Friday, March 20, 2009

Runaway Horse: Johnson City 1969

We were a bunch of kids, ranging from age nine to sixteen, maybe. I must have been twelve. Maybe. This was when we lived just outside of Johnson City, in a place that was more country than development, but which became--many years later, long after I had moved away--green-lawned suburb. It was my three brothers, sister, me (of course) and there was Kurt, Kent, Mary-Ellen from our side of the unfinished development, and the boy Greg and his two sisters (Joy and Lisa) who lived up at the top of the hill on the other side of Antioch Road and The Creek from us (there was also little Bobby, who had a glass eye, and his sister, who lived below the hill) . . . The day the horse showed up, I don't recall exactly who all was there.
We were playing along The Creek, as usual. Sometimes we played in The Woods, but I think we were at The Creek, out goofing around in the summer sun, looking around, making up our usual games and then one of us looked uphill, along the steep road, to where one of the houseless cul-de-sacs was and shouted. We all looked and there, in the round bulldozed circle of orange/red earth a horse stood.
It wasn't a big horse. It was a little swayed-back, as I recall. But you can imagine our excitement, our blind childmind surprise to see a horse up the hill, standing like a breathing statue against the thicket of southern trees and vines. Holy Crap.
We made our way to it. It did not move, did not take a step, only flicked its ears, tail, maybe turned its head at our approach. We got very close. There was at least four or five or more of us. The horse had no saddle or bridal or reigns. It was just a horse, dark colored, almost unhealthy looking. And we got closer.
I don't recall it making a sound or moving much. It was used to people. We knew nothing of horses. True, as a kid, my brothers, sister and I had ridden horses on our cousin's farm in Arlington, South Dakota. But that was as far as our knowledge of horses went. But we came up to it. Saw no danger. We touched it. I remember how strangely stiff its hair was, dirty and sweaty. But the horse did not mind us petting it--a bunch of kids. So we stroked it, talked to it, talked among ourselves about what a wondrous phenomenal inexplicable find this was. A horse! Right here in our neighborhood! Like a child's dream come to pass. And that's when we got the mind to ride it.
There were no stirrups, so we got the horse--so gentle and quiet--to move closer to the red clay embankment where the bulldozers had carved out the circle, a space for a house to be built someday. And from there we could get up on the smaller mounds and try to jump on the horse's back. It had no saddle or anything to hold on to, no way to command it even if we knew how. But we tried to ride the horse. We failed to ride the horse. The horse gave no complaints. I don't know what would have happened if one of us or more had been able to mount it. Would it have trotted off with us? Would it have thrown us? Would we have a childhood memory of riding the magical horse or would we have, perhaps, been killed? But, we never got up on that horse.
Yet, what were we to do? Tell an adult? (No way--or--not yet.) Forget it and go back to our usual games? Impossible.
So, we stayed with the horse. It would move if we nudged it in a direction and I think we nudged it down the hill a bit, maybe to The Creek, then we just stood around it again, trying to come up with new ideas. What do you do with a horse you can't ride when you know nothing about horses? How do you suddenly incorporate a horse in your regular summer day childhood playtime? 
You don't, I guess.
Because it wasn't long after that that a man in a beat up pick up showed up. (That's a lot of ups.) He was looking for the horse. He talked to us a little, but mainly he just came and put a rope around the horses neck--again, the animal did not complain--and led it to his truck. He did not use a bridal or reigns, just the rope around its neck. Then he got in the vehicle, held his end of the rope with his hand through the open window and drove off, slowly. We kids watched him go down Antioch Road, driving his truck, one hand out the window with the rope, the horse trotting slowly along next to him.
Goodbye horse.
It was kind of sad. Sad for the horse, in my mind. Because it was as if the horse had run away and the man--the owner--was not a nice man. Of course, I have no idea if this was true, but at the time that was my impression: the horse ran away from its mean owner and that owner had caught it once again . . . I wonder what the horse thought of it all. Did it like our company? Was it afraid of us? Did it see us as new dominant creatures that it had to obey? Ah, who knows. But I remember it. I remember what it was like to live in that Southern countrified underdeveloped development. I had my problems with life in Tennessee, but I have always appreciated that spot, that childhood spent out in nature, that mild climate and its earth and hills and animals--even runaway horses.

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