Thursday, April 30, 2020


Come spring, the blacksmith would arrive for his annual reshodding and pedicures the horses needed after a winter indoors and sheltered. He was all the things I thought then and think now a blacksmith should be ... a leather apron sheltering a beer bulge and a cool calmness that the horses, one by one, seemed to sense and appreciate.

The blacksmith moved with the smooth ease of a great dancer around his clients. Sometimes it was to repair and sometimes to replace. He had a small forge in which to heat the shoes, shape them. Red-hot flecks of metal would emerge from beneath his practiced hammer. He clipped the detritus away, clipped the nails that held the shoes in place, made horseshoe nail rings for the kids like me who stopped to watch, and, in slack moments, would join the small gathering of those who wished to challenge the smith in a spitting contest against the back of the barn. And that man could spit.

It always marveled me how easy the blacksmith was around the horses. He seemed to trust them and and they seemed to trust him. I never trusted a horse. Here was an animal two to three times larger than I was in the 4th, 5th and sixth grade, a creature that could knock me on my ass without thinking twice ... and I'm supposed to believe this animal won't get it into his or her mind to kick my butt? Trust a horse? You must be out of your mind. Not so for the blacksmith in his well-worn apron and first-class spitting apparatus.

How fortunate I was to go to a school that had farm animals to tend to. Plucking chickens was the worst of the chores ... a great vat of boiling paraffin and water in which to dip the deceased-- you didn't have to kill the chicken if you didn't want to, but sure as shit you got to pluck it, separate out the gizzard and heart and pluck ... gawd! the plucking seemed endless. This chicken would end up on the supper table, much like the venison or rabbit or whatever local beast entered the sights of the hunt-prone teachers. Venison was not some pansy French specialty ... it was food... period.

There was organic eating at North Country School. This was before the la-la land of "organic" eating. After plucking a chicken, weeding got high marks in my books for the suck-y-est chores.

No one thought much about any of this. It's just what everyone did when it was time to do it. But it gave good lessons to those who might look down on those who broke their backs with farming. You can take your snooty nose and stick it up your ass. This is work, by God, and it doesn't matter who does it or what language they speak.

And the strange part, or one of them, anyway, was the the fifty or so students at the school, most if not all of them were the offspring of the well-known and well-heeled. For a while in there between the 4th and the 8th grade, Krov Menhuin was my best friend, not because he was violinist Yehudi Menhuin's son ... I just liked him. So his father played the violin ... so what? And Peter Brooks invited me to his house during school vacation and I found myself seated next to Helen Keller ... what the hell does a kid say to a crippled person?

A shrink would later say to me that North Country School, "saved your ass." And I suppose it was true. Take away the panoramas of entitlement and plucking a chicken or weeding a garden is still pretty damned hard work.

I'm still practicing my spitting.

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