By Mike Brannon
Just so some of you will know, Frank the Talking Horse actually existed, and played a huge part of our lives during a time when life was slow and simple. Frank pulled my father’s wagon, he plowed gardens for Judge Sugg, Mac Coleman and Cecil Randle as well as ours.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being around such a massive beautiful animal as the horse, you would know that God’s plan for horses was much more than a work tool.
I have no idea where nor when my father came into possession of this huge white horse. My first memory of Frank was when I was about 6 and I saw my dad entering the small road leading to the John Gunter house in Eupora. Frank was to us as the Incredible Hulk is to children in this era. He was tall, strong and gentle.
There were times my father would let me ride the wagon with him and he would let the reins fall by his side and simply guide Frank with verbal commands. Few of you would know this, but, when horses or mules would be plowed or used to pull a wagon, one would call out, “Gee,” which meant turn right or “Haw,” which meant turn left. I sure everyone knows “Giddyup and Whoa!”
After witnessing such, I thought Frank must be the smartest horse in the world. I know my father didn’t tell me any different, and we were allowed to believe in miracles at an early age. After all, the old black and white movie of Francis the Talking Mule played regularly at the JoMac down on low street.
My first dog was delivered to me when my dad arrived in his wagon pulled by Frank. A rat terrier so small he fit in his jean jacket pocket. I could hear the dog yelping, and my father told me to look under the wagon to see if maybe he had run over something.
Getting too close to Frank drew the ire of my mother, who probably saved my life hundreds of times. I named that dog Butch and he would become my constant companion for 12 years.
In 1953, Frank had somehow cut his hoof, which was not detected until blood poisoning set in … it was called “lockjaw” in those days. To this moment, I can see Frank standing rigid in the pasture next to our house and making a feeble effort to take a drink of water from the 55-gallon drum cut in half that was his watering trough.
I was standing at the pasture gate or the gap as we called it, when Frank began to take his last breath. The thud of the falling horse was like that of a giant oak, and I believe that was my first experience feeling completely helpless.
Frank died within an hour and I remember an older brother asking why I was crying. My words to him were, “I loved him.” Funny how life paints a picture and emotions that are dormant come back when reliving such a traumatic moment.
The wrecker came and picked up Frank and someone told me he would probably be used to make soap. I just didn’t understand nor did I want to. I just wanted life to stay the way it was, but I find out daily how much it really changes. I guess the best we can do is hold on tight when we can.
Not long after that I was talking to my father about Frank and he, trying to ease the pain, told the story of not only how Frank would take verbal commands, but could also talk. I’ve shared this story with many of my friends and now you can pass it down when you might want to lighten a moment when life pulls at the heartstrings.
Out to the west side of the John Gunter house, who by the way, was buried in the attic, (another entertaining story for down the road), was the pasture where my father kept the cow and our horse, Frank. The pasture gate was adjacent to the corncrib with the front of the building outside the pasture and the other half inside where Frank or the cow was kept. My father said he wanted me to know about Frank’s ability to talk, and told me I must not tell anyone. Very intently I got close to dad and his eyes began to sparkle and the Brannon smile came across his face as he spoke.
At that point, no one else existed except my father and I, and I knew this was going to be something I could rely on when I felt sad about Frank’s absence.
“Mike, he said. There were times when I would go out to the corncrib after supper and Frank would be down in the pasture, sometimes out of sight. So, I would have to whistle to get his attention.”
I’ve heard people whistle in so many different ways since my father passed away in 1978, but, he had his own sound. I cannot whistle, but, that day, he puckered his lips and out came that distinctive sound, wheweeee, wheweee, wheweee, and I could visualize Frank trotting up as I had witnessed many times.
He lowered his voice and in a reverent pitch, he told me, “Frank would come at a fast pace to the gate and with a sort of swagger would stop and turn his head toward me. I would scratch the area just above his nose and ask him, ‘FRANK, HOW MANY EARS OF CORN DO YOU WANT?’ And, he would turn like the horses marching around in a circle at the circus, stop with his rear towards me, raise his tail, and go “A Fewwwww!”
It took a moment to register, and my father just grinned. How I miss his humor, his silent lessons, his way of showing his love, and that story that has stayed with me for many years. For the first time, I was able to hold on to Frank in a different light, and I let go of the “thud” that bothered me so.
Another silent lesson from my father who led with kindness.
Eupora native Mike Brannon of Hernando may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.