Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jack and Jenny

I remember when I was growing up on the farm that we had two old donkey’s, a jack and a jenny, which we gave the ever-original donkey names of Jack and Jenny. We only used them to plow up the garden in the springtime so most of the time they pretty much just wandered about the farm whenever and wherever they pleased. I remember they were inseparable, and they would stand for hours along the fence line out by the house and just nuzzle one another. Being meaner than a striped-eyed snake, I’d sometimes get so annoyed by them that I'd sneak away from everyone and throw rocks at Jack and Jenny just to get them to move. They’d just look at me with those big ol' sad donkey eyes and walk off to a more secluded location where they’d again nuzzle each other.

Cows on the farm.

Nobody ever knew where Jack and Jenny came from, they were on the farm when we moved there several years before. Mom and Dad asked the man who owned the farm about to how old Jack and Jenny were, and he said he didn’t know. He said he was 45 years old and from the time he was a kid, he always remembered Jack and Jenny being there. I also remember in the building out from the house, near where we had a doghouse for our Saint Bernard named Tuffy, there was hanging on the wall two old leather harnesses. The leather was cracked and the metal tarnished but I recall that someone, probably my granddad, decided to oil up the leather and clean up the tarnished metal so we could use the harnesses on Jack and Jenny. Well, when they were cleaned up, the metal turned out to be brass and boy did those harnesses ever shine. Even I realized just how pretty Jack and Jenny were in those harnesses, to me they seemed to step a little higher and seem a bit more regal whenever they wore them.

The building where the harnesses were found was near here.

But like I said, Jack and Jenny led a pretty good life on the farm, but Lord could they ever get on your nerves with the incessant nuzzling of each other. It was day in and day out, every time you'd see them, they’d just be standing around nuzzling each other. I remember complaining about them to my Granddad, and he would just tell me, “They’re old. It’s hard to tell how long they’ve been here. Just let 'em be.” They weren’t any fun to aggravate anyway so aside from the occasional thrown rock, I typically ignored them. That is until the one day when we found Jenny laying dead in the road. Jack was standing beside of her and was nuzzling her.

Well as you might imagine, moving a dead donkey is a chore. Whenever a large animal would die on the farm, we’d get the tractor and using a chain, we’d drag the carcass back into the woods to an out of the way location where the foxes and possums and buzzards would clean it up. We never buried the large animals, probably because have you ever tried to bury a cow or a donkey? But it just so happened that the part of the road that Jenny died in was in part of the road that we couldn’t get around with the tractor. And to get to the place back in the woods where we dragged the dead carcasses to, we had to go down this road. But it was blocked. The road was narrow there, and one side dropped into the holler and the other side was a steep hillside so there was no way to get around it. My granddad thought he could drive the tractor over Jenny but us kids wouldn’t hear of that, so he had to drive the tractor all the way to the other end of the farm, then down the main road to the gate at the end of the farm road that led up into our farm…and back to the spot the road where Jenny lay dead. It was about a 4 mile trip to go around the farm just to return back to nearly the exact same spot that you had just left.

The old farm road.

But that done, a chain was quickly hooked to Jenny’s carcass and it was dragged back into the far corner of the farm woods. Jack closely followed along behind, head hanging low the whole time. Of course, we felt sorry for the old feller, but to us kids, this was prime entertainment so we followed along behind Jack and the tractor and thus became a makeshift funeral procession for a dead donkey.

After reaching a secluded spot back in the wood to leave the carcass, it was quickly unchained and left there. A few of the kids jumped on the tractor for the return trip, and the rest of us walked back. But everyone noticed that Jack was not accompanying us back home, he just remained there beside of Jenny’s carcass, nuzzling her.

The far corner of the farm woods.

The next morning, Jack didn’t show up for his morning bucket of oats, so we all figured he was still back in the woods with Jenny’s carcass. Mom told us to take the bucket of oats back to him and let him eat, and she told us to get a halter and lead him up to the pond for a drink of water. She reminded us to be gentle with Jack because as she put it "ol’ Jack is probably going to worry hisself to death." Well, us kids took off up through the meadow by the house, which was a shortcut to the far corner of the farm woods, and we made our way back to the spot where we figured Jack would be. Sure enough, we found him standing there beside of Jenny’s now bloating carcass, still nuzzling her to get up. We hollered for Jack to come and eat, and we waved the bucket of oats in the air for him to see. Jack turned to look at us, and even took a couple of steps toward us, but then he turned back to Jenny’s carcass, nuzzled her, and then just collapsed. We then took off running to him, hollering like a pack of banshee’s, but as we found out when we reached him, Jack was dead.

