The Hermaphroditic Horse
If you walked into my house, you’d know I was a bookish person. Books in shelves on the walls, books on tables, books stacked, alas and inevitably, on the floor. It’s hard to believe I could ever need another book.
My husband and I even have a little exchange we use when one of us is sorely tempted by something.
“Where are you going to put it?” the (temporarily) sane one asks. “Under the bed?” Then we laugh, because at our house “under the bed” is filled with boxes of books for which our little house doesn’t have shelf space. All right, I exaggerate—it’s not completely filled with boxes of books. My husband’s bagpipes are under there, too. But I digress. We were talking about how I could never need another book, or at least, so it would appear.
Last weekend, however, I found in a secondhand store (what used to be called “a junk shop”) a book that, as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it. It’s a pop-up book for farmers.
All right, I exaggerate. It's a 1903 reprint of an 1899 handbook called The Successful Stockman and Manual of Husbandry, so old that they weren’t using ISBN numbers. I guess there were few enough books that publishers could keep track of them all without numbers.
It’s in pretty rough shape—a lot of the pages are loose, and the binding has been repaired with electrical tape, so long ago that the tape has lost its stickum and is peeling off. Also, the whole thing is thick as a brick and weighs about the same. Why do I need this?
I’ll tell you exactly. I opened it up and there, right at the front was a heavier page that announced “This MANIKIN is prepared by Andrew A. Gardenier, Ph.D., expressly for THE SUCCESSFUL STOCKMAN and Manual of Husbandry.”
What’s a manikin? I wondered, and turned the page. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a cut-out of a horse, bound in, but loose on the page. When I lifted it, I saw another cut-out underneath it—the same horse, sans skin but showing all the muscles. Under that again was a horse with his circulatory system showing, and under that was the skeleton, with all the bones numbered in case you ever needed to assemble a horse yourself from scratch.
The final horse was labeled “digestive apparatus”. This one had no fewer than eight flaps—the lungs, heart in two pieces (so you could see the inside), stomach, intestines (in three pieces) and a uterus with an embryonic foal. Underneath all this was a diagram of the inside of the abdominal wall, and a drawing of the bladder and the male reproductive organs. Yes, this was a hermaphroditic horse!
Now, tell me who wouldn’t want something as cool as this? Breathes there a book-lover with soul so dead that never to herself has said, “You know, I could really use a big old manual of animal husbandry with a manikin of a hermaphroditic horse”?
I thought not. Of course I bought it. Now I have to read it, because what I really want to know is, do you need a second horse to get the hermaphroditic one pregnant?
Or can he do it all by herself?
Books mentioned in this column: