BIOGRAPHICAL STORY BY SUE GOULETTE MURRAY - After almost 20 years living in San Diego (America's Finest City---NOT!!), I recently moved back to Dexter. I returned home for a number of reasons, but family was the" biggy". And for my 54th birthday last month, I received the most incredible gift from my most incredible family, including my father, who as it turned out, ended up contributing posthumously. Here is my incredible story.
When home last September to attend a wedding, my siblings and I were talking about our favorite Christmas memories. Mine was the Christmas that my father gave me a saddle. I was fourteen, and a saddle was the only thing I wanted. I had been lucky enough to have had a pony, "Ginger", since the age of eleven, but had outgrown her, and at the age of thirteen, my father had (finally) bought a horse, "Flicka" for me. (Well, for the whole family, but I was the "horse-crazy" girl.)
For over a year and a half, I either rode bareback or used the pony-sized saddle on my horse (when my younger sister wasn't using it on Ginger who she had "inherited"). My father knew I really wanted a horse-sized saddle, but he was not the type one could "bug" about anything. He was a man of very few words, and in our family, children were to be seen and not heard. We had looked at saddles at a tack store in Bangor, and at Razor Crossman's auctions in Corinna , and I was heartbroken every time we left without one. I was heartbroken when the first Christmas after getting Flicka came and went without a saddle. Poor me.
Then came the Christmas of my fourteenth year. I got up early as always, filled with anticipation of what I might find under the tree. No box big enough for a saddle. I was crushed. I sat for the gift openings with my parents and four siblings, fighting back tears with all the strength I could muster. (Any display of self-pity was not tolerated in my father's house.) My mother, who always did 100% of the gift shopping (even though everything was always signed from both "Mama and Daddy" or Santa Claus---depending on our age) had done her best as always to make us happy. My older sisters were ecstatic about their new clothes, my younger sister about her Barbie doll, and my brother with his Johnny West. Since she knew I loved all animals, my mother had decided on giving me a stuffed swan… . It was all too much to bear. I couldn't wait for the whole thing to be over so that I could go to the barn, do the morning chores, and sob with disappointment. Maybe even get kicked to death by my horse if I was lucky!
Finally, the last gift was opened and I could leave the living room, put on my chore clothes and head across the snowy back yard toward the barn. The tears had started flowing already (though I had planned on saving the heavy wailing for once I'd gotten safely inside the barn). I had a pail of water in each hand which I had filled before leaving the house. About two steps into the yard I hit a patch of ice and down I went! The water went flying and I burst into loud self-pitying wailing earlier than anticipated. I happened to look up toward the house, and was horrified to see my father standing in the kitchen window watching me and laughing!! Hurting physically and emotionally, and too embarrassed to return to the house for more water, I struggled to my feet and continued across the remaining few feet to the barn.
I opened the door and saw it immediately. To my right and on top of King Tut's (our pet mallard duck) pen, was a huge box messily wrapped in about 5 different pieces of Christmas paper. I understood everything in a flash. It was a saddle and it was from my father. He had never wrapped anything in his life, thus the creative wrapping. And, he had laughed at me moments before because 1) he loved slapstick type of humor, and 2) he knew how happy I would be once I entered that barn! I tore into the box, paper and cardboard flying everywhere, spooking the horse and pony, and freaking out poor King Tut.
A beautiful new saddle! My saddle! My Christmas saddle! The one we had seen at Razor Crossman's auction weeks earlier! The one that my father said cost too much money! I couldn't believe it. I was the luckiest girl in the world. I was loved after all. Life was good again.
Fast forward two years. I had used my saddle regularly on my horse, Flicka. Many ribbons were won at horse shows while in that saddle. I spent countless and joyous hours riding with my friends all around the Dexter area in that saddle. Then, Flicka died of complications from the colic. My passion for riding was buried in the back pasture along with her.
I moved away after graduating from high school two years later. The saddle continued to be used on another horse, "Lady", that my sister rode. Then, she graduated and moved away three years after me. My father kept Lady for a few years after that, but, with no one left at home interested in riding, he sold her, along with "my" saddle to a friend of his who had a young niece who was interested in riding.
Though it bothered me that "my" saddle, my favorite Christmas present ever, had been "so callously sold", I never said anything to my father, and basically got over it. I told the "favorite Christmas story" a number of times over the years, and everyone always said how sad it was that the saddle was sold away along with that last horse. Some were critical of my father for being so insensitive.
Then, the story was told to my siblings in September of 2006 when we were all here in Maine for the wedding. One sister asked if our father had heard that story lately, if ever. (Father was a great story teller himself, and also loved hearing a great story---be it true or "embellished"). He hadn't, and I shared it with him one evening during that week I was home. He loved the story, and loved being reminded about the "good old horse days". I felt good about sharing it with him. I flew back to San Diego.
Father died less then three months later. I flew home again when he was getting very sick, got to visit with him for a couple of days, and was blessed to be by his side on the early morning of December 7, 2006 when he peacefully drew his last breath.
On my birthday this past April 27th, having been moved back to Maine for exactly one week, and surrounded by family, I was given the same saddle again---forty years after the first time. It seems that my father and a couple of siblings had been on a mission to track it down for me as soon as I had left to go back to San Diego last September!! The Christmas saddle had become the homecoming saddle. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and burst into tears (thus inspiring everyone else in the room to cry) when I realized what I was seeing. And the fact that my father had instigated the whole thing made it almost unbearably bittersweet.
The homecoming saddle now sits in my bedroom as part of the décor. I cleaned it up thoroughly and it is only missing the cinches. I love the smell of leather and saddle soap and I love the feelings and beautiful memories that come over me every time I look at it---which is every day. It is good to be home. Sue Murray 6/07
P.S. Maybe I'll re-discover my passion for riding--- though that may be putting the saddle before the horse… .