I think today is Thursday. Yes, I'm pretty sure that's correct.
Today is, or was, Thursday, January 29, 2009. Twenty-nine
days into the new year and already so much has happened.
I live in the country, part of a small town community. There are many small towns in and around the area in which I live. When you live in small town USA you tend to know your neighbor, or at least you used to. It's a little different now than when I was a child. As a child, with my mother working at the local "drug store" and my father working across the street in the machine shop of the local automotive parts store, I felt like we knew everyone in our little town. After all most folks either came into the "drug store" for a sundae and some pinball or took their vehicle to my dad for repair, or both. By the time I was in Junior High School my mother moved "uptown" to a dress shop on the town "square" while my father continued to work as the shop foreman for the same company he'd been with since he was about fifteen. All the girls knew my mom because of where she worked and all the boys knew my dad because of his job. Needless to say my parents always knew everything I was doing, sometimes even before I knew it myself. If that wasn't enough my older brother, older by almost nine years, believed it was his duty to watch over me like a hawk and threaten any boy, who might look my way, within an inch of his life.
Growing up we lived next door to my paternal grandparents. Before I started kindergarden my grandmother kept me every day while my parents worked. I grew up thinking we had everything! After all we lived on a (small) farm with my grandparents next door and all the neighbors were friends. My grandparents had chickens and hogs and a few cows so we always had meat and eggs. My grandfather and I raised rabbits and occasionally he would manage to sneak a few of them off to the butcher. My dad and my grandfather grew corn and soy beans and there was a garden every summer with lots of goodies to eat, can and freeze. My grandfather liked to teach me about milking cows, churning butter, planting the garden and how to eat watermelon right off the vine. My grandmother taught me about chickens and a little bit about sewing and canning. I say a "little bit" because it was difficult to teach me anything that required my staying in the house to do "girly" things. I was a tom boy and proud of it! I wanted to help with the hogs and cows and follow my grandfather everywhere he went. Thank goodness he was a patient man! He was a very brave man too, so brave he was the one who taught me how to drive. But with all this, the love, the understanding, caring and lessons, there was one thing I always wanted but could not have. A horse.
I loved horses from the time I first knew what they were. A friend of the family who was a few years older than I, always had horses and I loved spending time with her. She taught me how to ride and this scared my grandmother to death. My grandmother hated horses and was quite sure I would be killed riding one. As the years went by I would choose friends according to what animals they had in their barn. I looked for people with horses, big horses, fat horses, ponies, it really didn't matter so long as they had four legs, a tail and smelled like a horse! When I was a senior in high school my dad and my grandfather bought me a brand new car for graduation. My mother was still driving a car that was six years old and didn't like that I got a new one. When my mother made a comment to me about my new car and how she would have liked to have one before I got one, I told her I would have rather had a horse! She still likes to remind me of that comment today. It was true however, a horse was all I ever wanted.
After I married and had the children I still wanted a horse. We lived in town for the first three years we were married then built a house on a little piece of land my grandparents gave us. Not too long after we moved in I talked my husband into letting me buy a horse, my first horse. We didn't have a pasture but our house sat at the back of my grandfathers five acres and next to my parents five acres, both of which were fenced and ready to pasture. I was so thrilled! My grandmother was so angry! But I was a grown woman with two small children a husband and a house and horse of my own.
I seldom had anyone to ride with. My husband would help me feed or care for the horses if needed but did not want to ride. My mother has always had back problems and just couldn't be comfortable in the saddle. My dad would ride with me when he could find the time, which wasn't too often with a full time job, farming and keeping up with the yard. So I rode most of the time alone. I would hear of rides taking place but never had the opportunity to participate. Riding was something I loved to do as well as just taking care of the animals so I was happy to just have horses.
Time passed and my girls were getting older and more involved in many activities. My time was spent driving to and from school, gymnastics, baton lessons and ball games. Before long I had little time to ride or spend with my horses. Eventually they were all sold and I was out of the horse business, I assumed forever. I would become so sad in the springtime when I would see foals running around in a pasture or someone out for a ride. Parades were tough too as I had always wanted to ride in a parade and had never had the chance. Another phase of my life had come and gone, or so I thought.
