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When we were growing up, my father told us the story of the Optimist and the Pessimist – the Maine farm boy version. I can see my father’s tall-drink-of-water frame sitting in the captain’s chair at the head of the dining room table, his large hands taking his glasses off then rubbing his baldhead back and forth so he could collect his thoughts and not forget the punch line. With one final stroke down his face, Daddy put his glasses back on, and in his deep voice, he began.

Grandpa reading to Jessica, 1983

Grandpa reading to Jessica, 1983

“Once upon a time there were two brothers, an optimist and a pessimist. The Optimist always saw the bright side of things, no matter how unrealistic; and the Pessimist, equally unrealistic, always saw the negative. Much concerned and hoping to balance their sons’ perspectives, the boys’ parents came up with a plan. For Christmas, they gave the Pessimist what he had always wanted, a beautiful, expensive watch.

“The Pessimist opened his box and started to worry. ‘Oh, oh! This watch is so precious, I know I’m going to drop and break it.’ And then he did just that. His parents sighed and looked towards their other son.

“When the Optimist opened his gift, he discovered a lump of manure and gleefully exclaimed, ‘Oh, boy! I know there’s a horse around here somewhere!’”

 

As a child, I didn’t need a watch. Summers lasted forever. And I didn’t need a horse because I was a horse. I blew and snorted and laughed like a whistle. I pawed the ground and flicked my tail. With a final whinny and toss of my head, I galloped across the field in front of our house, leaping dangerous rock outcroppings with ease. Then I nickered and trotted to a halt.

Childhood ended, and with it my horse career.

As a young adult, I graduated to the watch. I became the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland: “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.” I raced against time, managing a household and making a living as a teacher – Brrrrinng, class begins. I drove children to piano lessons, choir, dance, Sports, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, science fairs, school plays and speech tournaments. “Hurry, hurry, hurry,” I exclaimed like the thrice-speaking goose in Charlotte’s Web. Repeatedly pointing to my watch, I knew I was going to drop and break it. And, like the pessimist, sometimes I did just that.

Now my watch is rarely on my wrist. Time seems shorter and too precious to spend on watch gazing. These days, I write. My hands gleefully plunge into mounds of rich manure: fertilizer in the fields of my imagination. Stories begin as horse droppings and some remain just that. Nothing takes root. A few pieces grow and thrive and laugh like a whistle and gallop and leap.

“Oh, boy!” I exclaim like the optimist, “I knew there was a horse around here somewhere.”

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