by Helen Nolden
Old Pete Larson lived in an old abandoned Soo Line Railroad boxcar on the southeast end of Anamoose. Sharing his dilapidated domicile were his two horses, a cow, and a black dog he named Freda.
Freda was always at her master’s side She was a faithful old dog, living as poor as he did. He talked to her almost as if she were a person.
Pete seemed to mind his own affairs. You could always hear him singing. I never quite understood how he could be so happy when he was so terribly poor and all alone, except for his animals.
He would sing a sort of nonsense thing, “HOY-TA-ROY-TOY”. None of us knew what it meant, but you knew when you heard it that Old Pete was going to make his appearance.
His team of horses were so tame. I thought they were mismatched though. The white horse was a bit bigger than the black. Perhaps a little older, too.
Old Pete would let us ride the horses. Not very far to be sure. For the little ones he would lead the horse around by the rein.
Old Pete loved children. I don’t think he ever had children of his own, but he sure made up for that with the children in our community. I liked riding the white horse the best. He was very slow. The black one was a bit more frisky. I never saw Old Pete mistreat his animals.
He always had those white mint candies with the little XX’s on them. He gave those to the kids by the handful. Oh yes, his hands were dirty, sometimes black, but we took the candy every time, much to the dismay of our parents!
I recall we children, following him as he rode down Main Street in his creaking buggy that groaned with age.
We laughed, screamed and danced along side, following this little parade of Old Pete’s Zoo. There were the horses, the cow, the dog, the children, and, of course, Old Pete. It was almost as if he were the Pied Piper!
I don’t know why this man fascinated us kids so. Maybe it was because he didn’t yell at us. He just droned on in a steady, most quiet voice.
I remember he had striking blue eyes. The rest of him was most dirty to be sure. His hands, face and feet were black as could be. His clothes matched his body.
My father told me that, one time. One of the businessmen scolded Old Pete right there in the middle of Main Street, while there were a bunch of men seated on the bench by the bank building.
The businessman told Pete that he was too dirty. A disgrace to be there on the street. Some of the men laughed.
But, Pete didn’t seem shook at all. He just took a piece of straw from out of his mouth and replied, “Old Pete might be dirty and black on the outside,, but his heart is clean. Now, Mr Businessman, you have a nice clean suit and white shirt, but what color is your heart?
With that, he walked away singing his “HOY-TA-ROY-TOY" song. Dad said the men on the bench were rather quiet for awhile.
Pete wore winter underwear at all seasons. His philosophy was, whatever kept the cold out, would keep the sun out, too.
My brother, Tony, would go down to his boxcar to help him skin rabbits. Old Pete would fix a rabbit stew with the vegetables the people had given him along the way. Tony said Old Freda shared in the meal. too. She ate right from Old Pete’s hands.
Our Mother just had fits when she learned Tony was going down there to eat, but, then, I guess she thought since none of them got sick, it must be all right.
I often times wondered how Old Pete and his animals survived the long, cold winters. Maybe someone above was watching over him, taking care of him as it seemed no one else did!
When I walk down in that end of town, today, I can still see the old boxcar. I can almost hear him singing, “HOY-TA-ROY-TOY.”