Wednesday, June 23, 2010
These two people were my and my husband, Mark’s first friends who were significantly older than we were at the time we became friends. I had known of the Col. as a young horse crazy kid wanting to join the Pony Club he was running. PC is an organization that teaches kids the basics of riding English style horsemanship thru a tier based system of education, games, rankings and rallies and requires someone to devote many hours keeping it organized and getting parental help, and much more. The Col. did this job in his spare time for years bringing along an entire generation of accomplished riders here in Montgomery. My parents would not buy me a horse so my involvement was sideline only, but the mystique of the Col. was impressive to me, and he just exuded a powerful spirit and a joy of life was apparent in his ever twinkling blue eyes and easy smile.
Later when I finally got a horse I wanted to learn dressage training from him and took lessons weekly on his farm. We all became friends by our shared interests in horses, bird watching, eating well, and sharing a cocktail or two. He was a fabulous story teller having lived a long and varied life and time spent with him was ageless and endlessly fascinating.
Our first time eating out with them we went to a Chinese restaurant he wanted us to try, and he asked if we minded his ordering for us all. We said of course not and he proceeded to order, in Chinese, to a very surprised waiter and two dumbfounded guests. The meal was marvelous with his off the menu choices but was topped off with his stories of being a colonel for the last mounted US Calvary detail deployed to China when the revolution was forming there, and thus having learned the language.
In our traveling out to their farm on evenings for dinner, Mark and I grew to appreciate the peace, and the dark skies, of the road leading to Pinchona, leaving a harsher world at the last turn off. Col ran his farm with the precision of a military base but there was grace, order, and calm, with a sense that things would always be the same there. Before dinner every night, he made evening rounds of the stable yard, cocktail in hand, to tuck the horses in, a slow procession paying close attention to the animals, until glasses were empty and back we went to the house.
On one morning Mark was out taking pictures for his project on the Old Federal Road, which runs very close to Pinchona, and he happened upon a for sale sign in the ditch, pointing down the road towards the Col’s house. Long story shortened it was the land adjoining the Col’s, we made an offer, bought it, and moved in to a trailer while our house and barns were built, the fences stretched and gates hung.
Col’s first housewarming gift was a gate between our properties so that visiting would not be a problem. It was great to be so close and finally be neighbors with Howard and Sue and we spent long hours yakking over the fence or visiting their house or them here at ours, and they were always quick with help or advice. It was always nice too, to look over the pond to the view of his beautiful farm and see his healthy horses in their manicured green paddocks under the massive oaks and pines. Our first Christmas day here, the afternoon was spent by his hearth drinking hot buttered rums which he heated by putting pokers in the fire until they glowed and then plunged them into our cups of rum, butter, sugar, and cinnamon.
It was also easy to hop on my horses and ride over for a lesson in his arena, where he would sit in his golf by the old pecan tree with all his dogs that would fit in it, and he would give me the orders of what I was to do with my horse. There was never any problem hearing him as he had a drill sergeant voice that carried all the way from his barn yard to my house when he would bellow at a naughty dog or horse.
He is gone now, and Sue went behind him. For many years after he passed I could still imagine I heard his voice and I continued to feel him there, just over the fence. There were Mississippi Kites, birds of great flying skills and beauty that he loved watching, that used to nest in the canopied hardwoods at the back of his farm. I regularly saw two flying over his back paddocks swooping along to catch bugs in the summers. Now the once canopied trees have been greatly thinned, habitat changed, and no longer do I see these birds, nor hear his bellow.
Yesterday I rode my mare over to his place and we walked the edges of the big field in the back, and then I went to the dressage ring to visit the ghosts of him, and the many dogs which were buried under the shade of the pecan. The white sand was overgrown with grasses, the only foot prints were mine, and the fenced area where he used to grow his wonderful Silver Queen corn is just lawn now, but I could almost make out him saying, “Ride in”. This was what he said when he wanted to clarify something to me, or whoever was the student at the moment. Time would be spent “coffee housing” while he explained, or told stories, or just let the horse and rider rest.
As I cantered my mare towards the pecan she must have heard him too as she did the first flying lead change, cleanly, of her life, right in front of where the tires of his golf cart used to park. I told her 'good' as he had taught me to do, and she obliged by stopping on a dime and looked back to me. In that moment, I could feel his presence, his energy still, I could hear his voice, and I missed my older, but never, old, friend.