Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Many Happy Returns

I haven't had time or inclination to write much lately.  Mainly inclination.  I find the current political situation distasteful at best, nauseating the rest of the time.  I don't really believe that the election results will change my own situation at all, either immediately or in the future given that the difference between sixteen trillion dollars and thirty-two trillion dollars being purely imaginary, since there isn't that much wealth in the entire nation, even at today's inflated prices.

I failed to have a drink last night and I wanted one, which has thrown my mental state into a vague melancholy of the sort that is normally cured by a shot of the blues accompanied by a double shot of Gentleman Jack.  Red hot naked women are also a big help.

So.  Sixty years ago today at four in the morning my own dear mother woke my father out of a dead slumber to tell him it was time to go to the hospital.  Spurred by the completely untenable thought of Mom giving birth at home with only Dad to assist, the old sot hauled his pants and boots on, got Mom in one hand and her suitcase in the other and stuffed both in the car, then he high-balled it to the local hospital where the family sawbones was summoned by the staff in the emergency room.  Along about five or so I showed up.

In honor of this questionably blessed event, I decided to post a few old photos about life on the farm.

Dixie, Mike, Cindy, Debbie
I was raised on a horse farm.  The four horses here are Dixie, Mike, Cindy and Debbie.  Mike was my father's first horse and lived to the ripe old age of 38, which is about 110 in human years.  Mike, or Old Mikey as he was generally called, used to carry me out to the pasture.  He was so well trained that he'd practically lead himself out to the pasture, but Mom kept a close eye on me anyway, afraid I'd get into something.  I rode before I started school, which is not unusual in some parts of the country but in Sylvania most people had never stood next to a horse, let alone ridden one.

Dad, Me and Conchita the Burro
Dad managed a small truck line (Highway Transportation) in Woodville, Ohio, and the owner bought a Mexican burro along with a harness and a cart from Mexico.  I think it's likely he saw an ad in a magazine somewhere and thought it would be quite picturesque to drive the burro down to pick up the mail in Woodville, as there was only general delivery available back then.  When the burro arrived it was discovered that the new owner hadn't the vaguest idea on how to harness the burro or hook the cart up.  Once harnessed, it was subsequently discovered that the burro had no idea about pulling the cart.  The burro wanted to escape and go investigate the surrounding countryside.

Once the burro was caught the owner offered the critter, cart and harness to Dad as a sort of consolation prize.  Dad thought the burro was cute and so brought her home and gave her to me.  I now had a burro.  The burro's disposition is nothing like a horse or pony; it's closer to that of a friendly, playful dog.  Dad worked with the burro a little and she learned to pull the cart right away.  I kind of think she enjoyed the attention, as she really liked children.

Some friends of the family stopped in for a visit and brought their daughter with them.  The little girl was about my own age and rather precocious.  Naturally she was nuts for the horses, so some well-meaning individual suggested that we harness up the burro and everyone could take burro rides while Mom went back to the house and fixed dinner.  Whahoo!  What could possibly be more fun!

Mad Jack, Dad and Grandma Bourbon
Dad got the burro harnessed up just fine and started up the burro ride.  We'd begin at the barn and go up the driveway (about one thousand feet) and return.  About the second time I rode along with Dad he offered me the reins and allowed that I could drive the burro - which, by the way, I'd never done before.  You may note from the photo that this was in the fall and it was getting right brisk outside.  As I remember it, it was about 40 degrees or so, even if it was a nice day out.

The rides continued, with Dad giving me a crash course on driving a burro in fine harness.  I must have been a natural, because about the second or third time around the drive Dad proclaimed that I had the hang of it and let me take the precocious, cute little girl around all by myself.  I was thrilled at this new responsibility, and I clearly remember asking for confirmation.

"Gee - can I really?"

"Sure!  Go ahead."

"Wow!  Wait 'till Mom sees this!"

I don't think the Old Man gave much thought to what Mom might think.  Clearly I was a proven quantity - and besides that, I think Dad might have been getting tired of being a bus driver.  Anyway, off we went.

Mad Jack and Cutie - Ain't I just the little hustler?
Heading up the driveway at a sedate trot, I rounded the circle in front of our home and was arrested by my own dear mother, who was in an obvious state of excitement.

"What are you doing?"

"Hi Mom!  I'm driving the burro all by myself."

"I see that.  Where is your father?"

"I don't know.  Down at the barn, I guess."

"Ah - does he know what you're doing?"

"Oh yeah.  Dad told me to do it!  Neat, huh?"

So Mom made me wait until she got the camera and took our picture.  Ain't I just the little hustler?  I don't remember what she said to Dad about his decision to turn me loose on my own, but somehow I don't think Mom would have advocated flying solo after only three easy lessons.  For all that she was a friendly burro, the burro did have a mind of her own and would go her own way - think of a hound dog and a rabbit.  I made out okay though, and we spent an enjoyable afternoon driving the burro around.

