He lived alone. No one else lived with him; no wife, no sons, no daughters, no brothers, no sisters, no friends, no partners – nobody! There was no one else in the community that shared his name so he probably didn’t have any cousins, aunts or uncles either: he was alone. Everyone in the community knew him as Huoma. It wasn’t Mr. Huoma or Huoma Schmidt or Nick Huoma: he was simply Huoma. The boys didn’t know if Huoma was even his real name; it could have been a nickname for all they knew. Since everyone they knew had at least two names, it seemed strange to them that this man should only have one but they accepted it, didn’t ask any questions and weren’t offered any explanation either.
Not only was Huoma alone, he was also poor (judging by Eddy and Harry’s definition). He did not have a lot of material possessions but maybe that was the way he wanted it and was happy with what he had thus excluding him from the definition of “being poor”. He somehow had acquired the quarter section of land on which he lived and built his home. Only a small portion of the one hundred and sixty acres was cleared and put into cultivated crops; the rest remained in its natural state. He had only cleared about fifty acres of his property ; enough to grow some winter feed for his animals and a few acres more for a cash crop. The soil was poor so yields were small therefore his income was probably quite meager. Eddy and Harry did not know if he had machinery with which to plant crops and till the soil or if his neighbors would come to his assistance come planting time. They knew that Otto would move his threshing equipment to Huoma’s place during harvest time and thresh whatever crop he had. Only Otto and either Eugene, Arnold or Rudy would go along to haul the sheaves to the threshing machine as there was not enough crop to warrant a whole crew. Otto would only be gone for one day and Otto would usually return with a sack full of alfalfa seeds – probably Otto’s payment for work done.
Although Huoma was lacking in material wealth the boys had in vague terms heard that Huoma was a learned man; he spoke several languages and spoke them very well. (How many languages certainly Eddy and Harry didn’t know because they only knew two plus a host of Ukrainian swear words.) They were however, fully aware that Huoma was fluent in German. Eddy and Harry were bemused by this because if he was so learned why wasn’t he rich? What was he doing living in the bush by himself?
Eddy and Harry had many opportunities to visit Huoma at his farm. The opportunities were made possible because Huoma’s place was located only about one half mile south of the school yard and out of curiosity some of the students would wander over to Huoma’s place to pay him a visit and every once in a while Eddy and Harry would tag along.
Upon approaching the yard it was obvious that Huoma had built himself a comfortable place. At first sight it was clear that all the buildings on his yard were hand built. His house, which was located nearest to the public road, his barn which housed his larger animals, his chicken coop as well as his pig sty were all built from trees that came from his property. Externally all were plastered with the usual mixture of clay and straw but none had seen whitewash or paint. All shared the clay colour which blended very nicely with the grass and the scrubby aspens that surrounded his entire yard. His yard looked cozy. A wooden fence constructed of willow stakes surrounded his garden plot and a pole fence surrounded his hay storage plot. His well was situated near the cow barn and a foot path lead from his house to the garden as well as to his barns and well. He would tell his visitors that he had built all his buildings by himself using only hand saws and axes. He said that he cut the trees down with a buck saw, limbed them, debarked them, cut them to length and then laid them one on top of the other to create the walls. The foundation consisted of some large stones gathered from his property. After building the walls and placing a roof on the buildings, he applied a thick mixture of clay and straw to both sides of the logs as well as pouring a thick layer of the mixture on top of the cross pieces which formed the ceiling. His house measured only about twelve feet in width by eighteen feet in length. There was no wood floor in his house – instead he used the same mixture of clay and straw and poured a thick layer of it on the ground. The out building were built using the same technique.
Huoma was always happy to have visitors. Upon entering the house the visitors’ eyes would need some time to adjust to the dim interior and after the eyes could focus clearly it was obvious that Huoma, although not fancy, kept his place quite tidy. The furnishings were sparse consisting of a small cook stove, a side board, a small table, two chairs and a single bed whose feet had sunk into the clay floor causing the mattress to lie on the dirt floor.
Although these student visits occurred several times over the course of several years, Harry only went a couple of times. There was no point in going, he thought, because Huoma did not offer a cookie, a candy, a bun or anything to the visitors. Huoma would only talk rapidly in a language that Harry could not understand so what was the point? Besides Harry was somewhat upset with Huoma.
Huoma had no apparent means of transportation. He had no car, no truck, no tractor and as far as Harry knew he didn’t even have a horse. Harry had never seen Huoma go past the farm yard driving a team or even a single horse. Huoma relied mainly on hitching rides with his neighbors and this was the reason Harry was a little upset with Huoma.
Every second week or so, Huoma would be seen standing patiently by the school yard gate. Eddy and Harry knew exactly what they were in for! It happened the same way every time. Just as King would leave the school yard and enter the road, Huoma would jump in front of King, grab him by the reins and prevent King from going any further.
“Wohin, wohin?” (Where to, where to), Huoma would call out.
“Wohin, wohin?” Every time it was the same.
What did he expect? Why did he have to ask that stupid question all the time. He knew very well “wohin”. Did he think perhaps they were going to Prince Albert?
“Wir gehen nach Hause,” (We are going home.) would come the reply.
The boys complained to Clara and Otto about Huoma infringing on their space on the cart or the cutter but they were told by both their mom and their dad in no uncertain terms that if Huoma asked for a lift they had better give him one. Furthermore, Otto told them that if they didn’t and he found out they would each get a “lickin”. Both Eddy and Harry had experienced Otto’s “lickens” and they were no fun. They didn’t happen often but when they did they would be remembered. Secretly though they actually found it amusing to give Huoma a lift.
