The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

On A Rainy Day

By E. M. Thomas © 1988

Issue: April, 1988

Day followed sunny day in the countryside where adults truly worked from sunrise to sunset. Then suddenly it all changed, ushered in by a violent thunderstorm in the early evening. Weather–wise old timers were not surprised; they had noted the "thunderheads" piling up over the mountain tops to the south. Lightning crackled and thunder rumbled. The old dog whined piteously and tried to crawl under the daybed. Whenever the outdoors was lighted momentarily, the horses could be seen with their backs to the lashing rains.

"This is good for the garden," Hermie announced with satisfaction.

"Better now then when we're haying." Bernie agreed doubtfully, thinking of the day ahead with the kids all indoors. She was right too, because daylight showed the rain continuing, the rooms a ghastly gray. "Oh well, life goes on," she thought as she prepared her sponge. Today would be a good day for baking bread. A bit on the cool side, the heat would feel good and the fragrant odor would be cheery.

Hermie had retired to the barn shortly after breakfast. Today he would mend the harnesses and gear. The children busily made a train out of chairs, pursing their lips and making chuffing sounds for the engine. Wesley was conductor with Gramps' old cap crowning his tow head. Mary was a passenger; Mike, the oldest was always the engineer for he was the only one yet able to whistle. They played at this for the better part of the forenoon until it began to pall. Mary retired to the upstairs and her dolls while the boys joined their father in the barn.

Lunchtime came and the family gathered around the circular oak table now laden with steaming victuals. Mary banged on the partition wall for Grandpa to come and heard his muffled response on the other side. Impatiently Hermie seated himself and the rest followed suit. Scarcely had the food been swallowed when there was the sounds of a vehicle entering the yard. Hermie sat his cup down with a splash and went out onto the porch.

"Hello Paul," he was heard to say. "Aren't you lost, up here today?"

Their eyes asking permission of their mother, the children rushed outside also. It was the farrier! Eagerly they crowded about the jitney with its cunningly contrived smithy on the back end. The traveling farrier might only come once in a summer unless he was sent for specifically, so his visits were always a welcome break in the monotony. Eyes not missing a detail, the youngsters weaved in and out between the conversing men trying to avoid being stepped on and keeping out of the way as they'd been warned to countless times before. Grandpa wandered outside, picking his teeth.

"Hello, Paul."

Paul answered politely, pausing to inquire of the old man regarding health, garden, etc. Soon all the men were on their way to the barn, the children stringing along like a gaggle of geese. The farrier backed his truck right up to the barn door. Grandpa guided him along with vague and useless hand gestures which Paul observed gravely. Paul thanked the old man kindly and then stepped into the barn to assess the work to be done on the horses feet.

Calmly he rapped the great beast on the knees to make him "pick–up." The children held their breath. What daring! He was a brave man to approach a strange animal so casually; didn't everyone know a horse was a lethal weapon from either end. The man acted unconcerned as he pumped up his fire with a pair of bellows. The children gazed at the glowing embers and watched the metal shoes turn red–hot and take on a white glow.

The children jumped when he seized the shoe with a pair of great tongs, pounded it into the desired shape and then threw the shoe into a pail of cooling water where they settled to the bottom with a loud hiss. He heated and cooled repeatedly, fitting them now and again against a hoof. When he was satisfied he began nailing them on with funny square–sided nails. The nails came out through the top of the hoof! The children waited in awful expectation for the horse to make agonized protest but Prince merely reached into the manger for another mouthful of hay.

Paul closely inspected the soles. He now bent his back towards the animal's head, holding one hind foot between his knees as he pounded at it. The hoof had to be pared down. Paul selected an instrument from the pile of rasps and pliers which lay strewn about his feet. He nipped a high crescent hunk from the horse's hoof. Next, using the rasp, he filed all the edges smoothly and turned over the ends of any nails that were poking through.

The day wore on and the animal was eventually shod. The rain had ceased and the sun came out unheralded until the job was finished. Paul picked up his tools with a grunt, straightened his back. Pushing his hat back on his head, he emerged from the stall.

"Well, the sun's come out," he observed. "Guess it'll be a nice day after all."