December 21st … the longest night of the year.
Karl and I like to tell people we got married on December 21st — which happened to be a Monday night in 1981 — because December 21st is the longest night of the year … as we raise one eyebrow. The truth is, Karl sang in clubs six nights a week and his only night off was Monday.
And there on that cold winter night in that gothic and ornately painted sanctuary, during our unorthodox weeknight wedding, my husband sang to me a love song he had written for me:
God has brought us together
We will love forever
Our union causes blessings to flow
We profess our love to everyone we know
Mia, I’ll need you always
I take you for all of my days
I give God thanks for sending you to me
Be my life for every man to see
You know I don’t deserve you
You know I won’t desert you
God has been so very good to me
I want you for all eternity
It was Christmas week in 1981. We said our vows in a historical landmark, the first building built in Chanhassen, Minnesota, almost hundred years before. It was a Catholic church which had been purchased by the Lutherans and eventually ended up on the Historical Landmark Registry. The night was cold and snowy, but the day had been crisp and bright.
I had just finished up my accounting degree the previous Friday, December 18, which means I had been planning a wedding and studying for finals all at the same time. Not to mention packing to move to Indiana on Christmas Day. It had been a roller coaster autumn since our engagement in August. But now all the ducks were in a row and plans were well in hand for a small simple wedding. Finals taken. House cleaned. Bags packed. Oil changed. RSVP’s received.
I got up early Monday morning and went to a fancy salon at St. Anthony Main, an upscale downtown Minneapolis mall, to get my nails done and my hair cut. Very short. Very trendy. Just perfect for my perfect day. By lunchtime I was back at my folk’s house, having sandwiches with my mom and my husband-to-be. So nice and relaxed. Plenty of time to spare. After such a busy couple of months preparing for this day, it seemed almost surreal. So quiet. So peaceful. So prepared.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans. That’s right … they often go awry. We were just finishing lunch when the phone rang.
It was my cousin, Linda. My capable cousin with all things managed. My cousin Linda who never panics. To my surprise, her voice carried a tension I wasn’t accustomed to hearing from her.
“The colt has colic and I can’t get him up! His belly is as big and hard as a barrel, and all four of his legs are sticking straight up in the air. I have to get him to the vet, but the horse trailer is snowed in and parked behind a stack of hay. What are you guys doing today?”
We looked at the kitchen clock. It was 2:30. We had five hours before our wedding bells would ring.
We didn’t hesitate. I slipped on my Key overalls, my barn stocking cap, and my dirty mittens over my perfect St. Anthony Main hair and nails. Karl and I jumped in my pick-up and drove too fast the 40 minutes to the farm where Linda and I boarded our horses. As we tore up the driveway, we saw Linda standing on top of the hay stack, wildly hurling one bale after another far away from the trailer. It was freezing out but she was red in the face and sweating.
“Try to get him on his feet!” she yelled.
Karl and I scrambled down the hill to the barn where we saw the little grey Arabian yearling wedged up against the side of the stall with all four feet sticking straight up in the air. Karl had never seen anything like this. Linda’s were words fresh in his head. “Get him on his feet.”
As we rushed toward the colt, we startled him and he struggled to right himself. Wham! He threw himself against the side of the stall. Wham! Wham! Again and again. Then he gave up and let out a sigh. He looked like a cartoon character with his feet in the air. All he needed was the little x’s across his eyes.
Perplexed, we stood back to assess the situation. My mind was carefully formulating a plan including ropes and pulleys … and too much time … when my knight-in-shining-armor stepped up, crossed his arms, grabbed the colt’s back hooves, twisted his arms back in line, and literally stood that 700-pound colt right up on his feet!
I was flabbergasted. “How did you do that?” I asked. “I didn’t even know that was possible!”
Karl replied, “I didn’t know it WASN’T possible. Now what?”
“We have to get him walking.”
The colt was better on his feet, but his stomach was still huge and distended and his legs were as a stiff as a board. We put a halter and rope on him and tried to lead him. He wouldn’t take a step. I pulled and pulled.
