January 1978

“Taffy,” Friend, Jan. 1978, 37


Tom jumped off the school bus, shouting his good-byes. Mrs. Lee, the driver, waved to him, and the bus rumbled on. Tom heard a snort and turned to see his horse leaning over the fence, blowing frosty clouds into the icy air.

“Hi, Taffy,” he called. “I can always depend on you to meet me,” he said as he rubbed the little buckskin horse on the nose. Then he slipped onto Taffy’s back, and galloped bareback the half mile through the pasture to his house.

Later, as Tom sat down to dinner, Dad sternly asked, “Why didn’t you feed your horse this morning, Tom?”

“I’m sorry. I forgot,” Tom replied. He had overslept and had almost missed the school bus.

“You forgot twice last week,” his father continued. “And there’s something else you have to remember. In this cold weather, it’s important to keep the ice broken in the water trough. I found Taffy trying to get a drink this morning by licking the ice.”

Tom lowered his head.

“I don’t want to rub it in, Tom,” Dad said in a kinder tone, “but when you got your horse, you agreed to take care of him. Remember, son, if you take care of Taffy, he’ll take care of you.”

Tom quickly ate a little food and then excused himself. All he could think about was his horse. I just have to think of some way to remember Taffy every morning, no matter what, he decided.

He slowly undressed, said his prayers, and climbed into bed, murmuring, “Remember to feed and water Taffy. Remember to feed …” Suddenly Tom sat up. “I know,” he said, jumping out of bed. He grabbed his marble jar and raced barefoot to the hall closet. Taking his gloves from the pocket of his jacket, he stuffed a marble into a finger of each glove. “That will do it!” he said, pleased with his plan as he went back to his room. “When I feel those marbles in my gloves, I’ll remember Taffy.”

Morning came cold and gray. It was snowing. Tom was slow getting up. He gulped his breakfast and gathered up his books. It was time for the bus. Tom struggled into his heavy coat and pulled on his gloves. His fingers touched the marbles. “Oh, no,” he groaned. “I have to take care of Taffy. I’m late now and I’ll probably miss the bus!” But then Tom remembered what his father had said to him the night before. He removed the marbles as he ran to the corral.

Taffy neighed a greeting. Tom measured some oats into the feed bucket, then broke the thick ice the length of the trough with a hammer from the shed. He gave Taffy a quick pat, and ran down the lane toward the road.

Snow was falling heavily now, and luckily the bus was late. Tom was glad the school bus had been delayed as he climbed aboard.

All morning the snow fell. Then the wind picked up, threatening to turn the storm into a blizzard. At noon school was dismissed. The buses headed home through the blowing snow.

About half the children from Tom’s bus had been let off when the driver turned to Tom. “We’re almost to your house,” she said, “which is lucky because I can hardly see the road. I hope your folks will let the rest of us stay at your house tonight. Can you help me find the turnoff to your lane?”

Tom stood beside the driver, peering through the snow. “I think it’s just ahead, Mrs. Lee,” Tom said, but the storm was so bad he wasn’t sure, for just then a terrific blast of wind turned everything outside into a gigantic white wall.

Mrs. Lee pumped the brakes. Gradually, the bus tilted sideways until Tom had to lean against the window for balance. The older children began shouting, and a younger child started to cry.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Mrs. Lee. “We’ve gone off the road, but we’re not far from Tom’s house so we don’t have anything to worry about.”

Tom stared through the windshield. He could see nothing but swirls of white. When a lull in the storm came, he glimpsed a familiar form. Tom pushed open the tilted bus door and forced himself out into the blizzard before Mrs. Lee could stop him. Then he heard Taffy’s welcoming whinny. He plunged blindly across the snow-filled ditch toward the sound and came up against a barbed wire fence. He slipped and went down in a heap. The next thing he heard was a hoarse whuff and Taffy was nuzzling him.

“Taffy!” Tom said, giving the horse a loving pat. “You didn’t have to meet me in this blizzard. You’ll freeze. And so will I if I stay here.” He looked back, but couldn’t see the bus. He knew that if his friends were not found until morning they might all freeze too.

Tom made his decision. He climbed the fence post and mounted Taffy. “You’ll have to take me home,” he told his pet. The snow stung his face and the wind tore at his body. He leaned forward and buried his face in the horse’s mane. They barely plodded along, and Tom had no idea where they were. He felt numb when Taffy stopped.

“Go on, Taffy,” he urged. “Don’t give up.” But the horse wouldn’t budge. Tom squinted into the snow. There, at the end of Taffy’s nose, Tom finally made out a gate—the corral gate! Tom slid off and opened it. “First things first, old fellow,” said Tom, and he led the horse into the safety of the shed. Then Tom followed the fence hand over hand till he reached the house. He opened the door and tumbled into the arms of his mother and father.

It took his father three jouncy trips in the jeep to bring everyone on the bus through the snow and safely to the house. Finally, when they all were gathered safely around the roaring fireplace, Tom began pulling on his coat and gloves.

“Where are you going, son?” Dad asked.

“Out to the shed. I want to rub down Taffy and snap on his blanket,” Tom answered. He smiled at his father as he continued. “We made a deal, remember? I take care of him and he takes care of me.”

Dad gave Tom an understanding look. “Right, son. But it’s still blowing pretty hard. Hold on, I’ll go with you.”

And together they headed for the shed.

Illustrated by Craig Fetzer