When my parents got married in 1941 and moved into their new home, their closest neighbors were my father’s aunt and uncle, Sigurd and Laura, whose farm place was just kitty-corner across the road from them. My father had always been friends with Sigurd and Laura’s fourth child, Arnold, who was the same age as he was. But their fifth child, Ralph, was a couple of years younger than my dad, one of the “little kids” in the community, so my dad hadn’t spent much time with him.
That all changed when my dad became their closest neighbor. Eventually, all of Sigurd and Laura’s children got married and moved away, and Ralph was the only one left at home. My dad and he became great friends. My mother described Ralph as a man with a “big heart.” They always enjoyed when Ralph came over and pulled up a kitchen chair for a visit. He was a welcome visitor, very social and friendly.
When Ralph got married in the late 1940s, Sigurd and Laura moved to a house in town, and Ralph began farming on his own.
Part of Ralph’s charm was his excitable personality, so when my parents were reminiscing, they mostly remembered stories in which Ralph would telephone my dad, sputtering with a wild account of what was happening over at his farm. Then my dad would jump into action, ready to help him out.
Ralph at Our Kitchen Table (1952)
One time, Ralph called, shouting that he had a chimney fire and that his roof was in flames. It was deep winter, and all the roads were blocked with snow. So my mother remembers that my dad ran out to the barn, threw a blanket and a bridle on one of the work horses, and took off for the neighboring farm to help Ralph. The horse wasn’t a saddle horse; its broad back was so wide that my mother remembers that my dad’s legs and feet stuck straight out from the horse as he took off across the yard. My Uncle Al also got a call (he lived with my grandparents about a half mile away as the crow flies), and he took off on foot through the snow drifts to help. By the time the two men got to Ralph’s, the fire was already out. Ralph was up on the roof, ripping smoking shingles off as fast as he could. The roof was damaged, but the house was saved.
Another time, the phone rang and it was Ralph, excited because a 250-pound sow had fallen into the silage pit. While most of a silo’s cylinder is above ground, several feet of a silo are below ground. In the spring when the silage level is low, the door to the silo opens into mid-air. The pig had escaped from a pen and had taken a tumble of several feet, down into the silo pit, into the chopped corn below. My parents were both laughing about that story. “How did you get the sow out?” I asked, trying to visualize my dad and Ralph shoving a 250-pound sow back up and through the small silo door from the pit below. My dad’s eyes don’t twinkle very much anymore, but they twinkled at that. “There was a lot of squealing,” he said, grinning at the memory.
The pig story reminded them of the time Ralph’s cow had gotten stranded in a ditch. Another phone call, a tractor, a loader—more chuckles from my father. He and Ralph had had some adventures together.
But they were faithful neighbors. They might both be out haying, watching storm clouds roll in from the west. If one of them got done before the other, he would hustle over to the neighboring farm to help get the other one’s hay in before it got drenched. And if it was harvest, and one or the other of them had a few acres left as the sun set and the sky grew dark, the other would drive over and pitch in until both of their fields were done.
Ralph was my father’s cousin, but he was also a great neighbor and my dad’s good friend. He died in 1981—in his mid-60s. Too young. Today, while my father spends his days in the nursing home, Ralph’s son rents and farms my dad’s land as well as his own family’s farm. In a way, it’s a tribute to my dad’s friendship with Ralph, entrusting the land to Ralph’s son.