There’s an old horseshoe that sits on my desk next to the pencil jar. It’s worn and bent. But it’s one of my most treasured possessions, that horseshoe. It takes me back to the fall of 1963, when as a second grader at Schall Elementary in St. Louis, Mo., I embarked on an adventure I’ll always remember.
My father was a homebuilder who worked with his brothers. A customer had purchased a horse ranch out West once owned by Bing Crosby, and needed some improvements made. Dad and his brother agreed to take on the job, on the condition that their families could come along. They knew that the experience of life on a ranch would far outweigh classroom learning for my young cousins and me.
In early October, with my parents and me in one car and my uncle, aunt, 6-year-old cousin Beth and 5-year-old cousin Anne in another, we made like Lewis and Clark and blazed a trail to the Glory B Ranch, just outside of St. Ignatius, Mont.
In the late 1800s, a Swiss immigrant married a Flathead Indian maiden and claimed the ranch land. For a wedding present, he built her a chalet, overlooking the nearly 10,000-foot-high St. Mary’s Peak in the Mission Mountains. Turns out, she preferred a teepee in the front yard and he lived in the house alone.
In 1963, the chalet was still standing. A ranch hand, Knute, lived there, tending the horses – 100 Appaloosas, plus one Shetland pony called “Stinky,” who grazed in the pasture. Then there was the “Big House” – the owner’s home which the brothers would remodel – and four cabins all in a row, facing those magnificent snow-capped mountains.
I did my schoolwork each morning by the fireplace in our cabin looking out at that view. In the afternoon, my cousins and I would feed the horses apples and beg Knute for a ride on Stinky … which he sometimes granted. We were cowgirls for sure! At night, with no TV, radio or other distractions, we’d pop corn in the crackling fire after supper, while the uncles would tell ghost stories and scare us all silly before bedtime. I still remember the bright stars and full moon rising above the mountaintops, illuminating the horses that neighed in the still of the night.
December came, and work in the Big House was finished. Time to go home to our real life. It snowed the day before we left, and Knute took us to the woods to cut Christmas trees, which traveled on top of our station wagon all the way back to St. Louis.
I went up to the barn and saw Stinky one last time. It was then that Knute gave me Stinky’s horseshoe, to remember my time at the ranch.
I’m thankful to still have the horseshoe. Just for the moment when I hold it in my hand, I’m transported to a simpler time and place – no TiVo, no iPhone, no worries about the S+P 500. I just take a deep breath, close my eyes and go back for a visit.
It’s good to get away once in a while.
Robyn Cannon ultimately ended up out West again, where she traded views of the Mission Mountains for the Olympic Range in Seattle. Today, instead of feeding apples to Stinky, she gives “Good Girl” cookies to her Tibetan Terrier, Scarlett.