Chapter 4: Young Once

Mary Ida Young heard the birdsongs before she opened her eyes, naming them one by one: the humble robin, a boastful chickadee, a trilling song sparrow, the haunting distant melody of a wood thrush from the edge of the forest. And then — there it was, just as she opened her eyes — the mourning dove. And the reality of life came rushing back: her beloved son was gone, at the age of 30.

Junior had traveled to Bermuda several months ago, with great confidence, to cure a respiratory illness: it was thought the sea breezes, sunshine and warm ocean waters would be just the ticket. And then, on a perfectly ordinary day, a telegram came …

Mary Ida – 1930

Well. Mary Ida drew a sharp breath and threw back the bedcovers. She was determined to do her mourning privately, not least because of the endless fussing over her that well-intentioned people felt compelled to do. She just didn’t see the point of it and had been forcing herself to carry her five feet of stature like six, and willing her thoughts to focus on nothing but the farm and the business.

These were her loves now. With Junior gone, someone had to look after W.F. Young, Inc. and she thought she might as well do it — she’d done it before! Of course, her daughter Sally contributed and Harry Caswell was an enormous help. There was really no reason she shouldn’t take the reins (the phrase always brought the tiniest smile to her lips). Sally’s interest was limited, especially since she’d married. And David … well, she was starting to wonder why she had married David Alexander at all and that was another thing she didn’t want to think about right now.

In the breakfast room, the table was laid for two. Mary Ida never failed to notice Junior’s missing place setting. Manners were important and while she disapproved of reading the newspaper at the dining table, it prevented her from rushing through her tea, toast and soft-boiled egg. Satisfied it was the lesser of two evils — and maybe not so evil at all, since no one else was up yet to see it — Mary Ida had actually begun to enjoy the ritual.

This morning she read that Alfred E. Smith had accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. Four times the governor of New York and a progressive who wanted to repeal prohibition, Smith was also the first Catholic throw to his hat in the ring, so the 1928 election promised an interesting race. And look at that: his nomination had been broadcast on radio and television! … Oh, and that’s interesting — a Briton had just demonstrated color television transmission. Still, Mary Ida thought, with a rattle of her paper, it was hard to believe most people would have need of such a thing… Turning the page, she read that the decorated North Pole explorer Richard Byrd was getting ready for an expedition to Antarctica.

Mary Ida folded the paper and finished her tea, lost for a moment in the thought of what Antarctica would be like. She could imagine the excitement of being somewhere no one else had ever been, and could even countenance the hardships of nasty weather… but the thought of being in such a white, empty place with only some seabirds and seals? No thank you.

734 Longmeadow Street

On the walk to the barn, Mary Ida sent up a little prayer of thanks to Junior for talking her into buying the beautiful old Brewer place after they lost Wilbur Sr., a decade ago. Meadowview, as she had named it, was a constant balm, with its wide lawns, weeping willows and many gardens. Two Borzois, several Pekinese, two collies, two or three German Shepherds and an Irish Setter also had the run of the place. And they shared it with at least 10 cats. It’s a wonder, she thought, that Meadowview was peaceful at all!

As she entered the barn, Mary Ida took a deep breath. It was the best-smelling barn in Massachusetts, she was sure of it. Nothing but the green, dusty smell of hay and straw. These stables were Mary Ida’s pride and joy. Cobblestone floors were set in sand and beneath that, a base layer of charcoal neutralized ammonia from the horses’ urine. Every horse stall had two windows, and sliding doors. A 12-foot by 12-foot foaling stall was built into the hill under the barn to make it as comfortable as possible for delivering mares. A stone-lined water stall provided quick relief for any horses suffering swelling legs. Alternating Absorbine Veterinary Liniment and cold water treatment delivered amazing recoveries after minor leg injuries.

As she checked on the horses, stopping to rub each neck, award a sugar cube and get an update from the barn manager, Mary Ida made mental notes: thought it’s true she pampered her animals, what worked for them would work just as well for any horse — and that was the goal. Absorbine and other W.F. Young, Inc. products were inspired, devised and constantly improved as a result of what worked.

It had always been a labor of love, right from the beginning. Hard to believe all that had happened in the 36 years since she had first mixed Absorbine in the bathtub and Wilbur Sr. had sold it from the back of his wagon: The popularization of the automobile. The Great War. Wilbur Senior dying. The invention of the airplane and television. Wilbur Jr. dying —

Mary Ida felt a flash of grief that made her breath catch in her throat. But a look at the pocketwatch she kept tucked inside her glove brought her focus back to now. This afternoon she was meeting with some gentlemen from the Food, Drug and Insecticide Administration and there was work to be done.

The Supreme Court had ruled in 1924 that the Food and Drugs Act condemned every statement, design, or device on a product’s label that could mislead or deceive, even if technically true. Junior and Caswell had laid the groundwork, making sure the company was in compliance in terms of marketing. Now the FDIA was organizing new scientific standards for proof of efficacy. W.F. Young’s long history of laboratory research was about to pay off in ways they had never even considered. Mary Ida felt certain that the years of information they had recorded would make medical proof much easier on her company than on most others. As she walked back to the house, it cheered her to think that every horse in her barn had helped with that, too. 

Read the story of Absorbine® from the beginning here.

W.F. Young, Inc. is a marketer of many top equine brands, including ShowSheen® Hair Polish and Detangler, UltraShield® Insecticide and Repellant, Hooflex® and Horseman’s One Step® Leather Cleaner and Conditioner.

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