I know I have mentioned the Milo and Grace Kistler family in previous columns but as a reminder, Grace was my Mother’s sister. They lived just a couple miles north of us, and in addition to the other daily chores associated with family farms in those days, the Kistler family milked a barn full of cows by hand. Hank and Frank Woster’s clan milked just a couple at the time, which was more than enough for the necessary milk and cream for two families. Those two seemed like work, but it was nothing compared to milking the 15 or so that walked in and out of the Kistler barn twice each day.
I suppose there were other families in the neighborhood who milked enough to sell the cream in Chamberlain each Saturday evening, but I don’t remember who they were. Along with the cream cans the Kistlers also gathered enough eggs throughout the week to turn into a bit of cash.
Aunt Grace was plenty adept when she planted herself on a milk stool. I think the method she used was termed stripping but the nomenclature mattered little. She could fill a milk bucket faster than most of the fellows with large, time tested hands.
We lost one of the Kistlers a couple weeks ago following a long and often difficult struggle with health. His name was Donald, and for several days following his death, he was the topic of a long string of emails between the Hank and Marie children. The emails were not only about a favorite cousin and his family. The topic wandered to other cousins and families who lived near Reliance.
The Woster cousins to the south were also special but because their dad, Uncle Frank, and our dad were partners in cattle and farming we were together a lot serving in the role of hired hands. Certainly there was plenty of time for fun and I recall of couple of incidents that began as “fun” but ended with Jim, first cousin Leo and brother Terry in a bit of trouble.
There was an old axiom used by Hank and Frank and I suspect many other parents that simply stated, “One boy is a man, two boys are half a man, while three boys are no man at all.” That certainly came into play on more than one occasion when the three cousins were working at the same time on the same task, one of those being the grease gun fight. I don’t recall how it began but I do know it was in the wheat stubble between one of the pickups and our Case combine. Neither do I remember how long we had been spraying ourselves, the combine, the pickups and a lot of stubble but I do know what happened when Dad drove up.
First the cold, icy glare as he crawled off of the M tractor followed by a slow shake of the head and then something like, “The only thing I asked you do to was grease the combine. A monkey can grease a combine. You three haven’t got enough brains to pound sand down a rat hole.” Following clean up, the cousins were split up, assigned to menial but physically challenging tasks and life returned to normal.
Donald spent much of his professional life working with the U.S. Forest Service out of Custer, South Dakota, and there are many tales told by his co-workers demonstrating that he had a special talent in every area of the service but especially in fighting forest fires.
Brother Terry, who at the time was a journalist for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, told us about the session he had with several fighters during one of the bad fires in the Black Hills. According to those veterans of many fires, “If we are going into a bad one, we want Don Kistler leading the charge.”
Sometimes it is hard for everyone to attend the annual Hank and Marie family reunion at Thunderstik Lodge near Chamberlain but we always try and most do. Our emails regarding Donald are a stark reminder of the importance of family staying in touch, and that especially applies to the cousins.
As a final thought, Donald and Mother Marie had a unique and fun relationship for years and years. I suspect that relationship has already been renewed and now that both are 100 percent healthy – renewed with much vigor.
It is that time of year when each day brings more light. Yes!