Septembers to remember
By Bill Shepard
I have seen a lot of Septembers.
Many have come and gone since the old man and I sat in the wagon loaded with hay and being pulled along by the big red horse. The hay had been gathered from small garden plots throughout the village where I lived.
It would be used as winter food for the old horse and winter was not too many months away. Sometimes I wondered which was the oldest, the old man or his big red horse. Both moved along as though they had seen many Septembers together.
I was only 10, but when I sat beside the old man and he let me hold the reins to guide the old horse, I felt like a real grown-up. The horse needed no guiding as he had been traveling these narrow dirt streets for more years than I was old. It just made me feel big to hold the lines tightly in my hands and cluck to the old horse, “Git up, horse!” That’s the way I had heard the old man say it.
We must have been a sightly threesome, the old man with his wide-brimmed straw hat pulled down over his sun-browned face, and I in my patched and faded overalls and matching chambray shirt, and of course the slow-moving red horse! Whatever the image, I felt like a prince when I was with my friend.
I first met the kind old man who wore a little mustache that was sometimes stained with tobacco juice when he came to our house, first in the spring to plow the garden spot, and then in the autumn to gather the dried corn stalks and tall grass that had taken over.
He used a scythe to cut the hay and a pitchfork to load it on the wagon. He allowed me to sit in the wagon and move the old horse along. From that first meeting, our friendship had grown, and my mom would allow me to ride with him every chance I got.
Sometimes, I would ride with him to the sawmill to haul a load of slabs to be cut into firewood for someone on the village. Those were the times I enjoyed most of all. Just sitting high in the wagon, clutching the reins, and when we would get near someone walking along the road, I would speak out, “Git up, horse!” I did that more to draw attention to myself than for the old horse that traveled at the same gait all the time.
When September had passed and the cooler weather of October and November entered, I saw less of the old man and his horse. Occasionally, during the fall and winter, my mom would place a nickel in my hand and say, “Go to your friend’s house and buy a head of collards.” I was always glad when that happened.
I would start out in a trot, and upon reaching my destination, I would immediately look toward the shabby old barn where I knew the old horse lived. If the horse was in the barn, I knew my friend would be home also. One seldom was seen anywhere without the other.
After a short time of talk, the old man would lead the way to the field where the collards grew. He would hand the big butcher knife to me and say. “Bill, you cut the biggest one you can find.”
I would scan the field and having found the one of my choosing, I would cut through the tough stalk while my friend stood and watched. Sometimes I would call for his help. With a joyful goodbye, I would start on my trot back to the village carrying the big collard in my arms.
I grew up as all boys do, and other interests crowded the old man and the big horse out of my life. They’ve both been gone a long time to where kind old men and big red horses go, but memories of them both return in the autumn when the September sun starts turning the field brown and I see hay drying in the fields.
NOTE: Mr. Odom (I never knew his first name) lived with his wife and one small son in a privately owned house near the mill village. As far as I know, he never worked in the cotton mill, but earned his money by doing chores, such as plowing small garden spots, hauling slabs from the sawmill and occasionally moving someone’s furniture from one mill house to another.