Small, random events can have profound effects.
"The farmers in Minnesota laugh at us here in South Dakota," Grandpa Nelson said more than once. "They think we're foolish for buying all that fertilizer."
Grandpa told me how Gopher State farmers plant a field to alfalfa, hay it for two years, then plow it under in the spring of the third.
"But first they let it grow up to their boot tops," he added in a tone which indicated that this was the secret.
I asked Dad why Grandpa was so fixated on Minnesota.
"When I was a little kid we lived in Minneota for a few years," he said. "Grandpa had a cousin who lived in that area, which I suppose is why we landed there."
This was during the Dust Bowl years, Dad explained. Back then, on the first of March, it was common to see wagon loads of household possessions trundling across the prairie as farmers who lost their lease or were foreclosed upon relocated, hoping for a fresh start in a new place.
"But if things were so much better in Minneota, why didn't Grandpa stay there?" I asked. Dad said he didn't know.
This conversation must have triggered some memories, because a few days later Dad related a story.
"Pa and I had gone into Minneota," he began. I tried to imagine the scene: the dirt streets, the stark Great Depression landscape, the inescapable dust casting a sepia pall upon the entire world. Grandpa a young man in his early 30s, Dad perhaps seven years old.
Dad had been playing with some other kids when a commotion erupted down the street. A man who was hitching his team to his wagon had been kicked in the head.
My mind's eye saw the deed: The man bending over behind his horse as he had a thousand times before. At that exact moment, something causing the horse to kick, perhaps a biting fly. The explosive, unexpected flash of the horse's rear leg, the dinner plate-sized hoof -- shod with steel -- connecting solidly with the man's skull.
"Pa was friends with the feller, so he went and knelt by him. He talked to him and even had him smiling, but he died anyway."
The small, hushed crowd in the gritty street. The sunken area on the side of the man's skull, the trickle of blood from his ear. The horse standing patiently nearby, unaware that anything was wrong.
It was the rule, said Dad, that a killer horse must be killed. Some men led the horse out to a straw pile near town. "We kids were told not to watch, but of course we did."
A wavering shotgun being held up to the horse's head. The abrupt, startling boom; the horse collapsing onto its side. A few minutes later, acrid smoke filling the sepia sky as horse and straw pile are consumed by flames.
I recently went through Minneota on business and decided to pause and poke around a bit.
The land around Minneota is rich and black and nearly level, save for the shallow ravine where the Yellow Medicine River has carved its bed. The town of 1,500 is neat and clean, and its streets have been paved for some time now. A Chamber of Commerce marquee told of an upcoming city-wide rummage sale and rubber duck races. A billboard on Highway 68 trumpeted Boxelder Bug Days, an annual town celebration.