The horse originally belonged to Hank Hitch, the angriest kid I have ever, ever known. If 1 is totally emotionless, and 10 is running around, shrieking, and tearing your hair out in rage, Hank got out of bed every morning at about an 8.5.
His sister Melody was four or five years older than us, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
Go figure.He and his family lived in Puerto Rico when we did, on the same base. His dad ran the base exchange; it’s a military general store. Everything from perfume to bicycles. When they moved there, they joined the on-base ranch, Lazy R, and got a couple of horses for the kids.Rufus was a run of the mill buckskin. That’s a horse with a blond-ish body and a black mane. The thing was, though, Rufus was kind of a jerk.
In the symphony of being an irritating equine, Rufus was a virtuoso. That horse knew just when and where to nip or stomp. He made being a butthead into an art form. Which is inspirational, because other than his inventive orneriness, he was ordinary and utterly unremarkable.
Hey, shine where you are, right?One morning our little base, our Mayberry with palm trees woke to an exciting scandal.
It had been discovered that Hank’s father had been embezzling huge amounts from the exchange.
The entire family, aided by the federal government, vanished into the night. Their belongings were packed up and shipped out, but there were some loose ends. One of them being their horses.
The elected officers of the ranch decided that at the next show, they’d raffle off Rufus and his fellow owner-less ponies.
Our family was ranch members and we had three horses. Homer, his wife Kelly, and their daughter Mindy were also stationed at the base and often accompanied us out to Lazy R for shows and events even though he had little interest in anything equestrian. My big brother is a lot of things, but horse guy is definitely not one of them.Homer had bought Bud and me a couple of sodas, so Mom decided, as a joke, to pay back the $1 by buying him a raffle ticket for Rufus.
The ticket was a winner.
This is not a Disney film, where man and beast bond. There was no dramatic climax where they saved each other’s lives, the music swells, and an emotional tear is shed by all. Homer and the horse just never took to each other, bless their hearts.A couple of times a year local youth would come to Lazy R in the middle of the night and take seven or eight horses. It was the equine equivalent of a joy ride.In a day or so, a message would come that our horses had been found safe, and for a small finder’s fee they would be returned. The fee was a ten spot, six-pack, or a carton of smokes (remember, this was the seventies). It was a game, the horses were never harmed, and everybody involved kind of enjoyed it. A little innocent skullduggery to break up the day.
During one episode, Rufus was taken. And in a move straight from The Ransom of Red Chief, Homer declined to pay up. It was the perfect way to rid himself from the care and feeding of an animal he didn’t ask for and never liked.It was unprecedented. But ranch members knew the temperament of the beast, and completely understood his choice.
And in a response that would have instilled pride and amusement in O. Henry himself, the misanthropic Rufus was the first one returned.Thanks for your time.