Farmer, Horseman

Arrested Development?

“You’re Peter Pan. You have all these kids following you around. You know why? You never grow up.” A long ago colleague’s take on me.
I walk away from my office chagrined and confused. Thank goodness my friends are waiting in the back of the truck. “We going to Mission, Martha?”
“I have to just drop you off and go home and get the dogs unless you want to go home with me and get the dogs then go.”
“We’ll go home with you.”
“Yeah, I’ll go see my mom for a minute.”
“Cool. Let’s rock’n’roll.”
“I got this, well my uncle Jim made it, you’re going to like it.” Tape in tape deck. Air instruments deployed.

“You know what, Martha?”
“No tell me.”
“What’s weird is you’re just like us. I mean except you’re a lady and stuff and you’re smart, and you teach college and shit, but otherwise, you’re just like us.”
“What do you mean?”
“You just want to do this, don’t you? You just want to ride your bike and hike with your dogs and hang out with us.”
“That’s true, Craig.”

“Martha! Martha! Martha! Martha!”
“Hi Andy.”
“My horse pooped.”
“Yeah, they’re good at that. I gotta’ go grade papers. See you later alligator.”
“See you later blablerbater.”
He’s close to getting it.

And so I sit here, a retiree, a senior citizen, writing this prompt, thinking about the question, looking something like my maternal grandmother, wearing my favorite Clash t-shirt and wondering what I thought it would be to be an adult. All I ever thought it would be was inevitable. My childhood was serious. My teen years even more so. I learned during those times that without a spirit of play, a person is lost. I think what many think of as being an adult is someone without that spirit, without the ability to “Jump Death.”

Brownie T. Horse

I walked out my front door that February morning to see something many little girls dream about: there was a horse essentially in my front yard. He was a brown and white pinto quarterhorse, well up in horse years. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The dogs were surprised, too, but all of us were happy. I went over to the fence to meet him and everything about him enchanted me.

I’ve never been a horse person. My friends growing up were horse-crazy girls, but I could not have cared less. Brownie — that’s what the kids ended up naming him — instantly melted my heart.

I sometimes fed him and often gave him carrots, and talked to him, and hung out with him, made sure he always had water. These were not my jobs and I did not have to do them, but something about Brownie made me want to be sure he knew I cared about him.

When I came home from school after my evening class, dark and lonely small town winter night, as soon as he heard the car actually pull into the drive he’d nicker. When I opened the gate, he pawed the ground and whinnied, “Hi, Martha! I’m glad you’re home!” Of course, carrots were sometimes involved in this, but not always. Most evenings I’d come in, drop my books, go to the fridge, get a carrot and take it to Brownie before I fed my dogs.

Brownie was not just a carrot-whore and this was not a carrot based relationship. There were other experiences, too. One afternoon I was scratching the sides of his nose and he enjoyed it so much he closed his eyes in pleasure, like a cat does when you pet its chin. Often when I came out my front door in the morning, Brownie would greet me with a bow — left leg forward, right leg curled up under his chest, head down and a small nicker. At night, before I went to bed, I usually went out to say goodnight to Brownie, stroke his nose and tell him what a great horse he was and that I was so happy he was there.

Hanging around Brownie, I began to experience a kind of communication I didn’t know existed. I thought this was all in my head, but when I saw his owner — a real cowboy — work with him, I saw that my perceptions were accurate. Brownie was very articulate, and my neighbor understood (and spoke!) Brownie’s language. I was just learning. I even dreamed of Brownie opening a gate (there is none) between his yard and mine, opening my front door and coming into my house. The symbolism of that is clear; Brownie found a place in my heart and my mind that I didn’t even know existed.

Best NEIGHbors in the World

Good Fences? Who are your neighbors? Are you friends with them, barely say hi, or avoid them altogether? Tell us a story — real or invented — about the people on the other side of your wall (or street, or farm, or… you get the point). 

I love my neighbors. They are like family to me. There are three kids between 9 and 4 and two parents. Mexicans. The dad is a real cowboy. There are two little girls and a little boy, the youngest. They are a constant source of wonder. My love for them is returned. It took a little time to overcome the suspicion and reserve of the grownups. The mom doesn’t speak English and the dad has worked FOR whites all his life. At first he called me “Ma’am.” No more. But from the very beginning — well, kids and animals just like me.

I don’t even think grandparents see what I’ve seen just watching these kids. If I were attached to them, and had an expected and formalized relationship, I think it would be different. To show you what I mean completely, this post would end up very, very long, so just one amazing vignette.

Last week they got a horse. I’m not sure that the parents’ relationship was improved by the arrival of the horse, but the kids wanted a horse, it was free, there’s room for him, godnose the dad is great at handling horses, so here he is. I fell in love with him at first sight. He’s smart, gentle, friendly and really likes kids (and, of course, me). Later on that first day I went outside to get the mail and Andy, the little boy, was handing bits of hay to his horse.

“This is my horse, Martha!” AL

“I know, Andy, you are a really lucky kid. He’s beautiful. I love him.”

“Thank you.”

Andy then climbed to the top rail of the pen and leaned forward to wrap his arms around the horse. This boy has no fear of anything. This might be genetic. His dad was riding bulls when he was 7 years old. Later on the girls came home from school, and I got an excited phone call from Gabby, the oldest, “You gotta’ see our horse! Mom says you have a name for it!”

I did. I had named it Splash because of the white on his shoulder. The name didn’t stick. The kids named him “Brownie.”

“I’ll come outside.”

I found all three hanging on this horse, loving it and getting to know it. The horse was in, uh, Horse Heaven.

Every day since Splash/Brownie arrived, I’ve given him a carrot or two.  I feel happy when I come home from a long day and the horse paws the ground and whinnies, glad to see me.

Day before yesterday, when I headed out the door to school, Andy was hanging out with his horse. “Martha! Martha!”

“Morning, cowboy!”

“But I don’t have my hat on!”

“You’re still a cowboy.”

“Come here!”

I was late, but a person has to have priorities, and a little guy climbing on a fence to love his horse is more to me than going to work. I went to the pen and reached up to give Brownie/Splash a pat on the nose.

“I love him, Andy. He’s the best horse ever.”

“I know.”

“I gotta’ go to school. Hug the horse for me!” Andy climbed higher and wrapped his arms around what is now (after some days of rain) a dirty horse. The horse rested his nose on Andy’s little shoulder. Then Andy climbed over to my 6 foot fence with his arms outstretched to ME. He’s at that age where one minute he wants to hug and kiss the females in his life, and the next the whole thing disgusts him. I’d caught him in a hugging and kissing moment, so I went back and hugged him goodbye.

“Now get off that fence, Andy. See you later alligator.”

“After a while (incoherent syllables rhyming with ‘while’).”