Almost all of Abe’s diary entries are terse, impassive, descriptive statements: “did this,” “did that,” “so-and-so visited,” etc. From time to time, though, his humanity shines through, no more so than when he is writing about certain of the farm animals.
Jack the dog
Every farm has at least one dog. They are as likely to be a mutt of uncertain and unknown parentage as they are a pedigreed purebred. They are companion and work dog combined. They guard the yard and house, herd cattle, and catch rodents. They chase cars and get into scraps with skunks and badgers. They follow you in the yard and in the field, play catch, and plop down beside you when you pause to rest. They nudge you with their muzzle when you need cheering up, listen attentively to everything you say, and demand nothing more than a scratch behind the ears or a pat on the head. They eat table scraps, chew up old bones and dig holes to bury their “treasures.” They howl at the moon and bark in response to other dogs’ barking. They live outside; they sleep in the barn when it’s cold or, if they’re lucky, on an old mat in a dog house. Some die of old age, some meet tragic ends. When they die, we mourn the passing of a dear friend.
Dogs appear in only a few of Abe and Addie’s photos, and only dog – Jack – warrants an entry in Abe’s diaries. In 1926, while chasing a rabbit, Jack collided with the binder that was cutting corn and was fatally injured. Abe wrote, “he was 9 years old and the best dog we ever had.” He must have been an exceptional dog for Abe to write that.
Horses, like farm dogs, were work animals. In Abe and Addie’s time, they were essential as all machinery was horse-drawn. They pulled seeders, ploughs, harrows, cultivators, binders, wagons, stone boats, buggies and sleighs. Horses were more than mere work animals. Like dogs, they were also loved. Because horse and farmer worked together every day, the bond between them was very close.
Horses are intelligent; they know who treats them well and who doesn’t. If you treat them well, they will do anything for you. They sense your mood; they know if you are in trouble or sad or worried. They have personalities as diverse as humans, some steady and dependable, others skittish and volatile.
Abe’s horses were Percherons, a large draft horse known for its strength and its even-tempered personality. He made numerous entries over the years describing his horses’ health, the birth of foals, their ailments and his doctoring. Numerous times, he called on Dr. Houze, the vet, to tend to his horses. He was particularly distressed during the Dirty Thirties when poor feed led to his horses being in poor condition.
A few unusual entries – unusual because they show Abe’s emotion – show the extent of his love for them when his aged horses died. He obviously valued them and their work, and missed them once they were gone.
Darkey had been sick for several days in 1934. Giving him a does of aloes and Medical Wonder did not improve his condition. Abe wrote the next day: “we led him out to pasture where I used a shotgun to end his suffering. Darkey had been purchased in Ontario in Winter 1914 and was one of our very best horses during the time since that date. Was past 24 yrs and still going strong.”
In 1936, he lost Daisy, a mare who was 22 years old: “Shot owing to old age and not being able to eat grass or fodder. She was in good condition otherwise and had been one of our best work horses since March 1918.”
In 1934, Buster died of unspecified causes, “who to our knowledge never had been sick but who had been very slowly failing in flesh and strength since about July 15th. Was not able to rise in am.” Buster was found dead in his stall the next morning.
Even after Abe bought a tractor, a car and a combine, he still used his beloved horses. They were members of the family and were not to be discarded any more than one could discard a son, a daughter or a sibling.
The last horse on the Hanna farm died of old age about 1949. By then, the farm was fully mechanized. Horses were not needed any longer. Thus ended an era.
Read about the adventures Abe and Addie had with some of their livestock, especially the notorious Blacky, in Chapter 22 of “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead.
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