My mother grew up on a ranch in Nebraska. A real ranch, with a cool name, Skull Lake Ranch. The ranch was a cattle ranch. It had horses, dogs, cats, pastures, tractors, hay, airplanes, and of course cattle.
More about my childhood ranch experiences: Hay… Hey!
I spent many holidays and summers playing, exploring, and working with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and hired hands at Skull Lake Ranch. And then later helping out as they continued to work the land and raise cattle in other locations.
I have many early memories of Skull Lake Ranch, and one of my favorites is of Spook. A beautiful horse, Spook was gentle and treasured. Her coat was a pale, golden tan and warm to the touch. My fingers slipped along her soft neck as I rubbed her before climbing into her saddle. She was patient. I felt safe.
I remember seeing and being excited by the horses as a young child, then becoming nervous as I got closer. They were big and strong, and had a commanding presence. They were observant and wary. They didn’t stand still, shifting side to side and lifting strong legs and clopping hooves. And they had a smell. Not a bad smell, but a smell that filled your nose with tickles and sneezes.
The horses on the ranch were working animals. I remember asking and begging to ride them and being told I had to wait for a day when they were off and rested. Instead, I would visit them in the barn for a few minutes at the end of the day.
I always thought Spook got her name from the pale color she was. Like a ghost. Though, she didn’t look spooky to me, and I didn’t think Spook was a good name for a girl horse. But in reality it was likely because she was skittish and spooked easily when she first came to the ranch.
I remember her being there through most of my childhood. She was the one I wanted to ride. She was the horse that stuck with me in my mind when I wasn’t at the ranch. Spook was the horse I drew pictures of when I learned to draw horses. I remember trying out different colors on the horses I drew, but they never looked right. Pale, golden tan was the perfect color. It was always Spook.
At some point Spook was gone from the ranch. I don’t remember why, and I probably didn’t ask. ‘Why’ questions weren’t always welcomed, and most of the time answers would be fictitious.
“Grandpa/Aunt/Uncle…why are there so many snakes here?” “Why, we’re collecting them for the next Indiana Jones movie.”
“Grandma, how come the girls have to do the dishes?” “If we let the boys do them, they’ll just have the dogs lick the plates clean, and you don’t want to eat off those.”
“Why do we have to get up before the sun comes up?” “We have to sneak up on the cows.”
“Grandpa, why do you always do tricks in the airplane?” “Well, I like to give the cows a show.”
Ok, that last one is probably true.
So, I don’t know when or why Spook was gone, she just was. But, she wasn’t gone from my mind. When I was younger, each planned trip to see Grandma and Grandpa made me think of Spook. As I got older, each phone call or conversation about Nebraska, the ranch, or the family, made me think of Spook. And each year, since meeting Spook, as Halloween rolls around the word ‘spook’ is displayed in stores and windows, I can’t help but think of my old friend.