May 24th…“DESCRIBE A VERY PROUD MOMENT IN YOUR MINNESOTA CHILDHOOD.”
I don’t know about other little boys, but ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I would do anything to please my father. I categorically idolized my dad, Russell Conrad Noorlun. He was that handsome Norwegian patriarch who helped bring to me the very gift of life and inclusion into this fine farmer family. To me, in my innocent childhood frame of mind, Dad was like “Paul Bunyan”, “John Wayne” and “Clark Gable” all rolled into one very handsome man who saw to it that we had food, clothes, shelter, and above all, a desire to have us live out, like he did, an honest and integral life among those who knew him there in our village of Kiester, Minnesota.
Impressed I was, from the stylish way Dad combed his hair to how wonderful his “Old Spice” cologne emanated from his masculine frame whenever our family would be on outings together. Then, of course, there was the awe of seeing how strong he was in the manly art of farming each day there on our 120 acre agricultural realm. All these attributes and more combined to make our father my everyday hero. In my adulation, it is without a doubt that I was constantly “on his heels” and an ever present little shadow to his coming and going whenever I possibly could. And even though he was the Prince of Pranksters, when it came to teasing everyone of us, I still thought that there was nobody more suave and debonair than our fabulous father.
With the above paragraph as a setting to my feelings, I traverse, in my time machine, back to the Summer of 1965. I’m now 11 years old and Dad is teaching me more about the care and daily grooming of my lovely Shetland pony, “Little Lady”. Even though at times, I had my failings in her daily upkeep, I truly cherished that sweet little mare with her mild mannerisms and heart of gold. Those very equine attributes are what brought us to bequeath her with the title of our “Little Lady”.
In our father’s wisdom of growing up with horses in northern Minnesota, he decided that my little Shetland pony had the potential to possibly glean some degree of winning a ribbon at our local Faribault County Fair that Summer. In the months prior to the popular event, Dad would spend time in the evenings with me training “Little Lady” after routine chores and the milking of our dairy herd was completed. The expansive, graveled yard between our farm home and the barn took on the amber tones of the setting Minnesota sun as father would show me how to lead this little equine princess around the yard and to make her take and hold certain posing stances that beneficially would show off the best of her dappled brown coat that was complimented by her luxurious white mane and tail.
Each Summer to just attend the Faribault County Fair, was like going to “kid heaven” as far as I was concerned. And to think that THIS year (of 1965), I not only had the joy of attending such fun-filled festivities, but I had the added thrill of registering our pony to take part in competition with others of like category.
The expansive fairgrounds were located in the city where I first saw life at the local hospital there in Blue Earth, Minnesota. As our 1956 Chevrolet pulled off the highway and into the front gate, the inspiring scene, to me, resembled a frame from the classic 1946 movie musical “State Fair”. My anticipation of boy-related adventure was almost overwhelming as we were surrounded by sights, sounds and smells of agricultural wonderment and the delicious scents of tasty opportunities of food and fun. I could hardly wait to climb outta the car and begin my wanderings.
After my initial boy joy explorations of the fairgrounds, it was time to put the fun of the fair aside for awhile and focus on trying to win that blue ribbon of FIRST PLACE. With our little equine “queen of the hour” safely in her horse barn stall, it was time for our family team to begin the dressing up of our blue ribbon contender. Out came the brushes, curry combs, rags, lotions, etc. to make “Little Lady” look the very best that she possibly could.
Dad had witnessed what Amway Shoe Spray could do on the family shoes to make them sparkle. So, here at the fair, he had a brainstorm that happily intrigued me. He felt that we should use this new product to help enhance our pony’s looks for competition. “Little Lady’s” hooves were all sanded till they were smooth and uniform all around. Next, Dad sprayed that clear shoe polish on that little horse’s hooves and the result was amazing!! The spray not only left them glistening, but also brought alive the natural marbled coloring of the hooves. She was a real princess now! When finished with treatments, “Little Lady” looked like she had just graduated from the Army Boot Camp for horses in the way she sparkled from head to hoof.
The moment of glory had finally arrived as we led our Shetland into the outdoor arena where the great “spotlight” in the August sky could bring out all the luster our little mare could offer. Serious faces were worn by the judges that day as these time-tested horsemen would now scrutinize this little mare to see if she would qualify for any recognition before the crowd that had gathered in the County Fair Grandstand. Being obedient to the way Dad had taught me, I led our Shetland pony to perform whatever the judges required of me. That little beauty, at the end of my lead rope, seemed to be able to read my mind and will in how well she responded to each command given her. This little doll, who’s ancestors originated from the Shetland Islands of Scotland, behaved perfectly for me that day as I knew inside myself that she would.
Having completed the drills, and breathless in anticipation, I could only stand there in that sunshine spotlight and pet my equine pal on her lovely white mane as it floated regally on the winds of that August Minnesota afternoon. After what seemed to be an interminable amount of time, the main judge approached the various ponies and owners who had received some sort of recognition for their efforts. One pony received an “Honorable Mention” ribbon. Another, the “Third Place” white ribbon and then there was the recipient of the “Second Place” red ribbon to another smiling owner. Lo and behold, the awarding judge approached myself and “Little Lady” to offer us the beautiful “First Premium” BLUE RIBBON for having WON the Junior Exhibition Class!!! I seemed to be actually floating on air as I told the kind judge, “Ohhh THANK YOU, SIR!!!”
Turning from the show ring, and with lead rope in hand, I led our little winner over to where Dad was standing. Tears of joy were welling up in his eyes and spilling over onto those chiseled and tan farmer cheeks of his. Haltingly, with great emotion, the first words to come of his mouth were, “Ohhhhh, if only Grandpa Ed were still alive and could have been here to see this horse judging today!!!…..He would’ve been SO PROUD of you, too!!!”
You see, my Grandfather, Edwin A. Noorlun, had done all his farming with horses over the years while my father was growing up in northern Minnesota (and later in northern Iowa). My dad and his father were true kindred spirits when it came to working the land and they both harbored a love and appreciation for the horses that provided them power for farming in those days. Dad knew that Grandpa Ed would have deeply appreciated seeing “the next generation” working with horses, too. Our dear Grandfather Noorlun had died only a couple years earlier (in 1963) and I could sense that our father was still in mourning for the loss of his beloved father. The special moment with “Little Lady” may have been a bittersweet time for my Dad, but it was a very proud moment for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.