A memoir of my father succumbing to dementia
| I am rather an eclectic person in my adulthood, but most of my interests had a start under Mom and Dad’s roof. Dad held more jobs than I’ll ever know, but I benefited from his varied experience. When I was born he worked as a life guard while he went to college and I learned to swim before I could walk, which has always been a running joke in my family. I remember always being able to swim and if my high school would have had a swim team I would have been on it. I can’t get enough of the water and love swimming, rafting, boating and sailing, and just looking at a lake or river. I find myself taking pictures and writing about water all the time.
I also grew up a farm kid. We didn’t actually live on a farm until I was 13, but we had our first horse when I was five. I was hooked. I’d never had so much fun despite all the work and the bruises I received. The next horse Dad bought was a pony for me. Dad helped me train it and I rode it almost everywhere. It was the ultimate freedom for me, but I learned early that this venture was as much business as pleasure when we sold the pony to another little girl. And so it went year after year. I would have a pony to ride after Dad trained it, and then we’d sell it.
It didn’t take me long, seeing the look on the faces of the children we were selling them to, before I enjoyed the process as much as the horse itself. By the time I was eight, Dad and my sister and I had a buying and selling venture for which I was one of the trainers. Dad had taught me the ins and outs of training and I thoroughly enjoyed a new challenge. At the age of twelve I was well known in our community as an excellent pony trainer and began to get paid for training other riders ponies during the summer.
Our biggest summer started as an innocent endeavor. Dad bought about ten ponies at the sale one day, and we trucked them home. We saddled two geldings and tested their abilities. I threw myself up on one and Dad straddled the other. We pulled them in circles by the gate and felt their responsiveness. I was satisfied so I kicked mine up to a trot, making a bigger circle. He tossed his head a little while trying to pull the reins out of my hand. I tightened my grip and clenched my legs around his girth. When he settled down, I pushed him into a gallop and headed down the length of the pasture. His flanks twitched as he tried to move his legs out of the way of my leg pressure. I sat steady.
Dad watched my maneuvers and judged the horse. The pony had promise. He was willing, but largely untrained. I came to the fence and slowed to a trot. We made a wide circle and he pushed at the bit I held in his mouth. I gave a slight tug on the reins and he gave in. We wove through imaginary obstacles before pulling up next to Dad.
“He hasn’t been taught much, but he’s got good manners,” Dad said. “I like the way he looks.”
I repeated the ride in my head and slowly told Dad my feelings. “He’s responsive. He doesn’t like pressure, but I’ve rarely seen a green-broke horse that does. I really like his trot.”
“How many days do we need to turn this horse around?” he asked.
“Give me sixty days and some good hard lunge-line training,” I responded. “He’ll turn like a dream.”
The horses we’d brought home that day were mostly stud ponies, and Dad wouldn’t let us ride them until they were castrated. So, we set to work the next day on making seven studs into seven geldings. We each had a long rope and a station. Dad placed his rope around the back legs and I put mine around the front legs. Sam stood at the head of the horse with a long lead on the halter. We all looked at each other and when Dad nodded we all said, “One, two, three, pull!” and we dropped the pony to the ground. As soon as the horse was on the ground Dad yelled for Sam to grab the head. So, she dropped her body, elbows first, onto his neck.
Dad had told us that if a horse is on the ground and can’t move its head, then it can’t get up. Sam was the key to our safety while we ran to the backside of the horse. If she failed, we would lose everything we’d worked for and have to start over.
Leaning over the downed horse’s back, Dad and I reached for the legs and tied each set together with our ropes. While I sat on its back to help Sam hold him down, Dad ran his rope to the nearest pole and tied the back legs away from its stomach. Then I took my rope and tied his front legs to the truck bumper that was directly out in front of the horse. The horse was immobile. After some flailing and screaming, the horse gave up and Dad settled down by the pony’s stomach with his tools. He lifted the red lid off the grey plastic case and pulled out two razor blades. He took the cardboard sheath of of each and placed one in his mouth, cutting edge out, and he held the other in his hand as he handed me the case. The he removed the pony’s testicles and threw them out onto the gravel driveway as I handed him the bottle of peroxide. As Dad poured the disinfecting liquid on the injured area, the pony began to thrash to get away from the stinging pain. Sam pushed both elbows into his neck and put all her body weight on his as she pushed with her feet like a wrestler pinning her opponent.
