were little and quick, Daisy and Prince were still expected to pull their weight with farm work. They would be hitched up with the big sturdy work horses, the five-horse teams balanced just right (two in the front, three in the back, my dad remembered), and Daisy and Prince would work in the fields right along with the big draft horses.

My mother remembers another set of neighbors, the Sundrys, who were also retiring from farming and had a saddle horse that they needed to sell. They, too, approached my mother’s father and wondered if he didn’t want to buy their horse, Babe. Although the horse belonged to the whole family, it was my mother’s older brother Clifford who loved that horse the most. He faithfully took care of her and rode her to Saturday confirmation classes.

Both my parents' familes had twelve to fourteen horses at a time, and they were carefully taken care of. The horses were very, very important to the farm operation. The reason farms needed twelve to fourteen horses was that the teams had to be rotated for work, especially in hot weather. My mother recalled one time when her father was working out in the fields on an unusually hot day. He was so close to being done with a field that he worked the horses longer than he normally would have, just to finish the field before heading back home. Later, my mother’s brother Clifford came running into the house from the barn, very upset. “Jerry [one of the horses] is in trouble,” he told his father, worried. Later that night, Jerry died of heat exhaustion. My mother said that her father felt just terrible—he felt so responsible that his hard-working horse had died, as well as the economic loss. The guilt stayed with him a long time; her father never pushed a horse that hard again.

So that’s what happened on Sunday at the nursing home—looking out the window, watching the snow come down, remembering the horses and sleighs from 80 years ago.


Elaine said...

You have some great stories! When I was 10 years old, my grandpa was still using horses to farm. I remember riding on the hayracks pulled by horses, and there was a little shelf built onto the back of the hayrack that was just the right width to hold two small children who were just looking for summer amusement, although I think it was really meant to hold a man who was supposed to be working. Those were certainly much simpler times.

bd said...

Clifford used workhorses his whole farming life...and I never heard this story. Thanks for sharing:-)