Monday, June 11, 2007

Horses and Houses, Future and Past

This morning, my horse Figment paid a visit to Duloc Manor:


It was 7:45 a.m., so the streets were mostly deserted, but it certainly was a head-turner for the man walking by with his little daughter! Horses do occasionally pop up in Celebration, but usually they're in the downtown area pulling a carriage for tourist rides or a wedding. East Village is not usually known as a bastion of equine activity.
Figment happened to be on his way to Community Presbyterian Church to welcome the kids to Vacation Bible School. This year's theme is "Avalanche Ranch," so an equine greeter fit right in. Since my house is only a couple minutes down the road from the church, we swung by with the trailer and unloaded Figgie for a quick photo op.
But it struck me as odd for a different reason; not the general lack of horses in our fair town, but rather a sense of deja vu. I remembered a day, 26 years earlier, when my first horse, Cochise, paid a visit to the yard of my old Chicago home:


If you think horses are unusual in Celebration, the chances of seeing one on the South Side of Chicago is virtually nil. Still, I was somehow born with an innate bond to equines that maifested itself in my unholy attachment to a wheeled plastic horsey (the kind that toddlers scoot along on). As tiny as I was, I still distinctly remember that toy and my abject grief when it disappeared one day. My mother claimed it was "sick" and "had to go to the hospital"; I never saw it again, and to this day, I still don't know why she really got rid of it.
Next up was a rocking horse on springs; I had glued myself to the floor model like a baby monkey to its mother's back as they swing through the trees. Mommie Dearest tried to reassure me that she was buying one and that I could ride it at home if only I would get off the darned model. Due to the disappearance of my toddler toy and various other sneaky tricks she had pulled on me, I didn't have much faith in her word.
Fortunately, this was one of her rare sincere moments, and a duplicate of the rocking horse (which I named Dark Pony) was soon erected in our living room. I rode it day and night, galloping through hills and fields and vales in the endless landscape of my mind. It was a sad, sad day when I outgrew Dark Pony and he was relegated to the basement, but I vowed in my determined little mind that I've have a real horse someday.
As soon as I was old enough to figure out bus routes, I managed to plot out a course to a suburban stable. It required three transfers and a 1.5 mile walk, but I didn't care. Diligently, I babysat and cleaned houses for neighbors to earn precious money towards busfare and weekend trail rides.
During this time, I distinctly remember an odd dream. I was riding a horse two streets down from my house, in a grassy area that used to be a park, heading towards the adjacent cemetery fence. While it certainly wasn't odd for me to be on horseback, riding in our neighborhood was just about as likely as Michael Jackson fathering any biological children. It was filed in the back of my mind, out of consciousness but never entirely forgotten.
By the time I was 16, I had managed to get a full-time summer job that allowed me to earn enough to buy a horse; when it shifted to part-time during the school year, I would still make enough to cover board, vet, and farrier bills.
In an odd coincidence, around this very same time the cemetery I mentioned earlier (which abutted our alley) purchased a horse to lead funeral processions. I volunteered to exercise him; he was a wonderful old Saddlebred/Arab cross named Elegant Sam who was trained to fourth level dressage, and he taught me more than any human instructor. (Click here to read more about Sam the cemetery horse in one of my old magazine articles.)

When I first got Cochise, I kept him at the cemetery for a couple of months before moving him to a suburban boarding barn. Technically horses were not allowed in the surrounding neighborhood, but Labor Day weekend of 1981 was a rare exception. Joe (who rode Sam in the funerals) and I were participating in the annual Labor Day parade. Since it was pretty close by, and since Sam had an unholy fear and hatred of trailers, we simply rode to the starting point.
Since we would pass directly by my house, I had to stop and get a picture of Cochise in my front yard. I tied him to the porch and ran in for my camera, little realizing how precious the picture would be to me 26 years later. At the time, I was just a 16 year old kid walking on Cloud Nine because my one of my biggest dreams had finally come true...I had a horse of my very own.
Then we headed for the parade route, turning down a street two blocks from my house to follow along the outside of the cemetery fence. As I bobbed along on Cochise's back, I realized that it was the street in my dream...we were riding on the same parkland, just as I had done in my subconsious netherworld! At the time, I had pooh-poohed it as ridiculous; how could I have ever imagined the chain of events that would someday take place? I never would have believed that the cemetery would get a horse; I knew I would have one of my own someday, but I never dared to hope it would be as early as my 16th year, let alone keeping it in the cemetery, too.
And now, nearly three decades later, I still own Cochise (at 30 years old, he's fully retired), but I also have Figment. As a kid, I may have dreamed about riding down my neighborhood street, but I certainly never dared fantasize that one day I would live next door to Disney World. I never imagined what my next horse might look like or whether I would snap his photo standing by my future front porch or where that front porch might be.
Now, Figgie has followed in the footsteps of his "big brother." After his stop at the house, he continued on to the church and reveled in being the center of attention. As the children patted him and fed him carrots, you could almost hear him sigh and exclaim, "Ah, this is the life!" (much as Cochise did many years earlier when he was surrounded by admirers at the parade).
I was a little concerned because Figment has never been away from other horses before in his life. I thought he might prance around in the church yard, neighing plaintively for his lost herd. But he was a perfect gentleman; I don't think he even realized that he was the sole equine for miles around. The kids and carrots kept his attention focused, and he didn't spook at anything, from motorcycles to trucks to screaming youngsters to churchbells. I think he truly enjoyed himself, although by the time it was over, he seemed glad to hop back in the trailer and return home to a generous pile of peanut hay.
It's funny...sometimes you get a glimpse of the future, and you don't even realize it because it seems so improbable. And sometimes the future is a total surprise, unraveling in ways you would never have imagined. Yet every now and then, past and future overlay each other in a neat little deja vu...whether the threads are hidden or whether we get a tiny glimpse, eventually we see how they are all intertwined.
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1 comment:

Chrysanthe said...

Hi,

We'd love to have your e-mail contact info for our site (since your blog is included in our system). Please drop me a line: chrysanthe@outside.in.

Thanks!

Chrysanthe
Neighbor Liaison, outside.in