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The Long Johnners

Story ID:7819
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family Memories
Location:Broken Tree Ranch Montana USA
Person:The Campbells
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The Long Johnners

The Long Johnners

The Long Johnners

The Long Johnners
by Kathe Campbell

"Tell us about your early days on Broken Tree, Gran," came a lovely request from granddaughters caring for me while my new hip mended. "Okay, shall do," as I thumbed pages from my journal and thinking I needed to get more of these events told in our family story books.

Their Poppa and I had raised a log home on pristine mountain acres some thirty-three years ago. Sitting and rocking before cozy fires we believed ourselves invincible with nary a westward breeze nor the wrath of winter sifting through our Montana rise.

But the earth stood hard as iron, and the water like a stone, and the snow kept falling snow upon snow one February morn, so severe I could have sold the place, lock, stock, and barrel. We were froze solid and plumb out of water. Pops and I were about to brave the joint-chilling day in seldom worn long johns, for Jack Frost and his benumbing winds were howling down our necks.

Both outdoor thermometers read minus fifty plus degrees F. at 7:00 a.m. Equipped for short spurts in the minus thirties Pops argued, "guess another twenty degrees can't hurt us." "Only steamy puddles over the septic tank like Yellowstone's hot pots," I cracked. The drain field was deep down rock-hard and water had backed up. Pops stood over the place mumbling something about wishing he had dozed a deeper run-off.

While placing space heaters and heat lamps to thaw hoses and holding tanks in the well houses, we noticed birds seldom seen in winter ravaging both full feeders. The squirrel families must have disappeared into their hideouts to protect private stashes of pinecones, and my in-house gang was perfectly content in front of the fireplace.

In their barn our donkeys were suffering the rawness of this godforsaken morning. Faces masked white, icicles hung long and heavy from their manes, and clumps of snow clung miserably under their hooves, but not a single complaint. I wanted to hug the daylights out of each one as my tears welled, but I needed to keep strong while patting each head and singing our donkey tune.

Pops gave me that "she's nuts" look while we ushered the gang into a straw-filled room in the basement to zap the ice and make their lives tolerable. My job? Collecting donkey puckies and ferrying hay and buckets of water from their near frozen tub behind the barn, all with my icy nose about to part company.

A bite of lunch for my man, and another pair of warm gloves for his big, tough hands as he and another thermos of hot soup returned to the wrath of the day. We were lucky to have power, for the radio announced strained lines in town knocking out service, so we decided to play it safe and fix meals on the BBQ.

With all the drudge and rush, I had lost track of the duck and goose families. I pictured them as aesthetic ice sculptures at their pond, but should have recalled the merits of down underwear. It had saved their day, for I found them holed up in mounds of straw beneath the deck. "Oh, Lordy," I pondered, "why hadn't we believed that crazy weather man touting this freeze-out?"

Dropping by on his way to town for more heaters and heavy-duty extension cords, our doctor suggested burning old tires over the drain field. As a seasoned mountaineer, he and his horses had suffered a few frigid bouts, but this was the granddaddy of them all. Feeling the bone structure and loneliness of our land, Pops set old tires aflame along the east pasture. Before dusk the earth gave in allowing the septic tank to drain and smelly rubber to smolder.

The day had been one to journal before a cozy fire while we kept faucets trickling throughout the night. Never had bed felt so good, though Pops got up a few times to check space heaters.

"Wake up, Kath, it's up in the minus twenties - practically a spring day!" he cheered, as skies glowed pink over the east ridge.

Winter turning into a soggy spring, we and the elements became kindred spirits on this shivery crest with it's dreary rains. Short summers seemed so far away, but so welcomed with green all about - a time to rejoice and thaw. Further granddaddy spells never happened again. I suppose one really has to be nuts about a place to endure the minuses, but they'll never destroy the tenacious spirits of the Broken Tree long johnners.


Kathe Campbell lives her dream on a Montana mountain with her mammoth donkeys, a Keeshond, and a few kitties. Three children, eleven grands and three greats round out her herd. She is a prolific writer on Alzheimer's, and her stories are found on many ezines. Kathe is a contributing author to the Chicken Soup For The Soul and Cup of Comfort series, numerous anthologies, RX for Writers, magazines and medical journals. kathe@wildblue.net