Archive for January 7th, 2019

The Waiting Horses

amywink January 7th, 2019

“You must give up the life you had planned to have the life that is waiting for you.”

~Joseph Campbell

Bracken, Texas.

In 1971, Bracken, Texas was not even a small town, more of a remnant of the German farming settlement whose red and white brick Methodist church had just celebrated its centenary. The steeple could be briefly spied through the fields and hills from the interstate highway. Off the exit, farms whose fields held cattle and often, horses. I, a six-year-old with deep abiding longing for horses, always searched the fields for the horses and was delighted when I spied them among the cows, or better yet, in a herd. The farm-to-market road curved in front of the church and east-facing farmhouse parsonage. From the front porch, a view of the church cemetery, opposite, behind a chain link fence and an arched opening, and beyond that a train track in the distance, that we would watch from the front porch, where we also watched thunderstorms roil and roll over the hills.

This is where my father landed in his last years serving the Methodist church as a minister. It was the seventh or eighth church he had served since his time at Perkins Theological Seminary in the early 1960’s. During that time, he and my mother had begun their family with my brother, born in 1962, and myself born in 1965. I have memories of some of our early homes, mostly punctuated details that remain with me to this day: the moment when I was two and a fire blazed through the backyard and I was left alone in the high chair as everyone ran out to fight the fire (a fire apparently started to burn a building so migrants wouldn’t stop there), the moment with my brother who ran ahead of me and leapt out the front door and over the snake I saw coiled at the doorstep and stopped, the moment I tried to follow my brother’s leap over a prickly pear cactus which I fell right into it instead (I learned to be cautious in following that daring brother); the time I was three and we visited my mother on the grounds of the hospital where she recovered from her first manic episode when she first diagnosed with what was labeled then as manic-depression, now termed bipolar disorder

But it was in Bracken that I began to come to awareness of the world and the beginnings of my self. There, in that rural parsonage and across from the beautiful German church, the continuity of my memory begins to coalesce into a more coherent narrative and I begin the story of my self, aware in the world. I started school at Comal County Elementary and met my first best friend, Sharon, and others I still remember. I spent time in that beautiful empty church listening to my mother practice piano, watching my father preach on Sundays as I occupied myself with coloring while in the pews. My brother taught me to tie the shoelaces of my roller skates as we skated on the sidewalks and volleyball court behind the church’s creaking and spooky Sunday school building, where we sometimes went to get a Coke out of the refrigerator. That volleyball court was also where I also learned to ride a bike.

We walked between the church and parsonage each Sunday and entered the house after to the glorious smell of the roast and baking potatoes my mother had left in the oven while we were at church. In the evenings, we watched the bats emerge from the now famous Bracken bat cave and fly swirling into the night. Looking east, across the rolling landscape we could see the trains and the cemetery where members of the community were laid to rest after their caskets were carried from the church, beginnings and endings right there together, and always the journey between them.

I wrote my first poem sitting on the porch swing near the fig tree that bore the most wondrously sweet fruit each year, and also swarmed with wasps. I started to keep a diary–not much more than drawings and the occasional sentence description of what happened in first grade. I had cats, dogs, and then eventually, the most amazing thing, a pony, who my parents made the wonderful and terrible mistake of buying and bringing into our temporary lives as if we would always be in that country place, as if we would always have the space for the pony they handed their sensitive, poetic, and animal-loving daughter, and a pony I had to give up.

These are the lovely memories of beginning consciousness but they are not the only ones and as much as I love these memories of my beginnings in that country place, I cannot also ignore the endings that happened there. My parents were not suited to the itinerant life of a Methodist minister and “pastor’s wife”, the constant judgmental pressure from the community to behave as they “should” and to make their children behave as they “should.” My father had lost the enjoyment of his work, my mother struggled to find her place while she finished the college degree she’d started at Southwestern ten years previous at Trinity University. The old house I loved, with its wooden floors, high ceilings, wide front porch was in disrepair and would eventually be torn down (much to my horror) to make way for something new and serviceable, and sadly, quite ugly. The school I attended was filled with the children of migrant laborers and farmers and, as effortlessly and strictly as they could, they enforced the racial and class divisions of the day. I wasn’t supposed to touch anyone browner than I and I wasn’t supposed to enjoy their company. I wasn’t supposed to sit laughing with them. I struggled to understand the term “wetback” which was used frequently. I wasn’t supposed to be kind to the little brown boy, Juan, who crushed for me. I wasn’t supposed to like the haphazardly-dressed white boy, John, who handed me a piece of jewelry I later came to understand was a tie clip, that someone suggested he must have stolen. I wasn’t supposed to call my mother Mom at school, but Mrs. Wink instead. The rules were clear. Stop being who you are and be some one else. While I loved school and learning, I began to be punished for speaking out with answers, for reading different assignments in the books, and for being an alert and bright girl, ready with curious questions and wanting answers. As much as I loved school, I was learning also what was not allowed and what happens when a girl is not what she is expected to be. It was not a place for me to grow, it was not the place for my brother to grow, and it wasn’t a place for my parents to grow. We had to leave that life behind and even though it was difficult, we had to start something new. As my parents changed their lives, we changed and we had to move.

I thought of that church last year when someone asked me about where my Dad been a minister. We were standing in the empty sanctuary of my current church, the only church I’ve attended since leaving Bracken in 1972. I had stopped to look at the afternoon light coming through the west-facing stained glass windows and glazing the tops of the pews in gold. I had been (somewhat relentlessly) pursuing a new creative project, gathering the information I needed to make my idea work but the light in the church made me stop and pay attention. I began explain about my memories of the empty church at Bracken, how I loved to be in the empty sanctuary in the quiet opening of the space, how I had loved that country place, the old house with an oval glass door, wood floors, and porch swing, even with its wasps, scorpions, and bats. I was brought back to that sanctuary of memory, like I had come back to the sanctuary I was standing in, and in the colored light of the afternoon, I remembered the beginning of me, that long-ago pony, and the life and the horses that had been waiting for me when I gave up the life I had planned.