From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II


We meet to create memories and part to cherish them.

Indian proverb

“Mother!Would you please get rid of this pony! He doesn’t do anything anymore. He’s useless. And senile!”

Just like great-uncle Trevor came instantly into my mind.

My son was grumbling unkindly as he dragged our ancient, small pony, Peanut, past the kitchen window. He’d been sent to retrieve the elder equine after a neighbor had called, again, to say Peanut was sleeping on her back porch.

Okay. So my son was right. Peanut had outlived his usefulness, just like great-uncle Trevor. The children had long since erased the memory of riding him, forgetting how much easier his size made their bravery the first time I unsnapped the longe line and they were on their own. They no longer dressed him up as a troll on Halloween or hitched him to their Flexible Flyer when it snowed.

Like the eccentric relative everyone wished would stay in the attic, Peanut had become an embarrassment, a crow in a barn full of peacocks. He was low in productivity and high in maintenance, as so often the elderly become. His tiny feet grew alarmingly fast and needed frequent and pricey visits from our blacksmith. The pony’s skin occasionally developed strange rashes requiring exotic cream and special order brushes. One eye was cloudy and he had a noticeable limp.

He had to be turned out in a far pasture alone because he was so annoying to the other horses. Peanut had to be right next to whatever horse was in his pasture. Any horse turned out with the little pony, even one with the kindest disposition, was soon vexed enough to aim a kick at the nuisance next to them, most of the time landing way above the pony. But the limp resulted from a kick that connected.

During Peanut’s annual checkup, the vet assured us that, even with his problems, the pony was in very good shape for his age and the limp, while permanent, wasn’t painful. In other words, there was no real reason to put him down; inconvenience doesn’t count.

He reminded me of our great-uncle Trevor, my grandfather’s eldest brother, because I recall our large family feeling much the same way about him. Like Peanut, great-uncle Trevor often wandered off and forgot his way home. He’d appear at family gatherings and do or say something so outrageous everyone would talk about it for months.

When I was six, I thought him wonderful company. We’d often take walks together and he’d let me talk and talk about all the things I loved but didn’t interest the rest of my family. It hurt my feelings when an aunt or uncle would whisper, “I wish Trevor would just stay out of the way.”

Fortunately, with the luck of the Irish in his favor, a funny little old widow who thought him quite marvelous discovered great-uncle Trevor. She had a comfortable pension and developed a grand passion for the man everyone wanted somewhere else. They married when he was eighty-one and she turned seventy-nine, living quite happily for many more years, even though the rest of the family forever referred to them as the “dotty duo.”

But Peanutwasn’t a person.Hewas simply a silly, undersized, old pony that escaped often from his pasture, needed his hay watered down, his food pulverized and daily medicine for his conditions and who annoyed all the other horses and most of the family. Maybe it was time to think about a sendoff to the big pasture in the sky, I pondered, watching the teensy equine shuffle after my irritated son. Instead, I divided a paddock and put chicken wire between the rails to keep Peanut from escaping through them. I double-bolted the gate when he learned how to slip the latch. Is he really worth all the trouble? After all, I was the only one who paid any attention to him at all.

Until one day late in March.

It was a spring teaser, the first morning that dawned without snow on the ground. I was brushing the dogs on the porch when I noticed a figure at the far end of the lane where Peanut’s paddock ended. Peering more closely I saw a tall man with a black overcoat, his wispy gray hair blowing in the lovely breeze. He carried a cane in one hand and something orange in the other. Peanut was standing with his nose as high as he could put it over the fence, piqued by whatever the elderly gentleman was holding.

I walked to the end of the lane and the man turned slowly and smiled, introducing himself as Matthew, the father-inlaw of a friend of mine who lived two farms over the hill. Due to several infirmities of old age, Matthew had recently moved in with his daughter and was taking a stroll to get to know the neighborhood.

“This is a very, very, fine pony,” Matthew said, offering more from a full bunch of carrots he carried.

“Long ago I rode,” he smiled in remembrance, “and I recall there was nothing as fine as talking to my horse. I didn’t ride well, but I loved wandering the countryside at a walk. I wonder,” he added, “would you mind terribly if I visited this fine pony on my walks? It seems he likes to talk to me, too and that’s so very pleasing to the soul.”

I assured Matthew I’d be delighted to have him converse with Peanut. “My children have outgrown him and I think he’d love to feel useful again,” I said.

“Yes,” replied Matthew, softly, “I think I know about that.”

As the weeks passed, the conversation between Matthew and Peanut expanded when one day the old gentleman asked if he could put a “leash” on Peanut and take him along on his strolls.

The pony was happier than I had seen him in years. Each day I could see him standing at the very end of his paddock peering through the chicken wire as he waited for his friend to come and walk him. And Matthew never missed a day. Soon the “leash” was unnecessary and I watched Peanut and Matthew slowly saunter side-by-side, up and down the dusty road, both limping slightly, the pony munching carrots and Matthew puffing on his pipe. They’d frequently stop and share conversation with other acquaintances along the way, but clearly their most important discussions were between the two of them.

Watching them I reminded the children that, human or equine, one could be quite useful in many ways for a very long time. And each day I thanked the powers that be that Peanut had found a friend who realized, appearances and oddities aside, just how wonderful he really was.

The day Matthew didn’t show up, I knew the worst had happened and I was right. My friend called that morning to tell me the old gentleman had passed away in his sleep. Peanut kept vigil by the fence for three days. Then he simply lay down and never got up again.

If there’s a heaven and I’m certain there is, I believe Matthew and Peanut are taking celestial strolls, deep in conversation with each other . . . and maybe great-uncle Trevor.

Cooky McClung

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