In 1995 our eldest married a young man from a neighboring community. The young man and his family had a horse, one that needed riding. When my son-in-law's family asked me if I would like to ride the beautiful sorrel gelding, I jumped at the chance! Oh how wonderful to sit on a horse once more. How terrific it was to smell the leather of the saddle, the hay in the barn and the smell of the horse, how I'd missed the smell of a horse! Again I rode alone but with no complaint as I was so happy to be able to ride again. The family had several acres and there were miles of country roads to be traveled. I would ride several times a week and go to the barn every evening to feed and care for my new friend. I was in love with a horse once again!
Now, again I repeat that living in a small community has many advantages. I soon learned one of the advantages is knowing a neighbor with horses, who loves to ride those horses and currently does not have a riding buddy. My son-in-law's family suggested I stop by their neighbors house and get to know him. They told me he was a wonderful older man who enjoyed horses and riding as much I and could probably use someone to ride with. They said his name is Chester and he is very nice. They were so right about all they said and the rest is history.
Chester and I began riding around the neighborhood, then on trail rides. One day he ask me if I would be interested in riding in the Creal Springs Parade and of course I was interested. Finally I had the chance to ride in a parade! We rode in parades, on trail rides, and anywhere and everywhere we could. After a couple of years I went to the Nine Day Trail Ride in Pope county, IL. I also began riding on the Sikeston Ride, a ride that takes place annually from Williamson County, IL to Sikeston, MO for the Sikeston JC Bootheel Rodeo. At last I had someone to ride horses with and I had a friend who loved horses as much I.
Chester and I got to know one another quite well through the many talks we had while riding. I learned about his son who had died at the age of 22, about his four sisters and their families, his wife's family and his very special friend Estes,who was like a son. I heard about the many horses he'd had throughout the years and how/why he changed from riding Quarter horses to gaited horses. Due to E.P.M., an illness that originates in opossums and ends up in horses, with the horse being the "dead end host" I could no longer ride Dakota the sorrel quarter horse. Chester offered to let me ride one of his mares, Tinker Bell. "Tinker" was a little black mare with a gait like a Fox Trotter, very smooth and easy to ride. Tinker carried me for many a mile on the many rides Chester and I took. He and I rode almost every weekend, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday and a day or two during the work week. I soon decided I liked riding gaited horses, a lot! In 1998 another of Chester's mares had a beautiful little red sorrel and white spotted filly and I fell in love. Two years later we broke and trained the filly and I purchased my first gaited horse. Tawodi's Fancy Dancer was the official name I gave my new horse, Fancy is what we all call her.
In many ways Chester had become like a second father, that is until my father passed away in 2001. I soon realized just how much time I spent with Chester and how much I depended on his advice and calm way of dealing with life. I learned so much from this man and had been able to spend time with him, riding horses, taking care of them, etc., doing the things I would have loved to do with my dad. When Chester's wife passed in 2000, he was so crushed, so heartbroken. I was afraid he would not recover from his loss, afraid he would give up. With time he improved and realized he needed to go on, that life continued and he needed to do likewise. In 2006, I believe it was, Chester had to have a "minor" surgery. Minor for a younger man perhaps but a little tougher on someone 89 years young. Again we all were afraid he might give up doing the things he enjoyed, his cattle and horses and especially riding. He continued to say that maybe it was time he quit (riding). Finally I ask him what he was going to do if he did give up his horses and riding? His reply, with a grin, was "well, I guess I'll just sit in my chair and die". We resumed riding the next week.
(This post was started on Thursday evening and completed Friday morning)
One week ago today the weather was beautiful, warm and sunny. This was the second such day and with weather like that in January, everyone was outdoors finding something to do. Chester and Estes were trimming trees on some of Chester's property, an old home place where some huge old maple trees still stood. I won't give the painful details of the days events but suffice it to say it ended badly. Trees are unpredictable at best and deadly at worst. The man who was like a son, in every sense, was dead and Chester witnessed it all.
The community out pouring has been amazing, small community with a huge heart. So many broken hearts, so many tears. One 91 year old man who feels lost, who can't help but think he is responsible for this tragedy. So many of us have prayed with him and for him. We tell him he must put this tragedy and his grief in God's hands. Still he has no desire to eat and the tears still flow frequently. Still the whole scene continues to replay in his mind constantly.
What can you say in a time like this? There have been so many words of wisdom spoken in the past week, so many folks trying to comfort. When we speak these words does he really hear? Can his bruised heart and mind really process any of what is spoken? I pray he hears and can feel the love the community holds for him. Most of all I pray he hears God's words and remembers how large His hands are.