My mother was a well educated person, but stayed home, because that is what wives were expected to do. She recited poetry, made paper flowers, and read me stories about King Arthur and his Knights of the round table.
Parents need to be heroes for their children. Those children who learn to trust their parents are confident and self reliant, they are ready to give back to a needy world. They also learn that sometimes heroes fall. It takes a lot of courage and strength to get up after a fall. My white knight fell hard. But he got up and persevered. He was still my white knight. He's been gone 42 years. But will never be forgotten.
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THE FALL OF THE WHITE KNIGHT
By Virginia Loffelmacher
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Virginia Loffelmacher
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBadlands Child
It was July 10th, 1936. I was going on five. I lived with my mother and father in the midst of North Dakota's beautiful Badlands. We lived in a one room log cabin. It was built by my father in 1929 after he had married my mother. He had cut large cedar trees from the hills behind the cabin, cleaned the branches away and used the ten and twelve foot logs to build the sturdy little cabin.
I sat on the large flat rock in front of the log cabin door. It served very nicely as a step. The rock was about seven inches thick and at least four feet across. I sat with my knees tucked under my chin and my dress pulled down over my legs in a vain attempt to keep the mosquitos from biting. It was already dusk. Momma was calling me to come inside the house. I pretended not to hear. My father would come home from town very soon. He would never forget to bring me candy. I was determined to not let my mother put me to bed before he came.
Our nearest neighbor lived about seven miles away. I spent most summer days outside watching for my father to come home or playing with animals. We lived on a ranch. There were some cattle and horses but many many sheep. I remember there were cats and dogs as well, and lots of wild animals that came up into the yard. Often I would follow my father around as he did chores. When he went to town I felt anxious and lonely for him. He was the axis on which my life revolved.
Now in the distance, even in the dusk, I saw a cloud of dust rise skyward. It was the dirty thirties and so dry that a car could churn up an enormous cloud on the unpaved Badland roads. My eyes followed the dust cloud along the skyline until I saw two distinct beams of light. Now the headlights were turning off onto the road leading to our cabin. I ran as fast as I could up the dirt road toward the barbed wire fence that kept the cattle and horses out of our yard. I didn't even feel the rocks under my bare feet as I ran. The gate was not open. My father had stopped to open it. I ducked under the barbed wire to get to the car before he had the gate opened. My dress caught and ripped and I left most of it on the barbed wire of the fence, with never a backward glance. No worry to me that I was wearing only sleeves and panties. My father had left his car door open and I jumped into the car ahead of him.
Now, he stopped the green, 1933 Chevy coupe in front of the rock step. I jumped on his back holding on to his neck. His hair was black, thick and curly and a little long between haircuts. I could feel it's softness against my chin. He had a small sack of peppermint candy in his shirt pocket and I reached around for it and almost forgot to duck my head when he walked through the door. The taste of the peppermint, the feel of my father's muscles as he lifted me to the floor, the soft timbre of his voice as he said, "You better get to bed, kid." My world was complete. My father was home!
Life in the thirties was hard. We had only the real necessities of life, food and shelter and enough clothing to get by. There were no luxuries. But for me it never could get any better than that. With my father home, I felt warm and safe. I scuttled off to replace my torn dress with an equally ragged night gown. We were very poor then, as were many people in the thirties, but I remember that time for me as blissfully happy. Nothing bad could happen to us, my father covered every crisis. I felt safe and protected and soon fell into a peaceful trusting sleep.
Our cabin had only one big room. It was not really that large, only about 10 feet by 12 feet. The black Monarch cook stove burned wood or coal and a big black cupboard stood against the same wall at one end of the cabin. A big old iron bed, also black, was against the opposite wall and the round oak table with six chairs was in between. There was also a huge dresser with a large mirror next to the bed and a small high backed rocker in the middle of the floor. there were no clothes closets. Clothes were all stored in the dresser drawers. A cot against the middle wall was where I slept. The door was on the opposite wall. An oak China cupboard with rounded glass doors was next to the door on the same side as the big bed. It was an elegant piece of furniture in that simple house. My mother kept her prettiest china dishes and other treasures on display inside this cabinet. On the other side there was a stand with a water basin. It had a mirror mounted above it so my father could shave. Next to the wash stand on the side near the stove was a ten gallon milk can filled with artesian water. The water had to be carried from the well between the cabin and the barn. It was kept covered and a dipper rested on top of the cover. We all drank from that same dipper. No one worried about germs in those plays. Water was a very precious commodity, especially in the middle of the Badlands. It was important not to waste any. It all had to be carried from some distance.
The well had a pipe that protruded from the ground about three feet high and water spilled into a large stock tank from which the farm animals could drink. An artesian well continues to flow, sometimes for years, until the water vein deep in the ground dries up. The well that we used was still a flowing well when I was a middle aged woman. For all I know it may still be flowing today.
