The Journey Back,
Almost and Then Some
She reached into her robe pocket.
"Damn, forgot my cigarettes. Close to Martini time? Bit
of gin, salty crunchies, cigarette." The sun lower
in the sky, shadows lengthening; coolness reaching her
despite the warmth that her robe provided. "Letís get on
home Mac. Dog, where have you gotten off to?"
She got up, brushed off dirt,
the fragments of leaves, the bits and pieces of the
afternoonís sojourn. She headed for home forgetting
about the counting of her steps back. She was walking
along with her head high, arms swinging, body strong and
straight. She was thinking, "Have to wash this olí
Near the first gate, she
whistled for Mac. Waiting. Pausing by the old barn. "Is
that nameplate still on the door?" Yes, there it was,
engraved in brass, "Matilija Dealight" her Morgan Horse,
dead for so many years. She unconsciously brushed away a
tear and with the sleeve of her robe, cleared the dust
off the nameplate, opened the stall door, stepped
inside. Habit caused her to slide it closed. Remnants of
pine shavings in the corners, pieces of straw clinging
to the rafters, birdís nest in a high corner, the old
rope halter, the feed tub firmly screwed into the wall,
the tie rings, the now dry water fountain cup, a piece
of plywood covering the kicked out hole in the wall, an
overturned metal bucket.
She relished the smell of a
horse, of manure, straw, shavings, leather. "Delicious."
A pony. A promise. She was a
child. "Iíll get you your own pony. Youíve outgrown
Jeanie at the stables." The stables were on Vermont
Boulevard near 6th Street. "so rural then so
dreadfully urban now."
She had been with horses since
she was three, "I rode double with my Mom at Soboba Hot
Springs in the high mountain desert country. And there
was the time that I was trying to imitate my instructor
riding standing up in the saddle. I stood up in the
saddle, reins in hand, pulled back and went up, up, and
up and down, down, and down. Crash! Into the dirt. Boy
Oh Boy! Gasps from the crowd! Didnít I ever get the
attention from all the other parents. They carried me
back and my mother, yes but she was, I donít know how
she was. Except Ö" She promised me a pony.
The promise giver distracted,
must had forgotten so absorbed in her new wife life.
"So, forget about it for now," her nine year old mind
She had waited. The horse. It
was one of the promises that she kept just for herself.
"When I grow up."
She moved the metal bucket to
the wall, brushed it off, joined the spider webs,
"Spiders are good." and sat down for a reminiscence of a
past that was not.
Leaning against the plywood,
stretching out her legs, closing her eyes, breathing in
the remnants of familiar scents. "How did I finally get
my promised horse?" She answered herself, "Ah ha!"
1968. She had no idea that she
was about to buy a horse. It was coincidental. She was
at a friendís horse breeding facility up in the Ojai.
Beautiful Morgan horses and their babies. Then she saw
Dealight a four-month-old filly: love at first sight.
"She nuzzled me; put her head down for a caress along
her neck. We bonded. And for the next twenty-four years,
it was love, love and more love. "We were as bonded as
could be in this life, girl to horse." She thought back
to, "I sold my airplane, couldnít take off into the wild
blue and be with my lovely Dealight."
"Our first horse show in 1969,
shit, I didnít even know what the judge was asking when
he said Ďline up heads to tails.í First blue ribbon that
very day. Twenty years. We brought home the trophies and
ribbons. In conformation, driving, antique carriage
competition, riding, having the time of our lives."
Each memory of each show, each
event, the ribbons, the trophies, each defeat was as
clear today as it was then. The ribbons and trophies
adorn the walls in her room. "Exciting times. And how
showing that horse did put me in a crazy, sit-com funny
day? Iíll always remember. Funny but uncomfortable!"
Mother mentioned one day, "Iíd
love to see you show your horse."
"Iíd like that too, you and
Albert come on up to the fair ground" This was a new
experience, Mother asking to join me doing anything. Of
course, I never asked her either, she might have said,
NO! The event Iíd invited her to was the Morgan
Medallion Horse Show, the most prestigious on the West
I had already casually mentioned
the event to my dad, who never, and I mean never, spent
a dime on me or time with me. "Daddy, Iíll be showing my
horse at the Ventura Fair Grounds, please, you and
Hilda, come and enjoy." He said a yes with a nod,
dipping his head almost imperceptibly, but he had said
his yeses before and "Iíll see you soon," said these
words for a lifetime, which equaled absences and unkempt
Moreover, I dismissed his
acquiescence and him, as he always dismissed me. And I
liberated that moment from my mind COM-PLET-LY. I
focused on the weekend at the show grounds with my
Mother in the stands cheering me on.
After all in her youth she was a
showgirl and herself quite an accomplished equestrian,
performing with a group of trick riders at rodeos. We
would have a sharing time together. We had had a
lifetime of difficulties sharing anything.
