Short Stories by Pat Nelson

The Old Gray Mare


The Old Gray Mare
By Pat Nelson
Woodland, WA

Horses and jockeys from all over the county converged on the park at Lake Sacajawea. The picnic shelter was decorated with red and purple balloons and streamers. When my granddaughter and I arrived with our horses, plastic tablecloths were still being stapled to the wooden tables…ker-thunk, ker-thunk.

The jockeys came in all sizes, standing from 36" to nearly 72" tall. Horses varied as much as jockeys. Some manes were short; others were long. Some had straight, silky tails and other tails were braided. Many horses wore frilly hats with holes for their ears. Most stood quietly, but a few whinnied.

Lady jockeys wore red hats and purple shirts. Their little granddaughters wore pink hats and lavender shirts. There were baseball caps, cowboy hats, and floppy hats with huge, arching feathers.

I rode up on my old, dark-gray mare. Her mane and tail were a lighter shade of gray, the color of clouds on an overcast day. My granddaughter's horse was chestnut brown and his mane and his tail were both the color of honey. His tail swished from side to side as she rode him from the parking area.

When she reached the picnic area, my granddaughter swung one of her legs over her horse's back to dismount. She patted his nose. I heard him whinny and then I heard the sound of his hoof beats: ca-lomp, ca-lomp, ca-lomp. When he settled down, we hitched both horses to a post near a picnic table.

We unpacked sandwiches, chips, cookies, sodas, and carrots from our saddlebags. My granddaughter tried to feed her horse a carrot.

Red-hatted jockeys walked up and introduced themselves to us. They patted the nose of my granddaughter's horse to hear him whinny. They laughed when they heard the ca-lomp, ca-lomp of his hooves.

More red-hatted and pink-hatted jockeys rode up and unpacked their grub. Jockeys moved around the crowd, admiring clothing and horses.

Eventually, Queen Carol stood, sporting splendid western-wear in bright red and deep purple. "Welcome," she said, "to the second annual horse race and play day for red hatters and their granddaughters. The horse races will begin at 2:00. For now, enjoy your lunch and get to know each other. The horses this year are even more beautiful than last year's entries."

Shutters clicked as jockeys captured memories of the event.

I noticed some ladies with walkers and canes. Surely, I thought, they wouldn't be able to compete in a horse race. I hoped no one would break a hip.

Queen Carol still stood before the group. Horses waited quietly nearby. "Girls," she said, "it's time to proceed to the starting gate."

Red hatters and their pink-hatted granddaughters grabbed stick horses, decorated canes, and fancy broomsticks and galloped to the racetrack where six at a time lined up at the starting gate.

"Post time," Queen Carol shouted enthusiastically. She picked up two over-sized foam dice and tossed them into the air. They came down onto the ground, bounced on their edges, and finally settled into the cool green grass. Queen Carol looked at the spots on the tops of the dice…a four and a two. "Six," she said. "The jockey in lane one may move six spaces."

The jockey stepped forward until she stood on number six.

Carol rolled the dice again. "Four. The jockey in lane two may advance four spaces."

Horses were sometimes neck and neck. The procedure continued, lane by lane, until one jockey crossed the finish line and advanced to the finals. Fans cheered and red-gloved hands applauded.

At last, the winner was declared. The winning jockey took a bow and patted her steed on his nose. They both stood proudly with their red-hatted heads held high.

Ladies walked their horses back to the picnic area and succumbed to the ding, ding, ding of a passing ice cream truck.

Some ladies started packing their saddlebags, thinking the party was over. Then, one lady stood and said, "let's put our red-gloved hands together and give Queen Carol a big thank you."

There were cheers, sounds of applause, and horse whinnies.

"Thanks," Queen Carol said, "but don't leave yet. The red-hat fun is just beginning. I have a surprise for you."

Some of the ladies glanced at each other with eyebrows raised. They knew how creative Carol could be.

"Come on girls, we're having a wet T-shirt contest," Carol said with excitement.

Looks of embarrassment and skepticism crossed the faces of many. Some continued packing to leave, not wanting to be exposed by a wet T-shirt.

Others, game for anything, headed for the playing field where they found T-shirts soaking in buckets of water. The first contestant stepped up nervously. She took off a purple vest and set it aside so it would not get wet. She placed her red gloves on top of the vest.

Sounds of relief escaped from the ladies when they realized the object of the game was not to wear a wet T-shirt, but rather to toss it into a bucket.

When the game ended, prizes were awarded and ladies and their granddaughters went home to tell their families about the day. My granddaughter ran to her mother. "Mommy, mommy, I had so much fun. Grandma took me to the horse races and then we were in a wet T-shirt contest."

"You two come in here right now," my daughter said, in a tone I recognized as my own. "We need to have a serious talk about your play-dates with Grandma!"

I winked at my little jockey and we went inside to explain to her mother that we had just been horsing around.

Copyright 2005

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