They were leaving the house as I drove up. I’d been trying to visit more often lately, Grandpop hadn’t been feeling all that well, even though his wide smile peeking out from under his thick white mustache, and those glittering eyes never let on. But the stooped posture and reliance on his hand carved cane sort of gave it away. I didn’t recognize the young woman walking with him. They stopped at the fence, pausing in the morning sun to let Grandpop catch his breath.
The young woman studied her feet more than the wide open view stretching out across the rolling, almost treeless valley. She shuffled some, as if she wanted to be somewhere else. I couldn’t hear Grandpop, but his waving hand pointing this way and that made me imagine I could. Still it was clear she was not very interested in his story telling.
“Morning Grandpop.” I stepped from the car and started their way. The young woman showed a sense of relief, as if saying finally someone to take me away from this.
Grandpop turned around, leaned on the fence. “Howdy, Son. I’d like you to meet Carolyn. She might be stayin’ with us a spell.”
“Good Morning, Carolyn, pleased to meet you.” I offered my hand, timidly she accepted a brief handshake, then looked down to her feet again.
“Look at that sun, would ya. It’s a mite brisk now, but it’ll sure warm up quick.” Grandpop saluted the orange orb that walked its way ever higher on the horizon with his tattered straw hat. I grinned at the gesture, and the hat. Little doubt the hat was older than Carolyn. “Carolyn’s here to learn a bit about ranch life and horses, thought I’d give her the grand tour. Wanna walk along?”
“Well you’ve come to a great place for that. Are you taking college courses that suggested a little hands on?” I asked.
“No.” She backed a step. “It was either come here or juvie. I didn’t have much of a say … or choice.”
From time to time the folks had taken in youths who were going through a rough patch, something they’d done for years. Even when I was in high school it was a semi-regular thing to have visitors for a few weeks. Some had kept in touch over the years, others drifted away. Pictures of a few drifted through my mind. I often wondered about those we never heard from again. I don’t remember any of them leaving without saying thank you to Grandpop.
He walked slow, leading the way to the barn. No horses were in today, but we could see the mares and this year’s three foals on the hill through the big open doors on the far end. As we meandered by the stalls Grandpop explained horses were sometimes in stalls, but it was better for them to have the freedom to roam about, make their own choices. “A lot like folks,” he said. Carolyn’s face showed her confusion. “Sure,” Grandpop explained, “we all do better when we can make our own decisions. Might need a little redirection from time to time, but it’s best when we can think for ourselves.”
“I’m always told what to do. Like coming here!”
“See those mares standing under the tree up yonder?” Grandpop pointed with his cane as he leaned against the door jam.
Carolyn nodded, then shrugged her shoulders.
“We adopted them from the bureau of land management. They’re wild mustangs who can trace their blood lines right back to Spain. This is their home now. They roam this half of the ranch.”
“So?” Carolyn shrugged again.
“The choice was made for them to be taken from their range where they’d lived for centuries and forced to stand in what they call holding pens. They had no way of making choices for their lives. Sure we can only save a few, but those few are carrying on the true spirit of the wild horse.” He started for the tree and the horses, we followed.
Noticing us, the foals did their best imitations of their mamma’s snorts and dashed in an ever widening circle. We walked through the tall grass following Grandpop’s lead until we reached the tree. Grandpop settled onto his bench at the tree’s trunk. I stood behind him. Carolyn waited for instruction. The foals stopped, lined up just outside the reach of the sheltering tree branches, poised, ready to run at the slightest excuse.
Carolyn watched and waited. Grandpop pulled his knife and began carving on a stick. The only sounds under the tree were the mare’s pulling at grass, the foals’ heavy breathing and Grandpop’s knife scrapping. “Can I touch one?” Carolyn took a small step toward the foals, her eyes on Grandpop.
Grandpop concentrated on his carving. “Want too?”
“Sort of …”
Moving slowly, cautiously, Carolyn inched toward the three wide eyed foals, reaching out with her arm as she crept. I caught Grandpop’s wink. And grin.
“Do they bite?”
She stopped. Grandpop’s grin widened.
Carolyn almost smiled then started again. Only a few feet were between her and the closest foal, the tallest one, a young colt I knew to be the instigator of the bunch. With a snort and a stomp he whirled away causing a three foal stampede. Carolyn tumbled over backwards, let go a yelp. “What do I do now?”
“How about a smile?” Grandpop grinned.
Gitty Up ~ Dutch.
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