Growing up on a dairy farm north of Deer Park, Mike Reiter, 68, spent plenty of time around cattle, and there were always a few horses in the barn.
“But we were never cowboys,” he said.
That’s why one year he was a bit puzzled by his father’s Christmas gift.
“We, four kids, looked forward to Christmas morning,” Reiter recalled. “When I was about 12, my dad gave my brother and me each a saddle for Christmas. My first thought was, ‘OK, there’s a saddle, now where’s the good stuff?’ It wasn’t like it was something I’d always wanted. It was neat, but not a toy.”
Still, the saddle saw plenty of use over the years. When Reiter no longer used it, his niece borrowed it until she grew up and moved away.
Then for many years, the handsome leather saddle gathered dust in a variety of outbuildings on the farm, where Reiter and his wife, Roberta, had settled.
In 1997, the couple built a new home on the site of the original farmhouse. Reiter worked for the city of Deer Park for 25 years, and Roberta taught school in Chattaroy for 30. While their 80 acres is no longer a working dairy farm, a few head of Hereford in a nearby field gazed curiously into the home’s windows as Reiter shared memories.
Reiter has grown fascinated with the history of the area. He’s a member of the Clayton Deer Park Historical Society, and recently self-published a book about the history of the land and the farm where he grew up.
“My great-grandfather bought this farm in 1923,” he said. “My father was born on this place and lived most of his life here.”
COVID-19 gave him ample time to research.
“We couldn’t travel,” he explained. “They even canceled the Wallace Blues Festival.”
From the history of the land, his thoughts turned more personal. He remembered the long-neglected saddle.
“Years later, I learned from my Mom that Dad was really excited about giving us those saddles,” Reiter said. “Our lack of enthusiasm surely must have disappointed him.”
Their last horse, an old mare, died a year ago, so Reiter rescued the saddle from an outbuilding and decided to give it a place of honor in his home.
“It needed cleaning and stitching, so I took it to the saddle shop in Deer Park.”
He looked online for a suitable display stand, but found many of them pricey. So, he built his own. He found an old wool blanket in the tack room, and gave it a good cleaning.
Now, the well-polished saddle gleams on its display stand, offering memories of a boyhood Christmas.
Fifty-five years have passed since that morning when Reiter’s dad eagerly awaited his son’s reaction to his gift. Those years have caused Reiter to truly appreciate the saddle, and the pandemic has given him the time to find a way to express his gratitude.
“It’s the only Christmas present I still have from when I was a kid,” he said. “It’s a cherished memory of my dad. I wish I could tell him how much it means to me.”
Cindy Hval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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