I shall call him Grant Yates; his real name doesn’t matter. A tall, thin man with a bony face, he was probably 50 years old. I was 12 at the time. Like my father, he was a Colorado homesteader. He lived in a little white house at the edge of the sand hills. We lived five miles southwest of him on the hard soil plains.
Maybe he liked me because I liked the hills. He loved them. I would get in my horse and ride over to his place; he and I would walk to a big hill near his house and sit there and talk.
A Beautiful Hill
It was truly a magnificent hill, its sand golden, its grass sparse but tall and green in summer. You could see for miles from its top. Almost any day you could get a glimpse of the smoke from trains on the Burlington Railroad, 25 miles to the north. In the early afternoon, by looking hard, you could see the blue-gray tip of Long’s peak, 100 miles to the west.
One day as he sat there letting a handful of sand fall slowly through his fingers he said, “you may climb hills and mountains of sand and be close to the stars. But the sand underfoot always shifts like the passing of time. And you can’t grasp more than a handful at once.”
Then he smiled and said, “Two years is a long time, isn’t it? It seems a long time to you, I mean.”
I said yes; in two years I’d be 14.
He nodded. “ and with a lot of years ahead of you. What are you going to do with them?”
I told him I didn’t know. “ of course you don’t,” he said. “there are many things to do when you’re young. But remember this: nothing is truly impossible. There’s always a way over or through or around and difficulty.” He sighed and coughed quietly for a moment; soon he got up and walked slowly back to his house.
Planning and Building
He had built the house and every piece of furniture in it. I asked him if he was a carpenter, and he said, “No, but as I lay on my back in a little hospital room for a year I planned this house and everything in it. I came here to build it.”
I didn’t know why he had spent so long in a hospital. Later I asked my mother, who explained that Mr. Yates had TB.
One day in the fall I asked him why he didn’t have any cattle. All the other homesteaders had some. He said, “It’s not right that anything should depend on me. My horse and I need him. All I wanted was this house.”
“The doctors said I had two years to live at the most. I didn’t have much money, but it was enough to take care of me for two years, living here. Away from here my money would have lasted only about six months. I’ve lived here for a year and a half, and it has been wonderful.”
The early winter that year was pleasant – not too cold and no had storm, but in February we had a blizzard that began one afternoon and continued all night.
About dawn someone knocked on the door. It was Fred Williams, who lived a mile south of us. He said his son, Rob, was terribly sick. The boy had a high temperature and pains in his chest; he was having difficulty in breathing.
“I wonder if somebody could get to a telephone and call a doctor,” Mr. Williams said. “I know it’s a lot to ask – in this storm – but what else can we do?”
The Williams family had had a lot of trouble ever since they came to Colorado the spring before. They didn’t even have a horse. Their work animals had died late in the summer. It was said that the family lived on nothing but the few vegetables they were able to grow on their homestead.
Mother asked me if I could get to the telephone at the Woodrow store, ten miles away and five miles beyond Grant Yates’ place. I said I could, because I was familiar with all the hills between our house and the store.
Fighting against the snow and icy wind, I made my way to the barn. There I got the wagon and team of horses ready for Mother and Mr. Williams. We loaded the wagon with blankets and medicines and other supplies; then they left for the Williams' place. I took shorty, my favorite horse, and headed for the Woodrow store.
The blinding storm seemed to get worse by the minute. About two hours later shorty stopped beside a building it was Mr. Yates’ house. I wondered for a moment if I shouldn’t try to go on to the store. Then I smelled the smoke of the fire inside, so I got off and went in.
Mr. Yates was in bed. “What are you doing out in this storm?” he asked.
I told him about Mr. Williams some while I put more wood on his fire. As soon as heard the first part of my story, he reached for his clothes. While dressing he began to cough and had to sit down again for a moment.
Then he went to a closet, took out some bottles and put them in a bag. He put on a heavy coat and picked up the bag. I asked him what he was going to do, and he answered, “I’m going to the Williams’ place.”
“But I’m going for the doctor,” I explained.
“The doctor won’t be there for hours,” he said. “That boy has pneumonia. I know a good deal about lungs. Maybe I can save him.”
“The storm’s pretty bad,” I told him.
He smiled and replied, “ I’ll be all right. Will you get my horse ready?”
Ten minutes later we both rode away – he back the way I had come, and I on toward the Woodrow store and the telephone.
How Mr. Yates got there I don’t know. It took me another hour and a half to reach the Woodrow store. The doctor promised to start immediately for the storm was coming to an end by that time.
The doctor reached our place in the middle of the afternoon. I put his store in the barn and gave him a fresh one. When I told him about Rob he shook his head. “There’s not much chance that he’s still alive. But since I’ve come this far, I’ll go the rest of the way and do what I can.” So we both went to the Williams’ place.
The Boy Lives
Rob wasn’t dead. His fever was down and he had gone to sleep. The doctor examined him and asked questions; then he turned to Mr. Williams. “Your boy is alive,” he said, “Only because Yates got here when he did.”
Then he took Mr. Yates aside. They talked quietly for a few minutes. Finally I heard Mr. Yates say, “What does a month or two matter, Doc? An old, worn-out life for a young one – that’s a fair exchange!”
He coughed again and had to sit down.
When we all left, Mother asked Mr. Yates to stop at our house and spend the night. But he said. “Thanks, but I want to go home. I have just enough time to get there, I think.” He and the doctor rode away together in the twilight. Mother said, “He’s a very sick man.”
He died soon after he reached home. The doctor had stayed with him.
They buried him there in the sand hills and put a stone over his grave. But the sands shift from time to time, and when I went to look for it last fall the stone was nowhere in sight. The sands of time had covered it.
Homesteader, a man living on a homestead. A homestead is 160 acres of public land given by the government to a settler who aggress to live on it and improve it.
Magnificent, splendid; grand in appearance
Sparse, scattered; not growing thickly
Glimpse, a quick view
Peak, pointed top of a mountain
Shifts, changes position; moves from one place to anther
Grasp, take hold of; seize
Coughed, forced air through the throat in order to clear it. Coughing with its sounds occurs suddenly.
Carpenter, a man who builds things with wood – such as houses
TB, short form of tuberculosis, a serious disease of the lungs. The lungs are the part of the body with which we breathe.
Blizzard, a storm with heavy snow, strong winds and bitter cold
Chest, the upper front part of the body, containing the heart and lungs
Blankets, soft, warm covers for a bed.
Medicines, substances used to prevent or treat diseases
Pneumonia, a dangerous illness in the lungs
Fever, a condition in which the body temperature is higher than usual
Doc, short form of doctor
Twilight, the period between day and night when the light is almost gone