By Hal Hase
My good friend Tim is a lanky Scandinavian with a wry grin and a dry sense of humor. One day we were casually talking and he began discoursing about how great it was to grow up in rural America. I agreed and said I believed the best childhood experience anyone could have was to grow up on a farm or in a hamlet.
Tim felt growing up in a small North Dakota town was one of his fondest memories. Children had freedom, yet there was a hidden cloak of protection and supervision that was always present. Everyone knew everyone, and in effect, every child was accountable to every adult. They did not always like this, but it was a security blanket.
Tim went on to relate an experience he had when he was five years old. It was midwinter, and being five meant he was not old enough for first grade. Of course, there were no kindergartens. In the late 1930s kids mostly had to invent games and entertain themselves. Making snow men, snow balls, and sledding were the main options.
There had been a snowfall of several inches earlier in the week. Even though Main Street had relatively little traffic on any given day, the snow on the road was nicely compressed. This meant Tim and his two friends could try using their world famous, two-kid, “Flexible Flyer.”
Since their town was in northeastern North Dakota there were no real hills to climb or slide down. In potato-country, Main Street was the best hope for sledding. So, for an hour they took turns pulling and riding on the sled.
Gradually, they headed further to the edge of town where there was a fence. On the other side of the fence was a farmer’s field with a small flock of sheep. One of the sheep seemed friendly, and moseyed over to the fence. Tim walked over, and the sheep came closer. It seemed to want to come to him. Tim opened the gate and let it out. He then closed the gate, as a good farm boy knows to do.
The sheep “hung around” the boys, and it followed them while sledding. This friendly little sheep must have been a pet, or hand nursed, sometime in the past. Tim, being blessed with American Yankee ingenuity, decided on a plan to have this sheep tow the sled.
The sheep’s wool was thick and sturdy about the neck. The boys found the sled’s rope would stay in the sheep’s wool well enough to pull the sled. So they hooked the rope in its wool, and climbed on the sled. Now, how to get the sheep to pull them up the road?
They realized that one of them had to walk in front to get the sheep to follow. That’s just what the sheep did, saving the boys the hard labor of pulling the sled when it was their turn.
This little parade went on until the sun was getting low, and it was nearing supper time. So the boys each went their own way, marveling that no adults had come along to stop their adventure.
As fate would have it, the sheep decided to follow Tim home. Of course Tim knew he could not bring the animal into their kitchen or living room. Then he remembered there were outside doors for the “storm cellar.” So he opened the doors, and the sheep clattered down the steps. Tim quickly closed the doors, and went into his house without telling anyone about the guest in the cellar.
After supper, father heard a surprising noise down stairs and discovered the sheep. Whom could he blame? Tim confessed his misdeed. Sternly, Tim was admonished to take the sheep back to the field early the next morning. The farmer was not to discover that a sheep was “stolen” from his flock.
At sunrise Tim got dressed in his winter uniform. He put on snow pants, his mackinaw jacket, his cap with ear flaps, and the dog-eared buckle overshoes. Then he dutifully brought the sheep out of the cellar. The animal was ever so grateful for the warm quarters it had overnight at Motel Tim. It compliantly followed Tim back to the field. It hopped through the gate that Tim opened and securely closed.
The “Flexible Flyer” sliders did not try that trick again. The farmer was none-the-wiser, and the only clues remaining of the “crime” were those left on the cellar floor by little Sled-Sheep.