Mondays with Martin: Best Friends

By David Martin

For most of his Nebraska farming days, Grandfather Edgar Schock had no tractor, and he said the smartest thing he ever did was buy two, black, Belgian draft horses, because they saved his life and farm, while providing for the family, when he was unable to do the work himself. Every morning and evening, he brushed them, lovingly. In turn, they protected his tuberculosis-scarred lungs.

Blaze and Lady always had good grain and hay to eat, and Gramps talked to them, when he was in their stalls, as they were his children. Their affectionate eyes watched him, constantly. Horse and human, their bond was sensitive, strong, and intuitive. Their ears followed his quiet sounds, as he fed them, but like radar, they went suspiciously flat when strangers were loud or got too close.

Although he was quite ill, Grandmother said that Gramps never seemed as sick after his friends arrived. He was awake before sunrise and could not get out of the house fast enough, after eating his own breakfast, in order to care for those two beautiful animals, his best friends, and give them their first meal of the day. Both horses seemed to know how important they were to this skinny, two-legged creature, who worked every day in the fields with them and thought it was a privilege to join their team.

He became an artist of the soil and used these heavily muscled paintbrushes with bobbed tails to color in fields of corn, alfalfa, and nature’s unique composition. At the end of exhausting workdays, the four-legged corn eaters with broad hooves, soft noses, and gentle hearts stuck their mouths under the surface of the cold tank water and blew bubbles like kids, laughing together at a summer swimming pool.

The only time Mother saw her father cry was when the big truck came that cold day and took the horses to the sale barn. He could not say goodbye to his old friends. After they left the barnyard that last time, Gramps was never as cheerful or stood as straight in the sun.

“Farming was never the same after that day,” he said.

The next week, a red metal tractor appeared. The deliveryman said it could do the work of ten teams and would not need corn and hay for fuel.

Weeks later, one evening after we finished supper, he got up from the table and left the house without telling anyone where he was going. Grandmother looked at me and nodded her head, so I followed him. He walked down the path away from the house into the cornfield and disappeared. I walked quickly to catch up with him.

“Hey, where ya goin’ so fast?”

He was surprised to see me and slowed down, so I could catch up with him.

He rubbed tears from his eyes with one hand and put the other on my shoulder.

“I wanted to go to the barn and pet Blaze and Lady, but they’re not here, now, so I’m going to talk to the corn. In the field, those horses, wherever they are, will hear how much I miss them. Life is not the same without my friends. Tractors get hot but are never warm. That pair nudged me in the back with their noses when we talked, looking for another wedge of hay at day’s end, and thanking me for loving them the way friends do. I’ll never have buddies like that, again.”

“Hey, Gramps, I can be your buddy.”

He laughed, coughed, and more tears rolled down his cheeks.

“I’d like that.”