Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes: ode to Susie
The conversation turned to Susie a while ago. She had been toasted multiple times. Thoroughly warmed to his subject and thoroughly warmed by the wine, Susie’s long time companion Matt continued, “I’ve slept with Susie under the stars more times than all the other women I’ve known, including my ex wife.”
“Here’s to Susie,” said a dozen voices in unison.
We were at a party, the original reason for which has long been forgotten, but it could have been for Susie or Matt or for the both of them.
I just met Matt and took an instant liking to him. I’d only heard about him from his sister Doris. She is a good friend of mine and Emmy’s. I had heard her speak of him often. He was in the Coast Guard, he admired and wanted to be a cowboy, and he lived in Montana; he seemed to have chosen that state as home after having drifted around for a number of years. Most of those years, he traveled with Susie, but he was a man who generally had bad luck with women.
Matt had come home to see his family and visit his Susie.
“Susie is the kindest friend a man could have,” said Matt
The chorus saluted, “Here’s to Susie.”
With a tender softness in his voice, Matt said, “I got my first glimpse of her when I was stationed in Michigan. I was in the Coast Guard. We traveled around together, but then I had to leave Susie stateside...”
“Here’s to Susie,” at the mention of the celebrated Susie, the partiers interrupted Matt’s train of thought.
With a slightly annoyed glance at no one in particular Matt started over, “I had to leave… her, with my parents when I went to Puerto Rico.”
When Matt came back to the states, he picked up where he had left off with Susie. He drove his old F 150 pickup that pulled the horse trailer in which his friend and companion Susie, the sweet red roan mare, traveled.
When it was time to settle for the night he would chose an out of the way pull-off, park the trailer and take Susie for a walk. He’d make a small rope paddock for her, roll out his sleeping bag, and he and Susie would spend the night under the stars beside the truck and trailer.
He eventually left the Coast Guard. Their travels brought them to Montana. Matt loved the state, he loved ranches and he loved the life of a cowboy. He worked as a jack of all trades. He had training as a forester, and a mechanic. He could weld and he knew horses, all assets to any ranch at which he took up residence. They were as glad to have him as he was to be there.
Matt dealt with severe migraine headaches and a multitude of other medical symptoms for many years. He was recently diagnosed with adult onset encephalitis, a form of brain swelling, the cause for which could be any number of things.
He was married for a while but never did get along with women as well as he does with horses, it didn’t work out. Their last argument ended when he turned to leave and his wife hit him in the back of the head hard enough to knock him out. She walked out and left him for dead. He was in some bar fights as a young man and did get knocked around a bit as well. Any of these things, or something else entirely could be the cause of his medical condition.
Before he was diagnosed, Matt knew something was wrong. His headaches were so bad he passed out on occasion, but he also drank on occasion, maybe he blamed some of his symptoms on that.
While he and his friends were hunting way up in the mountains, Matt had a ‘spell’ of some sort and passed out. His friends couldn’t revive him and in their efforts to get him to a hospital quickly, Susie was tied to a tree and left to fend for herself.
She was there for three days- the odds weren’t necessarily in favor of Susie’s survival; horses are lower in the food chain than grizzly bears and mountain lions. Matt’s hunting buddies called a ranch in the vicinity of where they had tied Susie and ranch hands from there rescued her and kept her for three months until Matt was back on his feet and could come to get her.
Matt would say, ‘they help each other out in the great state of Montana.’
Matt’s fortunes went downhill from there. His migraines became debilitating and he had other associated medical problems.
When Matt thought he was not taking care of Susie as well as he should, he decided to find her a good home. His sister Doris suggested he bring her back to Western New York, after all, Susie had been around so long Doris felt she was a member of the family. She and husband Jay, built her a nice little barn
Matt lives on a ranch in Montana now. He goes on cattle drives when he is able and copes with his illness as best he can. He tells stories to anyone who will listen about his travels and the best horse he ever knew.
Susie is 29 years old now, her traveling days are done. She lives with a chestnut mare named Velvet in the cozy little barn that Doris and Jay built. The two horses get along well with acres to exercise in and they have their own barn cat named Possum. In Possum’s perspective, he has two large horses. When the mares get close enough, the cat swats at their hooves and legs through the wooden slats in the stall. If things are slow in the barn the cat will climb up one of the horse’s tails and run across their backs and escape by jumping to the nearest timber in the barn.
Anyone who has worked with horses knows each one has their own personality and their own list of ‘tricks’. Susie is known as a gentle animal and an easy ride but she isn’t real talented. However she will give you a big smile after you give her a treat.
I took my five-year-old granddaughter Paige to see Susie. Paige gave her a carrot and Susie took it from Paige with her big hairy lips then gave her a big toothy goofy smile, which in turn gave Paige a giggle and a grin.
Here’s to Susie…
The party to toast Susie was a few years ago. Matt calls periodically to catch up with family and of course to see how Susie is doing. He hasn’t been back “East” for a while though. I can’t wait for Susie’s next party.
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