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Terri Farley
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Monday, March 21, 2011

For the 2nd Day of Spring, a return to River Bend

Lots of new readers have told me they missed my holiday newsletter and a return to a time at River Bend Ranch when Sam was a little girl and the Phantom hadn't yet been born.
I hope you'll enjoy it here, for the first time, or in the retelling. T.


by Terri Farley

"It's a good place for horses," Sam insisted, but no one answered her.
Samantha Anne Forster looked up and swung the hand her Gram was holding, but Gram didn't swing back.
Sam looked up, way up this time, at Daddy, but she didn't swing the hand he held.
No one wanted to play with her.
Gram and Dad and all their friends and neighbors stood in a strange green pasture holding tissues to their eyes and noses. as they listened to Pastor Chuck talk about Heaven.

Sam looked past the crowd to green grass that rolled over little hills . It was different from the range around River Bend Ranch.

This is a cemetery, she reminded herself, not a pasture.
No horses are allowed in a cemetery. That's what Daddy said.
It might have made sense if the cemetery had been an inside place, or if they hadn't brought Mama here.

"Next to my family, I love horses best!" Mama told Sweetheart every time she hugged the mare's pinto neck.

So why couldn't Sweetheart have come along? It wasn't like Sam had wanted to bring Sweetheart into the house and upstairs to her bedroom.

Tromp, clop. Tromp, tromp, clomp.
As she imagined Sweetheart's hooves climbing the stairs, Sam laughed a little.

Gram squeezed Sam's hand, but it was a sad squeeze and this time it was Sam who didn't look up. She didn't want to see Gram's hurt face. This was a different hurt from when Gram got burned taking a cookie sheet out of the oven. It had something to do with Mama going away.
Yesterday, when Trixie growled and wouldn't get off Mama's bed, Gram hadn't said "Scoot!" Instead, Gram had cried.
This morning, as Gram zipped the back of Sam's blue church dress, helped her pull on the yellow cowgirl boots Mama said were the color of "tiger butter," then started to decorate Sam's braids with daisies, Sam got squirmy. Then, she started wiggling and giggling and Gram had said, "Samantha Ann, you're almost five years old and today, oh please honey, try to act like a big girl."

Gram had cried then, too and when Sam asked her what hurt on her, Gram put her hand on her chest.

Now, even though the sun cooked through Sam's dress, Daddy's hand felt cold. All at once, he let go.
"Wait!" Sam reached after him, but Daddy was stepping away.
He bent to pick up a handful of dirt. He dropped it in a hole.

They were walking back to Daddy's truck when Sam spotted a big white duck, the kind that swam around Sleeping Beauty's castle in her best book. She chased after it and, at first no one noticed. Not even Gram, even though getting wet and dirty was usually something that got Gram's attention.

Daddy came after her, but he didn't scold. He stopped at the edge of the pond, not looking at her, really, or even at the -- swan! That was what Mama called the black-masked ducks.

No, Daddy just stood still, like he playing freeze tag, until Mr. Ely came up.

"I'm taking you all home in our car," Mr. Ely said. "Kit will drive your truck on back."

Mr. Ely scooped Sam up and settled her on his shoulders. He didn't care that her boots dripped on his white shirt.


<> Sam felt crowded. Too many people were in her house, making it so hot, her feet went all steamy inside her wet boots. She didn't know all the people, but as she edged through the forest of knees, hands touched or stroked or patted the top of her head.

She didn't mind, until she noticed that if someone accidentally laughed, they'd clear their throat in a way that was sad. That was why, when Sam saw the Ely boys taking turns, slipping one by one out the screen door, without letting it slam, she followed them.

The biggest boy, Kit, hadn't done much but straighten his brothers' collars and shush them since he brought Daddy's truck home, but now Kit was right behind her.

"Why does she have to come?" Nate asked. He elbowed Jake.

"Yeah?" Jake asked, but he pushed hair that hung like a pony's forelock aside, and the brown eyes he aimed at Sam didn't look mean.

"You know why," Kit said and all the boys stared at her.

Sam knew how to make them stop looking so pitiful.

"Want to see something?" Sam asked

She ran ahead of them, crawled between the fence rails of Sweetheart's corral, then jumped up to grab the pinto's mane and bounce onto Sweetheart's back.

"How did she --?"
"Didn't know that mare was kid-gentle."
"Are you sure -- ?"
"Remember the monkeys that rode the greyhounds around the arena at the rodeo?"
"Yeah, but they were tied on."
"Careful now, Samantha."

Sam didn't know which Ely said which words, but it didn't matter. She lay on Sweetheart's neck. Warm and floppy as if she lay on her own bed, Sam felt the mare's thick mane on her forehead. For a minute, she thought she might fall asleep, but then Sam breathed the honey and leather smell that was part Mama's and held her breath, refusing to let it go, in case she could never smell it again.

Holding her mouth shut as she wouldn't lose that breath of Mama, Sam didn't breathe. Even when she saw bunches of black dots like swarming ants, she wouldn't let it go.
Then, one of her legs slipped left and the rest of her wanted to follow.
Boots hit the fence rails and Sam opened her eyes to see two Ely boys starting over the fence.

