Stranded on I-94 with a load of cows
My maternal grandfather passed away in the summer of 2017, but every time I drive on Interstate 94 between my prairie home and Fargo, N.D., I remember a trip I took with him to sell cattle.
It was a hot summer day in the late 1980s. Triple-digit temperatures and a historic drought dealt a one-two punch that wouldn't let up. As the oldest child and grandchild, I often got to tag along with my grandparents. This particular day, Grandpa asked me if I wanted to go with him to haul a load of cattle to West Fargo, N.D., which is 100 miles from my grandparents' farm.
Grandpa didn't usually sell cattle in the summer, but, looking back, I'm guessing he needed the cash, grass was scarce, or both. We loaded the cattle and took off in Grandpa's late 1970s blue Dodge pickup. About 35 miles west of Fargo, Grandpa's pickup started overheating. We had to pull over.
Grandpa popped the hood, got out to take a look, slid back behind the wheel, looked over at me and then back at the cattle in the trailer before staring out the front windshield at the interstate in front of us. I wasn't concerned. Grandpa could fix anything.
"Katie, I know a Polled Hereford guy who farms back there where we passed," he said. "You're going to have to stay here, because it's too hot and dangerous for you to walk on the interstate." "Polled Hereford guy" — for my non-beef friends — signaled to me that he was one of us, a friend down the road.
Grandpa instructed me to lay on the floor of the pickup, opened the lunchbox my Grandma had packed us and apologized how much the floor smelled like the cowdog, Snirt, named after snow and dirt. He cracked both windows and told me I couldn't unlock the door or get out until he was back. Even if someone stopped, I couldn't get out or speak to them. The plan was for Grandpa to walk to the nearby farm, get help and be back in 15 minutes. I sensed urgency in his voice but still felt safe.
As an adult now, my palms get sweaty and my heart beats a little faster just writing about this memory.
Grandpa left me in an unattended pickup on the side of the interstate on a very hot day with a load of cattle. He did what he thought was in my best interest. I've run the scenario through my head many times as an adult when I pass by the location where the pickup started overheating.
I can still feel the pickup rocking a little when the cattle shifted on the trailer. I still remember my longing for smelly cowdog Snirt to be laying there on the pickup floor where I was, instead, alone. I can still hear the cars whizzing by. I still remember hoping no one would stop while eating a few bites of my summer sausage sandwich and sipping from my thermos of lemonade.
It felt like my Grandpa was gone for a long time, but it probably was only 15 to 20 minutes. As promised, he and his farmer-friend returned with water. His friend followed us almost all the way to the West Fargo sale barn to make sure we didn't have any more issues with the pickup.
These days, it's not a good idea to leave a child in an unattended vehicle on the side of the road. But, as I said, Grandpa made the best decision for my well-being in that moment.
I miss my Grandpa. I'll always remember him for many reasons, but especially for the day we took a load of cattle to West Fargo. I often drive the same road and wish I could pick him up for one more ride together.