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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, August 20, 2012


Polaroid of MCG on Patches with sister Zhanna-- brother, Amonie holding the reins

           Most little girls want a real pony and never ever get one: too expensive, too big, where would we keep it, why don't you just get a dog instead? I wanted a pony too, and when I was ten, after a lot of begging for a beautiful sleek horse, with a long mane, I got a pony; her name was Patches, and I got her for Christmas.
         Patches was a stubborn, overweight, twelve-year old, Shetland pony whose body was divided into different colored patches like oddly shaped pieces on a quilt: white, caramel, dark brown, and black. Anything but sleek, she was the only pony my mother could afford, if we could really afford her at all, but she was mine. At first, even though the ground was covered in a layer of crunchy white frost, I spent a great deal of time outside, brushing her long, dark mane, feeding her alfalfa and oats, and on warmer days, moving her tether to different parts of the yard where there was a bit of green grass for her to munch on. Her official home was the ragged chicken coop and shed where my mother had housed some chickens and a rooster, but after a couple of raids by neighborhood dogs, the chicken coop and shed remained empty. It was now a dry place for Patches to stay on rainy days and during cold nights.
         Before Patches, while dropping hints, then all out begging, I had romantic horse riding fantasies. I'd be on the back of my black horse, galloping along, the background all around us blurred in motion, my long, dark hair floating behind me. Of course, riding Patches never went the way I imagined; she didn't like to gallop at all, and I soon realized that I was quite afraid of her. If it hadn't been for my friend Rachel who had also gotten a pony for Christmas (we were neighbors and our moms were friends), I would have never worked up the courage to ride mine. Rachel's pony was a couple of hands taller than Patches, younger, black in color, and named Stormy. In spite of her name, Stormy was much more cooperative than Patches. On our many trots to town, Stormy never came to a dead stop, lowering her neck to eat a patch of grass. She never sent Rachel flying over her neck, or clinging to her mane sliding sideways in slow motion before landing on the ground with a thud.
         Before getting Patches, my Aunt Jude, a true horse woman, who was not my real aunt but my mom’s best friend, had taught me quite a bit about horses. She taught me how to feed them carrots without getting bit, how never to stand behind a horse, how to get them to lift their hooves and check for rocks that had gotten stuck inside, and how to brush them without touching the flank which would startle them. She also showed me where they most liked to be rubbed or scratched, and she introduced me to the wonder of the velvety soft spot between a horses nostrils. She taught me that horses could sometime startle for what seemed like no reason at all, that they were wild animals, sometimes loyal, sometimes unpredictable, always strong-willed and powerful. Wielding such power, or being on the back of such power, scared me a lot more than I liked to admit. I could never tell this to Aunt Jude who herself was wild, and strong, and beautiful with her sandy blond hair, and cowboy hats and skirts, and her bronze skin from always working outdoors, and a laugh that rasped in the best unladylike way. Since Patches was slow, fat, and old, I thought I'd become less afraid, more courageous around horses, but I didn't.
         When I wasn't being thrown from Patches by abrupt feeding urges, it took all my strength to pull her head up and away from a clump of grass and get her going again on rides with Rachel and Stormy. I'd have to pull and pull on Patches' reins, make clicking noises with my tongue, and tap her sides with my heels several times before she'd even consider leaving.  I found that it was just easier to wait until she had finished. And I learned to pull up on her reins the instant she had decimated the patch with her big, flat teeth. Meanwhile, Rachel and Stormy would be several yards ahead of us, only realizing that Patches had stopped and dumped me off her back or insisted on stopping and eating. Once I did get her going again by shaking the reins, clicking my tongue and tapping her near the flanks with my heels, I was usually only able to get her to trot which sent be bouncing up and down, my tail bone banging into the saddle, forcing me to shift to the side and nearly lose my balance.  I was beginning to realize that a pony didn't make getting to town that much faster than walking, and riding my bike was faster altogether. But there were times when Patches would almost gallop, out on the open land at the end of Apple Colony Road, where Rachel and I sometimes took the ponies, and where Aunt Jude had once rode with me on the back of her horse. Maybe it was the long stretch of wide dirt roads and being somewhere slightly unfamiliar and a desire to keep up with Stormy, but I was sometimes able to get Patches to go from a slow trot to a full-on gallop, and my hair would lift up off the back of my neck, and everything would rush past us, blurring as it slid by. It was like being inside time while everything else raced by.
         Rachel's pony Stormy had a dark side too, and it seemed like Rachel and I spent a lot of time chasing our ponies around the neighborhood after they'd somehow get loose from their tethers. One evening after doing a bit of riding, Rachel and I had the ponies in her yard and Stormy got loose. It was a warm summer night, and there were already a couple of stars twinkling in the eastern sky, the westward sky still providing a bit of light to navigate the weed-ridden yard. We first tried coaxing Stormy to us with a carrot but wound up chasing her all around the yard. Rachel worked one side of Stormy and I worked the other, both of us trying to catch her tether which trailed along on the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Patches, head down, foraging for stray foliage inside Stormy's fenced off enclosure. And finally getting close to the end of Stormy's rope, I tripped and fell, immediately jumping back to my feet then everything went black. I had fainted, coming to a few seconds later tangled in barbed wire that made up Stormy's pin. Blood poured out of a hole at my hairline and down my forehead. There was blood and a hole in my chin, and a huge gash on my leg. Rachel, having caught Stormy just after I fell, scaring her enough to run in Rachel's direction, helped me to her house, where her mom, Joanne, famous for her blackberry pies, cleaned my wounds with hydrogen peroxide. Leaving Patches in Stormy's pin for the night, I went home holding a wet cloth to my head and band-aids on my chin and leg to cover the gashes from the barbed wire.
         A few weeks later, after riding to town, Rachel let me ride Stormy who inexplicably bucked me off and kicked me hard in the thigh. It made me wonder if Patches would ever do such a thing. She had tried to buck me off of her back once or twice, but she was too old and overweight to care to exert such force; the worse she ever did was send me flying over her neck when she'd stop to eat or bare her large teeth at me when I tried to get the metal bridal into her mouth. She wasn't, however, too old to keep from breaking loose from her tether and making her way back across town where she lived with the Delmer's before my mom bought her for me for Christmas. 
          The first time Patches ran off, my mom and I were in a panic. We ran down to Rachel's house, thinking that she might be hanging around near Stormy's pin, but she wasn't there, and after walking to town, looking into the shrubs or groves of trees where there might be patches of yummy green grass along the way, Mom had the idea to go across town to the Delmer's, and there she was with the other horses grazing on the tall dry weeds – she looked so content. I wondered how long it took her to get to her old pasture, plodding along at her own pace, stopping whenever she wanted to eat without interruption.
         The Delmer's were nice about giving Patches back to us.