Then she took a really loud breath and said, "I like to ride Sweetheart." She held a hand out at them so that they wouldn't pull her off of Mama's horse. "Sweetheart can dance. Look!"

Sam sat up straight, fingers resting on the chocolate-brown spot covering Sweetheart's withers. Sam leaned back a little just like Mama was still sitting behind her.

She could hear Mama saying, Sweetheart can dance the rumba. All you have to do is ask.

"Sweetheart," Sam said in her most grown-up voice, "Rumba!"

Sam shoved her fingers through Sweetheart's mane and held on tight as the mare planted her white front legs and made her back hooves shift around, swinging her tail and back end to give Sam a ride so bumpy, she couldn't help but laugh .

"Can you do that?" she asked the big boys.
Mama didn't allow her to be show-offy, but Mama wasn't here.
"Can you? Huh?" Sam yelled so hard, she was afraid her shout would turn into crying. "I bet you can't!"

Sweetheart shied and Sam plopped onto the corral's dirt floor.
Jake wasn't much bigger than Sam, but he was over the fence, picking her up and setting her back on her feet before Sam could do it herself.
Once she was up, Sweetheart stepped close enough to nuzzle Sam.
"That's okay," Sam said, told the horse, "I know you're sorry." She hooked her fingers through the mare's halter, then told Jake thank-you.
Jake rubbed the back of his neck as his brothers made making kissing noises.

Shaking his head, Jake looked at them and said, "You gotta feel a little sorry for her."

For some reason, that made Sam want to sock him. So, she did.

"Hey," Jake said. His hands covered his tummy.

When Sam socked his hands, she barely kept her grip on Sweetheart's halter. As the pinto snorted, trying to back away, Sam's feet barely touched the ground. Only her tiptoes dragged in the dirt.

"Come away from that horse if you're gonna go all loco," Jake said.

"You are not the boss of me!" Sam yelled. She would not leave Mama's horse.

When Daddy and Gram came running, Sam was mad at everybody.

"No!" she screamed and this time Sweetheart half-reared, lifting Sam's boots clear of the dirt.

"Heaven have mercy!" Gram said.

Mr. Ely was there, too. He took one look at her, hanging from the horses' halter then said, "Get in the house," to his boys.

"I'm sorry!" Jake yelled, but Sweetheart's rearing made everything blurry and where her arm went into her shoulder was starting to hurt, so she didn't know if he left for the house or not.

"She's my horse! She's my --" Sam's teeth clacked together as Daddy jerked her away from Sweetheart.

He set her on her feet. At first he didn't let go and his hands shook.

"She's not your horse, Samantha Anne," he said finally. He took a step back from her. "You just go on! Get on outta this corral." Daddy pointed. "Do it now."

Daddy closed his eyes. For a minute, she thought he was trying to keep the tears from leaking out of his eyes, but it didn't work. He was crying and so was she, but Sam put her hands on her hips.
"Daddy," she started, but he didn't let her talk.
"When I open my eyes, I don't want to see you. I want you safe inside that house, hear?"

She'd made her daddy cry.
When I open my eyes, I don't want to see you.


The year she was five. Sam cried a lot. She missed her Mama. Daddy wouldn't let her ride Sweetheart. She wasn't allowed to do anything Daddy thought was dangerous, and that was a whole lot of stuff.
He didn't let her climb the ladder to the hayloft or walk by the La Charla River, gathering black rocks to throw into the current as she and Mama used to do. He checked her seatbelt, even though she'd been fastening it herself forever. When she played tug with Trixie, he made sure the dog's teeth stayed covered by her lips or else he sent her out of the house.
"He's just making sure nothing happens to you, too," Gram told Sam.

The year she was six, Sam had fun at school, but she was quiet and careful at home. Dad wouldn't let her ride alone. He or Gram had sit behind her on Banjo or Amigo. Sam tried not to complain. She'd made her Daddy cry once, and she never wanted to do that again.

When she was seven, Sam finally got mad. In the back of her mind, she kept hearing Daddy say, When I open my eyes, I don't want to see you. She was packed and ready to run away, off to the range. She and Trixie and the new puppy, Blaze, could live with the coyotes.
When Gram told her Daddy hadn't meant he didn't want her around. He'd just wanted to keep her safe, Gram said, and it was like Sam had never heard the words before, so she asked Daddy if that was true.
He said yes, and though he still wouldn't let her ride Sweetheart, he let her ride anywhere inside the ranch gates on Fuzzy, a short-legged pony all of the Ely boys had outgrown.

The year she was eight, Daddy said he had something special for her.

He took her to see Kitty, a beautiful red Quarter Horse that had, she'd heard, cost a "pretty penny."

"Come here and feel this," Daddy said, skimming his hand over Kitty's big belly.

"Okay, I will. She's such a pretty girl," Sam said, but she wasn't talking to Daddy.

Kitty's skin moved as if she was shuddering off a fly, but Sam kept petting. Did she feel Kitty's heartbeat in her tummy?

