From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Summer Treasures

No bird soars too high, if he soars on his own wings.

William Black

My last customer’s tab had been rung up on the old cash register. I carefully placed the final dirty dish in the holding tray then shoved the tray into the gaping mouth of the huge gleaming steel dishwasher. It was finally quiet, the morning rush over. I had been working since 6 a.m. and my ten-yearold stomach had been rumbling for an hour. “Break time, Janie girl,” Anna smiled over her shoulder as she finished cleaning the hot stove with oil and the big rectangular chore stone. “How ’bout I cook you some breakfast?”

I loved Anna’s kind face, her sparkling blue eyes and her strong arms that would wrap around me when my mom wasn’t looking. Anna had been the morning cook since my parents bought the small town café. Auntie Anna, as I called her, was tall, big boned, thin as a rail and had huge hardworking hands. It was the custom for children raised in the l950s to call all adults Aunt, Uncle or Mr. or Mrs., never by their first names. Anna had insisted that she was to be my Auntie.

Just as I was about to say “I’d love some pancakes,” my mother came into the kitchen with a pie in her hand and a look on her face as cold as the steel sinks. She glared at me, then Anna, put the pie in the oven and stalked out of the kitchen. She had been giving me the silent treatment for two days, ever since my father had told me that I could accept Anna’s invitation to work on her ranch in the afternoons for the summer after our work in the café was done. Of course my mother’s icy silences, cold withdrawals and statements that I would never amount to anything seemed to need no reason. No matter how hard I worked or tried to seek her approval, I had grown accustomed to the cold climate of inevitable failure, just as I had grown accustomed to my father’s unwelcome touches and my parents’ late-night whiskey battles.

“Don’t pay her any mind, Janie girl,” Anna said kindly, “She just isn’t in the best of moods this morning. You’re a good hardworking girl. Now eat some pancakes, you’re going to need some energy for that work waiting for you at the ranch this afternoon.” She winked at me.

I will never forget my first glimpse of the Flying W Ranch as we rounded the corner of the dusty dirt road in Anna’s old pickup. The ancient, big white farmhouse with a wraparound porch that seemed to radiate as much love as Anna’s solid arms. The huge red barn, the corral full of beautiful horses, cattle grazing on what appeared to be endless acreage and Zip, the Australian shepherd that yipped at the tires of the truck.

After we got out of the truck, Anna introduced me to her two boys whom I’d never met, Sandy and Donny, and to her husband, Pete. Then they took me to the corral and introduced me to Fleet Foot, a beautiful black stallion. As I rubbed his silky muzzle and looked into his soft warm brown eyes, I was told that he was one of the finest cutting horses on the ranch and would be mine for the summer.

I worked on the ranch every summer until I left home at eighteen, even though my mother made it so hard for Anna that she finally quit her cooking job when I was twelve. My memories are full of summer afternoons flying through tall grass holding on to the reins while Fleet Foot did his job cutting the cattle. I raced Sandy and Donny bareback across rivers and streams and kneaded bread dough for Auntie Anna while I watched her churn butter. Sitting at the big harvest kitchen table, we said grace before dinner to the sound of Zip lapping the rich cream that Uncle Pete always gave him fresh from the bucket because, “He was a hardworking animal who deserved his share of the best.”

I never told Auntie Anna or Uncle Pete the horrors that were going on in my childhood home; I didn’t need to, although I often confided my deepest secrets to Fleet Foot and Zip. Many of us carry wounds from our childhood, but many, like me, also carry the treasures and gifts of people along the way who took the time to care.

When my children were young, they helped me make bread once a week and we shared meals around a harvest table like the one in that old farmhouse. Our house was frequently full of extra children and we always had a dog. I hugged my children every day of their lives, and I still love to sit with my grandchildren on the wraparound porch of my home, reveling in warm memories and creating new ones.

Those days on the Flying W were few, but the work I did there was more than cutting cattle and mending fences; the lasting work was the mending of my spirit and the knowledge that, like Zip, we all deserve to be treated with kindness and compassion when we give our best.

Jane Middelton-Moz

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