After it was established that “wohin” was the Flath farm yard, Huoma would walk up to Harry’s side, grab him by the arm and tell Harry to get off. Huoma would clamour aboard and plunk himself right in the middle of the seat. None of the seats were meant for three people – only two could fit comfortably on them. After making himself comfortable he would pat the vacant portion of the seat, smile and say,
“Kom zitzen sie hier.” (Come sit here.)
Obligingly Harry would climb up beside Huoma knowing full well that only one cheek would fit on the space that was left. Eddy would suffer the same fate on the other side.
It was not only the fact that they had to cuddle up close to Huoma that annoyed them; Huoma was a bachelor, a bachelor with no running water. Huoma smelled. He didn’t really stink but it took a long time to get used to his unique odour. Furthermore, Huoma would talk steady. He would tell them things they knew absolutely nothing about using words and terms that were way beyond their comprehension. So rather than try to make sense of what Huoma was telling them, they would sit silently nodding their heads, sneaking peeks at one another, winking at each other, making stupid faces and occasionally giggle. Every once in a while a giggle would be loud enough for Huoma to notice to which Huoma would respond with “Warum lachen sie?” (Why are you laughing?) Embarrassed by being caught making fun of Huoma’s antics they would always respond, “Wir lachin nicht” (We are not laughing.) and the one-sided conversation would continue until King with his load came within sight of the grave yard. As soon as the grave yard came into view Huoma’s one sided German conversation would come to a sudden stop and Huoma would switch to a different language and begin reciting. He would recite a few sentences then cross himself, recite some more and cross himself and the closer they got to the grave yard the faster the reciting and the more frequent the crossing until it reached a frenzied pace. Once past the grave yard Huoma’s reciting and crossings would cease and he would continue his lecture in German and upon reaching the farm yard gate Huoma would dismount and carry on, on foot, towards Hafford.
Eddy and Harry had not had the pleasure of Huoma’s company for a couple of weeks so were not surprised to see Huoma standing in wait for a lift. It was also no surprise when they heard the familiar “Wohin” and the subsequent ritual of getting Huoma seated comfortably in the middle of the seat with Eddy and Harry finding barely enough room on the seat for themselves.
The trip began as usual with the usual rolling of eyes, snickering and Huoma doing all the talking. It also came as no surprise then Huoma switched languages and began crossing himself as they approached the grave yard.
Huoma was deeply involved in his praying (or whatever it was) and his crossing when suddenly and for no apparent reason the left shaft of the cart slipped out of its holder and began to wave from side to side. After a few swings the loose shaft struck King’s hind leg. (Poor King! It seems like he was constantly getting run into or struck from behind.) King reacted as would any other horse that was unexpectedly struck in the leg. Without even a backward glance King sprang into action. He leaped forward paying no attention to Eddy’s efforts to stop him, lumbered down the road with the loose shaft striking him repeatedly. It did not take long however for the right shaft to also come loose so that now the points of both shafts fell to the ground. As King zoomed along the points of the shafts dug furrows in the dirt, spraying pebbles and dirt into the air along with a cloud of dust thrown up by Kings mighty hooves.
Harry hung on. Eddy hung on. Huoma interrupted crossing himself and grabbed the reins from Eddy and began to yell, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, schlegtrof, whoa.” All combined efforts to get King to stop failed. King was fed up; he wasn’t listening to anyone. He kept on charging down the road as fast as his legs could move. Harry thought that the ride was quite exciting and he was enjoying the thrill of it but that changed when the points of the shafts dug deep into the ground completely halting their forward motion. King was a draft horse; he was powerful so the lodging of the shaft points had no effect in making him stop. He kept charging ahead causing the rest of the cart and its passengers to begin arching high into the air just like a pole vaulter vaulting over the high bar. Up up went the cart, up up went Eddy, up up went Huoma, up up went Harry, up up went the book bags and lunch boxes. Everything remained intact until the cart along with its contents reached its zenith. Once the cart passed the pivot point everything spilled from the cart. Eddy flew to King’s right, Harry flew to King’s left and Huoma being in the centre flew straight ahead.
After completing a couple of summersaults Harry struck the ground with a dull thud. In a split second his book bag and his lunch box came crashing down within a few feet of him. Covered in dust and somewhat dazed from his flight and hard landing Harry pulled himself up on to his feet and through dust covered eyes he could hardly believe what he saw before him. There stood King not fifty feet in front of him with his head hanging close to the ground, his legs splayed, his body shaking and quivering, a portion of what was left of the cart was leaning against him and Huoma was seen propped up on his hands and knees directly under King’s belly. Looking back from King and his cart, Harry saw Eddy gathering himself together and start to attend to King and Huoma but Huoma did not need any help. After a few expletives Huoma emerged from under King unhurt as well.
After completing the task of gathering loose items and assessing the damage Huoma and the boys decided that the cart was in no condition to continue the trip. The cart was pushed off to the side of the road. Eddy removed King’s bit and bridle and hooked a lead rope on to King’s halter. The four of them walked the rest of the way leaving the mangled cart behind to be picked up later.
To this day Eddy and Harry have puzzled over the whole event without coming to a logical explanation. Why did the shaft come loose? Why did King suddenly stop? Why was no one hurt – not even a scratch?
Those darn spooks!!