Small but Determined

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Long ago, heroes were men like Odysseus and Achilles, Jesus Christ and George Washington. Now we tend to think of firefighters, policemen, and well-loved relatives. What about one woman who held her family together, even when her own world was falling apart?

I met Stacey Hebblethwaite at a blood drive in February of ’08. She was large; tall, big-boned, a little overweight, to be honest. At first, she was a little bit intimidating. Then she smiled. Have you ever seen a person smile so brilliantly that it seemed literal sunbeams sprang forth? Well, if you haven’t, imagine it. That’s the only way I know how to describe her smile. I instantly liked her. I know, how cliché. But really, I did. Somehow or another, we got talking about horses—my favorite topic. I said I’d been riding for five years.
“Where do you ride now?”
“Haskins Farm.”
“No way! I live right down the street! We used to board our horse, Steel, there. Would you like to come sometime?”
We exchanged numbers and she agreed to let my friend Emily tag along. All this from a woman I had just met. Talk about generosity!

The next Saturday, after finishing our work and having a lesson, we bundled up and began to walk down the street towards her house. It was a longer walk than we had expected, but when we got there, we were rewarded with five beautiful horses and a miniature donkey coming to greet us. Two horses stood off to the side in a paddock adjoining a quaint little barn. There was a pretty bay, we later found out he was called Dreamer, and the most gorgeous palomino I had ever seen, named Pumpkin. A little ways off, the other three horses were roped off with the miniature donkey, a loveable little fellow by the name of Chester. The other occupants were a good-sized chestnut pony by the name of Dakota, a grey horse named Steel with the look of a veteran, and a monstrous black gelding with a mellow shine in his eyes named Galahad. We spent the next half-hour or so caressing the horses and listening to Stacey as she energetically told us stories about her children, her horses, how she had acquired them, all of their little quirks, and anything else that came to mind. When it was time to go, it was much easier said than done. We repeatedly told her we had to go. These comments brushed aside, she told us more stories for another fifteen minutes. Finally, we left.

We returned to the Hebblethwaite Farm many times. Our friend Sam, from the barn, began to come with us. She fell in love with Galahad. Dreamer quickly became Emily’s favorite and Pumpkin, mine. Pumpkin really belonged to Mr. Hebblethwaite. Peter, as he would rather be called. He was something else. He would talk on and on, just like his wife, but his conversation centered on his children. His face beamed proudly, brighter than any star, even the sun itself! You may think by now that I am an incredible exaggerator, but I tell only what my memories reveal. I can still see him now, standing at the window between the barn and the run-in shed where I stood brushing the dreadlocks out of Pumpkin’s tail. He spoke of his son, Josh, who auditioned and received a small role in Friday Night Lights. By the way Peter talked about it, you’d have though Josh was the star. And to Peter, he was. He would talk on and on about Nicole and his grandchildren. And he talked plenty about Ashley, his little cowgirl who was really a bit old to be considered 'little', but you know how dads are. He loved to talk endlessly about her feats on horseback, the large and headstrong horses she had willed into submission, the ribbons she’d won, and the hard work she’d put into it all. In his eyes, his family and horses were second only to God. Anyone could see that.

One day, Emily and I were riding while Peter worked on the front garden. Just as his wife was saying how nice it was not to have to worry about people watching you, like at Haskins, Peter piped up.

“You know something,” he said. “English riders are always so serious. Western riders smile!” After this comment, I made sure to have an expansive smile on my face each time I rounded the corner near him. I can still picture the way he laughed at that. The afternoons that passed at that little backyard farm were always beautiful and sprinkled with sunshine, even if the sky was grey. Even the day that we spent hours raking rocks out of the paddock was surprisingly fun.

Then one day, we were told that Peter was in the hospital. He had a mass in his stomach. The doctors would try to remove it. Well, it ended up being about the size of a football, as Stacey later informed us. I prayed harder than I ever have for his recovery. But it didn’t come. Days turned into weeks and he got worse and worse. My parents and a group of friends painted their barn red. He came out to see us that day. I hadn’t seen him in several weeks. I hardly recognized him, so gaunt, it made me want to cry. I walked around the corner where no one but Pumpkin could see me and gave in. That night I prayed flat out on my belly, on the floor, in earnest supplication. It had been a long time since I’d prayed so humbly before my Maker. I hadn’t realized how bad he’d gotten until I saw him that day. A principle I wrestled with hard especially after I saw him next—in pictures at the wake—was that God knows best. Even then Stacey hardly cried. I couldn’t stop. Even now, I cry thinking about him. How could I have met him only a few short months ago and yet be so troubled? He had meant so much to me, no matter how long I had known him. At the celebration of life, I sat next to Sam and held her hand. She may have thought it was for her benefit, but really it was for mine. I had been the one to tell her about Peter’s return to his eternal home initially, and that formed somewhat of a bond between us in this ordeal. I remember watching Stacey while people told stories about her husband, wonderful stories, some funny, and some heroic. I perceived something strange about Stacey that night, something I fully comprehend, but didn’t expect. When she cried, it wasn’t as you might think a loving wife would mourn for her husband. It was as a young child mourns for her best friend moving, but knows that she will see her playmate again. This was the way Stacey cried. I say that just to show her enormous faith. She knew that she would see her husband again, on the other side of those pearly gates.

Since then, she has remained standing strong. She went back to school so that she could get a job that paid enough to keep her five horses. Every time I have seen her since, she has smiled and hugged me as though I needed comforting, not her. She is unlike any woman I know. She gives until she has nothing left—and then gives even more. Stacey is my hero. She taught me, by example, how to weather the worst of storms and remain standing, holding God’s hand. And that’s how I picture my hero in my mind’s eye; standing on top of a mountain, seeming small but determined, holding the hand of the Almighty Father.





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