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"The Little House That Grew"
by Jeri Dobrowski



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See the Art Spur introductory page here


It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words...we know many that are worthy of a poem.  In Art Spur, we invite poets to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry.

Our twenty-third piece offered to "spur" the imagination is "The Little House That Grew," a photograph by Jeri Dobrowski. The image depicts a house in Golden Valley County, North Dakota. Read more about the photograph below.

Jeri Dobrowski's photograph, "Leadin' a Spare," was a National Day of the Cowboy Art Spur project in 2006. See the image (of South Dakota rancher Robert Dennis) and the resulting poems here.

Poetry submissions were welcome from all, through October 4, 2010. Submissions are now closed.

Selected poems are posted below.

"The Little House That Grew"

Reproduction prohibited without express written permission
"The Little House That Grew" © 2006, Jeri Dobrowski, www.jeridobrowski.com

Jeri Dobrowski writes:

This example of a homestead house that grew with the needs and prosperity of a pioneering family stands alongside North Dakota State Highway #16 in the western part of the state. It was photographed late in the day in July, 2006.

The past several years have not been kind to the assemblage of wood and mortar; it is beginning to falter at an alarming rate. I am fearful the next time I pass by I'll find that it has been burned or dozed. A barn that was in the same yard has been razed. I know it's a matter of time before the photo is all that remains of one family's time spent on the Plains. As it is, I am taken by its beauty every time I see it.

photo by Jen Dobrowski

About Jeri Dobrowski

Award-winning Western journalist and photographer Jeri Dobrowski's works appear in publications nationwide.

Her photo gallery at www.jeridobrowski.com includes a gallery of Western entertainers and many images from gatherings and locations across the West.

Her monthly column, Cowboy Jam Session: Western Culture News & Reviews, is a regular feature of the Tri-State Livestock News and appears in other publications and at CowboyPoetry.com.

Working as a photographer and journalist since 1981, Jeri Dobrowski has been recognized for excellence in writing, photography, graphic design, and editing. Her projects have appeared in magazines such as American Cowboy, Persimmon Hill, Country Woman, Cowboy, and Grit; on calendars, billboards, monuments, posters, and recordings; and in books, newspapers, in-house newsletters, programs, web pages, and promotional packages. They are also archived in the permanent collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Dobrowski and her husband live in eastern Montana, not far from where four of her great-grandfathers homesteaded at the turn of the century. Born in Miles City, Montana, and raised on her family's cattle ranch and small-grains operation south of there, Dobrowski attended a one-room country school through the sixth grade. She was active in 4-H and FHA, showed registered Quarter Horses, and rodeoed.

Interested in writing and photography from an early age, she sold her first article for publication to the Montana Farmer-Stockman while still in high school. She sold a second article as a student at Montana State University. Thousands of features, stories, and photographs have followed, the majority dealing with agriculture, rural life, cowboy and Western entertainment, cooking, and family history.

Her business, Lamesteer Publishing, offers graphic design, including CD packages, web pages, and books, photography, promotional and writing services. Traveling a four-state area, Dobrowski has captured the emotions and surprises of the marriage celebration for dozens of couples with her photo-journalistic style wedding pictures.

Dobrowski is a field editor for America’s #1 cooking magazine, Taste of Home. She became the review editor for Tri-State Livestock News in January 2005, authoring the monthly Cowboy Jam Session: Western Culture News & Reviews. Since 2006, she has worked as the booking and promotion assistant to Wylie & The Wild West.

Visit Jeri Dobrowski's web site for more of her images.

 copyright 2008, Jeri Dobrowski
National Folk Festival, Butte, Montana, 2008


"The Little House That Grew"
Reproduction prohibited without express written permission
"The Little House That Grew" © 2006, Jeri Dobrowski, www.jeridobrowski.com


alphabetically by poet

Home by Ken Cook of South Dakota
The Broken-Hearted House by Bette Wolf Duncan of Iowa
Homestead by Glen Enloe of Missouri
Bleached Bones by Susan Matley of Washington
Old Man Akers by Al "Doc" Mehl of Colorado
The Little House That Grew Into A Home by Tom Nichols of Oregon
When Harvest's Through by Jerry Schleicher of Missouri
Lost Babies of the Prairie by Diane Tribitt of Minnesota



Have you ever fell soft and surrendered,
Dropped your guard and gone where you were raised?

