When I was a little girl, I lived on a dairy farm along a dusty, gravel road. Back then, I thought that the majority of the world lived along bumpy, dusty roads. And that if you didn’t live in the city, that must mean you live on a farm with lots of space to wear yourself out biking all over the place. My world was safe, secure, and very small.
I thought that every barn housed cattle, chickens, horses, calves, and pigeons. And I also thought every barn was old, with unwritten rules about where you could and could not play, because some holes bigger than yourself could appear mysteriously out of no where on the second-story floor, and if you were not careful, you could end up plummeting into a great manure-y abyss far below.
I remember thinking how beautiful the horses looked but always kept a safe distance. I didn’t know then that one day in my future I would get close enough to a horse that if it chose to, it could kick me. Nope. I did not know that then.
My father liked his horses. Every winter he would get the old sleigh out of the shed and hitch up a team of Belgians. We would entertain friends by gliding all over the snow-covered fields and laughing and singing like we were living in a different era than the 1990’s. No one grabbed their phone to take selfies or video the moment. No sir-ee, what ever memories you got, you downloaded on the spot in your long term memory.
Every now and then, I would stand up beside my dad at the front of the sleigh.. And every now and then, I was allowed to hold the reins for dear life. When I was somewhere around 10 or 11, the last of the horses got sold. They were expensive pets.
Fast forward 20 years.
I am a teacher, and have not touched a horse in who-knows-how-long.
My summer job is St. Jacobs Horse Drawn Tours. This job is multi-faceted.
That means you could be in charge of giving pony-rides, selling tickets for the Mennonite Farm Tour, or………………………………. you could be the person driving the horses and trolley and giving a 75 -90 minute “schpiel” about the history of Mennonites in Waterloo area, the differences between the varied groups, and also answering a smorgasbord of questions concerning Mennonite beliefs.
All this is happening while taking a delightful journey along a scenic country road to an Old Order Mennonite farm about 3 km from St. Jacobs Farmer’s Market. At the farm you drive through an enchanted forest (it really is… but with some seriously tight corners to maneuver a large trolley around. I may or may not have left some paint on a tree) and then you have the opportunity to tell about the differences in the buggies, invite the tourists to pet a new baby calf, and buy maple syrup produced right in the bush you just drove through.
Oh. My. The job looked daunting. Like I-have-a-permanent-stomach-ache daunting.
But I agreed to learn.
I think I ran through every worst-case-scenario in my head. What I did not calculate was this, HOW MANY WONDERFUL people I would meet. And literally FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD.
People, may I insert here, that if you want to “travel”. while staying at home, then this is the job for you. Also, it wouldn’t hurt if you also like horses, because you are going to be within very close proximity to them multiple times a day. You groom them in the morning before harnessing them, and then water them at various points throughout the day. You will need to be prepared to clean up after them if they choose to make the market pavement their territorial spot. But what job doesn’t have a couple not-so-fun aspects to it?
My boss was extremely encouraging and patient. And in all honestly, I had the oldest team. But a horse is still a horse. So I would say our relationship ( the team and I ) started out with some skepticism for each other, but then as time went on, that disintegrated into trusting each other.
Most of the time, when people found out what I was exactly doing in the summer of 2018, they kind of had a small fit, and then said something like,” Okay, I gotta come check this out.” or “WHAT?? Your drive the horses and do the talking?” or ” What in the world, I didn’t even know that all goes on at the market” etc. etc. etc……………
I did not get pictures with all my friends and relatives that came. But it was fun to see who would all show up in a day. Like my aunt. Who is my dad’s sister. And it was their dad and his brothers who were horsemen. I never met my Grandpa Bauman, but I kind of think he might like this picture! Aunt Grace was my hero that day. When we came across an unexpected tree limb blocking our trail in the forest, she and another couple got out and pushed it aside. With out their help, we would all still be stranded in the bush. She is also sporting a hand bag Made In Thailand. Purchased just that morning at the market.