Once Dad finished, he quickly pushed himself into a standing position and ran for his rope as I did the same. We untied the ropes and let them go simultaneously as he nodded for Sam to get up. She jumped as far away from the horse’s head while still holding the lead. The pony flung his head to propel himself into a “sitting” position and gatherer his feet under him as he rose to stand and I ran to help Sam hold the lead. We petted him on the neck to keep him calm as Dad came up and gave him a shot of penicillin in the hopes of avoiding infection.
We continued this ritual until all seven ponies were castrated. They would have two days of rest to recover from the venture before we began to ride them. Once all of the ponies were fixed and recovered, we made quick work of their training and sold them to other kids in the area. Our summer was consumed with training ponies. When one group was sold we would go to the sale and buy another group. I wondered if we would ever run out of customers, but we trained and sold over 100 ponies that summer with very little trouble.
I can’t remember a summer that I was ever so busy and happy before or since. The three of us worked together like wheels on a run-away train. Nothing could stop us. Dad still brags about how well his kids trained horses that summer, even if he can’t remember most of the specific details.
After riding and training horses for thirteen years I was well known in the local horse community and could have started my own training business after graduation, but I wasn’t ready for the investment. I started to work in restaurants and became a manager, but still rode Dad’s horses whenever possible.
Among my store of interests and aptitudes is the joy of cooking, which is the name of a cookbook that seems fitting for the pleasure I find in it. Dad had done a lot of restaurant work when he was younger and he taught me everything he could remember. I began cooking at home when I was thirteen, whether I wanted to or not, and with Dad’s guidance I excelled.
This skill served me well in the restaurant business and I added to my knowledge with every job I had. Between my know-how, people skills, and hard-headed determination (derived from being bucked off more horses than I can count), I became a manager.
Shortly thereafter, three college girls were hired on my shift. I didn’t find out until an hour before that they were scheduled to show up. I was livid. There was no way for me to train them on a busy afternoon when I was already shorthanded. I had one cashier and one cook on the clock, and I was the acting prep-cook, pasta cook, dishwasher, drive-thru cashier, and manager.
The first exposure they had to me was a crazed woman throwing pans into a sink, two towels hanging off of her belt and a knife in one hand shouting orders to other employees. I late found out that they were terrified of having to work with me. They were afraid that I would be a slave driver and put ridiculous demands on them. However, all of them concluded that I was one of their favorite managers and first impressions are sometimes useless, but they sure have a great story to tell.
I loved working with employees and learning the behind-the-scenes duties of a restaurant and found that I am good at motivating people. For a long time I imagined that I could open my own restaurant (so that I could avoid all the problems I saw with corporate chains) and live very well. However, the sometimes crazy hours and stress was more than I wanted to jump into then.
I thought about going to school, but I didn’t know what I would major in, so I continued to work for restaurants and picked up second jobs here and there. Then one winter I decided that I would like to be a writer and figured that a degree would at least give me some good experience in that area, so I looked at different colleges around the country.
Dad, without knowing it, had given me a great resource of adaptability. I sought change because, believe it or not, it was comfortable. My motto at one point in my life was that the only thing that could be counted on was change. Going to college would be a huge change, regardless of the location, but my one hang-up was that I wasn’t entirely sure why I was going to college. I wanted a learning experience to be sure, but I had learning experiences every day of my life right where I was. I also had plenty of job opportunities so college was not a step to getting a job.
I finally decided that college would teach me to do better research to fuel my writing and give me a great base for networking. I never imagined that I would be able to use classes to actually get credit for creating a business plan and my networking could be immediately used to find business investors and to write this book.