Technical writers or non fiction writers scribble to pay the bills and for the love of the analytical or the exercise of truth or deception.

Fiction authors write to illuminate their world or escape it.

Whichever kind of writer, it's all about staying alive and helping or entertaining others.

The Writing Life

Like most writers, I have a love of reading and the power of words. When I was younger, I read everything I could get my hands on, but I don’t consider myself well read. I consumed books like a starved person, so quickly I hardly knew what I had read. By some strange process of osmosis, I learned from everything I read, but I cannot give you an erudite discussion of characters, plots, or authors. I can only tell you it’s lodged some where in the core of my being and informs my writing.

In addition to reading, I’ve spent a life time writing---from that first elementary school composition to my college days when I studied French literature and wrote explications de texte. Along the way, I fell into technical writing--to put food on the table and pay bills. In the 90s, I had the good fortune to take a dialog class with Sol Stein, former owner of Stein & Day publishers in New York and a prolific author. That led to his California-based writers’ group, Chapter One. It was a rigorous, ego-bruising experience, but I was intent on learning everything I could about fiction writing. A few years ago, I also had the good fortune to study with another writer, Louella Nelson, an experienced romance writer and teacher of fiction writing. She provided a different perspective and balance to my writing.

My novel, DREAMING OF LAUGHING HAWK, a mainstream, Sixties era novel, is available on Amazon in print and ebook (also available in Canada, Europe, Japan, and Brazil). Download a free sample. If you like it, I hope you'll download the book and post a review on Amazon.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Almost Always a Lady

My father died in the Spring of 2012 at the age of 90 of gangrene in a nursing home. It was a tough way to go, but my father humbly put up with the indignities of old age--dementia, diabetes, and general infirmity. A few years before he lost control of his mind and body, he set himself in front of a computer and patiently tapped out his memoirs, short stories about his life and experiences that he wanted to share with his family.

Recently, I was thumbing through his stories and I found one about the pony we had as small children. It's interesting to compare his recollections as an adult and mine as a child about the pony we called Lady. According to my father, she wasn't always a lady, whereas I always recall her as my friend and protector. She kept a protective eye on me as if I was her own colt.

So here are my father's recollections about Lady:



Ken pulled up the lane alongside the barn to unload. His big stock trailer held a beautiful black mare with a light-colored mane and tail and a white-faced, red Hereford calf. My wife and I and our three children watched with great anticipation as he carefully led Lady from the trailer while the calf bounded past her into the pasture.

We raised bird dogs as a hobby. We had recently swapped two three-month old puppies (a Weimaraner and a German Shorthaired Pointer) in exchange for Ken's livestock. Ken was an impoverished farmer from Southern Illinois, but a devout quail hunter and a lover of bird dogs. The children were reluctant to relinquish the pups, but excited about having their very own horse. Lady was a good-looking, black mare with three white stockings and a matching blaze on her forehead. She was about 16 years old, carried her age with dignity, and was pregnant. We were excited to welcome her and the expected foal into our family.

Lady spent the first two days confined to her stall getting acquainted with her new surroundings and family. Then I roped off a space between the barn and fence, put the kids on her back, and turned her loose. She was perfectly docile, plodding around the perimeter, head lowered, grabbing an occasional mouthful of grass, content in her new role as mobile baby sitter. But if an adult wanted to ride her she was an entirely different horse. She would throw up her head and tail, point her ears forward, and prance like the young filly of her past.

She and Linda were soon best friends. When Lady spotted her at the fence she would trot across the field to take a carrot from her outstretched hand. When Linda sat on the huge rock in the middle of the pasture, Lady would come up behind her, drape her head over her shoulder, and nibble at her pigtails. Linda would stroke her velvet soft muzzle and confide her innermost secrets while rewarding her with a carrot. Soon Lady would come to her anywhere. But should an adult attempt to catch her in the pasture, she would only let you approach to within about ten feet, then lower her head, snort, kick up her heels, wheel around, and race out of reach. Even a carrot in an adult's hand would not entice her. This could go on for hours.

As the months flew by Lady became bigger. One morning I went to the barn to find her standing over her newborn foal, cleaning it gently with her rough tongue and softly nickering horse words of encouragement. The beautiful sorrel colt had a blond mane and tail. When I attempted to get in the stall with them, Lady would lay back her ears and warn me away. I remained long enough to see the colt struggle to his feet on long, wobbly legs and begin to nurse. It must have been  four days before she would allow me to touch the colt. She would always keep her body between us and lay back her ears to caution me. In a few days we caught glimpses of them running side by side around the pasture with heads held high and manes and tails floating in the wind. What a sight!

While we visited my wife's parents for a week, the neighbor's son Eddie volunteered to do our chores. In return he was to have the privilege of riding Lady whenever he wished. It seemed like a good deal to me so we agreed. I never did know for certain what happened, but according to Eddie, they got too close to the fence, caught a stirrup, and broke the stirrup strap. I think there was more to it than that. After our return, Eddie came to ride Lady again. As he entered the pasture, Lady laid back her ears and took after him as he hurriedly retreated over the fence. That was the last time he ever asked to ride her.

That's when I decided that horses have their own unique personalities. Lady could be gentle, kind and considerate or stubborn, indifferent or downright threatening. She was  always a lady--well almost always. I'm sure that Linda remembers her fondly and that Lady will always be an important part of our favorite reminiscences.

So that was my father's take on Lady. He's right about my always remembering her, but I saw her through a child's eyes. I trusted her completely. She patiently tolerated me stretching out on her bare back in the hot summer sun while she flicked away the flies with her tail. I was never afraid of her. She never threatened me. In fact, she protected me.

The story about her that I remember was when the neighbor boy Eddie tried to pull me off of Lady so he could have a turn riding. Eddie was a mean bully. No one will ever know what he did to Lady that one time we left Lady in his care, but Lady hated him, purely hated him. On that fateful day when Eddie tried to pull me out of my saddle, Lady and I decided to give him a good scare. I kicked my heels into Lady's flanks and she reared up slightly. We both wanted to pound that skinny bastard into the ground, but Lady knew I was on her back and she was not about to do anything to endanger me. And then my mother quickly intervened to put an end to a dangerous situation. But Lady and I understood each other. We really wanted to give mean Eddie a little scare. Thank goodness Lady was smarter than me.

I will always remember myself as a 7-year old girl sitting on that boulder in the pasture with Lady's head resting on my shoulder. It was a place in time of complete silence and peace--and love.

5 comments:

  1. Wow, I loved that story. It's nice to have a comparison in memories like that. I like horses too, and they've usually treated me well. I do think there are some cranky horses just as there are cranky people, but I've never had trouble. It's usually the human element. I fell off a horse when the saddle wasn't put on properly because the lady guiding our ride group tended to some latecomers more than she did to the ones who were on time. The horse stood calmly while I got up and back on. I could have taken legal action but didn't. Great story, thanks for sharing it.

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    1. So glad you enjoyed this story. Animals are quite remarkable. I was fortunate to be surrounded by all kinds of animals in my very early childhood. I learned a lot of lessons from them.

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  2. A great account from your father...I see where you inherited the "writer's" gene.

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