When I was in fourth grade (1961) we left our next-door-to-V home and moved out to the country where I lived until I married. Immediately upon moving there, “Ginger” was purchased. She was a tall, gentle chestnut mare, and she was with me until she died, after my marriage.
Ginger was my boon companion. I rode her all over the countryside with a freedom unheard of in my world today. It was magical. I must write about some of the adventures that Ginger and I had. But that is for another day—my mind is on someone else today.
The tasks of feeding Ginger and caring for her (and her several later offspring) fell largely to me, which I did not mind at all. Part of those duties was seeing to her feet. And we were fortunate that our farrier, Bud, lived about a half mile down our country road. When Ginger was in need of shoes, I saddled her up and rode down there. That experience, too, was magical in a different sort of way.
It’s hard for me to say now how old Bud was, because I saw him through a child’s eyes. I suppose he was probably thirty years older than me, which made him in his late thirties when I first came to know him. He lived with his parents, Barney and Cassie.
Bud was quite a good farrier, and I grew up with the luxury of having my horses “hot-shod,” which means that he heated the shoes red hot in his forge and beat them on his anvil until they were just the right size and shape for Ginger’s feet. In later years, farriers who came to my home with horseshoe equipment in vans or pick up trucks never heated a shoe. They sort of shaped the hoof to the shoe, and the fit was just never quite as good. Bud’s farrier and ironworking tools were hung in a three-sided shed, the forge outside under a large oak tree. I’d sit under that tree and wait while he trimmed Ginger’s feet and fitted her new shoes.
Bud’s father, Barney, ruled his little family with an absolute iron hand, and he had only to hint that his voice was rising to cause tired-looking, little-bitty Cassie to scurry to soothe his ire.
As a child I was taught to address the elders as Mr. and Mizzz “S.” Bud, however, was “Bud” to everyone, including us kids.
Everyone knew that Bud was “not quite right,” although today I can’t tell you exactly what was off about him except it was common knowledge that he had a seizure disorder. He was the slowest talker I ever met. It was like it was a feat to form the words in his brain and get them to ooze slowly out of his mouth. One had to resist the temptation to finish his sentences. Often his brow would furrow as he tried to formulate his sentences. I’m wondering now if there was some sort of brain damage. In any event, it was obvious that he was uneducated. He knew horses well, and that was about it. It was assumed by all that these traits were why he never cultivated a life away from his parents.
Barney was of the firm conviction that “what was good for my daddy is good for me.” To the max. This family lived in a little two-room shack on about ten acres with two lanky horses. Since I have always been on a first-name basis with all horses I ever met, I can tell you that their names were “Queenie” and “Messenger.” Rounding out the livestock were a dozen or so chickens, a handful of half wild cats and a couple lazy hounds.
They had no electricity. Cassie’s stove was wood-fired. They drew water from a well. They used an outhouse. It is not like we really so far in the sticks that conveniences were not available. Barney would just not allow it.
What this meant, of course, is that Cassie worked her you-know-what off. That woman was busy all the time. Unlike her slow son and her slothful husband, Cassie moved in quick, jerky movements, like she was in a hurry all the time. Her speech, too, was lightning fast—you had to listen if you wanted to understand what Cassie was saying because the words were just tumbling out. She had a slight stutter, like her words were pushing to get out of her mouth, causing a log jam every few sentences; this was the exact opposite of her slow talking son.
But Cassie would not make eye contact, looking at the ground as you spoke with her, and she fidgeted as she talked, shifting her slight weight from one foot to the other the entire conversation, as if she was poised, ready to hurry to her next task. You did not have idle chit-chat with Cassie. The polite “how are yous” were done and over quickly with her.
I never saw her in pants; she only wore cotton skirts and blouses and dresses, all to her midcalf, at least, which may have been because she was so short, ill-fitting as if none of them were chosen specifically for her, which I am sure is the case. All her clothes looked very, very “hand-me-down.” Cassie appeared clean to me (when she was not sweaty from work), but dressed in prints faded from many harsh washings. I especially remember Cassie wearing worn tennis shoes with no strings in them encasing her tiny feet.
