The Four HorsemenDecember 20, 2010 at 10:15 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
Tags: 1970s, animals, family
After my Aunt Gloria’s graveside service at the family plot in Mount Vernon, Illinois, the family gathered at the Eagle’s Lodge. Many family members are members of the Eagles, and they gather there like flies on shit.
So we were there, Detroit and I. We talked to some family–actually talked to my cousin Skinny for some time, something I never really did. He and his brother and my brother are the oldest ones of our generation, so they remember the 70s more vividly than I do. At one point he started to tell a story, but then said, “You know, you really need to hear Uncle Joe tell it. He was there.”
I told you that for me as a young child, it was more than a golden age: I was spoiled. For one or two summers we even had a nanny, in the form of my mom’s Great-Aunt Ermal. Yes, Ermal.
As children, my sister and I even had ponies. Oh yeah. I knew that we had them–I remember that. What I never knew was the story of how we got them. Several of us sat around a table and gave Uncle Joe our full attention as he recounted the tale. Since he told me, and now I’m telling you, a third party, I decided to go with 3rd person. I don’t remember all of what he said or how he said it, and some of the dialog is fictional, but the events–
The events really happened.
It was a regular day in the late summer of 1973. The small, ramshackle farm was quiet. Three cows in the pasture stared at each other and chewed. A few chickens milled around the barn door, and a dog lay on its side sleeping on the porch. There was no sign of people.
Abruptly, a bright orange pickup roared down the gravel road and into center stage, in front of the barn. Four men drunkenly got out of the truck, and two of them fell, one landing on another.
Bud was the driver. “See? Tol’ you I’d fin’ it!”
Joe said, “No, you said you knew where it was. You said you been here before!”
Bud took a draw from the whiskey bottle and wiped his mouth before answering. “I was–”
Jim Andy said, “Bud, we drove past this place about 30 times.”
Jewel was still picking himself up off the ground. “We even pulled in here once. Twice!”
“Yeah, well, we still had whiskey left, so I couldn’t stop.” The two brothers, Jim Andy and Jewel, nodded in agreement.
Joe said, “Do we even know if they’re here?”
“Yeah! Hell, yeah! I recognize the place now,” Bud said, as he walked towards the barn door, stumbling once. The door was wide open, and sunlight lit the interior well enough. “Yup!” he yelled out. “They’re here.” Bud looked around. I don’t see the old farmer. His truck his gone.”
Joe said, ‘Do have to wait for him? Or–”
Jim-Andy smacked Joe on the shoulder as he walked by. “Shit no, Joe. We got this. I worked on a ranch ‘afore. Bud, turn the truck around an’ back up to the barn. Let’s get us some ponies! Yee-haa!”
The other three let out their best cowboy yelps. Bud hopped in the truck and turned it around, knocking over a large errant milk jug. Chickens squawked to get out of the way.
The dog looked up, then lay his head back down.
Jewel looked at Jim Andy and said, “How we gonna do this?”
Jim Andy looked at Joe.
Joe said, “Hey, I’m from the city. Y’all are the country boys here.”
Bud just walked up from the truck and snorted. “Joe, you ain’t from the city. You been in town ten years.”
He looked at the other two, and put out his fist. Rock-paper-scissors–Jewel won.
“Alright.” He rubbed his hands together and walked into the barn. They heard whinnying, and then cussing. Then a crash as Jewel’s body came partially through the wall of the barn. The three stood their ground and watched patiently, handing the last of the bottle around while Jewel got himself out of the wall. He walked out and snatched the bottle from his brother’s lips. “Your turn, asshole.”
A minute later, Jim Andy was pulling himself out of the hole in the wall. It was easier, because the hole was getting bigger. Joe just looked at him. “Rope?”
Jim Andy’s eyes lit up. “Shit yeah! Why didn’ I think of it before? I used to do this all th’ time. I need rope. I need to make a saddle. Or a bridle. Or whatever you call it. The thing.” He motioned inexplicably with his hands.
Bud said, “Fine. You get the rope. I’ll get the horse.”
When the boys had left on this adventure, they weren’t as drunk, and had planned ahead. There was rope in the back of the truck. Jim Andy was trying to tie the rope into something useful, but his hands kept getting in the way. Joe said, “I didn’t know you were a Boy Scout, Jimmy.”
“Piss off. This rope is–”
They were interrupted by the familiar whinnying, but instead of a crash they heard a rhythmic thumping sound. Bud and the pony came out of the barn. Bud had the pony in a headlock. “I got him! I got him!”
It wasn’t clear who had whom, exactly.
Joe said, “Get the rope, get the rope!” Jewel tried to help, and Jim Andy slapped him away.
“I got it, I got it!” He put the rope quickly around the pony’s neck and yanked it tight.
The pony’s eyes bulged, and it let out a shriek and brayed up on its hind legs. Jim Andy flew into Jewel before spiraling to the ground. Bud still had a lock around the animal’s neck and hung on while the he was bounced around. The loose end of the rope whipped around and smacked him, then got under his leg and tripped him. Bud let go and went down.
