Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: We’re Here to Fix Your Water |

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: We’re Here to Fix Your Water

A typical two week January freeze hit South Dakota that year, with unrelenting bone-chilling winds and blowing snow, bringing most activities in Harrold to a halt, townspeople moving about only if it was a necessity. Our old two-story house was never warm despite my feeding the coal hopper morning and night. Pipes near outside walls were always in danger of freezing. The wind was so strong it moved the curtains in my upstairs bedroom window, and if it snowed I woke up to snow on the foot of my bed.

Mom and Dad worked at our store, sharing the work from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. six days a week. It was a constant struggle to stay warm in the drafty old building, and they rarely took their coats off when the wind howled through, which was every time the front door opened. One bitterly cold day, our neighbor Shirley Keller, who lived in a singlewide mobile home, called Mom at the store, upset because her water broke, and she needed help. Mom immediately contacted Curley Stiefel, who took care of the water maintenance in Harrold. He corralled several other men, including Shirley’s dad and they set out to fix Shirley’s water problems. Shirley’s husband was working away from home at the time, so they were quick to come to her rescue. They brought tools and wrenches, ready to fight the cold and repair a broken water pipe.

Shirley was wrapped in a blanket, obviously in distress when the men knocked at her door. They came in, carrying their wrenches and tool boxes, asking where the water break was located. Shirley, after her shock at seeing plumbers at her door, said “fellas, I don’t think you can fix the problem with those tools, my water broke and I’m having my baby!” She giggled through her contractions, seeing the look of embarrassment and horror on the faces of the men standing there with pipe wrenches in their hands. They soon recovered their composure to a degree and contacted Marvin Barnes who took Shirley to the hospital in his station wagon. Shirley giggled about that also, because Marvin was afraid she was going to have the baby in his car.

Nobody was more shocked at this turn of events than my Mom. Shirley was just six months into her pregnancy, so Mom didn’t connect her call for help with the baby coming. The baby only weighed a few pounds, but was none the worse for wear because of the premature birth. I visited with Shirley Keller-Sandal just the other day, and in retelling the story she laughed and giggled, recalling the looks on the men’s faces, and Mom’s reaction in finding out that a pipe wrench wasn’t going to fix Shirley’s water problem.

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