Now, I feel like every homesteader has dreams. And I don’t mean those of us who actually have a homestead now, big or small. Those are a given. There is always something else that needs doing, another thing you want to add or change. But I mean the dreams we all had before we even got to the owning of the land or having our hands in the dirt. My dreams started way back when I was about 10 years old. I was a completely horse-obsessed kid who lived and breathed horses. My parents will attest to that. Besides our dog Brandy, horses were about the only thing I cared to devote my time to. Now, we were not wealthy when I was a child (not that we are now, either!), and I was on my own to make the horse dreams a reality for myself. I spent most of my waking hours when I wasn’t in school hanging around a local boarding farm. This farm was run by an elderly man, and consequently most of the boarders chipped in and helped with all the chores as there were usually upwards of 40 horses at a time in residence there. Thing is, I wasn’t a boarder then because I could not afford to lease or own my own horse. So, I just hung around and worked my tail off, and learned invaluable skills…for years-before I was actually able to have a horse I could identify as “mine”. By the grace of God and some people who perhaps saw my ambition, I was given the opportunity to ride a string of horses that other boarders owned. The first one belonged to my sister’s best friend who had outgrown her large pony and since the pony was idle, she asked if I wanted to ride her and take care of her. That was the beginning of the best years of my young life. I was about 13 then. Lucky, or Lucky Strikes Again was her show name. I took good care of her, rode her almost daily, showed her and learned an amazing amount in the time I was able to have Lucky in my life. Her owner maybe never knew what a gift that was to me, and I still tear up when I think about it.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was finally able to free lease a horse that would be considered mine until the owners wanted her back. She was a lovely Morgan named Dixie, Ebony’s Dixie Bell. I loved this horse to the moon and back, and it broke my heart to have to give her back once the owners were able to care for her again. But, for two years I had her all to myself, riding, showing, caring for her and also paying all her bills. During that time, I worked a job 7 nights a week as a janitor at a luncheonette restaurant. From 9pm-1am, I cleaned the place to be ready for the next day. Needless to say after school, then going to the barn to care for not just my horse but many others that needed to be fed and watered and let in from the fields every day. Then riding, then home to shower and off to work…this was just about every day of my life for two years. No one could ever accuse me of being a slacker or lazy as a kid, that’s for sure! But I knew if I wanted to keep Dixie in my life, I needed to do what must be done.
When I initially got her, I was able to board her at my mother’s best friends’ homestead. This just happened to be the mother and father of the person who owned the pony, Lucky. They did not keep their horses at their homestead at that time. Lois was her mother’s name, she was a really cool person. She was a true homesteader, raising a huge garden and animals for food and canning jars upon jars of food every summer for her family, which included 5 members total. I got my homesteading bug from her. I do believe she recognized in me an interest in what she was doing, and she took me under her wing so to speak and showed me all the finer points of her homestead. I picked snow peas, many bushels, under the hot summer sun, I cleaned the barns, I helped plant the gardens, they had very large gardens. In my duties I also cared for the sheep and goats they had and the chickens along with my horse. She taught me things that no one else had ever introduced me to in life and I took to it like a duck to water. She showed me how to grab a goat by the horns so they wouldn’t knock you on your butt getting them into the milking stand, how to snatch that bucket just in time out from under the udder of a feisty goat who was not interested in being milked, and how to put the grain scoop over the broody chickens head while you clean the eggs out from under her so she wouldn’t peck you to bloody. She showed me how to gut and clean a chicken for the freezer. I skinned the bark off of many, many logs turned fence posts that needed stripping so they could go in the ground, also learning the best way to stack firewood that her husband brought in from the surrounding woods. And I learned how to can, so many jars of potatoes and carrots and beans and beets and pickles, rows upon rows of them. She taught me how to pick an apple so you wouldn’t damage the branch for the following year’s blossoming. And on the days she needed a break from their homestead, she took me to old abandoned homesteads and we dug for old bottles together. During these hikes to old places, she taught me to bop a bear in the nose as hard as I could (their most sensitive place) if I met one while digging bottles or picking berries. Lois was the mentor in my life who ignited that homesteader in me at such a young age. She never had a cross thing to say to me, if I needed correcting in my methods, she just showed me the right way to do things, always a patient teacher and with a wonderful sense of humor to boot.
I have Lois to thank for the homesteading skills that were ignited then and blossom now. I have so much to learn still when it comes to all aspects of homesteading, but I believe she would be proud of me. I also think she would be happy to know she played such an important role in this formerly young girl’s ability to find joy in the genuine and honest life of homesteading. I now pass that knowledge along to others when I’m able. You can’t short cut homesteading or it will bite you in the butt. You have to care for beings besides yourself, before yourself, on many a day. It is very long, hard days of very sweaty work, but the rewards are completely priceless. No money can buy the sense of honor and satisfaction you get from a day you have spent getting utterly filthy on the homestead producing food that will feed the mouths and souls of your family. It was a great way to grow up for this kid, and though I’m not able to instill that in my boys who have very little interest in anything to do with homesteading, I hope they will find the mentor in their lives that will be what Lois was to me. Mentors are God’s blessings in our lives, a true gift to us. That’s a gift you can’t repay, and Lois never would have wanted me to anyway. Because that’s the kind of woman she was. Sadly, she passed away a few years ago, but she lived that honest life right to her very end. I like to think that made her heart happy because I know she treasured her family and her home place most of all.
I ended up going back to the boarding farm after about a year of having my horse at Lois’ house. Mostly because I was 14 and missed the friends I had at the barn. They were very dear to me, and I had a lot of fun adventures with them before leaving when I got Dixie. I continued to have many more with them after she took her stall at the stable. Though I thanked Lois and her husband Rick for letting me keep my horse at their place, I didn’t fully appreciate what that time meant to me until I was much older and now I can look back on it with the proper awe and thankfulness that I was too immature to have had back then.
How about you? How did you begin getting the bug for homesteading? And if you had a fantastic mentor in your life, have you ever just thought about how amazing that was for the course of your life? Even if you don’t homestead (I know I’m the only one in my extended family who does, but many of you read this little diatribe), how did that mentor change your life? And have you been given the gift of the chance to pass along that knowledge to others? It’s an amazing feeling knowing that when I taught my friend to can a few years ago, I was connecting to Lois at that moment from almost 30 years before. So, thank you again, Lois, for the gift of knowledge, your time, attention and mostly love. I promise, I pay it forward.
Until next time, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all.