Barbara Relyea

November 28, 2009 - 2 Responses

Welcome to my Blog Spot.  I have some Friday Flash

 stories and will add other gems as they occur.  My writing

buddies, Josie and Harry are here to see that

everything is English and furry and fun.


Craig Allen Johnson Comes to Town

June 15, 2010 - 5 Responses

World Famous Author Mobbed by Rabid Fans
Forced at Book Point to Trade Hat for Tacky T-Shirt!

It wasn’t really a dark and stormy night. It was dark and raining, but the thunder and lightening show didn’t start until after we were home and in bed. What it was was June 8th, and Mary, Deb, Chris. B. and I arrived at the library headquarters at 6:20 pm, ready to hear Craig Allen Johnson’s talk about his newest book, Junkyard Dogs. .We found four seats in the front row, and settled in to wait for 7:00 pm and the start of the show. Deb bought a copy of Junkyard Dog for herself and one for Nancy, and Mary got one copy. I sat and stared at the podium with the mike all set up ready for the big man. It was 7:01pm, and he was late.

Then this big voice rang out from the back of the room, “What if this guy is no good?” and striding up the aisle shedding his jacket, briefcase and Stetson came the world famous author himself. We all started clapping, and he was grinning and everyone was very happy with themselves. He settled himself on the table, while the library lady made the introduction and turned the show over to him. He told her he wouldn’t use the microphone because he had a habit of talking so loudly it broke the sound system. Then he proved his point by casting his voice to the back of the room with no problem at all. I think he must have spent some time calling hogs while he was growing up in West Virginia. His voice do carry just fine. He told a little about himself and his home in Ucross, Wyoming, population 25, only at the moment the population was 23 since his wife, Judy, had come with him on his big 53 stop book tour.

Just in case anyone hadn’t read all six of his books ahead of time, he explained how he had come to write The Cold Dish, and we enjoyed very much hearing about how he had come up with the story line and managed to take 9 years to write the first two chapters and then finished the book the tenth year. We heard about his friendship with the county sheriff of Johnson county, who checked the manuscript over to make sure he didn’t make procedural errors in describing the duties of the sheriff’s department. He also explained that his friend, Marcus, was the principle model for Henry Standing Bear. To the delight of the audience he explained that he based his characters on real people he knew, and even used their real names. The legal department of his publishing house was in an uproar. They just knew anyone who had been named in the book would be suing for damages. But Craig just called up everyone and asked if they had a problem with being in his book. Of course, they all said don’t take my name out. I am going to buy lots of copies and give them to my relatives to show them I am really in a book.

After The Cold Dish was published and selling well, the publisher asked about his plans for more Walt Longmire books. Craig said he thought The Cold Dish was a stand alone book, and he wanted to write about other topics. The publisher said we want more mysteries with Walt Longmire. So Craig decided to take their advice, and now he is having a great time developing more aspects of Longmire and Absaroka county and environs. He went on to talk about how he had come up with plots for the other five books and then spent a half hour or so answering questions from the mob. Mary told him how much she enjoyed his descriptions of the landscape in all its variations. He told us that the next book already has the 1st draft finished and will be on the stands next spring. Then everyone stood in line to have their books autographed except the four of us.

Barb steals Craig's hat

We just sat in the front row and waited til the crowd dwindled down, then we surged up to the table, and I put the package with his Rainer t-shirt on the table. It was beautifully wrapped by Deb, in a big horse poster donated by Linda. He started to open it and then asked if it was safe to reach inside. I guaranteed him he would like the present, so he hauled out the t-shirt, and when he saw what it was, he started laughing. I explained that I had promised him a six pack of Rainer, but when I found we couldn’t buy it here, I got him the next best thing. He loved it. He draped it over his shirt, put his hat on me and Chris took a picture of us together to celebrate. We all introduced ourselves and invited him to come to a meeting if he ever hit town when he wasn’t on such a tight schedule. We told him how much we liked his books and how great it was to hear him speak about them.

Then everyone packed up and headed home. We were all as tired as if we had done some very hard work, but everyone kept saying how great the evening had been, and wasn’t it wonderful. Next Tuesday, Jeffrey Deaver will be at the library giving a talk, and we talked about trying to go to that and decided it just wouldn’t be as much fun. We liked the Deaver books we have read, but he doesn’t live in Wyoming, or wear cowboy boots, or laugh out loud when talking to folks. I am pretty sure, even if Deaver has a good time, he won’t enjoy himself as much as Craig did while meeting a bunch of strangers and Omnivores. We had a great time ourselves.