         Mr. Delmer said, “Yeah, I saw her outside the pasture, eating and looking for a way back in, so I went and let her in, thinking you'd come around for her soon enough.”
         But these conversations, got shorter and shorter each time, and I began to dread having to go get her.
         “Yeah, she got up here early this morning. She was there when I got up to feed the horses.”
         It began to feel like we were being judged. Or maybe it was just that I felt bad that I couldn't keep her safe, couldn't tie her tether tight enough, didn't have a nice pasture, didn't have other horses to keep her company. But she did have alfalfa and a salt lick. Maybe Patches just didn't like me, didn't want me to ride her anymore, or fearfully force the bridle into her mouth, or try to make her gallop by shouting, and shaking the reins, and kicking her in the side.
         Eventually we stopped going back across town to bring Patches back home. My mom hadn't explained how giving Patches back to her original owners went down; we simply stopped going back to get her. And when Aunt Jude offered to allow me to ride her horse on my own, so I could get used to riding a full-sized equine, I declined. I had stopped drawing pictures of horses too, stopped collecting miniatures, their legs stuck in long strides, or a front leg lifted in an elegant prance, their mane always floating behind them. 
On our way to the river that next summer, I saw Patches grazing in the large pasture. I could see her black, white, and brown spots as we passed by, and I looked away with shame for feeling such relief.

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