Friday, July 13, 2012

Portrait of Jenny (with apologies to Robert Nathan)

Jenny, Mr. Pugh, Gary, his dog and my dad's shadow


The faintest scent of sweet clover in the morning air sends me back in time to the Summer of '59.  That year we were able to rent a small dilapidated cottage in Lowbanks, Ontario for a whole week.  Right across the street from the pebbled beach and shining Lake Ontario.  We arrived long after dark (given my mother's aversion to riding in a car in the daylight) and located our musty beds without unpacking.

The next morning found my mom cleaning and straightening the shabby cottage, my dad blissfully eying the water, and me gazing across the weedy field to the farm next door where I spied Jenny.  A horse!  There was a horse next door!  I was so excited.

She was about as far away from The Black Stallion as a horse could get - she was terribly ancient, distressingly dusty, sway-backed and scarred.  But she was a horse!  And (for that week at least) she was mine, all mine.

The ragged and grizzled old farmer, rather aptly named Mr. Pugh, came out and must have seen the horse fever in my eyes.  He instructed me to gather the sweet clover from my side of her fence and present it to her.  He told me I would have a friend for life.  I don't even know how that mare could chew - her teeth were worn and yellowed, her lower lip hung down like an inner tube - but she eagerly devoured my offering and then seemingly drifted off into a state of equine  bliss.

Mr. Pugh was a working farmer.  He plowed with two horses, Jenny at age 32 and a feisty younger bay.  He did not use a tractor, he did not drive a car.  His ramshackle farmhouse was lit with kerosene lanterns and he cooked his meager meals on a coal stove. The story we later heard was that his wife had forbidden him to ever spend any of their money on "newfangled gadgets" and even after her death he kept his promise to her and lived his entire life like a homesteader. In the eighties I met a guy from Lowbanks; he told me that after Mr. Pugh died they found money stashed all over his house.

Of course I asked Mr. Pugh if I could ride Jenny and he apologized that he did not own a saddle, but he was kind enough to rig the harness reins on her bridle so, despite the blinders and the lack of saddle, I was able to "ride" her.  We spent many happy hours just moseying around her pasture; she went where she wanted to go and I was content to believe I was steering.  At least I know I was happy - I was on Cloud Nine and I like to think that she did not mind my presence as long as I kept her supplied with sweet clover.

During the week, Gary, a younger boy from the neighboring farm befriended me. He owned a very recalcitrant Shetland pony named Thunder, but he did not ride that pony as Thunder was not appreciative of being ridden.  While I am sure he thought I was quite insane, Gary rode Jenny with me sometimes.  Her bony back could have held three or four kids. 

My mother eventually persuaded me to "leave that poor horse alone" and my dad persuaded me to go in the water with him, but in that brief week I spent as many hours as I could with that sweet old soul.  When we returned to Lowbanks the following summer we found that my dear Jenny had gone on to horse heaven.

The scent of sweet clover will always bring to my mind the warm fragrance of that dusty old mare.  Rest in Peace dear Jenny.