And my Mom. Who braved the heat and sun. Thankfully she didn’t have to move any tree limbs. But she be-friended people on the trolley and helped answer questions.
Also, this job taught me so much more than I initially thought it would. For instance, like I mentioned before, I met SO MANY FANTASTIC POEPLE from all over. I learned so many things about different cultures everywhere. I learned how Dutch and Mennonites are more similar then one would care to guess. 🙂 I learned that Holsteins are also called Friesians. I learned a lot about horses personalities. And I learned that Mikki( the female horse on the team) knows when the traffic light changes to green.
And mainly, I learned, AGAIN, how much I REALLY DON’T KNOW.
Sometimes I just wanted to stand and talk with people for hours because their stories(and accents) were so captivating. The next time I sped the horses up to get back to the market more quickly because the undisciplined children had me seizing up.
I have come to discover that in every culture, there are really kind, caring, generous souls.
I had a Swiss man press a $20 into my hand and say “I was a tour guide on (can’t remember the name) River, and as much fun as it is, it is utterly exhausting too.”
I had a mother cautiously approach me after a tour one time,”I don’t know if I may ask this, but how do Mennonites get their kids to sleep? Do they sleep train?”
I had an entire load of seniors, determined they would find a soul-mate for me, if I came to their community.
I also learned how NOT TO ACT, when taking a public, guided tour. Sometimes, I wanted to quote Brian Regan( But change it to Negative form ) ” This is NOT the last helicopter out of Vietnam.” ( there will be more trolleys- later-)
A few tips I would give ( if people would ask )
1. STAND IN LINE when buying your ticket.
2. Keep said ticket
3. Get on the ( boat, train, bus, trolley ) before take off time.
4. If you reserved with a large group, show up in GOOD TIME. The world and time does not revolve around you and your group. We love you, but we have a schedule to follow.
5. Listen to instructions.
6. Don’t talk loudly ( actually not at all) while tour guide is speaking.
7. Ask to leave the group before just running off to take selfies or find a restroom. The tour guide doesn’t want to leave anybody behind.
8. Be careful where you stand for pictures. Horses are horses. They might not want you cuddling up to a hind leg. It is much better to stand by their head. They won’t bite you. ( They are on HUNDREDS of photos a week)
A normal trolley ride included anywhere from 22- 26 people on a sunny market day. And the sun shone 95% of the market days this summer. So on a typical day I could end up meeting 80 – 100 people. Sometimes less, depending how many tours I did in day.
At the end of the day, I would drive an empty trolley back to the farm, unhitch and unharness the team, and “call it a day.”
It was raining my last Saturday of Summer 2018 that I worked. I put The Half Ton Gentle Gems(Duke and Mikki) into the barn, thanked them for the good run they gave me, and gave them one last pet on the nose. I didn’t tell them I am flying half way around the world to a country they have never seen. Or that I am going to be teaching English. But, somehow, I think they knew. They heard me talk alllllllllllllllllll summer long. They heard me tell the very occasional person what my plans are after the summer.
And so even though I didn’t tell them anything. They know. Horses are Smart.
And so some day down the road, when I am recounting fond memories of by- gone days, I will probably start a story with ” One of my favourite summers was ‘That One Summer….”
6 thoughts on ““That One Summer””
That one summer….So much fun to read! Being best friends for as long as I can remember I could picture lots of your story in my mind! And yes I was probably one of those friends that said”you are doing WHAT this summer”? So I came to see for my self and had a lovely ride through the enchanted forest!💓
Aw, Ren! You have such a gift with words! It made me teary to think of you half way around the world! I miss your smile but I’m 100% sure God is using it to His Glory! ♡ Keep shining for Him!
Oh, Renita, I love this tale! And I can so relate to the quirky people you meet at market. I’m sure you will come back home with tales of the far East and the people you meet there.
That was really really interesting! Sounds like an awesome job! We were even there this summer and I didn’t realize you were doing tours or we may have taken it!
That was an awesome story Renita! The ride I had with you was a day to remember, thanks again!