Shelter: Portrait for Weekend Mini Challenge



On the prairies of Dakota, 
weather often came with exclamation marks.
My father’s forehead was ringed like an old tree,
white from above his eyebrows to his fast-retreating hairline,
from his hat pulled low to guard from every vagary of weather.
“It’s hot as the hubs of Hell!” he’d exclaim as he sank into his chair at noon,
sweeping his hat from his head to mop his brow.
A nap after lunch, then Mack’s Cafe for coffee with his friends,
then back to work in the field until dark, some days.

“Cold as a witch’s teat in January!” was as close to swearing 
as I ever heard my dad get, November through March,
stomping the snow off rubber

overboots in the garage, tracking snow from his cuffs through the mudroom/laundry.
Cold curled like Medusa’s ringlets off his body.
We learned to avoid his hands,

red with winter, nearly frozen inside his buckskin gloves.

His broad-brimmed hat, steaming near the fireplace
as we gathered around the big formica table in the dining room.
Huge beef roasts from our own cattle, mashed potatoes and green beans.
Always a lettuce salad and dessert. The noon meal was “dinner”—
main meal of the day.

Necessary for a farmer/rancher who had a full day’s work still ahead of him.

Our weather was announced by our father
with more color than the radio weather report.

Spring was declared by his, “Raining cats and dogs out there!”
Only now have I really thought about how we were protected
from the vagaries of weather as from so much else.
It was a though my father bore the brunt of all of it, facing it
for us, easing our way. It was his job.

We were sheltered, all of us,
from those extremes of that land I didn’t even know was harsh
until years later, living in milder climates,
remembering the poetry
of how a man who really lived in it
gave us hints of its reality.


This is an extensive rewrite of a poem published earlier this year, redone for a prompt given by the weekend mini challenge  to create a portrait with words that is based on a photograph or painting of a person.

35 thoughts on “Shelter: Portrait for Weekend Mini Challenge

    1. lifelessons Post author

      Sweltering in the summer, wind and high snow in the winter. It was harsh weather. For us, even crossing the street or walking two blocks up to school was an ordeal. Can’t imagine what my father faced every day.


  1. kim881

    This is such a wonderfully detailed portrait, Judy, I can see him so clearly! I love that you have not only painted him visually, but we can also hear his voice through his words. So much is said in the simple phrases ‘weather often came with exclamation marks’ and ‘Cold curled like Medusa’s ringlets off his body’, it seems that you have painted a landscape too!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. lifelessons Post author

      Thanks, Kim. It was a longer poem that I trimmed down for this prompt. I appreciate your comments. My dad was a colorful character. Everyone in town called him “Uncle Ben.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kestril Trueseeker

    I love how you played with the metaphors of weather and shelter here. Your dad didn’t pretend the world didn’t have its share of bad weather, but he never used it as a reason not to go out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lifelessons Post author

      Thanks for reading and responding. I only wish my father had lived to hear some of my stories. I spent my whole life listening to and loving his!!!


  3. Brendan

    After reading Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories I get the faintest glimpse of the sort of rigor your father lived and worked for so long for his family. Your lens is far more intimate and forgiving; you see the hardness as love writ as large and wide as possible in order to provide shelter from brutal elements. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lifelessons Post author

      I went to college in Wyoming and after traveling abroad for three years, taught there for 7 years, but I grew up on the prairies of South Dakota. Annie Proulx actually has a ranch next to a college friend of mine in Wyoming. Yes, I agree that Ms. Proulx and I have a very different view of life, but I loved The Shipping News and some of the stories in Close Range, although they were a bit grim in parts. I have a few of those stories, as well, and my father made sure all of us had college educations that would take us into a less hard life. He died when he was a year younger than I am now..Luckily he retired 10 years before that and had those years in Arizona which surprisingly, I think he enjoyed to the fullest. That is rare–someone who devotes his whole life to his work and then is able to leave it behind and go into a new life. I admire both of my parents so much for that…as well as for their encouragement in all of the choices I made in life. Every day I am grateful for being born into the life I was born to. I never take it for granted. Nor do I take them for granted.


  4. Jim

    Judy. I can see your father all the way through this poem. Sooo descriptive, all the way I’m hoping it was mostly true. I grew up in Nebraska, Grandpa owned our small farm. Grandpa was like your father though two degrees tougher. He chewed tobacco and swore like a sailor. I stii believe I was his favorite. Oh yes, grandpa also had a stud horse that he took around in a large n old Ford pickup.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim

      Sometimes he took me with him on his breeding rounds. He wore an old felt or straw hat and always had a red and white kerchief around his neck.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Martha Kennedy

    “Colder than a witch’s teat”
    “Shush that talk, Sherm. They’re children here.”
    “Blast it, Emma. Hell froze over.”

    It might have. There IS a “Hell” Montana. Maybe my granddad knew.

    I love your dad from your poem.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Joanne Gunsalus Haugland

    I knew your dad quite well via Goodrich Law Office where I worked as Legal Aecretary and Ben was a frequent customer.
    He always brought a lighthearted vibe to our office.
    Good memories❣



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