From the Introduction:
Do you know what it’s like when you can’t even remember meeting someone dear to you because it seems impossible that he or she hasn’t always been a part of your life? That’s how I feel about Clara and Margaret. How could it be that I didn’t know them before 1988 when Susan introduced us? I felt that warm connection right off the bat, so that may be why I feel this way. Or maybe the friendship is so embedded in my life because after Susan was gone, I still had them, and they provided a reflection of an important part of her life, even though it was only three years of it. But it was the last three years. Susan had connected us, and it was a connection that was to continually strengthen, not break. Susan was part of that. Even after Margaret died in 2007, sixteen years after Susan, the friendship of the four of us lived on in that of Clara’s and mine. It built on a loving foundation, and it grew. It grows now.
From Chapter 1, Girl Scouts on Horseback:
I’ve heard it said that the slightest thing can sometimes change the direction of our lives. Although in retrospect not slight at all, Clara and Margaret’s meeting at the Flying G Ranch did just that, it set them on a single path the two had only previously dreamed of.
Some might call their encounter a matter of fate, destiny, or providence. I call it luck. In this case, it was luck the two of them wouldn’t realize for a whole year. Despite the delay, their friendship did begin, and when it did, it created a trajectory all its own.
I was curious about how it all happened, assuming from the time I’d first met them they’d been friends right off the bat. It was hard to imagine otherwise because their friendship was so solid those thirty-some years later. A good example of accepting something as ready-made, I thought, without understanding what had transpired to create it. A worthy lesson for me, and a good opportunity to dig into what had shaped these two lives and their friendship.(p. 15)
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Back at the barn in the days after those early rides, Clara watched to make sure the girls did things properly. She’d already been working with them on taking care of the horses and now she looked to see that they were checking for saddle sores or scratches on their legs and picking out their feet for pebbles or anything else that could cause bruising. She was happy with what she saw; these girls were learning.
Pleased that the program covered horse care and stable responsibilities, along with horsemanship and trail riding, Clara knew these kids were learning more than just getting on a horse and galloping off. That part they did love, sure, but they seemed to appreciate what went along with it, too. She felt she was pretty good at teaching them the whole range of skills and duties and they trusted her and would try things they may not otherwise have wanted to.
As for her own learning, Slim was a big help in getting her acclimated. When he’d first seen her riding, he’d hollered, using her camp name, “Bird, for God’s sake, get your heels down!”
How was she to know? She hadn’t grown up on saddles. She grew up riding bareback. Her dad hadn’t let the kids ride a saddle, and after he died, her mom wouldn’t either. She didn’t get to have one until she started riding with the Saddle Club with the neighbor lady, and that hadn’t been all that long ago. It could’ve been hard to overcome a habit that was so ingrained. But Slim’s admonition made that habit history. Her heels were down.
Slim himself was a true cowhand, and Clara looked up to him. Tall and wiry-thin, he sure looked the part. He’d taken care of the last of the United States Army mounts, and cared for the polo horses at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, working a lot of different matches there. With all his vast experience, Clara knew she could learn a great deal from him. (p. 25)
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There were many facets of being in the mountains an inexperienced flatlander had to get used to, not just the varying terrain. One night with supper eaten and evening chores done, in the mountain darkness Clara started the hike back to her unit and her tent. At least she didn’t have night duty, something that didn’t happen often. She didn’t mind it at all, but she also didn’t mind a break. Following the little path, she made her way along, thinking how good bed was going to feel.
The ranch seemed big and sprawling, especially at night, and she guessed with more than three hundred acres, it was. Plenty of room for the older and younger age camps with their various units. No moon tonight, but with millions of stars overhead and flashlight in hand she hiked on.
She heard a noise, something rustling through the bushes. Images of bears flitted through her mind, and her heart ramped up a few beats. She didn’t know what was making the noise, and she didn’t know what to do. Crouching down behind a bush, she heard it coming closer, closer. The dark felt like a black cloth draped over her. She could hardly breathe. Closer, closer. The flashlight her only available weapon, she thought if she shone the light in the thing’s eyes, it would blind it and she could get away. Closer still. Now! She pointed the flashlight in the direction of the noise and pushed the switch. There it was. Looking down a long face right into her face were big, brown mournful eyes. A burro.