I Shot the Skunk!

March 25, 2010 - 3 Responses

The Night I Shot The Skunk!

Go ahead and turn me into PETA if you must; I freely admit I shot that odoriferous little pest somewhere between his shoulder blades and hip bones. It wasn’t his fault, but I couldn’t shoot my own dog, although it was close between the two of them for awhile.

It was a muggy, warm night in August of 1962 when my Mom and I were awakened by the continuous yapping of our semi-spaniel Charlie, and the fragrant fumes of eau de Skunk drifting in our bedroom windows. There was no help for it. Our faithful protector of the farm yard had found another skunk, and had forced it to move towards our house. In the past, my Dad would have gotten a flashlight and our twenty-two Remington rifle and gone out to slay the evil one. But my Dad had died that spring and now it was up to Mom and me to save our farm from smelling like a long dead corpse.

So Mom in her nightgown, and me in my shortie pajamas with gun and flashlight, went out to save the night. Mom had the flashlight, since she didn’t touch the guns. I had the gun, thankful that Dad had taught me to shoot at a young age. We circled around to the back of the house, and there we found Charlie and Pepe Le Peu going round in circles as fast as they could. Did I mention that the dog wasn’t much bigger than the skunk, and completely black. Mom tried to put the light on the skunk, which didn’t work well, because he was moving very rapidly. I was reluctant to shoot, since it was hard to tell which was skunk and which was dog. The smell was rank and seemed to seep into my pores. Above all, I wanted to go back in the house and take a bath and go back to bed. But there would be no rest for the wicked until murder had been done.

Finally the skunk ran through a partially open door into the storage space under the back porch. He stood still for a moment on top of a pile of boards, and Mom had him right in the middle of the light from the flashlight. I stopped a second, and took a deep breath, and then pulled the trigger. The skunk disappeared from sight. Charlie stopped barking, and Mom and I retreated to the house, after carefully putting Charlie in the basement.

That solved the problem for the night. We decided Charlie would have to spend every night in the basement, whether he wanted to or not. The next morning, I looked for the corpse to bury it somewhere far, far from our house, but even after I looked under the porch, I couldn’t find any sign of him, although the tell-tale smell was rampant. Mom looked later in the day with no better luck, and we decided maybe I had just winged him, and he had woken up later and crawled away to fight another day.

All was well, except for the smell, which got worse instead of better. Several months later, the skunk was found, still under the porch and pretty well desiccated. There was a trench for the drain pipe from the sink behind the stack of boards he had been standing on. The force of the bullet knocked him into the hole and neither Mom or I actually crawled into the storage space far enough to see the hole or the dead skunk.

So there it is! My signed confession. I shot the skunk. It was the only living thing I ever shot with a gun, although once I killed a deer with my 1954 Ford Fairlane, but that’s another story. I didn’t even get him stuffed to put on the mantle.

Uncle Calvin and the Car Loan

March 6, 2010 - 2 Responses

I was twenty-seven and I had no credit. That sounds bad in today’s market, but it was 1967 and I was in graduate school in the tiny town of Pullman, Washington. I had no credit cards, I hadn’t bought a house or a car and I had paid for everything I bought by check or with cash. My folks had been hit hard in the great Depression on 1929, and they never bought anything on credit, once they had paid off their farm. The rule in our house was don’t buy what you can’t pay for, and I was a very good student.

But I had fallen in love with the ads for the 1967 Mustang convertible, specifically the model in golden brown with a black top. Unlike today’s college students, I was finishing up graduate school with no debt, but school cost much less in those days. And I went to Clark Community College in Vancouver and then to Washington State University, both schools in my home state. I once figured that my entire college education cost under nine thousand dollars. I had money saved from my three years in the Air Force, and I worked whenever I could. By the time I got to graduate school, I was eligible for the G I Bill so that helped with my last couple of years. Pullman was 400 miles from home, and I was getting set to head out into the wide world, seeking employment as an English teacher, and I needed wheels in the worst way. I was suckered in by the ads showing beautiful young people sailing through the world in their Mustangs. Life would be wonderful, just as soon as I had my own Mustang. My roommate tried to warn me that I was being overly optimistic, but I knew better. Sure I did!

