While we were struggling against the winter at home, Daddy was at the Harris ranch facing the worst of it every day to get hay to the cattle. Every morning he and Cliff Walter would hitch the team to the bobsled and drive several miles in whatever kind of weather nature threw at them, then hand pitch the hayrack full of hay. Next, they would drive out among the cattle and pitch the hay off to them. This would be repeated several times before the short winter day faded into cold gloom.
Like I said before, winter was not always this way, and besides, there was always fun to be had if you happened to be a boy living in the country. When the snow drifted deep, you could dig caves in the drifts. And when it crusted hard, you could cut blocks of it and build igloos. Or, maybe you could take your sled to a hill and slide or go down to the river and skate. If you were old enough to use a 22 rifle, you could hunt jackrabbits. Oh, yes, there was always lots to do and the exercise out in the cold air was good for appetites. One cold winter evening I was returning to the house after doing chores. It was getting dark and I had used up a lot of calories since lunch. So I was already anticipating the supper Mama was preparing. She had taken an onion to add to the dish she was preparing and had dropped the skin into the fire in the kitchen range. The memory of the aroma drifting down to me on the cold, frosty, moonlit air is just as clear and real to me today as it was that night.
I have another memory from those times that has not dimmed with time but it is not nearly as pleasant. This memory is of Santa Claus. Santa Claus showed up outside our barn one day late in December. We were sure that he had been left behind when a band of sheep had passed by on the road. You see, he was a buck sheep, quite old, with horns that made a full curl. We named him Santa Claus because of the long, white wool on his face and because he showed up at Christmas time. The poor old fellow was feeble and either couldn’t or wouldn’t eat. We tried to feed him hay but he wouldn’t touch it; just stood there wheezing day after day. Finally, in January, he got so weak he couldn’t get to his feet anymore. With considerable effort, I got him on his feet but he just stood there with his head hanging down and his breath rattling in his chest. I decided then that the right thing to do was to put an end to his suffering so I went to the house for my 22 rifle. I returned to the barn and, after renewing my determination, put a bullet in his forehead. He didn’t even flinch. I shot again. And then again. By now I was feeling a sort of panic. I had, with good intentions, started something that I now regretted. Still, I knew I had to finish it somehow because the blood running from his nose told me that he was injured too badly for me to change my mind. In my frustration, I emptied the rifle before I realized that the reason for my dilemma was the fact the front of a buck sheep’s skull is just too thick and hard for the power of a 22 long cartridge. A quick dash to the house for more ammunition and one shot to the back of his head ended poor old Santa Claus and my heartbreaking dilemma. My memories of this event are every bit as vivid as they are of the burning onion skins but they are haunting memories.
I didn’t take a picture of Santa Claus but he looked very much like this.
We all had a few chores to do. At the time, it sometimes seemed like an unfair burden but, actually, they took very little time out of our day. There was water and wood to bring in and chickens to feed and water. Sometimes there was a cow to milk and sometimes a few livestock to pump water for. Usually, I rather enjoyed most of the chores but there were times when they interfered with playing.
Excerpted from “Wool Trompers” by J. L. Fuller