Oakfield first day

At Oakfield Elementary School, Oakfield, Tennessee. First day, first grade. 1963. Personal collection.

Ed. Note: This story appeared in the Nov. 1, 2012 edition of the Sun Times.

In July of this year (2012) I took a well-earned trip back to the South, driving to Tennessee over the week of the Fourth to visit with family and to relax a bit, visit old friends, and even spend some time checking out my old elementary school in our community, Oakfield, which was on the outskirts of Jackson, Tennessee.

Also on my “to do” list was clearing out my storage unit.

After my parents had passed away, I ended up with a large rental unit with a lot of boxes filled with a fair amount of junk. It was time to go through the mess and figure out what needed to be kept and what needed to be tossed.

Typically, this would have been about a one-day task, but when you are in the South during a record-breaking heat wave, you limit the amount of time you spend in a closed-up metal building.

The rental unit was located Columbia, Tennessee - my last location in my home state. I had lived there from 2001-2004, or thereabouts, while running production at the daily newspaper there.

When I opened the unit I was reminded that in the South you tend to see spiders,  lots of spiders. The unit was full of them, so the fellow that runs the storage site came over with a sprayer filled with some sort of super deadly bug killer.  “I’ll spray a little here and there, and that will take care of ‘em,” he said.

A “pssssssssst” here and a “psssssssssst” there wasn’t doing the job, so  I grabbed the sprayer from his hands and let ‘er rip. “I was trying to avoid getting the stuff on the furniture,” he said. Yeah, right. We’re talking Brown Recluse spiders by the bucket load.

“You need to let the stuff work for a day, to kill them all.” Well, my first day of cleaning is shot.

The next morning I show up and start moving boxes out into the parking area where I can go through them and begin sorting.  After I dig a little into the shed, I see that the creepy-crawlies are still alive, so I take a break and head to the hardware store in town to grab a few bug bombs, or fumigators.

When I wrap up for the day, I set off the bombs, using twice what is recommended. The next morning nothing is moving in the shed.

As I dig deep into the pile of boxes, I begin to find thousands of photos, many I had never seen. Some were the typical “Here we are at a Grand Canyon parking lot” type; some were old family photos, going back to the First World War.

In one of the albums I came across photos of my sister, Janet, and me.

Janer on Abe with grandpa

HOLD ON TIGHT, GRANDPA! Janet on her pony, Abe, at our grandparent's farm near Dickson, Tennessee. Personal collection.

Now, in this pile of memories were a few that really stood out… photos of me and my Sis, who is ten years older than me, on horseback.

Well, “horse” might be stretching things a tad.

Dad and Janet ride

Our dad on top of one of grandpa's plow mules while Janet rides alongside on Abe. Personal collection.

You see, my mom and dad always tried their best to make sure that Janet and I were treated the same. If Janet had a pony, then Darryl would have a pony. The intent was fine, the results, not so much.

So, at some point my dad went looking for a suitable pony for me. Never mind that I did not really want a pony, I was going to have one. I never asked for a horse, or pony. Motorcycles? Yep. Wanted one since the first time I put a playing card on my bicycle so that it would snap in the spokes making a noise, that to a young 'un, sounded lightly like a motorcycle.

Dad’s experience with horses was non-existent. He had grown up with plow mules, but that’s a long way from a pony.

Darryl and Trigger

Me and Trigger. Personal collection.

For about a year I tried to ride tall in the saddle. But my saddle time was always brief, as Ol’ Trigger would do her best to put my arse in the dust. The end of my equine adventure came on the day that Trigger took off, just-a-hell-a-gettin’-it through a pasture heading strait for an oak tree that had two trunks. The tree formed a perfect “V” shape, and my mount beat a trail through the tree. The trunks caught my legs and I slid over saddle and horse-rump, landing rear-end first in a cloud of dust.

That evening, dad and I came to an understanding that I would continue the Flowers’ male tradition of being better under the hood of a muscle car than on the back of a horse.

Over the many years since then, my memory has done its best to shield me from my traumatic experiences. Yes, in my mind, it was no longer just a pony that had injured my pride. In my mind’s eye, Ol’ Trigger was a fire-breathing she-demon, a Clydesdale in stature... a giant among horses.

But here in my hand was the evidence to the contrary: a photo of me atop my pony, my feet dang near dragging the ground. It looks like I should have been carrying my pony.

Digging a little deeper into the photos, I found photos of Janet, atop her pony, Abe.

Of course, being a younger brother, I had always assumed my Sis was the expert rider.  Isn’t that always the way it is with older sisters?

But there were no photos of her doing trick rides, or even broadies in the dirt. As a matter of fact, in almost every photo of her and Abe I noticed that she had adult supervision. Either our dad or granddad was almost always in the photo, standing with a firm grip on Abe.

When I got back to Fairfield, I scanned the pictures and shared them with Janet via Facebook. When Sis saw the pictures, she told me that she had not asked for a pony, either.

“I hated Abe,” she told me. “Every time I got on him he would take to bucking, trying his best to throw me off.”

She went on to explain the root of the problem was the fact that our dad was cheap and not a good judge of horses.

Sis told the story that when she could not ride Abe, dad went to the man that sold him the pony, explaining that Janet could not get control of the bucking bronc he had sold him.

“Oh, that pony is not for riding! That’s a ‘circus pony’!” the horse dealer answered.

Come to think of it, I think the circus passed through Jackson, Tennessee just before I got Ol’ Trigger.