Amazing Kids! Magazine

Gretchen

By Amelia F. Barnum, New York

 

She is tall and strong, and she could pull a cart well, until now. She caught pneumonia one week ago. My best horse gone ill. Her name is Gretchen. Just like her mother and grandmother before her. Her father was a handsome black stallion, and her mother was a mannerly gray mare. Gretchen is a horse black as ink, with kind eyes and a white snip on her muzzle. I remember vividly my vet’s stable boy running towards me with a grave look on his face. I’ve never liked that face though I know it well. It always means bad news.

I’m not sure what time it is. I have been with Gretchen since this afternoon, sitting in her stall, remembering her family. Her stall is cold, but I will not leave her. I have spent many hours here. I looked around at the familiar and comforting sights—the rope on the right corner post where I hung the harness before we had a harness room; the one new board among the old that we had to replace when Gretchen’s mother kicked it through; and the name plate reading, “Gretchen III Owned By Carolyn Millbran.” It always smells of Gretchen’s sweet feed that she never quite finishes. I have put my life into horses, and I knew from when I was a little girl that this—powering through the tough moments—was part of the world of horses.

When I was little, Gretchen’s grandmother was suffering, so they had to put her down. I remember my mom tucking my light brown hair behind my ears and telling me that it would be okay. I remember her saying, “Carolyn, we will get through this as a family.” She read me to sleep with my favorite horse book called The Blind Connemara by C.W. Anderson. That book had always comforted me and still comforts me. I remember imagining all the characters from the book. I loved Pony, the main character; he had always reminded me of Gretchen’s mother. That book continued the C.W. Anderson tradition of always having an old horseman teaching the main character, and there was always a woman named Sally. Though there were other books that I loved, The Blind Connemara had been passed down from generations in my family, and I loved it the most.

Now my family members are all horses. Both my kids are away at boarding school, and my husband and I divorced 16 years ago. I didn’t love him. Though he was understanding and intelligent, I’d always thought of him as more of a companion. I had never intended to marry him, but when he proposed, I barely knew what was happening. I just said yes and didn’t know what to tell him after the marriage. So, I just didn’t tell him at all. Besides, I didn’t want to upset my family; they didn’t think I could live life alone. My parents were always old-fashioned in a way and caught up in stereotypes. I mean, they let me have my own life, but they wanted me to get married. They thought a woman couldn’t handle keeping up with bills, that girls shouldn’t take care of the money. So, they were so happy when I’d found a husband.

Gretchen let out a small whinny, and I came back to life. I gazed up to see the first snowflakes of winter falling before my face. Then, Gretchen looked up at me with helpless eyes. That was enough to make me decide this was not something I was going to let pass without a fight. My family and I had been taking care of Gretchens for 98 years. Gretchen’s family’s grand dam had been the first horse on this farm. She had been the one to get this horse farm going. That horse pulled my great-grandmother to school every day. She gave little kids hayrides. That money built us a stable and bought us our harnesses. I owed my whole life with horses to Gretchen’s family. I was going to give back to her family.

I watched the light bulb above me fizz out with a few flickers as it attempted to come back to life. I would try as hard as I could to keep my light bulb alive. I would keep my Gretchen alive. I stroked Gretchen’s soft, now sleeping face and fell asleep myself.

I walked along the wall of photographs in the harness room, studying the faces of generations devoted to driving horses. I came to the barn name, engraved on a board of wood. It was hung in the middle of the harness room, and it said, “Millbran Family Barn.” I always was proud of my last name; it was known through the town of Adenville, Connecticut. My family was one of the first families to settle in this town.

I shook the sweet feed into the bucket of my daughter’s horse Misty, and I replaced the feed bucket on the hook. I looked at the wood and traced my fingers across the detailed lines. I must have stood there, outside Misty’s stall, for an hour, watching my finger follow the lines all the way across the wood. Suddenly I heard a loud crash, and my quick reflexes woke me up. I ran to Gretchen’s stall just to make sure it wasn’t from there, but it was. Gretchen was kicking and thrashing, and the wood around the stall was breaking from her forceful kicks. I ran as fast as I could to the dusty barn phone and called the local vet.

“I’m afraid so,” Bryan O’Reilly, my vet, told me after he’d checked out the situation.

“It can’t be that fatal as to absolutely need this medicine,” I pleaded. My disbelief spread as I thought it through again. I looked at the facts: Gretchen needed this medicine that Dr. O’Reilly said would save her, but I couldn’t afford it unless I could somehow get the money to. A bunch of ideas came into my mind that I immediately dismissed. Sell the horses, sell the barn, get the money, my conscience nagged me. An idea sprang to mind as I walked out of Gretchen’s stall, and I went through my situation for the millionth time. I could sell my horse books. My mom always used to tell me that they were valuable because there were only a few copies left. They were rare collectibles—the ones that were the oldest and the ones that were not published anymore. Those were the most expensive. I came to that conclusion; that is what I would have to do.

“Twelve horse books that are not in publication anymore for sale!” my sign read. That was the last sign. I had posted at least 15 around Adenville, hoping someone would see them and be interested in stories with amazing illustrations and comforting plots. For Gretchen, for Gretchen, for Gretchen, I told myself. This will save Gretchen.

“Ring. Ring. Ring,” my phone chanted.

“In a minute,” I yelled at it as if it were a person. I wouldn’t have answered it if I hadn’t remembered it could’ve been about the books.

“Hello, is anyone there?” I questioned.

“Oh, yes, hello. My name is Mrs. Katherine Phillips. I saw your sign about the horse books, and I am wondering if they’ve been sold yet?”

“No, they haven’t,” I told her while picking at my cuticles, something I did when I was nervous.

“Oh! That’s just wonderful! When can I pick them up?”

“You can come by whenever you’d like to. Did you see the address on the sign?”

“Yes, I did. I’ll pop by in a few hours! Oh, thank you so much!”


“Here,” I said, thrusting a box of my oldest and most treasured horse books into Mrs. Phillips’s hands.

“Thank you very much,” she said politely as I shut the door behind her. Tears started to fill my eyes, and I reminded myself over and over again that Gretchen would be saved. This was for Gretchen. But that wasn’t enough. Those books had been here as long as this barn had, passed down through generations, ending with mine.


Here comes the awkward part, I told myself.

“And in the matter of the payment…” Dr. O’Reilly began to speak.

I interrupted. “Here you go,” I said as I put the money into his patiently waiting hand.

“She’ll be up and standin’ like the other ladies in 24 hours,” he reassured me.

I was in the harness room digging through my tack trunk to get Gretchen’s blanket when I noticed The Blind Connemara sitting on the bottom under her blanket. I grabbed it, hugged it to my chest, and went to read Gretchen to sleep. On the way, I made sure I grabbed a spare light bulb and went to Gretchen’s stall to screw it in.

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