Meeting Up With an Old Friend

I struck up an acquaintance with an old friend this week, someone I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of since I was in the sixth grade at Greenway School in Bisbee, Arizona, some sixty plus years ago. Before I tell you about that, however, I need to tell you the back story. As my husband is wont to say, “With Judy there’s no such thing as a short story; only long ones.” So here goes.

Three years ago when I attended ThrillerFest for the first time, I encountered a stranger, a fellow writer, who is, for all intents and purposes a geographical next-door neighbor. Lisa Preston is a retired cop and current mystery writer who lives in Sequim, some fifty miles from here as the crow flies. She’s also a horsewoman and a trained farrier. For those of you who are city-slickers, farriers are people who shoe horses. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’m guessing that female farriers are, as my mother would say, “scarce as hen’s teeth.” I read Lisa’s first book, The Clincher, and found out more about horses and horse shoeing than I ever would have thought possible.

Since then, Lisa and I have become friends. This winter she sent a video of her out riding bareback in close to four feet of snow. We met for a second time at last year’s ThrillerFest, and this year during the Tucson Festival of Books, we not only shared a panel but also had dinner together at the Guadalajara Grill afterwards. A few weeks later she sent me a thank you gift. More on that later.

So back to me as a kid. I was a reader who loved dogs and horses. As far as dogs were concerned I gravitated to collies. I read Lassie, Come Home and as many of Albert Payson Terhune’s books as I could lay hands on: Lad, a Dog; Wolf; Lad of Sunnybank, Grey Dawn. I loved the idea that those dogs enjoyed hiding out in a cave under the piano in the living room. The upright piano at our living room didn’t come equipped with a cave.

As far as books about horses were concerned? My Friend Flicka was close to the top of that list, and next up was anything by Walter Farley—The Black Stallion and The Black Stallion Returns. But my all time favorite was Frog: The Horse that Knew No Master by Colonel S.P. Meek.

At dinner in Tucson, Lisa and I talked of our mutual love of horse books, and a few weeks later, a “bread and butter” gift from her arrived on my doorstep—a crumbling copy of Frog

I love horses, true, but only from afar. I never owned one and rode only a couple of times in my life. One of those occasions was an ill-fated dude ranch trail ride in the Wonderland of Rocks. My horse, an aging nag named Lightning, practically had to be carried on the way up the mountain. On the way back down, however, he lived up to his name, took off like a shot, and would have swept me off under a fast-approaching tree branch had not my visiting cousin from South Dakota, Polly Johnson, come thundering up behind me to the rescue.

Years after I left home, my younger sister, Janie, had a horse–a palomino mare named Honey. For years I’ve teased her about being the spoiled baby of the family because she had a horse and I didn’t, but the truth is, she bought her own horse and paid for its upkeep with monies earned from delivering both newspapers and the TV Guide. But I digress.

Back to Frog. My grandson, Colt, is currently in the seventh grade. This spring, I struck a deal with him. Grandkids who come to book signings are automatically eligible to go home with the book of their choice. The one Colt wanted that night was a 1200 page behemoth of Sci/Fi fantasy that is Colt’s hands’ down genre of choice. So I struck a deal with him. I’d cough up money for the BIG book if he would agree to read one of my childhood favorites first. Which is how Frog ended up in my grandson’s hands. He read it and loved it. Frog is a horse with the US Cavalry stationed in the Panama Canal Zone in the 1920’s. One of Colt’s first questions about the book was “What’s polo?” I gave him as clear an answer as I could muster at the time. Now, considering he’s someone who cut his reading teeth with Harry Potter, all should have just said, “Polo is like Quidditch only on horseback instead of brooms.”

So this week, when Colt returned the book, it occurred to me that maybe, after all this time, I should read it as well. And with a few free moments between floor refinishing and rearranging furniture, I sat down to peruse it. When I read the book the first time, I doubt I bothered with the author’s foreword at the beginning. Now, being an author myself, I was interested to see what Colonel Meek had to say. The book was first published in 1933, and the author expressed concern about publishing a book in “uncertain times.” My response to that was, “Wait a minute? Aren’t they all uncertain times?”

As soon as I started to read, I was struck by the differences in vocabulary and diction. Other than the polo issue, however, Colt swam through that with little difficulty. After all, he’s already read Dame Agatha, another time-machine reading experience as well as another side effect of having a mystery writer for a grandmother.

