WILLIAMSTOWN — With the price of gas nudging $5 a gallon, it’ll be a while before I set out on another of my occasional motor tours of old haunts in Williamstown, which I have inhabited — some might say infested — on and off for 62 years.
My last drive-about, in mid-February, took me to South Williamstown: South on Cold Spring Road (Route 7) to Steele’s Corners, right onto Hancock Road (Route 43), and a quick right onto Sloan Road, which always seems longer and straighter than I remember. At the “Y” intersection, I turn left onto Oblong Road, which I follow to its intersection with Hancock Road.
The prospect of higher speed limits combined with a desire to, as a mechanic once put it, “blow the spiders out” of the long-garaged car I was driving, inspired a right turn onto Hancock Road headed southwest toward the New York line.
It wasn’t long before I passed a property I knew of old, a fair-sized spread that I “house-sat” in the 1980s. Earlier in my youth I’d adopted the house-sitting business as what would now be called a “side hustle.” Business thrived for a while — I spent a couple of blissful summers enjoying the amenities of some of the best houses in town — but it fell off sharply as homeowners invested in security systems and off-site accommodations for pets left behind when their owners vacationed.
The place on Hancock Road was my last charge, which was fitting, as it evolved into a debacle unequalled by any of the other mishaps that befell my short-lived business.
(For the record, these included the brief disappearance of a pair of prized English sheepdogs, the incorrect setting of a pool filter motor that resulted in the water taking on the appearance of skim milk and the accidental incineration of an antique chair in a fire pit .)
It began with a dead horse
One minute, this tall (16 hands), graceful, if mildly eccentric, creature was romping in an open meadow in a late winter snow squall, celebrating his successful escape from his paddock. The next, he was lying dead, four legs pointed skyward.
The veterinarian, who little knew how much his patience was to be tried at that benighted estate, speculated that a heart attack had caused the death. Long-acquainted with the owner, the vet advised against a necropsy, citing the high cost and probable low benefit, the relatively advanced age of the horse and a desire to avoid spoiling the man’s vacation.
Besides, he said, the cold weather would allow the carcass to remain lightly covered above ground for the days remaining before the owner’s return, and it remained only to have it removed from the premises and taken to a burial site on a farm nearer the town center.
This was easier said than done. The farmer, one of whose side businesses was carcass removal and burial, reported that his backhoe was “down” and would remain so for at least five days.
Asked for advice, he suggested covering the horse with as much snow as possible and keeping a sharp eye out for coyotes, foxes, dogs or other animals that might be attracted to the meadow.
Luckily, this threat did not materialize, but the property’s appearance was marred for several days (a “rush” was put on the backhoe part) by a bizarre and macabre “snow sculpture.”
No blame was assigned in the case of the dead horse, and a subsequent sad incident, which involved the rescue and later euthanizing of a drenched and chilled Newfoundland dog from the well into which she had accidentally fallen, also without recrimination.
This was owing to the candor, honesty and courage of the veterinarian, the late Christopher Dillman, who telephoned the vacationing owner and reminded him of the vet’s repeated warnings about the old dog’s precarious and painful state of health and his long-standing recommendation that she be euthanized.
The two surviving animals in the household, an elderly beagle mix and a gentle old stable horse, lived out peaceful lives, fate moved on to other merry pranks, and I to other work, but not before deleting the “pet care” specialty from the business cards.