Since her father’s death, Maggie was busier than she’d ever been in her life. Driving the children to soccer practice, scouting events, gymnastics and horseback riding lessons were part of her job. Her husband, Jim, brought in the money to keep the family going and got involved with as much as he could in his spare time. Now, Maggie had her mother to care for as well in a community an hour away. She was easily overwhelmed. Her only free time was on Friday mornings. In those hours, she relaxed with her draft horse while they rode through the woods. His robust and steady disposition helped settle her soul.
As they forged through narrow trails, creeks, and rivers, she thought of traveling through life’s challenges and hoped to come out on the other side of the dark places that tried to consume her heart at every turn. She deeply breathed in the autumn air catching the scent of the peaty leaves that lay on the ground and proceeded down the trail. While being acutely aware of the rocks and roots under the horse, a toad scooted off to the left as they passed by. When they arrived at a river crossing, he refused to move forward. This wasn’t like him. Upon closer examination, she noticed a branch caught on a cluster of boulders that created a chilling image of a trapped animal. No wonder her trusted friend refused to forge the placid waters. With some encouragement, he moved forward. On the other side of the river, they moved ahead for another half hour before turning back around to the barn. The ride helped, but the relief was only temporary.
Sitting in the car after the ride, Maggie thought about the next day’s events and ratcheted the gear shift into reverse. The barn manager came to the window. The woman began talking to Maggie about an upcoming engagement at the University of Maryland. Distracted by the conversation, the car started to roll backward. Before she could respond, the thud came. The first thought, oh my God, I’ve run into a horse or person. Throwing the gear back into ‘park’ and jumping out, she realized she’d bumped into the side of the barn managers car. Thankfully, the dent was barely visible. With an overabundant number of apologies, the women decided not to file an insurance claim and went their separate ways.
The very next day, Maggie drove her mother to the heart doctor. The examination took place. The diagnosis; mitral valve prolapse. To prevent more damage, blood pressure and cholesterol medication were prescribed, but surgery was not an option for the ninety-two-year-old woman. After leaving the office in a despondent mood, they hobbled back into the car for a ride down River Road. To cheer her mother up, Maggie drove over to Austin Orlando’s barn to see her arabian. Small pleasures are so important to the elderly. Struggling out of the car and over to the smooth coated, grey horse at the fence line brought a smile across both their faces. Maggie left her mother and went into the barn to get a few treats to feed him. Her mother took one in her hand, placed it in the other one with an open palm, and offered the biscuit to the gentle creature.
The moment of pleasure floated away when the cell phone rang. Maggie pushed the button to engage the call. Jim began speaking in a rapid clip tone. The trek down the ‘new’ Route 29, in honor of the local 29th Infantry of WWII, had come to an alarming conclusion. Their old silver truck and matching steel horse trailer that they called the ‘iron lung,’ due to its bulky mass, approached a red light. He couldn’t stop the usual way because the power brake line failed as he pushed the brake to the floor. With the steering wheel turned toward the right, he engaged the emergency brake. They came to a rolling halt at the Amish Market’s parking lot in Burtonsville. The therapy pony they were trying to transport to the event at the university appeared unscathed. The children, who’d come along, were also fine but a little overexcited. Jim wanted Maggie to drop off her mother and struggle through 25 miles of rush-hour traffic to come to their rescue. The onboard navigation system indicated it would be a two-hour journey instead of the usual one hour.
Maggie pulled at her lips and said, “I’m not driving a car that can help. Call Bob, he’s a good neighbor. It’s a fifteen-minute drive. He has a truck.” She heard Jim sigh on the other end of the line. “Jim, I’m sorry, I’ll phone the university and let them know what happened.”
Maggie knew Jim only wanted her help because she was with her mother. After all, he was doing Maggie a favor. The horses were her ‘thing,’ not his. She soothed him by saying that if anyone were injured, she’d come right away. She was quite upset and knew she wouldn’t feel any better until she got home. After all their married years, she was still very much in love with him. When they got into arguments, she felt like cracker crumbs on the floor. Logically, Maggie knew this was ridiculous, but sometimes she would lose sight of reality. To compound her angst, her mother wrongfully thought very little of Jim and acted as if he didn’t exist while demanding constant attention from Maggie. This had been going on for two decades after Jim had whisked her away with a marriage proposal. Life…so it goes.