GETTING BACK ON THE HORSE

I learned from my mother that it is not the problems or the heartbreaks of life that define who we are. Instead, it is our willingness to confront those problems, admit our failures, and then overcome them that regulates who we become. In life, we have to learn how to get back on the horse.

My mother, Jeanne, was one of those people who’s life read like an intriguing and tragic novel. She was born into a family with five other children during the Great Depression. Her mother was afflicted with tuberculosis and passed away when my mother was about 12. My mother’s strict father was abusive to the children both physically and sexually. Because he worked long hours as a cab-driver, my Grandfather was desperate for someone to take care of the kids, and he hired a woman who ultimately became the wicked stepmother of fairytales. Her solution for dealing with the children was to lock them in a closet until my Grandfather came home.

When my mother was 18 years old, she came home from her full-time job at a grocery store to find everything she owned packed into a suitcase, which was now sitting on the back step. Abruptly thrown out of the house, she had to find a place of her own, which she did.

Mom became a survivor instead of a victim. During World War II, she got a job in a factory making wiper blades. She did that until she was fired to make way for the men coming back from overseas. She then found another job as a waitress. When she resisted the advances of the restaurant manager and lost her job again, she learned how to become a short-order cook. It was there that she met and married my Father.

Ten years, a miscarriage, and two children later, my father abandoned my mother, my sister, and I, leaving us with an old beat-up car, no income, and no prospects of recovery.

Instead of quitting and living forever as a victim on welfare, my mother found a part-time job working at the school cafeteria so she could be home when we arrived after school. When the state wanted us to move into low-income housing in downtown Buffalo, her prayers were answered when my Uncle Bob and Aunt Jane asked us to move in with them out in the country. It was during that time that my mother would face one of the biggest challenges of her life.

Somewhere along the line, my mother began to have problems with her back, and on one particular morning, she was on her way to see the chiropractor when she had a devastating accident. No one knows if she had back spasms that caused her to go off the road, or if an animal had run in front of her. She hit a culvert, destroyed the car, and was in a coma for over a week. She broke her nose, her jaw, and one eye orbit. Weeks later, when trying to get her out of bed, they discovered she also had a broken pelvis.

What followed was six months of recovery from a hospital bed in my aunt and uncle’s living room to eventually being able to walk again and sit up without pain.

My mother always had a heart for others, and the passion to help and serve is what drove her recovery. She knew her kids needed her. She knew she needed to become self-supporting and independent. She would not become a victim of this accident.

When my sister and I begged Mom to take us on a trail-ride at the local horse stable, my mom wanted to prove her love for us and prove to herself she could do this. So, never having been on a horse in her life, six months after a life-threatening accident, and with the reassurance of my aunt and uncle, we ventured out to the stable.

The Trail Boss reassured my mom that he was putting her on the most gentle horse at the farm and that she would be riding directly behind him “just-in-case.” So off we went with our hearts light, our noses bursting with the perfume of horse sweat and my mother’s eyes filled with apprehension and terror.

One hundred yards up the trail, the inevitable happened. The “sweet little cherub” of a horse that my mother was riding decided that he wanted no part of it. He began to pull against the reins, and then he started to buck and, ultimately, he dumped my mother on the ground. Of course, we were all mortified and convinced that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

My mother’s response showed her character and represented the lessons that she had learned in her life. After some decidedly non-Christian language directed at the horse, she walked over and got back on. She said that she would not let any, (blankity-blank), of a horse, control the outcome of her day. She taught us a great lesson about perseverance.

After that day, I don’t remember that she ever rode a horse again, but the life lesson that she taught me was priceless. In that one experience, I learned that it’s imperative that we face our fears and not let the tyrant of adversity dictate who we will become.

Within weeks of the horseback episode, my mom got a job working in a General Motors plant that paid excellent benefits, gave her a good salary, and it allowed us to live independently once again.

One of her favorite sayings was, “this too shall pass.” While the problems and negative issues of life will pass, just remember, you have to get back on the horse.

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