Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Surprise For Dad

My parents lived on a farm on the highway between Alban and Noelville in Northern Ontario when they were in their twenties. Dad would go out to work for the Department of Highways during the day and attend to all the farm work in the evenings and on the weekends. When Friday night rolled around Mom was always hopeful that they might be able to go out for some fun but Dad was often just too tired. House parties were the favorite form of social gathering back then. People would take turns hosting. Furniture would be pushed aside to make room for dancing with fiddles, harmonicas, and guitars providing the music. A late night lunch made up of a washtub full of sandwiches was all that was needed to round off the evening.

One day Mom decided that if she could do some of Dad’s farm work while he was away he might be willing to take her out on Friday night. She knew there were some cut logs back in the bush that he had been meaning to haul to the house so they could be cut and split for firewood. The horse would be doing all the hauling so she was confident she could handle the job. She kept silent about her plans as Dad headed off to work in the morning. This was going to be her gift to him, a total surprise, and she could hardly wait to get started. The moment he pulled out of the driveway she was scrambling into some old work clothes and slipping into her rubber boots.

She had never actually harnessed the horse before but figured she had a basic idea of what to do. It took a while but eventually she got the collar fitted and all the straps and buckles securely fastened. Her step was confident as she led the horse to the back of the farm and onto the rutted track that led into the bush. She worked hard that day. It wasn’t easy getting the chain around the logs so they wouldn’t slip. One at a time seemed the best course of action. Each one was a struggle though, and she had to resort to what amounted to an undignified wrestling match with the bigger logs that left her sweating and covered in mud.

It was much harder than she’d dreamed and even the horse seemed determined to thwart her. Every now and then he would set his feet stubbornly and refuse to move unless she gave him a good smack. The hours dragged by and the unlikely duo made trip after trip with dogged determination until they were finally on the last load and Mom was beginning to feel a sense of smug self satisfaction. They emerged from the trees to see Dad standing in the yard staring at the pile of logs no doubt wondering what on earth was going on. Mom’s weariness seemed to evaporate and she strode forward proudly, struggling unsuccessfully to suppress her triumphant grin as he turned and spotted her coming. Seeing his incredulous stare when he met them at the edge of the yard made it all worth while.

“You did all this?” he asked, his forehead furrowed in concern as his gaze wavered between her and the horse. “You’ve been pulling logs all day?”

“Of course,” Mom responded with pride. “I’m stronger than you think.”

Her bubble burst with a bang when he shook his head and explained that she had the horse collar on upside down. He thought it should have been obvious that the narrow part of the teardrop shaped horse collar was meant for the back of the horse’s neck. That was the only way he could pull without choking. It wasn’t obvious to Mom though. She had taken one look at the collar and put it on the way she would have worn it herself…with the narrow part in front.

“Good thing you were only pulling one log at a time or you might have strangled him,” Dad pronounced as he set about releasing the poor beast.

It was a pretty flat ending to Mom’s ambitious plan to surprise and impress her hard-working husband. Dad was surprised all right but he wasn’t nearly as happy about the whole thing as she’d hoped. Still, the job got done and the horse survived with no lasting ill effects.
Mom wasn’t likely to let one little failure discourage her love of surprises for long. A good surprise was always one of her chief delights. Next time she’d just have to be better prepared.

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