That was lucky
We knew the young mare would buck. ‘Feeling her oats’ dad said as he managed to get the bridle on her and tied her to the stockyard rail. She sweated, wild eyed, and restlessly paced back and forth as far as the reins allowed.
Not much oats around, I thought. Not much feed at all and the tall grass right up to the yard was dry and brittle. Still, if dad said the mare would buck we didn’t want to miss it. The six of us sat along the fence like chooks, watching dad finish his cigarette as he waited for the mare to settle.
Saddled up at last, Dad pulled the reign in tight and swung awkwardly onto the mare and yelled for the gate to be opened.
We cheered as Dad rode the first few bucks, one arm extended like a real rodeo rider. A few more pig roots and another half-hearted buck and the mare took off at a fast canter.
Our cheers stopped abruptly as Dad threw himself off the horse, landing awkwardly in a patch of long grass.
We watched in awe and embarrassment as Dad scrambled to his feet and dragged his shorts off, his bare bum exposed as he screamed and threw the shorts away from him.
Within seconds, like magic, a flame sprang up in the long grass where the shorts had landed. Dad yelled for help but Mum was already onto it.
‘Put the baby in the cot and ring the neighbours’ she shouted, ‘and grab some wheat bags’
The baby, nine months old and spoiled by us all, was not keen to be banished. He stood holding the top rail of the cot and screamed, but for once he was ignored as I raced for the phone.
The wind was driving the fire straight for the house, flames licking along the ground from one tall clump of grass and thistle to the next.
‘For God’s sake get your father out of the way’ Mum yelled ‘and get him some pants.’
Dad was looking rather dazed, blood trickling down his face and he leaned
heavily on Mary as she led him into the recently ploughed paddock. She sat his still bare bum onto the rough stubble and ran back to help.
We attacked the fire with more enthusiasm than skill, racing in to bash at the fire with the hessian bags when it died down a little. This inevitably spread sparks and embers into another patch of high grass where it quickly ignited.
Mum counted heads and called us back towards the house, no doubt hoping the bare earth around the house yard would give us a chance to get on top of the flames.
‘Where’s John? ‘Mum screamed in panic. Her question was answered as 13-year-old John came roaring around the corner from the shed on the tractor, with the plough luckily still attached.
He ploughed a few turns back and forth across the face of the fire and soon the flames had died down and only smouldering ash remained.
I went to pick up the baby. He was sitting mesmerised by a small whisp of smoke that curled out of the lower end of his mattress. Other small burnt patches showed where embers had landed, having blown in the open louver windows.
The neighbours finally arrived just as Dad hobbled up. He was still half naked and a bit dazed. Mum wrapped a towel around him, but not before we had all seen the large burnt area across his hip.
‘Bloody wax matches’ he growled. The friction from the bucking horse has caused the whole box to ignite in his pocket. His cotton shorts soon followed and then the dry grass where the burning shorts landed.
Saddle askew and her bridle dragging the young mare stood meekly at the yard gate, as though saying ‘well don’t blame me. ‘
Dad looked at us all crowded around. ‘Well that was a lucky escape’ he said and the look mum gave him would have curdled milk.