Monday, December 17, 2007

Mel of Yesteryear

I turned 50 Sunday. It was tough. I'd been dreading it for months, and with other things that were out of control in my life, I really struggled through it. Today, it's not so bad. I know I won't have to do that again!

When I was at my mom's on Thanksgiving, I raided her photo stash. There weren't as many as I remembered. I've got four brothers and they beat me to a lot of stuff. But I made copies and I'm taking the originals back to Mom on Christmas.

But going through these pictures made me realize how far I've come. What you're looking at here is an eight-year-old boy who spent his summers on a horse, crawdad fishing, chasing snakes, and investigating every interesting hole that was open in the five acres of oil company land next to where Daddy had his service station in Oklahoma City.

The service station was a Fina unit on NE 23rd and Bartell Road. We lived there from 1965 to 1969, and moved to Seminole right before the lunar landing. Things have changed over there as well.

Daddy had been gone from the family for a few months and we hadn't gotten to see him. When we arrived, he had a trailer house out in back of the station for us to live in, and a couple of Shetland ponies that weren't quite broke. I ended up breaking them. I broke horses from the age of seven till I was a freshman in college. (Now I worry when my kids play organized sports! I didn't think anything about getting hurt when I was that age, and I guess most adults didn't either. Also, the horse in this picture is a Shetland, not one of the full-sized horses -- paints, appaloosas, and quarterhorse mix -- that we broke for other people.)

People talk about guys being cowboys these days because they like to ride horses, be around livestock, and drive old pickup trucks. I wasn't. Daddy had horses because he wanted them, and we rode them for something to do -- he often made us quit riding them long before we'd had enough, but we found out you could ride a horse into the ground. We ate the livestock. And all there was to drive was old pickup trucks.

I never saw myself as a cowboy. I was just a kid who liked to ride horses and was willing to crawl up on anything anybody could put a bridle on. I've got the injuries to prove it, though we didn't discover most of them till I was older. I got thrown off, bit, stomped, kicked, and generally abused by everything I managed to throw a leg over. I thought it was great fun. Then again, I didn't get killed so that was a plus. Growing up like that probably made me the adrenaline junkie I am now.

I look back on those days and can't believe that was me. But it was. I've got the memories to prove it. The horse's name was Cocoa and the birddog's name was Noble. He was the first birddog I'd ever seen at that time, and he was a constant companion for me all over that eighty acres.

That saddle I'm sitting on was mostly new and cost a whopping $50, which Daddy had to pay out. For a year I rode horses without one. You don't break horses with saddles on them because you don't want the saddles torn up. Riders, Daddy always thought, were expendable. I figured I was always smart enough and skilled enough to stay on top of a horse that was trying to throw me off, knock me off under a tree limb, or shed me through strands of barbed wire. Mostly I was right -- eventually. I never found an unbroken horse I could sit the first time, and some times not even the first day. It took a lot of bruises to break a horse with spirit.

Of course, back then we didn't have video games and our only action figures were stick people with capes. Horses didn't stand a chance against a bored kid in need of an action fix. Horses got tired. Back then, I was ready to go all day.


Skeeter said...

Happy Birthday, Mel. Fishing, riding and hunting snakes sounds like a fine old time to me. I know what you mean about the livestock stomping, kicking and biting! You know, to this day I still get a little thrill taking a package of meat out of the freezer :-)

Mel Odom said...

Oh man, does that say something about us or what? Daddy raised pigs too, and the only revenge you could get on one of those ill-tempered brutes is breakfast: bacon and sausage, baby!

Angela/SciFiChick said...

Hope you had a wonderful Birthday!
And a Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Katie said...

That is such a great picture. I never knew that you broke horses, that is very cool. It's nice to be able to look back and remember the good things.

T.C. said...

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas, Mel!

Oh, by the way, I just reviewed your awesome book Hellgate: London: Exodus! I hope you get the chance to check it out!

Rinda Elliott said...

Happy Belated! That picture is priceless. ;)

Ron Simpson said...

I grew up spending the summers on my grandma's farm in Chandler. good times. We did not have horses, so I got to walk over the 160 acres. All her neighbors had 160 acres or more and they let me tromp through them. I could walk for an hour and not see another person. Ah those were good days.

I don't think 50 is that bad. Isn't 50 the new 30? Anyway, happy birthday my friend.