Please welcome the Farnival’s newest contributor: Honora Gabriel. After reading Honora’s story about Big Jim, I wrote to her: “I’m bawling my eyes out. You didn’t warn me. Beautiful.”
So consider yourself warned. This story is a tearjerker, but it’s also a heart-warming tale about a daughter and her dad. Enjoy.
Sitting at the kitchen table, looking through the big glass window, I saw that four inches of snow had fallen, and it still fell, fluffy and crisp, landing lightly on the big pine tree sitting alongside the driveway. It was January and I was home at the farm in New York, visiting my parents.
Reminiscing about climbing in the big pine tree as a child, I thought about how much time my brother, sisters, and I had spent playing outside in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. During summer, we would catch frogs around the pond and build tree forts in the woods. In the wintertime, would play in a barn built in 1900, searching for treasures.
Through the windowpane, I watched a few of the animals that my dad has rescued over the past few years wandering around the snow-covered pastures. As he gets closer to retirement, he’s developed this hobby and now he has a herd of various animals – cute brown and white goats, a five horned sheep, big round pigs, enormous Dutch belted cows, ducks, chickens, cats and horses, all have names and quirky stories that he loves sharing.
Each time I visit my parents, I go with my dad during the evening feedings, and this last visit was no different. I anxiously anticipate these feedings, one of the rare times when I really get a glimpse into my dad. With the single-digit temperatures, I bundled up in a scarf, gloves, hat, heavy coat and boots. As we did our rounds, my dad gave each animal fresh water, hay, straw for their beds and, of course, a treat. My dad made sure every animal got a daily treat.
The wind whipped the snow across the pasture, almost dancing in the night sky. As it lashed across my face, I remembered the brutal coldness of winters in upstate New York. I pulled my legs through the snow, one step at a time, trying to keep up with my dad when he said we needed to check on Big Jim.
Big Jim is a two thousand pound Belgian horse that my dad welcomed onto his farm when the horse had nowhere else to go. At his tallest point Big Jim stands seven feet tall with a creamy coat and a dark brown mane. About five years ago northern New York had major flooding, and the floods destroyed Big Jim’s farm. After speaking to his owner, my father welcomed Big Jim to our home. Although Big Jim stood tall, he was very skittish. He had once been a proud racehorse but at the end of his career he’d been abused.
The big Belgian horse was inside the barn. My dad shone the flashlight over Big Jim, stopping the glowing beam on his leg. Blood stained the fur of his lower leg, leading up his hindquarter, then to a gash in his groin, where something that looked like a bloody icicle hung out of his stomach.
Big Jim had always liked to rub his body on the fence post; sometimes he’d even rub it on the big blue Ford tractor tire. That afternoon when Big Jim was rubbing himself, he must have slipped and a post jabbed into his groin area, leaving a very deep gash. We called the vet.
Dr. Joe and his assistant Mike arrived in their traveling veterinary truck. They got out of the truck wearing headlamps. The doctor explained that the gash had cut a vein and it hung loose, leaving a nerve exposed. We led Big Jim to the front of the barn, where we’d have cover from the biting wind, and it was a struggle getting the two thousand pound horse to move. While I carried the warm water, rags and treats, the three men moved Big Jim almost fifty yards, the once statuesque horse dragging his back right leg.
My dad went to get blankets. I looked at Dr. Joe and he looked back at me with a warm smile.
“This sounds pretty rough,” I said.
“With the cold temperatures the skin has already started to die – it’s black, and we’ll have to see if he can even use the leg again based on the nerve being damaged. When I put the warm water on the vein it’s going to start gushing,” he answered.
Tears welled, then fell down my cheek.“If we need to think about other options, you need to tell him. He will want to do the most humane thing,” I said.
When my dad returned, Dr. Joe said, “Dan, we need to talk.”
After a brief minute discussing the only real humane option, my dad said, “Big Jim, you enjoyed your treats here. You had a good life here.”
A second later, Dooley, the big Dutch belted cow, and Cowboy, Big Jim’s companion for many years, started making loud noises.
When Dr. Joe administered the tranquilizer, the two thousand pound horse dropped. Kneeling beside him, I rubbed Big Jim’s face, trying to make him feel peaceful during his last moments. Dr. Joe injected the lethal dose. We soothed Big Jim until his final breath, and then we closed his eyes.
My dad draped a ginormous blanket over Big Jim and said something to him – something that I’ll never know but I can imagine.
As my dad and I walked back to the place where Big Jim was originally standing, he thanked me for being there. Tears started flowing down my cheeks again.
Ultimately, I knew I was crying because of how much Big Jim meant to my dad, how much all the animals he rescues mean to him. At that moment, standing on the farm on a biting cold winter night, I realized how thankful I am for my dad. I love animals the way I do because of him.