The timing could not have been worse.  As I answered the phone and learned that my Grandma Ganus had died, my heart dropped. The sadness of loosing her was compounded by the fact that I was expecting our third child any day and would not be able to travel the nearly 800 miles to attend her funeral and say goodbye.  Although for a second I was tempted to make the trip, I knew better, and in the end, it was a good thing because I delivered our baby the very next day.

Grandpa & Grandma Ganus at the hospital

I remember that achy, sad feeling that came over me as I realized that she was really gone.  I would never again visit her in her little house in Colorado.  We wouldn’t ever have her fried chicken or lemon pie again.  My Grandpa Ganus had died 21 years earlier and so, while I was sure that Grandma was ready to go, I was equally sure that we were not quite ready to give her up just yet. 

A few months later, as my father and his sister cleaned out  Grandma’s house, they called me and asked me if there was anything that I wanted.  I did not hesitate for even a second.  I wanted the mule train.  The mule train had been in Grandma’s house for long as I could remember and I had always loved it. 

While growing up we had  lived some distance from my grandparents and so we would generally visit yearly.  On those visits, I remember so clearly walking through her house and just looking.  I would look at her buffet in the dining room and her dishes.  I would look at her Nick-knacks that she had collected over the years and the family pictures, along with all of the other little familiar things that defined Grandma’s home.  I was always so glad to be there.

imageWithout a doubt, my favorite of Grandma’s treasures was the model mule train.  Although it was positioned high above a door way so that I could not inspect it closely, I had never seen anything like it and it had always intrigued me.  In addition, I knew at least some of the story and that story made me feel close to Grandpa who had died when I was just a little girl.  

While living in Colorado, Grandpa was diagnosed with emphysema.  As the illness progressed, it was difficult for him to breath in the high San Luis Valley, and so Grandpa went to stay with his brother, Ernest, in Oklahoma hoping that the lower elevation would help.  Grandma was teaching school and so remained for a time in Colorado. The lower altitude did help, so Grandma joined Grandpa in Oklahoma where they lived nearly ten years.  It was while Grandpa was ill and living  in Oklahoma that he built the mule train.

While Grandma and Grandpa had initially moved to Okmulgee, Grandma later got a job teaching in Supulpa, so they loaded up their car and moved there.  For the move, the wagon train was placed in the back window of their car in the sweltering hot days before air conditioning.  It was there that the wagons were melted by the hot Oklahoma sun.  I wonder if Grandpa felt a pang of disappointment when he discovered how the sun had warped the side of the wagons?

imageI was thrilled when my dad delivered the mule train to me.  I could not believe that I was lucky enough to actually become its new owner.  I remember inspecting it carefully and crying as I thought of Grandpa building the wagon train and of Grandma keeping it all those many years.  And then I saw it.  Rolled up and laying in the back of the last wagon was a little piece of paper.  As I carefully unrolled the paper, I discovered the names of the mules written in Grandpa’s own hand!

Mule’s names

Jack & Jill

Pat & Mike

Chick & Chuck

Tom & Jerry

Mat & Kitty

Dock & Chester

Mack & Jim

Dick & Nell

Dan & Mable

Liz & Lew

Skinner, Borax Bill

We have moved several times since that day, but I have always carefully chosen a special place in my home for my cherished treasure.   I am sure that when Grandpa built that wagon train more than fifty years ago, he had no idea that someday it would be a source of great joy and serve as a link between him and  his only grand daughter.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013 

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12 thoughts on “Twenty Mules, Grandpa and Me

  1. Oh, Michelle, what a precious keepsake. And how appropriate that you would be the one to find that list. It is amazing what these little details can tell us about a person.

  2. I didn't realize that it was my birth that kept you from going to your Great Grandma Ganus' funeral. Sorry about that. I never realized that Great Grandpa Ganus had made that mule train. I remember looking at that and wishing I could play with it but it was always out of reach.

  3. Yes it was you—but she was YOUR great grandma and my grandmother. Sorry I hadn't told you the story of the mule train before now—guess it's a good thing I started the blog. And the mule train still exists today because it was indeed out of your reach! Thanks for dropping by!

  4. I like your grandpa's style in naming those mules — he's chosen some classic pairs! And I do remember those sweltering back windows of cars in those days — they melted my "Treasure Island" 45 rpm records in short order. You explain with such genuine feeling why these items are precious to you. No wonder. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Mariann, I had the same thought about his choice of names and they kind of help narrow down the time period when he might have named them too.

    Sad about your irreplaceable 45's! Thank you for your comments.

  6. Michelle: What a wonderful story — and so well told.

    I know just how you feel. When my maternal grandmother died I was asked the same question you were. The item I wanted (and got) was the copper letter opener I remember my grandfather and later my grandmother using every day I visited to carefully slit open the day's mail. I now use it for the same purpose and have done so for a few decades now. 😉

    I love the little treasure you found in one of the wagons and assume it must have resided there all the years it was above the doorway and through the various new homes as they moved. I have to ask if you think all the names chosen were random, or do they connect in any way to family members?

  7. Thank you John. It's great that you have such a treasure from your grandparents. I would say we are both very fortunate.

    I recognize a couple of the combinations of names, such as Matt and Kitty from Gunsmoke and of course Tom and Jerry. But none of the names are family members (that I am aware of), so I am curious as to why he chose the names that he did. I've wondered if some of them might have been his friends. I found an interesting little article about The 20 mule team and Borax Bill here :

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