Jen Jeffrey Billington: Smokey – The Reunion – Part Two

Monday, February 13, 2017 - by Jen Jeffrey Billington
Jen Jeffrey Billington
Jen Jeffrey Billington

Early in the morning, my husband Jason and I headed for Chattanooga to visit Mama in the hospital and to pick up Smokey. I was supposed to visit Mama for a few days a week ago, but I got really sick with a virus.

I had already scheduled pick up for Smokey on this next trip, but I could not come to Chattanooga and not see my Mama. I knew she was excited for me to be getting Smokey and she kept wishing she could see his face when we were reunited. So, I decided to go see Smokey first and to video tape it for Mama.

Jason and I pulled up to the ranch at Heritage Farms in Ooltewah and went searching for Smokey.

It had been three years since I saw him last and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pick him out from the other dark horses unless I could see them up close.

We came upon two horses in a small paddock and I didn’t think it was Smokey, but I wanted to start calling to him and singing anyway and see if the horse would come running to me. I don’t know what magical scenario I had in my mind, but I just wanted to record something special for Mama.

I handed Jason my cell phone ready to record a video and I began singing to this horse far on the other side of the paddock. Jason called out “Smokey!” And a migrant worker came by and said, “That not Smokey… Smokey over there,” and Jason belted out with laughter at his wife who was crooning a Billie Holiday song to a strange horse that was not Smokey.

We went to the next paddock and there he was! It was one of those things where when you aren’t sure – you just aren’t sure but when you ARE you know it! I knew this horse was Smokey!

He had the same haircut as usual (his owner Sherry always kept his wither’s cut where his bridal goes).

I called out to him, “Smokey Love!” but he was not phased.

For all he knew, I was just a ranch hand. He dipped his head to the bucket of water and began drinking.

I climbed up on the wooden fence and started singing, “You go to my head…” and immediately Smokey’s head shot up out of the water bucket and he came over to me. I kept singing and I could see it in his eyes… he knew me!

As I kept singing, he tried to reach for me with his nose. It wasn’t the way a horse reaches for treats and gets mouthy… this was as though his muzzle was an ‘antennae’ and he was using every sensory muscle trying to feel me, smell me and kiss me!

It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and I will never forget that moment.

Jason captured it on my recorder and now I had something special to take to Mama. I kept petting him and tears of joy flooded my eyes.

I told Smokey he was now “my horse” and I was taking him home to Kentucky.

Of course, he didn’t know what I meant, so when we had to leave him after just reuniting with him that tugged at my heart. Smokey knew the last time I brought Jason with me that I didn’t come back for a long time. 

Jason and I got back in the Jeep and drove to Memorial Hospital to see Mama. There was talk that she would be moved to Siskin for rehab, but we made it to see her.

When we walked in, she looked really good!

This is the emotional roller-coaster about having a parent with an illness in which one week, she does really bad, organs start having problems – but then… the docs drain fluid around her heart and then she starts feeling better and we believe she is going to have more time left than we thought.

I was delighted to see her so chipper and I always, always have hope for more months and maybe a year or more if she keeps fighting and doing well.

Of course, the leukemia has become ‘aggressive’ now, so maybe God just gave me a good visit that day. I still keep hoping, that as long as she isn’t suffering – that Mama will stick around for a lot longer. We just never know. Sometimes the news my sisters give me doesn’t sound like there is much time left and then there will be a turnaround… until something else happens that sends her back to us questioning if we need to prepare ourselves.

I didn’t want to think about that.

After several hugs and kisses for Mama, I pulled out the video of me seeing Smokey and the photos taken. Mama was so happy to see them. She was so happy that I finally have Smokey in my life again.

I wanted a special video of Mama too. So I climbed up in bed with her, attached the selfie stick to my phone and started recording us visiting.

I asked her to tell me my favorite story of when she was a little girl and got out of a whippin’ from my grandfather.

