Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Memories of Grandpa Red | TSLN.com

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Memories of Grandpa Red

The smell of tanned cowhide is something you never get tired of. It’s a new experience every time you catch a whiff of it. For me, it always brings back memories of my dad’s saddle shop.

Dad made belts, billfolds, purses and other items for as long as I can remember, carving intricate designs on the damp leather. It wasn’t until he retired from sales that he worked under Milt Lee, a master saddle maker, for two years, learning the process and some of the secrets of saddle making. He was darn good at it, and was asked to make the South Dakota 4-H Rodeo Finals saddles for several years. We built a saddle shop in the corner of our pole barn, right next to the horse stalls, and it became a gathering place for cowboys and customers to gather, to talk saddles and watch Dad work.

We lived right next door to my folks when my second daughter, Jackie, was a year away from entering school, and she always spent time at Grandpa and Grandma Red’s, visiting, playing at the piano and entertaining them. When it was time for her to start going to her baby sitter (what we called daycare back in the day) Grandpa Red asked if she could stay with him while he worked in his shop. Grandma Red worked at the school, so Grandpa said Jackie could help him make saddles and fix lunch. Jackie thought it would be fun.

Her day in the shop consisted of sweeping the floor, picking up leather scraps, putting the tools back in the rack, doing puzzles and coloring, and of course watching “The Price is Right” and “Mayberry RFD” on TV. Lunchtime meant fixing a hamburger or grilled cheese sandwich in the little Mighty Mac sandwich maker, and heating a can of tomato or chicken noodle soup. A nap for grandpa after eating, a few songs on the harmonica, always out- of- time but still a treat for Jackie, then back to the shop until the rest of us came home.

Jackie grew up, went away to college, married and started her own family. She was living in Idaho when Grandpa Red had his heart attack, and she flew home to be with him as he struggled to stay alive. God granted us more time with him, but his saddle making days were over. A year after his heart attack, Mom and Dad had an auction, selling off much of his saddle making equipment as well as many personal items, simplifying their lives. He lived for another four years.

While remembering Dad, we talked about his last years, and I mentioned the auction and the fact that everything that had been stored away was tossed in boxes and sold for a few dollars. Jackie asked about the Little Mac sandwich maker. “Did it get sold?” I said I suppose so, I didn’t really notice. Her eyes got misty and her voice soft, as she said, almost to herself, “that was the only thing of Grandpa Red’s I really would like to have had.” I guess we never really know what memories are important to family.