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Jerry W. Engler

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Books by Jerry W. Engler
Harlan Medlam milks a mudhole
By Jerry W. Engler
Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Last edited: Wednesday, May 21, 2008
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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This is a colorful piece of man and horse coming to the rescue, with Harlan Medlam, as usual, figuring how to turn it to his advantage.

June had been a wet month, and despite the fact that water made the crops grow fast in the humid, heavy air of hot summer, it made Harlan Medlam cross. He heard the little boys calling to each other from the neighboring pasture as they walked the timbered trail along the creek that would take them up to the grassy hillside where Paul’s milk cows grazed. It only made him grumble more because it was time for him to get cows, too. Florence would be scolding him if they were late getting the cows milked, no excuses for the fact that they both were in their 80’s. The knowledge only made it tougher for him to raise one bony leg over the edge of the wooden feed bunk. “Hold still, gul darn ya,” he snapped at his old mare, Molly, who stood saddled and bridled along the bunk, and who hadn’t moved a muscle. “Hold still, doggone ya, I said ya ol’ hussy,” Harlan Medlam hollered as he paused on hands and knees in the feed bunk after getting his legs over the side. The old red bay mare with the long black stockings wasn’t about to move because deep in the recesses of her horse mind, she knew the secret. Harlan Medlam loved horses. He was the same old man that held her in his arms as a foal when she imprinted on him. Now, as a 20-year-old horse, she took care of him, somehow instinctively knowing that the frail body of the old man shouldn’t be able to take a hit if she moved from him while he crawled from the feed bunk to her back. Harlan Medlam only took hits that paid off. “There goes Harlan Medlam to the field,” neighbors would say when they heard the high-pitched squeals of iron on iron from his ungreased machinery. Harlan Medlam didn’t like to grease machinery—too much expense. But he took good care of horses, even if it took him half a day to get a hoof raised over his knee to pick it out. The big black workhorse and the big white workhorse, which worked as a team to pull him through the fields on the days when he couldn’t bear to take a tractor out again, watched him silently over the corral fence as he raised a hand, puffing for wind, to grasp the base of the mane on the blood-red mare with the black feet. “Mind yer own business,” Harlan snarled at all the horse adoration as peeked over the back of the mare at the distant hillside. “Old biddy, old biddy,” he said gazing through the distance at the broken-horn Texas Hereford leading the herd of Jerseys, Guernseys and Holsteins further up the hill. She knew it was time for him to come, and she would make the journey home as long as possible through contrariness. He hardly remembered why Florence had steered the low-yielding wild Hereford into the milk barn to join the dairy herd, but it was because the woman noted the cow’s freshened udder after having a calf, and she seized the chance to get a bigger milk check. “Quit yer gul darn prancing around, darn yer heavy thick-skulled stupid soul, ya big dummy,” Harlan said as he stood with one leg over the saddle, one foot still planted in the bunk, his hands grasping the saddle horn where his rope was looped, gasping “woo, whish, woo,” for more air. Harlan Medlam couldn’t rope like a cowboy. He only carried the rope like a braided tool to pull something. The mare had her ears forward, turning her eyes toward the hill where the cows moved. “Look at the old biddy moving farther away,” Harlan said as he finally sat his seat in the saddle, and rested a moment. “Well, what are ya still standing here for, horse? Ya gonna rest all day? Chic, chic, Molly.” The mare moved purposefully in a long walking stride. Harlan barely gripped the reins as they set off down the slope to the creek, the sweet scents of dense greenery wafting on the updraft coming up to them. Molly’s hooves sunk slightly, so wet was the earth, occasionally turning up a slice of grass clump or beads of mud. She waded through the creek at the stone-bottomed crossing point. Harlan grumbled, “Easy now, easy now,” as splashes of the swollen white-water soaked his trouser cuffs.” “Sss-Boss, Sss-Boss,” came the cattle call from Paul’s boys, Jesse and Ben, who had already crossed the creek in the neighboring pasture. The little toads moved pretty fast, walking on short legs, Harlan thought. God bless himself that he had a horse to ride instead of trying to walk after cows every morning and night to satisfy the perpetual need he and Florence had for more money. Some people might think walking was good for health, but Harlan Medlam was sure walking a mile each morning and evening to get cows was only that much more work. Taking naps in between was what made a man’s health. He already was dozing to the rhythmic sway of the horse, and Molly flicked her ears at a couple of his more drawn-out snores. Yes, Harlan Medlam could ride a horse in his sleep so accustomed to it was he. “Ya watch where yer goin’, ya knucklehead,” Harloan said as he snapped out of