Monday, November 14, 2011

The Promise-Keeper

This post was originally published July 9, 2010 - from Phoenix Sullivan's Confessions of an Animal Junkie blog.

(I live on a small farm in North Texas with a handful of horses, a couple of goats, a flock of chickens, ducks, dogs, cats and an iguana. I blog about life on a farm and the lessons we learn from the animals around us. I'll be collecting some of my Vet Tech Tales from the blog into a series of ebooks that will start releasing next month.) 

While I was at a horse breeder's two summers ago, scoping out her pen of throw-aways looking for a playmate for my 4-month-old colt, I noticed a roan filly with a pretty trot and a dash of flash. She was half Shetland pony and half Miniature horse, registered as both. At 6 months, she was the oldest, and biggest, foal in the pen. She was going to be big enough that kids could ride, so I wasn't concerned about her being able to find a home, and I wanted a horse that would be hard to place. My dad, still spry at 80, was talking with the breeder's husband and I noticed he kept looking the filly's way. When I told him I was buying a thin little colt instead and that the breeder would deliver him in a couple of days, Dad seemed happy enough.

The next day my dad and I were sitting on my porch and he asked me why I had chosen the colt I did over, say, the big, pretty filly we'd seen. It was clear he'd been smitten. I made a quick and easy decision.

"There's no reason I can't get two horses instead of just one," I told him.

"How much do they want for her?" That was Dad, ever practical.

I shrugged. I saw how much he wanted the horse so, within reason, the price didn't really matter. "I'll find out if she's still available."

She was, and the breeder would be only too happy to bring her out along with the other colt the next day.

When I told my dad everything was arranged, he shook his head and said, "I want to be the one to buy her."

I didn't understand. "Why? You'll get to see her all the time anyway."

"I want to buy her for you. Your mother and I promised a long time ago that we'd get you a horse. So I want to give you that horse now."

I flashed back to a Christmas 41 years earlier when my big present had been a promise: a handwritten certificate entitling me to "one horse, one saddle and one saddle blanket." I would have to wait a little, though, till the time was right and we had the money to get the horse. I hung on to that certificate with all the faith an 8-year-old has in the world. I memorized it. Kept it in a safe and treasured place. Dreamed about it. And waited.

A year passed and we moved, then a year later moved again. When it looked like we would be in one place more than a year and I dared to start looking at livestock and boarding facilities in the classifieds, Dad was laid off and there was no money for a horse. He eventually found a good job, but it took a handful of years to recover financially and another couple before he and Mom felt comfortable enough to spend beyond the essentials. By then I had graduated. And by the time I moved out on my own at 17, I had put my childish hope away.

I folded the certificate along with its empty promise and threw it into the trash.

I may have resigned myself to letting it go, but my dad had never forgotten. And now, 41 years after he'd made that promise, he was ready to make good on it.

He wanted to name the big-boned filly Beauty. We compromised on Bella. She's an easy-going girl who loves company and will follow you around like a puppy. She'll even carry the 50-pound feed bags when asked, though it's usually too much trouble trying to keep them balanced, even on her broad pony back. And while not every horse can pull off the style, she looks terrific with a mohawk.

Mostly, though, when I look at Bella, I see my father's abiding love. In her trot I see his fierce determination not to disappoint his daughter, and in her eyes I see his delight at being able to fulfill a nearly forgotten promise made 40 years ago.

I'm glad he died knowing he'd made his little girl's dream finally come true.

Phoenix Sullivan's short stories have appeared in various pro anthologies and magazines. In the corporate world, Phoenix was a professional writer and editor for 23 years. Before that, she was a registered veterinary technician, working with small animal clinics and wildlife rehab centers. She taps that knowledge in SECTOR C, a near-future medical thriller with a vet heroine, a CDC analyst hero and a pandemic that crosses both species and time.


Landra said...

This is one of the sweetest things I've ever heard of. The love of a parent is something you never forget and this is definitely a memory that is worth memorializing.
Thank you for sharing it.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thank you, Landra. I think we tend to realize these moments more as we grow older. There is a sweetness about life that comes with age. Along with perspective. And an intolerance for the pettiness I think we all indulge in when we're younger. Plus, there are some bonds that can just never be severed. It's a true gift when those bonds are ones of love.

Jo-Ann said...

Sounds like Bella gave you both a great deal of joy.

Jo-Ann said...
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