The Bareback Rider

The process of writing for magazines, as I did for a number of years, entails gathering LOTS of miscellaneous tidbits of information, fragments of writings-in-progress, and finished articles waiting for the right publisher. Recently, I began to tackle that stack of odds and ends, the leftovers of a past life – my life as a writer.

Weeding through all the old memories was a painful process. Oh, I remember this! Why didn’t I ever finish that? Hmm. Why didn’t I ever get this published? The waste paper basket was soon overflowing with bits and pieces of long forgotten literary dreams.

As I was working on through the files, A-Z, I found the following personal essay, written over thirty years ago. I share this with you today because it fits with my last post, “Thrice Married.” If you didn’t read it yet, I invite you to do so before you continue reading.

 

The Open Coffin of a Bareback Rider

The first time I met my husband’s grandmother was a few months after she and her husband, Ray, had celebrated their 50th anniversary. Emma Wolf fit my image of a “Grandma” to a tee. Her graying hair, done up in unbrushed curls and protected by a not-so-invisible hairnet, and her sallow, sun-spotted complexion gave her a generic geriatric appearance. The “grandma look” was fully complemented by Emma’s clothing: a nylon flower print dress, always protected by an equally flowered bib apron. Brocade bedroom slippers and cotton support stockings added the final touches to the “Grandma costume.”

The likeness to my own beloved grandmother went further than appearances. Failing sight and deafness (only minutely corrected by bulky hearing aids) were common to both as was the crippling arthritis that trapped both women in a life of pain.

So this was old age? Somehow, in my mind then – and I suspect, in the minds of all young people – the “elderly” were a separate species. I saw the connection between childhood and adulthood, having made that transition myself. Even “middle-age” was an understood part of the life-cycle for me, since it loomed only a decade away (middle-age, to me then, was thirty). But Grandmas were…well, “Grandmas.” In other words, old.

Seemingly without a past and with a tentative future, they lived only in TODAY, weeding impeccable gardens, canning each fruit and vegetable in its season, and hanging their laundry outside on clothes lines – even though they owned dryers their children had bought them to make life easier. They were “Grandmas.”

“Grandma” was a cookie jar always filled and a candy drawer well-stocked – a Promise Land of delights for her grandchildren and a bain to health-conscious mothers.

The unique woman that was Emma Wolf remained hidden behind this age-façade for years, until one day Emma shared a tiny “snapshot” of her past with me. Oh, just as all “Grandmas” do, she had often talked about “When I was your age;” but somehow those words always sent my mind into a “once upon a time” foggy daydream. The reality of Emma’s “once-upon-a-time” youth never sunk in. Never, that is, until she told me about the bareback rider.

“I’d never seen a circus before, and was bowled over by the whole thing, but especially by the lady bareback rider,” she began her story, told mostly to entertain my five year old daughter, Lisa, who had just attend her first circus. The years fell from Grandma Wolf’s eyes – and from mine – as she continued.

“I couldn’t get over that young girl, not much older’n me, standing barefoot on her black stallion, as he trotted past us look-i-loos. I checked out her foot position and the way she held her arms out, graceful-like. I could do that, I thought to myself. And I planned, right then and there, to try it out the first chance I got.”

“Did you really try it, Great-Grandma?” Lisa asked in wonder.

Grandma Wolf chuckled. “Sure! Like I said, first chance I got. When no one was looking, I slipped off my shoes and climbed right on my palomino’s back. But I forgot about my stockings. They made my footing slippery, so over I went! Right on my arm. Broke it in two places.”

Lisa grimaced. “Ooh, Great-Grandma, I’d NEVER do that!”

“Why not, honey?” Grandma countered with a challenge. “How can you learn anything if you don’t give it a try?” Then her eyes took a trip backwards, remembering again. “Besides, it was worth the fall. I stayed on almost a minute!”

Lisa was delighted with Grandma’s story, so delighted I thanked God we didn’t have a horse! I also thanked God for opening my eyes and giving me a Kodachrome picture of Grandma, very different from the crippled, house-bound “black-and-white” picture I had before.

Emma Wolf died last month, at the age of ninety-six. Walking past her open coffin, I didn’t see the grey hair (still in unbrushed curls held in place by the “invisible” hairnet), or the sallow sun-spotted complexion, or the arthritic twisted hands. I saw instead a thirteen year old “Laura Ingalls” look-a-like — a Kansas farm girl, balanced proudly on her palomino — for almost a minute!

Although Grandma never went to Church, from things she shared with me, I know she had knowledge of God and a fledgling trust in Jesus. As I walked by the coffin, thinking of Young Emma, I also thought of the Scriptures that describe the return of Christ, with the Saints all riding on white horses. For one brief moment, I caught a spiritual glimpse of one young rider, dressed in white like all the others, riding bareback through the clouds.

The End

Last week I told you about a couple Tom and I met on our wedding day. A very old couple who had just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. I shared the experience I had as I looked at them – seeing, just for a moment, not two bent-over, rheumy-eyed and wrinkled OLD people, but a young couple, full of hope, on the brink of life.

Grandma Wolf’s story underlines this for me. When I look into the mirror today, I see a wrinkled, saggy-eyed, thin-haired old woman. (Cancer meds are miracle workers, but hard on the hair!) Yet, I am not old inside. I am still the young girl I was sixty years ago, bursting with youthful curiosity and a thirst for all that life beckons me to experience.

This may be a bit too “theological” for you – and I am NOT qualified to be “theological.” But here’s what I get from all this. The body is material – it wears out (ages). But the soul (the real person) is spiritual – it matures, yes, and should “grow in grace” every day, but it does not age. Souls might have scars but they don’t have wrinkles.

I once heard a Pastor say that, in heaven, we will all be thirty-three, just like Jesus was when he died. I don’t know if I believe that exactly; but I do believe there will be no toddlers and no old crones in heaven. Wrinkles and brown spots and rheumy eyes and creaky arthritic bones will not be anywhere in heaven. Grey or white hair might be, though. God seems to think the “hoary head” (grey or white hair) is a badge of honor! (Proverbs 16:31)

Ok. That’s enough “theology” for today! Until next time,

Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s