by Mary Daurio
Earl Grey tea
I headed off to school, so Dad lost his general dogsbody to help out with the horses. Mom filled in, though she was lucky to know the mane from the tail.
“It will be fine Enid. You can drive Bead. He's gentle, and you’ll be safe as in your mother’s arms.” Dad poured her a cup of tea. He slid it towards her, across the table, then gently caressed her dainty hand.
The fact that her mother had been dead for several years didn’t make the prospect very appealing. Furthermore, Bead was a huge horse with pie plate hooves. Mom always thought he should be carrying a knight in shining armour, never mind pulling a cart. He was a beautiful Standardbred. Breading being what it was in those days he could have had a little Percheron in his bloodlines, as he was massive and shining black. Despite her inexperience and Bead’s size, she gamely agreed to lend a hand.
It all went well on the trip down the road away from the farm. Bead tucked his head in behind father and followed the lead horse. Mom didn’t have to do much real driving, just hold the reins. It was the trip home that caused the grief. They turned their horses on the road, and now Bead was in the lead. We used to let the horses travel home pretty quick; they wanted to anyway, and it gave us an idea of the speed they had. I didn’t say it was a good idea. Bead, now with the prospect of home and following a habit we allowed took off on the trot, tail in the air, his pie-plate hooves eating up the road. Mom did the only thing she knew how, pull on the reins. Classic rookie mistake, instead of the desired effect this just made Bead go faster. Dad hollered “Let the lines go loose!” Standardbreds go faster when you pull on the lines.
Mom couldn’t hear him, and Bead didn’t let up until he was in the barnyard. She got off the cart and waited for Dad and his horse to arrive. Giving the big black horse a pat she said, “No offence boy but I like my beads on a necklace!”
Her voice and her hands shook. “That’s it for me. You can tend to these horses. I’ve housework calling my name, and from now on that’s where I’ll stay!”
Days passed, and Mom was called into service again. Not with the horses this time, but to help fix the line fence at the river crossing. Cows were finding their way through. Fencing was also something I would have helped with if at home. Mom took to the task riding beside Dad on the little B tractor, as it would be needed to pull the wire tight for proper fence mending.
The river at the point of mending was at least waist-deep in a dry year with a shallow ledge bordering the deep. Dad waded in and secured the wire. It was when he came back to the little B that trouble came fast and furious. He used the wheel of the tractor to haul himself out, and his legs slipped behind the tire as the tractor bucked back and landed on him, pinning him beneath it. The little B was mired in mud, firmly planting him in the soggy river bed. The water threating to cover him completely.
He gasped, the wind knocked out of him. “Enid, go get the big tractor and the chain. You’ll have to pull this tractor off me.”
She ran to the shed as if Satan was chasing her, and powered back with the big Newfield tractor and the heavy chain. Dad sandwiched between the little B, and the muddy river bed was thankful for its cushion, so the weight of the machine wasn’t on him completely. His legs were losing feeling, and he admitted to being scared. Cold and tired, he was still able to direct her.
Her hands slipped on the chain as she connected it, joining the two tractors. Her knuckles came away bloody. “Jesus Christ,” she said. Dad wasn’t sure if she was cursing or praying, because he never heard her curse in all their years of marriage.
It was time to try and haul the little tractor out of the river. The Newfield had the power, hopefully. If it failed and the B slid back further into the mud and water it would be a total disaster. Dad would remain buried in mud like a crawdad.
“Enid, take her out in first gear and not much throttle. Let her pull slow and steady. “ He stopped because he was losing his wind, and she waited, worried. He drew in as deep a breath as he was able and continued. “If you feel your tires slipping back, brake and we'll re-evaluate. I know you can do it.”
She did, and he lived to play another day. Once the tractor was off him, Dad couldn't get up by himself. His legs were numb and semi-useless, so Mom had to haul him up. She was sweating and panting, thankful for the cool fall breeze that sang through the willows at the river bank. Thankful for that and a whole lot more.
“I should have put the chain on you,” she said, hugging him as he leaned against her and kissed her bloody knuckles with his muddy lips.
I went home that weekend and heard all they had been up to and wondered if it was safe to leave this pair alone.
Dad tells his story about the fiasco with the tractor and ends it, “I knew she loved me the way her feet flew to get the tractor and rescue me from disaster. She still carries the torch!”
Mom turned around from the stove where she was tending stew and laughed as loud as I ever heard her.“Don’t flatter yourself, boy. I just didn’t want to get stuck caring for those crow bait horses you insist on filling the barn with.”