With her eyes fixed firmly on her grandson, Barb Daniel sat perfectly still, concentrating as she watched Henry ride during Saturday’s horse show at the Stanton County Fair.
Then suddenly with a wave of her arms, the Stanton woman broke the silence with a shriek. “Go, Henry, go!” she shouted as a big smile spread across her face. “Great job, Henry!”
Sitting inside the van from the Stanton Health Center, Saturday marked the first time since March 7 — about three weeks after her husband’s death — that the Stanton woman had been out of the nursing home due to the COVID-19 situation.
“I have goosebumps,” said her daughter-in-law, Sarah Daniel. “Watching her today is like winning the lottery. She’s so happy to be here with us, even if she’s sitting in the van.”
Barb arrived at the event about an hour after Gene and his brother Kevin paid tribute to their late father with the cowboy’s last ride.
As the national anthem played, Gene carried the American flag and Kevin led a riderless horse through the arena.
“That was special, but it was hard,” Sarah said. “Gene thought of it last night while he was in bed. He decided he wanted to give his dad one last ride at the Stanton County Fair.”
Gene Daniel — who was named after his father, LeRoy Gene — followed in his father’s footsteps and helps run the horse events. He also takes care of the arena, preparing it early in the summer and keeping it ready for action.
“He’s selfless,” Sarah said about her husband. “That’s the best way to describe him. He would never tell you everything he does for this fair or his family because he’s not that way. But he is a selfless man.”
Gene said it was important for him to bring his mother to the fair for a list of reasons, beginning simply with her love of horses and the fair. The six Daniel children – Tim, Rick, Kevin, Davanna, Raeann and Gene — grew up with 4-H.
LeRoy led the Rough Riders 4-H group for 40 years. Gene is quick to point out that his mother was just as involved as LeRoy.
“She hasn’t missed a fair in 60 years,” he said.
Due to Alzheimer’s, Barb went into the assisted living center years ago before moving into Stanton’s nursing home. Sitting in the van, Barb could be heard talking to her family members through the window and was noticeably aware of her surroundings and the current COVID-19 situation.
“This is what the fair is about. I love seeing the boys,” Barb said before adding sternly, “I don’t care about that virus.”
Barb spent little more than an hour at the fairgrounds, parked next to the bleachers under a shade tree. While talking with family, she pointed toward the crow’s nest near the bench that was placed there two days earlier in memory of her late husband.
“Is that LeRoy’s bench?” she asked.
Her lips curled just slightly and she nodded in approval of its location.
Gene said it was the second time Barb had seen the bench. He showed it to her through the window at the Stanton Health Center before bringing it to the arena.
Thursday was sunny, and Gene said Barb remembers more on sunny days. She understood the bench was in memory of her late husband.
“When she came to the window, the tears were rolling,” he said, fighting back his own tears. “It was tough. You know, when we took them to the assisted living, we drove them in a team of horses. Horses and the fair mean a lot to us.”
Saturday was partly cloudy, but Barb was alert and aware of everything happening, especially when Gene and Henry were in the arena.
Just 4 1/2 and the youngest grandchild, Gene said Henry and his mother had “an instant connection” when he was born.
Because he can’t go inside to his grandmother, Henrys bring his toys and plays outside while she watches and visits with his parents.
Gene said Henry keeps asking when he can see his grandmother without the window.
“It’s sad to see the two of them hug through a window,” Gene said, choking up. “But she lights up when she sees Henry. Seeing her face when we get together — she’s smiling, she’s happy.”
Gene said leaving the nursing home is the hardest part. They wave until they can’t see one another.
“There’s a lot I don’t understand with this virus, and I’m frustrated,” Gene said. “But there’s nothing we can do. They’re doing their best at the nursing home, and we are, too. I hope things change, but at least we got her out of there for the fair.”
As Barb was getting ready to leave the arena Saturday, Gene rode over and waved to his mother. “Be good and have fun,” he said.
“Oh, I am. I am having fun,” she said, still smiling.