May 13, 2018
The rocking chair porch at a Cracker Barrel
I let Wendy and her parents out at the front door and drove off to find a parking place. Lunchtime at Cracker Barrel on Sunday and on Mother’s Day; probably the absolute busiest day of the year.
“It’ll be about forty minutes,” Wendy said as I walked up.
There were three rocking chairs together, so the three of them sat down.
“Oh, Blair,” said MaryJane, “stand up and I’ll fix it.”
I looked up, and she was trying to reconnect his suspenders to the back of his pants.
She was laughing quietly, probably, partly because it was kinda funny, and partly out of nervous embarrassment, because there was an audience. (You know how the chairs are lined up on both sides of the porch, facing each other.)
Blair sat back down, and, since there were no more chairs close by, I just took my place standing behind his chair. I planned on hearing some stories during the wait.
Blair snorted, and said “Look at this!”
I looked. The suspenders had popped loose again, and the end was resting on top of his head. He chuckled, and looked at the young man across the way, who was watching the drama unfold.
“You didn’t know Cracker Barrel provided comedians, did you?” he said, as if he had planned the whole show.
The young man laughed, and gave me his chair.
I sat down and asked, “So, when you were growing up, did y’all ever have horse races?”
“Oh, yeah! A lot of times.” I could see his eyes focusing on the film playing in his head. “A bunch of guys would get together, usually at our place…”
“The Old Taylor Place?”
He always chuckles when I say that. I can’t tell you how many of his stories took place at the Old Taylor Place.
“It was usually on weekends. Not everybody had horses that they could use that way, but it wasn’t unusual.”
I asked, “What about you? Did y’all have just one horse, or were there more?”
“Well, we usually had a horse around, but Daddy would train ‘em, and sell ‘em, so we didn’t usually have a horse for very long…unless he really liked the horse. Once, he walked to Tyler to pick up three horses for some neighbors.”
Blair’s dad was a blacksmith (one of many skills, including farmer, horse doctor, well-digger, town mover, freight liner, and other stories for another time ) and he was able to provide people with horses.
“So he got to Tyler for the three horses. Quite a walk from Lindale. Two of the horses were 8.00 apiece. The third was 4.00, because it had a bad scar on its leg. It was a red sorrel, and Daddy decided to keep it for himself. He saw something valuable in that horse. A lot of folks wouldn’t want a horse that had been injured . Thought it might come back to be a problem.
Anyway, Daddy threw a hundred pound bag of feed on the red horse’s back.
‘ What are ya doing, Doc?’ the men asked him.
When he told ‘em he planned on riding it back to Lindale, they laughed and laughed.
‘You gonna break a horse with a feed bag?’ they asked, laughing and shaking their heads.
Daddy, didn’t ever say a lot, but he just started leading that horse around with the sack of feed on its back, kinda whispering to it, touching it real gentle.
A little while later, he jumped up on that horse’s back and rode it bareback all the way back to Lindale, leading the other two horses.
He broke a lot of horses that way, but he wouldn’t tell anyone how he did it.
They would leave a horse with him to put horseshoes on it, because he might be too busy to do it while they waited.
Horseshoes were .25 apiece. Sometimes people would only get the front shoes, because the front wore out faster than the back.
When they were gone, out came the sack of feed.
When they returned, he would give them a shoed broken horse. He might have charged a little extra for the breaking. I don’t know for sure.
‘Now, Blair, I don’t ever want you to lie about it, but if someone asks you how come I break so many horses and never get hurt, well, just smile and shrug. We don’t need to tell our secret.’
One time, a man came back to get his horse. ‘Doc, you reckon I could ride this horse home without him buckin’ me off?’
Daddy said, ‘Sure, just start out by layin’ across his back.” He looked at me and smiled. We were sharing a moment.
The guy did it. The horse didn’t budge. He sat up, rode him a bit, got off, put a saddle on the horse, and the horse never moved until the stirrups fell against his sides.
I don’t guess Daddy ever told a soul about the feed sack method…except me.”
“Do you think enough time has passed for me to share this little secret?” I asked with a grin.
“ I don’t guess it’ll hurt.”
“Welcome to Cracker Barrel! Wendy, table four four! Wendy, table for four!”