Felt your daydream pour on you like spring rain,
'til your childhood home showed through the haze?

Found yourself horseback with Dad and Grandpa,
Heaven's sake you were still just a kid.

The days work behind, now Ma's supper in view,
Can you taste it 'cause boys I just did.

Disappeared in the spell of Mom's kitchen,
Fresh bread baking and flour in her hair.

Roast beef filled her oven, smelling for miles,
If your journey's like mine we're both there.

She raised everything, cucumbers and corn,
Tomatoes, strawberries, peas and beans.

No holding back when feeding her crew,
Enough for an army, know what I mean?

After supper there'd be pie and coffee,
Home-made ice cream for kids and Grandma.

We'd all race to the porch so to listen,
About wild country Grandpa once saw.

There's nothing stands up to drifting through time,
Easy ride if you let your thoughts roam.

Back to your family, good food and great times,
To that special place we just call home.

© 2010, Ken Cook
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Ken comments that this poem was "...co-written by Nancy Cook, inspired in part by our 28th wedding anniversary in October, 2010."

The Broken-Hearted House

Abandoned, sad, old derelict;
it waits upon the plains,
scoffing at the storms that lash
its weathered, worn remains.
Waiting, waiting, waiting
for a family long time gone.
The house just stands there waiting
but the folks have all moved on.

The parents both are long since dead.
Two sons died in the War.
The other kids are married
and don’t live there anymore.
As winds whip through its crumbling cracks,
a scampering, camping mouse
listens to the moaning
of the broken-hearted house.

A nearby weeping willow
sheds floods of leafy tears
as the broken-hearted derelict
remembers bygone years;
recalls its humble start-up
when the family was quite small,
and three rooms and an attic loft
sufficed to house them all.

But then the little family
Into a large one, grew;
and like the ever swelling flock,
the little house did too.
A wing grew on the east side;
and another on the west.
The family grew and prospered;
and the house was richly blessed.

It remembers still the baking bread
that always smelled so great;
and the family round the table
saying grace before they ate.
and the rooms that rang with laughter
and, most times, with good cheer.
And everything about it said.
“A family’s living here!”

Now the sad old house stands waiting,
just waiting there bereft;
waiting for the happy clan
that long ago all left.
The winds race down the chimney
and go rumbling down the halls,
and flog a whip of prairie grit
upon the crumbling walls.

When the storms rip through the windows
you can hear the sad house moan;
and in the battered attic,
you can hear the timbers drone.
Outside an owl and, now and then,
a sharp-tailed prairie grouse
hoot in cruel derision
at the broken-hearted house.

© 2010, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



It was built upon dreams they said
With pioneer blood and sweat—
One room of mortar and hewn logs
They all swore not to forget.

Time blew too strong; the thistles grew
As they added room on room—
It bloomed into a thing of joy
That life and tears would consume.

Pale prairies called and cities, too;
The West was no longer young—
Times changed too soon and worlds encroached
As an era was far flung.

The children came and too soon left
To find homesteads of their own—
All that was left were husks of rooms
As they lost all that they’d sown.

The home’s now just a chambered shell
That once grew year after year—
There is no need for more rooms now—
Its red life blood has turned clear.

Oh, cold winds sing upon the eaves,
Yet memories somehow stay—
Tall tattered weeds conceal the graves
As the earth has its final say.

And much too soon the hull will pass,
Returned to that amber sea—
The homestead gone; forgotten then,
Like things that were meant to be.

© 2010, Glen Enloe
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Bleached Bones

Forty miles from the saw mill
Near the Blues, in the foothills
By horse-drawn wagon borne:

Board lumber. Hard to find then,
In 1866 when
The little house was formed.

One room. Stove, table and bed
For man and wife, newly wed;
Threshold crossed in moon glow.

Two windows cut were dead eyes,
Deer skin cured to keep out flies.
The floor - - dirt, cool and low.

Time brought change and babes a few.
With family the house grew,
A sunny porch enclosed.

A separate kitchen next,
More mouths to feed the pretext,
A wooden floor imposed.

The kids grew strong and grew fast,
Both boys and girls, ‘til at last
One room per gender came.

A new room: the lady’s pride.
Claw-foot bathtub moved inside
With white commode and chain.

