1998 Sense and Nonsense
I am from the generation that loves country and western music. The old stuff– not the guitar-busting, belly button revealing, new style of warbling. I like Garth and Shania but it’s the classic horse loving, gut-wrenchingly lonesome kind of music that stirs my country soul.
Every once in awhile I like to visit a barnyard for old time’s sake. And for old time smells. One thing I notice is that while cows are still popular, horses are becoming a creature of the past. When I was a farm-raised kid in the Cariboo our horses did everything. Not only were they expected to pull various pieces of equipment around in the fields during plowing, sowing and haying seasons, they were our everyday transportation.
In my mind’s eye I can still picture the huge harnessed rear ends of Paddy and Peggy, as they slowly ambled down the dirt road toward town, pulling a sleigh in winter and a wagon anytime after the snow had gone. In 1947 our town consisted of a general store with post office, and a feed shed. I don’t recall any gasoline pumps although there was a red Chevy pickup that shared the road and scared poor old Peggy every time we met. She would usually attempt to break and run, despite being hitched to Paddy who was heavier and much calmer–to the point of being almost comatose at times. He was that way when we kids wanted to ride him. If he was not in harness, Paddy didn’t believe he should move at all.
I always wanted a saddle pony but Dad could not bring himself to trust any horse other than the ploddy old team that he loved. Saddle horses were the sports cars of my youth and I was forever petulant that I couldn’t have one. The excuse was that they cost too much money. It was not until my own daughter expressed a wish for a pony and I noticed the fear in my father’s eyes, that I finally understood the reason why I had to walk to school while the neighbor’s kids got to ride horses.
There were a few times when my brother and I had to ride Peggy into town to buy groceries. The storekeeper always referred to our potbellied, swaybacked mare as “the horse built for two”. He would fill our grain sacks with canned goods and staples so that the weight was evenly distributed; then tie them together and help us sling them across Peggy’s ample shoulders. My position was up there behind the groceries, and my brother’s was behind me. I would pretend I was Gene Autry (without the saddle) while my brother who never agreed with me about anything, identified with his favorite cowboy hero, Roy Rogers.
The problem with Peggy was that unbeknownst to Dad, she would bolt every so often causing her human cargo to fall to the ground. With her big belly and our short legs, there was no way we could hold on. Peggy had an imagination, and would sometimes shy at unusual shadow configurations cast by familiar stumps and trees.
On one occasion she did this while carrying a full load of groceries. The sacks fell apart as they hit the road–with me clutching at them desperately. Dented cans and crushed boxes of crackers and cereal littered the ruts and the ditches. My brother ran ahead to catch the old girl while I attempted to patch up the evidence. I don’t remember what we told Dad but it wasn’t the truth; riding old Peggy was better than not being allowed to ride at all!
Yes, the days when we relied on horses are gone forever. Now the cowboys do their chores while mounted on all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. The following is my attempt to capture the essence of the modern-day cowhand in song:
Last night I went riding on my 450 Skidoo,
The night it was cold and my clothing was few,
The cows got away and then things got worse,
A cowboy is hopeless when he don’t got a horse!
Oh, nobody knows the pain and frustration,
Of riding a Skidoo across this great nation
The pain in my butt and the frost on my nose
And I’m lost as a pet hog in all of this snow!
I wish I was home in my house on the hill
With my dearest Mary, or maybe ’twas Jill?
I’d butcher a cow and cook up some steaks,
But this gawdawful machine doesn’t have any brakes!
The End (thank goodness for that!)