I did not know that horses were prejudiced. I am six beers into an impromptu cookout to which I was not invited when I discover this amazing fact. The person who is educating me is the uncle of a friend named Steve (the Uncle, not the friend. The friend is Beat Rice), and we’re standing near his fence looking at the horses that are grazing the pasture in front of us.
“You see,” he says, point at the four horses in front of us. “The brown ones pick on the brown one.”
“Indeed?” I reply, wonder what in the hell he’s talking about. Steve is significantly more beers into the whole mess than I am.
“Yes. See, the three darker colored ones pick on the lighter colored one. I haven’t decided whether they do it because he’s lighter brown or because he’s the only one that’s mine. If I find out they’re picking on him because he’s mine I’ll have horsemeat for the winter. Damn horses. I think I’m going to chop down a tree.”
Steve is full of this wisdom. He’s in his mid-forties, work worn and weatherworn, native to the Shenandoah Valley, and owner of 200 beautiful acres at the foothills of the Shenandoah. Welbywife and I are here by accident, were not really invited, and have our dogs with us, but Steve doesn’t really care. He’s a country boy and full of country hospitality.
All of this started innocently enough. The wife and I were to drive down to the farm meet Beat Rice, who was up to visit some of her family. Long story short, Beat Rice couldn’t give directions out of a paper bag and we didn’t get there until around 4. So we pull up and let the dogs out of the car, and I give Beat Rice a big old hug, and Steve says: “You need a beer. They’re in the cooler. You’re staying for dinner. Don’t tell me you’re not hungry. You’re eating.” And that was that. I cracked open a beer, as did the wife, and things went uphill from there.
Steve’s friend Steve is there. For the sake of clarity we’ll call the second Steve Bull. I don’t want you people confused. Steve’s other friend George is also there. We’ll call George George because his name isn’t Steve so there’s no reason to make it different. Dinner is a wonderful collection of farm-raised BBQ chicken, salad, and a rice concoction cooked up by George. The secret ingredient in the barbecue sauce is Jack Daniels. The secret ingredient in the salad dressing is also Jack Daniels. George and Jack Daniels apparently do a lot of cooking together.
George, in fact, did most of the cooking. Steve jokes that his first wife left for Lost Wages (She’s on vacation) and his second wife has been in town since then. There is good natured ribbing all through dinner, and the group of us retire to the front porch, where Steve puts on some bluegrass music and Bull pulls out a bottle of moonshine and George pulls out a joint of something grown nearby. The front porch of the house looks over all of Steve’s acreage. There is not a house or road in view, nothing but mountains and fields and beautiful trees accented by a perfect sunny day. We engage in the time honored country custom of sitting on the front porch and getting plastered. I learn the following interesting things:
Blue heelers don’t learn the first time when a horse kicks them in the head. Moonshine running is safer that dope running. Bull did both after Vietnam, and now does neither, but he’s full of thought on how it can be done properly. Bull and Steve went to the same high school, but didn’t know each other. They met when Bull came onto the farm to have sex with one of Steve’s cows. George sells real estate on Hawaii, and talks about how damn expensive it’s all getting. He’s going to sell his holdings next year and get a farm in the Shenandoah. He’s been selling out next year for almost twenty years. Hurricane Isabel (I think, it’s a little fuzzy) knocked over Steve’s favorite oak so now he’s going to cut down all of the trees around his house. George has always wanted to shave his legs and dress up like a woman to see what it felt like. He saunters up and down the porch like a woman to the guffaws of his friends. Between the rude jokes and George’s prancing neither I nor anyone else can catch a breath long enough to stop laughing. Bull has been joking all night about George being Steve’s other wife, and in a sense he’s right, because Steve and George have been bickering like an old married couple all night, but good naturedly, the kind of bickering that only childhood friends can do without scraping feelings raw.
It’s past midnight now. Beat Rice has passed out in the rocker, Steve and Bull decide to talk a walk down the road a piece, but only after Steve collects my keys and tells me that we’re staying the night. George is half awake and murmuring to Welbywife that he’s thinking of switching over to silk panties so that he won’t chafe. For her part, Welbywife is nodding solemnly and not understanding a word.
I slip down from the porch and walk to the fence. Before me the land is bathed in silver moonlight and the stars are winking in the sky. I see the horses in the pasture, three together, one off to the by itself, lonesome and quiet. In the distance I hear Steve and Bull laughing and laughing as they walk down the road.