Within minutes of opening the book, I remembered why I loved it. Frog is one of those incorrigible horses whose entire purpose in life is tossing off anyone and everyone who tries to ride him, most especially the exceptionally evil Lt. Glover! When a kind and extremely able horseman named Lt. Scott appears on the scene, he’s able to keep his seat most of the time, but even he regards Frog as dangerous and untrustworthy. Frog is on his way to being put down by the vet when Scott rescues him from certain death inside a burning stable. From there on out, man and horse are partners.

Several things struck me about this book. When Colonel Meek speaks of “the World War” he means World War I because World War II hadn’t happened. (And by that I mean World War TWO not World War Eleven or even World War Pause!) The idea that Lt. Scott and Frog would venture off into the jungle to raid a leopard’s den in order to steal two kittens so the commandant’s daughter could turn them into pets wouldn’t pass the conservationists’ smell test these days much less be a feat worthy of bragging about. But despite all that, what I liked most about the book was the partnership between man and beast. The relationship between man and your basic Ford Mustang just isn’t the same.

So I’m glad I took time out to revisit that old friend of a book this past week, even though the cover was literally crumbling in my hands as I held the book. That was a real gift, both to me and to Colt. (With a name like that he OUGHT to like horse books! Next up I guess I’ll need to go looking for a copy of Lad, a Dog so he can read that, too.)

Thank you, Lisa. And here’s a word to my readers. Maybe it’s time you picked up one of your favorites from long ago. Taking a trip down reading’s memory lane may provide some insight into how you came to be who you are today.

25 thoughts on “Meeting Up With an Old Friend

  1. Oh so true, books can make us. Hand held time machines. How I loved Laddie, the toast crunching collie, and imagining the Place on the fire blue lake. Likewise Gene Stratton Porter’s wonderful stories and nature books.now your characters join them in my hand picked world.

  2. Childhood favorite hands down: Nancy Drew. So my favorite genre is mysteries. Leading me to like Ali Reynolds, JoAnna Brady, and JP Beaumont! And many more by your fellow female writers of mysteries.

  3. There is something about girls and horses and I don’t know why. We had two draft horses on the Iowa farm where I grew up. I could ride Daisy, the white one, if I positioned her by the back tire of the tractor and climbed on her back after I climbed on the wheel. For a few minutes I was with Roy Rogers riding the range. I begged my dad for a pony, but I never got one. I know now that I would not have been very good at taking care of it. When I grew up I didn’t get a horse when I could have so guess. My favorite horse book is “National Velvet”. I saw the movie before I read the book.

    • I left out part of a sentence. “When I grew up I didn’t get a horse when I could have so guess I really didn’t want one.”

  4. I’m just about your age and also loved Farley’s books and still have my copy of “The Black Stallion Returns”. I also loved books about dogs, but my dream was to travel all over the world when I grew up (and I did – I’ve been on all continents except Antarctica) my favorites were the “____Twins” Books by Lucy Fitch Perkins. Among them were Dutch, Scottish, Irish, Belgian. etc. My absolute favorite was the “Dutch Twins”. They were written early in the 20th century, and some were written for early grade schoolers and some for older kids.

  5. Interesting story, as usual, and always a pleasure to read. I happen to have a first edition copy of my first book, Charlotte’s Web. My grandmother gave it to me when I was seven, and I treasured every word…over and over and over again.
    It is in storage right now, but perhaps I will read it again once we get settled.
    Have a great weekend, and I hope the house projects keep on successfully.

  6. Wondering what the 1200 page BIG book of choice was.
    The Nancy Drew books were my favorites at about Colt’s age. Friends swapped them.
    Hey folks, support your local library and bookseller! If you have the passion, apply for a seat on the board. Local can lead to regional. Regional to state. Gratifying to say the least.

  7. This was a wonderful read! I was mad about horses – still am. I begged for a horse each Christmas, and, much to my father’s amusement, got a lovely horse model! Walter Farley was a favorite, and I will now track down Frog. And reread some others. Sipping my coffee, your blog brought a smile to my face. Thanks, as always.

