One of my favorite bloggers, hensteeth, had a post recently about the smells of different kinds of food and the memories they invoke. (Be sure to read through the other posts on her blog – she writes so well and comes up with unusual topics.)
This made me think of one of my favorite smells, which is not related to food. I love the smell of a horse barn – the combination of straw, horses, dust, even a little manure.
My father spent his childhood in various horse barns since his father was a blacksmith and made part of his living traveling to county fairs to shoe the harness horses that were there for the races. This is a ca. 1914 picture of my grandfather and my father in the doorway of their horse shoeing shop.
My father had been one of the youngest harness horse drivers in the area but gave up working with horses when he married and had two daughters to support. Of course, we always went to the county fairs and spent most of our day hanging around the horse barns, talking to the owners, trainers and drivers. One of my earliest memories is sitting on a big trunk in a barn, collecting pennies from the horsemen for singing, “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”. I loved listening to the conversation as I took in the ambience of the dusty barn with the plaid blankets hanging on the wall, the sharp smell of the Absorbine used on the sore muscles of the animals, and the horses snorting, neighing and kicking their stall doors.
When I was very young, people would ask me what I was going to do when I grew up. I always said I was going to get a job and help Daddy buy a horse. Within months after graduation and getting my first job @ $30.00/week, my father told me he had a horse in mind and was ready for my contribution. This is one of our early horses winning a race in 1955. I made the jacket and cap my father is wearing.
I owned shares of my father’s horses off and on for many years until he was better established and my own expenses with four children didn’t leave enough to support a horse. My father continued to be a top driver/trainer in the southwestern Ohio area. In 1978, at age 66, he was driving a horse called Peter Horn at a track in northern Kentucky. After finishing second in a photo finish, he died of a heart attack. Our family said they knew if he died on a track, he died happy except that he would have wanted to be the winner. This is a winning photo of my father and Peter Horn in 1975.
A few days after his death, I was at work when I suddenly got a whiff of a familiar smell – straw, horse, barn, tobacco – the unforgettable essence of my father in his plaid shirt and twill pants. I turned around quickly, wondering who had come into the office directly from a horse barn and, of course, no one was there. Or maybe someone had been there and walked briskly off, as he always did – always in a hurry to get to some horse or some fairgrounds or some barn.