Magic and the Lightby Rebecca Mance on 12/13/15
Thank you again for visiting my blog. I humbly appreciate it. I’ve so many followers…and I am often reclusive…and more than a bit eccentric and odd in my own way……so to follow me…..I appreciate it…but why would anyone follow me? I am sure I am not worthy. However, thank you so much…thank you with all that I am. I will try to live up to it. I guess that is why I only blog when the moment hits me. …So much pressure…I am not glamorous, pretty or even interesting….but I blog when I feel it….when not busy with day job. When I can put my heart and soul into it. When I feel it from the inside out. Because that is what you my fans deserve. Thank you so much.
Now to get this blog out…finally after two weeks of working on it…you get it unedited….I have a day job that I need to prep for after a weekend in Carmel….for my birthday. I will end with that experience…if you hang in that long for my long winded blog.
Yes…I was waiting for the right evening to write about Keeneland. I have thought of it a thousand times in my mind’s eye. Those who know…KNOW what is Keeneland.
Nobody in my current world even knows anything about Keeneland. Even if they are very lovely and wonderful people. You have to be in Kentucky to know Keeneland. Of course, in my world most of them will never see the green rolling hills of Kentucky (what a loss) and those green pastures…. Those green rolling lanes that lead to the most amazing things..…blue grass…Kentucky calls me every day like it must call the horses…. Like the Princess of Jordan said…..[Who was, by the way, one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen] She said, “When I was growing up and I read stories like Black Beauty I thought, ‘Kentucky must be heaven for horses.’ Then I came here and I am sure…Kentucky is Heaven for horses.”
American Pharaoh has special meaning for me…besides that I picked him out quite by accident…out of a hat….I didn’t know that there were two people at the party in Napa with horses in the race…if you knew you knew me…you’d know just how random it was….how such odd things like that happen to me.
I had to go get out of my purse in the car (Ironically she…my car…from 2002 is named Black Beauty…)…but in Napa, I had a kind friend to take me to a Derby Party…In Napa…she is an amazing friend [as well as a stunning wine maker] and I love her so much….so she took me….they were taking bets….they even had the numbers in jockey hats…I pulled American Pharaoh out of a hat. With my last cash of ten bucks hoping I didn’t have tolls home…giggles.
In God’s world…which includes all of us….All. God… Jesus and Allah…Buddha.. We just occupy sacred space differently….that is all….None of us are wrong or right…and that comes from a girl who was certain she was going to grow up to be a nun….nuns are so amazing…that was how I was going to occupy Sacred Space…I learned about this from, ironically a Priest at St. Mary’s College in a class.
Anyway…. when AP won….in Keeneland..….well…even before that, when I held the ticket with his name…and didn’t know him before….I had been away from Kentucky living my legal life here. I had been to four Kentucky Derbies…I followed the horses closer then. I had and won big money on “I’ll Have Another…” ($130 on a $20 bet!). That is another story….that is the time I obtained Calvin’s autograph.
I was so excited about his name…American Pharaoh….how amazing was that? Not just because of my book The Chosen One…or our son’s time in Afghanistan….and the “hour of the lamps” which is a story in Once Upon a Misty Bluegrass Hill…and by the way my son told me the story almost just like that…that was the inspiration for that line in the book.
Freedom’s front door for my brothers and sisters in the middle east who happen to occupy sacred space in a different way...I am thinking….as I held AP’s name in my hand… so appropriate for me because of my book The Chosen One. I am thinking….”like we could win in the middle east on his name alone.” The combined name as I sat there looking at the screen and saw him the first time! I was like…”dang Rebecca…he is a beautiful black too!” [My favorite color in horses and cars since my 2004 Jag is named Black Beauty]. I am looking at him on the screen and thinking….”I’ve seen those lovelies before….they look beautiful…and he is so beautiful…prancing…Don’t be fooled by a prancing horse Rebecca! He can’t possibly win….you pulled him out of a hat after all…he is a favorite and you love him already….”
He was a favorite….I was doomed….Everyone knows the favorite is unlikely to win….But I didn’t care…I loved his name and the looks of him. Sitting in Napa…to be at a Derby Party? I was surrounded by beautiful green grape vines so the day was already magic. They don’t even know….I mean….most people in California have no idea about beautiful horses and racing. Only, not only did they know….they knew more than me….two of them had horses in the race.
However, I was lucky to have been invited at all…I have missed going to the Derby….[determined to be there in 2016 if I can manage the ticket and time off]….I got lucky that my friend invited me to a Derby party….but I got to live the moment right then…Old American Pharoah on large screen.
In all the races I ever saw at Derby or at Keeneland…or even at Del Mar as I saw those races as a very young girl…. I never saw horse pull away like that. Just sort of pull away at the end…like it was nothing. It was absolutely stunning. I was too excited I didn’t know what to do. By this time I knew others had a horse, literally in the race. It wasn’t my fault. I think they all do deserve to win. When you make it to the Derby….that is everything….that horse is the finest in the world. So what if he is the sixth finest? I mean seriously? It was how he felt that day most times…the horse I mean…
In this case….we all saw a true King. How could he repeat it? Three times? Last race….he just pulled away like it was nothing.
And…he harkens my most favorite horse of all time….Man-O-War. Like Man-O-War AP lost only one race in his entire career. I don’t know the details, but I do know that it was something like Man-O-War…problem at the gate. Admittedly I didn’t like AP being pushed past the Triple Crown. I was worried for him after all he had done….But like Man-O-War they knew him. His owners must have known he had leg left to give and as a King that is what he wanted to do.
Now I can only hope his races will be towards beautiful fillies on a farm near my farm in Kentucky so I might get the chance to meet such a fine King. So, what is Keeneland….? Keeneland is all that is elegant horse racing….
This Pharoah took his last turn on the track at a place close to my heart….Keeneland Track in Lexington, Kentucky…where there is indeed a road named after Man-O-War…it leads you to the airport…and to Keeneland….it is the main road in town. How amazing is that? A town with roads named after horses….The Princess of Jordan was right…Kentucky is Heaven for Horses because even the roads are named after them.
Admittedly….as mentioned previously….I have local friends that argue Secretariat was a finer horse than Man-O-War.
We cannot know for certain. What I do know is this…Man-O-War and Secretariat both inspire me…yet…there is something utterly breathtaking about Man-O-War and the Road that leads to the most elegant race track I know of is called Man-O-War…and he was a Kentucky horse….Secretariat is a side street…but then he was apparently a Virginia horse…who was allegedly stabled also near my home in Kentucky. Still….I could not do anything but give honor to Secretariat as is his due. However AP reminds me of Man-O-War….
Now before I write the scene at Keeneland which is American Phaoah’s last ride….
I wish to talk of other things….to set the scene of Keeneland….and how meaningful all that happened is to me. How I get inspired about things….about being a writer. I also want to give background on the book that has become my best seller in Ibooks. Thank you so much for that.
For the intimate who follow my blog with equal intimacy….I want to give tidbits of the inspiration of that book….because it is pulling ahead…or should I say “steaming ahead?” Bad joke from a nerd author.
I could tell you how in my book Iron Horse King started as “The Train”….I was stuck in it…I knew the book wasn’t what I wanted…I kept trying to find inspiration….and as I drove past the green rolling hills and picket fences on the main road from Lexington to Paris…that book completely changed.
Prior….I could not get the feeling I wanted with that book…the feeling that I knew was….something I had not touched yet…so I played the edges of the book.
However, as I drove past those green hills I suddenly pictured Charles Crocker walking out in a top hat and tail coats…and climbing up on top of the train as he rode into town...after shifting inside the last rail car….insecure about being a boy who had sold newspapers and had somehow miraculously accomplished one of the most amazing feats in history……confronted with what he had done….he had put on that perfect suit, with the top hat...
But with is flamboyance and bold personality…at the last moment he must have…..he must have been impulsive…so he went out…climbed up that ladder….and pulled off his top hat….I felt it.….I saw it…as I drove past those green rolling hills on that road from Lexington to Paris…
…And I just thought in that instant….“Iron Horse King.” The book completely changed then.
