The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Asleep At The Reins

Preserved By Jeffrey Rowan Lockhart
and Michelle Emerson Lockhart © 1988

Issue: January-February, 1988

The Lockhart family lived on the side of a mountain within walking distance of Asheville, North Carolina. Their small house stood very close to a rough rocky road which snaked its way to the top of the mountain. John Rufus Lockhart was a young boy and remembered horses and mules pulling work wagons and stylish buggies up and down the mountain road. He told me about a secret tavern at the top of the mountain with doors open to menfolks interested in glugging down beer and liquor after a hard days work.

He particularly remembered one gent who drove his crude buckboard wagon right past his house on his way to this drinking parlor. The fellow would whistle while lightly whipping thin leather reins on the horse's backsides, coaxing the young horse up the steep incline. A few hours and too many shots of spirits later, it was down the mountain and back home they would go, except the gents appearance had transformed drastically. He was lolling in a boozy stupor with his senseless head flopping to every rut in the road. The reins were wrapped tightly around his wrist so they wouldn't jerk free and he was in a bad predicament. It was out of his hands now, the horse either found his way home or wandered all night in the mountains lost. Luckily, the smart animal had the entire route fixed in his equine mind and returned the wagon unscathed to its covered shelter. This happened so frequently that the Lockhart family started ignoring the gents unconscious, inebriated routine.

Until one evening; John Rufus said the family had eaten their supper and all of the children were quietly preparing for bed and his papa, he wore a dark mustache, was resting in a chair. All at once they heard the loudest crashing and strange, rumbling sounds coming from outside their house in the direction of the road. It rattled their walls and scared the little ones half to death. Kenion Rufus, their papa, leaped out of his chair and opened the front door and hunted in the darkening dusk, trying to locate the source of all that earth shaking commotion. He finally found it. He said, "Well I'll be, if it ain't him again, that drunk is headin' back from the tavern, a sleepin' on his seat, but lookey there, his wheels done come aloose!"

The fellow's wagon was in serious distress. One of the wooden wheels had worked its way off the hub and the poor horse had to grit and strain with every ounce of his brute strength, pulling and dragging the axle down the road. He was heading home like a good horse but all the while digging and burrowing a zig-zaggy trench in the roadbed. The stout axle end and heavy wagon were unearthing large rocks that bounded and tumbled off the side of the road and crashed into boulders and tall weeds.

By now, every member of the family had poured out of the house and stood goggle-eyed; amazed at the horse's determination. They watched until stumbling horse, broken wagon and flop-headed snoozing gent disappeared around the curve. They stared into the warm darkness and listened until the booming crashes faded from earshot. Their mama and papa ushered them into the house and they chattered themselves to sleep about the crippled wagon and mighty horse pulling the drunk down the road. They all agreed on one thing - if the horse made it back alive he'd definitely think twice the next time he was hitched up for the trip to the tavern at the top of the mountain.