The farrier (horse-shoe guy, for you non-horse-people) called Mary Jo on a Thursday about a week ago to say he was in the area and wanted to come do her horses a few days early. Not one to pass up excellent equestrian craftsmen’s services, she told him to come on. The only hitch in the plan is that this fellow will only shoe horses if someone holds the horse (i.e. he won’t do the work himself by tying the horse to a post). Mary Jo called and asked me to butch it up and meet him at our barn and hold the horses until she was finished with her class, at which point she’d return home to relieve me.

I didn’t really have a choice, and having the day off, I said I would be happy to help out. I was already made-up and had been considering shopping, so I put on my jeans and 3/4 sleeve v-neck shirt and went to the barn to assist.

I was not sure, though, just what Mary Jo had told Terry Marx, her farrier, about me or our situation. I assumed he knew nothing and decided I would play the role of Joyce, her helpful friend at the barn. I introduced myself, we shook hands, and then got to work. Terry is a good old boy who really knows his horse feet, making custom shoes for odd sizes in his portable stove/kiln in the “shop” on the back of his truck. He also loves conversation, and after a bit of getting-to-know-you’s, we had a lovely, long discussion about everything from horses to animal husbandry to Mary Jo’s other friends to the upcoming election.

He asked flirty, polite questions like “so, is this your first time? I mean, holding a horse while it’s being shod?” or “Do you ride with all the other lovely ladies at this barn?” And I answered as honestly and as neutrally as possible, not wanting to out myself or to compromise Mary Jo’s credibility with this country boy on whose expertise she depends. It was clear, however, that I knew a lot about the operations of the place, about the irrigation and the house and the tractors, and that even though I didn’t use “we” at all to describe Joyce and Mary Jo, it was obviously there, floating in between the words and the concepts.

When Mary Jo arrived, the second of two horses was just being completed, and I said I would finish the job, so we all stood around talking for another 20 minutes or so, at which point, I told Terry I enjoyed helping. “Likewise,” he said.

Mary Jo stayed behind to help tidy up, and when she returned to the house 15 minutes later, she said that he asked her confidentially and playfully, “Mary Jo, what’d you go and do, leave your husband and hitch up with her? Have you switched sides?”

“Well, yes, something like that,” she said, and then explained that yes, her husband was gone and yes, she had taken up with Joyce, but that the wrinkle was that her husband had become Joyce. Instead of being horrified, Terry was fascinated, and asked all sorts of questions, ultimately telling Mary Jo that he thought it was great and that he’d like to know all about it.

I found the whole story incredibly fun and affirming, not just because Joyce had “passed,” but also because this incident is another in a series of events that confound the stereotype of salt-of-the-earth country people, such as populate the Bedford Falls area, as intolerant rednecks. Red their necks may be, as they’ve been laboring in the sun and don’t have long hair, but intolerant they are not. I don’t know if I’m simply statistically lucky and I have happened upon the few tolerant people there are around here, or whether my experience represents a valid statistical sample of the population. I prefer to think the latter.

I feel more and more a part of my world, not just the elite and progressive world of the university, but also the agricultural and service and retail world upon which we rely for things like food, clothing, services, auto care, schooling, sports, and entertainment. And this feeling is wonderful.