The railroad came and town spread
To the farm. In social dread
The house blushed with new paint.

The elite sniffed, “Ramshackle.”
But not too many cackled
Their houses, too, were quaint.

And then the railroad died, and
The town did slowly disband.
Off to cities most fled.

Man and wife grew old and tired,
Their kids in city jobs admired,
Earning their daily bread.

The house that grew couldn’t shrink
And the kids began to think
Mom and Dad should retreat.

The farm was sold, the house fell
Silent, fading in the hell
Of love grown obsolete.

© 2010, S.D. Matley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Old Man Akers

Old Man Akers was the owner of the Tin Cup Silver Mine;
There he made an early fortune, and retired at forty-nine
When he signed away his interests. Once that signature had dried,
He moved back to North Dakota, and he took a younger bride.

Then he built a sturdy ranch house, and he ran a thousand head,
But he kept a case of dynamite tucked underneath the bed,
And he kept one in the pantry, back behind the cooking wares,
And another case of dynamite stored down beneath the stairs.

Seems the old man liked to know that he would always have the means,
’Case he found himself an obstacle to blow to smithereens.
And he used some, once or twice, to make a pond, or build a road,
But, in gen’ral, all that dynamite just rested, neatly stowed.

LillyAnne was twenty-one the day she came to be his wife,
And she brought with her a passion for the finer things in life.
Yes, the Missus had the passion, and the Mister had the means,
And together they acquired the things reserved for kings and queens.

She had antique platters, china saucers, cups for coffee drinkin’,
And they say she had a tea set that’d been owned by Mrs. Lincoln;
And a potpourri of crystal, and some painted porcelain;
And a gold harp in the parlor, and a German violin.

From her travels, brought home artwork in an oversized valise;
She surprised him with a Renoir, bought herself a small Matisse.
And she kept a chest of jew’lry: diamond broaches, pearls in strings,
Ruby pendants, em’rald bracelets, and a drawer of brilliant rings.

Master bed: a great four-poster, ’cross the spans, a lacy veil,
Rosewood highboy from New England, and her desk was Chippendale.
And a twelve-foot dining table, and a sideboard trimmed in brass,
And a massive cherry hutch adorned with panes of leaded glass.

Old Man Akers died at eighty, after years of failing health,
Leaving LillyAnne to live for fifty years amongst that wealth.
She just stayed there at the ranch house, as you’d ’magine that she might,
And she never touched or tried to move the old man’s dynamite.

Turns out dynamite, when aging, undergoes a change corrosive,
And with just a small disturbance, ev’ry stick becomes explosive.
But since home’s a place of rev’rence, it made sense that LillyAnne
Would just stay there, half a century, and she missed that loving man.

Now with ev’ry passing year, it seems the coronaries harden,
And at ninety-eight years old, she fell and died out in the garden.
With the house now dark and vacant, all the townsfolk realized
Ev’ry stick of that old dynamite had prob’bly crystallized.

So the home was left abandoned, all those treasures locked inside,
With the mem’ries of an old man and his love for that young bride.
O’er the years, the snow and rain have stripped the paint off all the wood,
Someday soon a brisk north wind will bring it crashing down for good.

When, that day, the walls give ’way, the roof comes crashing from it’s station,
Then the dynamite will raise that roof, a final detonation,
And those riches will be scattered, in a tragic monument
To the passions of a lady… and the love of her sweet gent.

© 2010, Al "Doc" Mehl
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


The Little House That Grew Into A Home

Pen me a future, pen me a life.
Write about cowboys, a man and a wife.
Make her a looker who’s all “can do.”
Build him rugged with “want to."

Give me a family with lots of stay,
That’ll tough it—not move away.
Cut out a mob for them to graze.
Manage this ranch in holistic ways.

Hang family pictures on the wall
And sweat stained Stetsons in the hall.
Round-up boys with guns and knives.
Show ’em the Lord to run their lives.

Move giggling girls in upstairs.
Let’em dress-up and put on airs.
Then ride bareback in the rain,
Racin' up and down the lane.

Paint me white and trim me blue.
Fix my roof and windows too.
Ring a bell at dinner time.
Hang a rope for kids to climb.

Tend my garden and make it grow.
Mount solar and watch me glow.
Fence the yard and mow the grass.
Wave to neighbors as they pass.

