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1: Saturday, August 30th, 1913, Thief Lake, Minnesota:

Old Lars.

 

The wind whistled outside the barn. It was cold, and getting colder. Soon the ground would freeze as winter descended from the Canadian border. The family would withdraw into the farmhouse and the outbuildings and tender the dairy cattle and the other animals through the short days and long, dark nights.

            Well before then old Lars wanted to plow the south field, the one never turned over before. His grandfather, and great grandfather before him, had used it to graze the dairy herd. Now Lars had it in his head that the sod needed to be turned over to lie fallow and frozen throughout the Minnesota winter. Next spring, he'd plant a crop.

            "The tractor would do it in half the time, farfader." Ben Størgaard used the Danish name in hopes of moving the old man.

            "And with half the effort. The work and the cold are good for you, Benjamin. You have to feel the ground, feel the horses. You get none of that breathing diesel fumes and planting your arse on a tin seat."

            Even at eighty-five the old man could plow a furrow as straight as an arrow. They swapped around at the end of each row, one steering the horses, the other at the plow as it ran deep through the rich black soil.

            Halfway through the south field, Ben, seventeen, was aching, his back and arms tiring from steering the plow. Lars chuckled. "If you're set on joining the Army next year you'd better toughen up, Benjamin. Mikkel and Charlotte will tease you if farfader has to finish the south field on his own."

            Ben forced a grin and hunched down on the plough. Yes, his mother and father would never let him hear the end of it. He was thinking about a suitable retort when the plow blade screeched and shuddered as it met something huge in the ground below. The horse harness pulled the handles forward, up into the air. The crossbar slammed into Ben's cheek, a bolt-end gouging a furrow across his cheek and forehead.

            Lars stopped the horse team and was leaning over him seconds later. He pulled a clean rag from his jacket and pressed it against the wound.

            Ben insisted on getting up. "I'm okay granddad, really. It’s just a scratch."

            The bleeding did stop, mostly because Ben willed it to. After a few moments, against the old man's protests, he stood and checked the plow. The rig was not damaged though the blade had hit the edge of a large, flat rock under the dirt and grass.

            "Let's get a hook and have the horses pull it out…that's if you're up to it, Ben."

            The grappling hook held under the edge scored by the plough blade. The horses strained forward and the rock lifted and rolled over onto the grass.

            Lars leaned forward to free the hook. "It's big. We'll have to pull it over the edge of the field. I hope there are no…"

            Ben stepped forward to look. The old man had fallen silent as he looked at the slab. One end was ragged but the sides were straight and the other end was carefully rounded. It looked like a huge tombstone.

            His grandfather was staring at a line of marks on the slab. He leaned forward and scraped more of the damp earth off the surface. Ben could see that the marks were intentional, row after row of them across the slab.

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