Cows and Horses
Back when my grandfather was growing up, June was wheat harvesting time and every year, after school let out, all neighboring farms within a certain radius took turns helping each other harvest, with the host family preparing dinner at the end of the day for the workers.
A thrasher was towed into the center of the barn so that the farmers on the combine crew could throw the wheat bundles into it. The combine separated the grain from the stalks and then blew the straw out the back door into the barnyard. As the day wore on, the discarded straw continued to grow into a huge pile.
The cows came from the fields to rub themselves on the straw. All my grandfather’s friends had learned that they could grab the cows’ tails and be pulled on their stomachs around and around the straw pile.
Every summer in the early 1930s, when he was about 8 to 10 years old, my grandfather and his friends took “free rides” in the stacked straw, drug along by the cows.
“Occasionally, the cows let out a big flop,” my grandfather says. “They don’t care where they do their job. Next thing you know, you’ve got green floop all over you.”
One time, the cows had been feeding on lots of grass growing in the field and were dumping huge loads of green, sloppy droppings all the time while dragging their passengers. The boys were all wearing bib overalls without any shirt, their usual summer attire in those days so they could be as cool as possible. “We had green cow manure on us from the bib of our overalls to the tip of our toes,” my grandfather recalls.
The children felt the gobs of green poop weren’t a big deal, but, covered in manure, they were forbidden from going inside and unable to eat the huge, home-cooked meal being served with the crowd. They only had one pair of overalls each, so the adults sent them to the creek about a mile away to wash themselves and their clothes and wait until everything was somewhat dry. It was great fun, my grandfather remembers, “but we were most unhappy because we had to delay our starving appetite for a couple of hours.”
One of the neighbor families was the Traceys. Mr. Tracey, a drinking buddy of my great-grandfather, was referred to as Big Ed, “and he was big,” my grandfather remembers. “I estimate Big Ed being about 6 feet, 5 inches and weighing 300 pounds.” He always wore bib overalls and a straw hat and looked mean and fearsome to the kids.
Like my grandfather’s family, the Traceys had about 10 or 12 children. The youngest son, Charles, was my grandfather’s playmate, along with Charles’s four sisters. All “country bumpkins,” they went to school together and, afterward, played at one another’s houses.
Big Ed was a humorous man, always looking to outdo everyone and put on a show. He drank too much and did things that nobody else would dare do.
Once, when my grandfather was at his house playing with Charles, Big Ed came home very drunk and wanted to impress the two boys with what one of his horses would do.
“Want to see this horse go up stairs?” he asked.
He proceeded to lead a full grown work horse from outside, up to the side of the house and then inside, up the narrow stairway from the first floor to the second floor — “like he was going to put the horse to bed,” my grandfather says — then turn the horse around and lead it back down the long, narrow steps and through the kitchen without any mishap, to the children’s delight.
Mrs. Tracy was screaming, “No! Don’t do that!” the whole time.
Downstairs, Ed let the horse stand around for a bit. Then after everyone was sufficiently shocked and entertained, someone took the horse back to the barn.
The horse-in-the-house show was apparently one he performed several times. He was forever doing some goofy thing and laughed and delighted in showing the young children what he could do.
Here’s my grandfather discussing the horse incident:
Ed and Charles Tracey died in a tragic accident. After World War II, they were drinking in a beer joint in Reisterstown, walked out into the street and in front of a car, and were killed. They are buried at Mt. Zion Cemetery.
In September 2016, on a trip to the area of my grandfather’s old home outside of Baltimore, he pointed out the Tracey house. I got out of the car to take a picture. When I look at it now, I imagine the horse being led around the house by a boisterous old drunk and the squeals and laughter of children from 80 years ago.