It was a surprise to find him in the barn brushing a horse instead of enjoying the air conditioning in the house. Grandpop nodded a greeting as I settled onto a straw bale, making sure the welcome breeze floating down the wide aisle could find me. They’d been together a long time, old Blue and Grandpop. “How old is Blue?”
“Let’s see, I reckon this fall he’ll be 32.” Grandpop gave the tall roan a friendly scratching along his neck. “Blue and I have seen and done a lot together over the years. Yea, I’d say he taught me just about as much as I ever taught him.” He pulled his hat, dragged a shirt sleeve across his forehead. “Ol’ Blue was always dependable, serious about his work, and his play, too.”
“You’ve sure got him shining. What are you doing out here on this hot day? Sure thought I’d find you in next to the radio enjoying the air conditioning.”
“I was inside. Had to come out, get away from the radio. Nothin’ much worth listenin’ to now-a-days.
He settled his hat back on his head, shuffled his boot toe in the dust, then looked hard at me. He shook his head, turned back to Blue, took a handful of his dark mane and ran his gnarled fingers through the long hair as if looking for a hidden prize. “I thought about ol’ Blue, and how we’ve changed over the years, the things we’ve learned together, the things we took from those lessons.”
Through the big opened barn doors I could see the mares Grandpop loved so standing in the shade of the big oak. He called that oak his story tree. He loved to gather the children there on special occasions, or just family visits, to tell stories. Sometimes tall tales, sometimes family history, but I’ve come to understand Grandpop’s stories most always had a meaning, a value.
He pointed to the mares at the story tree. “Look at those mares up yonder. A finer bunch of horses would be hard to put together.” A broad smile worked its way across his face. My younger brother was running the outfit now, but it will always be Grandpop’s spread. “Yes sir, a fine bunch.” He said.
Grandpop draped his arm across Blue’s withers and leaned comfortably on him. “You know, I’ve had horses all my life. Reckon I took ’em for granted for the first thirty years or so. As humans, I suppose we take a lot for granted. It’s sure enough an easy trap to fall into. Took me a while to figure out not to take things for granted.” He patted Blue’s rump.”It was ol’ Blue here who really opened my eyes to that account.”
My confusion must have shown on my face because Grandpop nodded. “You bet, like I said ol’ Blue taught me almost as much about life as your Ma did.” He tossed me a wink then went on to explain. “Blue had great manners almost from the day he was born. Seemed to read my mind most of the time. He was just about four when I figured it was time he started earning his keep. You know he took right to it. From the first day I settled into the saddle you’d have thought he’d been a working horse a year already. Why he was smooth and just about as sharp witted as any horse I ever sat, or loved. Course as a young colt he was always full of it, so I knew a bit what was coming.
“Well it didn’t take but a few months for him to become my favorite of all time horses. Not that we didn’t have a disagreement or two along the way. He wasn’t above remindin’ me that just because I wanted something, expected it, I should get it.” Grandpop chuckled. “There were more than a few times over the years he made sure I earned what I wanted. But he could always be counted on, solid, steady, reliable.
“So as time went on I came to rely on ol’ Blue. I must admit I took him for granted, that he’d always be here. Always ready to do whatever I asked, or wanted. Of course I sure didn’t realize it at the time, that I was taking him for granted I mean, but I sure was.” He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, took a long breath. “You might remember the time that big cat got after the horses?”
I nodded. I did remember, it was during those years I hadn’t been visiting the folks very often, so all I knew was from a letter my brother had sent me. It must have been a horrible night.
“We heard the ruckus clear up at the house. We’d been just about to turn in when it all broke loose. Horses hollerin’, hoofs pounding. Squealing like we’d never heard. We had no idea what was going on. The moon was near full. We all ran out, your brother grabbed the 30-30 and got off a shot, but not in time to save ol’ Blue. Blue must have taken it on himself to try to drive the cat away and was pretty tore up. We couldn’t even get ol’ Blue back to the barn for a week. We doctored him right there under the big oak.
“That was the night I realized I’d been takin’ ol’ Blue, and a lot of other things too much for granted. That was what a fella might call his wakin’ up moment. I’d been through plenty by then, the war, starting a family, losing a brother, the struggles of starting a spread of our own, but somehow, someway, that night holdin’ Blue’s head in my lap while Doc stitched him up, well Blue’s big black eye touched me deep. I knew I’d never take him or anything else for granted again.
“I happened to be thinking about ol’ Blue, how this hot weather is taking a toll on him, and how we had pulled together after that awful night, and neither one of us had ever been quite the same, when that fella on the radio started all that talk about what a mess we got goin’ on here in this country. I had a powerful tug of empathy for all the poor folks, the young in’s, wonderin’ how they’d get along now, and wonderin’ about all they’re missin’ by followin’ false leaders. And I just had to get out here, away from the radio. Had to be here with ol’ Blue.” He looked up toward the mares, but spoke directly to Blue, “I hope one day soon can be those folks’ wakin’ up moment.”
Gitty Up ~ Dutch.