My mama worked, so she used to pawn my sister and I off on relatives during the summer months. When Lynnie was 10 and I was 11, my Aunt B won the “Who gets the girls” lottery and we were shipped off to Fort Benning, Georgia. Her daughter Ellen (my 1st cousin once removed…I actually looked that up to make sure I had it right) was 18 and still at home, so she was given the job of hauling us around and making sure that we didn’t get into trouble. That poor thing…she just graduated from high school and got stuck with two little girls for her last free summer!
She did make it fun for us though, and we loved hanging around with a real teenager. (I don’t know about Lynnie, but I felt eminently cooler, just by association.) Ellen was (and still is) a beautiful, artistic, hilariously funny human being. Her best friends, however, were animals.
My cousin is a real-life animal whisperer…no joke. She has this power and can walk up to just about any animal and put it at ease. Dogs, cats, horses, even birds (which I’ve never understood)…pretty much anything non-human. When there’s any kind of animal emergency, this is the woman you want on your team.
Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I was an exceptionally fearful kid, and animals were definitely on the list of things I wasn’t too keen on. During that summer in Georgia my fears really got put to the test, because Ellen took us to the stables almost every day. Yep…stables where horses lived. Big, scary, stomping, huge toothed HORSES! She had a beautiful male bay named Bay Blitz, and so it was that we were initiated into the world of horse grooming, horse poop, horseflies, and horse (gulp) riding.
Anyone who knows me in person will probably snort at the idea of me riding a horse…and rightly so. To say it didn’t come naturally to me would be a gross understatement! On occasion we would go on short rides, usually with Lynnie riding double with Ellen, and me on another horse with one of my cousin’s friends. I was never comfortable, but I got used to it, as long as we didn’t do anything fast or fancy. Once Ellen took off and yelled for us to race them. When the horse I was on started to gallop…well, I screamed. I don’t remember the name of my horse-chauffeur, but she slowed down to keep me from freaking out. Lynnie describes the end of the ‘race’ as she and Ellen waiting and waiting until the horse I was on slowly came into sight…I think the way she put it (with sound effects) is something like, “Galump…Galump..here comes Tammy.” It wasn’t my only horseback screaming incident but, over the course of the summer, I slowly learned to be a little less freaked out.
Eventually I got brave enough to be coaxed into learning to mount a horse by myself. I successfully mounted and dismounted several times in a row and was supposed to ride a short way on the last attempt. Well, that attempt ended with me doing…well….this:
My foot stayed in the stirrup but the rest of me hit the dirt. Naturally, the horse decided to walk away from the whole thing…dragging me with him. Luckily, the only thing hurt was my pride, which was crushed…I did all of this in front of at least one cute boy! I think when we told Mama about it, she probably just said, “Well honey…you know how clumsy you are!”
The best memory of that summer was when a horse at the stables started foaling earlier than planned. There was no vet, so my 18 year old cousin jumped in and calmed the mama horse down, assisting with the whole birth. It was an amazing moment, and I got to see a horse coming into this world. Ellen later went on to become a vet tech, and I eventually went on to become an animal lover. I owe much of that to her and that summer…even though I didn’t truly appreciate it at the time. (I still don’t understand birds though…they’re just strange.)
Oh, my cousin Ellen is also a seriously amazing artist, specializing in animal portraits. (This is me bragging…look at this stuff!)