April 24, 2011 it was Easter Sunday and I was camping with some friends in the mountains of North Carolina. I got up that morning got the horses saddled and was getting ready to head out on a ride. I heard my phone go off and I looked down...I'll never forget that text message...It said "Grandpa died this morning in his sleep". I froze. I didn't know what to do or say. My friend, my grandfather, my hero was dead. Life didn't seem to exist in a moment of time. It felt like I was looking in on someone else's life but not mine.
Grandpa had been around the entire 25 years of my life. I didn't know what it was like not to pick up the phone and just ask how his day was. The man that gave me his love of horses, the man that I spent every Saturday with riding horses at Love Valley, my grandfather was gone.
There wouldn't be anymore Saturday rides at Love Valley up to the fire tower, or eating lunch (his sardines and saltine crackers) on the trail, getting ice cream at the general store and sitting on the front porch talking to the locals and watching people go by. Everyone new my grandfather because he has ridden horses up there longer than I can remember. They loved him for his stories of the place, they way he smiled and his sweet disposition. He was a kind man with the sweetest personality that you would ever meet. He would tell some devious stories of his child hood and stories of his days spent at Love Valley and he would just smirk and turn and ride on.
We would spend afternoons sitting at the barn just talking about old times and how he had bought his house after he moved to town. He always love his old farmhouse and the barns he built. It was his. His own pride and joy. He worked hard for that place, raising six kids, cows and dogs. Always keeping the biggest garden I can remember. He raised acres of corn so he could make his own feed and keep the corn for the cows in the winter time. He was a hard working man and had callas on his hands from years of hard work on the farm he grew up on in Iowa.
You see Grandpa just wasn't any old grandpa, he was my grandfather and everyone he ever met just called him grandpa. He always had a smile on his face no matter what he was doing.
Another thing he loved was his paint horses. He had a nitch for them and always said they were the prettiest horses he had ever seen. He had two old paint horses name Bo and Joe. He loved those guys and he was proud of him till the day he died. Now him being almost 80 years old, he still rode horses like he was a spring chicken. He exclaimed, "I don't hurt when I ride". Horses to him were his escape and his getaway from the pain that his heart was causing him. He didn't have the wind to walk very far but with horses they could carry him forever. He always warned me, "Now Sarah, if anything ever happens to me while riding my horse, you don't worry about me because you know that I died doing what I loved to do."
Grandpa was getting up there in age but he never let a pretty day of riding slow him down. He got to where he couldn't lift the saddle on the horses any more because his shoulders were really weak. His heart only functioned at about 10% the last few years of his life. He could barely walk down the road to the barn to get the horses without getting winded. But he found ways around that. I made sure that I didn't miss a Saturday with him. To see that joy of him get in the saddle and ride off will never leave my mind.
This man will never be forgotten. If you never had a chance to meet him I can tell you now you missed a heck of a chance to get to know a great man. I always shared a special bond with him being the oldest grandchild and even shared a birthday with him. He would always chuckle when he would call me on his birthday and say "Happy Birthday Sarah" and I would chime back "Happy Birthday Grandpa". Its still hard when birthdays roll around because I don't see his number show up on my phone anymore. I still share that day with him in spirit and I know one day we will be reunited.
I know he is in heaven looking down on us. Everytime I'm in the saddle I feel his presence with me. He will always be in our hearts and with us everytime we ride. Whenever I pull up at Love Valley I will think of him and all the many rides we took over the years.
We love and miss you Grandpa. I know you are in heaven learning all the trails and I can't wait to ride them with you when I get there.
He always wore his favorite shirt "Trail riders never die, they just keep going over the next hill!"
|Grandpa's last ride at Love Valley on Joe (March 2011)|
|Grandpa & Ashley (mom's boyfriend) (March 2011)|
|Grandpa's favorite place at the Valley (March 2011)|
|Me and Grandpa uptown Love Valley (Summer 2010)|