his slumber when a tree twig brushed his face. Molly had stuck to the path, and they were moving out of the timber to the grassy hillsides. Harlan pulled a cigar stub out of his pocket to chew as they made their way to the back fence line. Yes, there was old broken horn, crowded with the rest of the herd as far away from them as she culd get. “The old biddy,” he said, spitting out some tobacco and the invective. The ride back behind the cows went like usual, the mare stepping out slightly faster, her ears moving forward and backward in needed threat to the cows who knew the path home to the milk barn very well. Back across the creek, and up the slope, Harlan Medlam heard the boy’s call. “Haalp! Help me, Jesse, Haalp!” Harlan turned Molly toward the neighboring fence line while the mare inclined slightly sideways from time to time trying to watch the cows walking on up the path in case one of them made a break to back to the hill. “HELP ME!” came the call more strongly. Harlan looked over the fence, mumbling to himself at the sight of the situation, and thinking maybe he just ought to go on. There was a seep out of a hillside on Paul’s pasture just above the pathway. In rainy times it turned a 30-foot-wide swath of earth into a water-covered budhole where the cows stomped through with their hooves to create a mud-sucking quagmire. There was brown-haired Ben in the middle of the mud, sunk to above his knees. His older blonde brother, Jesse, was extending a stick to him to take hold of to try to pull him out. “What’s the matter with you? Why are you hollering help?” Harlan Medlam called to the boys. “It’s Ben,” said Jesse, the 9-year-old. “He’s stuck in the mud, and he can’t get out.” Ben, the 6-year-old, was standing in the gooshy mess, big tears running down his cheeks. They boys were flushed hot and tired, and occasionally swatted at gnats and biting green flies swarming around their ears. The gnats and flies were beginning to buzz at Harlan Medlam, too, and Molly wiggled her ears, and swished her tail at them. “Well, just pull your feet up, and walk out of it. You can do it,” said Harlan Medlam. “You don’t need help. Hold still, Molly, gul darn ya.” “He can[t pull his feet up, or he’ll lose his shoes. They’re near-new shoes,” said Jesse as Ben rubbed a finger across his nose, pausing his tears to look hopefully at Harlan. “Get in there, and help him, can’t you? Feel down there where his shoes are, and when he pulls his feet out, you grab his shoes. Can’t you do that?” “I tried, and I get stuck, too. I barely was able to get outwith my shoes. I’m just not strong enough. What are you going to do?” “What am I going to do? You think I got all day towatch your troubles? I tell you, just pull your feet out of the shoes. Feel where they are, and pull them up. Walk out of there!” The little boy struggled, balancing with his arms out to his sides while he tried to pull one leg up. It seemed held solidly until it finally gave way in a slow “whoosh” that ended in a jerk that plopped him over head-first into the water. Ben pushed himself up, gasping, then wailing, his tears hidden by the green-brown slime that covered his face. The cows on both sides of the dividing pasture fence stood at the gates that would open to send them to their milk barns. They turned to stare with cow curiosity at the human drama. “Oh, darn, darn, darn,” said harlan Medlam. “Is your shoe there? Can you find your shoe?” “It’s here, it’s here,” sobbed Ben, squatting his small body to feel in the mud. “It’s here Harlan Medlam, but I can’t get it out. Please get my Daddy.” “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” wailed Jesse, beginning to cry too. “We can’t leave him here while we get Daddy. The mud might suck him clear down. What if it’s quicksand?” “It ain’t quicksand. It’s just plain old mud. Quit your silly talk, you’ll scare the little fella. Calm down. I’m coming. I’m coming. Darn, darn, darn, see what’s happenin’ to us, ya big, dumb horse. Let me get thecows through the gates, and I’ll ride by horse around there. You two boys just stand there. Don’t do anything. And quit your squalling. Doggone, I can’t take that. Just quit crying. You’re big boys. It will take me a while. Have some nerve. I’ll be there. Come on, Molly, chic, chic, chic. “Doggone it, Florence Medlam will be fit to be tied if the milkin’s late. I can’t wait on Paul to get here. Gonna have cows moanin’ with full bags,” Harlan Medlam said, fuming so much at the situation that he threw a leg over the mare, and slid to the ground at the gates like a young man. He left the mare, drop-reined in the path where old broken horn might try to turn back, and opened the gates for both his and Paul’s cows. He watched them go through for the rest of the walk to their barns, and closed the gates behind them, but not before leading the mare back through into Paul’s pasture. Harlan Medlam knotted the reins over the saddle horn, and walked stiff-legged down the slope, the mare following him like a big dog, to where Ben stood in the mudhole. Both boys stared at him somberly, their tears dried up, waiting expectantly for his next move. “This is a fine mess you boys have gotten us into. Florence will be furious with me. And what am I going to do if I wade out there after you, and I flop over in the mud at my age? Are you going to get me out?” he pointed at Jesse. “No, sir,” Jesse