What Are You Saving for Good?

WMclarabridleMy parents grew up in the Great Depression and were frugal; we kept things “for good.” It was the first Easter after we lost our farm and we’d moved across four states and settled in a tract house, trying to pass for suburbanites.  I was nine and mortally wounded from losing my horse, so in a vain effort, my mother got me the only brand new dress I ever remember having. We were poor relations and my mother’s aunt sent us boxes of hand-me-downs from their girls. My older sister got them first, so I could see my wardrobe coming at a distance. This Easter dress was precious, partly because it was a washed-out green color with a full skirt that had a layer of actual chiffon on top, and partly because it was the same year that I had set my heart on becoming a nun. It was the only dress I ever loved. So after wearing it to church once, I kept it “for good.”

You know how this ends; a year later we’d moved to the edge of town, I’d already outgrown the dress, in more ways than one, and I was still whining about horses. The other thing that stuck was my mother’s frugal habit; everything special was kept safely out of reach.

Many years later, my mother bought me a beautiful wooden bench with carved horse heads, and a brand new butter-soft bridle. Well, that’s an exaggeration but she had passed away and she would have wanted me to have them. Okay, probably not, but it’s what I’d like to believe. Cats took to sleeping on the bench but the bridle went in a show bag where I kept it “for good,” because I’m a granddaughter of the Depression.

The dark side of frugal runs to being stingy. It’s the worry that comes from fear and lack. The feeling that nothing good will happen and if something does, somehow, it must be held separate. We did it with Easter dresses, birthday bubble bath, and mother’s heirloom sterling–which I saw for the first time a month before she died. And of course, she and I held back the best in ourselves as well, put in a dark closet, while we struggled on. We didn’t know another way.

At the same time, my other family–the one in the barn–was giving me their generational hand-me-downs, too. Good horses encouraged me to open my heart and trust that good things could happen. They rewarded me constantly. The more I let go of my fears and reached out to my horses with kindness, instead of worry and limitation, the steadier we got. Sometimes people told me that I had a push-button horse; some magical creature that you might find locked in a glass cabinet, but we knew the truth. My horse and I took what we had and polished it up a little every day. We became larger than the sum of our parts. Most of us stick with horses because we end up better people than we were when we started. That happened for me.

My poor mother was wary from loss and so, trying to control outcome, she labeled things good and bad–mostly bad. But even that was too meager; horses taught me the real challenge is choosing between love and fear.

So a few years back when it was time to start my young mare, she inherited the Grandfather Horse’s patched and faded first winter blanket, for good luck, and that brand new bridle. Because she’s good enough before she even starts.

So that’s my question; what are you holding back–keeping “for good”–in the barn? I know you have a saddle pad squirreled away. And maybe some nice breeches. You know the waist could get tighter on those if they hide in the drawer too long. Besides, they were on sale. Let yourself have them.

And what about your horse? Do you keep a critical eye peeled because you need to prepare for the worst? Are you quick to find fault, judging your rides harshly before other riders have the chance? Do you strive for perfection so hard that your horse feels your constant doubt? Or do you never actually ask for his best work because the two of you are nothing special to start with? And then, are you conservative rewarding him because he was never quite good enough? Finally, does he act like the Great Depression is on his back, and is he right?

Then fear has won and it’s time for love to rise up. Remember what horses have always meant to you and feel your heart warm, as your shoulders soften. Then say thank you, just like your mother taught you. Ask for your horse’s very best work, because you respect him and you both deserve it. Then become the rider you need to be to receive it. Sit tall and proud; you’ve already won just being there. Most of all, don’t let the tatters and tears of everyday life convince you that your horse is any less than perfect and waiting to shine. Reward that flawless possibility because it isn’t bought with money or luck, and the more you affirm it, the stronger it gets. Then with a freeing breath, know that we are all made of stardust; this perfection is inside us every day.

Sure, bad things happen and fear is a natural response. But we shouldn’t let it change who we are. It’s up to us to remember the stuff we are made of.

There will always be two stories about horses. One is that they are brainless tools; too crazy or lazy or just not worth the effort. That you’ll always be a victim of a horse’s whims and habits unless you dominate them to a stupor. The other story is that horses are mythical creatures with brave hearts who lift and carry us in perfect unity. That together, we can break free of earthly limitations.