My Mother and I went to the Woodland Ford dealership to order my car, because there was a cousin working there, and she thought we would get a good deal because we were family. Did I ever mention that I am related to half the people in southwestern Washington? We were treated like royalty, or like customers with cash in hand, and was all set to pick up the car as soon as it was delivered. No, I didn’t get the five speed with the huge engine. I settled for a three speed with a six cylinder engine which was the least expensive Mustang convertible available. It cost 2,608.00 dollars. All I had to do now, was to apply for a car loan at the bank I had an account with in Vancouver. Unlike today, there were not banks on every corner. I think there was just the one bank in Clark County, but don’t quote me on that.

The day after ordering my car, I walked into the bank, all set to talk the bank into giving me a loan, even though I had no credit and not that much money in my checking account. I was a bit green, since I had never asked anyone for a loan before. As I walked into the bank lobby, an older man in a very nice suit introduced himself and asked how he could help. I explained that I was buying my first new car, and I needed a car loan. He smiled and asked my name. I answered that I was Barbara Relyea, and I was just finishing graduate school at WSU. When he heard my last name, he just beamed down on me, then he called one of the loan officers up, introduced us, and told the young man to give me a car loan. Did I mention that my Uncle Cal had one of the largest dairy farms in the county and was very active in running the County Fair every year, and had a big account with this same bank? What the bank President didn’t think to ask was if Uncle Cal was my father.

When I sat down with the loan officer to fill out the application, he became very uneasy as I answered his questions. Did I have credit cards? No. Did I own any property? One saddle and thousands of books. Did I have a co-signer for the loan? No. If I had been anyone else, I am sure my application would have been turned down, but the bank President had told him, in front of God and everybody, to give me a car loan, so he did. When we filled out all the blanks we could find answers for, he took the application back to the President, who promptly signed off on it, and I was all set.

God bless Uncle Cal. My dad had died four years before from leukemia, my mom owned our little farm, and not much else. Our branch of the family was not well to do, or well known, but Uncle Cal saved the day for me without even trying. Sometimes it is a very good thing to have lots of relatives.

How to Cook a Salmon!

February 25, 2010 - 7 Responses

First, you get your rod and tackle, with a line strong enough to hold a half grown horse, then you stick five or ten salmon eggs on the prettiest silver spinner you can find. Take yourself out to the loneliest sand bar on the Columbia river, in the early fall when the silvers and kings are running. Get there before daybreak, set up camp, and quiet as a thief on Christmas Eve, take your rod in hand and fling that spinner out across the Columbia as far as you can. Then reel that sucker in as slow as might be, giving it a little jiggle every once and awhile to make it appear lifelike and appetizing. Don’t go getting discouraged, cause it might take you an hour or so to catch one of the big guy’s attention, but sure as I’m standing here, sooner or later, you will get a little tug on the line. Set your hook quick as you can, and then prepare for a battle royal.

Once you have a fish on the line, forget about everything else. I hope to God you have your waders on, and a big fish net handy, because you won’t have time to think about anything while you are busy persuading Mr. Chinook to drop by for a visit. If you aren’t from these parts, you may be expecting to catch a fish a foot or two long. Could be you will, but don’t be surprised if you see something that might be mistaken for a swordfish jumping out of those cold gray waters in front of you. You probably think I am having you on, but these old eyes have seen fish more than a hundred pounds pulled out of the river. No, I’m not talking about sturgeon, though they swim the river same as they have forever. They swim down on the bottom, being as how they are bottom feeders, like catfish. The salmon will be swimming higher up, since they stopped eating before they came across the bar, down by Astoria. Their mouths will be hooked like a snapping turtle, and they will be turning red, getting ready for the mating dance though they have several hundred miles to go before they find their spawning grounds along the upper Columbia.

After setting the hook, and fighting your fish for an hour or so, it should slowly weaken, and you can begin to reel it it. Whatever you do, don’t let the fish see you or your shadow, or it will likely take flight and head off to the bottom of the river. Hold the tip of your rod towards the sun, so your shadow will fall behind the rod, and you will stand a good chance of bringing him into shallow water. At this point, if you are able to grab the fishing net without losing control of the rod and fish, you can try to get his tail in the net, so he won’t be able to take off again. Then slowly haul the fish out of the river, keeping the tension on the rod and the net at the same time. If you have a couple of spare hands, now would be a good time to use them. If you are by yourself, just take your time. Remember, dinner won’t happen til you get home with the main guest. Once the fish is out of the water, take a cosh to its head to kill it. If you don’t, it might just take a notion to try to get back in the water, and you really don’t want that to happen.