Bud rolled out of the way and Jewel made a futile grab for the rope. Somehow, they got the pony again, and tried to get its two feet to the tailgate of the truck.
Jim Andy pulled the rope while Jewel and Bud pushed and pulled the pony. Joe was supervising. “Hey, this ain’t right!”
The pony and the scuffling and the banging on the tailgate made him hard to hear. “Something’s wrong! The horse can’t breathe!”
Bud managed to get the pony’s front legs up on the tailgate, and Jim Andy had scrambled up to pull the pony up.
Joe yelled, “He can’t breathe! The rope is too tight!”
“Pony! Wait, what?” Jim Andy looked at the rope in his hand, and followed it with his eyes to the pony’s neck, where it was tightly wrapped. The animal had a look of wide-eyed terror. In a desperate attempt to save itself, it followed and jumped onto the truck. The front wheels bounced off the ground slightly, and the momentum caused the pony to seem to lunge at Jim Andy. Joe would later describe Jim Andy as “screaming like a little bitch.” Bud jumped up onto the truck and–using the only tool he had in his personal toolbox–punched the pony.
The animal collapsed into unconsciousness, and slid backward. Its hindquarters and legs were off the truck. Jewel went to the cab of the truck and quickly found an old, rusty, jagged knife. He handed it up to his brother. “Here, cut the rope!”
After twenty minutes of pushing, they got the unconscious animal all the way into the bed. A new rope, with a little slack in it, was around its neck. The other end was tied to the top post of the side rail. Slowly it started to stir. “Well,” said Bud, sitting on the tailgate to catch his breath, “that’s one.”
That was the signal for the pony to stand up. He started to buck and bray, but he couldn’t go anywhere. He raised up high on his back legs, and planted his front hooves into the roof of the cab, making two perfect hoof-shaped dents. Bud said, “Son of a bitch! I’ma kill that horse!”
Just then, a beat-up old 58 Ford pickup rolled up. The old farmer nodded to them, then got out. Without saying a word, he walked over. He noticed the pony, of course, in the back of the truck having a fit. He saw the four men, tired, dirty, and sweaty, and smelling faintly equine. He saw the used rope on the ground, roughly cut and unraveling, and the rusty knife near it. His eyes strayed upward, and he saw the hole in the barn that was not quite big enough to put a man through.
He spit some tobacco out. In a gentle voice, he said, “You know, them ponies never been anywhere. Never been in a trailer or nothing. Thems was foaled here; this here barn is all they know.”
He hopped up onto the bed and went to the pony, and spoke some soothing words into its ear. It quieted down. The four men watched silently as he did this, then watched as he got down and walked into the barn, and moments later led the other pony out.
But the pony saw the people and the truck and ran back into the barn.
The old farmer said, “Well, this might call for harsher measures.”
He had the men help him get his block and tackle and rig it to the back of his Massey Ferguson, which he had pulled in front of the truck. The long rope was fed from the back of the tractor, over the truck, and into the barn to the pony. The farmer had a bridle and put it on the animal. Then he tied the rope to it.
“Now, just guide the pony in the right direction. We’ll get him on the truck.” Joe and Bud looked at each other. Maybe they were drunk, but this old man was crazy.
However, the plan worked. The tractor pulled forward slowly, and the slack tightened up. The pony had no choice but to go where he was led. Jim Andy and Bud helped the kicking animal get his legs up–he was on his knees–and the tractor drug the pony up. Once up on the bed, the animal stood up. The men looked on in amazement that it worked, and Bud thanked him.
The old man said, “Now you boys take good care of these horses.”
Jewel said, “Ponies.”
“Thank you sir.”
They finished securing the railing, the rigging, and the truck. They now only had one usable piece of rope, so Bud had one end around one pony’s neck, then wrapped it around the top rail, then put it around the other pony’s neck. “That should do it.” And it did, for most of the hour-long drive through unknown country roads. Once they got to the highway, however, one of the ponies started to panic. Quickly they pulled over, but by then, one of them had broken the rope. They didn’t have anymore rope, either.
Bud had an idea sprung from desperation. It was going to be dark soon, and they were nowhere near home–at least it seemed that way. He salvaged what was usable from the rope and tied the horses–
–ponies. He tied the ponies *together*. They were now one Siamese pony, joined at the neck, and tied to the rail. Whether by fear or fatigue, there were no more incidents. The ponies and the people made it back to Bud’s house.
It was almost dark when they arrived at Bud’s. His kids were excited–the ponies were for them. Jim Andy and Jewel were quiet and subdued. Joe had a headache. Bud backed the truck up sideways in the street, and ran it to the tall ditch, making a natural ramp to egress the ponies. The neighbor, Mac, had horses–real horses–and was going to board the ponies until Bud could fence an area for them. Mac came over with leads, and after the appropriate amount of gushing by the kids, he took them to his pasture.
Little Bryan was eight years old, and he had watched the unloading with interest. He saw how his dad had smartly used the terrain to make a ramp. “What took so long, Dad? We’ve been waiting *forever*. How long does it take to get a pony?”
“All day, son. It takes all day.”
Little Bryan didn’t see the expression of the three other dirty, sweaty, hungover men as they got into their car and drove off.