Have you ever pulled a cake out of the oven thinking it was done, only to discover that beneath the seemingly baked crust flowed raw batter? Sometimes lifeâ€™s hurts are like that too.Â Outward appearances can fool a person into thinking the pain has healed, but a gentle prod here or there discovers the truthâ€¦there is still much that needs to be addressed.
Last Friday night my husband and I watched the documentary, Buck, the story of the man known as the horse whisperer. Starting at the age of three, Buck Brannaman, and his brother, Smokie, were part of a traveling trick-roping team developed and promoted by their father. The two brothers even made a Sugar Pops cereal commercial at the height of their celebrity. To the outside world Buck and Smokie were living a wholesome and highly successful life. But the truth was hidden beneath forced smiles and tiny cowboy boots.
Buckâ€™s father was an abusive alcoholic. The only sense of survival and love came through Buckâ€™s mother, who passed away while he was still very young.Â He said he remembered thinking hope had died with her.
In the DVD bonus material Buck tells a story about his love for a particular bull calf. In a way the calf was an escape, a warm and gentle life that didnâ€™t judge or hurt Buck. Even as the calf grew into a sizable bull, Buck rode on his back and felt safe.Â One day Buckâ€™s father said they had work to do. Buck was about six years old at the time and obediently followed his father out to the pasture. Without comment or warning, Buckâ€™s father shot the bull in the head. He then made Buck watch as he skinned and gutted the bull. Buck was shattered.
As I watched the DVD I felt increasingly uncomfortable. Soon tears were flowing down my face and little snuffle-sobs followed. Buckâ€™s story was one I had lived too. My mother was not an alcoholic, but she did distain my â€œsoft heart.â€Â I suppose she thought if she exposed me to the realities of farm life, and the role of animals within that life, she would cure me of caring so much.
How can I forget the day I went to feed my favorite rabbit only to find it missing? Guess what she served for dinner that night and tried to trick me into eating?Â The thing is, my mom knew about the special bond I had with that rabbit. Â Iâ€™d been caring for our rabbits for years but none had been as special to me as this one. She didnâ€™t have to kill itâ€”she at times traded rabbits with neighbors for breeding stock, or she could have let me keep it as a pet. But no, none of that for me. Even now I canâ€™t imagine her mindset. What drove her to enact such sadistic cruelty on a young child?
My horse, Pal, was another example. From the day of Palâ€™s birth he was mine, and he was special. I can still feel his silky golden coat, and see his wavy silver mane and tail glowing in the sunshine. We spent many hours playing in the pasture, and as he grew I began the process of gentling him to ride. My mother was a firm believer in dominanceâ€¦a horse was to be broken and bent to the human will. I preferred a kinder method, one of understanding and partnership.Â Shortly after he turned two, I slowly began saddling and riding Pal. He never once tried to buck me off. In fact, riding together felt like a natural progression of our relationship.
One day I came home from school and noticed he wasnâ€™t in the pasture with the other horses.Â I checked the barn and he wasnâ€™t there either. Finally I asked mom if she knew where he was. Her answer, spoken with cold voice and dead eyes, â€œI sold him.â€ Like Buck, I was shattered. Â Mom knew I loved that horse, and yet there had been no warning, no explanation, as to why she sold him. It was done, get over it.
Many decades have passed since those hurtful moments and I thought I had forgotten and forgiven. And yet, the pain remains under just the thinnest of veneers.
On Friday night I cried for Buckâ€™s childhood, and I cried for mine too.