  8. The post today hits home on so many levels. 10 of us kids and the baby sister got a Shetland Pony!
    I did the bribery thing with one of the nieces. She was hard core into the Twilight series, but she read other stuff, too, young adult things. I got good at giving her a gift card to B&N for her nook. I would tell her, you have to read such and such, first, then you may buy what you want with the rest of the card $. I am happy to say I now have an adult niece who has already read GWTW, the recent sequel Scarlet and also bought the GWTW movie. Guess she REALLY liked it.

  9. My favorite childhood books that I owned were from the Nancy Drew series. And to some extent the Hardy Boys too. But I also remember loving a story about the box car children. I don’t know what happened to my extensive collection of Nancy Drew. It disappeared with time. I think I had about 40 books. But my memory may be faulty on that number. I believe the books were up-dated to more modern times and reissued. I read a biography about Carolyn Keene, the author. She received $15 per book. And no royalties either. Times have changed. I’ll have to go looking for the first book at the library and check it out to read.

    • I had the complete set – in the original versions – then gave it to my cousin and it disappeared. I have a long and complicated medical history which necessitated monthly trips to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in the 1950s. To ease the pain, my mother would buy me the latest Nancy Drew book. They did help because I lost myself in them and temporarily forgot the pain. Wish I still had them…

  10. I have to confess that your husband’s statement made me laugh out loud, because it reminded me so much of a statement “vampire” George Hamilton said to new love Susan Saint James in the movie, Love at First Bite: “With you, there can never be a quickie. Only a longie.”

    My absolute favorite book growing up was – and likely still is – The Lion’s Paw by Robb White.

  11. I recently reread one of my childhood favorites too. Charlotte’s Web. I loved it even more than I did 60 years ago!

  12. My first horse book was “Black Beauty” and I still have the copy my Grandmother gave me. I loved Misty..and books by Marguarite Henry. I try to have a lesson every week.

    I will have to re-read some of the old books on my shelves this summer. Then I will pull them out of the library collections for the kids to read. That should be fun!

  13. Revisiting old friends takes us to a different place. We no longer see total book from the same perspective but we can still fall in love with it. Thank you for bringing so many old friends to mind and introducing me to a possible new friend.

  14. Loved all those books too and still adore horses to this day. That is one of the reasons I volunteer at our A.N.T. farm here. It stands for Animals as Natural Therapy. Always enjoy your Friday blogs which brightens up the beginning of the weekend even more! Thanks again for all you do!
    Warmest Regards,
    Kerry and Harley

  15. My childhood favorite book was Follow My Leader by James B Garfield. It is about a young boy who is blinded by a firecracker accident. He must relearn to do things in a blind world and receives a guide dog.
    I reread this book not long ago after lending it to my great niece.
    I wanted to work with the blind when I was young, but went into pharmacy instead. The odd thing is that my mother developed a rare disease in 2008 and lost the sight in both eyes within a week and I became her care giver. So, in a way, I eventually did work with the blind until she passed away in March 2009.
    I also loved the Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner. These were the books I learned to read with. My love of reading began with this series of books. I bought myself an entire set for my personal library at the age of 60 and sat down and read them again when they arrived. That is where I began traveling the world without ever leaving home. I have no idea who I would be without my love of books and reading.

  16. well, I guess I could reread any of the Albert Payson Terhune books I read and loved as a child, or another favorite, such as Black Beauty, but right now, I’m rereading Second Watch, a not quite so distant favorite of mine… I recommended to one of my book clubs, and they are all loving it!

  17. We loved all the Sam books. (And I love yours, too). I never had a horse either, but my daughters were avid riders and owners and the youngest (age 55) still has four of them. Yes, they read all those horse books.

  18. Great post. I’ve loved series since I learned to read. I started with the Bobbsey Twins and graduated to Nancy Drew. Of course I’ve read every Jance book written.
    My third grade teacher used to read to us each day and my favorite book that she read to us was The Scarecrow of Oz. I read it to my kids too.

    You might try Thriftbooks.com for Lad, A Dog. They usually have old books.

  19. Several years ago I read through the whole “Little Coronel” series that I had been given years ago by my older east coast cousin. The books cover her life as she grows from a very young girl (think Shirley Temple) to old enough to have boyfriends and contemplate marriage. The first books were written well over 100 years ago, so some would find the language and descriptions a bit offense in this day of political correctness, but was appropriate for the time. After reading each book, I returned them to my cousin hopefully for her granddaughters enjoyment.

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