The fairy man came this morning. Tristan and I went out to meet him at the barn, where we had scheduled a 9 o’clock appointment. My son was wearing a red ski helmet and carrying a plastic dragon. Those are, in his view, the accessories with which one should be equipped to meet a fairy man. Based on Tristan’s expert knowledge about fairies, derived entirely from his fairy-obsessed sister Phoebe, he was sure the man would have transparent wings and carry a large stock of sparkly dust tied into a leaf with a vine. Instead, the man had a dirty white truck, leather chaps, an anvil, and a large stock of sweet grain in a coffee can. Definitely not Tristan’s image of a fairy man, and Phoebe most certainly would have been appalled. Leather chaps? For real? That does NOT look like a fairy, she would have said.
Alas, the fairy man is actually the farrier, a reasonable misunderstanding for my two-year old. He was coming to give mani-pedis to our two horses. Both of our horses were gifts, as in free. Neither of them I have ever looked in the mouth, though I’m sure they’re due for some equine dentistry.
Bella is a pretty Arabian mare who was serially abused and neglected. A horse trainer rescued her from her last person, a cute horsie teenager turned back woods meth-head, and brought the horse to me. Bella has turned out to be a wonderful, thinking animal. She puzzles over complicated ways in which the trainer and I ask her to move and stretch, and she works through her confusion. She’s a smart girl. Buddy is her companion, a gelding Quarterhorse. The daughter of a nearby rancher saved him from a meat auction. As she pulled off the freeway into the auction site, she saw an old cowboy riding off the exit ramp on a knobby grey horse. She then saw the horse on the block with a note pinned to his halter: “This is a gentle, kind horse,” it read. There was no walking away from that, and home he went in her trailer. But the girl was leaving soon for college, and the rancher’s wife said, no way, he’s got to go. He ended up with us, to be Bella’s buddy and to keep her from nervously pacing the fenceline. He must have nine lives, or at least three — he’s ugly as sin and lame to boot, but he’s been rescued at least twice. He is, indeed, a nice guy. Someday I hope to track down the old cowboy to tell him that the grey is alive and well.
I enjoy my time with the fairy man, most of it spent talking to the back of his Wranglers while I hold the lead rope and he bends over the horses’ feet. He’s a bottomless source of stories, and, even with his mouth full of frightfully sharp shoeing nails, he spins an endless yarn. He and his four brothers were born on various dairy farms, which I suppose means his daddy was a ranch hand. His mother had no idea what they were up to most of the time — there were simply too many of them and they were up to too much — but every night the family had dinner together and every morning there were five lunch bags packed and ready to go on the kitchen table. The fairy man lives in Shasta County, has a girlfriend in Trinity County, and has clients in those counties, as well as in Humboldt. He loves to go packing with his horses and draft mules, and often packs fish stock to remote lakes for the USFWS.
In addition to stories about his childhood and his packing adventures, the fairy man has a million anecdotes about his trade: There was the time a girl swatted her horse, and he kicked, and that caused the fairy man to drive a nail through his hand. There was the occasion he hit a giant buck on his way to a job. The deer’s antlers smashed his windshield and driver’s side window, and glass fragments sprayed into his cheeks. He pulled over, bleeding, to assess his condition and figure out what to do — the road was far from anything. Two guys sporting magnificent mullets pulled up in a pickup and looked at him. Without a word, they did a U-ie, tossed the impressive buck, which was stone dead, into the back of their truck, and drove away. WTF?! Today he had a story of another fairy man who, his mouth full of nails, inhaled one when the mean horse he was shoeing acted up. He survived, after a major surgery to retrieve the shrapnel.
What a great character, my fairy man. He’s excellent at what he does, he loves his work, and he’s interesting. Though I’m guessing he doesn’t get credit as such, he’s pretty much a structural engineer, trimming and filing and shoeing to keep the horses’ load bearing parts bearing their massive load in the best way. He can look at a horse’s foot and tell it’s life story.
I love people like the fairy man. There are gobs of people in this world who do what they do, and who are, at best, mediocre at it and not the least bit interesting in talking about it. I think people who are excellent at what they do, and who love what they do, however lacking in prestige the work might be, are fabulous. We have a second-hand dryer, purchased from a genius down in town who buys washers and dryers that have no other future but the dump, fixes them up expertly, sells them for reasonable prices, and puts them back into action for a whole lot longer than they would have been in action without his tinkering. The guy knows EVERYTHING about every model, the old replacement parts, the new replacement parts, every sound the machine should make, every sound the machine should not make, and what those sounds mean. And he can talk about washers and dryers with an enthusiasm and eloquence that is entirely captivating. That is SO cool. He’s brilliant.
Likewise, when we lived in Indonesia, we knew an amazing mobile cobbler. He walked up and down the streets, all the tricks of his trade in a bundle no bigger than your average Hello Kitty lunch box. He hooted his particular call, and folks with a flapping sole or blown-out flipflop ala Jimmy Buffet (doubtless the most common local shoe repair need) would flag him down on hearing his sound. He’d settle down on the ceramic tiles of your front porch, carefully do the necessary stitching and glueing, and produce a neatly-repaired shoe or sandal that would take you on a hundred more treks across town. Once, when Gary complimented his work, he replied, “Senang membantu, Pak.” Happy to help, mister. A sweet, modest admission of his own skill.
My kids are experts at various things about which they can talk with great passion. Tristan is a truck enthusiast with topnotch identification skills: he can ID a “fai tut” (firetruck), “ment mitter” (cement mixer), “pit up tut” (pickup truck), and so forth without a moment’s hesitation. Phoebe is, as you know, a fairy expert. Last week she produced a thirty-page field identification guide to local fairies. The illustrated manual was a gift to a school friend, a blossoming fellow fairy aficionado. Though quiet Tomas doesn’t tend to spout on about his interests, he, too, has passions about which it’s a pleasure to hear him talk — Lego, American history, and baseball.
Oven repair men, tree fallers, pre-school teachers — whatever the job is, I find it extremely fun to meet people who are expert at what they do, love it, and can talk about it. Somehow I haven’t yet mastered the art of describing diaper-changing strategies in a fashion that can keep an audience rapt, but there must be a way. Let’s see…There’s the flying diaper change, when Daddy holds the angry baby up in the air while Mommy pulls off the soggy diaper and attaches a dry one. Then there’s the car trunk diaper change, when Mommy wedges the wiggling baby between bags of groceries to put on a fresh diaper in the supermarket parking lot. And, ug, there’s the yucky restaurant diaper change, when, in lieu of the absent fold-down changing table, Mommy spreads paper towels thickly on the bathroom floor and changes the baby on top of them. And then…Nope, I don’t have it yet. I suspect I’m lacking the necessary passion. Sigh.