The mare's head swung around as if she were surprised by this, too.
"The prettiest girl on the whole ranch," Sam went on, as the mare's brown eyes studied her.
And then she felt it.

Right in the center of hand, something bumped her. She'd started to pull away when it happened again and she saw the outline of a miniature hoof.

"Guess your horse already knows you," Daddy said, "When her baby's born, he'll belong to you."

Sam hugged Daddy's leg as he gave Kitty her special vitamins. She jumped up and down while he brushed her bright coat.

Then, Sam stared at her own hand, at the hollow between the base of her fingers and her thumb. Her horse. She looked at the lines crossing her palm and imagined they were roads they'd gallop together. The foal's hoof had not left a print on her skin, but somehow she still felt the tiny touch the next day.

Even though Daddy said her horse would be born "soon," it took forever. and the only thing that helped was talking to Jake Ely, at school.

Jake liked to pretend he was a horse expert, and maybe he was, because he told her amazing things about them.
Even though Sam was in Mr. Davis' class and Jake was in Mrs. Greenbaum's, their classes lined up beside each other while they waited to go back inside after lunch recess.

Jake said two things were very important if she wanted to make the new foal really and truly hers, forever.

"First, soon as he's born --"

"What if it's a filly?" Sam interrupted.

"Sam," he said, rolling his eyes. "It don't matter."

He was quiet for so long, that the classes had gone through their separate doorways before Sam knew he wasn't going to tell her. He stayed silent on the bus, after school, too.

"Okay, I'll be quiet," she told him the next day.
Jake gazed at her for so long, Sam had almost give up. But then Jake lifted one shoulder in a shrug.

"It'll help the horse," Jake said about something or other, and then he talked longer than she'd ever heard before.

He told her she had to breath her breath into the foal's nose, so that he knew she was part of his herd, even though she was human. And, she needed to whisper a secret name into the foal's ear, as soon as the mare would let her get close enough.
"It's gotta sound different than other words," he said. "Not 'boy,' 'cause that sounds like toy. Not fella, cause that sounds like -- "
" -- yella," Sam made the rhyme before she could stop herself. But she covered her mouth with both hands and made her eyes beg Jake to go on. .
"Right," he said slowly. "And if you do that, and never, ever tell anyone that name, it will be a magic bond between you, forever."

The colt wasn't born gray like his sire, Smoke, or red like his mother Kitty.
When Sam first saw the little horse, he gleamed black as the wet river rocks she and Mama had gathered together.
Kitty licked her baby so hard, Daddy told Gram that the little horse had struggled to his feet in self defense, because Kitty kept making him roll over like a dog.

But Sam didn't blame Kitty. Sam was pretty sure they shared the same overwhelming urge to touch the little horse.

When the mare nudged him to nurse, the colt got up, then sneezed and fell. He managed to stand again, but his black face was spattered with milk.

"Got more on the outside of him than the inside," Daddy said, and he must have heard Sam's breath catch in worry, because he added, "He'll get better at it right quick."

"Can I touch him?" Sam asked Daddy, and she was surprised when he told her she could, just as soon as Kitty began eating.

Five minutes passed, then ten, but finally Kitty noticed the manger full of fresh hay.
When the gentle rhythmic sound of chewing had gone on long enough, Daddy let her approach her horse.

Sam's sigh shuddered as it came out, and the foal turned ears no longer than her index finger swiveled to catch the sound.

It's time, Sam thought. She'd meant to do this after she'd breathed her breath on him, but the colt's ears were listening to her. He was waiting to hear his secret name.

"Go ahead," Dad said, and Sam realized she still hadn't touched her colt. "I'll watch the mare for you, and you hightail it out of there if I say so."

"Uh huh," Sam said, but she kept her voice soft and dreamy as she shuffled three steps through the deep straw of the birthing stall, then bent to the little black ear.

With her eyes closed, she whispered, "Zanzibar."
Had he heard? The colt stood so still, she wasn't sure.
Then, a fine trembling ran over his little black body.

His head bumped hers so quickly, Sam just glimpsed the intelligence in his long-lashed brown eyes before the colt huffed his milky breath into her face.

He already knew her and he wasn't afraid.

"I am," she whispered, "I'm part of your herd."

The realization must have tired him out, because the colt's back legs bent. He sat, then cuddled into the straw.

Kitty looked back and gave a snort. Daddy didn't have to tell her it was time to leave the two horses alone.
Sam slipped out of the stall.
The red mare circled her son, then settled beside him.

"C'mon, honey," Daddy said. He touched her shoulder and he might have nodded toward the barn door, but Sam's gaze didn't leave her horse.

Once more, her lips formed the name, Zanzibar.

The foal's mini whinny startled the humans and the mare.

From his place beside his mother, the little black horse stretched his chin up, looking proud.

His head jerked in a triple nod before he closed his eyes, and fell asleep for his first nap on River Bend Ranch, his home.

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Comments: Loved this!!:)
  Please Terri Farley can you put my website on your site?
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