"They also serve who only stand and wait.”
On His Blindness
This week’s posting gives you two for the price of one. (And considering the price, what a bargain this is!) Although different in critical ways, the two types depicted below share a common thread: their link to foxhunting is missing one critical element – the horse. The difference, however, is that one group has never ridden to hounds and never will while the other group once did but never will again. I have termed the former “Hodads,” an arcane reference that might strike a chord with a few folks out on the Left Coast. The latter group I have dubbed “Hunters Emeriti” if only to impress readers with my grasp of Latin tenses. Each group represents an important component of the hunting community and can be easily spotted at a tailgate in the field or breakfast at the clubhouse. Neither will be wearing hunting attire; street clothes will reveal their horseless status. The Hodads will be attempting to ingratiate their way into a conversation between those who have just returned from the hunt, seeking some opening for a comment that does not necessitate having been a part of the day’s action. The Hunters Emerti will be attempting to remain upright, possibly with the aid of a cane or walker, wondering who all these people are and if there’s still time to make the Early Bird special at Denny’s.
In more detail, we consider first…
In surfing culture a Hodad is someone who hangs out at the beach, likes to associate with surfers, but never actually gets on a board. In the foxhunting world a Hodad is a social member, or in some cases a hanger-on politely referred to as “a friend of the hunt” (i.e., he shows up at tailgates but doesn’t actually fork over the few bucks required to be listed officially on the club’s social roster). This is someone drawn to the allure of foxhunting but who can’t muster the gumption to actually get on a horse and give it a try. Some live it vicariously through a child or spouse but many don’t even have that connection.
The Hodad’s role, when he or she is a paying social member, serves two functions.
First, this membership category provides an additional source of revenue for the club. And it’s pure profit. The Hodad’s dues help offset the cost of maintaining a pack of foxhounds and a string of horses, paying the salary of professional staff, and covering all the other operating expenses the club incurs. But the Hodad doesn’t use the hounds, horses, or staff, other than to show up and admire them as they move off into the countryside where the Hodad can’t go.
Second, Hodads provide a source of redemption for Posers. The Poser at least gets credit for being out there, on a horse, dealing with all her fears, taking the risks. Her timidity and constant excuses may be a source of annoyance, or amusement, to her fellow hunters but everyone has to recognize that she’s willing to put her feet in the irons and give it a go. She’s the surfer girl who may not be able to take the big curls but will paddle out, catch a wave, and have a wobbly ride back to the beach, arms akimbo to keep her balance, her face locked in grim determination. As long as she’s willing to get on the board, or in this case the horse, she ain’t no Hodad.
And now for a reverent consideration of…
A hunter emeritus is greatly venerated, typically someone who was an avid and active hunter for many years, a major supporter of the club, perhaps an ex-master or a major landowner. Now age and infirmity have taken their toll. The old hunter has swung a leg over a saddle for the last time. There will be no more days a-field riding to hounds. But the appeal of the chase and for the hunting-centered lifestyle remains undimmed. They still want to participate in some manner, even if it’s just staying involved as a social member, following a day’s hunting action by car or in the hound truck, attending the club’s social functions, serving as an officer or committee member. Given the premium foxhunters place on tradition, our focus more backward than forward, those who provide a living link to earlier times play a vital role in preserving the sport’s history. Old timers are the elders of our village, the sages who have seen it all, were there for the glory days, took the risks, and lived to tell.
Assuming, that is, they can still form intelligible words. Some are way overdue for a one-way trip to the old hunter’s home. Not only did they live the glory days, they think they’re still in the glory days, that it’s 1956 and Ike has just won a second term.
Anyone who has lived much of his life outdoors is likely to end up with skin that looks like they did a Rip Van Winkle in a tanning booth. These folks are walking warnings to remember the sunscreen.
Assuming, that is, they can still walk. I knew one old chap who kept a collection of glass jars filled with all the pins, bolts, and screws that had held various busted parts of his body together while they healed. Another fellow still rode for a few years after he had to give up foxhunting and had a special flap affixed to his saddle pad from which he could hang his cane. The broken neck that ended his hunting career left him a bit gimpy. Another gentleman could walk without aid, sort of. His unsure footfalls made him look like a parody of the drunken sailor.
They may be blubbering, decrepit, withered old sods but they’re our old sods. And we all hope to be like them one day. Either that or go out as a privileged few have, to suffer a massive heart attack in the saddle, preferably just after taking a long swig from a lovely lady’s flask, and to then find yourself following hounds through the fields of Elysium before your mortal carcass hits the turf.
© 2010, J. Harris Anderson