Years later, when I was just four years old, I met them. Instead of sending them to auction the way most farmers do when an animal can no longer work, he retired them. I can still remember him telling me that they had become his friends and that no man would give up on his friends.
They were old, but still glossy with health and, from my point of view, great lovely mountains of golden hair and muscle with huge brown eyes, who saw me. I've always valued that in all of the animals that I've lived with. They have no pretensions, never lie. They see people as they are, not as people like to think they are. They could see me even though I was only four years old and small too boot.
I had a lot of cousins, as did most of us Boomers. We all took turns staying with Grandma and Grandpa in the Summer. And, when we were old enough, then we got to go out to the farm to help with REAL chores. It's one of my earliest memories, that ride out to the farm with my Grandpa. We drove out in his old farm truck with horrible, hard bench seats. The truck bounced all over the road and I was pretty bruised up by the time we got there, but there was no way I was going to complain. I was the only little girl in a family of boys. If they could take it, I could too. And I was so proud!
I had on my first real pair of overalls and a beat up, tiny cowboy hat that all the boy cousins had worn before me, to keep off the sun. I had a real lunch box with sandwiches, apples, carrots and cookies in it made just for me. I had work boots that had been mended and mended and my very own, real work gloves that no one else had ever used. Grandma had bought them for me.
Before we left, Grandma made it clear that Grandpa was not to let me anywhere near the hog pens. I was precious cargo. Grandpa just smiled, kissed her on the cheek and swung me up onto the seat beside him. I was going through a right of passage and he was going to make a "man" of me.
I've gone back to find the homestead. The land belongs to another family now. My Grandpa sold it in the late sixties because his sons had fought over who would inherit it. He was mad, so he sold it and spent the money before he died. I was the only one that cried when he told them. I was in high school by then. I'd loved that old farm and now it was gone. When we drove out to see it a few years ago, the house was gone and the barn and other outbuildings had fallen in from disrepair. I knew I wasn't supposed to go on to the property, but I climbed the fences and trespassed anyway. I had to go see the inside of the barn where I'd helped to take care of Penny and Sun, my first horses.
It was still the same to me. I didn't see the collapsed building. I saw my Grandfather's barn, huge and red with the sun coming up behind it, like a cathedral. When we went inside that first day, we were greeted by Penny and Sun. Grandpa did the same thing with his horses that I do today. The doors were left open and the stalls were for them to come and go from at liberty. They had the run of the farm.
They called to my Grandad and he waited for them to come to him. They looked just about as big as the mountains I described them as, and they smelled so good! I don't know which one of them it was who leaned down to look at me, but she was very gentle, exchanging breath with me and touching me on the top of my head with her great huge nose. I was in love! It was like the Gods had come down to me. I felt like a Princess in a fairy tale, anointed with slobber and grass.
My first chore was to clean and fill their water trough while he gave them grain and fresh hay. I took my job very seriously. I was now a farmer and had a job to do. I still remember reaching out the first time to touch one of them when they came to my spanking clean water trough to drink water. Her hooves were huge, bigger than Grandma's blue and white dinner plates. And her legs were like tree trunks to me, only warm and sweet smelling. She stood quietly while I ran my hands down her legs. I guess she knew I was "precious cargo" too, because my Grandpa came to get me for more chores and found me sitting between her front hooves, hugging her.
I worked hard that day. I brought in eggs and cleaned out the chicken house. I came to the not too surprising conclusion that chickens were funny and kind of pretty, but I didn't care much for the way their house smelled. And I also helped to pick caterpillars off the tomato plants. They didn't have a name for it then, but now my Grandpa would have been called an Organic Farmer. He never saw any use for chemicals when the animals provided everything he needed for his fields. It was much cheaper to pick caterpillars than to spray them, especially when he had helpers as willing as me!
When we stopped for lunch, Grandpa told me that it was OK to share with Penny and Sun if I wanted to. I asked him if they like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches too. He said " No. But they do like carrots and apples. You can give them each a bite if you want to. They've earned all the carrots they ask for, for the rest of their lives." So he handed me his pocket knife, a treasure I had never been allowed to touch before, and showed me how to open it and how to cut the carrots in to pieces for them. It was a knife that he made. One of my brothers has it now.
I stood there with those great, lovely horses eating all of my lunch from my hands. It turns out that horses do like peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches because they ate that too. Grandpa shared his lunch with me and I shared mine with the horses. It was the beginning of a love affair and he knew it.
They're all gone now, but just for a moment when I stood there in the shadow of that fallen in barn, I could feel a touch on the top of my head. They remembered me too.
Today I'm going to share my Grandma's recipe for Snickerdoodles. Those were the cookies she always made for me to take when we went to the farm to see Penny and Sun, my first horses. They liked the Snickerdoodles too.
1. Mix together thoroughly : 2 sticks softened, real butter (Grandma used lard), 1 and 1/2 cups sugar, 2 big, fresh country eggs. I sometimes substitute demera or turbinado sugar for Grandma's white sugar. Gives them a slightly crisper texture and a deeper caramel taste.
2. Add : 2 and 3/4 cups flour. Grandma used white flour. I use unbleached and, sometimes, make it 1 cup whole oat and 1 and 3/4 cup unbleached. Gives it a slightly nutty flavor to compliment the caramel taste of the darker sugar. 2 tsp. Cream of tartar, 1 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp sea salt. It you use the whole oat flour, again be gentle with the mixing. It's going to make a sticky dough.
3. Chill the dough for several hours. Nice part about this is you can make the dough a day ahead if you want to. Grandma always kept some in the refrigerator so she could make hot, fresh cookies when we came to visit.
4. Mix up some cinnamon and sugar in a wide, flat bowl (about 4 tbls sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon). Roll the dough in to small walnut sized rounds and roll in the sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and cook for 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees. In my oven they take about 8 and 1/2 minutes. The cookies will be light brown and kind of puffy looking when you take them out, but will get crinkly on top as they cool.
5. Serve hot from the oven with cold milk or hot tea to dunk them in. If you're trying to sell your house, bake these right before you have someone come to look at the house. Works every time! Nothing like the smell of hot, fresh snickerdoodles to make a place smell like home.
I am, ever yours, Nancy, smiling and remembering shining golden horses and the beginning of a life long love affair.