by Pettus Read
While cleaning out an old shed the other day, I ran across a pile of my father's tobacco sticks that he used several years ago to raise tobacco. Those sticks were pretty important on our farm and he guarded those pieces of wood like they were gold. They were the source for making a crop that helped pay his children's way through college and made Christmas a whole lot more enjoyable for us and Santy Claus.
As I moved some of those sticks, I thought out loud about how some of them would make a really good stick horse for a kid. When I was small, Daddy's tobacco sticks were the "herd" where I would go to pick out a noble wooden steed.
With that piece of wood and a grass string tied at the top for a bridle, I could take my imagination out west with Roy and Gene to fight outlaws and make the long cattle drives. My stick horse, in my imagination, would be just as real and look really good as we would ride off into the sunset along side Roy and Gene's horses Trigger and Champion.
But, it seems kids just don't ride stick horses anymore. It has been ages since I have seen a child out in the front yard on a stick horse. Maybe they have all evolved to the backyard, or could it be the stick horse has become extinct? I know it is becoming harder to find a real good tobacco stick these days, but surely there is a replacement out there somewhere to help maintain the stick horse tradition for our youth.
Growing up on a farm in Middle Tennessee, stick horses were as common
in my day as fried chicken being served on Sunday. Of course, you are going to tell me now that fried chicken is no longer served on Sunday, but it should be.
As a farm child back in the fifties, you just couldn't walk to where you wanted to go. You had to ride a stick horse with a bright yellow grass string or a white cotton string as a bridle. A stick horse was a main form of transportation for a six-year old farm boy.
My friend and former commissioner of agriculture, as well as radio
and TV star, L. V. "Cotton" Ivy, is a true stick horse fan and supporter. He often tells the story (which I know is the truth), about riding his favorite stick horse to school. Seems he tied it out front of the school house and when he came outside in the afternoon to go home, some no-good horse thief had stolen his stick horse. Without his stick horse, he had to walk all the way home!
This day and time, children can probably buy ready made stick horses at Wal-Mart. I was born in the years of BWM (before Wal-Mart), and your toys would be found wherever your imagination led you. I can remember when Daddy would get a new batch of tobacco sticks and I would get the pick of the whole "herd" for my next mount. He knew a boy needed a good horse, especially a wooden one.
It was interesting how a small boy could take a simple one-by-two
stick and with the help of his imagination, turn it into a beautiful Pinto or Palomino horse. It could jump a ditch with ease or catch the bad guys, which were usually your cousins, around the next bend. From sunup to sundown we would ride our trusty mounts across the Tennessee countryside saving the world from all types of disaster. Our imaginations helped make our summer days go by, rather than using a X-Box, Gameboy, cable TV, Internet or computer game.
Our heroes were real people. We had Roy Rogers on Trigger, Gene Autry on Champion, and the Lone Ranger on Silver. I guess what made them so real to me was that each one of those heroes was agriculturally connected. They rode real horses, drove cattle on the range, worked in the great outdoors, were always having a note coming due, and courted their sweethearts "the cowboy way."
Sometimes I wonder about the future generation. Look at mine. We made pies from mud, horses from tobacco sticks, flying toys from June bugs, and swings from tires. We haven't turned out too bad.