said. “I don’t think I can pull you out if I can’t pull Ben out.” “Well, it seems the only one here to help you is me, since your Daddy hasn[t come to help you. Jesse, you walk clear around this mudhole. Don’t try to go through it. I don’t want two of you stuck. I’ll get my rope out. I’ll loop it on the saddle horn, and square-knot it around my waist. You just stand there near Molly. Give you something to think about. Harlan Medlam toed his own boots and socks off. “No use getting them muddy too,” he said as he gripped the soft earth tentatively with his toes. “Now hold still, gul darned yer hide, ya old hussy. Quit yer movin’ around,” he hollered at the stok-still mare whose only response was to turn her ears forward at him. Now ya hold still, too, gul durn ya boy. I’m comin’, I’m comin’.” The fondness he held for horses came out in like language when talking to the boy. Harlan Medlam held onto the rope like it was a walking stick, him wobbling stiffly from side to side as he splashed slowly into the sticky mud. “Darned flies,” he snorted through his nose as he waved a hand at his ears. “Boy they’re pesky when a man’s got trouble. If they don’t eat me alive, Florence Medlam is a’goin’ to. You don’t slck off around that woman.” When he came to theboy, the mud sucking up over his own ankles, he got down on his knees. Harlan Medlam shook his head, muttering as he felt the water soak through the seat of his overalls, and reached down to probe with his fingers around the little boy’s feet. “OK, I got your shoes. Step out of them, Ben. God, how did I get into this situation,” Halrna said as Ben truggle to get his feet free by putting his arms around Harlan’s neck to nearly pull his face to the water. “Hang on, hang on ya little bugger—I got yer shoes. I’m going to sit down here in the mud, and you just hang on me because I got your shoes to hold, and I can’t carry you out. We’ll let old Molly do the work now. “Back, Molly. Back up. I say back slow there, you old dummy. Molly back up.” Harlan Medlam felt the rope tighten, and involuntarily said, “ooomph” as he began to be towed backward through the slick mud with the boy adding a drag to his neck and shoulders. As his seat hit solid ground, Harlan hollered, “Hold still there, gul darned ya! Whoa! Gul darned ya old dummy quit yer movin’ around. Whoa there, gul darned ya.” Molly had held still when she heard the first “hold still” order. “Here, you boys, help me to my feet. Careful now, careful how hard you pull on my arms. I just hurt all over. That was miserable for an old man coming to the rescue. I’m just wore out now, you boys with your mud and all. Doggone it, Florence Medlam’s going to make my life miserable tonight with all her...Hey, wait a minute…” Harlan Medlam smiled. He looked at the mud that covered most of his body. “I might as well make something of this.” “Jesse, you run home. Get your Daddy. Tell him Harlan Medlam has rescued your little brother from the sucking mud that was about to pull him under.” This was near as serious as a drowning, Harlan smiled. “Tell him Harlan Medlam is just played out, not well at all himself from the strain that nearly killed him getting your little brother out. Tell your Daddy, he needs to get up here quick to help Florence Medlam milk her cows before he milks his own because Harlan Medlam is laid up. “Then you run to Florence Medlam. Tell her the same thing. Tell her your Daddy is coming to help get the milking done fast, and not to worry because Harlan Medlam and Ben are coming on the horse. They're’just strained, and wore out is all. Tell Florence to get Harlan Medlam's ’ pillow out on the bench because he needs it bad, the rescue strained him bad. You got all this, Jesse? You need me to tell you again?” Harlan Medlam watched with satisfaction at Jesse running away fast, then led Molly to a fallen log. He gave Ben a boost to his seat as the boy climbed first onto the log, and then onto the front of the saddle. “Hold still there gul darn ya,” Harlan Medlam said, grinning in satisfaction as he struggled onto the log to slowly get a leg over the saddle himself. “Ben, you know what pathetic means? Well, we need to look pathetic, real sorry-like when we ride old Molly into the driveway at my place. That’s right, great big frown like you might cry. Good, good. “Chic, chic, chic, Molly, let’s get home. I’m late for my nap, ya old hussy.”     

Copyright 2006, Jerry W. Engler

Web Site: Jerry W. Engler  

Reader Reviews for "Harlan Medlam milks a mudhole"

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Reviewed by Cryssa C 5/22/2008
When you titled it milking a mudhole, you weren't kidding!

Pretty funny stuff...
Reviewed by Mr. Ed 6/18/2007
“Ben, you know what pathetic means? Well, we need to look pathetic, real sorry-like when we ride old Molly into the driveway at my place. That’s right, great big frown like you might cry.

What a sly old fox this Harlan truly is! And advice many an old married man can truly use from time to time!

Like Jean, I really like this one a lot.
Reviewed by Jean Pike 6/15/2007
I like this one a lot, Jerry. Crafty as he is, you can tell that beneath that gruff exterior, old Harlan has a heart of gold. A complex and likeable character.
Reviewed by Larry Lounsbury 6/14/2007
I loved this story. That Harlan Medlam is one sly character.

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