Now that the fish is dead, you have a couple of choices, depending on how much good sense you had. If you have a fishing license, you can take pictures of the recently deceased, and then gut it and wrap it up in plastic if you have a shower curtain or something that size handy. If you don’t have a license, then you wrap Mr. Chinook up in an old blanket, get it into your trunk, and get home by the back roads before anyone sees you. This is no day to be driving your old blue pickup with the tail gate hanging down. If you make it home with no stops or delays, then get the fish to a table that is clean and fit to eat off of. You might take a few layers of newspaper and lay out over the table to make for easier clean up once you have the fish ready to eat. In the old days, folks just chopped off steaks starting right behind the head, all the way to the tail. The fish tasted fine, but you had to pick all them tiny bones out before you took a swallow. I had a friend ended up in the hospital cause he got one of those little bones crosswise in his throat. It was a long time before he would eat any kind of a fish again. My Uncle Bud, one of the greatest fishermen of all time, and a damn fine cook, taught me to lay the fish out on its side, then run the sharpest filleting knife I could find right along the side from gills to tail. You flip that fillet over and then take pliers and go along the midline of the fish and pull all the bones out. Then you to the same to the other side of the fish. Some folk skin the fish, but I just put it on the grill, skin side down, and sprinkle on fresh lemon juice and whatever herbs you might have handy out of the garden like basil or dill or chives. Cook it three or four minutes on a side, and then invite all your best friends and relatives to haul up to the table. That will be the best fish you ever ate. Until you get lucky enough to do it again.


February 7, 2010 - Leave a Response

I had this idea for a really great novel last night. It has everything. Murder, intrigue, spies, terrorists, pedophiles, and even a Girl Scout troop selling poison Thin Mints. Just on the first page alone forty-nine people are killed when a Greyhound bus explodes while half way between Cheyenne and Denver. The explosion is caused by a bag in the cargo space that contained an experimental explosive, just being developed by the Army which makes a fire so hot that even the metal of the bus melted. When the first responders arrived there was nothing but a puddle of slag in the middle of the fast lane.

The second chapter starts with the bad guys using this same super explosive to blow up the dikes that have just been repaired in New Orleans, putting a big chunk of the town under water again, and this time with no advance warning, so it is an even bigger disaster than Katrina. There are bodies floating in the street, and they got the bridges into the city too. All people can see are just lots of rocks flying and water gushing through the streets. It hits all the news networks for the five o’clock news on Friday night, July 13th. in time for everyone to spend the weekend glued to the TV. watching the city try to evacuate, just like last time.

And in chapter three, the aliens drop bombs in all the major geysers in Yellowstone Park, in an attempt to set off the super volcano under the park in one of the greatest eruptions of all time. That sort of fizzes because there isn’t enough magma built up under the caldera for a really huge eruption, but what does blow takes out most of Wyoming and a good bit of South Dakota. The aliens give up on Yellowstone and take off for the South Pacific to try their hand at Krakatoa. The aliens have lost their home planet to another race of invaders, and are trying to kill all the people on Earth so they can move in here and not have to worry about the inhabitants fighting back. They are seven foot tall insects which look like a cross between cockroaches and black widow spiders. I figure that part will be great in the movie version. There is nothing like a huge drooling, nasty looking alien to get people really on the edge of their seats.

The next section of the book exposes a massive plot by the CIA to use pedophiles to poison the minds of children, and of course to spread HIV and other nice juicy STD’s to most of the kids in urban areas. I haven’t quite worked out why they are doing that, but I am sure I can come up with something believable. I know it should be the FBI for internal plots, but somehow the CIA sounds scarier.

The conclusion may seem a bit off the wall, but it really rocks. Mrs. President on one of her do-gooder expeditions, followed by TV cameras from all the major networks, buys 50 boxes of Thin Mints from a handicapped Brownie Scout who is trying to make enough money to take her troop to Disney World for Mickey Mouse’s birthday. Then, the TV crews follow her back to the White House where she distributes the boxes to everyone in the building, finishing up with Mr. President and their kids all sharing the last box. All the cookies contain cyanide but no one can smell the poison over the chocolate mint aroma.

So, Mr. Koontz, what do you think? Will it work?

