“What are you thinking about?” Manda plops down beside me on the window bench and follows my gaze to the paddock. The sun is setting. It’s a perfect time for reflection. “You seem so faraway.”
“I am, sweetie,” I sigh. “I am.”
“Oh, I’m thinking about your great grandmother. If she were still alive she’d have turned 100 years old today.” I watch Fanny, the new bay filly, cross the paddock to visit old Molly mare ~ her mentor of sorts ~ and smile. “You know,” I begin, “your great grandmother had a bay mare named Fanny.”
Manda’s eyes light up. She’s particularly fond of this new addition to our little herd. “She does?”
“Did, dear,” I correct. “Yes, she loved horses, and on the family farm she was the only one, out of eight siblings, to have a horse.”
“Do you know anything about her … Fanny, that is?” Manda asks. I love how she cares about family stories. It’s so important to understand our roots ~ it helps us to know ourselves. Still, I’m not sure I can share the only story I can recall gran ever sharing with me about her dear, old Fan. It’s sad.
“Well? Do you?” Manda prods.
“I have only one story,” I respond, “and it’s sad.” I register the look of disappointment in Manda’s eyes. “Are you sure you want to hear it?”
My niece looks at me assuredly through big, brown, beautiful eyes. “I can handle it. It wouldn’t be the first sad story you’ve ever told me.”
“You’re right, of course.” I smile weakly and reach for her hand. “Well, your great gran was a teenager when she had old Fanny. From what I know they spent many happy years together. Having her own horse was a pleasing distraction from a hard life on the family farm. Our mutual love of horses was one of the few things gran and I had in common.”
Manda’s mouth is beginning to twitch. I better get to the point or she’ll interrupt.
“Great gran got married when she was 18 …”
“Eighteen!!!” Manda squeals. “That’s only six years older than me!!”
“Yes, that’s true,” I sigh, “it was common practice to marry young in those days. People didn’t live as long as they do now and they got on with their lives quickly. Just as a side note,” I add, ” … your great gran was the only one of the five girls in her family who didn’t have to get married, if you get my meaning …”
“Ewww … that’s gross …”
“That’s life, sweetie. We live by our choices. Anyway …” I give her hand a squeeze and continue with the sad story. “She … her name was Mandy … you’re named after her.”
“I knew that,” Manda smiles.
“Of course, you did, sweetie … anyway, she married a handsome, but troubled, young man from a well-respected farming family in the same area. They met at a community chicken supper.”
Manda tilts her head questioningly.
“Those suppers were the social event of the week. Families from all over the farming community would gather on a Friday night at the local hall for a great potluck dinner, and after eating they’d dance, gossip and drink their cares away. Your great grandpa Louis was was a talented musician. He could play any instrument handed to him. He just had the knack and was particularly well know for his trumpet playing. It was one of the things that attracted Mandy to him. That and the fact he was quite the athlete. A pugilist, in fact.”
“Oh, he sounds dishy.” Manda pauses and then looks at me with uncertainty. “What’s a pugilist?”
“Oh, right, why on earth would you know what that is?” I laugh, “It’s an old term for professional boxer. Boxing was a popular past time in the early 1930s.”
“A professional boxer!!!”
“Yes. He was tall and lanky and athletic. Somewhere around here is a menacing-looking photograph of him sporting a pair of boxing gloves. Quite, quite handsome. In fact, your great gran, a diminutive and petite young woman, had to fight the other girls off to stake her claim. He was a popular guy.” I stop for a moment and think back to what I know of their history. It would have been so much better for gran had she lost him to one of those other girls. But then, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would Manda. I squeeze my niece’s hand and continue, “He had a flaw, however.”
“He did?” Manda’s attentive, but her gaze has shifted out the window to rest on Fanny.
“He was mean.”
“Oh …” Manda turns to me and pouts. With these three words her mood has shifted somewhat. “Why?”
“His narcissism … you remember how we talked about that word before?”
“Yes … it means the inability to see the world beyond your own self-indulgence … or something like that.”
“See! I do listen, you know,” Manda’s face glows with triumph.
“I’m glad to hear it.” I smile and squeeze her hand again. “Anyway, his narcissism got the better of him. He was very hard on your great gran in many, many ways. Still,” I pause, “that’s a story for another time.” I turn my attention to Fanny where this train of conversation started. “Shortly after they were married Mandy and Louis visited her parents on the farm. Before leaving they ventured out to the paddock to see old Fanny who walked over to the fence to greet them. They visited with her for a while. Gran told me it was a really sweet moment.” I hesitate. “And then, as they were leaving, the old mare wandered back into the middle of her paddock and fell to the ground … dead.”
“No!” Manda shrieks with disbelief.
“Yes, Manda. I’m sorry to say it’s true.”
“But … oh, that’s so, so sad. Poor, ol’ great gran.” Manda wipes a tear from her cheek with the back of her sleeve and leans on my shoulder. “She must have been devastated.”
I let Manda stew in her sadness for a moment while remembering how spare gran had been with her feelings when sharing this story with me. I know she loved Fanny, so I have no doubt of her sadness. I’ve often wondered since if the timing of Fanny’s unfortunate death was a foreshadowing of the terrible marital years to follow. A shiver runs through me. Time to change the subject.
“Well, sweetie, I dare say she was. But that was long ago and far, faraway and we must now attend to our own little herd. I’m pretty sure they’re ready to go inside and have their supper.” I give Manda a hug and together we draw ourselves up from the bench. It’s starting to get dark out and her parents will be here soon to take her home. “Come on, let’s do chores and then we can have a quick snack before you go. Uncle Bill’s going to meet us in the barn. Oh look! … ” I point out the window as his truck pulls into the driveway, “there he is.”
Manda hesitates before following me. “May I spend some alone time with Fanny?” she asks, politely, as if in the asking she’s honouring that sad, faraway memory.
“Of course you may,” I smile. “Of course.”
©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016