By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
I’m standing in the barnyard with the farrier. Remedy, the quarter horse, is getting his winter shoes. We’re surrounded by vast heaps of plowed snow. It’s a sparkling day, and for some reason I find myself thinking about a photograph we found after my father died. My grandfather is sitting on a high bank of snow, dressed in his work clothes, and he’s holding up a fox terrier, which looks as if it’s ready to eat the camera. This is the home farm in northwest Iowa, probably 1936.
Behind him is the barn where the draft horses lived. I don’t know whether my grandfather was his own horse-shoer, but I doubt it. So there must have come many days like the one I’m having, standing in the cold beside a sleepy horse while a man with a badly damaged thumb and a sore back goes about his work. In all these years, the technology has hardly changed. Fire, steel, nails, rasp, hammer, anvil, and a pair of heavy chaps with a hoof knife in a leather pocket.
I knew that farm long after the horses had been replaced by tractors. When I was older, I tried to get my dad to tell stories about what it was like growing up there during the Depression. He would sometimes talk about the blizzard of 1936, and he talked about the kindly cunning of the draft horses, who loved to impose upon him. But those days were cloaked in a vagueness I never understood, as if the farm were a country he’d emigrated from and long since put out of mind. I wanted the details, what the work was like, what chores were his, how June differed from January. I never got them.
So I look back at the old photos and try to imagine the life there. I think especially of a photo of my grandfather holding my dad on his knee and a pup in the other arm. My dad’s older brothers are there, all of them in ragged overalls and each one holding an apple. In the background there’s a long house for laying hens. What I wouldn’t give to go back and see it all.
The closest I can come is to stand as quietly as Remedy does and wait for the farrier to finish. I close the gate behind him and send the horses thundering into the breast-deep snow of the pasture.