If Cassie wasn’t tending the garden, she was washing clothes over an open fire in a wash pot. I have seen her in the hot summertime canning, heating big pots of boiling water on Bud’s forge fire, sweat dripping down the sides of her face. In the summertime, Cassie made the rounds on foot selling fresh vegetables and cantaloupes from her garden, cradling them in her clean but stained apron which was just part of Cassie’s uniform.
Mom always bought something from her. Wouldn’t think of turning Cassie away, so hard was her life. And, there was the story of Cassie losing her only daughter who, as a toddler, had fallen into the fire while Cassie was boiling the clothes. No, Mom would never turn Cassie down. I remember thinking that I hoped she could squirrel away some of that money for herself. Truthfully, however, I don’t know what she would spend it on.
One neighbor offered the family a cast-off kitchen range that was still in good working order. They even offered to help get the utilities set up—everyone was aware of Cassie’s plight. Barney refused; stonecold. And we’re not talking religious conviction, here, just pure meanness so far as I can see.
Barney and Cassie were of an age where we all assumed that they received Social Security. How else were they living? Yes, Bud was shoeing horses for pay and Cassie had her vegetable garden but there was no other visible means of income. I don’t recall ever hearing what Barney had done for a living before retirement.
Barney occupied himself by sitting in the shade by Bud’s forge, dressed in overalls, spitting tobacco into a coffee can, and spinning tales to the customers who had brought their horses for shoeing. Really, I never saw him at anything productive…surely he did something to make him worthy of his realm; I just can’t tell you what it was. It always appeared to me that Barney’s sole reason for existence was to boss Cassie around.
Bud seemed somewhat oblivious to everything except the shoeing at hand.
Barney’s “old ways” extended to every aspect of their life. They had no motor vehicles. When they needed something from the store, Bud would hitch Messenger and Queenie to a buckboard, and the entire family of three would sit on the bench seat and drive the mile or so to the local Family Market, cars either lining up behind the slower moving wagon or whizzing past. The horses would be tethered outside while the family made the purchases for carrying back in the buckboard…just like Barney’s daddy had probably done.
Stepping onto their land was like stepping back in time a hundred years. It was always an adventure for me, and I remember well the awe I felt at the way this family lived.
My father, was the sole country lawyer in our community (he practiced law two doors down from our home, walking home for lunch and enduring his children bursting in unexpectedly). In that capacity, he was the go-to person for legal matters or anything of a sober and important nature. It was because of that that we in the family were the first to learn of Barney’s passing. This would have been about 1967.
And we were among the first to know that Bud and Cassie immediately began digging in various places around their ten-acre plot. In the end they dug up over $40,000.00 in tightly curled rolls of cash which had been buried in mason jars and coffee cans around the place.
And within two weeks of Barney’s death, Bud and Cassie were ensconced in a shiny new, air conditioned mobile home, complete with two indoor bathrooms and a fully-equipped kitchen.
When I began to write this post, I had envisioned a little different slant. When I said in the second paragraph, “…my mind is on someone else today…,” I meant Bud, for I have many unusual stories to tell about Bud and the other “characters” who lived in our area. But the story took on a life of its own and I find that my emotional focus as I write here today is on Cassie.
I find myself hoping that Cassie did, in fact, have good times, even though they were not visible to me. As a young adult I had occasion to meet Cassie’s sister who confirmed to me that Cassie’s life was every bit as hard as I assumed from my observations—and then some.
That Cassie did her industrious best to care for her husband and son was obvious to everyone; I hope they returned it in some way, even though we could not see it.
And I hope that somewhere Cassie now looks down and knows that someone noticed her and remembers her because I fear that she died feeling that she was insignificant, looking away when others addressed her. In fact, I think she was a “Wonder Woman.”
I hope that this remembrance is seen as a tribute to someone whom I fear carried a load the likes of which I will never know and did so loyally and without complaint to others. Amazing.