Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel
I suppose that part of the reason I enjoyed this book is because I grew up on a farm. But even if I hadn’t, I expect the pure realism of a woman who experienced life with all its joys, bumps, frustrations, and challenge would be just as intriguing. Even modern day women in the corporate or blue collar working world will feel a kinship.
Lily Casey Smith is a combination of Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, and Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck’s character on the “Big Valley” TV show from the 1960s), all rolled into one. Thank goodness Lily had the wisdom to share her life and her stories with her daughter (Jeannette’s mother), Rose Mary Smith Walls, so that the saga of this incredible lady did not fall away into dust.
The story starts in 1901 when Lily was born to a couple of scrub ranchers in Texas. By the time she was school age, she was teaching horses (not to mention her younger siblings) how to behave. Throughout her life, these magnificent creatures (both animal and human) came and went, reflecting a bit of the wildness Lily illustrated in her own approach to life.
Lily struck me as someone who could always “save the day;” when she was only 10 years old, she single-handedly saved her brother Buster and baby sister, Helen, from a flash flood by bolting for the only cottonwood in sight and hanging on for dear life through a night on the prairie. Later, as she attends a funeral of a friend in Chicago, she keeps thinking to herself, “If I had been there, maybe I could have rescued her.”
Many times in her life as she had opportunities to teach children, she again took on the role of rescuer, saving many from mediocrity. This pioneer attitude, sadly, is one thing that has been perhaps nearly lost in our modern, dependent world, but I loved every glimpse at this risk-tasking, no-limits individual. Walls weaves these stories of her grandmother together with an expert ebb and flow; you always want to see what’s going to happen next.
One of my favorite stories within this stream of “let me tell you what happened to Lily next” was when she saved her future son-in-law from a runaway horse simply by walking straight up to the critter, running full steam at her, raised her arms, looked the mare in the eye and quietly said, “Whoa.” We could use some of that power in today’s boardrooms, homes, schools, and government.
In the end, I suppose that’s why I fell in love with Lily. On the one hand, she reminds me of that little girl I was that loved to jump on the back of a horse and run roughshod over the countryside, in another world. On the other, she draws out in me the courage to be who I am, wrinkles, mistakes, triumphs, and all. Lily teaches us as she taught so many people throughout her life that “teachers in their way are holy—angels leading their flocks out of the darkness.”
Walls’ telling of her story makes you want to live a life that someone will remember, that someone will find significant enough to write about.