Saturday, February 23, 2013

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Naming Stick Horses

I have been thinking a lot about the beginning and end of my book.  I like works that come around full circle. I don't know what this is officially called, but I have always called it placing bookends in a story. More or less, you place smiler scenes, ideas, or themes at the beginning and end. Here is an example from my book. The first scene happens near the beginning, when I am still a boy. The second scene happens near the end, when I am a father. 

I have also been struggling to come up with a good title for my book. After working on the two sections below, I am thinking of titling it Naming Stick Horses. What do you all think?

Section one: When I am a boy
We barbequed every Sunday during the summer of ‘88. To keep me away from the grill, Dad made me a stick horse. Reaching in his left jean pocket, he pulled out his brown Old Timer pocketknife; the same knife he never left the house without; the same knife he often carefully ran across a whetstone while sitting at the dinner table. He unfolded it to carve eyes, nostrils, and a long slender mane into a stick of aspen snapped from the trees lining the west side of our home. Shavings curled from the wood as he drew in close, head turned to the side. He exhaled, breathing life into it, and in that moment, he seemed capable of doing anything and having done everything, his hands working with magical precision. Dad held out the stick horse. I reached for it, but he kept his grip on it.
“You can’t have a horse without a name,” he said, his jaw tight and his brow flat. “How’d you like it if we never named you? Have to snap our fingers when we wanted you. Let’s see. Let’s see. What will we name it? Goofy-Clint’s-horse?”
“No!” I said, laughing.
“How about… Messy-Room-The-Horse?”
“No!” I said.
Dad went on suggesting names— Stinky: the horse for a smelly kid, Raman-Noodle-the-Horse (my favorite food at the time), A-Horse-Named-Homework, The-Horse-That-Gave-His-Dad-A-Hug, The-Horse-That-Wouldn’t-Take-Out-The-Garbage, and so on. Some of the names were just funny, but many revealed something he knew about me, or something he longed for me to do to better myself. It was his way of showing his love without having to get mushy, or getting me to improve without having to get on my case. It was the way he worked as a father. It wasn’t abrasive or domineering. It was perfect.
Eventually we settled on naming the horse Donatello, the name of my favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
Later, I held the stick horse between my legs with my left hand and skipped around the yard, spurring the stick horse every so often with my right hand while making clicking sounds and saying, “nay.” I sounded just like horses I’d seen on neighboring farms. I remember an overwhelming feeling that everything was exactly as it should be.
 I watched Dad tend our yellow and black barbeque. He stood over it wearing cut off jean shorts, a white t-shirt, and flip-flops, his right hand resting on his hip, and the left holding a metal spatula. I asked Dad why he liked barbequing so much. He paused, and thought for a moment.
“I don’t know,” he said and laughed a little, “I like burgers. And I suppose I like the heat.” He lifted me up so I could feel the hot air coming off the grill. “Feels nice, don’t it?”
“It feels like clothes from the dryer,” I said.
Dad laughed, “Yeah. I suppose it does.
He looked thoughtful as he flipped burgers. And he looked calculated as he leaned in close to check the meat. I liked how he whistled as he placed cheese on the patties, and I laughed as he quickly drew his hand back from the heat and shook it.  Near the end, Mom came out and stood beside him. Dad showed her the burgers, his face rich with pride like he’d caught a wild animal to feed his family.
“What do you think, Ladybug?”
Later, Dad sat at the dinner table scooping mashed potatoes in heavy thuds and gazing over the family, his elbows on the table, steam rising from his plate. He watched over my brother and me as we ate beef from on our grandfathers’ farm. His eyes were ancient and knowledgeable like long dark caves.

 Section two: When I am a Father
While playing hide and seek with Tristan, I stumbled upon a slender branch that had fallen from one of the trees in our front yard. I went in the house and searched for Dad’s Old Timer pocketknife, the one acquired after his death,  but couldn’t find it. I fetched a small kitchen knife instead and carved eyes, a long nose, and a slender mane. Tristan watched as I leaned in close to the wood, his soft face curious, eyes filled with wonderment like I was breathing life into it.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“A stick horse.”
The features didn’t seem nearly as clear as the ones my Dad produced so many years ago, but it was my first attempt. I assumed I would get better. I placed the stick horse between my legs and rode it around the yard. Tristan laughed and reached for it with both hands. But I held it up and out of his reach.
“You can’t have a horse without a name,” I said. “What if we never named you? How would we get your attention? Hmmm… What will we name it? Horse-for-a-Short-Kid?”
“No!” Tristan said, giggling.
“How about Gooey-Mac-the-horse?”
“No!” he said.
And just like Dad did when I was child, I listed names that were silly, but also told something that I knew about Tristan, or something I wanted him to work on: “Can’t-Keep-Quiet-in-Church-the-Horse, The-Horse-that-Splashed-in-the-Tub, Underwear-the-Horse, and so on. Eventually we decided on Spiderman-the-Horse, Tristan’s favorite Marvel hero. I watched him ride the stick horse around the yard, spurring it every so often with his right hand, his short legs bouncing with joy, and thought about my Dad, about the summer of ’88, when everything seemed to be just right. I smiled.


Dustin Barros said...

I like the idea, and I like the stories. Spiderman would totally destroy Donatello question