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Before he became a minister, my grandpa decided to homestead
land for free in Wyoming, where your wheat, said the brochure,
would stand taller than you could see. East from Nebraska, there was
a war, 1916. But to the west lay freedom. He sold all he had
and took the family to a place my aunt, at 90, could only identify
as “one day’s ride from Cheyenne.”

Trouble was, he made a sorry farmer—hard worker, but inept.
My grandmother’s diary from that season proclaims, “Harrison
built our house today.” And the next morning, “Harrison
sawed out a nice window on the south said.” He had them
in a flat-top crate, and when the rains came, at night, she put
kettles, up-ended hats, the bread bowl and the milking pail
upon the bed to catch the thirteen leaks. “Not sufficient,”
says her lively scrawl. “Spread tarpaper over the bed.
Nice and cozy.” Her pluck had saved him again.

When the cold came, in September, they left their crate shack,
left the coyote calls where the moon swung high, left the distant
twinkle of the only neighbor too far to visit, crawled home to Nebraska,
to Holmesville, Gage County, the rolling hills and looked questions
of the relatives, and the long search for a new way to survive.

For a summer, in love with the not known, younger than we would
ever be, we were one day’s ride from certainty. One day’s ride from
what we had done before. One day’s ride from the civilized,
the predictable, the tamed, the midnight enigmas answered
by the gospels. Starlight was reduced again to a wallpaper dome
which once had been real when we were out there on the open land.

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