The Heartbeat
"For everything there is a season…" – Ecclesiastes 3:1

On this very hot day, in this most difficult of years, allow me to take your thoughts elsewhere: back to a winter day when I was just a teenager, living in Michigan. By this point in my life, it had been several years since my dad had started collecting horse drawn carriages, most built in the mid to late 1800s. As we had carriages it only made sense that we would also get horses, and so we did. And as my two sisters and I each had our own lengthy list of chores, mine included taking care of the horses. So early each morning I would make my way to the barn to make sure they had water and hay; late at night I made sure they again had water and hay, but this time I would also give them grain. Every few days I would clean out the stalls and put down fresh straw. My sisters and I would brush them down and, in the summer, give them baths with water from a hose. The greatest number of horses we had at any one time was eight. By the time I was 14 I had purchased my own palomino quarter horse for $750. Working at an upholstery shop at $1.25/hour it took me a long time to pay for that horse, plus a saddle and bridle.

One winter day, fresh snow having recently fallen, and it being, all in all, a fairly nice day, I decided to hitch up one of the horses to a cutter. Most people would have called it a sleigh, and it was a sleigh, but for those (like my dad) who were "in the know" about carriages, it was more technically called a cutter as it had a single pair of runners, was light, carried only two people and was meant to be driven by a single horse. In general there are three kinds of cutters: Albany (or swell body) cutters, Montreal cutters (which have solid wood runners, are a bit heavier and, for that reason, often referred to as Montreal sleighs) and Portland cutters, the kind most generally seen even today. Among the carriages he had at that time was a Montreal cutter (or sleigh) with red mohair upholstery that he had repainted black with very decorative swirling sort of painting/striping all around. So I took one of the horses, hitched him up to the sleigh and went for a ride. No one else was with me. It was just the horse, the sleigh and me…through the snow.

It is not unusual to find strings of sleigh bells at antique shops. These were/are meant to strapped around a horse's girth. Or, sometimes, one will find a piece of metal with 3 or 4 bells attached to the metal. These were meant to be screwed to the underside of one of the shafts (the shafts are those pieces of wood that are attached to a carriage and come along each side of the horse so as to attach the carriage to the horse, via the harness). The reason sleigh bells in either form are found is that without them there is basically NO NOISE as the horse pulls the sleigh or cutter through the snow. The bells are the means of letting bystanders, or those walking along the road, know that a horse is coming. In summer, wagons and buggies make plenty of noise as they travel on the road, but with a sleigh it is totally different.

So off I went through the snow. That was some 50+ years ago but in my mind I can think of it even now. It was so quiet, so serene. My dad had cleared a roadway that went through the woods near the back of our property. At the very back there was a loop – a circular drive. It was so quiet as I went back there.

It wasn't windy that day and the sun was shining. I hate the cold, but I wasn't cold. I was just peaceful. On this hot summer day, in this most difficult of years, I am thankful for this pleasant memory.

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