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About Grace

There was once a little girl who found herself fascinated with horses. She constantly wanted to watch them, on television or in person. She begged her mommy to take her to equestrian events, and begged her daddy to get tickets for the rodeo. She tuned-in all the horse shows on television, including reruns of Mr. Ed, and really old Western movies. She played with miniature horse and pony dolls, and combed their nylon manes with a tiny brush held daintily in her fingertips. She dreamed of the day when she could have a real live horse of her own.

Her parents wisely asked her to wait, until she was grown-up enough to handle the responsibility of ownership. They told her it would be a lot of work. They sent her to a summer camp where horseback riding was the main activity, and she came back just beaming with joy and chattering about how wonderful it was to work with these magnificent and powerful animals. "Mommy! Daddy!" she said, "I absolutely have to have one."

Finally on her birthday the next year, they drove her to a neighbor's farm and walked her around the back of the farmer's house to a small stable in the rear. There, standing idly in the stall, was her very own horse. She squealed with delight, named him "Drake", and began making plans to win the next Kentucky Derby. She was unconcerned that Drake was actually a mare, and was not exactly thoroughbred stock. She promised to love him forever and ever and ever.

During the next week, she rode her bicycle to the farm every single day, and brought Drake out for training. She spent hours in the hot sun, running him in circles on a very long rope, and admiring the steady rhythm of his movements, clop cloppity-clop. Along the way she noticed he was a she; and so she changed the horse's name to "Grace" which was the most feminine name the could think of, to sound like Drake. Sometimes she still slipped up and called it Drake. Then other variations, like Gracie Drake, and Dragon Grace, and Drac'o'face. It didn't seem to matter what she called this beast, since it was not well trained and generally did not answer well to any prompt or command. The horse was gentle and followed the lead rope, but simply wouldn't listen to a word.

At the end of the week, her parents reminded her that the horse's stall needed cleaning. It should have been done every single day, but the girl had forgotten... Well not quite forgotten. Actually she had avoided doing this chore, and secretly hoped that someone else would take care of the necessary maintenance. But now it seemed she could not escape doing the dirty work. The pitchfork felt heavy as lead, and as she scraped and dug beneath piles of dung in the horse's stall, she grumbled under her breath. "Dung is Gross" she called the mare, instead of Dragon Grace. The horse just nickered and whinnied, unbothered about her name-calling or her attitude.

School began soon after, and she found that there was little time left in her schedule to enjoy riding or training her horse. She had to rush in the afternoon, riding her bicycle to the neighbor's farm, to muck the stall and feed oats and straw, before dark. Cycling back home, tired and grumpy, she kept chanting "Dung is Gross, Dung is Gross" with every turn of the pedals. She got home and looked at herself in the full-length mirror, and found that her hair was tangled with bits of straw, and her shoes coated with poop smelling filth. Her white school uniform top was half soaked through with sweat, and caked with dust. It wasn't worth it. The light was gone outside and she hadn't gotten to meet her friends, or have any fun at all.

Occasionally she skipped a day, preferring to play with her friends at the park. She had a lot more fun on those afternoons. She knew she ought to be taking care of Gracie, but figured the horse was big and strong enough to do without, and get along fine.

As seasons changed, Fall weather was bringing shorter and shorter days with longer nights. Caring for Grace was not merely distasteful; it seemed a nearly impossible chore. All the work was done by the light of a single lightbulb that hung in the stable, and the dark corners of the stall seemed to harbor scary things. She imagined that mice and spiders, ghosts and goblins and venomous snakes lurked there. She stabbed wildly with the pitchfork to make sure nothing could attack her from the corners, before mucking those deep pockets of darkness. She fled from the stable each night, with tears streaming down her face, fighting to subdue her unreasonable panic.

Finally she decided it wasn't worth the trouble.

She asked her mother to sit down for a talk, and explained how she loathed and despised the daily work of keeping up this horse. She begged her mom to hire someone who could do this chore for her, leaving more time for schoolwork. She figured if she promised to improve in her studies, then her parents would surely agree. But her mom looked grim as she said it would need to be discussed with Daddy first.

Later that night, both parents led her into the living room and sat her down for a conference. They told her that she could quit caring for Grace, only if she agreed to sell the horse. If they would keep the horse then the dreadful chores must continue.

She thought about it, long and hard, for the next few days. Each time she went to the stable, fought her fears and overcame the darkness, to pitch the dung from Gracie's stall, she was snuffling and crying and muttering and complaining, and begging the heavens for mercy. She felt tormented, and thought it was unfair that her parents made her do all this nasty work. She was bitter and tired and mad because having a horse wasn't fun anymore, wasn't beautiful and exciting, wasn't regal and noble at all. Grace had matted hair and hollow ribs, from too many days of neglect.

Finally her mom and dad found her after school, laying face-down on a tearstained pillow, face red from crying and crying. She had not tended to Grace. She had not done her homework. She had not made a decision. She didn't know what to do. And they spoke with her, and said they had made the decision themselves. The poor unfortunate Dragon mare would be sent to a better home.

Ashamed as she was to admit it, the girl felt relieved. A small part of her would miss the opportunity to ride and train this animal. But in greater part, she was glad to shed her endless labors and frustrations.

Three things were learned by this, each of them sad but important to know: She learned that forever and ever and ever, sometimes, doesn't last so long. Also she found that, sometimes, when people deny us something, it is a kindness. Finally she understood that, sometimes, wanting a certain thing may be nicer than the reality of having it.

 
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