There was a reservoir on one side of the iron cook stove. It supplied hot water for cooking or washing dishes and laundry and also for our weekly bath. On Saturday night, baths were taken in a deep, square, galvanized tub. The same tub was used for washing clothes with a large washboard on which the clothes were scrubbed clean. We all took turns with the bath water. I was bathed first and put to bed. Then hot water was added for my mother and then for my father. Water for any purpose was used carefully and with appreciation. Every drop of water used had to be carried from the artesian well which was at least 150 feet from the house. It was carried in ten gallon milk cans or five-gallon pails.
Wood for cooking and coal for heating were treated with the same respect. Logs had to be split with an ax. There were no power saws. Every family had a woodpile somewhere behind their house. Armloads of wood had to be carried into the house to use in cook stove or heater. A lot of hours were invested in chopping wood, stacking it, carrying it into the house and then burning it.
At that time coal was used by both country people and those living in town. Some people had large coal furnaces with a stoker to help distribute the heat. We just had the coal cook stove and a small pot bellied heater that pretty much filled up our little cabin. There was something about coal heat that made you feel very cozy and warm. But it was also a lot of work.
My father would take a team and wagon to a nearby coal vein and dig out his own coal and pile it on the wagon. The horses would pull this load home where it had to be unloaded into a coal shed behind our cabin. Then it would be carried once more into the house in a coal scuttle so it could be used to fill the heater or cook stove. The house was not insulated. You could see the round side of each log on the inside as well as the outside of the house. But that little pot bellied heater kept us warm through the long cold Dakota winters. It was well worth the hard work. But that was not the end of the work. Ashes and clinkers had to be taken out into pails and carried outside.
The outhouse or toilet was a small building out in back of the cabin. A hole about six or eight feet deep was dug under this small out building. A seat was built across one side with two holes. There was a round cover over each hole. These covers were attached to the wall with hinges so they could be easily lifted. As a little girl I can remember how scared I felt sitting on this high seat. I worried that I might fall in the hole which was fairly large for a little person.
We knew nothing about soft white toilet tissue. To this day I feel grateful every time I see a roll of that luxurious stuff. We recycled the pages of our Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck Catalogues and some of the seed catalogues that came in the spring. We also carefully spread the soft pink papers wrapped around peaches when Momma was canning in the summer or fall. Those papers were a real luxury of the time.
Because of the barns and animals, flies were a major problem in those days. The outhouse was a virtual breeding ground for flies. In summer you would lift the wooden seat cover and the flies would swarm out. In winter the seats would sometimes have a layer of ice but that was somehow better than the flies. Spiders would move into the outhouse because they would have a good food supply readily available. I was much more afraid of the spiders than I was of the flies. Every day my mother would take a hand sprayer to spray the flies and spiders. It didn't seem to make a dent in the population of either the flies or the spiders. We had several of those hand sprayers around. They had a tank about the size of a vegetable can at the front and a pump handle at the back that you pumped on to get the poison to spray out. The spray at that time was very poisonous and I always had to wash my hands if I touched the sprayer.
The flies were a problem in the house, too, because there were so many. We had lots of fly paper laying around the house. Fly paper looked like small square pieces of sandpaper but had a very sticky side and was also poisonous to the flies. We also had fly ribbons. They consisted of a spool of paper with sticky poison on both sides. You would pull them apart and hang them from the ceiling and the flys would be trapped.
I also remember flies being a problem when we set the table. If you set plates on the table you would soon have flies crawling on them and leaving specks. So we would set the table, but plates and cups would be laid face down until we sat down to eat. We had to protect our own plates while we were eating.
There was no electricity. We ate our evening meal by the light of kerosene lamps. One was on the oak dresser next to my parents bed, the other was atop the glassed in china cupboard. At supper time Momma would light the lamps and carry the one from the china cupboard to the center of the table. After supper my father would often read the Dakota Farmer by the light of the lamp. Sometimes he would take a tablet and draw pictures for me. He was pretty good at drawing animals or cowboy hats or boots. Sometimes he would pore over the Sears Roebuck catalog or the seed catalog from Oscar H. Will. I would sit on his lap while he played solitaire. It's hard to imagine the things we did in the lamplight. Back then it seemed warm and adequate.
I remember sitting outside on the step after supper and noticing the moon and stars. My father would point out the big and little dipper or the north star. And the moon with its changing shape was always interesting. Today we have street lights and neon signs and our houses are brightly lit, and we tend to forget to sit in the dark and notice the wonder above us in the night sky. With all the progress and knowledge today we have lost a lot of the wonder and mystery. My father had so much respect for nature and the elements. Those elements often taxed his strength and set him a hard fight for survival. But he never ceased to appreciate them.