The story is that when Mama was a little girl, her Mama had company over for Sunday dinner. Mama wanted to sit by my grandmother and threw a little tantrum at the table. She ran outside and my grandfather chased her to the garden. Mama knew she was about to be whooped, so she wiped her tears on her dress and blew her nose into her dress making a mess! She cried, “Oh Daddy, now look what I have done… now Mama is gonna whip me too!” And of course, he felt sorry for her and she got out of that spanking.

It was good to hear her tell the story again. She told me a few others I remembered her telling about her little girl days. She told me about the first time she met my Daddy. They were at Wallace Drug Store in Murray and Daddy was sitting at the soda fountain bar. He looked over at Mama and while trying to drink his water he spilled it all over him. It was love at first sight!

Things like this were so wonderful to have her talking about on video. I just kept it going. I had several memories after the other recorded and I could take it home and splice it up to save each memory for when I would want to watch it.

It was so special. I hope I get to do it again and go back and visit her in a week or so.

It was time for us to meet our horse-hauling guy Jerry at the ranch. Jason and I said our goodbyes to Mama and my sisters and headed back to the ranch.

Though we woke up early and making it a one-day trip that would bring us home unloading a horse close to midnight, we weren’t tired. We were having such a great day and everything happened as it should.

Sherry texted me telling me she could not be there and watch Jerry load Smokey and take him away.

Even though she knew this was best for Smokey, with her health issues hindering her from being able to always take care of him and she was so happy for me to be able to take care of Smokey, it was so hard and emotional for her to let him go.

I was sad not to see Sherry and get a hug, but she told me she would be visiting us in Kentucky in a few weeks.

We saw her husband Doug and we talked with him while we waited on Jerry.

Once the big King Ranch truck and long horse trailer pulled up, we went to get Smokey who was already cleaned up and in his stall.

He knew something was up. His ears perked up as we led him out of the barn and toward the trailer.

Smokey stood beautifully for his mug shot Jerry took for his records. Then, he walked over to the trailer and spied Jerry’s bucket of apples! He wanted to help himself to one, but they were still in a bag. He went in the trailer without any problem at all. He’s such a good horse.

We told Doug goodbye and thanked him for everything and we followed Jerry in his trailer out of the ranch… with my horse. My horse Smokey.

It felt surreal.

Was he really coming home with me? To Kentucky? I began praying for travel mercies and angels all around that trailer. We drove the four hour drive to Western Kentucky and finally pulled up at our ranch.

Smokey nearly leapt out of the trailer!

I let him eat some Kentucky grass and walk around a bit before taking him to his stall. He got the big stall in case he wanted to lay down or stretch his legs some more.

It was dark and it was late.

My son Andrew, who lives at the ranch, came out and filled Smokey’s water bucket and gave him some hay to munch. I stayed with him for a bit and then closed up the barn but left him a night light.

I couldn’t wait until daylight to go out and see Smokey! I couldn’t wait to take him around the pasture and show him his new home!

After bringing Smokey the horse back to our Kentucky ranch, the next morning, my daughter in-law Stephanie came out to feed the horses and I fed Smokey. After he had time to eat, it was time to introduce him to the other horses.

First, I put him in the round pen so he could walk around a bit and know where it was. He saw the other herd in Freedom Ring paddock and they all sort of sniffed each other at the fence.

After he had time to greet his new pals, it was time to take him to his paddock Eagle’s Wing and meet Legend.

Legend is my two-year-old colt. These two would be pals until we slowly introduce Smokey to the rest of the herd over a period of time.

Smokey went right in the pasture with his tail held high as he pranced across the open field so majestically.

Legend already decided to show submission by doing that cute little ‘mouthy thing’ young horses do.

Smokey met the other herd at the fence for a closer whiff and to greet them again. Shortly after, he went to the automatic waterer and took a nice long drink – I didn’t have to train him at all. He looked so very happy!

Then (and I knew it was coming) he went out to the middle of the pasture and rolled. One two three….and sprang up with a shake of his mane.

He wasn’t quite finished… he knelt down again and onto his back - one, two, three… and again! One, two three… ahh, Smokey was happy.

It was good to see him enjoying his new Kentucky home.

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