Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bob's Retirement

Our neighbor has a team of six draft horses that he employs for almost every field job on the farm. And he is rewarded for it.  If you compare a horse-plowed field of alfalfa to one plowed by a conventional tractor, you will find the ground is softer and the alfalfa growing taller in the horse-plowed field, the hooves have turned and aerated the soil while the rubber tires packed it down. And though the baling is slower and more labor intensive, the operation is quieter and creates less air pollution. From a neighbor's point of view, this is a good thing.

Bob, who is about 16 years old, is Elam's favorite horse, and they have been working together for about 10 years. Their relationship is one of mutual respect, this nearly one ton horse built for work and the straw-hatted farmer who depends on him. Bob is a natural leader within the team, dependable and often the hardest worker. When the team is grazing in the pasture, you call Bob and he comes, and the others follow. But, they always allow him to enter the barn first.

But even Bob's discipline goes to the wayside when given the the opportunity to flee. One morning, as I drove past the farm on my way to work, I see the team charging down the driveway towards the road, and I quickly realize they are not harnessed. I stop, and Elam motions me to pull the car into the driveway to block them.  I do it, thinking to myself the insurance company will never believe this if I even live to tell the story. But it works: all six horses turn on a dime, and gallop back to the barn. I am momentarily amazed at their dexterity. I wave, satisfied that all is well (and that my car is in one piece), and pull into the road. But, seeing another chance,  they all turn again and this time pass me in a thundering cloud of dust. Elam jumps in the car, and we follow them up past my house. They turn into the field at full speed, the tops of their heads barely visible at the treeline. We stop. Watch. After a few big sighs and some quiet cussing, he asks me to get his brother with his riding horse, and he goes running after the team who are, by now, out of sight. I drive back down the road to his father's house, pick up two of his brothers and a saddle, and back to Elam's to get the riding horse. Mary comes out of the house, smiling, hands me a plateful of cookies, and we're off again to catch up to Elam, the brother riding his horse like a rodeo cowboy. Another neighbor arrives, I am relieved and start for the office again. All ended well, I learned later, and our guests were giddy after watching the whole episode from the front porch. Not only was I late for work, but I had a good story AND cookies!

Besides Bob, there have been other horses we've known: Maude, another favorite, who died unexpectedly after a long, hard day of working in the heat.  Joker - the lazy troublemaker and instigator of the above incident, who was sold off and with good riddance. And the beloved Pet, retired from driving the buggy, and who just this week became a new mother at a nearby family farm.

I have watched Bob lower his head to be petted by the tiny hand of Elam's young son. A little nudge from Bob and a big smile from the boy, I was amazed at the gentleness displayed by a beast of solid muscle whose head was bigger than the two year old. Lately, though, Bob's been halting in the middle of a job and getting tired more quickly.  Elam feels now is the time to retire him, before he's too old for anyone else to want him. Before he gets hurt and before difficult decisions must be made. So, Bob will be put to pasture by a friend who is taking him to Wisconsin. He'll be King Bob, a family pet and retired draft horse. No more leading the team, he'll be living a life of fresh grass and kind spirits. Happy retirement Bob!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's a Piece of Cake

At 1:00 on Easter Sunday afternoon, I poured myself a glass of wine, and sat down on the front porch to enjoy the warmth of the sun. That feels so good after a cold winter.  Things were under control:  Our nephews, ages 6 and 4, were watching the movies the Easter Bunny brought them. Their baby brother was fed and fast asleep.  Their parents had been gone for two hours already, off for wine tasting and an overnight stay at the Belhurst. A long overdue, and well-deserved break without the kids. Piece of cake, I thought, the next 24 hours will be a piece of cake. 

As an extended family, we have kept busy since they arrived on Friday afternoon. We had make-your-own-pizza night, and ate the hot and gooey creations outside on the porch. We hoofed over to the dairy farm next door, pet the draft horses, and let the baby calves suck on our fingers. We played with kittens. Lots of kittens. We collected duck eggs from a barn, ate a picnic lunch and went to the Children's museum. This morning we flew kites (boy, that Easter Bunny was right on!) under perfect conditions in the field across the road. And all of these activities were interspersed with bike riding and playing in the dirt, and with a little brotherly wrestling thrown in.  The baby, who is 8 months old, watched and laughed, cried, drooled, and chewed on anything you put in his little hands, including a plastic tablespoon. That was his favorite diversion of the weekend.

At some point, however, the calm ceased and we were quickly outnumbered. Discipline and restraint went out the window.  We had no choice but to put everyone in dad's Big Suburban and go for a ride to the playground. But these kids just don't wear out.  On the way home, hovering just above the radio and the road noise were their chants, in stereo,  of "I want ice-cream." The answer of "after dinner" was getting me nowhere.  I had to outsmart them. I had to restore order and authority. Then it came to me. We pulled in the driveway, and I promised a surprise if they went right in and sat down.  "Today," I announced, "we are having dessert BEFORE dinner."  I think I saw, between their cheers of joy and chocolate-covered faces, one little spark of surprise, or was it a quick assessment of the trouble they would be in if their parents knew? Kevin pulled out the largest soup bowls we had, and offered not only chocolate ice-cream, but pudding and crumbled oreos as toppings. To our surprise, not only did they finish their ice-cream, but both boys ate all of their rigatoni, 2 helpings each mind you, without any challenge at all. We did it.

Not having children ourselves, I always wonder how parents get through it. But with a few fleeting moments of self-confidence and by thinking on our feet, we managed. And we had fun. The boys had another memorable weekend at Aunt Michele's and Uncle Sonny's house in the country. Loving these 3 little guys, watching them grow and discover the world.  That is a piece of cake. Chocolate cake, with whipped cream, and cherry on top.