When I was very young, my family lived for a short time in a small town. Our apartment, identical to all the others in the neighborhood, was like my life: boring, without color or movement, uninteresting in every way. We had moved to this suburban environment from an entire house in the country; my summer days there were free and happy. This new move hemmed me in on both sides, stranger’s private gardens on the one side, and a paved road in front, constantly busy with the urgent comings and goings of cars.
The summer I was ten, something unexpected happened–a moment of joy couched within an otherwise dreary time. I noticed that every Saturday morning a rather worn out looking horse drawn wagon passed by our apartment. A grey haired man held the reins of this shabby cart with one hand, and rang a loud bell with the other, calling to everyone to hurry out and buy his vegetables. With his slowly plodding horse, I surmised that he must have had to leave his home in the country very early in the mornings to get to our neighborhood. I still remember the faded green color of the wagon and the tired looking horse that seemed so very beautiful to my ten year old eyes. Like many young girls, I dreamed of having and riding a horse. What an impossible dream it seemed, since mother had other plans for me. She saw me as the next Shirley Temple, and insisted I wear ruffles and patent leather shoes. Petticoats and all, each Saturday morning I sat on the front porch, impatiently waiting with coins begged from my mother clenched in my hand. When I glimpsed the wagon turning the corner and heading for our house, I would run out to the curb and wave to the driver. Buying a few vegetables was an excuse for me to be close to the horse. If neighbors were also buying vegetables, I stole a few extra minutes to reach up and stroke the big animal’s velvety soft nose.
One day, as this quiet man was ready to continue his rounds, he spoke to me for the first time, and invited me to ride along to his next stop. This was more, much more, than I ever expected. He had to help me up, since the first step was too high for my short legs. There I was, seated on that simple wooden bench, next to the driver, gazing over the massive back of the horse. I didn’t stop to tell my mother where I was going for fear she would have said, “No”! For that short time, I was transported to another life entirely. The horse stepped away, the wagon wheels turned, and I rode into my favorite fantasy. I imagined I was traveling west across the country, meeting indians, seeing herds of buffalo, and finally arriving at the Pacific Ocean. Standing on a stage in ruffles and patent leather shoes was definitely NOT in my vision.
When I was older, I realized what a risk this man must have taken by inviting me to ride along next to him, even for those few minutes.. You see, he was African American, and this was the south in the early 50’s. That moment happened a very long time ago; it is lovingly tucked away in my treasure chest of memories. Life has changed dramatically since then; I have changed as well, but some things always stay the same.
Yesterday I stepped up into another horse drawn wagon. This was a big stretch for my body, much like that first step-up on the wagon from my childhood; at first glance, I was not sure I could still lift my leg that high. But, I did it this time–and without help.
My first step up onto the seat of this beautiful horse drawn wagon, Calèche, as it is called in French, was one of the beginning steps of my dream to travel in my own gypsy wagon pulled by my own horses. As I was handed the reins by the driver who is training me, the horse turned around to have a look at me. He decided I was OK, and off we went. I was once again, after so long, that 10 year old girl; but this time I was holding the reins. The horse was glossy and fat and seemed happy to be taking us for a ride. The friend teaching me obviously loved his horse and was happy to help me. At first he had to take hold of my shoulders and pull me back into the seat; I was so excited, it was difficult to relax. We rode along a narrow country road bordered by sunflower fields under a brilliant blue sky. Not one car passed by. People stopped working in their gardens to wave and shout, ‘Bonjour’. Some nosey, lovely, fat brown cows trotted over to the fence to have a better look at us as we passed by their pasture. Everything about this day was perfect. What an excellent beginning!
In this modern world where everything and everyone seems to be moving too fast, I want to move slower. I am working to slow down to the heartbeat pace of this horse, to live more simply, to see more clearly. I will do my best to give less importance to the destination and more to the present moment. Ah, the journey!