|Friday, May 7th 2004, by Marissa A Spencer|
By Marissa A. Spencer
I remember his hands were gnarled from the numerous times he had broken them. The fingernails were split and blackened by years of hard work. He muttered, through clenched teeth full of nails, for the rasp. My hands lifted the heavy rough tool to him. I knew all the tools he worked with by heart.
The Arabian stallion stood calm and majestic. I could hear Dad’s heavy labored breathing as he hammered the nails and rasped them smooth. One hoof was done. Sweat rolled down his face leaving his black hair in straggled lines down his forehead. Flies buzzed around us and the horse flicked his ears and swished his long tail.
Dad threw another shoe in the forge. Bellows would fan the coals and the shoe would get red-hot. Pulled out with long iron tongs, the shoe would meet the anvil and sparks would fly when the sledge hit it. The sizzle as the hoof met the shoe was like burning hair on a just branded calf. Done with the skill of many years; many horses; many hot summers, another job was finished.
I never really understood why he liked to shoe horses. He was an accomplished machinist. He had taught unique skills in junior college. Talented and versatile, he was a man I barely knew. The stallion was obviously happy to have new shoes. Don’t ask me how I knew. I just knew. We gathered up the tools and put them into the homemade toolbox and loaded up the anvil into the back of the truck. The forge was next. Then we headed back to the ranch house. Six gates barred our way on a rutted red-dirt road. Seems we spent half the trip opening and closing them. Correction, I spent half the trip opening and closing them. It was no treat on the best dusty days, even worse on the muddy wet ones. We won’t talk about snow.
One day we were checking out the herd of horses Dad had. It was discovered that one of the horses was missing. It was an old white flea-ticked mare. Part draft and quarter she wouldn’t have won any smart contests. She had one of those huge ugly heads and a stocky body. Numerous searches didn’t find her for several days. Then luckily the dogs found her. She had fallen into one of the open silver mines in the Vandalia. With truck and pulley she was hauled up. She was almost starved and had broken her back leg. There was hope that her leg would mend. I can see her like yesterday, slung in a stall, unable to move. Seeing her hanging her head in the dark was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. I think she died of a broken heart.
Years passed and my mother left my father. My mother remarried and the three of us settled into the suburban life. It wasn’t long before my oldest brother Clark had to come live with us. His health was failing and he needed caring for. My stepfather’s health also became critical. A cough became more alarming and it was discovered after 30 years of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, that he had emphysema, and then lung cancer after that. He would be taken from us within five years of his marriage to my mother.
Shortly before my stepfather died my brother Clark developed cancer too. We chased that cancer from one place to another in his ever-thinning body. Fortunately he had some good times between radiation treatments. Living for the moment was a requirement; where there was life, there was hope.
When Clark felt well we had great fun. There were crazy things we loved to do. We lived by the river and would have great fun along the levee and would fish and all. But holidays were the best times. My brother Clark, though being ill of body, was endlessly clever and funny. Halloween was our favorite holiday. We learned to improvise and use our imaginations. One day the strangest thing happened. Clark came home from a visit with Dad with a huge horse skull in his arms. It was Cloudy. The wide grin on his face told me; Halloween would be special this year.
He inserted hideously painted ping-pong eyeballs and a light to illuminate the inside and attached the jaw so it could open its mouth. A pulley was setup from the bathroom window and over a tree branch so the skull could be animated from inside unseen. Fishing line is very strong and worked great. We decorated the front of the house and had a tape of scary music playing, and waited.
My brother is gone, but not the memories that we have. He was only 33 when he died. Halloween is still one of my favorite holidays. When I think of that time of year I still think of his soft chuckles and his Cheshire cat grin as he hid in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet in the dark, waiting to pull that fishing line.
© March 13,2002 Marissa A. Spencer
8 May 2004 @ 23:25 by : Thank you
A very special story and I have a lump in my throat but I can also feel the love that you shared. I will think you on Halloween and imagine Cloudy's skull and your brother pulling the strings..
I miss him VERY much. He was soooooooooo funny. I must get my slightly twisted sense of humor from him lol
Other entries in Stories
Friday, October 19th 2007: Mother's Last Gift
Saturday, March 3rd 2007: Parable of the Rock
Saturday, March 5th 2005: My California Childhood
Monday, August 23rd 2004: The Parable of the Mimosa and Crabapple
Sunday, August 15th 2004: Mary and Jane, are you my friends? Smithsonian part 5
Saturday, August 14th 2004: Going Into the Past: Smithsonian part 4
Friday, August 13th 2004: More pictures
Friday, August 13th 2004: Natural History Museum:Smithsonian part 3
Tuesday, August 10th 2004: Mary Cassatt, do I know you?:Smithsonian part 2
Wednesday, July 21st 2004: FORD THEATER AND ME: Smithsonian Part 1