My daddy was a Florida cracker. And before you dash off an email eviscerating me for using the politically incorrect term, know that I mean exactly what I say.
A Florida Cracker was a cowboy who herded cattle with his horse and his whip. A bullwhip makes a distinctive sound that carries for some distance and isn’t mistaken for anything else. Hence, the moniker.
Daddy owned his own horse, Dotty—a pretty, tall pinto he’d bought at a livestock auction with money he’d earned working on cars. He knocked around a few central Florida ranches in the late 30’s and early 40’s, until he was old enough to enlist for the war.
I have to admit, every time I look at the picture of Daddy and Dotty, I think of that old saying you can’t judge a book by its cover.
One day not long after Daddy acquired Dotty, instead of taking her for a pleasure ride out in the field or off to chase a herd of cattle, he decided to ride her into town. And as young boys are wont to do, he put the pedal to metal, so to speak. He hunkered down in the saddle and kicked her up to a wide-open run. They were galloping along the dirt road at a breath-stealing pace when suddenly Dotty skidded to a stop like she’d seen a rattler in the road.
Daddy said the next thing he knew, he was lying in the road looking up at his horse, reins dangling in his face. And he hurt. Everywhere. Bloodied and cussing a blue streak, he got up, quickly checked himself for broken bones, and looked around, fully expecting to see a snake, maybe even a gator on -the side of the road. But ol’ Dotty was merely standing stock still, as if she was waiting on something. Cursing the confounded animal under his breath, Daddy swung up in the saddle, nudged her…and nothing happened. He nudged her again. Still nothing. The horse stood as if glued to the spot.
Glue. Livid, Daddy had to admit the idea was growing on him to turn Dotty into some Elmer's.
He said he pleaded, cursed, eventually even dismounted and tugged on the reins as if his horse was some stupid, in-bred mule. Dotty was having none of it. Nothing Daddy did convinced the horse to move a hoof. He tried once more from the saddle. Nothing. He couldn’t believe it. He’d never seen a horse act this way and was utterly flustered by it.
Just about ready to have an apoplectic fit and take the dysfunctional animal to the glue factory, he noticed something.
And Dotty was standing right beside it. A simple arm’s length away for a rider.
An idea dawning on him, he reached out, opened the mailbox, and then closed it. Instantly Dotty’s body relaxed. Suspicious of what might happen next, Daddy gave her a cautious kick. The horse started walking again as if nothing had ever happened.
Of course, my dad was not surprised to learn upon asking that Dotty had carried the mail for the United States Postal Service for over ten years. She had been trained to stop at any and every mailbox along her path.
Of course, after this, Daddy and Dotty stuck to trail riding and herding cattle.