03695_000_016When Paul Hanks travels alone by bus from his midwestern home to his grandparents’ Wyoming ranch, he wishes for the challenges of a covered-wagon or handcart trip. At the ranch he starts learning how to irrigate, do chores, and drive the pickup. Then his grandfather breaks his leg in a fall, and Paul must go for help.
Grandma Hanks hung up the phone and turned to Paul. “The paramedics and ambulance will be here in about fifteen minutes. I’ll take the pickup and go to your Grandpa. You run down to the county road and guide them in when they come.” She looked around distractedly, grabbed a large towel off the towel rack and a blanket off the couch, and hurried out.
Paul looked at his watch, got a drink of water, and set out through the powdery dust in the lane to walk to the county road. The ten minutes he waited until the ambulance came into view seemed like forever. He flagged them down and directed them through the maze of gates and bends in the trail until they were as close as they could drive to Grandpa Hanks.
When they reached him, they saw that Grandma had put the folded blanket under Grandpa’s head and shoulders and was wiping his face and hands with the towel, wet with clear ditch water.
As the gentle, skillful paramedics splinted Grandpa’s leg and loaded him into the ambulance, Grandma turned to Paul. “We’ll take the pickup and follow them to the hospital.”
“No, Grandma,” Paul said gently. “You go ahead. I’ll finish irrigating this field and walk back in to do chores. I need to clear the trash out of a couple headgates on the way.”
Grandma was too upset to argue.
As Paul watched the vehicles pull away, he realized that his shovel was in the pickup, so he had to use Grandpa’s to repair the ditch bank where Grandpa had fallen. He tamped the plastic dam in a little tighter and shoveled the remaining cutouts. Then he walked back to check his work to be sure that they were all running evenly.
Since it was shorter to follow the ditch than the road, he started down the ditch bank toward home.
Where the main ditch joined the smaller ditches, wooden boxes with boards that slid up and down controlled the water flow. The first such headgate Paul came to was running fine. He flipped a weed out of the water with the tip of the shovel and went on down the ditch.
The second headgate, however, was blocked by a tangled mass of waterlogged weeds and trash. He stuck his shovel in to flip out the rubbish, as he had seen Grandpa do, and nearly fell over. Nothing moved. He braced his feet and tried again. The stubborn mass refused to budge. He dropped the shovel, lay on his stomach on the bank, and reached in with his arms. He still couldn’t move it.
Finally he waded waist deep into the backed-up water and clawed the stubborn sticks out a few at a time. When he finished, he was soaked and muddy from head to foot, scratched from fingertips to armpits, and totally exhausted. He’d also managed to get a mouthful of muddy-tasting water, and his teeth felt gritty.
Paul dropped, panting, on the uphill ditch bank. Why didn’t it look that hard when Grandpa did it? he wondered. A breeze on his wet back made him shiver, and he struggled to his feet, put the shovel over his shoulder, and squished and dripped on down the path.
It was nearly chore time when he reached the ranch buildings. He stripped to his shorts and rinsed out his muddy shirt and jeans in the ditch and then left them dripping over a porch rail while he went to find dry clothes. I couldn’t do this in town, he thought.
What should I do now? he wondered as he donned a clean shirt and jeans. At home he’d call the family’s home teacher, Brother Murphy, if anyone broke a leg, but he didn’t know who his grandparents’ home teachers were. He did know the Bishop’s name, however, so he looked up the number and dialed. “I’m Paul Hanks,” he explained to Bishop Wilson, “LaVell Hanks’s grandson. Grandpa broke his leg this afternoon, and Grandma went with him to the hospital. I’m sure she’s upset and—”
“It’s all been taken care of, Son,” the bishop assured him kindly. “I’ve tried to call you a couple of times. Guess you were doing chores. Brother Ross and Brother James, the home teachers, have gone to administer to your grandfather. Someone from the hospital called Brother Ross for your grandma. My wife has gone to stay with her. Are you all right? Do you need any help?”
“I’m fine,” Paul replied. “I know how to do the chores and take care of the livestock. I’ve finished irrigating. Everything’s under control here.”
