I have always loved horses and still do. When I was four years old, I began to fervently wish for a horse of my own. My parents lived in a new housing development in California without a horse in sight, but my grandparents lived in a small town in the southwest corner of Arkansas and had eighty acres outside of town of fenced beautiful woods and pasture land. I spent the summer I was four years old with them and it seemed like I saw horses everywhere. There was a ramshackle old barn on their eighty acres, but no horses. I had my birthday in July and just before I turned five, my grandfather, who I had called since I was three Booter, took me out to the land; he showed me an old abandoned house across the road from the barn.
“See that old house,” Booter said.
“Yes, is it special?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s where your mother was born,” he answered. “Your grandmother went there to be with her mother when the birthing time was near.”
I stared at the old house and then turned and looked across the road at the dilapidated barn.
“Were there horses in the barn back then?” I asked.
“Yes, honey, there were.”
“Will there ever be horses there again?”
“Maybe, only time will tell,” he answered gently.
That is the day my wishing and hoping for a horse turned into a storm within me. I told no one of this tempest within me. However, I couldn’t hide my love for horses, especially when I was with Booter. I got him to tell me stories about horses he had known growing up and as a young man. He loved horses too and was a good storyteller, so he obliged me often when I requested a “horse” story. Meanwhile, it was easy to see living horses around that little town and about the countryside on our various outings.
Our family summer visit ended, and I returned to California with my parents to start kindergarten. About a month after kindergarten started, the US Air Force, in which my father served, intervened. He was sent to some training school in Alabama to advance in rank, and mother and I went back to live with my grandparents. I was joyous. I ended up going to kindergarten there and making life-long friends. I continued wishing and hoping for a horse. I could already read and hungered for more stories about horses. My mother took me to the small library in that town and let me rummage through their collection of picture books for horse stories. I found Billy and Blaze by C.W. Anderson. I read and reread it. Like me, Billy loved horses more than anything else in the world. I adopted Blaze in my mind and told myself stories about “Me and Blaze.” My desire for a horse became a blazing fervor.
That summer ended, Daddy’s schooling ended, and we returned to California where he was stationed at Travis Air Force Base. I had turned six that past summer in Arkansas; so, in the fall, I entered first grade in California. Since I could already read, the teacher let me read to myself from library books after I had finished her worksheets. I retreated into a world of horse stories. I had been in that classroom about a month when once again the US Air Force changed the trajectory of my life. Daddy was transferred to Great Falls, Montana. The adventures I had there are another story. Suffice to say that the deep-seated wishing for a horse continued. I wrote my grandparents letters that Mother included in her letters to them. My letters were often stories I made up about horses. I never saw a single living horse in Montana. Those magnificent creatures lived solely in my imagination.
At the end of first grade, Daddy was transferred again, back to Travis Air Force Base. Our house had been rented and Daddy wanted to spruce it up before Mother, my one-year-old baby sister, and I came home. So, we traveled by train to Arkansas to spend the summer with my grandparents while he readied our house in California. I would turn seven that summer. We arrived before my birthday.
A couple of days after our arrival, Booter drove me out to the pasture where the old barn was. We got out of the car and a restored barn greeted my eyes. I gasped. He took my hand and led me into the paddock area around the barn. He told me to wait under a shade tree there and to keep my eyes closed. I shivered with anticipation. He wasn’t gone long.
“Open your eyes now.”
And there she was, the most beautiful black mare ever. She had two white stockings on her feet and an almost perfect white diamond patch in the middle of her forehead. Her mane was thick and her full tail nearly touched the ground. She was my wish come true. I was too stunned to speak.
“Meet Sugar, honey. I’ve rented her for you for the summer.” Turning his head to Sugar, he continued, “Sugar, meet Candee.”
She whickered at me as if she were saying hello. I just stared at her with the widest grin ever on my face.
“Hold out your open hand like this, “ Booter instructed and placed two cubes of sugar in my open hand. “Walk up to her slowly, saying her name softly, hand flat and open, let her sniff your hand and take the sugar.”
I did so and the touch of those velvet lips as she took the sugar felt so sweet.
“Can I touch her?”
“Gently, keep saying her name and tell her it’s nice to meet her,” he answered.
I stroked her soft nose and let my hand find its way to her cheek, murmuring her name softly.
Booter put another lump of sugar in my other hand which I offered to her as I stroked her cheek. She stood still. He handed me the lead rein snapped to her halter and told me to lead her around the paddock. I was in heaven. Booter’s voice broke my reverie.
