Tag Archives: children

Short Essay: “L” is for Lucky and Liniment

When we were girls in the early 1970s, my two sisters and I were lucky, so lucky. We lived in Connecticut, in a historic rambling brick and clapboard colonial home painted white with black shutters in the deep woods. Small brown bats slept behind the shutters during the day and a long green sweep of lawn and gardens led to a pond guarded by weeping willows and bullfrogs. It was heaven.

But the luckiest way that we were lucky was to have a horse. Nightmare was a sturdy, glossy, black mare with some draft horse in her unremarkable pedigree. She tolerated everything we did to her, from fawning on her to climbing and jumping from her back to pushing through brambles, to pulling her thick mane and braiding it with brightly colored yarn, to bathing her with blue Dawn detergent under cold water from the hose.

We kept Nightie at a nearby riding stable. She was so sturdy that unlike the touchy thoroughbreds I would ride as an adult, Nightie was never injured, except for one oozing wound of proud flesh on her right hind ankle that didn’t heal for the longest time. Still, we watched the other girls treating their more sophisticated horses with fascinating ointments and liniments for sore muscles and pulled tendons, and we also applied these lotions to Nightie’s legs and practiced bandaging them snugly but not tightly with cotton fleece and wide wraps, even though she did not need them. Such a patient horse.

The liniment everyone used was an alcohol, menthol and who-knows-what concoction that tingled when you tipped it into your hand from the brown glass bottle and rubbed it down her cannon bones and hocks and down the straight-as-saplings tendons at the back of Nightie’s lower legs. We pronounced it ab-zore-bean. Decades later when I mentioned it to other grown-up horsewomen, they laughed and corrected me. The proper pronunciation was ab-zore-bean, they said.

But I still say it the old way in my mind.

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3 young girls standing on a hay bale looking in a horse's stall

Poem: Riding Lessons

A writing challenge on the prompt “ritual.”

. . .

Riding Lessons

The boy pulls on each boot as his father watches
he grabs his helmet by the strap
lifts it from the dirt where he dropped it
trudges through the barn’s shadowed maw where the ponies stand in cross-ties
and a thousand girls in jodhpurs adore them.

I prompt him at every step of the ritual tacking-up as he
swipes at the pony’s legs with a brush
broods at its refusal to lift a hoof for the pick
forgets where its bridle, saddle, and the stained pad are stored
although he has been taking lessons all summer.

Here’s what he thinks about riding
and his father’s nostalgia for horses

He drops the saddle on the pony’s back
with the pommel facing backward.

. . .

© 2018 Patti Witten
photo / Patti Witten

Essay: Flight

DTW Detroit Michigan Airport is civilized at 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve day, December 24th, 2016. Terminal A is quiet. No one is freaking out or running to catch a flight. A lot of airport workers are moving about in clusters, chatting with each other about hospital visits and annoying bosses.

I have a four-hour layover, so I cruise the food choices and decide on Longhorns restaurant, not least because they are playing Motown hits on satellite radio. The Classic Breakfast is two eggs, biscuit, hash browns, bacon or sausage. I am seated at a table next to the enormous west-facing windows. Outside, the rising sun illuminates the space between A and B terminals as Delta jets taxi in and out like graceful solo skaters. Every few seconds a clean, crisp white jet leaps off the runway just beyond Terminal B into the cloudless morning sky, into the southerly wind. The jets escalate swiftly, just like all flying things.

Earlier, as I approached the down escalator to the tunnel between the terminals, I walked behind a tiny girl who was trailing her mother. On her back, she carried an overstuffed candy-colored backpack almost half her size. Her slightly older brother was several strides ahead of her, and ahead of them both, already on the way down the escalator, was their mother, a telescoping roller board suitcase handle in each hand, and another large backpack on her own back.

Escalators still alarm me, so I watched the little girl as I followed them. I remembered when I was this little girl’s age: the risk of falling (or worse!), the nervousness of my own parents, the panic of choosing that terrible second when you must step onto the moving stair, the visual disorientation — where do the stairs come from, where do they go? — the sound of the escalator’s rhythmic rumbling, clacking, and sometimes screeching. Terrifying.

At the top of the escalator, the tiny girl hesitated. I was right behind her, anticipating this very thing and ready to assist. She stepped down, not holding onto the handrail, lost her balance, stooped, and began to cry quietly. Mom was unconcerned, or not showing it. “C’mon,” Mom chirped, “let’s go.”

I reached down and gently grasped the girl’s upper arm with my left hand, saying, “You’re OK.” She was crying but not too hopelessly, looking at her feet on the stairs that she straddled, half on, half off. We descended. A man on the parallel escalator was also descending. He reached over the divide, touching her shoulder with his big hand and said loudly, “You’re OK, you’re OK,” repeating it because the tiny girl was not convinced. Slowly she reached up with her left hand to grasp the handrail. “Good job,” I said. She continued to cry quietly.

“C’mon, we gotta go,” Mom sang, glancing over her shoulder, ready to step off at the bottom. The girl’s brother watched from a few stairs down between mother and sister, a bridge between them. At the bottom, he hopped off, turned to watch her. Adults nearby looked ready to intercede. But we knew the little girl had to learn the escalator rules, had to conquer her escalator fears. We all remembered.

The cloudless Detroit sky absorbs all birds leaping up and curving away, going everywhere. Diana Ross sings, Set me free, why dontcha, babe. Al Green sings, Let me know that love is really real.

 

© 2016 Patti Witten