Then, in another act of heroism, my city-boy groom, put his shoulder into it and began to push that sick little colt from behind. I pulled and Karl pushed and finally he took one reluctant step. Then another. And another.
Colic is a really nasty condition. You see, horses can not throw up because their peristaltic muscles only work one way; that is to swallow what they eat. Reverse peristalsis is another word for regurgitating, and horses can not do it. So when they eat something bad that their body wants to get rid of, or their intestines get inflamed or twisted and they can’t pass it out the other end, they get colic which causes gases to distend the belly. If they don’t get rid of it, they are slowly poisoned and they die.
We hoped if we could get him walking we could get him “moving”, as it were. The idea was to get his intestines to untwist and relax, and get this baby horse to, well … to take a shit.
But at the moment this seemed easier said than done. Karl pushed and I pulled, and we literally did the walking for him, barely keeping him on his feet. He kept trying to lie down.
Soon we heard Linda’s truck fire up and tires spinning trying to dislodge the trailer from the icy grip of a month under snow. My 35-year-old x-ray technician girl cousin had single-handedly and super-humanly moved an entire stack of nearly 100 bales of hay. She had hooked up the trailer and was finally ready to load the colt for the 45 minute trip to the vet’s office.
Just one teensy problem. The frightened and sick colt had never been in a horse trailer and we wondered how we would ever get him inside. We pulled and pushed him to the door, but we could see the fear in his eyes growing.
“I know,” I said, “I’ll get Lola. The colt will follow her inside.”
I ran down to the pasture to grab my old grey mare who was quite accustomed to loading in and out of trailers because I had taken her to horse shows for years. We were barrel racers from way back. Her registered name was Lucky Lola, and today we needed some luck. She had been near the barn door when we were down there, curious I think, about all the commotion, but now I couldn’t see her. I ran out into the barnyard just in time to see her heading back out to pasture. I grabbed an oats pail and began trudging through the snow after her. I finally got her attention by shaking the pail and she came trotting back. I threw a halter and lead rope on her and headed for the trailer. She hopped right in where she was rewarded with the scrumptious grain.
Linda slowly coaxed the colt towards the door and when he saw Lola munching on something undoubtedly delicious, Karl pushed once more and I quickly slammed the door. He was in!
It was getting dark, which doesn’t mean much. The sun sets in Minnesota on the shortest day of the year by 4:30 in the afternoon. We decided we had time to follow Linda to the veterinarian. We could barely see the colt’s tail above the back door of the trailer. The plan was to flash our lights if we saw the colt go down, so we could stop and get him up on his feet again.
We drove a long way in rush hour traffic to Mound (I think), where the vet was waiting for us. The colt stayed on his feet all the way. And this is why.
When we opened the trailer door, it looked and smelled like IT had quite definitely HIT THE FAN. We wondered if that colt had spun around and around as he relieved himself. There was horse manure EVERYWHERE. On the floor, on the walls, on the door, on my old grey mare, everywhere!
And we were so happy to see it.
That Arabian yearling stepped lively and pranced happily with ears straight forward right into the veterinarian’s examination room. It seemed his first ride in a trailer had simply scared the living shit out of him! They kept him overnight, but he was fine.
Karl and I rejoiced with Linda and then headed back to Chan with just a few minutes to spare. We showered again and barely had enough time to get beautiful in time for our wedding.
We pulled up to the church and I scaled the ice encrusted snowdrifts on the curb in my three inch spike heals just in time to say “I DO.” My family and friends braved the elements to be with us. Linda even made it back in time to be our official photographer. Pastor Nate Castens officiated with inspiring words of wisdom and hope and love. My husband sang to me a beautiful song of eternal love and devotion he had written just for me.
And yet, when I think of my wedding day, I think of a little sick colt with his feet in the air, dangerously close to x’s across his eyes, a trailer full of horseshit, and a man that would spend his wedding day willingly doing something so crazy just because it was important to his sweetheart.
That was almost 40 years ago, and not much has changed.