Original writings by Adrienne Nater

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 robe."

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 said.

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 Coast.

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 promises.

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 later."

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 pairs apart?

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 classes.

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 barn celebrations.

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 presence.

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 the evening.

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:

First draft: