A to Z Blogging Challenge · family

Long in the Tooth

I’ve occasionally wondered what was in the guy’s trailer by the time he got home.

He started off with an empty trailer and some debts he needed to collect.

At the first stop, he got a dirt bike because the guy didn’t have any money to pay him.

At the next, he traded the dirt bike for a horse.

When he arrived at our house, it wasn’t to collect a debt, it was to look at a pregnant heifer that my dad had advertised in the Pennysaver (<— Craig’s List of 1970). To make the story of the pregnant cow short and tasteful, my brother had been given a Holstein calf which we named Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine.

Peter and the calf, named Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine, with Shetland pony, Rosie, in the background
Peter and Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine, with Shetland pony, Rosie, in the background

It grew up.

Clearly we were not sure what to do with a calf.
Clearly we were not sure what to do with a calf.

The dairy farm next door had a bull instead of an artificial inseminator. The bull and the heifer had a surreptitious rendezvous, and voila.

So the guy showed up with a horse in his trailer. He left with Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine (in the family way) in it instead.


Peter got the short end of that trade. He lost his cow and I got a horse, a large Palomino named Goldie. (I think, at the time, we also had a cat named Gray Kitty and another named Black Kitty. I would say that we weren’t skilled in naming animals, but I’m not sure if a cow named Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine makes my point or disproves it.)

Goldie was large and docile. I usually rode her bareback because getting a saddle on her and then getting the girth tight enough so that it didn’t slip was beyond my strength. Sometimes I didn’t even put the bridle on but just looped a rope around her halter. She was so patient with me.

I never knew how old she was. I asked my father, but he didn’t know. He also told me, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” and I had to look up the meaning of that saying. It turns out that a horse’s age can be determined by their teeth.

I also learned the saying, “Long in the tooth,” because a horse’s gums recede as they get older so their teeth appear longer.

Goldie was not long in the tooth when we got her. She was young and healthy and brought me great joy. When I grew too busy with school activities, she went on to bring another family great joy.

My mother was long-in-the-tooth by the time she died. Not literally.

But she was 87.

I’ll never forget the young doctor meeting with us and beginning with the words, “Mom is very sick.”

Here she paused and looked slowly around the room at the gathered family members. She wanted her words to sink in.

“And she has been sick for quite a while,” she continued.

She boldly laid all the cards on the table, face up, so we could all see the hand that had been dealt.

Long in the tooth, when it comes to elderly dementia, means a deteriorating brain.

She wasn’t just losing memory. She was losing the capacity to live.

Hours. We spent hours talking about my mother’s condition. I grew longer in the tooth in those few hours than I had in my whole life.

Weight piled upon weight piled upon weight.

I felt that I would never be able to stand under all of it.

When the meeting was over, we had acknowledged a trade.

Not a horse for a cow, but a new existence by letting go of this old one.

When we got home, my sister found the health directive my mother had written years before. We had followed my mother’s wishes, and that brought peace.

In trading, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I think both happened that day.

7 thoughts on “Long in the Tooth

  1. What a moving story. I love the picture of you on the horse and now I know what Long in the tooth means. I can also relate to the struggle and sorrow of losing our loved ones. Many blessings to you.

  2. Aww your post really moved me many times. I love the pics of the cow and calf and then the horse. You just never know the direction life will take you. Your mom had a good run, we should all be lucky enough to see 87, but to see 87 being in full mind would be even better. It’s too bad life doesn’t come with a guarantee. Thankfully your mom had thought ahead and had her end of life desires in ink.

    You are a wordsmith, as sad as this post is/was, I’m amazed. I’m surprised I don’t feel sad, instead, I feel inspired. My kids have had similar experiences, all of our steers have been named “Coaly”, which is what all my husband’s childhood steers were also named. Our steers weren’t traded though, they went into our freezer and then skillet.

    I hope when my own four kids reflect on their own childhoods they can come up with memories as touching as this.

    Shelly @ http://hangryfork.com

    1. Thanks for all your kind words.

      The summer after I got the horse, my brother got a second calf, a Black Angus, that was intended for the freezer. I don’t remember us naming it though.

  3. I’m glad you had some measure of peace, at least. In the face of an awful and heart-rending situation, you have the knowledge of knowing you did the right and best thing.

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