I was all dressed up in my show
time outfit. Mom and Albert arrived. Mom was dressed up
as though she were at Ascot or in the Ownerís Box at the
Kentucky Derby. I placed them in reserved front row box
seats, hustled back to the paddock. I was ready to hitch
up Dealight, and there, Oh My God No! In the pathway to
the barn area, Dad and Hilda. I can recall, feel the
panic, stammering, "Dad, I didnít expect you. How
terrific! Youíre here! Momís here too. Go to the
grandstand. My class is next. Gotta go get ready. See ya
There was my Prince, dressed in
his white linen pants, a designer shirt, cuff-linked
with gold points, hand made shoes. Handsome and stately.
Fashioned hair. Clipped mustache.
So, there I am in my formal
riding clothes sweating like hell. I was in Hell. Iíd be
sweating if I had been nude. How do I keep the pair of
Mother didnít like my Dad, I was
taught that he was a bad father, I was sure, I had
reasoned, that my Dad had an unending love for my
mother. Thatís why he never came to see me. However,
when she became totally exasperated with my behavior, it
was, "Why donít you go live with your dad?" Iíd snapped
back with, "Give me his phone number!" I was only too
willing to go to him; he was my Prince in Shinning
Amour. He would rescue me from an intolerable situation.
Carry me off to happiness. I never got the telephone
number. He never came, so he remained my Prince for some
other day of salvation. I was a child.
Now, I am thirty-five and he
shows up and with his wife, a woman I was sure had
stolen him from me. She, who had been the force that
kept him away and all to herself.
I scooted back to the paddock
area to get the horse ready for the driving class. And
we were off and trotting into the show ring. What a
performance! Dealight was spectacular. I was a nervous
wreck. We won the event, a blue ribbon and cheers from
the crowd. We took our victory lap. All I could do, all
I could see as we circled the ring was my Mom in the box
seats and my dad in the upper grandstand. Had they seen
one another? Oh Boy! Now what?
Back to the barn, unhitch the
horse, wipe down the tack, struggle into another outfit
and face the music, which was playing from the organ in
the grandstand. I crept into the seat next to Mom. She
was ecstatic. I was not, not now. How was I going to
pull this off? Well, come clean; tell her that my Dad
was up in the stands? I looked up, he was watching. I
had to go up to see him. It was the first time he had
come to any event. In my younger lifetime: no
graduations, no birthdays, no cards of remembrances,
only one visit in so many years during my growing up. I
had to see him NOW! "Mom, Dad is here, up there, Hilda
is with him, I didnít expect him to take me up on an
invitation to come to a horse show." She shocked me, "Go
up and visit him, itís quite an event." I still felt
uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassed, distressed, you
name it, I was suffering. But up to the stands, I went.
We visited, he said little, as usual, but he was here,
but constantly glancing at the lower area, where my
mother was seated. Or so I thought. "See, I thought, He
still feels that that Old Feeling."So I spent the
afternoon like this: To the ring with the horse, to the
barn, to the box seats, to the grandstandís upper
levels. "Hey Dad, whaya think?" "Hi Mom, Albert, what an
afternoon." Back and forth, up and down. Not knowing
whether to laugh or cry; trying my best to be a good
hostess, a devoted daughter, and a winner in the show
And, yes. Dealight and I managed
to win in all of our classes and we were awarded the
"Best in Show giant Silver Bowl Trophy." To this day, I
wonder if the horse won because I was too distracted to
interfere with her natural talents. The champagne was
flowing, the horse crowd of friends all gathered for the
Dad left without saying a word,
not even a so long, only transmitting a threadlike smile
and a shabby wave, then disappeared, just faded away.
Mom and Albert joined us for
dinner at home. I didnít mention Dad; she didnít mention
him either, except by saying, "So, you are getting to
know him. Donít be too disappointed with what you find."
Damn, she was always right about him. So, thatís what I
have to tell you and myself. Back out the sliding barn
door. Shut it quietly. Heading home, alone but not. You
know that Dealight is gone, dead of kidney failure when
she was twenty-four. Good memories. I can bear, wear
this one. Here I am, leaving the barn still wanting that
cigarette, gin and salty snacks. "Hey, Mac! Letís go."
Oh! Now, I remember, Mac canít go the rest of the way.
He is buried in the orchard, right over there, under his
favorite tree. Somehow though, he is always with me when
I need his company, he with his positive and cheerful
It was a terrible day, old boy,
when we, after 17 years of companionship had to leave
you to heaven first.
The house was the same as when
she had left, or so she thought.
There was the sound of tinkling
ice cubes against a glass. "Whoís there?" A familiar
voice answered, "I know your routine. Iíve been watching
you. I know how to pour the gin. Consider me your in-
house bartender." And Jerry, my young man, my student,
who lived on the upper section of the ranch with his
family, was at the open freezer door preparing me for
It was later that that same
evening when she entered her room, went to her computer,
rested her fingers on the keyboard, stared at the empty
document page on the monitor. "I wonder if I can finally
put in words, tell the story. She sat there, quite
still, the keyboard beneath her fingers. Her fingers
moved. She began typing:
As she thought the story
appeared before her; it began like this: