The 4-H dressing room wasn’t much, just a torn black curtain hung on a circular rod at one end of the show barn. Outside, my pigs awaited, but first I had to get my bumper crop of frizzy, straw-colored hair stuffed through an elastic band.
Make do, Grandma would say. Not harshly. Just with that plain common sense that had carried Schultes this far.
I’m fifth generation, the direct descendent of Greta Schulte, who had immigrated to Iowa in the 1860s with her sister, Maria. Eighteen and nineteen, respectively, they’d made their way by train then coach from Pennsylvania to Iowa, care of President Lincoln’s Homestead Act. At Cedar Rapids they hired a wagon to take them to their claim just outside Leola. Spring had barely come—it was April—and a frigid wind whipped across the prairie while gray clouds thickened to black. The driver dropped the girls and their possessions and high-tailed it back to town just before the heavens opened up.
That’s how my grandma told the story, and she told it often; but she was gone now, dead from cancer nearly five weeks earlier. I still couldn’t shake the feeling I’d had, looking at her coffin in the ground. My cousin Billie and I had stood by with linked arms, weeping so hard that we almost overtook the preacher. We were drenched with heat, sun, and grief—not rain—but in my mind it all added up to the same thing: Grandma was gone, and the lonely, uncertain future stretched out past the cemetery gates and across the wide cropland.