Hoping I might have missed a photo of Mr. Chips, I go though the Lost Box of photos again, pulling apart any that stick together. I have an idea what era I might have a photograph from, so look for the house I was living in at the time.
I’m tired. It’s 2 am. There are so many photos. Hundreds and hundreds. This puzzles me, as they are mostly bad photographs. I start a stack of pictures to toss.
I root through another bad clump of blurry pics, and see a familiar streak of silver. I had an Airstream travel trailer. I don’t ever remember towing it. I parked it in a pretty spot that looked out over the land, built a little deck, and gardened around its perimeter. I used the trailer as a summer guest house.
I had Mr. Chips and the trailer at the same time.
Sigh. Such a bad picture. I scan it anyway. A memento of a lost era.
I open the file on my computer, and try to remember that time in my life. I’d done things like place rubber finger puppets on sticks so they’d poke up above the flowers like hovering birds: silly blue monster heads with wavy arms, shy green monsters peeking through their fingers. I wanted to have pretty and laughter all at once. Pink curlers grew in a cultivated row, tucked behind a fenced off cage of tomatoes. I was careful: all the flowers were edible and non-toxic.
I stare at the photo of nothing much, wishing it was so much more.
Strange. I don’t remember having a garden gnome with a peaked hat. Aren’t garden gnomes green with red hats? I look closer.
It’s Mr. Chips: the flash of white forelock and pointy ear, on the right. It had been a terrifically hot summer, and after watching him toss his heavy forelock in sweaty frustration, I gave him a Dutch boy trim: hacked it off straight across.
It looked terrible. But it made him one happy pony.
I laugh. I thought Mr. Chips was a garden gnome. It’s fitting, given his love of weeding. A singular pony, he never touched the flowers, but studiously cropped the grass and weeds around them. I often let him out near the guest house. Weed whackers weren’t invented yet, and regular tidying by helpful pony left the yard looking lush and inviting.
Many summer nights, I spent the night in the trailer myself. It faced the paddocks, was under trees, and caught wonderful cool breezes. It was lovely to sit on the deck as the sky changed colors, and listen to the mockingbird give his last performance of the night. If I waited long enough, I’d hear the soft hoo-ing of the owl family that lived in the dead tree next door. The air was warm on my skin, the stars beginning to prick their way through the papery sheet of sky, I could smell and hear the horses stamping, whuffling, making soft communicative vocalizations with each other.
And I could watch a trumpeting midget Shetland tear after Roz like a banshee, when it was finally cool, as they played a game of after-dinner tag. The string of colored paper lanterns on the deck lit the paddock just enough to see a show of shadow horses.
I pull myself out of the reverie, and sort through that stack of photos one more time.
Jackpot! Complete with guest.
All guests were expected to tolerate Mr. Chips. Frankly, if you couldn’t tolerate Mr. Chips, it was impossible to stay in the trailer. He longed to possess the trailer the way a crow wants the shiny thing. One eye was always cocked at it speculatively. If I wasn’t the occupant, he had to know WHO was staying. He’d stand at the gate and call and pace and generally be a total nuisance until the visitor was officially introduced. After the introduction, he acted slightly disappointed, and could completely care less who was there. This upset even the non-horsey guests. He was so obvious about his disappointment, people’s feelings got hurt.
I’m convinced he believed the shiny trailer was his shot at Hollywood: he was waiting for the producer, or at least the director. He was the star. When was his close up? C’mon people, chop chop. Discover me! Get with it!
I had a friend up from the city for the weekend. We were fixing dinner in the house, and bringing it out to the trailer to eat, so she could have a full country experience. Two coincidences converged at the wrong time. While I was up at the house, she’d slipped into the paddock and petted Mr. Chips. Totally fine. But she didn’t know how to lock the gate. She closed it normally, and slid the bolt shut, forgetting she’d unhooked a chain and clip.
It was also her first time in the trailer, and she had no idea the screen door automatically locked to the regular door. If you wanted air, you unlocked the screen and closed it, leaving the other door open.
She wanted air. She left the entire door open.
We walked back to the Airstream, chatting, plates and bowls in hand. Alarm bells went off when I saw the open door. I immediately checked the paddock gate. Open. I shove my bowl in her direction and start running while she scrambles to catch it, yelling “Whaa…?” after me.
No sign of pony. This is bad.
I poke my head in the doorway. Mr. Chips is standing in the kitchen part of the cabin, his butt resting against the built-in bench seat, helping himself to a bag of potato chips that was left open on the table. He glances casually at me.
Hey, these yellow salty things are good!
With his muzzle deep in the bag, he breathes in: the plastic foil sucks on to his nostrils, cutting off oxygen and startling him. He snorts in fear. The bag blows off his face and makes a crinkly sound.
Not being able to breathe would freak out a normal horse.
Mr. Chips leans back over the table, shoving his muzzle all the way to the bottom of the bag, breathes in till it sticks to his face again, then blows out forcefully enough to shoot the bag to the other end of the table. Several potato chips scatter on the formica. He delicately picks them up, one by one.
Great. A new game.
He glances back over his shoulder. Oh. You’re still here? Try a yellow thing. Really good. He reaches for the bag with his teeth, presumable to pull it closer and shoot it back off his nose again.
If I thought getting him out of the house was difficult, getting him out of a travel trailer, with its narrow door and high step-up, seemed dangerously problematic. With one eye on the pony-sized fridge, and his rump firmly planted on the padded seat, he wasn’t going anywhere. He chewed contentedly and looked at me.
Forget it. How in the world could I navigate the 18″ step down? I might break a leg!
Within seconds, Mr. Chips has his head out the door, and is peering around, looking for the source of the crinkling crunching sounds. I ignore him, and shake the bag in my lap like I’m looking for crumbs on the bottom. My friend is sitting in the chair next to me, laden with food, alternately terrified (there was a horse in her room) and shaking with laughter. A non-horse person, even she could read his expression.
Hey. Those are MY chips. Mine!
He’s undecided. Immediate gratification? Or investigate the pony fridge?
I’m serene. I know something he doesn’t. Travel trailers come with locks on all the cupboards, fridge, and doors, so nothing can fly open when you are bumping down the highway. He can’t OPEN the fridge.
His head disappears. I try not to worry, and give it a second. This will be much easier if it’s his idea. Not a sound. I’m guessing he discovered the unopenable fridge and cupboards. The trailer shakes a little as he squeezes around.
His head sticks out again. He scopes the ground like a seasoned hunter, and lightly jumps out. Trots over to the chairs. I hand him a potato chip, and stuff the bag into my friends lap. I sprint for the door, and close it, afraid he’ll change his mind.
When I turn around, my friend’s hands are held up around her shoulders as if she’s being mugged at gunpoint, and Mr. Chips is helping himself to the pasta salad in her lap. There are potato chips everywhere. Obviously, she must have snatched at the bag, grabbed the wrong end, and dumped the potato chips into the pasta salad accidentally.
Chips looks at me.
Hey mom, these yellow things are good on the mushy stuff too, you really should try it. Oh, and the big horse trailer? Can I have it?