Pico, a Christmas Story
I was a twin and to this day I will answer to John just as fast as I answer to Jim or James when I am called. I didn’t care then and I don’t care now if someone confuses me with my brother. My brother died in 1994 at age 50. In our first 18 years of life we were inseparable and learned many of life’s lessons together. I feel those lessons made more of an impression on me because of our relationship. If I couldn’t think of a way to get into trouble, John could. We both paid the price for misdeeds even if I had nothing to do with it. I relearned many lessons twice, even though I had learned the outcome of a particular stunt the first time – I learned it again.
We grew up in the farming community of Driggs, Idaho, on the west side of the Teton Peaks. My father was the town’s only physician. The hospital Dad worked in was made by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the depression. In the 1950’s one doctor in a small town did everything from fixing ingrown toenails to delivering babies. I remember Dad taking me to a farm to help a bloated cow that needed to be stuck. This sticking process meant you stabbed a knife into the proper stomach area of the cow to let out the excess gas. If this wasn’t done soon the cow would die. The cow was lying on the wrong side for us to stick in the right place – so Dad stuck it where we could. Cow guts came flying out all over the place. They looked like giant wet slinkies. We tucked the one or two yards of tubing back in the cow and sewed her up. The cow lasted only a few more hours. My Dad told me that we had done our best, not everything will turn out the way you want, but you will have no regrets if you have done the best you can.
My Dad was often paid for medical services with sacks of potatoes, wrapped and frozen chickens, butchered beef, and eggs from the farmers he help. To this day, I don’t know if Pico was a payment for services rendered or Dad bought her outright. Pico was a coal black three year old registered Morgan mare. She came to our family on Christmas morning when I was about 11 or 12 years old. My brothers (now four in all) woke up Christmas morning to the smell of leather and we loved it. A saddle was under the tree, so we rode it for the longest time. We took turns holding the rains of the bridle, also found under the tree, and pretended we were riding a gallant steed in the mountains. My parents finally got tired of watching us play with only part of the Christmas surprise. So my Mother said “Kids, what do you think goes with a bridle, a leather saddle and a horse blanket? I hate to admit this but it still took some time for us to realize there was probably a horse involved.
In Christmases past our parents hid our presents in the basement. I am sure they thought we had no idea where they were. Years later we confessed to the fact that we became expert gift re-wrappers by opening and closing the secret gifts hidden in the basement. However, on this occasion we gave ourselves away because we instinctively headed down the stairs to the basement to look for the hidden horse. I know I was in the lead for this stupid move because I had to wait for everyone to turn around and go back up the stairs when we realized a big horse would not fit down the narrow stairway. We paused only a moment to gather our thoughts and then someone suggested the garage. I think it was Mom. Sure enough we startled the black horse when we burst through the door. We found the light switch and saw the most beautiful horse we had ever seen. Dad told us her name was Pico and that she had a true blood line. She had been trained by the best trainer in the area. We weren’t sure what Dad was talking about but we didn’t leave Pico’s side for the next week. We did sleep in our own beds at night, but we didn’t like it. School started way too soon and it lasted all day which was much longer that it did before the Christmas vacation.
We were all given instruction for the care and feeding of Pico, it was especially John and my responsibility to oversee the process. We were to make sure fresh water was available three or four times a day. We were to give her a half bale of hay morning and night. We were to see that she had access to the barn in our back yard. This barn acted as a wind breaker and would allow a horse to withstand very cold weather. We learned much about horses and grew to love horses. We went everywhere, the mountains, overnight trail riding, camping, Skyline trail rides to Alaska basin, devil’s staircase, and tabletop. What a childhood with a pretty black show horse like a Morgan. We were in posies and 4th of July parades for years while we grew up learning to care for something other than ourselves.
What we didn’t know that Christmas was my parents had decided it was time for John and me to grow up and take more responsibility for things. Our care-free lucky- go- lightly attitude was worrisome to Mom and Dad. Much later in my life Dad told me that Pico had made a difference in our attitude and respect for others. I remember him telling me that Pico had not been fed for two days and she was twisting the cap off the water faucet by the fence to get water. I felt very bad and vowed never to let that happen again.
Pets can be a secret force for good by teaching young foolish children responsibility and love for something outside of themselves. I admit I cared for that horse more than anything else. That black mare taught me basic lessons of life, accountability and respect for all things. I guess Dad and Mom knew what they were doing when they introduced Pico into my life. It will forever be one of the best Christmases I have ever known.