Memories of growing up.
|My Uncle Harry was an old man when I was young. Actually, he was my great-uncle, my grandmother's brother. I can still see him, his black hair combed straight back. He was a giant of a man to an eight year old. In reality he was only about five-seven, maybe five-eight.
His face had been weathered by close to seventy Alberta summers and winters. A pair of bright blue eyes shone out from that wrinkle laden face. We used to laugh about his old fashioned pants that fastened up above his waist and held up by a pair of suspenders that had probably first seen action in the First World War.
He had his Sunday shirt on, with the same style of springy steel arm bands that all the old men wore. Around his neck was the same tie that he had worn to church, weddings and funerals for the best part of two decades.
Today was the opening day of the fair, and the day of the parade. All manners of tractors, trucks, combines and other farm machinery would be lined up with the Lion's Club Marching Band. Floats from the banks and other local business were always a staple. Members of the RCMP would be in their scarlet tunics, Stetson hats, and tall riding boots, carrying the Union Jack and provincial flags. Veterans from the Legion would be wearing their blue blazers with their medals clinking as they marched proudly.
Uncle Harry was one of the few farmers in the district that still kept teams of horses. He had been invited to join the parade, near the front. He was to represent yesterday.
Duke and Earl were the horses he would use that day. They were a nearly match pair of Clydesdales. Uncle Harry had spent days grooming the two horses, washing and brushing them, and trimming their manes and tails until they were perfect. After the manes had been trimmed, my aunt braided them with red and blue ribbons.
The white stockings on their legs gleamed in the early morning sunlight. Each hair of their feathered hooves was perfect. Long hours had been spent polishing the harnesses and reins.
The old hay wagon had received a new coat of brown paint, and any missing boards had been replaced. Bales of straw had been stacked two and three high.
I was a young boy enamored with anything mechanical. I loved the tractors. I thought the horses were dreadfully old-fashioned. But, on that morning, seeing Duke and Earl hitched up to the hay wagon I saw something I had never seen before, the supreme majesty of the heavy horse.
To a young boy they looked absolutely massive standing there patiently, waiting for my uncle to give them the command to move. Earl ignored me. Duke looked down at me with his big eyes and shook his head
"You want to come along?" My uncle looked at me.
"Oh yes!" I exclaimed.
Harry winked at my mother and set me up on the hay wagon. "We'll meet you in town."
He took the reins in his hand and yelled to the horses, "Giddap there!"
We were moving, the sound of the horses iron shod hooves on the gravel and the bells on the harness broke the morning silence.
The two horses amazed me, it seemed that it took them no effort whatsoever to pull us down the road. Suddenly my uncle handed me the reins. "Here, you can drive for a while."
I looked up at my uncle to make sure that he was serious. He smiled down at me and winked. "Just keep the tension on the reins."
When we got into town my uncle took over the reins again. We made our way through town to the fair grounds where the parade would start and end. Uncle Harry stopped the team and talked to the man in charge of the parade. We would have to make our way around the horse track and get in line, we were behind the pipers.
As he pulled the team on to the track, Uncle Harry looked down at me. "Hang on tight, let's show 'em what we can do."
I held on tight as he snapped the reins and yelled, "Duke, Earl, step lively now!"
Their big heads snapped up as they leaned into the harness. Moving at a quick trot their front legs came up high. People stopped what they were doing to watch. I swore I saw the horses' chests swell up with pride as they moved to a gallop.
I could feel the air blowing in my face, my cowboy hat slipped from my head and hung by the braided string from my neck.
Here and there people applauded the sight of the Clydesdales in full flight. I looked up at my uncle. The wrinkled old farmer had disappeared and had been replaced with a man full of pride of his horses. His tie flapped wildly over his shoulder like a banner of yore.
"Yah, Duke! Yah, Earl!" He urged the horses on.
The end of the track was quickly approaching, I saw him tug on one of sets of reins. "Gee! Gee!"
The big horses leaned to the left and followed the curve. I had to hang on for dear life. I thought for sure I was going to be tossed off the side. Not a beat was skipped as they rounded the tight corner of the track. I could see their flared nostrils as their heads turned.
As we neared where the parade was lined up he pulled back on the reins, "Whoa, whoa laddies."
He walked them the last hundred yards until we found our place in the parade.
After we pulled up to a stop, Uncle Harry looked at me with a grin as wide as the Canadian prairies. "The day of the horse may be past, but it's not forgotten."
He jumped down off of the wagon, brush in hand. He stroked the horses' foreheads. His blue eyes glistened as he spoke to them. "You done us proud this day, lads. You showed them buggers how it was done."
It's not forgotten. Even all these years later, the sight of a team of heavy horses pulling in the harness still brings a tear to my eye.