Winter has finally arrived, and none too soon I might add. Do not get me wrong. It is not like I enjoy the cold and dealing with towering drifts of white stuff. But our winters are what keeps out the riffraff; only those who really want to live here have the gumption to stay. Winter is the season for warm fires on cold nights, a pleasure unknown to those who have the misfortune of residing in the tropics. Our powerful gather round the fire instinct has caused we Northerners to develop a finely-honed capacity for storytelling, an example of which is illustrated by the following saga. The winter when I was 15, Grandpa Nelson took me aside and said I should learn how to trap muskrats. I was touched by this gesture. It seemed Grandpa had taken an interest in my burgeoning manliness and this was his way of helping me along. Grandpa told me to come see him once the sloughs had frozen over and he would instruct me in the fine art of rat trapping. Legions of muskrats – no doubt hoping to cash in on the booming housing market – had built innumerable huts, duplexes and even condominiums in the prairie potholes that fall. One frigid midwinter morning, I drove to Grandpa’s and Grandma’s farm. Grandpa and I trudged out to his slough where he showed me how to hack a small hole in the side of a rat hut, set a trap on the ledge inside and re-plug the hole. That is about all there was to it. A muskrat, I learned, is not exactly a furbearing Einstein. Thus commenced my brief rat trapping career. I walked my trapline every day no matter the weather, blizzard or rime, clouds or sunshine. During these treks, my imagination kicked into overdrive and I began to entertain manly fantasies. I envisioned myself as a rugged frontiersman, living off the land in a remote alpine wilderness. I would trap all manner of furbearers and keep a wild puma as a pet. Whenever I got bored, I would liven things up by wrestling with a dyspeptic grizzly bear. I would come down from the mountains once a year to sell my furs. I might visit a saloon, where I would order a shot of rotgut and exchange clever banter with a person of the female gender. But I would swiftly tire of civilization; within an hour, I would be ready to return to my manly mountainside haunts. On the other hand, I envied the muskrats I trapped. I knew they would eventually become a chic garment of some sort and might one day stroll down Park Avenue on the arm of a glamorous starlet. That was a lot more than I could ever hope for. You might say I had a bigger plan for the muskrats, just as Grandpa had a larger plan for me. When I had caught half a dozen muskrats, Grandpa insisted I should cash them in. There was a fur-buying station in a hamlet located about 15 miles away, and he said we should go there. He even volunteered the use of his car. We drove to the small town, and I went to the fur buyer to peddle my meager stash of pelts. While I was thus occupied, Grandpa wandered off in the general direction of the liquor store. When I returned to his car, Grandpa was already ensconced inside, a mysterious bulge in his coat pocket, an enigmatic smile on his face. We returned to Grandpa’s and Grandma’s house and he invited me in. We went down to the basement and Grandpa stoked his ancient woodstove. Once the fire was roaring, he withdrew from his coat pocket the pint of brandy he had purchased. After taking a hearty snort, he stashed the bottle between the floor joists. “We mustn’t tell Grandma,” said Grandpa with a sly grin and a conspiratorial wink. This I already knew. Grandma was a strict teetotaler and would have never tolerated even one drop of liquor in her house. Grandpa pulled a couple of pink mint candies from his bib overalls, gave one to me and popped the other into his mouth. We then stood there for a spell and simply enjoyed the warmth of the woodstove in manly silence. After a while Grandpa said we should go see if Grandma had made coffee. She had, of course. As I enjoyed coffee and ginger snaps with Grandpa and Grandma that midwinter afternoon, Grandpa would occasionally toss me a knowing wink. And, I do not believe I have ever felt quite so manly. Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.