A Tall Tale

February 6, 2010 - 6 Responses

Some of you folks may not be familiar with the Sasquatch. Now me, I grew up in Sasquatch country, and it wasn’t an usual thing to have someone talk about having spotted tracks along the Lewis river that were eighteen to twenty inches long with a stride that matched. True, it could have been a really tall nature lover, but most folk don’t go hiking barefoot in February, even in Washington State. If you don’t know what a Sasquatch is, picture a really tall creature, covered with hair, looking something like a human, but with over long arms, and long legs. They are shy creatures, and prefer to live up in the Cascades where people don’t often go. They have a high scream, sounding even scarier than a cougar, and as far as people who study them can tell, they are mostly vegetarians, but like the black bear whose forests they share, they are opportunistic meat eaters. That means they won’t go out and kill an elk, but if someone else does, and leaves the carcase lying around in their path, they will have a snack to go along with the blueberries they were having for lunch.

Sasquatch are hard to find, if you go looking, but one guy who was persistent, got a few pictures with a movie camera. His name was Roger Patterson, and he’s dead now, so you can’t go and talk to him anymore, but if you go on-line, you can find his pictures. The Sasquatch he saw was a female and she was trying to get away from the horses and men that were making such a racket. Some have said that these pictures were doctored, but knowing horses and the high country and Sasquatch, I don’t think so.

I came across a black bear one summer when I was leading a batch of dudes on a trail ride in the northern Cascades, and the bear had the exact same reaction. He was leaving just as fast as he could walk. You don’t want to get in an argument with a Sasquatch or a black bear, but if they hear you coming, they will leave before you get to where they were munching on fresh berries. If you are of a mind to find a Sasquatch, hike into the high country by yourself, take along a camera or two, and enough food for more than a week, pick a camp site close to a stream where animals come to drink, and stay there until you are almost out of food. If you stay real quiet and don’t move around too much making noise, you might see one. But they are really scarce, and shy, and they won’t come near humans if they know where you are.

If you want a better chance of actually seeing a Sasquatch, I can sell you a map that will take you to a place up in the mountains southeast of St. Helens where I personally have seen a family of four Sasquatch two different summers. I can’t promise they will be there when you are, but they certainly have been there before. With the map, and a compass, and a forest service map, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the spot. The map will cost you $1,000.00, but that isn’t much to pay for a chance to see something few other humans have seen, and lived to tell the tale. Yes, sir, I would love to go with you and show you the way, but the doctors won’t let me out of the hospital for an overnight stay. And to be truthful, I am not sure I could hike into the high country anymore, after spending the last fifteen years here at Sunnyside. Getting old sure does take the fun out of life!


January 22, 2010 - 8 Responses

It is Tuesday evening, the sun is going down, and the sky is turning from gray to black. January is no time for happy thoughts. Sunshine is at a premium, and blue skies are hard to remember. Harold never thought it would end like this. No one ever thought it would end, but to be a sitting duck for an asteroid coming in from the wrong direction was so ironic. He never even bothered to look at the stars much. There were so many more important things in his life to worry about. His mom was dying on cervical cancer. Sylvia, his beautiful sixteen year old daughter was not going to be able to go to college. She was a cheerleader during her high school years, but even if she really buckled down and studied there was no way she could achieve grades that would get her into college now.

The Russians promised to send a space ship up to blow the sucker into pieces, but NASA didn’t think they would be able to get anything into space soon enough to do any good. Our space program was in shreds, following the non-depression of 2008. China was making noises, but if their space ships worked like their other products, forget that. Last night his family gathered around the new 68 inch high definition t v screen, while America’s top scientists tried to explain what was going to happen. Harold never was any good at science, but even he got the picture when they showed an animated film of the asteroid hitting earth. Splat! Not much in the way of happy ever afters there. His son, Cody, sat in front of the screen, passing his football from one hand to the other. No more big games. No chance at the NFL. No chance at all.

Next month was all they had. On February 29th, the asteroid would be here. Good thing it was leap year. The President had made his best speech so far. He asked everyone to hold on and continue as if there was still a future. “We will do our best!” he promised. Harold figured they would, this time, if never before. After all, having a bomb shelter built under a mountain wasn’t going to save anyone. Harold wondered what the President would do when the time came. Hell, he wondered what he would do.

Final Solution

January 7, 2010 - 9 Responses

Jack picked up his assault rifle, checked that it was loaded, put extra cartridges in his jacket pocket, tucked his Colt into his belt, and headed for the garage. Being fired, after losing half of his retirement benefits, was the final turn of the screw. “This is it! I canʼt take no more! Somebody has to pay!”