Both stories actually start the same way. After that, we get just about what we think we deserve.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

35 thoughts on “What Are You Saving for Good?

  1. We are the “come on, you’re not that special after all” team. With me, the (at best) mediocre rider and him, 21 and aging. So you are right: We don’t go for perfection. But at least we strive for harmony and for tiny, little improvements. I come from that place where I was hard on me and the horse. I guess that’s part of his stiffness comes from too. But right now I do appreciate and reward his tries – and what is more: I actually notice them!

  2. Love this, especially in reference to “stuff.” We use the “good” stuff in my house. Yes, it wears out and gets chips and cracks and sometimes hopelessly breaks and has to be tossed, but what that teaches is that there is enough – more good stuff, ways to get creative and find the unusual use for a thing, or a substitute, and even doing without has its own lesson and joy. I have on occasion felt relief when one of the “good” things broke and freed me of its pressure. I think with the horses what they teach me is that there really isn’t good and bad – there is what there is and each thing is valuable in its moment.

      1. This made me laugh b/c all my champagne glasses have succumbed to the risks of daily use for potions not bubbly! But the thrift stores have them on occasion and when I see ones I like I’ll pay the few dollars to replace them. This reminds me that when I was young and single with no children almost nothing ever broke. I brought so much stuff with me into my life with a family and so much of it has been used up now that the children are in college and moving out into the world. But the joy of seeing those beloved items being held and used by tiny hands was worth it once I got past the first few losses to breakage. 🙂

  3. jacklincke

    Anna ~ “flawless possibility” – wow! Great article. Would love to meet you someday. Please keep shining your Light! Mary Jo – just moved to Sisters, OR from Redding, CA – big transitions!

  4. Lovely story Anna, I too lived in the post depression period but never felt I need to think about the good and bad. The difference I believe was two adoring parents and as the middle child I got my brothers hand me downs which I thought was just great. . Whatever I had was just great. Today I ride almost every day, weather permitting even though I really do not know what I am doing. But I know I love my horses, I think they care about me…and it is just great. Thanks for you and your stories.

  5. Sophia

    Raw aching nerve touched but thank you Anna for the beauty of the healing ability you have to oh, so gently open the wound and let the pus drain away. So that bright clean flesh can shine and do its best. Bless you.

  6. Liz Goldsmith

    My mother vividly remembers outgrowing her “good dresses” before she wore them more than once, so she always uses her best things all the time. I try to buy things that I will enjoy . . . and then enjoy them. But, I often buy things that are only “new to me” so that I don’t feel guilty over spending so much on them (like saddles). It lets me enjoy them more.

  7. Thérèse Cartier

    I too wore the hands me dow from my older sisters, three of them. We were not poor, my father was a surgeon but, my parents thought us, seven kids, the value of things. I did not ware new clothes often but we had books, lots of them, music playing all the time, good food, paintings on the walls and we all went to university. Although I would have loved to ride horses, my father had a sense of fareness and what he gave to one kid, he had to be able to give equally to
    the others so, we learn not to ask for much, we already had a lot. He gave us culture and good values to guide us in life which I still cary deep in me today. Thanks Anna for helping me remember this uge gift of life.

  8. What a lovely post. Thank you. Life is so short to save things for best. Even shorter sometimes than you expect. Living life to its fullest and appreciate the details. I go out on my trail rides for the pleasure of being with my horse in our nicest outfits (both horse and rider) at the crack of dawn or when I know the park will be empty and only the squirrels and deer will admire us as we breeze by:-) but it is heaven to me.

  9. “It’s up to us to remember the stuff we are made of”. This wraps up the struggle I’ve had for the last year. I forgot, for awhile, where I stored my best self, how to use it on myself, and that this is allowed. Luckily I figured out it was a good idea not to save my best self only for others. I still have to talk myself into wearing my sparkly, quirky, “good” self on a daily basis. But I’m getting there. Speaks to the heart, thank you

    1. Just in case it isn’t abundantly obvious, that’s what I use my blog for–to remind me of the “sparkly, quirky, good” in all of us. Sometimes it takes a lot of re-writing to remember… Thanks, Jane.

  10. Maggie Frazier

    Anna, you remind ALL of us about the good in us! Reading your blog and the comments make me feel part of a wonderful group of friends. That’s a good feeling every day.

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