The Farm Chronicles: Of freezing and firewater

It was a cold Ohio winter late afternoon with the wind whistling through the woods bringing with it below zero gusts that would take your breath away. We would joke that it was so cold that the words coming out of our mouths would freeze, fall to the ground and break into pieces. Dad decided to put the livestock in early that day. Even so the clouds in the sky and the cold in the air made it seem a lot later than it was. This was a winter in the tip of Ohio’s snow belt in about 1969. Even though it was cold in the barn, it was a lot warmer than outside. With the cows in and the horses filing into their respective stalls, the barn was warming up. The munching on the grain and hay was like music accompanying the wind outside.

But there was a pair missing. A mare and her foal, which was nearing a year old. Their stalls were empty and all the other horses were in the barn. By now, it’s starting to get dark out, and that wind and cold were not letting up a bit. Dad and I went out the door and started trudging through the snow to look for them. We saw the mare standing at the far side of the deep end of the pond. Looking a little closer, there was a horse’s head bobbing up and down in the pond. The pond had frozen over and apparently the young filly had wandered out on the ice, thinking she could walk across it as a short cut to the barn. She had fallen through the ice. The mother was whinnying and trying to call her back, but she couldn’t turn around in the frozen ice.

Dad had me run back to the barn to get a rope. While she was struggling in the ice cold water, Dad through the rope around her neck and tried to pull her toward the shallow end, hoping she would chop the ice with her feet. But she didn’t. Her systems were shutting down. She didn’t have much fight left in her. I got the idea that since I was lighter, I could go out to her and try to get her moving. So I walked out on the ice. With the sound of that awful noise of ice parting with itself, giving in to the water below, I broke through and was over waist deep in the freezing water. I grabbed the rope and chopped the ice as I led her out of the pond. Dad quickly took the rope and trotted her through the snow to the barn, leaving me behind to navigate about two feet of snow and a 100 yards in the freezing wind, soaking wet.

The soaking wet part turned to ice pretty quickly, with my jeans freezing stiff as I hobbled through the snow back to the barn. Dad had me go in and change and bring back the bottle of Jack Daniels we kept in the kitchen cupboard for “medicinal” purposes. We kept forcing the whisky into the filly and walking her—a horse’s circulation comes from the movement of their feet. She was warmed up with the whisky and blankets, and we walked her for hours. She survived and went on to be a champion when she grew up. As is written in James 3:3, “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.” And sometimes it takes a boy falling in the ice and a little firewater, too.

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Bill Wilson