Driving through the blowing snow, on his way to the place he had worked more than half his lifetime, he ran through possibilities for his final confrontation. It wouldnʼt make sense to shoot just anyone he saw. Most of his fellow workers were in the same position he was, they had no control over their own lives or jobs or future. Bosses had the control. Supervisors had the power to decide to hire or to fire. No one was safe who depended on anotherʼs judgement to keep his job. They had killed his future, as surely as if they had sentenced him to a living death.

Pulling up in front of the factory, he slid into the bossʼs parking space. “Might as well be first in line.” As he got out of his car, he ran through his plan again, making sure there were no slip ups. He walked into the office area, and immediately saw the terror on Maryʼs face as she recognized the rifle. She reached for her phone to call security. “Oh, hell!” he swore, and began shooting.

Twenty minutes later, he saved the last bullet in his Colt for himself. He was dead, even if he was still breathing. This was his final solution.

Uncle Calvin and the Chiropractor

December 22, 2009 - 3 Responses

My father’s brother, Calvin, enjoyed coon hunting with his friend “Doc” a local chiropractor. We could often hear them across the river valley, Doc’s favorite blue tick hound’s voice ringing out like a bell across the water for hours during a summer night. I had met the blue tick hound, and she was a beautiful dog with her speckled blue coat and long black ears and big black nose.

One summer morning when I was ten or so, my Dad and I drove over to Calvin’s farm to see about borrowing a piece of farm equipment. It was a lovely warm day when we arrived in front of the big white house with the horse chestnut tree in the front yard. As we walked in the front door, the first thing we saw was Uncle Cal sitting on the floor with his back against the wall of the hall. Uncle Cal and my dad both had black hair, dark brown eyes and a dark complexion, but Uncle Cal wasn’t his usual heavily tanned self. He was green, and looked very ill. Aunt Pearl came from the kitchen and started telling Dad how worried she was. Cal explained that he would be all right, because although he had started feeling bad while coon hunting with Doc the night before, Doc had checked him out and assured him that he just needed an adjustment and he would be fine. Doc performed the adjustment which consisted of a massage of the bones he felt were out of alignment, and happily went home in the middle of the night, leaving Calvin expecting to feel better at any moment.

 By the time Dad and I arrived the next morning, it was about ten o’clock, and Calvin wasn’t able to stand up, and he was doing a poor job of trying to convince everyone he was just fine and didn’t need to go see a doctor. Dad asked him where he hurt, looked at Aunt Pearl and asked if I could stay with her, and then picked up Cal and carried him out to our car and then drove him twenty miles to the nearest hospital as fast as our car could go.

 When they arrived at the emergency entrance, Dad got help to get Calvin inside, and as soon as a doctor looked at Calvin and checked his abdomen, they got him into surgery immediately. When the surgeon came out after completing the appendectomy, he told my dad that if he had been five minutes later getting Cal to the hospital, the appendix would have burst, and after that, there would have been a very good chance that Cal would have died.

Dad called Aunt Pearl and explained that Cal had made it through surgery and would be fine. He didn’t explain the rest of the story until Calvin was safe home from the hospital. The thing I remember most about this day was the sight of Dad carrying Cal to our car, which was about forty feet from the house. My Dad was about six foot tall and in good condition for his age, but not a weight lifter by any means. Calvin was a bit shorter and always a bit heavier, although never fat; chunky would be an accurate description. Yesterday I was just reading a novel that had a body builder who said if a man couldn’t press his own weight, he was a girl. Well, Dad wasn’t lifting bar bells, but he certainly carried more than his own weight a good forty or fifty feet from the house to the car. The other thing that was engraved on my memory was the idea that chiropractors are not doctors. I don’t think Cal ever went coon hunting after that

The Perfect Christmas Present

December 10, 2009 - 17 Responses

            Christmas has always been a dark time of the year for me, and now that I am seventy, it doesn’t seem to be any lighter.  Like many people with depression, the holidays are hard to handle. While others are celebrating and enjoying the season, I crawl deeper into my cave of regrets and might havebeens.  When I was a child, I read John Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony.”  A young boy wanted his own pony, and for Christmas, there was a beautiful little red pony waiting for him in the barn.  Not that this was a fairy tale story, not with Steinbeck writing it. The boy learns to love the pony, and depends on it for a means of escape from his own less than perfect life, but then the pony develops strangles and dies.  I didn’t dwell on the end of the story, but I waited, ever full of hope, each Christmas morning that there would be a pony for me in our barn.

