I have forgotten so much, or filtered it. Chosen this rather than that to write about. How could I forget that when I was almost 12 — was that 1976? — I got my first pony. How could I forget that at eight I rode a “tinker’s” horse, which was staked by the side of the road near our house. I clambered onto his back, and brushed his tangled mane with my hairbrush. My mother found me and finally allowed me to enroll in riding lessons at a local riding school. I loved the owners: the tall lean man who trained jumpers and who moved about in the background with a quiet confidence; his wife, a short woman with a kind face and faded blue eyes; the four children, two of whom were close in age to me. I got home from school, changed and ran down the road to spend the afternoon and evening with them. I cleaned tack and mucked out stables and groomed horses for the chance to ride Rainbow, or one day, that equine goddess, Pearl. Weekends, holidays, for four years I spent every spare minute there. I remember cleaning tack and eating fresh-baked brown scores dripping with homechurned butter from the cow, Polly, from whom we got our fresh milk every day. I’d walk home at night with a bucket of steaming creamy milk, which my mother used for icecream and cheese, butter and everything else one needed milk for. Polly was tested for brucellosis and tuberculosis. She was clean and gentle, and her milk tasted of buttercups or wild garlic or whatever she had been eating. I have never loved milk since I left Ireland.
When Cathy was 14 and Jody and I about 12, the tall, lean horse-trainer with the dark eyes stopped his car one day by the side of the road and died. A heart-attack. Cathy fainted in school when the nuns told her. Jody stood at my side, with wide, horrified eyes, as her older sister cried and cried. Afterwards they had to move into town, sell the farm and the jumpers, and get a smaller place. I saw them less and less often, though I always visit Mrs. R when I’m home in Ireland, in her house at the foot of Br*y Head. She has survived the years by making custom chaps and other leather work, and her eyes are the same as ever.
Sometime in those years my grandparents moved from Derry to our house. They were older, and my grandmother in a wheelchair. We had visited them frequently in the North since we’d moved to Ireland, but the massive old house in which they were living was too big for them to keep up, and we had a perfect setup in our home, with a spare bedroom, small kitchen, and living room upstairs that would accomodate Granny’s wheelchair. (Our house was built on a hill, so the front door went straight to the more luxurious upstairs rooms, while the back door entered the basement, which contained the children’s bedrooms and playroom, and the main kitchen with its large wooden table and benches for everyday meals.)
After Cathy and Jody’s father died, after Granny and Granddad came to live with us, I got my first pony, a 13.2 bay “mutt” with a shaggy black mane and a habit of deliberately stepping on people’s toes. I loved her, tough. She was good to me. I began babysitting to make money for the blacksmith, for grain for her, for show entries. So I split my life between the world inside the house, with my mother and father and sisters, and the world outside, on my pony’s back, where I could be free and unencumbered.