Dads and Daughters, Cats and Dogs

A Father's Day Memoir

Helen tugged Evert to wake him. "Evert, it's time."

Evert thought, "Time for what?" Then he remembered Helen was pregnant, and she was due. "I'll go warm up the car." It was the evening of December 7, 1952.

They stepped from the bed to the braided rug Helen had made from her old wool dresses and skirts. Then the couple quickly found their clothes in the neat piles Helen had stacked on the table by their bed. The baby crib was in the dining room near the oil burner. Helen was a little scared, but she didn't say anything. Evert was scared, too, but he didn't say anything either.

Upstairs Evert's mother, Hulda, stirred in her sleep. She wondered if it was Helen's time. Hulda had borne ten healthy children, but each time her daughters or daughters-in-law went into labor, she worried.

Hulda liked Helen. Before Evert married Helen, Hulda told her, "I want to retire. Evert needs a housekeeper." Helen was thrifty and hard working. She canned, she gardened, she mended. She bought only two new dresses that could be worn afterward for her pregnancy, and she sewed one more.

When Hulda and Helen ran out of things to talk about, Helen suggested Hulda teach her Swedish. Helen didn't discard Hulda's old-fashioned furniture; she just moved it upstairs. Hulda couldn't ask for more from a daughter-in-law, and now a new baby was coming to the house, too.

As Evert and Helen left, Evert called upstairs, "We're going to the hospital."

Hulda called down, "That's a Mainquist."

As Evert drove to the hospital, he remembered when he was a little boy, when his younger sister Mary was born. His mother went into labor one night, and the children went to bed. Dr. Walton called, and Aunt Anna was a midwife. The next morning, Evert's father called the children to come downstairs and see their new baby sister, Mary. The kids were so excited, but Aunt Anna only let the older ones hold Mary. Evert just looked, held her small hand, and smiled at her. She was so tiny. Evert was six years old then, and he continued to be pleased each time a new life--whether kittens on his farm or daughters in his family--came to this earth.

Both Helen and Evert were pleased with their first daughter. She was healthy and she was beautiful. As a farmer, Evert could have been disappointed with a girl because boys can help more with the work. Instead, when Evert took Helen home from the hospital, he told her, "Now all our dreams have come true." That was one lucky baby, and that baby was me.

As the first daughter of three, I got the the most pictures. Since Dad liked his first baby and he liked animals, it was natural to take pictures of us together. I sat on Buck, the white border collie, before I could walk, and later I sat with Dad on Flicka, his Appaloosa mare. I was even photographed holding the lines for his workhorses, Cap and Connie, when I was still a toddler. My father holds his dog Lucky in the last picture I took of him.

Dad always made sure my sisters and I had pets. Since he had loved animals as a child, I expect he thought pets were the finest gift a farmer could give his children. He couldn't teach us to cook or sew or take us shopping because he was male, and he didn't expect us to help in the barn because we were female, but he crossed the father-daughter line through animals.

Buck, our dog, followed my sisters and me everywhere on our fifty-acre farm. When Mom and Dad couldn't find us, they looked in the pasture for the big white collie, and we would be there. Sometimes, we hit Buck with our stick horses, but he never growled or snapped at us.

About ten years later, Dad bought a border collie that my sister and I named Cindy Lee. Dad didn't like her because she didn't do tricks or herd cattle; she only herded chickens on occasion. She was a good mother, though. Dad often spoke about how she stayed with her newborn puppies for three cold winter days in the northeast corner of the barn.

From Cindy Lee's final litter, Dad kept the last puppy. My sister Laurie named him Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Mainquist, but Dad changed it to Sam. When we played baseball after church on Sundays, Sam caught fly balls to my delight. On summer evenings, my family walked to the watering pit in the pasture.

There Dad threw sticks and sometimes even fence posts into the water. Sam would jump in, grab the stick or post, swim to shore, and return his toy to Dad. Then he'd pace on the shore and wag his tail until Dad threw another stick in the pond again. It was a command performance for the Mainquists alone.

When Dad finally had to put Sam down, he said fine words before he buried him by the water pit in the pasture. Unknowingly, my father gave me a lesson. Now as I think of my dad's death, I thank God for taking my father as mercifully as my father took Sam.

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