            Of course, I mentioned how much I wanted a pony, and I read books about horses, and I had friends who liked horses, but no matter how much I hinted, begged and whined, at Christmas I got presents that little girls are supposed to want, like dolls, and dresses, and a pretty set of fingernail polishes for the not quite teenage set.  My cousin, who was a city kid, and not particularly fond of animals larger than his rat terrier, got a Roy Rogers outfit with vest and chaps and hat and holster with a silver revolver that shot caps.  I knew it was not nice to complain about what Santa brought, and even more importantly, I knew Santa didn’t have much money to spend on Christmas presents for mouthy girls who tormented her older brothers whenever possible.  After all, they had a horse I wasn’t allowed to ride, because I was too small. What child ever believes they are too small to do what their older brothers are doing, even if the brothers are five and six years older than she is.

            The year I was eleven and my brothers were sixteen and seventeen and not much interested in their horse anymore, my parents cheerfully sent me off to a week of bible camp. While I was gone, they sold my brothers’ horse.  My brothers were happy. They had turned into car fanatics. My parents were happy. They had gotten rid of a horse that ate more than it was worth.  I was devastated when I came home and found that she was gone. I had planned on being able to ride her now that my brothers didn’t use her any more.  I cried myself to sleep for the rest of that long summer, and once it began to be holiday season, dreams of the red pony waiting for me in the barn on Christmas morning started playing in my head most nights. But, again dolls are what girls want for Christmas, so a doll was under the tree with my name on the package.  By now, I would have welcomed books about horses, or almost anything that had a horse connected to it. This was before the era of Barbie Ponies, thank heavens. At some point, I did get a large ceramic statue of Trigger which I put on the top of my dresser, and played with very carefully while riding the range with Roy and Dale. I begged my folks to take me to every Roy Rogers film.  Roy and Trigger were the ideal vision of cowboy and horse, able to go anywhere, and to fight for the underprivileged and save the day when faced with bandits or Indians or rustlers. 

            When I was thirteen, I took to reading the classified ads out loud to my parents every night, going over every horse for sale in a fifty mile radius.  I do not think they appreciated this service, but in the spring there was an ad for a Welch pony mare for 65.00 dollars.  Father thought that this might be something we could afford, if it looked like a good horse.  I was ecstatic. Mother was not cheerful about another horse, but if I was thrilled she would try to go along.  When we arrived, the family had two horses. One was a large light colored gelding, they called a claybank which now would be described as a cremello, not exactly white but not much darker than white either. The other horse was a red roan filly, with flaxen mane and tail, standing about 14 hands high, which meant she wasn’t tall enough to be considered a horse, but she was quite a bit taller than the average Shetland pony.  The father rode her in a field so we could she that she was rideable and he and Dad agreed on the price, and all at once I had my own red pony. While their father was showing her off for us, on of his girls confided in me that ’she bachs’.  I didn’t understand what she said, and asked if she bucked. The girl shook her head and replied, ’’she baulks.’  I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant, but as long as it wasn’t bucking, it couldn’t be too bad. 

            The next day, my father borrowed a friend’s pickup to bring her home, and I was the happiest girl in the world.  I had my very own horse. I could ride any time I wanted to, and go anywhere I wanted to.  Of course, what I had was a not very well broke young mare.  She came with a halter.  So I learned to ride her with a halter and reins made from clothesline rope, and I also learned what baulk meant.  The pony, which might have been part Welsh, didn’t like to be surprised while we were out riding.  If a bird sang off key, she would drop down two feet, jump sideways, and then stand up again. I was usually rolling in the dust by then.  She didn’t run away, and I don’t remember that she ever did buck.  But I suspect baulking was why the family had decided she wouldn’t be a safe pony for their children.  I didn’t like it much, but I never really got hurt, thanks to my habit of riding in our front field, which I had plowed and disked until it was very soft and just right for riding.

            I shouldn’t complain. I should not even bother remembering that I never got a red pony for Christmas.  I should be and have always been very happy that I did get my own pony when I was thirteen, and she was my constant companion for four years, when I sold her to get a better horse, and a bigger horse, since I had outgrown her in those high school years.  But all my life, I have always wanted some omniscient god to give me the perfect horse for Christmas.  I think it may be a little late now.