By Melanie Eberhardt
I still don’t know why she gave me this sweatshirt. I’d seen her wear it a number of times but don’t recall ever making a comment about it. We had spent the afternoon in front of her wood burning stove watching old black and white movies and sipping hot tea with honey. It was getting dark and I needed to head home to feed. As I was putting on my coat she said “wait a minute, I’ve got something for you” and disappeared into a back room. Seconds later she returned and handed me this odd sweatshirt. “Here, I want you to have this”. I hesitated a second wondering why she was giving me this kind of ugly, red (not my color) worn sweatshirt but recovered and said “thank you”. Once I got home, I stuck it in drawer in the spare bedroom and forgot about it.
I met Miss Pat about 25 years ago. I was working as a self employed designer but lost all my clients when computers became more prevalent in the business world and I couldn’t afford to buy one. Desperate for any income, I found a part time job at a local Arabian farm. Pat was my boss.
The farm was a big operation, 70+ acres nestled in a small valley. The woman who owned it fancied a particular line of polish arabians and bred horses for decades. The better ones showed at the national level and we took care of the other 30-40 horses at the farm. I liked Pat from day one. She felt like someone I had known all my life. The work was hard, repetitive made tolerable by our long conversations and those beautiful horses. Pat had a quiet way about her that the horses appreciated. They nickered when they heard her coming down the barn aisle, hoping for a pat or muzzle scratch.
Eventually I found a job and left the farm but my friendship with Pat continued. Pat bought a small farm in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. The old house and older barn sat on a ridge. Pat put a couple old chairs in the hay loft. She strung white Christmas lights overhead and left them up all year round. She would make a pot of tea, sometimes hot chocolate, and we’d sit in the loft for hours talking about nothing in particular. When it got dark we sometimes sat there in silence looking across the valley at the house lights sparkling some 30 miles away. Peace surrounded Pat.
Pat was a spiritual person but not of a particular religion. She was bound to nature and its mysteries. Her garden was strewn with interesting rocks and blocks of granite that spoke to her during her walks through the woods. She introduced me to the centuries old oak next to the house – Matilda was her name. Pat talked to lady bugs, told them her secrets. She loved her chestnut mare, Ginger. She sometimes slept in the barn outside Ginger’s stall – just because she enjoyed her company. Pat’s life was hard, really hard, but most people didn’t realize that about her. Despite the challenges or because of them, she projected a hopeful outlook on life.
Then Pat got sick, pancreatic cancer. I will never forget out last conversation. I had been to her farm to visit. She assured me that her treatments were over and she was on the mend. We made plans to go to an upcoming horse show. As I left, Pat was standing on the front porch and started laughing. When I asked what was so funny, she pointed to my head “you have two angels flying around your head.” I didn’t see anything so asked her to describe them. She said they were dark whisps that stayed with me to protect and care for me. She said they were spirits I knew before, maybe in this life, maybe another. Iconic Pat, so in tune with the universe, horses, Matilda the old Oak, the shasta daisy’s in her garden, the spider in her kitchen window. Pat had something to give to all and the universe reciprocated.
A few weeks later her son called. I raced to the hospital, her room was full of family members. Pat’s treatments were not over, she had decided to stop them. The doctors had induced coma because her pain was intolerable. I held her hand for hours, I couldn’t let go. But when she was ready, Pat let go and left this world surrounded by family and love. That was 8 years ago. Not a week goes by that I don’t think about Pat. If it had not been for horses, we would have never met. Pat was my first true horse friend and thankfully not my last. I have met many wonderful horse women who make having horses so much more enjoyable. I cherish each.
A few years ago, I was digging through drawers in my spare bedroom and came across Pat’s ugly, odd sweatshirt. I stared at it for a few minutes then put it. I’ve been wearing it since. I still don’t know why she gave it to me but I am glad that she did. It reminds me to be thankful for the people in my life and to be grateful for their love. It reminds me to seek opportunities to make new friends and to be a better friend for others. Life is more enjoyable when shared with friends. Today, Thanksgiving, is my favorite holiday enjoyed with family, thinking of friends and happily wearing Pat’s beautiful, old sweatshirt.