My maternal grandfather was a guy who loved horses. He was sort of a Canadian cowboy. By the time I knew him, he had moved to Michigan but I know that in his younger days in Canada, he drove a racing sulky. When I was a little girl, my grandparents lived on 4 acres in the country and Pa (we always called him Pa and that ‘a’ is a short a as in pat) had two horses and often boarded horses for others.
Pa was called ‘Slim’ by his friends. He worked for Michigan Bell Telephone for many years, as did my Dad and my brother. But his real passions were horses and his collection of horse bits.
There he is, in the basement, where his collection was on display. He was well known in that particular collecting niche, corresponding with collectors all from all over the world. Most of the bits were silver in color and he had a story to tell about each one. But I was a girl who liked color. And I was very intrigued by a gorgeous red bit that stood out in that sea of silver. After all, I was a girl who would take home only books with red covers from our neighborhood bookmobile.
Well, the years took their toll on Pa. His legs bothered him. He developed emphysema. He couldn’t take care of the horses the way he used to. Eventually, he sold the horses and the property and he and Grandma moved into a smallish town. I never thought about it at the time, but how hard it must have been for him to give all that up. He donated the bit collection to the local museum. Years later, after Pa died, the museum gave the collection back to my brother.
After my brother died, his girlfriend and I were talking about the bits, which were about to be sold to a collector. I told her how much I had loved that red bit, how I had stared at it as a child, how it seemed to be the prettiest horse bit I could ever imagine seeing anywhere. She gave me a conspiratorial wink, pulled the bit out of the collection, and gave it to me before it could be shipped off to the new owner.
Isn’t it pretty?
After all these years, I haven’t found the perfect place for it. It moves around. Just now, I tucked it into my white wicker florist basket and I think it will stay there for a while.
My grandfather was a man of few words but he was a great storyteller, played a mean game of solitaire, rolled his own cigarettes, wore Stetsons and bolo ties, and had the best laugh I have ever heard. Truly. I can still hear it after all these years without him. Big and hearty and uninhibited and infectious.
When I look at that red bit, I remember Pa and my brother and riding horses like beautiful Dixie or King, the pony who was blind in one eye. I’m glad I have this tiny part of his collection.