The old farmhouse.

We ran home and told Mom what had happened, and she didn’t really believe us, I reckon she figured that Jack probably just fell over from exhaustion or something. But she and Granddad got in the truck and drove back to the far corner of the farm woods, where she discovered that Jack was indeed dead, and he had fell right beside of Jenny. Mom was quick to point out to everyone how Jack and Jenny’s muzzles were touching. Mom stated matter-of-factly that Jack had grieved himself to death, and she commented that old people are like that too. She told us that when an old man or an old woman dies after they have been married for a long time, the other one would soon follow them to the grave. She continued with how it just seemed like old people can’t get along without each other, and that they seem to lose their will to live. Then she looked back at Jack and Jenny and sadly said, “Jack just didn't want to live without Jenny. Well anyway, they are better off now.”


Vera said...

Matthew, I hope you didn't make this story up,(just kidding) because I really felt sad for Jack and Jenny
I always love your stories, true or not.

Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

That's one of your best ones yet, Matthew. I believe Jack grieved himself plumb too death. It is a touching love story. Who says animals can't love one another?

Angela said...

What a touching story about Jack and Jenny. We had a dog that died unexpectedly and our other dog was in the front yard throwing up it upset her so much. Animals do have feelings. I am a firm believer of that.

You sure did grow up on a gorgeous, breathtakingly beautiful farm! I'm a city girl who loves living on our farm.

I absolutly love the Canaan Valley area! I'm getting ready for another short trip there soon!

Will you let me know if there is any property for sale in that area that you know about that isn't an arm and a leg? The Timberline area is just way over priced. I don't know how anyone affords to buy one of those homes!

Nance said...

Matthew didn't make that story up. No way. I believe the story . . . and I'm not changing my mind!

My dad pointed out a news story when he was about 85 years old. A man and wife of 60+ years died on the same day. "That is the way it should be," he said.

Sadly, it didn't work that way for my parents. It would have been better, if it had. Dad died about 10 years ago and Mom is in the nursing home, since, with alzheimers. Too bad she didn't go with Dad.

Katidids said...

Beautiful story! I love the plain way you write. I've been following for a while just havn't spoken up. I loved in Sugar Grove WVa for a few yrs, Lived "back yonder" in a farmhouse very much like the one in your was so simple

Matthew Burns said...

Glad you all like the story. I have a whole sackful of stories just like it so stay tuned. I hope to be able to write 'em all down at some point and share 'em with y'all.

Angela--Many of my ancestors lived in and around the Canaan Valley area, so I know it fairly well. Of course, where I am from in Pendleton County is just right over the mountain. I'll let you know if I see anything for sale in the affordable range. Not too likely, land seems to be going for outrageous prices these days, especially since folks from the DC area have been coming in and buying 2nd homes. It makes it almost impossible for a farmer to make a living these days on this beautiful farmland. Every once in a while I heard about some good deals, they just don't last. A place for sale right now is the Old Mill in Harman. I'd love to have that place, it ain't cheap but if you wanted a money maker, I don't believe you could go wrong with that place. A word of advice, look around the Red Creek area of Tucker County, there is still some afffordable land...good land that area. It's about 5 or so miles from Canaan.

Katidids-Welcome to the blog. I hope you will continue to comment on future (and past) posts. Sugar Grove is on the other side of the county from where I am from, but I have some ancestors that lived over that way. There's lots of German influences over there in the culture and architecture. I hope you stick around awhile and share some of your stories with us.


Matthew Burns said...

Also, I need to add: Thanks for the kind words Vera, Nance, Shirley and other loyal followers of this blog. You all are the best readers that I could ever hope to have. Your kind words inspire me to continue to write, and without you all I probably wouldn't have the impetus to take a few minutes to sit down and get to business. Once I get started, the words just seem to flow as if out of a wide-mouthed mason jar, it's just taking time to get started is what I need help with. Sometimes it just takes knowing that you all are waiting for my next post that lights a fire under me and gets me to formulating ideas. You all are the best!

Farm Girl said...

Count me in too! I watch and wait for the next one!

Loved the story too.

Granny Sue said...

Wonderful story, Matthew. Poor old mule. You can feel his grieving. Our dogs are like that--when one passes on, the others will hang around where we buried it for a while. It's sad to see.

limpingalong said...

Loved the story about the old couple -- thank you for sharing it with us!

Keith said...

I've been pretty busy and got behind in my reading. I really enjoyed the story.