I removed the old ragged photo album from the bookshelf. The hardback cover was tattered and worn from many years of a young girl's constant love of thumbing through the dark gray pages. Opening the photo album brought back fond memories of my teenage years. I treasured the photograph of Dan and me standing in front of the twenty stall white barn. The sun was bright and cast shadows from the oak tree which stood tall and sturdy next to the barnyard. Dad was in the picture behind us throwing hay through the hayloft door.
I found it amusing the way I was dressed in blue jeans with the legs rolled to my knees. I wore a red plaid flannel shirt and scuffed brown penny loafers. My shoulder length auburn hair was put up neatly in a ponytail.
I remembered running into the house letting the screen door slam behind me. If Mom had told me once she had told me a thousand times not to slam the door. I waited for her to say something, but she just shook her head and kept on knitting the navy blue sweater for Aunt Martha's birthday. Dad was sitting in his favorite chair reading the newspaper.
"What are you so excited about, Lori"? Dad said, glancing up from his paper and peering at me over his horn rim glasses. "You came in the house like a streak of lightning."
"Guess what"? I said excited. "Jenny thinks you should buy me a horse. Her dad's been teaching me to ride and he says I don't need any more riding lessons. He thinks I'm able to handle riding a horse on my own now."
"I don't know, Lori," Dad said. "Horses aren't just all fun and riding. There are responsibilities that come with owning a horse. I'm not so sure you're ready to take on such a big responsibility."
"I'd take good care of a horse," I promised. "I'll feed him and clean the stall every day. I'll groom him the way Jenny's father taught me. He will be the best cared for horse in this state."
"I need to think about it awhile before giving you an answer," Dad sounded uncertain. "I'm not sure you're ready to own a horse."
Several days went by and I didn't mention getting a horse, but I kept hoping Dad would say something. I was beginning to think he had forgotten all about considering buying me a horse.
"I've got to go feed the cows," Dad said, getting up from the supper table. "You better get the dishes done, Lori. You still have homework to do. It wont be long until it's bedtime."
"I will, Dad," I said. "I don't have a lot of homework to do and I have all weekend to get it done."
I was sitting at the kitchen table working on an English theme when Dad came back from the barn. I was concentrating on the essay and didn't look up. I expected Dad to say anytime, "Don't chew on your pencil, Lori." The way he did every night. That was one bad habit I wasn't able to break and I still catch myself chewing my pencil at times when I'm making out the grocery list.
"I think I'll call Jenny's father," Dad said as he came through the kitchen door. "He should know where to find a good gentle horse. I've thought it over and since you want a horse so much. I figure you'll be willing to take good care of one."
"Thanks, Dad," I squealed, scattering my English book and papers all over the floor. "I'll take real good care of him, I promise."
"Mr. Taylor has a paint horse that he bought from a girl about your age, Lori," Dad said hanging up the phone.
"He says it's about ten years old and very gentle. I told him I'd be over to pick it up early tomorrow morning."
"You the greatest, Dad," I squealed in delight. "I can't wait to see my horse. I bet he's the most beautiful horse in the world."
I thought I would never go to sleep that night. I was so excited about getting a horse of my very own. I tossed and turned what seemed like forever before finally drifting off to sleep.
I heard Dad's old rusty red pickup truck coughing and sputtering as he pulled into the driveway the next morning.
I was straightening the white spread with tiny yellow daffodils across my bed. I practically flew over to the window and pulled the yellow ruffle curtain out of the way. I could see Dad parked in front of the barn.
I ran down the stairs sounding like a whole herd of horses stampeding through the kitchen and yanked open the door.
"Slow down, Lori," Mom scolded. "You sound like wild horses on a rampage."
"Sorry, Mom," I said. "I'm just in a hurry to see my horse."
"I can see you're in a hurry," Mom said smiling. "Go on and see what your horse looks like."
I ran across the yard in such a hurry that I stumbled over Spunky my black Persian cat. Spunky growled in resentment of me practically falling on top of her, but was contented when I took the time to rub her head and apologized.
"This is Dan," Dad said as he led the horse from the trailer. "What do you think of him, Lori"?
"I think there's a white horse with a brown spot or two somewhere under that mess," I said disappointed. "He sure has been neglected."
Dan was the ugliest horse I'd ever seen. His long shaggy hair was matted with mud and manure. His ribs showed through his skinny body and his long spindly legs were almost hairless. It was difficult to tell his brown spots from the mud and manure.
"Dan was the only gentle horse Mr. Taylor had," Dad said trying to explain. "All he needs is some tender loving care and I'm sure you can give him that, Lori."
