Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Grandma’s warm bread and hot coffee |

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Grandma’s warm bread and hot coffee

Grandpa and Grandma Heintz had a good life, living in a new two story house in Marion, South Dakota, raising six kids and working a secure job. That all changed the day the land agent came to town.

The lure of owning land, farming and raising cattle, was irresistible to the several families that took the bait. Grandpa convinced grandma to sell the new house and buy land in Hughes County. He had made the trip out here and was sure they would have a wonderful life on the rolling prairie south of Harrold, even if it meant giving up his job and uprooting their family. They made the move in 1928, just before the Depression and Dustbowl hit.

The train stopped at siding #6, near the stockyards in Harrold. The family unloaded the freight car that held all of their belongings, then spent the night in the hotel. The next morning grandpa loaded grandma in their Model T and drove the ten miles south of town to see their new home. Grandma never got out of the car. The house was little more than a shack, with doors off their hinges, windows broken, and not a hint of paint on the wood. The final straw was a foot hanging out of a broken window. The owner of the foot was sleeping, if the sound of his snoring was any indication. Grandma insisted, and not gently I’m sure, to be driven back to the hotel. She never lived on the land they had been lured into buying.

The hotel was a blessing in disguise, a source of work as well as shelter during the early Depression years. Grandma managed the business, cooked for the tenants, washed the bedding, and always ran the land agent off when he came around.

Grandma baked bread daily, and in the springtime the smell of fresh bread wafted out the kitchen window. One day after taking the bread out of the oven, she went to the clothesline to hang up freshly washed sheets. When she came back, an elderly Native American woman was sitting in the middle of her kitchen floor. She made it obvious the smell of the fresh bread had drawn her to the hotel. Grandma, after getting over her surprise, sliced the warm bread, slathered it with butter and jam, and poured coffee for the two of them. Though neither understood the other, the Native American woman was able to tell grandma she and her family were on their way to North Dakota for powwows, and had camped outside Harrold to rest and buy supplies. They told each other through gestures and simple sign language about their families, with their shared interest in sewing and cooking occupying the remainder of the morning along with laughter and a blossoming friendship. This event was repeated that fall and the following powwow season, with the two pioneer women sharing their lives over fresh bread and coffee.

My memories of grandma are of a hard-bitten, feisty, no-nonsense woman who loved her dandelion wine and her family. She never forgave the land agent for moving her family out West. They soon had lost the land, became tenant farmers and later moved back to town when Grandpa took the rural mail route contract. He died at a young age, leaving Grandma a widow with nine children. She always made the best of things for the rest of her long life. Through all the hardships in her life, the early memory of her Native American friend was always as fresh as warm bread and hot coffee.