“Let’s take her back to her stall and give her a treat of oats. We’ll start the riding lessons tomorrow. I have more to show you while she eats; then we’ll turn her out into the pasture and we’ll go home. Your mother and grandmother will be waiting to hear all about this over the meal they’ve cooked up for us to celebrate this day together.”
When Sugar was safely ensconced in her stall munching on her oats, Booter showed me the child-sized saddle he had purchased for me, as well as the saddle blanket and bridle that completed the tack. I stroked them all like the wonderful gifts they were.
I kept saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
He smiled and patted my hand, acknowledging my gratitude and happiness. We turned Sugar out into the pasture and drove home.
That summer passed very quickly. I learned to ride and spent every minute I could with Sugar. My dear grandfather Booter made all this joy possible.
When summer ended, my father arrived to drive us all back to California where I would enter second grade. On the last day before our departure, with my heart in my throat, I bid a tearful farewell to Sugar stroking her and sobbing with my face buried in her thick black mane. She seemed to understand my heartache. At Booter’s bidding, I slipped off her halter and turned her out into our pasture. Unsure if I would ever see her again, I stumbled to Booter’s car tears still streaming down my face.
I cried myself to sleep that night, and we left early the next morning. Once underway, with a heavy heart, I picked up the drawing pad and crayons my other had packed for me to have in the car. I drew my first, but hardly my last, picture of Sugar remembering the feel and smell of her. That comforted me.
Home once again, I wrote a letter to my grandparents thanking them for the best summer ever and included a drawing of Sugar.
Second grade started. All I could think about was Sugar. I told myself and my friends stories about her. I drew her incessantly and sometimes wrote words on the pictures. I did my work in school, but as soon as it was done, I was drawing Sugar. I dreamed about her every night.
I had been going to Sunday School, so somewhere along the way, my wishing and hoping for Sugar turned into deep, simple talking to God in the language of my heart about her. I wrote more letters to my grandparents asking if they had seen her. Sometimes they had news of her and sometimes not. Time dragged on.
Christmas was approaching and school vacation started. My grandparents always sent their presents for the family in packages by the US mail. A few days before Christmas, their packages arrived. We opened the boxes and found wrapped presents to put under the tree. There wasn’t a present for me to put under the tree. I was stunned and heartbroken. Had I done something bad? Had they stopped loving me? I burst into tears and flew to my room where I flung myself onto my bed and sobbed. I do not know how long I lay there.
My father knocked gently on the door.
“Come in,” I mumbled.
“There’s a phone call for you in the kitchen,” he said.
“I don’t want to talk,” I grumbled.
“It’s your grandparents.”
“Yes, and they really, really want to talk to you.”
Worried, I went into the kitchen and found my mother holding the wall phone receiver listening and nodding her head. Then she said, “Yes, she’s right here. I’ll put her on.”
Mother handed me the phone and I took it.
I will always remember the words I heard Booter say, “Candee, honey, we couldn’t put your present in a box. We love you mightily.”
I gulped, “I love you too.” I continued, “You couldn’t put it in a box? Was it too big?”
“Yes, do you want to play Twenty Questions with me?”
We had played this game many times, so I answered, “Yes,” tense with expectation.
He started the game by saying, “It’s not mineral or vegetable.”
“Is it four legged?” I asked, with every wish and prayer I ever had for a horse, and particularly for Sugar, flooding my heart and mind.
There was a slight pause, and then I heard both my grandparents say together, “Yes! We bought Sugar for you.”
Booter continued, “She will be here when you come this summer.”
And then the music of their combined voices saying, “Merry Christmas!”
I screamed with joy, and shouted, “Thank you,” as I flung the phone toward my mother and laughed and cried and danced and thanked them and God over and over, absolutely overcome with joyous, ecstatic gratitude.
My mother held the phone so they could hear my joy.
They ended the call with love and promises to talk again on Christmas Day, and we did.
I spent many wonderful summers with my grandparents riding Sugar, developing friendships, while giving and receiving love every day of every summer with friends and family. Looking back, I know that my love for my grandparents and God deepened that day when they granted my most fervent childhood wish. Most of all, I learned never to doubt the power of love. That belief in the power of love has sustained me throughout my life, in good times and bad. Now that I’m seventy-five years old, it still does. I hope you too, dear reader, will never doubt the power of love.
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