Harry with the heaves

Jul 19th, 2018 | By | Category: Mary Cook's Memories of the '30s

By Mary Cook

My favourite horse on the farm was a sway-backed old nag called Harry. Everyone but me called him “Harry with the heaves,” because just about every breathe he took was a gasp for air. Of course, he could no longer do any work and Father just let him be … bidding his own time, eating when he felt like it, and taking long drags from the watering trough near the pump.

I loved Harry with a passion. His coat, even in winter when it should have been thick and satiny, was an uneven blend of tufts and woolly spots, which always made him look like he was due for a good brushing.

Sometimes Father would let me hitch Harry up to the buggy and just go around the barn yard for a few spins, but as soon as Harry started to heave, I had to unhitch him and he headed right for the watering trough for a long drink of water between gasps for air.

I made looking after Harry my mission in life. I would curry his matted coat, sneak him a few handfuls of oats, and fluff up the straw in his stall so that when he bedded down for the night he would have a soft place to sleep.  In the summer the other horses stayed outside at night, but I thought Harry would be more comfortable on his bed of straw.

His back was so swayed that you could put a couple of pillows in the dent, which, when I asked Father about it, said that was what was causing the heaves.

I offered to take every last cent I had tied up in my hankie in my dresser drawer if there was some medicine I could get to help ease poor Harry’s suffering. I even wondered if old Doctor Murphy or Mrs. Beam couldn’t come up with a cure or knew of any medicine for a horse with the heaves. But, of course, that was out of the question. Also out of the question was calling the veterinarian.  All the time we lived on the farm I never once knew of a veterinarian coming to treat a sick animal. Father looked after that.

When I asked Father how Harry came to be part of our farm, he said we got him in a trade. Trading was done a lot in the ‘30s. When there was no money it was an easy way to do business.

A neighbouring farmer needed one of our fields, and the deal was made. A field traded for Harry. Father admitted that even then Harry showed signs of the heaves. But Father, like me, had a great love of farm animals, so he took the old horse knowing he would be of little use. But he would be able to live out his years in comfort for the rest of his days.

A neighbour once said the Haneman farm had the biggest collection of misfit animals in all of Renfrew County. There was Harry with the heaves, an old sheep that long since stopped producing little ones and was too old for the smoke house, a chicken with absolutely not a feather on its body, which I loved dearly, and a gobbler that would take a bite out of you as quick as it would look at you.

But Harry was my favourite. My brothers thought it was crazy the way I fussed over the old horse. But then if I didn’t who would? Harry knew me too. When he could muster up the strength, he would let out a low whinny to greet me when I went in the barn. That was payment enough for me.

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