Chapter TwoThe White Knight
I was five when I first heard about the Knights of the Round Table. Momma was very ill. She laid on the old black iron bed most of the day. She was very thin and had little energy. She had been a rural school teacher before she married my father. But most important for me, she had been a reader. And because I would stand by the bed with big expectant eyes, she felt compelled to say or do something to entertain me. So she told me stories about the Knights of the Round Table. She told me how the Knights served the good king, Arthur. She told about Merlin, the magician. She even told me about the Black Knight and that sent goose bumps up and down my arms. But the best of the story was about Sir Lancelot, the White knight. She told how he rode a beautiful white horse. And how he rode out around the kingdom seeking out people in trouble, especially helpless damsels. He was strong and brave and always overcame evil by doing good. He would never let anyone down. They only had to see him coming to know they would be safe.
I knew about horses, too. I had seen horses of all colors, tall slender riding horses and stocky draft horses and small awkward colts that seemed to be just right for me. On our Badlands ranch we had saddle horses and work horses. And my father often took other people's horses to break for riding.
I understood about knights, too. My father did not wear armor and the horse he rode was a buckskin. But he was always helping people. Everyone seemed to look to him when decisions had to be made. In my mind he was ten feet tall. And there was nothing he couldn't do. He could fix anything, even a sick kitten or a bird's broken wing. When my mother told me about the Black Knight I could see his scary mean face. But I knew I was safe because Lancelot would come to my rescue if the Black Knight dared come near me. Lancelot with the broad shoulders, the strong arms and big gentle hands, Lancelot with the face of my father.
Chapter ThreeWild Horses, Lambs Tails, and Rattle Snakes
My father had a rapor with animals that was almost mystic. He would talk to them in those quiet soft spoken tones and they seemed to listen and understand what he said. He had been a cowboy and followed the rodeo circuits before I came along, but I only learned about that later. He still broke horses to sell or took on the job of breaking horses for other people. He always treated the horses with kindness and respect and he had little patience for people who he felt mistreated their horses. I remember him talking about a neighbor that he did not like. He said, "Ben doesn't break horses, he breaks their spirit."
My father had also lived with the Sioux Indians on their reservation in South Dakota for seven years. He had run away from home at the age of twelve because he did not get along with his father. He often said his father was a good man but he was still a stiff necked Englishman. My father said the Indian Chief was kind to him and called him his adopted son. He lived there till he was nineteen. Maybe he got his respect for animals and for the land from his association with this elderly and wise chief.
The wild horses would come up near our yard to the artesian well to drink. They were shy of people but I would follow my father and he would walk up to them with no fear. One day my father was not around and I saw the horses drinking. There were probably seven or eight, beautiful and wild, drinking at sunset. I walked right up to the tank and began drinking from the pipe. I was near enough to touch the horses but knew better than to startle them. My mother was having a bout of hysteria and yelling for my father to save me. Even my usually quiet Grandmother was upset. My father walked quietly up behind me, picked me up and carried me back to my screaming mother. The horses never paused in their drinking. My father heard about this for a long time.
In early spring, sometimes as early as late February, the sheep would be lambing and my father was up late bringing lambs into the shed and bedding them down. He had lanterns hanging up near the ceiling so he could see to dry them off with burlap sacks and get them fed if their mothers rejected them. I can remember the smell of wet lamb and the smell from the kerosene heater that was lit to keep them warm. If the mother refused to take a lamb, as often happened, especially if she birthed twins or triplets, my father would let them suck at his fingers till he got them to take a nipple put on a glass milk bottle. It was a thrill for me to see the lambs and to feed them from those bottles. They would almost push me over in their eagerness to get the warm milk.
By about June a day would come when my father would cut off the lambs tails. I think the pain they felt was probably short lived and the mournful baas were more from anger then pain. But I thought he was being horribly cruel. I would try to pull the lamb from him or grab his shirt tail when he was catching one. He laughed at me. When the day was over I went to bed angry with him. I don't remember many days like that. When I was about seven he wanted to show me how to cut the tails off. I was outraged that he thought I could do something so mean. I refused to talk to him for a few days after.
I remember my mother was always having hysterics over snakes. The thirties were very dry years. Rattle snakes often came up into our yard looking for water. My father said they didn't want to hurt us. They only wanted water so they could survive. I think my father felt that man and nature could live in complete compatibility if they respected each other. He believed in caution around animals, but never did I see my father show any fear around an animal. My mother, on the other hand, went into complete hysteria if someone even mentioned seeing a snake.
Excerpted from THE FALL OF THE WHITE KNIGHT by Virginia Loffelmacher Copyright © 2012 by Virginia Loffelmacher. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1: Badlands Child....................1
Chapter 2: The White Knight....................7
Chapter 3: Wild Horses, Lambs Tails, and Rattle Snakes....................9
Chapter 4: Animal Fair....................12
Chapter 5: The Stork....................15
Chapter 6: Robert....................18
Chapter 7: A One Room School....................20
Chapter 8: Changes....................23
Chapter 9: Peace Pipes....................30
Chapter 10: Little Pitchers....................31
Chapter 11: Victory of the Black Knight....................36
Chapter 12: The Fall....................39
Chapter 13: Forgiveness....................41
Chapter 14: Two Storms....................43
Chapter 15: Never....................49
Chapter 16: Return of the White Knight....................52