"HIE!" " A hard lesson worth the learning
November 27, 2006
“Hie up! Get up! Hie!” It was our grandfather and he stood between our beds, shaking my brother and myself.
“Get downstairs and let your grandmother feed you. Hie! We haven’t much time!” Hie was my grandfather’s word for “hurry!” and at times, it seemed the only word in his vocabulary.
It was cold and early. Too early, as the clock just approaching 2 a.m., told me. There was an ominous feel in the air that was almost crushing. I shivered as I got dressed, and I don’t believe it was from the cold.
“What do you suppose is up with Gramps?” I asked my brother.
At 16, he was two years my senior, and possessed a perspective on life that was unique. He was developing a philosophy that life should be approached with humor, and as he grew he honed his wit on whatever situation was presented him.
By the time of his death last year, it had made him a well-liked and wealthy man.
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“Report cards must have come in,” he quipped, “and the old guy probably needs extra time to beat us before school. Can’t have us both broken and late, now can we?”
As we came into the kitchen my grandmother was putting out hash browns, salt pork, eggs and a 50/50 mix of coffee and milk that told me the urgency was not in my imagination. We almost never got coffee. She noticed the strange look on my face as I tried to take it all in, and she gently said to me, “Remember this feeling and it will serve you well.” Nature’s giving us a warning and we’d best pay it heed.”
My brother was a couple of steps behind me and already behaving as though it was the middle of the day. “We’ve decided to give you two a clock for your anniversary ” one that doesn’t run fast!”
My grandmother was an epitome of love. She enjoyed life as much as a ranch woman could, balancing concern and enjoyment as best she knew how. Concern took the forefront today.
“Don’t be teasing you grandfather this morning ” he’s in no mood for it.”
We ate as quickly as she could get the food in front of us. She packed us each a couple of sandwiches and sent us out the door to our grandfather who was waiting with our two best horses saddled and ready. His back was to the house and I took the one on his right, allowing me to mount from the horse’s left. It was the customary and most natural means of ascent. The horse shifted only to accommodate my effort.
“Get all the cattle out of the south. If you need to eat, do so while you ride. Hie!”
Meanwhile, my brother had mounted his horse from the opposite side, allowing no interference with my grandfather’s stance. The horse hardly moved despite being mounted from the far side. My brother was as natural with animals as he was with people. My grandfather turned to address his concerns and there sat my brother, with a big, stupid grin on his face and his hand cocked in a simulated wave. “Hi!”
When a bullwhip is snapped, it makes a crack that announces the tip has broken the sound barrier in its rapid attempt to follow the whip’s reversal. When leather reins smack against the soft flesh of a face the sound is neither as sharp nor clear, but the distress is felt all the way to the pit of the stomach. My brother and grandfather were momentarily locked in a gaze of shock and disbelief, but the younger recovered almost as fast as the older had reacted.
“Time waited only on Joshua, and that needed Divine Intervention,” he said with a sheepish grin, and taking the reins gently out of the elder’s hand, finished with, “We’d best be getting to it.”
He wheeled his horse to the right and brought it to a gallop without as much as a sound or kick. Realizing that I didn’t care to look in my grandfather’s eyes, I reined left and followed, but lacked the grace and quiet. It took me a little bit to catch up to him. When I did, he was his happy self, as though he had just received a pat on the back for a job well done.
“You’re bleeding,” I said.
“Your powers of observation will take you far in this life.”
“You aren’t even angry?”
The smile left his face.
“I am, a little ” at myself. But, I’ll get over it.” He noticed the confusion on my face. His playful smile returned. He said, “In order for something to be funny there needs to be a grain of truth in it. Sometimes it is best to forego a laugh and save the observation. Grandma was right … he was not in the mood to be teased. Now, do you wish to take the east or the west?”
My grandparents owned three sections of land ” that is, three square miles ” and to the north there was a geological uplift that transected the property. The house and outbuildings stood between the tilt and the road some 200 yards to the north.
We rode through an erosion that was slightly west of center, onto what we called the “savannah,” but was in fact a gullied waste land full of outcrops and piñon pine that supported some 200 animals. I chose the west, as it was a smaller portion, but I knew my brother’s skill would have him finished before me. When I arrived back with the remaining cattle, he was there complaining that arthritis had set in while he had idled.
We were well into grey daylight when we systematically herded the cattle into the corrals under the watchful eyes of my grandfather. Both he and my brother knew every animal on the ranch, and in our absense to the south, he had penned the sheep and cooped the chickens. We seemed to have a regular animal hotel full of assorted conventioneers at the barn. Feed had been laid out and all that could be secured, had been. As the last of the cattle passed through the gate, my grandfather grabbed the reins of both of our horses.
“Have your grandmother tend to your face.”
My brother nodded and dismounted. Grandfather turned to me. “Get two cords of wood onto the front porch … quickly, now!”
For the unaccustomed, two cords of wood, cut to 12-inch stove lengths, was a row of wood 4 feet high and 64 feet long. Transporting and stacking that much wood was a huge task, but I was smart enough not to say anything. My brother joined me shortly; his face clean but still with an angry welt that will probably stay in my memory until I die.
“Gramps wanted me to drive a stake next to you and determine if you had moved in the past half-hour.”
He continued that playful patter until we had finished the task, coming up on dinner. As if choreographed, my grandfather, brother and I entered the house for the noon meal, and as we entered, the first flakes of the “Blizzard of ’49” started to fly.
Although we lost some animals and outbuildings, rumor had it that the “hand of God” had protected us, and local reaction ranged from astonishment to envy. Fully one in four ranches went under due to the severity of the storm. There were Fourth of July picnics that year which cooled fruit and drink in the remaining drifts.
We washed and gathered about the table. Grandmother had put out a spread that would easily feed a dozen today, but I don’t remember any leftovers. Before we started, my grandfather looked across the table toward my brother and said, “Give us a grace.”
In slow, measured tones my brother thanked God for family, food, health and well-being. He added thanks for the warning and those who could interpret it. We gave a soft, sincere, unanimous “amen” and sat down to eat.
It was always my grandfather’s custom to start with a bit of meat, and, as he pulled the fork from his mouth, my brother caught his eye.
“I owe you an apology.”
We sat there as my grandfather slowly, thoughtfully, chewed his first bite; he and my brother locked in a glance. He finished, swallowed, and said gently, “And I, you.” I never heard of the matter again.
Neither did I ever again hear my grandfather use “Hie.”
I have had a long and wonderful life in which I have met many, many people. Only a few have genuinely bothered me, and most I have respected. Of course, there were some I deeply loved; but my brother, alone, I admired.