When I was a kid, I loved to hang out with my mom and her two sisters, as they powdered and primped or sipped their tea. Every so often, the rhythm of their conversation would change, they'd lower their voices and someone would warn, "little pitchers have big ears." I used to wonder what they thought I was going to do with whatever information they didn't want me to hear.
Throughout my youth, I was plagued by a recurring nightmare. To this day, I can't remember how the dream began, but it always entailed my stumbling upon an old shed in a heavily wooded yard. The shed was built into a hillside with a sod roof, so that it was barely visible. I remember standing in front of the shed in a panic, suddenly remembering that I owned a pony but had forgotten to feed and care for it. I'd throw open the shed doors to find the severely malnourished and filthy pony. The dream always ended with my falling to the ground in despair weeping.
It seemed the older I got, the better I became at willing myself to wake-up before I got to the part where I found the distressed animal. The nightmare was just something I learned to live with and I never mentioned it to anybody. Its strange, but kids will do that.
It wasn't until I was in my late twenties or early thirties, that I started to make some sense of it all. Apparently, my grandfather had indeed purchased a pony for me, as a surprise, when I was in the first grade. We were kindred spirits when it came to animals.
When he announced what he'd done, my stunned parents were forced to reveal, that my father had accepted an out of state job transfer. Sadly, their plans did not include hitching a horse trailer to the back of our Ford Country Squire station wagon. Whatever deal my grandfather had made, was undone and we were on our way to Detroit, free of any excess baggage.
I vaguely remember my parents' encounter with my grandfather. It was one of those times I was considered a 'little pitcher' and shooed from the scene before my 'big ears' were able to catch all of the conversation. I do remember everyone reacting emotionally and I was obviously traumatized. The pony was never openly discussed again.
Years later, when I realized that my nightmare had some basis in reality, I questioned my parents about it and they very casually confirmed what I thought I knew. The entire episode was sloughed off as my grandfather's folly and considered an addendum to the larger story of my family's departure from the homeland. My feelings were never addressed.
I know that my parents never intended to damage me, psychologically, or otherwise, but the event left a scar - my nightmare - and my poor husband ended up paying the price, as the only salve that would soothe my poor wounded psyche stood 16 hands high and went, "neigh."
I'm fairly certain that my parents could have handled the pony situation better than they did, but I'm sure they were under a lot of stress with a pending move and an unhappy family. My experience has inspired me to be more sensitive to the impression my words and actions leave on my grandchildren.
As I previously mentioned, losing the pony did not squelch my passion for equestrian endeavors. Rick, not a lover of all things equine, was kind and generous enough to indulge me, and supported our little horse hobby for almost twenty years. All three of our daughters are accomplished horsewomen. Our middle daughter Bridget, competes at the international level and earns her living training and instructing.
I never really got over that nightmare. A visit to the barn, rain or shine, sick or injured was the first and last thing I did everyday, and in all the years we owned them, I never hired anyone to help with the horses' care or clean-up. It was my privilege to be their steward, and a chance to make amends to the ghost pony in my dreams.
The large photo in the upper left was taken in May of 1989. That's me with my first horse, Maggie. The smaller photo is of Bridget and Dublin, her Grand Prix horse, competing at the Del Mar National Horse Show. The bottom photo is our beautiful gray mare, Prada, getting ready for a show. The title photo is of me on some farmers pony in a field by my grandparents house.
(It's PITCHERS, not PICTURES! Thanks to a good friend for pointing out the origin of the expression, used in the above blog. For years I've wondered. Another mystery solved!)
LITTLE PITCHERS HAVE BIG EARS - "Children hear and understand more than you think they do. The play here is on the resemblance of the ear to the handle of a pitcher. It is an ancient saying, having been recorded by John Heywood in 1546: 'Auoyd your children, smal pitchers haue wide eares.'" From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).