My uncle was a horse


I have one major rule I follow when I write:  Do no harm. It’s the first rule I teach my journalism students. As easy as it seems to keep, we all break it, though rarely intentionally. Words are powerful. Occasionally they get away from us.

So in keeping with my primary DO NO HARM rule, I hesitate to print this blog. But it’s a story that has stuck with me for decades. It deserves to be told, and I certainly mean no harm.

My earliest influence on me as a writer may have been my great uncle, Charlie Pat, a WW2 veteran. I was much too young to understand the complexities of my uncle’s condition. All I knew is that something happened to him in the war. I was told he was hit my shrapnel and suffered brain trauma. He was never the same.

Of course, I never knew him to be any other way.

My Uncle Charlie Pat thought he was Black Beauty.

Yes, I’m talking about the horse in Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel. I don’t remember how old I was at the time. I just remember I was horse crazy, and Black Beauty was my favorite book.

Back in the old days, we didn’t have Mindcraft or other computer programs to enhance our creativity. We had to rely on household ordinary stuff. My favorite “toy” was a black broom, the closest thing I had to a stick horse. And I rode it nonstop at my grandmother’s house, where, as you might guess, my Uncle Charlie Pat lived for a while.

I don’t think my parents or my aunts and uncles realized Charlie Pat thought he was a horse, but I did. I was too young to roll my eyes or criticize. I just sat down in the chair next to him in my grandparent’s itty bitty den, and I listened to all the stories he told of what it was like to be Black Beauty.

I never laughed. I had read the story at least a dozen times, and I knew every detail by heart. So did Charlie Pat. And when he told me the story, he told it in first person, just like the book. I sat enthralled. I knew my uncle wasn’t really a horse, but I bought into his reality, and I listened intently as he retold each chapter.

I always thanked him for sharing with me, and he smiled. There’s nothing more wonderful for an artist than to have an appreciative audience.

As odd as it may sound, Charlie Pat may have been the first person to inspire me to write. Although he didn’t write Black Beauty, his convincing personal narratives held me spellbound. He was able to quote every page verbatim.

As I grew older, I started to write. I became the characters in my stories. Today they’re bound in a three-prong folder, sitting on a bookshelf in my son’s room. He doesn’t even know they’re there. Maybe his children will find them someday and be inspired by their crazy grandmother who thought at age nine that she could be a writer, somewhat similar to my great uncle, thinking he was a horse.

If you think about it, all of us are quirky in our own way, and that’s what makes us so beautiful. We are works of art, but some of us are an acquired taste.

I was always perceived as that shy kid in class who never talked. I hated that stereotype. I’m not really shy. I just don’t talk much. In my decades here on earth I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve really opened up to.

But there’s a reason for that, I think. God gave me the gift of listening. God gave me acute hearing and sensitive (in)sight. I can see what others cannot. He also gave me the gift of storytelling.

I guess I am the only person in my family to interview a living, breathing Black Beauty proxy.

As I said, I was a major fan of Anna Sewell. Charlie Pat brought the book to life for me. And while his reality had been suspended long before I was born, I learned how to suspend my reality and to enjoy living in the moment whenever I took the time to be still and to listen to him. Charlie Pat pulled me into the story. For a short time in the den of my grandparents’ house, I talked to Black Beauty.

And I think that’s one reason I have been compelled to write ever since. Books let us live a thousand lives. Charlie Pat, for some reason, spent the last years of his life living as a horse.

Go ahead. Laugh. Life is funny. And frustrating. And tragic. But I’ll take funny over the other options any day.

What unusual occurrences in your life sparked your desire to write?

13 thoughts on “My uncle was a horse

  1. This was very nicely written- thank you for sharing. One thing I have noticed through writing is that I don’t need to worry about doing any harm if I am writing about someone for whom I harbor no resentments for. If you truly care about and accept somebody, that is what is going to come through in your writing. And that is what has shown in your writing about your uncle. Nice work.

  2. Thanks so much for the words of wisdom. I just don’t want to embarrass anyone unintentionally. I HATE having my picture taken because I don’t like all of my imperfections. My fear is that I will make someone feel overly self conscious. But thank you for reassuring me that my words are true. I really do appreciate your taking the time to read. 🙂

  3. Ever heard the Roger miller song My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died, I had a silly uncle myself if you are at the house when i am Teresa remind me to tell you the best stories about him Have a great Week

  4. Oh, the stories I could tell — if’n I, too, didn’t abide by the “do no harm” rule. Not that I would purposefully offend anyone, but some stories are best left untold… A condensed version of the facts = four generations of schizophrenics make for some mighty powerful experiences. Fortunately I’ve been spared (some would question that assertion! HA), but ’tis why I chose not to have children. I don’t want to (potentially) doom a child to a lifetime of mental illness or to plague society with such an individual.

    Anyway,… Granny was afraid of lightning and made us wear rubber shoes at her house. Pa used to pull quarters from my ears and invite strangers to dinner. Great Grandma Bryant smoked a pipe and Pa Bryant made moonshine. Mom had “special powers” – whatever that means. George is certain that he is one of the two apostles in the end times. Oh gosh, I could go on forever, and that’s just about folks (except George) who are dead.

    Not really sure if any of this sparked my desire to write though… I was an early reader. I “ran away” when I was 7 years old. The only think I took with me was “The Reader’s Digest”. I was seven. LOL I went to the end of our road – a big field – and stayed several hours reading before i went home. Nobody knew that I had even been gone. 😦 I think THAT may have been the beginning. I think I woulda liked Charlie Pat. 🙂

    • You are one of the best writers I know. You are a diamond in the rough. I say rough because you have not been discovered by the masses yet. I love the details about your family. I have this really, really great idea for a book that won’t be still in my head, and it’s based on eccentric family members. I also have a book idea based on the oddities of a small town. As a teacher, I have a new story every day. I can’t tell anyone. I certainly can’t publish it. Even when these kids get old, I am afraid they will be embarrassed. I never thought my story in the Chicken Soup book would be published. It was all true. Heartwarming, but I was afraid I would hurt someone.

      I am too cautious. I have had a recent epiphany, one of my new favorite words. I have always wanted to be transparent but now more than ever. I want to be a nice person, but I can’t be cookie cutter nice. I’m just not. I am not mean, but I am rotten, or can be at times. I have a “mean streak,” but I’m not mean spirited. I am extremely impulsive at times, and that gets me into trouble. And my romantic nature (as in adventure) gets me into even more trouble.

      I can’t deny all that. I guess I have to stop worrying what people will think of me and just BE. And when I talk to people, I will have to be transparent. The words I say may not always be easy. They may ruffle feathers, but to be transparent, I have to say them. But ruffling feathers isn’t the same as doing harm, is it?

      • Ruffling feathers may indeed make for a more attractive plume. “Doing Harm” would be to yank out said feathers, use them in a pillow, and eat the naked bird for dinner. LOL

        Diamond in the rough… I like that. Then again, Rubies are my stone. 😉 Not my birthstone, but just the stone that is most ME. I, too, must be more transparent. That is probably my biggest fear about writing — people will know the real me or see inside my soul or somehow possess part of me…. I only own myself, but all of me is mine.

  5. Actually… you are the one who inspired me to write you silly girl. Now if I could only become rich and famous, I could tell that story on talk shows and national TV and who knows where else. But I won’t tell it here.

  6. I can’t think of any unusual occurences…. My mom and her dad inspired me to enjoy stories and reading. They would read stories using different voices for different characters and with emotion and humor. My sisters and I loved to listen and laugh.

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