Clutter my backroom with cowboy tack
A freezer of beef and spuds in a sack.
Add the smell as coffee perks.
Line my shelves with classic works.

Fill me up with Christmas cheer.
Pop a cork to start the Year.
Ride a toboggan down my hill.
Drink hot cocoa to fight the chill.

Throw a party, for the thrill of it.
Gather friends, turn beef on a spit.
Choose pie or cake to top your plate.
Oh, such fun, I can hardly wait.

Tune a fiddle and start the dance
Then, I’ll have had another chance.
You’ll then have your cowboy poem
The Little House That Grew Into A Home.

© 2010, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


When Harvest's Through

They'd claimed a prairie homestead, and set out to build a home.
No trees around for a cabin, only prairie grass and prairie loam.
So he'd built his family a basement house, just a hole dug in the ground.
And promised her a proper home, "when next fall comes around."

He moved his family into a single room with concrete walls and floor.
With a tarpaper roof overhead, and an old-fashioned cellar door.
Each time she asked for a proper home, he'd say "next fall we might.
But sawmill lumber is mighty dear, and cash is awful tight."

A wood cookstove supplied their heat, a coal oil lantern, their light.
Blankets hung from the ceiling provided the barest privacy at night.
Each day she spent in that cellar, she yearned for sunlight and a view.
But when she'd ask for a proper home, he'd only say "when harvest's through."

The first year came and went, then three more years flew past.
They'd saved each dollar carefully, until he finally said, at last,
"I reckon we'll finish the house this fall, before winter cold sets in.
But I can't get to it right away. There's still corn to put in the bin."

It was gettin' late October when a load of lumber arrived from town.
He figured they'd stay in that cellar while they tore the old roof down.
But that very night a storm blew in, and snowflakes began to fall.
No roof to keep the cold out, just the concrete floor and walls.

He bundled up their daughters, and carried 'em to a neighbor's place.
While his wife followed through the drifts, tryin' to keep up to his pace.
And there they stayed close to a month, while he and a hired hand
Finally built a proper home on that piece of prairie land.

© 2010, Jerry Schleicher
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Jerry comments: Around 1920, my grandparents homesteaded 160 acres in the Nebraska Panhandle. They and their daughters lived in what was called a "basement house" until the year my granddad finally decided they could afford to finish building a "proper home." My mother used to tell the story of the cold morning her father carried her a mile through the drifts to the neighbor's house. When I was growing up, my bedroom was in the cellar of that old farmhouse.

Lost Babies of the Prairie

Come sit by me and reminisce
I’ve brought down our old picture book
Though we are bent and aged, now
Backward, darling let us look
We've built our life on honest dreams
But now, like youth, the dream departs
And tho we reap from what we lose
'Tis time that’s stole from fragile hearts
Ah, there’s the house we settled in
Afar on pathless prairie lands
And still it stands, victorious
‘gainst Mother Nature’s harsh demands
Some called us dreamers without sight
To place roots in that one-room shack
Yet how it grew 'neath tender care
We called it home and n'er looked back
How safe we felt in its confine
While harmonizing heart and voice
'Twas hope and joy and mem’ry gave
Our labor reason to rejoice
Embraced by meadows, that old house
Served as the birth and romping ground
Of our sweet babes, a merry troop,
With curled tresses all around
We lost our babies years ago;
Were ours so long, and ours alone
Sweet Annie’s in the good Lord’s care
The rest, all men and women grown
'Tis seldom that we see them now;
I feel a bitter teardrop start
As we embrace dusks dying light
Ah, lonely hearth and lonely heart
And ever should their children come
To prairies where our cattle grazed
Perhaps they’ll see the old ranch house
Where all our babes were born and raised
Else they will sit, as we do now
Eyes straining for a closer look
At you and I, and all bygone;
Lost mem’ries in a picture book
Their lives seem full without us, dear
But they’ll stay long enough one day
To lay us next to Annie’s grave
Then each will go on their own way
Lost babies of the prairie; Gone,
As you and I had gone before
We've held their hands for many years;
Their hearts we'll hold forever more
Let's end this day as you and I
Stand rapt in days of long ago
And bid goodnight with love's sweet kiss
Beneath the sunset's ling'ring glow

© 2010, Diane Tribitt
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



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