Gravel ground under the tires of my bike as I rode up our driveway in the dark. The front room lights were already glowing through the windows, and I knew that I was in trouble. Dad had told me to be home before dark. But Jerry and I had been having such a great time playing in Krammer’s old barn that I couldn’t make myself go home. Besides, we weren’t getting into trouble or anything.
Dad was sitting in his favorite chair when I walked in. “Danny,” he said calmly, “please come with me into my office.”
I followed him through the kitchen and into the small room that was his office.
“Sit down, Danny,” Dad said as he sat in a chair by his desk. “I think that it’s time that you heard the story of Brandy.”
I sat in the straight-backed wooden chair next to him.
“When I was about your age,” he began,” “we lived in that old farmhouse near your grandpa’s home, the house they use as a storage shed now.
“Your grandpa had been angry with me because I wasn’t doing everything that I should have been. I got all the lectures about obedience and responsibility. I was scolded, coaxed, and threatened, but still I did only what I wanted. I figured that I was old enough to make my own decisions.
“One morning your grandpa told me to be home right after school because he needed me to help him and my brothers irrigate the fields. He said that if I didn’t help, I would lose all privileges.”
“You mean that Grandpa was going to ground you?” I asked.
“Something like that,” Dad answered thoughtfully. “Well,” he continued, “I tried. I really did. But one of my friends asked for some help with our math assignment. By the time I got home, Dad and my brothers were already down at the irrigation canal, starting to turn the water into the fields.
“That canal was about two miles down the old gravel highway. When we lived in the old house, that highway was the only way through town. Oil tankers used it to get from the refinery to the storage tanks on the other side of town.
“I didn’t want to walk two more miles after having just walked home from school, so I went to the barn to get a horse. Well, Dad and my brothers had taken all the horses except one—Brandy.
“Dad had always told me, ‘Brandy is too spirited to ride with a nose loop. If you ride her, use a bridle.’”
“What’s a nose loop?” I interrupted.
“A nose loop,” Dad explained,” is made by wrapping a rope around the horse’s nose, then using the ends of the rope as reins. It isn’t the best way to ride a horse, but it’s all right when you ride a gentle one and you’re careful not to hurt it.
“I looked all over the barn for a bridle,” Dad continued his story, “but I couldn’t find one. I decided that I would risk riding Brandy to the irrigation canal with a nose loop, then trade horses with one of my brothers.
“I caught Brandy, put on the nose loop, climbed the fence, and jumped onto the horse’s bare back.”
“Weren’t you afraid of riding Brandy that way, Dad?” I asked.
“I think I was more afraid of what Dad would do if I didn’t make it to the canal,” he answered, “so I headed down the highway.
“Everything went pretty well for the first mile. I held the rope tightly, pulling Brandy’s nose in toward her neck. That was a mistake, but I didn’t know it then.
“She started getting restless. Soon she was skipping and jumping around, and I knew that I was losing control of her. I was within a half mile of the canal, though, and thought that I could make it. Then one of those oil tankers came up the highway.”
“Did the truck hit you and the horse, Dad?” I broke in, forgetting to even wonder why Dad was telling me a story about Grandpa’s horse.
“No, Danny,” Dad replied. “The driver blew his air horns, which was probably the worst thing that he could have done.
“Brandy spun around and headed for home at a full gallop. I grabbed a handful of her mane and held on for dear life. I bounced on her back, only managing to stay on because of my death grip on that handful of mane. Brandy never slowed down.
“As we got closer to the house, I knew that I would never make it. Your grandpa had just put up a barbed wire fence on the road to the corral where Brandy was sure to turn.
“When we reached the road, she made the turn at a full gallop. All I can remember after that is that I came off her back and headed for the wire. But instead of hitting the wire, I hit a fifty-five gallon metal drum.”
“Were you hurt bad?” I asked.
“Yes, Danny,” Dad said. “I remember waking up in a hospital bed. I hurt all over, my arm was in a cast, and my head throbbed. Your grandma and grandpa were both there.
“Your grandpa came close to the bed and smiled. ‘I’m glad that you’re back with us,’ he said. ‘You had a pretty nasty fall.’ Then he handed me this hunk of horsehair.”
Dad handed me a picture frame that had been in his desk. It held a bunch of coarse brown hair.
“It was part of Brandy’s mane,” Dad continued, “the part that I had been holding onto. ‘You might want to keep this as a reminder,’ your grandpa said to me. ‘Maybe it will help you remember to never ride Brandy with a nose loop.’
“That’s all that he ever said about that day. I knew what he meant. If I had obeyed, I wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital.
“I’ve kept that hunk of hair ever since to remind me that there is always a reason for obedience.”
I stared at the brown hair, then looked at Dad. I knew then why he had told me about Brandy. I knew also that I wouldn’t be late getting home again.