Jack and I slipped away to our shack in the Tennessee woods recently. This is the cabin that doesn’t have a clock or the Internet, so we enjoyed chilling out, and finally managed to get together with our nearest neighbors (a half-mile away) Jim and Patti.
The cabin dwellers back in these woods tend to maintain friendly distance from one another, but since Jack and I don’t live in ours year-round, Jim and Patti keep an eye on the place. We wanted to say thanks and have a nice social evening, so we walked up to their place Saturday afternoon and invited them for Sunday dinner: Jack’s famous-in-six-countries-outlawed-in-two veggie curry.
They arrived bearing a gift of traditional homemade Appalachian liquid craftsmanship in raspberry and butterscotch flavors, so we knew we were going to like them right away. (If that description is not clear, google “artisanal moonshine.”)
Jim and Patti’s land stretches down to the main road, more than a mile beyond their ridge-sitting home, and they keep horses in the flatter end of the pasture. That end borders a little white church that some locals attend, held in a building so old, it has separate doors for male and female entrants (no longer used). Last I knew, the congregation numbered about 15, twelve of whom shared the last name “Bledsoe.”
Jim and Pattie have a horse named “Nasty Jack,” a beautiful golden boy of sophisticated breeding–and perhaps behavior. The horse figured out that, come Sundays, yon big box with the pointy top filled with people. And people, of course, were the source of all good things: apples, marshmallows, carrots….
Nasty Jack positioned himself by the fence just outside the church window as the congregation–which does not use musical instruments–swung into a hymn. And he joined in. Matching rhythm with hoof stomps and key changes with creative snorting, Jack whinneyed along until the congregation wheezed to a halt, too breathless with laughter to sing. The pastor shook his head, and asked if anyone had brought “something suitable for a horse” to the weekly potluck. A few apples were produced, and a child dispatched to “keep that horse busy” until the requisite two hymns had been sung.
Next week, Jack did it again. The pastor dispatched a child with a handful of carrots from a veggie tray. At the luncheon, the pastor asked if people would bring a few horse treats for next week. “We’ll designate a horse feeder each week from the children.”
Cabin dwellers being fairly self-contained, the story took a couple of months to reach Jim and Patti. When it did, they were mortified.
“I called the pastor up and apologized, said I’d move Nasty Jack to the other side of the road before Sunday,” Jim said, his round blue eyes twinkling as Patti repressed a giggle. “And the pastor said, ‘No, please. Our congregation has practically doubled. Every child in the valley wants to be the horse feeder’.”
Balaam’s donkey has got nothing on Nasty Jack.