I am an only child. I grew up here on the family homestead in the 1960s/70s. We are a community of ‘Old Families’ several generations down on our lands and the farms are a bit spread out.
During summer vacation there was no one to play with. There was no such things as ‘play dates’, no clubs, no summer sports programs. We lived on farms and had our share of chores to do. The roads were all dirt, and few of us had bicycles. Those of us who did, knew how difficult it was to try to ride down the dirt roads. So we occupied ourselves at home.
My best friends consisted of the farm animals, and my books. I devoured books. (I still do). When I was 13, by two best friends were my black cat Shandar (named after the book Shandar: Black Leopard of Ceylon) and my Welsh/Arabian Palomino El Blanco, also named from a book.
The three of us were inseparable. Once morning chores were done, I would grab a book and the cat and head to the barn where El Blanco would be waiting. All day we would be together with me reading under a tree, or maybe fishing (and reading) at the pond. Shandar would be either across my shoulders (his favorite perch), or curled in the middle of El Blanco’s back while he grazed. Sometimes we would go for a ride through the woods. I nearly always rode bare back and most times without even a bridle. I have never before or since experienced such a complete bond with an animal as I had with that horse. We knew each other and trusted each other completely.
My family had a small dairy in those days, and during the summer months, my father and I drove the cows by horseback deep into the property for grazing. We took them down every morning, and brought them home every night. And Shandar went right along, sitting in the saddle before me with a paw on each side of the saddle horn, or draped across my shoulders. That cat would go anywhere I did, even to riding in the back of the pickup with me.
When I went to school, my two best friends kept each other company. You could look out to the field at anytime of the day and see a black shape curled up on the blond palomino, or perhaps creeping along in the grass nearby.
Sadly, a horse’s life span is much longer than the average cat’s. Especially a farm cat’s. We lost Shandar just four years later to an illness. I never even thought about showing the dead cat to the horse so he would understand. But to El Blanco, it must have seemed that Shandar just suddenly disappeared. And El Blanco began to search for him. For weeks he would wonder around the barn whickering softly and nosing in all of the cat’s favorite places. And when I would come out in the morning, El Blanco would come galloping to meet me and start to look around me and even nose my shoulders in hopes of finding Shandar there.
El Blanco lived to be 27 years old. Of course he finally stopped looking for his friend, but I don’t think he ever quite forgot him. Every time he would see one of the barn cats, he would trot over and nose him, then snort and walk away. There could never be another Shandar for either of us, and there was never another El Blanco for me.
Old Home Farm, Arkansas
Read more pet stories in Pet Stories: Remembering Favorite Four-Legged Friends.