The Best of Times
I was standing in the large arena at STAR for the Bridles and Blue Jeans fundraiser when a blast from my past tapped me on my shoulder. Sometimes when you run into an old friend, it’s like the universe is trying to remind you of something…something you need to know. Seeing Paul brought back so many fond memories of the adventures and antics of my youth. And with those memories came an important realization.
Paul’s family had moved into the house directly behind mine. They came from Sacramento, California. Paul was close to my age, and we became instant friends. He was game for any adventure we could dream up, and for whatever reason, our parents seemed completely content, allowing us to do pretty much anything we wanted. And so, we did. We hunted, fished, and camped all over East Tennessee. In those days, the lots in the back of subdivisions weren’t popular for anything other than a place to dump trash. One day while walking to the cul-de-sac to have a little target practice at old bottles and other assorted junk, we noticed a handsome palomino mare in the nearby pasture.
“We should ride it,” said Paul. The problem was we didn’t have a bridle or the money to purchase one. No matter, a quick trip to the encyclopedia to see a few photos and then on to the workshop. Of all the things that I wasn’t in my childhood, the one thing I could do was make things. So I created a makeshift hackamore bridle with some rope, a splicing fid, and a little duct tape. Paul’s sisters, Kim and Elizabeth, would ride that mare with apparent effortlessness. It didn’t come as quickly for me. I was profoundly lacking in knowledge of what could go wrong. But my incompetence was soon to be replaced with some hard-won real-life experience.
One afternoon, Paul climbed onto the horse and said, “Hop on. Let’s ride to the top of the ridge.” The pastures were quite hilly, but I never gave that a second thought. He reached down a hand, and I climbed aboard. We were about halfway up the ridge when Paul’s sister Elizabeth arrived at the barn. Having no idea that Paul and I were riding, she whistled loudly for the horse. Neither Paul nor I had any idea how barn sour that horse was, and what happened next I remember as it was yesterday.
The mare started for the barn quickly, making it difficult for me to stay in my spot. As soon as she cleared the trees, she broke into a full-on run down that steep hill, eliminating any chance of me staying in the right spot. Paul was yelling loudly at me to move back, but try as I might, I just could not. Paul slid up on the neck holding the horse’s ears, and I was about where he should have been. Somehow, we made it to the barn alive. I was about to breathe a sigh of relief until I realized she was going to cut through the barn and go out where a few boards were missing. She wiped us off her back, dropping us right into a pile of fresh manure. When we realized we weren’t hurt, we erupted into laughter. Those were the best of times.
Seeing Paul and reminiscing about times past made me realize just how important his companionship was to my future love of adventure. We took risks without hesitation, knowing that no matter what, we’d always have each other’s backs. Paul stood up for me many times when no one else would. In doing so, it taught me the value of true friendship, the kind that can only be had by investing time in another person. Perhaps in this day of constant immersion in social media, we should put down our devices and spend some quality time with a friend. Who knows, they might just help you realize a passion you never knew you had.