The Bible camp lay down a long dirt road that left our car brown by the time we arrived. We had packed for the week and waited in line, luggage in tow for our cabinet assignments. The scent of the horses was down wind from where we stood but we could hear them neighing and it only fed the excitement. One week of being away from home, pretending to be cowgirls for a week and meeting new friends. This was our rite of passage every year for as long as I could remember.
Our pocket-money shoved deep in our jeans, we had to make it last and the “general store” was always an exciting place where we were free to buy candy, trinkets and anything we could afford basically without having to as permission from an adult. The line inched up and a tag was handed to me and with the point of a finger heading up the hill, I kissed the parents goodbye and headed on my way. The girls had to walk on the left side of the street where their bunks were and the boys on the right. There was known an invisible line in the middle we were forbidden to cross, along with no t-shirts that had any alcohol, tobacco, or rock music portrayed upon them. No fears I thought with my hand-made Campbell soup kids T-shirt and the other items my mother had made folded neatly within.
I stowed my things in the cabin on the bed assigned to me, shoved my Hershey bars under my pillow so that no one took them and proceeded to meet my cabin mates. There were three girls and they all seemed to be best friends from home. They had expensive clothes and pretty hair and fingernail polish and they looked at me as if I had just arrived off of the local space ship from Mars. I knew then and there it was going to be a long week.
The first day there was no horseback riding, my only purpose for going there every year but there was a dance to be held down at the Saloon (Cafeteria) so I changed into a clean shirt and closed the door behind me, my roommates having left a few minutes prior, not inviting me to join them, and I sauntered my way down to where the music was playing.
I lasted there for about an hour and grew bored and restless, I didn’t feel like I fit in, couldn’t find anyone to talk to so I went back to the cabin. I walked between my cabin and the next and found a large field behind it bathed in a light that was set to illuminate the back areas of each cabin. I grabbed a stick and went walking in the weeds. I named the stick Tawny and in my mind, we rode the meadows beneath the stars. I talked to this steed as if he were real, and we galloped (I skipped) and the scent of the weeds stirred beneath my feet and the night felt alive. I believed I was riding a real horse and the joy it gave me was something I have never forgotten. When you are lonely and only have an imagination to keep you company, sometimes amazing things can happen.
A voice dragged me out of my reverie and I looked up to see a stern man in a cowboy hat asking me what in the blazes I was doing out there? I think I laughed a little because I knew he wouldn’t believe my tale of riding the mountains and meadows. I set the stick down and walked over to him with my head down ashamed. He asked again what I had been doing and I began to cry as I told him my tale of my moonlit ride aboard Tawny. He took off his hat and put it on me, told me I was truly a cowgirl and that he thinks that is the best way to live, riding into the sunset and believing in your dreams. He walked me back to my cabin and turned me over to the counselor who had been looking for me and asked me to bring his hat tomorrow when it was time to “ride the range”. I went to bed feeling so special.
The next morning we lined up after breakfast for our morning ride and there he stood holding a big Palomino and he motioned for me to come over. The horse was huge and I must have looked afraid but he said not to worry, it was his own horse and he wanted me to feel like a real cowgirl. I handed him back his hat and he told me to keep it for the ride, he’d retrieve it later. He boosted me up on the horse (Custard) was his name-the horse, not the man, and then he smiled and told me that Custard would take fine care of me and to not get any ideas about making a run for the meadows and the mountains and with a wink he was gone. Everyone stared at me with their mouths open as they sat astride their small brown horses and I was led to the front of the line behind the man, he turned around and said it was best that way because the horse knew him and would follow. I blushed and stroked the cream-colored fur and leaned down and wrapped my arms around the big horses neck. “Into the sunset we go my fine steed” I said as I gave him a little heel kick, and we moved forward like a dream alive.
I had a picture once of me on Custard, not sure if I still have it or not but if I do manage to unearth it, I will add this into the story. Sometimes when we feel isolated, sometimes the best friend is a make-believe horse carrying you away. Written especially for my friend John who has gotten me into a story telling phase. I know it’s long but I hope you enjoy.