The Thanksgiving I Fell Off a Horse

Pecan pie, stuffing, and falling off my Pappaw’s horse. That’s what Thanksgivings are made of.

The earliest Turkey Day memory I have has my older sister and I riding bareback on our Pappaw’s horse Brownie. He picked the tamest, gentlest pony for us to ride out on his pasture. Picture a man with the looks of a middle age Sean Connery and the spirit of Charles “Paw” Ingalls, and that was Pappaw.

I often thought we lived on Little House on the Prairie because there were three of us girls living at the end of a grassy driveway that was eight miles of dirt roads from the nearest small town. Horses, dogs, cows and, for a time, hogs were our country friends, and we had enough of them to fill a little petting zoo. We entertained ourselves by dressing up the doggies in homemade baby doll dresses. For a buck a bag, my sisters and I picked up the fallen pecans from the trees that filled our front yard, which was the size of a football field times two. We set out a Kool-aid stand underneath one of the pecan trees and waited for customers that never arrived. It’s not that we didn’t have neighbors. They just lived a mile up the road and rarely left their house. Pappaw, mom and dad gave us quarters and told us to drink their purchases. I felt rich.

Thanksgiving of 1980 was no different. With the smells of pumpkin spice, roasted pecans, and turkey gravy filling our living room/dining room, we ate and ate. It took the lure of a brown mini-stallion waiting outside for me to skip out on another plate of Karo pecan pie. Each of us girls got to name one of Pappaw’s three horses. Brownie was the name I chose for the chocolate pony with the white spot on his nose and golden highlights on his mane and tail. He looked like an advertisement for protein-rich mane shampoo, that’s how much his coat gleamed. To ride him was to feel on top of the world with a better view of the fall sky and our nearby treehouse. Nothing fazed Brownie. Not the Oklahoma temperature extremes or the ever-present flies swirling around him or two pre-pubescent girls sitting on his back. Pappaw made a clicking noise with his tongue, tapped his hip, and Brownie followed him. Not only was I on my favorite horse with my big sister’s back to hold onto, but I had Pappaw as our mighty trail guide.

We made it about halfway up the driveway when we heard the barks. One of our half dozen pups followed right in step with us, serenading with his woof-woof. I guess he got a little too peppy because he sped up and forced his way between Pappaw and Brownie.


Pappaw turned to the yapping mutt. “Go on!”


Pappaw tried to wave the doggy away, but it was too late. From where I sat near Brownie’s butt, I was last to see his legs rear up as he made a dancing motion to scare the dog away. With only Brownie’s mane to hold onto, my sister fell off first, then I did. My head hit what felt like a giant rock on the ground. I lay on top of the dirt with my eyes open but not seeing anything.

“Shanna?” Pappaw called out.

I woke up in my parents’ bed. The sun begun to set and the lights were off in their room. There was barely enough light shining through the windows to see their nightstand that held two cans of soda. Sprite and Coca-Cola.

“Drink them slowly, one at a time.” It was my dad. I looked over as he handed the green soda can to me, waited for me to sip, then handed me the red can. “This will keep you from throwing up again.”

Here is what the day consisted of: eating gobs of pecan pie, taking a leisurely yet brief stroll atop Pappaw’s horse and, from what I found out later, surviving a head concussion. I was nursed back to health by soda pop and dad’s bedside watch. Remember that we lived in our own Little House of the Prairie miles away from a hospital or a Doc for that matter. I made it through the day and into the next day, which happened to be my seventh birthday.

How could I possibly forget this Thanksgiving from 40 years ago? Not even a head injury could erase my memories. I like to think that the past events of our lives—the food we ate, the animals we cared for, the falls we survived, the family who loved us gently—will remain alive as long as we share about them in a story.

May you have a blessed holiday.


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