In the dim dawn and thin fog, I can barely see the shape of the hills beyond Peter’s Creek. Against the annoying glare of the billboard by Fleek’s Market, the silhouettes of scrub oak stand out in this muted morning as I walk through the grass past the birches and over to the round pen. I find by feel the halter and lead rope hanging just inside the door of the darkened shed. The gelding comes to me and lowers his head.
I lead him out of the pen, through the wet fescue and across the gravel lane. He walks along, staying with me so well that the rope hangs loosely the whole way. Just inside the gate, he pivots his rear end away from me, just the way Randa has trained him to do. I remove the halter and hang it on the post as he turns toward the tender grass at the low end of the pasture.
Walking back up the gravel toward the house, I remember the first time that Randa drove off alone, hauling the horse trailer. It’s the stuff Silverado ads are made of, I suppose. Black, crew cab Chevy Z-71. Ranch woman at the wheel, in jeans with her slightly bent cowboy hat, her looking out the window of the truck and horse staring out the window of the trailer as it rattles along the gravel. Camera pulls back over my shoulder as I’m watching her pause at the end of the driveway, then she pulls out, heading west.
It was at once exhilarating and terrifying.
The exhilarating part was from being so proud of her, her confidence, her willingness to step out of the shadows. Proud of her for not being afraid to drive off alone, driving a truck and hauling a trailer. Proud of myself, too, for not being too egotistical or too controlling. Encouraging rather than resenting. Satisfying, too, for knowing this was another landmark in me fulfilling a vow I’d made to myself before we married that one day I would see her reunited with her love of riding horses. It had taken me over twenty years, but I’d kept that vow and I see it celebrated in her eyes and in the smile in her voice every time she touches or talks about her horse.
The terrifying part was realizing that she didn’t need me to chauffer her around, didn’t need me in order to be able to load up her horse and take him anywhere she wanted to go. She didn’t need me in order to enjoy what she loved doing.
But even in that, there is mutual liberation. She is free to go and I am free to do other things. Instead of resenting her ability, I choose to celebrate it. I think there are a lot of men who would actually find their own lives more fulfilling if they would figure out how to take pleasure in what a woman can do instead of figuring out more ways of keeping her from doing it. A man who takes more pride in what his wife can do than he takes in what he can keep her from doing is more likely to have a longer life and to enjoy it more. And, just to be sure I make everybody mad, there are probably a few women who would enjoy their lives more if they didn’t spend quite so much time being furious about everything they’re not allowed to do or be or become and instead focused on their opportunities.
My mom spent pretty much her whole life being controlled. First by her parents, then by her husband and in her last years by court-appointed guardians. She was highly intelligent, extremely resourceful and talented. She could have been an engineer, an attorney, a college professor or any of a number of other challenging and fulfilling things. What she ended up being was an extremely skilled homemaker and farm wife in just about the broadest possible definition of those terms. And though she was always frustrated by the external controls, she focused most of her energy on excelling at what she was able to do. I’m not sure Dad was very good at giving her praise for what she did, but I do know that he took pleasure in telling other people about the time Ruby drove the two-ton truck into town to do her laundry and pick up a load of concrete blocks for him.
And I take pleasure in telling people about how Randa will be loading up her horse this afternoon and heading off to a horse show and competition for the weekend. And in telling them how much she has accomplished in training her Rocky Mountain horse. Heck, I might get so carried away that I tell her how proud I am of her.