Clara sighed deeply. Several times. Feeling nothing but elation in seeing that long-eared, docile animal, Clara turned her face upward and told the stars. “At least it’s equine, and that I can deal with.” (p. 28)
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From Chapter 2, Homes & Horizons
When the talk turned to music, Margaret tuned in more closely. She knew this was something dear to Clara’s heart, and she knew how beautifully her friend could sing. Mrs. Reida was saying, “Arnold could play any instrument he picked up. But he stuck mainly with stringed instruments and especially that fiddle that he learned to play when the family band needed a fiddler. The one who’d been with them died, and they wanted Arnold to fill in. He said, ‘Maudie, I’ll get a fiddle and learn to play it if you learn the harmonica.’”
When Ray said, “And you did, didn’t you, Mom? Maybe you should play for us now,” Margaret hoped Mrs. Reida would do that. But she just smiled.
A family band? Her curiosity tweaked, Margaret asked, “What else did people play?”
“Accordion, piano, tub drum, along with Mom’s harmonica and Dad’s fiddle,” Virginia told her. “It was mostly our aunts and uncles. They played for dances and just for fun. They were pretty popular around here.”
Mrs. Reida explained to her that they had to make their own music in those days, that the only radio they had then was battery operated.
Jumping in to describe for her just what went in to listening to that radio, Clara explained, “They charged the battery with a little wind charger, as they called it. It was a little bitty windmill out on the machine shed. Dad would run out there with the battery and hook it on the charger. The wind would charge one while we were listening to another already charged.”
Margaret felt her own battery charging. Living close to the land like this, being able to harness that wind to make things function. Hard work, yes, but being more independent, self-sufficient. This appealed to every part of her.
As for family, she sure didn’t have a sense of her roots like Clara did. Clara knew just where her grandfather came from, and even before that. To know that Rudolph had been in seminary but had become disillusioned with the Church. To understand about the Austrian Empire, that their family was from a part of it that was known as Moravia, Bohemia. That Granddad Rudolph Reida came to this country with two of his brothers because they didn’t want to be recruited into the Emperor’s Army.
He’d become a U.S. citizen on July 11, 1892 and moved to Kansas in 1893 where he met Mary Thiel, a Hungarian immigrant in 1894. All this seemed like gold to her. Family gold. Not to mention a good history lesson. She didn’t know much about these things, and she thought they were exciting. They were all real things, all connected to people she now knew and cared about.
These were worlds beyond the Kansas or Oakland world and knowing about them made being there in Rago, Kansas even richer. She thought about the Kansas horizon, and that of Oakland, and on to the Pacific. How amazing it was that all this was now in her life because of meeting Clara at Girl Scout camp. Because she and Clara had made all that mischief, had become friends, kind of like sisters, and maybe one day they’d really be business partners in that ranch. She sure hoped so. Another world, another horizon. (pp. 49-51)
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From Chapter 8, Straight from the Heart:
Margaret and Clara both inspired [Danny] because they were always doing something for someone. He couldn’t get over the fact that they could be let down or hurt so many times and still not turn their backs on someone in need. But he noticed that they were particularly interested in helping people who wanted to help themselves, who strove to be self-reliant but had just hit some obstacle that was making that difficult. Like some of the kids they took in till they got over a rough spot, or a single mom who wanted to get some training so she could better support her family. As with Ginnie and others in difficulty, and there were lots of them over the years.
In a different way, they’d taken Danny in, too, right into their hearts. He thought they felt protective of him, wanting only the best for him. Although Margaret, in particular, didn’t always trust him to make the right decision. This was the case with his marriage to Cindy, whom Margaret didn’t know well. So she took it upon herself to test Cindy to see if she was really the right sort for him.
It happened soon after Danny and Cindy were married, when they were at the ranch during hunting season. Cindy, exhausted from the long trip up from Oklahoma, was taking a nap on the big recliner in the front room. At the same time, Margaret was butchering an elk and put aside the heart; she had something special in mind. She slipped into the house and gently laid the elk heart on the sleeping Cindy’s leg, then tiptoed to the kitchen to wait and watch.
Cindy snoozed on. One of the cats spotted the tempting treat, jumped up on the recliner and started chewing on the heart, which in turn woke Cindy. She looked down at the cat and the elk heart and without missing a beat, flipped the heart off her leg onto the floor. And went right back to sleep.
That did it for Margaret. She didn’t get the scream she’d expected, didn’t get much of a reaction at all. No further testing was needed. Cindy was in. (pp. 110-111)