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Robert L. Heichberger: Spring day on farm was full of surprises

It does not seem that long ago, but it happened when I was 6 years old. It was a beautiful spring day in early April. The sun rose that morning with a warm, beaming brilliance that only a day in spring could bring. The birds chirped their spring-like calls as they staked out their nesting territory.

I was a first-grader, and it was a Saturday. It was a great day to “help” Dad on the farm. And fence mending and spring plowing are, as he would say, two of the “first orders of business.” So my Dad, brother and I, along with our faithful team of farm horses, began the tasks for the day.

We hitched Babe and Jim to the wagon, and loaded new fence posts into it. Fence mending was an important springtime job. New honed fence posts were needed to replace the posts that had been broken by the heavy winter snows. I helped Dad by helping him hold onto the horse reins when driving through the fields.

Babe and Jim had been a part of the family for as long as I could remember. Occasionally, I would give them an extra measure of oats or, as a special treat, a cube of sugar – if no one was watching.

The morning hours went by quickly and soon it was noon, or as the farmers say, “dinner time.” Babe and Jim had their noontime meal while we had ours. After dinner, the afternoon chores began. That afternoon, Dad decided that the soil was just right for spring plowing. The team of horses was hitched to the single-bottom plow and the task began. There is nothing so fragrant as the aroma of newly turned spring soil.

It was a beautiful afternoon and I loved the spring breeze in the open meadow. I had always wanted to ride horseback and had often begged Dad to let me ride one of the horses. Only after my continued pleas did Dad finally consent to allow me to ride on the back of Babe “for just for a few minutes.”

I was so excited! Dad, somewhat reluctantly, placed me on Babe, bareback, and I hung on tightly to the hames on the horse collar. As the horses started walking, I could feel myself sliding from side to side on the back of the horse. Holding on quickly became too much. I knew I was slipping fast. Suddenly, I plunged head first to the ground between the two walking horses as the heavy iron plow was being pulled behind them.

Frantically, Dad brought the horses to an immediate halt. All I remember was looking up between two of the most gigantic horses ever. They appeared to be taller and more humongous in size than any skyscraper.

Almost instinctively, Babe and Jim knew that something had gone terribly wrong. They did not move a muscle. Even Babe kept her hind leg elevated, so as not come down on my arm and chest. Dad apprehensively but skillfully separated the team, unhitched the horses from the plow and led them carefully to each side.

The frightening ordeal was over. I was unscathed, except for the memory.

That evening, Babe and Jim received an extra measure of oats and dozens and dozens of pats of affection. By the way, no one ever knew, but each horse also received a special treat of three lumps of sugar.

You know, there are times in life that appear to be bigger than life. This event seems to be one of those times.

Robert L. Heichberger of Gowanda is professor emeritus at SUNY Frdonia and distinguished professor at Capella University.