"I'll take care of you," I snapped at Dan after Dad had gone to the house. "Not because I like you, but I did promise Dad."
Taking care of Dan wasn't easy as I thought. Mucking stalls was hard work and the grooming wasn't an easy chore until I finally got the mud and manure removed from his long shaggy hair. I had groomed him everyday just like I promised and he began to look a lot better in a few weeks. Most of the long straggly hair was gone and a bath had gotten rid of the mud and manure. Feeding him regular had done wonders. He wasn't skinny anymore and I have to admit he was actually pretty once I could see what he really looked like. I was angry though, because Dad had bought me such a mangy looking horse.
Dan was waiting at the gate every morning and evening at feeding time. He would tag along with me to the barn nuzzling my hand all the way. He didn't seem to mind that I was cranky. I guess it was because I did take good care of him.
It was a few months later when I went to feed Dan; I was surprised that he wasn't waiting for me at the gate. I hurried into the barn and frantically searched all the stalls. I found Dan down in one of the rear stalls. He refused to get up even though I was pleading. He turned his head away when I offered him grain from my hand. I knew something was definitely wrong, but how could he be sick? He was fine when I left him the night before.
"Dad, call the vet," I screeched running through the kitchen door. "There's something terrible wrong with Dan."
Dad reached for the phone and I ran back to the barn. Dan was thrashing around in his stall. He'd stop kicking and rolling every once in awhile, then he would stretch out and groan in agony.
"Please, Lord, don't let him die," I cried tears streaming down my face. "I know I was mean to him but I do love him."
"I got hold of Doc Watson," Dad said rushing into the barn all out of breath. "Do you have any idea what's wrong with him"?
"I don't know, Dad," I sobbed. "I do know that I'm really scared."
Doc arrived and immediately went to work. He gave Dan several shots and it wasn't long before Dan got to his feet. Dan appeared to be fine but I was still trembling with fear.
"What was wrong, Doc"? I asked my voice shaking. "Is he going to be all right"?
"He's going to be fine," Doc smiled. "He had a little touch of colic but we caught it in time. He probably ate some of those walnut leaves that blew over the fence. It'd be a good idea to remove that tree and the sooner the better."
"I'll cut that tree right now," Dad said. "Thanks, a lot, Doc."
"Guess what, Dan"? I said reaching out to pet him on the shoulder. "It's you and me forever, Pal."
I'm married now and have two small children that keep me busy. I still have Dan, but we don't ride the trails anymore. Dan's getting old and spends most of the day wandering around the barnyard picking grass.
I took Dan a carrot this morning when I fed him. His ears stood up and pointed forward in excitement when he saw me. His eyes sparkled with anticipation of getting the carrot. He trotted over to where I stood and nuzzled my hand.
"It's you and me forever, Pal," I said putting my head against his snowy white shoulder. "Just Like I promised you years ago."
I went back to the house and picked up the photo album from the coffee table. I was placing it between the poetry books when a piece of paper caught my eye sticking out from one of the books. I removed the sheet of notebook paper that had turned yellow from age and to my surprise it was a note from my father. My hands trembled as I began to read, but I finally managed to hold the paper steady.
I know how you love to read poetry, especially the ones about horses. I'm sure you'll be reading one of your favorite poems someday and find this.
I want you to know how proud I am of you. You took excellent care of the horse even though you could barely stand to look at him at first. I knew you would love him in time and you did.
You didn't know I realized how you felt when I brought that pitiful looking horse home, but I did. I knew Dan needed someone special to love and care for him. I knew you were that person, Lori, even though you didn't realize it at that time.
You never broke your promise not even once about taking care of Dan. I watched you struggling with that big green wheelbarrow trying to push it to the manure wagon everyday. You don't know how hard it was for me to not come and do the cleaning for you, but I knew you needed to do the work you had taken on the responsibility to do.
I never regretted making the decision to buy you a horse with just a little persuasion from your mother I must admit. I'm glad Dan brought so much pleasure into your life.
Your mother and I love you very much and I want you to always remember how much we care for you.
I folded the note and placed it between the pages of my favorite poems. Tears came to my eyes but I felt good knowing Dad understood me more than I ever knew.
The note will remain in my old high school poetry book with the photo album next to it. Maybe somewhere in the future my children Amanda and Michael will enjoy the book and the memories of Dan who is so special to their mother, plus a very special note written by their grandfather.
Copyright © 1998 Jo Ann Lovelace. All Rights Reserved.