Margaret and Dick   

     

    
July 2015: The horse in the hood

I’m working on a few stories about our neighborhood. We may live in a town of 10,000 people, but we’re really not far removed from a village, as you will see.

There was a legendary horse that lived on our street until just before we moved here. I’m not including its name or the name of its owner, although both are the legendary around here, because I don’t want this story to show up in Google searches. (I’m giving a bit more detail than the approved version of the story, which is contained in the photo at the end of the page.)

Locals talk about the last draught horse to work Limoux, which is memorialized by a statue at the entrance of the city. It belonged to a Spaniard, equally ancient, who was the last vigneron (wine grower) to plow his vineyard and transport his grapes by horse. The horse knew the route from vineyard to winery to home, a talent that was useful when its master would fall asleep in the cart. Old age eventually forced the retirement of both, and the local community rallied to support the horse in a local horse park after the owner moved to the local retirement home. The horse died at age 34, in 1994, shortly after its owner.

When our neighborhood hosted a giant wine festival some ten years ago, the horse was held up as our local celebrity, and the photos at right were displayed proudly.

I tell you this story because the owner lived in squalor in the house next door to ours, a house that was still empty and dilapidated when we bought our home in 1997. The horse’s stable, just down the street, was also in severe disrepair but fortunately had been cleaned out before we started shopping for a house. Both the house and the stable have been converted to rentals, and it’s hard to remember the eyesores that were here not so long ago.

In our neighborhood it is the smell that is most frequently mentioned when the horse comes up for discussion. I polled some long-term residents for stories.

Human and horse were devoted to each other, but animal rights activists would not have been pleased. The straw in the stable was never changed; new straw was simply heaped on top. When the horse was moved to its retirement paradise in the country, it left behind a pile of manure three feet deep. People would hold their noses and scurry past the stable, but the owner, who never bathed or changed clothes, was unperturbed. When he would occasionally go to the hospital, the staff would peel off his clothing and clean up the person and his belongings, but the effects were short-lived.

“He always took his mother on a ride in the cart, every day. It’s a good thing he had a horse that walked slowly, otherwise she would have fallen off the back,” reports a neighborhood widow who has lived here since forever. “Il était gentil comme tout, mais …” (“He was such a nice man, but ...”), and she waved her hands to fill in the rest of the sentence.

I often think that Americans’ incivility and sense of isolation stem from our loss of what I call “the village”: a living situation where we are forced to live in close company and get along with neighbors whose choices don’t match our own. Despite the obvious drawbacks of having this eccentric pair on our street, neighbors tolerated them and remember them fondly – if always with the word “but…”. They are a very funky bit of the heritage of our neighborhood, er, village.

- MMG


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