• Out to pasture
    June 09,2014

    I’m sad. A trusted old friend, my black 2000 Honda, has gone away. She has been replaced by a newer car, one that’s supposedly more trustworthy, but yet, that Honda never let me down. Sure, there were a couple times she coughed and died and we sat on the breakdown lane for a moment, but both times she started back up and we went along ...friends joke with each other you know. Here I am, being an “old sot” about a car but, really, we spend more time with our cars than we do with our friends, and without the mobility they offer us in this day and age we might well not have any friends, to say nothing of jobs, hobbies, or families.

    I’ve often thought of the trauma folks felt back in olden times when a horse passed away. Recently my cousin, David Morse, a dyed-in-the-wool horse person, shed some light on the subject of that equine topic. David, now in his 80s, was born into the season between horses and tractors. Although his father was not a naysayer to the belching iron beasts that would eventually take over farm pulling, he was practical enough to go slow; horses would remain on his farm to work in tandem with the tractor for another generation. Young David took on the job of horseman, a task and talent that would stay with him for life.

    A couple weeks ago David, his wife Kathy, and daughter Valerie came down to pick up a sheep from us. Our sheep pasture is over by a wooded part of our farm. After we caught the critter and loaded her into their pickup, David beckoned toward the woods. “Back in the 40s” he said, “I helped your father and grandfather cut wood over there.” He recalled a wet area, which I know all too well, and described getting stuck in it one time with a “jag” of wood behind the team of horses. “Horses labored and then stopped right in the middle. ... Couldn’t go another inch” he said and then, in a soft, gentle voice, like one uses on a child, he continued, “I gave ‘em a few minutes t’catch their breath and then I went and talked to ‘em, y’know, just t’give ‘em a little encouragement.”

    David said the horses understood and when the three of them were ready, one final surge of power brought three of God’s creatures and a jag of wood up onto dry land. Something else David said that day left me wondering: “You probably know that your father wasn’t much of horse person.” The next day when I asked my older brother, Elliott, for a “second opinion,” his answer came instantly: “Our father hated horses!” He went on to tell me a couple Harry Morse “horse” stories.

    When Dad was a boy, his father sent him down to the store in Maple Corner to pick up a few things. Our father rode a gentile mare the mile from Robinson Hill down to the store and when he got there, he was told their syrup can order had come in. Realizing a case of cans was a bit cumbersome for one horse and a boy, but wanting to please his father, young Harry Morse and a stock boy unboxed the cans and hitched them together with a string through the handles. He then told the stock boy: “When I’m mounted, I’ll ride up next to the loading dock and you throw these cans up and over the horse.” It seems Father had acquired a gift for Yankee ingenuity at a young age but, unfortunately that day, failed to consider a very important matter — the temperament of a horse! Being suddenly saddled by 24 clattering syrup cans turned that “gentle mare” into a tormented beast and, just like that, the beast took off, cans, groceries and Dad aboard. As the story goes, Dad’s grandfather, Harry Morse the first, sat on his porch just up the road and later recalled the story. “All of a sudden there was all that c’mmotion and then the huss n’that boy, my namesake, went by hell-bent-fer-election ... Didn’t think I’d see either one a’them ever agin!”

    Our mother often told the story of seeing our father being dragged the length of a field one time by a runaway horse. Dad had been cultivating when suddenly the cultivator rode up on a ledge outcropping, spooking the horse. When the horse took off, the cultivator tipped over and Dad, legs tangled in the contraption, was dragged like a rag doll until the horse reached a stone wall and finally settled down. Mother said when she finally reached him, he looked like a pummeled prizefighter. Dad never admitted to me his horse aversion but I do recall his love of running the roads in motor vehicles. Whether cars, trucks, or even tractors, give Harry Morse an open road and an errand to run and he was happy. Even though I totally escaped the “season” of horses, I know I would have been a non-horse person, as well. And I’m a “chip-off-the-old-block” with wanderlust for the open road. I look forward to many pleasant miles in my new car but will still mourn for th’old Honda ... gone away out to that car pasture forever.

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