When I first saw Cupcake on May 11, 1981, she was curled up in a stall at Red Lake Stable in Roanoke County.
I boarded my quarter horse Blackie there. Along with a crowd of other boarders, I saw Cupcake take her first step. She wasn't mine then, but I bought her when she was six months old. I thought I'd see her take her last step, too, but I didn't.
She'd been going downhill for the last few weeks. Every time I thought the worst would happen, she'd improve for a while. But, finally, the worst happened.
Friday evening, she wouldn't get up to eat her dinner at the regular time. Later Friday night, I went out to check on her and she was up, so I fed her. Saturday morning, I left before dawn to attend the Virginia Writers Club symposium in Charlottesville. My husband was in charge of feeding the critters. When I called him, he said Cupcake was up and had eaten her breakfast. Later she was standing in front of the fan.
In 1994, I wrote a short story, "Last Wish," that ended with an old horse's death. Later that story became the first chapter of my self-published book, Patches on the Same Quilt. Although that story takes place in the 1880s, parts of it happened yesterday. Here's the end of "Last Wish" as the young boy John Forbes Webster and his grand-father's hired man, Uncle Henry bury the mare Old Molly:
That’s how it was the first Saturday in April when I went to the pasture. I was not surprised to see Old Molly lying down in a sunny spot. . . . I knew then, as I approached, that Old Molly was dead. When I touched her, I could feel the warmth leaving her body.
It took Uncle Henry and me most of the morning to dig her grave. Even though Old Molly was little more than skin and bones, it was all the two of us could do to drag her over and push her body into the hole. I picked up my shovel, ready to cover her, and stopped to lean on it a minute to rest. Uncle Henry sat down on a rock and wiped his face with his handkerchief. I saw [Old Molly's foal] over in the next field. She grazed as if nothing had happened. I stood still and watched her. . . . Uncle Henry stood up and mopped his face again. Was it sweat or tears he wiped away? I couldn’t tell. I scooped up a shovelful of dirt and started covering Old Molly. When it was done, I patted the dirt down with the back of the shovel. “Seems like we ought to say a few words over her,” said Uncle Henry, who had been quiet all through the burying.
I nodded and thought for a minute. “She served me well,” I said.
On the first Saturday in August, I went to the run-in shed to do the evening feeding. I was not surprised to see Cupcake in her stall. But she wasn't lying flat the way she usually did. She was curled up in the corner against the far wall, in a semi-sitting position. Her head was bowed. She looked like she was sleeping peacefully, but she didn't awake when I called her name. I knew then that Cupcake was dead. When I touched her, I could feel the warmth leaving her body.
By the time I went to the house and came back with John, she was cold. We covered her with a blanket and closed her stall door.
On Sunday morning, Melody was in front of Cupcake's stall. After breakfast, she usually waits there for Cupcake. She must have wondered why I didn't open the gate.
Because Troy Newcomb, who lives close by, was coming to dig the grave, I called Melody to follow me to the front pasture.
Troy soon arrived, unloaded his equipment, and started digging. In the adjoining field, Melody was a little excited to see the heavy equipment come up the hill, but she soon went back to grazing.
Labels: rural life