After a stay in Albany, I started noticing Pilgrim hat road indicators and Dunkin Donuts signs. I was headed in the right direction: Massachusetts and a visit with my college roommate and best friend Karen, known as "K."
K is a nurse-practitioner, owns a Ph.D in Gerontology, has a book she helped co-author titled Clinical Management of Patients in Subacute and Long-Term Care Settings that will be published in September, and teaches at U-Mass Boston. We have known each other since 1974. The things I liked about her 31 years ago still ring true. She's the real thing in the friendship department, and you couldn't find a better one. Way back when she was nicknamed "Special K." The name still fits.
I caught up with K in North Grafton, Massachusetts at the house of her mater Louise:
who is recovering from cataract surgery. Louise is a hoot. She's a lover of all animals, a horsewoman from the time she learned how to walk in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and names all her parakeets after famous prisoners, such as Leona Helmsley. Her current caged blue parakeet that sings happily and sways on his little swing is called "Lucky." After some gangstah, no doubt.
We also met up with our pal Terry, who lives in Rhode Island and is a teacher.
He is still as impish and funny as back when we were young and foolish. Now we are just middle-aged and foolish. As I was snapping that picture, I almost got run over by an SUV in Tony's Pizza's parking lot.
Back at the ranch, there are hounds on the premises. One named Charlie
and another named Shorty
who is very talkative. Say the word "Bruschi" in his direction and he barks twice. One night I schlepped my guitar from its case and the bunch of us sang old songs. Shorty didn't howl. This is a good thing.
And there are also horses, or should I say "hosses" in a Yankee accent. K's is called Tre
and she rescued him from not-so-good home, so now he is well-loved.
So Tre and I got acquainted.
He's such a gentle soul, and has been very kind to me, forgiving me for any wrongdoing, as I am a rusty rider.
We went riding out in the Massachusetts fields,
Tre in his green hat that protects his ears from nasty fly bites and me in my borrowed Darth Vader riding helmet, with our guide, Louise's neighbor Diane.
I was mad about horses from the time I knew they existed. Me, this city-born kid, read everything I could about them, drew them, petted them, brushed them 'til they looked like they could go to Sunday school, picked their hooves so no thrush would form, and mucked miles and miles of stalls for a chance to ride. Loved the smell of the barn, stayed there in the winter evenings when I should've been home, perched on a bag of feed cleaning tack, watching and feeling the horses' steaming breath in the frigid air.
Learned how to ride on a huge German hunter called "Fog", massive grey, 19 hands, broadest of backs yet gentle, riding a rocking chair. Babysat and saved and babysat and saved until I had the grand total of $600 which was all the money in the world and I bought a horse when I was a teenager. His name was "Hermit" (part-thoroughbred, part-quarter horse), named after that New England cookie (also called a "Joe Frogger" by folks down Maine), all ginger and spiced. He was a bay, 2-1/2 years old, green-broke, had a saddle on his back once and a bit in his mouth twice when he came into my life. The moment we met, we adored each other.
I learned how to ride a little better each time he threw me to the ground, that life's biggest lesson was to always get back in the saddle. He learned he could carry me and all would be well. Being with that horse was what I lived for, 'cause all we had was adventures. Off in the early morning, through the woods, bursting out on a New England field, him galloping, me, head down, my 5'10" frame layed flat, my face against his striving neck. We flew, we did. My mother, a true lady raised with manners and proper etiquette, was terrified of him, and equally unnerved by my independent nature. (I know how to set a table...can cook for 300...thanks to my mother, but I also know what is most important.) Many people are frightened of horses, as they are so big. Horses know when you are scared. They can feel it in your legs, and they know how to dump you off at the first opportunity. Every time I would come home with a bump on my head or a terribly bruised shoulder, she would insist I sell him. "That horse," she called him. "My friend," I'd answer. But, thinking back, I think she knew he was carrying me away from her, to my own life. It must be hard for a parent to take.
Came college-time and I had to give him up. It was not fair for him not to be ridden, to be enjoyed, to be loved. His new home was a school where kids who were handicapped could learn to ride. He understood. By then he was patient, but he was always kind. He carried me those years, nudging me with his soft nose, requesting a rub of the inside of his ears as I sat on a Massachusetts field rock, reading a book. He could take anything. He was a blessing to all. I think of him often.
So it was a wonderful humbling experience to be back in the saddle again, that there is still a creature on earth willing to carry me out into nature. Believe me, there was no galloping through the fields this time, as it's been too long, and my "seat" (horsetalk for leg muscles and balance) is not what it once was. But the experience reminds me how much I like being around animals and barns and woods and dogs and equines.
And how lucky I am to have the friends I do.
Sunday morning before I left, I looked out the kitchen window towards the barn. K was filling the horses' water buckets out in the paddock. She was leaning against the fence and she looked contented.
It's a wonderful thing to see your friends truly at home.