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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Paying Back The Gift



By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



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When we moved to Oklahoma, my daughter, who was eight, was already a horse fancier. She eventually took a few riding lessons, and her "fancy" turned into a "passion." She spent many, many hours "being" the horse of her dreams in our yard.

It bemused me to watch, since my horse-crazy sister and I also spent hours playing horse when we were little. We'd decide what color and breed our "horses" were, give them names, and then canter and trot around the yard.

Our daughter was an excellent mimic of a cantering horse, but since she had no sister to play with her, she went about her hobby by herself. As her dreams were of a horse that jumped, she started building all sorts of obstacles in the yard for her "horse" to jump. This meant our tomato cages, ropes, lawn chairs, firewood, and nearly any other item outside that a tiny girl could move became courses of jumps in our lawn, which became her "arena." We would be summoned outdoors to watch a "horse show," with a neatly printed program listing various horses, with ages, colors and sexes, that would be jumping her course, sometimes causing us to sit and watch for more than an hour at a time as 15 or more "contestants" jumped the course.

All of this stuff strewn about the lawn drove both her parents a bit crazy " me since I am obsessively neat, and my husband because it made lawn mowing a major challenge. Eventually we got her a horse, and he was put to work jumping around the courses, (this first horse was a saint!) but our daughter never stopping jumping herself, either.

One day a car pulled into our yard and a woman rolled down her window and called me over. She told me that she and her daughter frequently saw Angela trotting around her ramshackle jumps as they drove by, and were charmed by her. There is no doubt in my mind from her comment that either her daughter had been a "horse" or she herself had played the same game as a child. She asked me if we were interested in some actual horse jumps she had " free. I was surprised and a bit taken aback, but she said they had some jumps they were no longer using, she need to find a home for them, and that she'd be happy to drop them off. I sort of agreed, and she drove away with a wave. A few days later she was back, and quickly unloaded 10 jumping standards, 25 blocks for setting heights, some extensions and poles and was gone before I really could even thank her properly, or get her name.

It was a miracle to reclaim our chairs and tomato cages, and these jumps were much safer. Angela redoubled her efforts and played for many hours with the gift. She jumped her horses over them, our long-suffering dogs also became jumpers, and continued to jump them herself, too. I often smiled to myself over the years, knowing this woman knew her gift was appreciated, since it was eternally set up and in use on our lawn or in the pasture.

But the equipment has been stacked in our barn for a long time now, as our "little horse" finished college, moved to Dallas, and now to Seattle. Her last competition horse and his companion mare are now a well-aged 19 years old, and we are preparing to move home to Wisconsin. The jumps had to go. (Although of course, the horses will come with us.)

As I pondered what to do with the jumps, I looked them up on line using the manufacturer's name and was shocked to see how expensive they were new " made in Canada. I would have loved to have gifted them to another horse-crazy little girl but, out of touch with the hunter-jumper people now, I didn't know any, and this is Oklahoma where quarter horses and western horse sports reign supreme. I ended up listing them on Craig's List for a bargain-bin $200 and had three people very interested right away. First in my yard was a woman, with an adult daughter who foxhunts, and she immediately bought them.

This ending to the story left me feeling unsettled. Not only was it hard to say goodbye to this visible reminder of the joy my little girl got from "being a horse," I also got money for something we'd received as a beautiful gift. I probably could have asked a lot more for the jumps, but it almost felt like dirty money as it was.

Continuing our downsizing project, my 30 year-old son decided to part with his train set, also still stored at our house. He'd gotten the set as a little boy and it had been set up on a huge platform on pulleys in our Marinette basement " so we could lift it out of the way when it was not in use. He had three engines, lots of cars and buildings, tracks, bridges""but the set takes up a huge amount of space, and he really does not have room to even store it at his house. So I put that on Craig's List, too, with a modest asking price for the large and good-quality set.

The first quick response I got was from a local public school teacher. Now, I am a huge supporter of teachers, and they are among the most beleaguered of public servants in Oklahoma. In fact, Oklahoma recently achieved the highly embarrassing recognition of being number 50 in a list of teacher salaries paid in the United States. That is, Oklahoma is dead last. And this sad spiral of driving our public schools into the ground has been underway here for quite some time, with teacher pay being only one of the areas our schools are being strangled. It pains me to watch, and any chance I have to do something for a public school teacher, I do it. Plus, the teacher who called me first works in the summer (as most of them do, despite comments about teachers "having the summers off,") as the train ride operator at the Tulsa Zoo.

He came today to pick up the train set, and I was ready for him. After a quick discussion yesterday with my son right after I got the teacher's inquiry, we gave him the train set for free. He was totally shocked. As soon as he got home, he sent a beautiful thank you, and said he would be giving some parts of the set to kids he knows who are model train fanatics. "Thank you for the unexpected Christmas!" he said.

It has now come full circle, and I am at peace. I feel like we've "paid off" the debt we owe the lady who gave us the horse jumps, by gifting the train set. It is hard to say goodbye to these relics of my little children, but I take comfort in the adults they have become.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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