The author with her first horse. (And doesn't that thing's grin scare the hell out of you?)
Now I know that today is to be all about Open Call Olympics and other serious subjects, but I wanted to pin a tail (as it were) on my post from yesterday wherein I mentioned my love affair with the equine species. After all, Friday is also an "aw"some day, is it not? My obsession began at a young age and, like any self-respecting budding cowgirl, I lobbied endlessly for a horse, a pony, or any damn thing I could ride - how about a big dog?
One fall, during the months leading up to the big day - Christmas! - I could hear my father working in his shop which was located in the basement directly below my room. I heard sawing, nail pounding and the occasional cuss word but didn't think much about it, because as I've mentioned before, my father could fix or build just about anything. He felt that all you really needed in life was baling wire and duct tape. I'm not sure how his patients felt about those items as medical tools, but no one ever seemed to complain about the abnormally large and painful holes baling wire leaves when you remove the stitches from your cut. Maybe that was what the duct tape was for - to stifle the screams during suture removal. But, I digress.
My mother was the queen of rules and on Christmas morning the big rule was that all three of us children were to gather in our fashionable flannel bathrobes (another rule) behind the closed door to the living room. When, and only when, the excitement level had reached stratospheric proportions, were we allowed into the main event. In the 1950s, Christmas gift-giving hadn't reached the obscene levels it has now. In my family you got a stocking (ALWAYS with a tangerine in the toe) and one or two other presents. My brothers got trains (and let me tell you, those Lionel engines are worth a fortune now), cars, trucks and books that year, but I got...Pal!
Unbeknowst to me, my father had spent the fall evenings, after office hours and hospital rounds, building me a horse. Some of you who were raised on the west coast may recognize Pal. There was once a wonderful restaurant/train ride/toyshop place in Vacaville, CA called The Nut Tree. Outside of the main building, they had a whole herd of wooden rocking horses. You had to wait and wait for your turn to ride one as they were insanely popular with the kiddies. The Nut Tree was NOT an organization to miss out on a possible revenue stream, so they sold patterns for the horses like proverbial hotcakes.
And so my father had purchased the plans from the Nut Tree and commenced building. Due to power failures during some heavy storms that year, he hadn't quite finished it by Christmas morning. As you can see there's no scary grin or distinctive star on the forehead but he did have his huge green ears and mop tail. My second present that year was the to-die-for cowgirl outfit, complete with boots and hat. I was over the moon. I fell in love instantly and rode Pal all day. In my mind I was galloping along to the Lone Ranger's theme song. I love the William Tell Overture to this day. I had to be dragged off to get dressed and appear at dinner that night. Pal became my best friend and he lived in my parents' back yard for some 30+ years. His smile faded in the sun over the years and his mop tail was lost, but my children rode on him and loved him like I did.
As I got older, my desire for a real horse was met, like all requests in our family, with, "Great! A horse would be great! Get a job!" (In the previous sentence you can substitute the word "horse" with any word of your choice: Skis? "Great! Get a job!" A car? "Great! Get a job! " A life? "Great! Get a job!" And so on.) And so, I did. I worked my butt off for the attorney across the street doing stacks of menial paperwork (but I got to commute to San Francisco all summer long which was pretty cool) all in the name of horseflesh. At the end of the summer I had saved up the (then) enormous sum of $500 and I bought my first (and only) real horse, Raina.
She was 3/4 Arabian and 1/4 Quarter Horse, 14 hands and a real beauty. Of course, I was in love. Again. I soon learned that with a real horse, comes real work. Bucking hay bales, grooming, feeding and shoveling. Lots and lots and lots of shoveling. My father was beside himself at the sudden surfeit of free manure at his disposal for our huge vegetable garden. I spent many happy hours learning why you have special clothes you wear when you creosote fences. I rode up into the hills for hours where no one could find me and starred in a thousand imagined horseback dramas. I rode with friends and even showed a bit. In short, I was in heaven.
The years passed and I eventually had to sell Raina because I had decided to move to Lake Tahoe. It was one of the saddest things I've ever done. My dad had a doctor friend whose wife had decided that she wanted to become a horsewoman and they agreed to buy my precious Raina and all her tack - saddle, bridle, etc. I was comforted that at least I'd know where she was. A year or so later, the couple got divorced and I lost track of where she went. I wish I knew.
There is a small postscript to the story. Years later, I was down in Marin visiting my parents. My father was fixing something (as usual) and asked me to go downstairs to his basement shop and get some tool or other for him. He was getting old and it was difficult for him to get up and down the stairs. Down I went, and when I switched on the light, there, clean and shining with saddle soap and smelling of leather oil was my saddle. My dad had called the doctor and bought it back for me.
I'm getting older and as the years pass it seems that I may never have another horse to go with my saddle. But twice a year or so I get out the saddle soap and oil and clean it and hope that I might still find another Pal.
I think today might be a good day to clean it while I watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.