25 December 2016
This isn’t a Christmas story, per say. It isn’t about presents and trees and Santa Claus. And it doesn’t mention Jesus’ birth or midnight Mass.
But it does teach us about fallacious judgments and deep Love; tenacity in the face of poverty…beauty in both dressage form and deep human feelings. And – if I have some semblance of grip on the deeper meaning of this holiday, it is indeed - all about Love, its depth, its power and all that the story of Christ’s birth seems to represent…to me.
Oris George wrote a book called “Along the Back Roads of Yesterday; the 6th chapter is called “A perfect understanding”. In this story, which takes place in 1944, Mr. George talks about his experience with a disheveled man by the name of Bert who owned an ugly old mule named Toots.
“Mom was convinced Bert owned only one pair of bib overalls, and she knew they had never seen the inside of a washing machine. Tobacco juice stained his thick, greying beard. A greasy baseball cap crowned a head of long, wild, unruly grey hair. He lived down under the hill behind the feed store on a straggly little two-acre farm surrounded on all four sides by cottonwood trees and tall brush. The small, dilapidated barn and the one room cabin reminded me of Snuffy Smith’s place in the Sunday funny papers.”
Most of the townspeople joked about – and laughed at Bert, and certainly Oris’ Mom wanted him anywhere but hanging around him. Oris was close to his Grandpa and his curiosity drove him.
“Granddad, where’d Bert come from? Granddad set the feed bucket on the ground and leaned against the gate. Well, Son, nigh onta twenty year ago Bert’s neighbors woke one mornin’ and found ‘im established in that old shack. No one knew anything ‘bout ‘im or where he came from, and he never volunteered no information. Ta this day he ain’t said nary a word ‘bout hisself.”
As the story continues, Bert begins to train a beautiful Palomino mule called Stella who is as wild as a bronc. She is so vicious that Bert begins her training by knocking her out with a stump of wood in order to save himself from being savagely bitten. Oris begins to visit Bert, gets to know him as he watches him train this mule – which takes over a year to accomplish. He quickly realizes that there is more to Bert than meets the eye.
As their relationship grew, Oris learned that ...”He was born and raised on a horse-breeding farm in Warren, Tennessee. He was forty years old when his father died.” After dealing with complex family problems he left Tennessee a ‘lonely, bitter man.’ “
As Oris and Bert connect, Oris begins to see – what others do not; that Bert is more than his dirty overalls and is far from being the ignorant person they all assume – from his exterior appearance.
Bert enters the yearly rodeo at the county fair the following September. The rodeo progresses, everything is as usual…until…
“The crowd fell silent as a golden palomino mule entered the arena at a Fox Trot. Her rider, a man in a black derby hat, black swallow-tailed coat, and shiny black riding boots, rode in perfect form – a sight never seen in this community.”
“The mule stood perfectly still, with her long slender ears pointed straight ahead, chin tucked under, and an arch in her neck.”
“A murmur rippled through the grandstand when the Mystery Man on the golden palomino mule removed his derby and the crowd recognized the eccentric Bert.”
After some discussion between Bert and the announcer, “Bert rode to the front of the grandstand, tipped his derby to the crowd, and Stella bowed. Turning Stella to the left, they moved out at a Fox Trot. The crowd was silent. Halfway around the arena, Stella changed to another gait. The crowd went wild!...poured out of the bleachers like a giant wave and surrounded Bert and Stella. Hands were extended to Bert.”
“A new Bert, and Stella…exited the arena that day in 1945.”
I have only breezed over this chapter; treat yourself to the 'rest of the story', and the numerous other chapters about his growing pains, hard work and hard fun on his family's farm during the 1940’s. Enjoy the bad red rooster dressed to the hilt; ride along with him on his donkeys as he explores down by the river with his pal Henry (who at times may be his worst enemy!). Feel his fear as he listens to his family deal with the atrocities of the war years in another special chapter, "The Man Along the Side of the Road."
To purchase this book, go to www.orisgeorge.net.
As always, NATURE prevails, especially in the 1940's.