In Those Sweet Days Of the Livery Stable

Something put me in mind of Eddie's livery stable, and my first thought was no-sirree! Well, the young-uns say we resting has-beens are always dredging up old memories and nobody cares about that anymore, and if a livery stable isn't about as far backward as you can go, name it. Then I corrected myself and began to chuckle, because I realized that young-uns needn't be always right, and that a mild reminiscence about Eddie's livery stable can be a serious castigation on what's wrong with today, without relevance to happy times gone by. Let's try it.

For the very young, a livery stable was a stable where horses and vehicles were cared for or at least let out for pay. But dictionaries are frugal teachers, and a livery stable was also a social hall, a community information center, a repository of all knowledge, and consequently an educational institution. There was nothing special about Eddie's stable; every small town had one.

A tendency to liken a livery stable to a taxi stand is deplorable. But it should be near the railroad depot (what's that?), the post office, and the center of town, and just a short walk from a lunchroom like Jack's or a boarding house like Carrie's. If a town had a hotel, or something like, there might have been a livery stable adjacent, either under one management or "connected."

Eddie's place had everything, and Eddie himself was ready day and night to drive anybody where he wanted to go for 50 cents. The word, actually, was carry. He carried people. Not all the horses and buggies were Eddie's; he "stabled" horses and kept them ready for their owners, and then had his own to rent.

Tuesday was Eddie's big day. The morning "up" train would fetch, along with the city newspapers and the mail, the weekly "drummers" who would spend the day calling on businessmen and taking their orders. First, coming from the depot, each would pause in the livery stable door to tell Eddie he was here and wanted a rig. Then he'd go to either Jack's lunch or Carrie's boarding house for breakfast and a social hour with a fellow salesman or with Jack and Carrie.

They say, "You've got to know the territory," and those drummers knew how to find out. After breakfast the horses would be ready, and the parade of drummers would thin out as each stopped for his first call. Some, after returning the horses, would leave the town by afternoon "down" train, and one or two would spend the night at Carrie's, or the hotel. Carrie was the better feeder, another 50 cents.

The town's two physicians and Mr. Percy owned their own horses, but Eddie cared for them and had them ready. Those were house-call days, and the doc would drive himself unless he foresaw a "wait," in which instance Jerry Lund or Peewee Thompson would drive him, to return later. Jerry and Peewee were Eddie's helpers.

I have not bothered to inquire what the regulations and ordinances are about the proximity of stables and restaurants. I think I shan't. But Eddie's was a clean stable, and this was then. Soon after sunup, Jerry and Peewee would open the great rolling door and conduct a total netoyage. Every horse was groomed, watered, fed, and exercised, but not necessarily in that order. The stalls and stable were brushed, swept, and washed down, even to the ramp, the sidewalk, and the street.

On a pleasant summer morning, it was a treat to walk past Eddie's - the sidewalk coolish damp from sloshed water - and get a whiff of sweet meadow hay from the loft, and hear the contented comments of the stabled nags as they chomped and inquired amongst themselves for the poor people.

A livery stable was a leisurely place, unless maybe when Doc. Stover had a pre-breakfast baby case up to North Winstead, and the pace of horses had time by the fetlock.

Eddie and my Aunt Lillian had been to the Ridge School together, and one time when I was maybe 6 she took me with her on the steam cars to visit her father, my grampy, who lived alone on the farm. This called for the assistance of Eddie, who would "set us down" at the farm. It was a one-way trip for Eddie because Grampy would return us to town in the afternoon with Tanty, his own road-horse. My demure, petite, and very proper Aunt Lillian astonished me by greeting Eddie in robust enthusiasm, and Eddie called to Peewee to harness Jingles and use the widow-buggy! (The one for the directly bereaved on sad occasions.)

THEN he, himself, drove Jingles out to the farm, nearly three miles away. It was my pleasure thus to sit between Eddie and Aunt Lillian, perched on a knee of each, and listen while they brought each other up to date on 26 years of meanwhile. Aunt Lillian offered, but Eddie wouldn't take the 50 cents. "No, Lil," he said, "this is on me!" It was the only time I ever heard anybody call my sedate Aunt Lillian "Lil." Jingles went right along, but stopped himself at the brook passage on Morrill's stream for a drink. Eddie said this was where they brought the buggies when they needed washing.

"Do this again!" Eddie said when he turned the buggy for the ride back to town. "Anytime." My Aunt Lillian said thank you, Eddie.

Today's strict logic probably says we need no livery stables because we have no trains and traveling salesmen are gone. I have dwelt on this possibility for a few minutes, and I agree. The same goes for Jack and Carrie.

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