One way or another I would get my folks into something that they'd rather have stayed out of.  Given that they lived on the same property, Grandma Bourbon and Grandpa Parsimonious were also fair game.

One afternoon while I was doing chores at the barn I saw two people driving an old car stop in front of the barn and drop off a little dog.  I called Dad's attention to what was going on and he walked out to confront the case of animal neglect.  While Dad was giving these two low rent specimens his second or third best version of hell, I corralled the little dog.  He was white and fluffy and still had his puppy teeth, and after the former owners drove off with a clean set of ears I asked Dad what we'd do with him.  Dad replied that we already had two dogs, so we'd have to keep him in the barn until we could find him a home - "Which is what those two sons of bitches should have done to begin with", Dad added.

As it happened, Grandma Bourbon and Grandpa Parsimonious were away on vacation in Florida or somewhere and wouldn't be back for a week or so.  I promptly named the little dog Happy, for his disposition you see, and we took him over to old Doc Elrod's to get him his shots.  We kept him out at the barn in an empty stall, and just as soon as Grandma's Thunderbird pulled into the driveway I was right there to greet them.

"Hi Grandma!  Hi Grandpa!  You'll never guess what - I found you a nice new dog while you were gone.  His name's Happy - isn't he cute?"

I think Grandpa Parsimonious agreed to keep the dog because Grandma wanted to, and because the dog license was already paid for and the thought of wasting a perfectly good license fee was more than he could sleep comfortably with.

Happy the Dog
Happy lived a long life with my grandparents, and was eventually joined by two other foundlings; Penny and Curly.  I found Penny at a gas station and Curly showed up one day looking for a hand out.

Although our family was a bit turbulent at times, this was about as good as it ever got.  Here are three of us headed out for a ride in the woods on a Sunday in the fall.  Left to right is my own dear mother on Henry, Dad on Cindy and eight year old Mad Jack on Dixie.

The Family on a Sunday
I took riding lessons at Howard's Stables (since renamed to Fox Meadow) for two years before I tried riding anything at home, the reason being that Mom did not want me buying any real estate on a regular basis.  The horses at home were not what anyone would call broken so that just anyone could climb on and ride.  In point of fact, Dad was re-training Debbie for me to ride when she turned unexpectedly turned the whole show into a rodeo one afternoon and Dad got launched into the fence and broke two ribs.  Dad's second choice was Dixie, who I'm seated on here.

You couldn't just relax and ride Dixie, as she was nervous and would jump and cut up at the rustle of a rabbit in the brush.  As a result of her constant, and I mean constant shenanigans, by the time I was seated here I could really ride.  I didn't want to come off and do myself a mischief you see, so I learned how to stay on and how to manage the horse.

That's not to say that the others did not have their own idiosyncrasies, all of which manifested themselves in the horse trying to rid itself of the rider.  Henry, for instance, had an irrational fear of water.  He'd step around small puddles of water in the driveway, and would refuse to get his feet wet in the pasture.  When a large puddle of water collected in front of the gate, he'd actually leap over the water rather than walk through it.  So, when riding him, you had to keep a sharp eye out for water least the horse step briskly around it, possibly unseating the rider.

Cindy was perfectly fine to ride so long as you didn't try to tighten the girth of the saddle or try to get on while she was standing still.  You could handle Cindy with ease right up until the girth tightened up, at which point she'd rear up and throw herself.  Go figure, right?  In order to get her saddled Dad would run a thick cotton lunge line through her halter and down between her front legs, then loop it around her flanks with the hondo under her belly.  That way when she lunged up and back she'd be pulled down and arrested by the loop on her flanks.  The first time Dad tried this Cindy broke her halter, but after a few months of this treatment she'd let Dad saddle her up without much problem.  Getting aboard presented another problem, as you had to get the mare walking right along before you stepped on.  Once you were on and Cindy had been ridden a little while, she was just fine.  It was that getting aboard part that you had to be careful of.

Grandpa Parsimonious took this photo.  I think I'm about eight years old here.  I remember the weather being nice but a bit nippy; more so if you spent any time at all in the saddle.

It being my birthday and all, I'm going to take life easy today.  I think I'll go out for some dinner tonight if I can find a restaurant that offers a free meal or some such to anyone celebrating their birthday.  Having a whiskey or two appeals to me, as does dropping by Main Lady's house and seeing if she looks as good as I remember in her birthday suit.  I'm betting she does.


CWMartin said...

Happy birthday! And a fine story.

Roland Hansen said...

Sorry, I am late. Glad to learn (via TT) you had a good and happy birthday.
Best wishes to ya!

Mad Jack said...

Thanks guys. Happy daze!