Saturday, August 28, 2010

Horse Story

I couldn't find a picture of a horse. You'll have to settle.

Cast of Characters
Johann: friend and neighbor. He lives in a one room cabin
Jorge: Former cop and city councilman
Dawn: my wife. has never seen an actual dawn
Tinny:former town chairman
Garold: former town chairman's wife

"So, how much did Tinny want for the water tank?" I ask Johann. Without hesitation or wonder how I knew he was spotted on the side of the highway looking at the large round white plastic water tank on a hay wagon, he responds, "Fifty."
"But he has a horse for sale for one hundred and fifty."

Not one to pass up a deal, I tell Johann over the phone, "Let's go take a look at the horse."
Mandy and I are sitting on the gate waiting for Johann to drive down our lane. She spots his new, used gray Nissan truck turning onto our road. Johann bought the truck for a song after the owner hit a deer. He pulled out the smashed grill, fixed various broken engine and grill parts to get it running and promptly hit another deer two weeks later. Now he's got a monster truck with clutch problems and a Nissan pickup with a mangled face. Johann starts driving his tractor to Pat's Bar or to the Quickstop. Two weeks of barn painting and window repairing nets Johann enough cash for a Toyota bumper from Miller's junkyard down the road. To fix the hood latch, which is beyond repair, he adds two chrome plated gizmos kids put on their souped up modified customized cars complete with chrome cotter pins that slip through eye bolts on the latch. Normally there's a length of cable attached to the cotter pin. The fan for the radiator is controlled by a switch connected to a length of wire coiled under the hood. If Johann is driving hills he has to manually turn the switch on. "One of these days I'll mount it on the dashboard," he says.

We switch from Johann's truck to my car. "I can move some of this junk," he says. I know he's always hurting for gas money, so I wave off the offer. Mandy jumps in back of my car. When we get to Tinny's place, I pull up in the shade. A black and white dog greets us. Garold is hauling dirt with a bicycle wheel cart. I'm surprised how much room Tinny has in the back yard. From the highway, it looks like a mobile home with an attached Amish log cabin. A two car garage blocks any further view.

Garold walks up and volunteers to get Tinny who's inside taking a nap. Johann and I walk toward a lean-to wit a Haflinger horse standing in the shade. The horse walks between an open gate and electric fence to greet us. His long face is covered with swarming flies. Both Johann and I pat his face and chase off the flies. Jake shakes his head when Johann tussles his ears. "Don't like your ears touched," Johann says to the horse. He's unshod with solid hooves. He looks a bit paunchy.

The former town chairman comes out of the mobile home dressed in bib overalls, sunglasses and a feed cap. He unwraps a stick of gum and slowly dissolves it in his mouth. We trade doctor stories to warm things up. Tinny's recovering from a bout of throat cancer and heart problems. His late night encounters with the medical staff at the local hospital are fodder for a night club comedian.

Tinny learns that calling in advance to the ER to alert them you're coming in is a bad practice. Six staff members laugh and joke outside the room while he's waiting for treatment. A staffer inside the ER room grimaces when Tinny in a fit of pure pissed-off holds down the call button and the six scofflaws rush into the room. "I've been here for ages. Am I going to see a doctor," he says. The staffer tells him that he should call 911 and be taken by ambulance to the hospital. He'll get better attention. He does this several times over the long Wisconsin winter when it looks like his heart is going to quit. On one occasion they offer to med-evacuate him via helicopter. He declines.

The $150 price for the Haflinger is the "kill price". It's what he'd get to have a knacker come to get the horse for dog food. Tinny says, "I'd be lying to tell you that I know how old the horse is. " I ask him to lie to us. " About seven years old." The horse hasn't been worked for over a year. We're referred to the Patriarch's brother who worked him late in the fall. If we want, there's brand new set of harnesses for sale at $300 made by an Amish man in Cashton. The Patriarch's brother warned Tinny that he didn't have the arm strength to drive the horses. That pretty well ended his dreams of working a Haflinger horse.

Johann and I drive off to the Amish farm to talk to the Patriarch. Johann says he could drive to town in a buggy. He has a friend who'll give him all the hay the horse can eat. Parts of Johann's two acres have open field he could work Jake. "The whole idea is pretty green to me, " Johann says. I can't agree more. The sound of horse hooves over the highway always catches my attention. I'll stand watching a buggy pass and wonder what it was like in the days before automobiles. Life was much slower in those times.

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