April 28th…“DO YOU HAVE A STORY ABOUT A BIG SURPRISE?”
Our daddy had a 400 pound surprise “up his sleeve” that day. As usual, our nice bus driver, Mrs. Marie Meyer, pulled up to the end of our farm driveway each afternoon, after school, and popped open those folding bus doors to see us launch from the bottom step and race down the graveled, U-shaped driveway to the back door of our farm home and into the kitchen. In the farming culture of Minnesota, most farmers would take a break from their work to stop by the family kitchen for what was known as “Lunch” (around 3 or 4pm). This was also our father’s custom before heading out to the barn to milk our herd of Holstein cows. Sure enough, as we burst into Mom’s kitchen that day, upon the air was the heady fragrance of coffee brewing and there was our father, Russell Conrad Noorlun, sitting at the dinner table having some coffee and cookies for his “Lunch”.
Being the prankster that he was, Dad summoned the two of us kids over to his spot at the kitchen table. With a phony gaze of pseudo seriousness, Dad said to us, “You two had better go down to the barn and check on “Joker”! “ Now “Joker” was the name we had given to our ornery and down-right nasty Shetland pony. That little hunk of male menace was never nice from the very beginning of being part of our farm family and THAT’S why he was tagged with the temperament appropriate name of “JOKER”! Even though our father and myself had made many valiant attempts to “break” the pony for riding purposes; they were to no avail……and I had the bruised butt to prove it from being bucked off of that stinker’s back many times.
Little sister, Candi, and I looked at Dad quizzically, yet, we were obedient to his request and headed on down to the barn to check out “Joker”. When we arrived at “Joker’s” stall in the barn, at first we were a bit perplexed. The pony seemed different, and yet the same. White mane and tail….like “Joker”. Dappled tan and white coat…..like “Joker”. We just couldn’t put our finger on the missing link of this puzzling scene, so we headed back up to the house and our awaiting father. Our fun-loving daddy had a real good Norwegian giggle going by the time we got back inside the kitchen. He said, “SURPRISE!!! It’s NOT “Joker”! I called Palmer Hove’s Livestock Auction House in Kiester and made a deal to get rid of that mean little sucker and bring us out a new Shetland mare (which is another name for a girl horse), instead!!”
Now this little mare’s coloring made her a near twin of her predecessor, but her mood was kind and gentle and she was already “broke” to ride with a saddle. We instantly fell in love with this little equine darling. Since she was so pretty and sweet, we decided that her name would be “Little Lady”.
In 1965, I had the joyful adventure of taking our “Little Lady” to the local “Faribault County Fair” which was held each Summer in the town of my birth…….Blue Earth, Minnesota. With Dad’s coaching, I proudly garnered a First Place Blue Ribbon in my competition of Shetland Class that day. It was one of those precious father and son bonding moments, for I knew, without a doubt, that I had greatly pleased my father in my achievement with that lovely little pony of mine.
Emotions welled up within my father that day that were born from his continued grief over the loss of his own beloved father just two years earlier. Dad was so thrilled over my receiving that First Place Blue Ribbon, that his eyes filled with bittersweet tears that crested his eye lids and spilled down those tanned farmer cheeks as his quivering voice, choked with emotion, related the following to me. “If only Grandpa Ed could’ve been here today to see this special moment of your Blue Ribbon with Little Lady!!!” You see, our paternal grandfather, Edwin A. Noorlun, had carried out all of his years of farming with horses and our dear dad, who revered his father, just knew how thrilled his father would’ve been to see a grandson carry on his love of horses into this next generation.
I treasured that fine little equine friend over the next couple of years and had many an adventure in her saddle as we traveled for miles around our 120 acre farm and the country roads nearby. But, as it says in Ecclesiates Chapter 3 Verse 1 “To everything there is a season….” and the season of our farm life was coming to an end in the Summer of 1967. Our parents had sold our farm in preparation for moving our family to Washington State. Part of that meant that “Little Lady” was sold also and I would have to say goodbye to my perfect pony pal. Letting go of “Little Lady” brought on a bucket of tears from this farm boy as we saw her new owners back up their pickup truck to carry our lovely Shetland to her new home on a farm nearby. They pulled out their loading ramp from the truck bed as we brought “Little Lady” from our barn for the last time. Once my little mare managed her way up into that truck , she seemed confused and bewildered by the strange new voices and circumstances that were to transport her to a new chapter in her life. As the truck began to pull out of our yard and down the sloped driveway, I ran into the house and out the front door to have one final gaze at my sweet pony pal. I can still see “Little Lady” looking from side to side as the truck reached the end of the driveway, banked onto the gravel road and headed south, leaving a swirling dust cloud in its wake. By her head movements from side to side, I wonder if my “Little Lady” was trying to see me just one last time. I missed her so much already…..just minutes after her leaving my life. One consolation to my empty cowboy heart was that I knew that our “Little Lady” was now with a very loving family whom we knew to be good, Christian folk and kind in their ways. That pony pal was a true blessing to this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.