Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Horses are Loose

Most of the time my childhood adventures were much like a chapter plucked from Tom Sawyer – whimsical, full of outdoor quests and small town drama in a quaint historic village.

Our neighbor, post master, and patriarch of the town, Mr. Heard, lived in a grand farmhouse estate that abutted our property. I both enjoyed and feared his two horses – Babe and Prince – that spent most of their time in the pasture that was literally in our backyard.

In downtown Sandwich, the pasture was visible from almost all points, so in many ways, the horses were the center of attention. I often gazed upon them from my classroom, admiring them for being able to enjoy the outdoors as I sat confined within cinderblock walls.

Babe was white and Prince was reddish brown with a black mane and tail. Until shortly before his death, Mr. Heard was the Marshall of the very important Sandwich Fair Parade, riding on his beloved Babe.

Every so often the horses escaped; they galloped aimlessly and desperately, and people shrieked, “The horses are loose! The horses are loose!” Most of the kids ran for cover and finally one of the grown ups would capture the horses and return them to the pasture or barn.

One warm spring Sunday morning when the lilacs were in bloom and the black flies were just starting to become a problem – my younger sister Joanie and I were pushing our sister Jan in the baby carriage. We were unprepared for the telltale galloping hooves and people shouting, passing the frantic message that the horses were loose. At that moment, we were on the sidewalk, a slight incline, beside the stop sign in the center of the town (the main intersection). Our house was in view and nearby.

As the horses recklessly approached, it sounded like fifty horses instead of two. Joanie and I abandoned the carriage and ran for our lives. After climbing the rusted fence, grabbing Joanie and tumbling into the yard, I looked back at the carriage where I could hear my baby sister cooing. The horses rounded the corner at the intersection and parted, going on each side of the carriage and then barreled down the road past our house with a bunch of red faced men chasing after them.

My mother – in her pink flowered pajamas with curlers in her hair – burst out of the house and dashed up the sidewalk towards the carriage. Just then the church bells started clanging as the righteous ones emptied out of the church across the street. I crouched behind the wire fence and watched my mother march home, red faced and swearing under her breath with her head held high; we weren’t the churchgoing types.

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