“Good boy!” Bishop Wilson said. “They’re lucky to have you.”
Grandma always got the milk jar and strainer ready, so Paul had to hunt a little before he found everything he needed. He set the strainer in the jar, to be ready when he returned, and took the shiny milk pail as he went out. He hung the bucket on a high nail on the side of the barn while he tended the calves and pigs, then whistled for the horses to come for grain.
“The horses really don’t need grain when they have such good pasture and aren’t being ridden very much,” Grandpa had explained a few days earlier. “But if I ever badly need a horse, I want it to come when I call. That’s why I always call them for a bite of oats.”
One horse came, but the other didn’t—something that hadn’t happened all week. I’ll have to go look for her later, Paul thought.
He herded Clarabelle, the gentle tan and white Guernsey milk cow, into the corner as Grandpa always did, poured her oats into a pan, and hooked her halter to the snap ring on the end of the rope hanging on the wall above. The cow was wary and nervous before he ever sat down to milk, his first try since he had learned the year before.
Clarabelle always stood quietly for Grandpa and finished her grain about the time that he finished milking. But today she gulped her oats, then stepped around skittishly. Once she stepped heavily on Paul’s foot and sloshed nearly half the milk out of the bucket with a temperamental kick. Paul’s hands and arms ached when he finished, and his sunny, helpful disposition was badly bent. And he wasn’t cheered by the thought that passed through his mind: Oh no! I’m going to be doing this the rest of the summer! He poured some foamy milk into the cats’ pan before he left the corral.
The phone was ringing when he entered the house with the half-full milk pail. He hurried to answer it. It was Grandma. “How’s Grandpa?” Paul asked.
“He’s in surgery now,” Grandma told him. “He went into shock before they got him here and was a little disoriented before they took him in to set the leg. I’m going to stay all night with him, if you’re all right.”
“I’m fine,” Paul said. “And everything’s under control here. I just came in to strain the milk. Is there anything else you want me to do?”
“Well, would you close the chicken house door before it gets dark so that the skunks and coons can’t get in? And check for more eggs. Oh, and please make sure that they haven’t spilled their water and that they have feed for tomorrow.”
After Paul’s reassurance that he would take care of the chickens, Grandma added, “You can slice a piece off the cold roast in the refrigerator to make a sandwich for supper. And remember to take your bath and lay out your good clothes. Brother Ross will pick you up at eight-thirty tomorrow for church. He said that he’d help in any way that he can. The other neighbors are sure to offer too. You’re sure that you’re all right?”
“Now you sound like Mom again,” Paul said good-naturedly. Hoping to ease Grandma’s concern, he added, “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a big kid now. I’ll be fine.”
Right after Grandma hung up, the phone rang again. This time it was Brother Ross.
“How are you doing, Paul?” he asked.
“I think everything’s under control so far,” answered Paul, “but it helps to know that there are people I can call if I need to.”
Paul remembered the missing horse while he was straining the milk. He dumped the empty bucket and strainer in the sink, set the warm jar of fresh milk on the top refrigerator shelf, and hurried out again.
The sun was low in the western sky when he crawled through the strands of barbed wire fence into the horse pasture. There are three possibilities, he thought: Ginger didn’t come because my whistle doesn’t sound like Grandpa’s, she got out through a hole in the fence, or she’s trapped somewhere. The first possibility seemed the most likely, but he started down the fence anyway, looking for downed wires or broken posts. The first quarter-mile of fence was fine. He had turned the corner and started on the next side when he heard a muffled crashing sound from where the fence went through a thick patch of willows.
There he found Ginger on her side, both front feet caught in a tangle of rusted barbed wire. The muddy, sweaty, wild-eyed horse and trampled, broken patch of willows told the story of a frantic struggle.
Paul walked cautiously up to her head, talking quietly, and reached out his hand. She let him touch her head, then thrashed around frantically again. Paul was caught totally by surprise. Her head crashed into his legs and knocked him backward into the willows.
More surprised than hurt, he sat and studied the situation. What do I do now? he wondered. There isn’t time before dark to call anyone and wait for help. I’ve got to get her out, and I’ve got to do it quickly. But how?
(To be concluded.)