I grew up in central Illinois where winters were fairly mild. Cold, some snow, but nothing really major. We didn’t even have the pond behind the house freeze hard enough to skate on every year. I have just a few memories of visiting northern Minnesota as a child and enjoying the occasional snowmobile ride. For two winters I lived in Australia where the seasons are opposite to ours. Christmas was spent at the beach and it was blazing hot. Winter meant rain, not snow. Therefore, being introduced to North Dakota in the wintertime was quite the experience!
Nolan and I arrived in Langdon the day before the local schools were to let out for Christmas break. However, they never went to school that day because the governor canceled school state-wide due to the expected windchill. That day dawn bright and beautiful–and -50 F with the windchill at -90 F! (No, that is not a typo. Yes, it really was that cold. Let’s just say some things stick in your mind–especially when you didn’t realize they were possible!)
After breakfast I stood looking out the kitchen window at the beautiful scene and said, “Could we go snowmobiling today?” Nolan looked at me a moment in stunned surprise. “No, Tracy. You don’t go snowmobiling in this kind of weather. You just die faster.” “Oh.” (What else does one say?)
After a few days with his family, Nolan and I went to stay at a dairy farm northeast of town (his family lives straight west of Langdon) to take care of the cows for a week or so while the couple who owned it went to spend Christmas with their kids in California. Their niece was there as well and, between the three of us, we milked and took care of the 32 cows. As most rural folks know, cows have to be milked twice a day and at the same times so they continue giving the most milk. Milk cows must also be fed, have their stalls cleaned and, in this case, the free-stall barn. A free-stall barn is an open building where cows are free to roam about in the wintertime. It’s a luxury a lot of dairy operations don’t have, but makes a lot of sense in North Dakota in the dead of winter (like those regular -20 days in January). So, between milking times, feeding and cleaning barn, it was a lot of work in some of the coldest weather in the country!
Just to give some additional perspective to this scene, keep in mind I’m a town girl from Illinois. Before this time I had kinda, sorta, once petted a cow at a 4-H fair–I think. It’s a vague memory. Ever stood next to a Holstein? The few Jersey’s were kinda sweet and looked cuddly. They were gentle too. But the Holsteins and the one called “Roanie” were BIG. Thankfully, at that time they didn’t keep a bull (except the one in the tank in the milk house, as Keith said). So, from starting out clueless about cows to trying to figure out what to do with a cow (wash the udder & teats good, attach the milker to the pipe overhead, attach milker to cow, hope she doesn’t kick it off) to kicking the things when they refused to get up (“Git up, Boss! C’mon! Up!”), I rapidly became educated in cows (or at least enough to get them milked, fed and clean!). We even had one calve while we were there and had to pull the calf! What an experience!
Nolan had told me at one time that he’d written to each of his sisters and asked them their advice about finding the right girl to marry. Each one wrote him back and said pretty much the same thing, Bonnie in about 15 pages and Paula in about 6! Bonnie suggested that when he found the girl whom he thought was “right,” they should go on a missions trip or a group camping trip to see how she would react under stressful conditions. One day as we were cleaning the barn, Nolan looked at me and said, “I can’t think of another girl at Summit Christian College who would come all the way to North Dakota with me to clean barn.” High praise–and I certainly felt the joy of it!
After we were done with the dairy farm we spent another week or so at Nolan’s folks’ before we needed to head back toward school. Nolan was taking a January term and I was going to spend the time at home. We had been talking about getting married and thought probably June would be a good time. The morning we were to leave we had breakfast with his folks and then went into the living room to take down his drum set. As we walked into the room, he whirled around and said, “Tracy, do you mind if we leave my folks with a June 1st date?”
Startled I looked at him, “But, Nolan, you haven’t asked ME yet!”
An odd look crossed his face as that fact dawned on him. “Oh, yeah. Will you marry me?”
I laughed, “Yes!” And he kissed me before we turned back to the kitchen to go tell his folks.