But in my book that is Jacob Ramsey. Iron Horse King is a romantic interpretation of one of the most important moments in American history.
Those that know me well know that I often go to Mountain View Cemetery….my husband takes me….the best view…almost…in SF and of SF to be seen at his gravesite….the real Iron Horse King. He who built the transcontinental railroad…nearly singularly in my mind.
I love him because he was so ordinary…and very …much like me....seemingly bafoonish at times to some who could not keep up…but absolutely brilliant. He was a genius. I have flashes of smart but never like that. Born so poor and sold newspapers at 12 years old in the streets of New York…with limited education. Of course too much schooling and he’d never have even attempted to do what he did. He was like me…in that way…. That is why I love him so much and wrote that book.
He said, “I learned as I went.” Wow. I’d said that a thousand times as I tackled new things…That was him. He was me. Uneducated man, but highly gifted. Just solved problems on the rail line like they were nearly nothing. He changed the world. I met him when I was 24….Read about him then…..I mean.
From that moment on….I knew then that anything was possible for me….anything. I was suddenly…like a man who changed not just the United States…but the entire world….because arguably without the transcontinental railroad in the US was not just the end to slavery because of the results….but it changed everything….You see….President Lincoln was a Republican and they fought the Democrats (who were the slave owners…in those days…the Dems were the slave owners). So…President Lincoln wanted a railroad to transport weapons and men to win the civil war for Freedom…to bring Freedom’s front door to all.
Charles Crocker and his side-kicks….giggles….I giggle because as a writer I know…they were going to hang him to dry if he failed…. They sent old Charlie out….with a very little bit of money. If he failed…they were going to take his store…blame it all on him etc. Dumb old Charlie was going to try…and put his heart into it. But Old Charlie was not so dumb.
Charlie outsmarted them not once but twice. The first time…he did the unthinkable task….they [his side kicks] probably were going to probably collect one way or another….but…he knew what he had to do and he used his brilliance and ingenuity to do it. Absolutely a brilliant man. On levels ordinary people would never understand. So they sent him out…I am pretty sure they thought he could not do it and had measured out that very specific possibility in their favor… If he failed they could take his money and store and blame him.
In the end….not only did he do it…built the railroad alone….with them holding money….in case he failed….he left later on when it was all done only to save them again financially….He was a stunning man.
But he sat out there on the rail line….probably not unlike me in many moments…He was probably sitting on the rail line knowing…”Charlie…you have been screwed….but you can see the vision…the light…keep on going.” That is what it is about…seeing the light in the darkest moments.
He saw the vision. He saw the opportunity. He saw capitalism. He saw…what was possible. In the book I read about him, someone asked him how he could have accomplished such a thing and in this book…it was not a flattering book…. He said, “I learned as I went.” Yes, I have certainly speculated on some of the underlying story about the other three of the Big Four...maybe they were a little more supportive than that...and perhaps I was speculating a little on him getting on top of the train car ... even if I did see it perfectly in my mind's eye... but I am an author and I can't help but have a creative mind.
I had said "I learned as I went" many times. A man who died in 1888…inspired a simple and very poor girl. He was even “more poor” than me at any age…. At 12 he sold newspapers in NY….Which is the opening scene of Iron Horse King….I saw him completely….
As a writer you can see the moment. For me….Iron Horse King….well….I think it is amazing that a girl can be inspired by a man who died in 1888…. He was just like me.
Women’s role models don’t need to be skinny models….or women …. militant bra burning women…. with square glasses…teaching us who we are…taught to us in school what it is to be liberated?….we are not permitted admire a man who wore a top hat….and took risks that people said he was crazy for taking…..he was a capitalist and amazing….However, if us girls are to ever get anywhere, we need to see amazing and pattern ourselves in same no matter who he or she is… not just necessarily out of women’s studies programs…but to see the world with possibility and be inspired by anyone and everyone… yes, even men in top hats that died in 1888. He is the singular inspiration of my life besides my husband and son and other very best friends. Whenever I get down I think….well…look at what he had to do…he was as poor as you….he had to even come further from behind….
Yes, and I know my book Chosen One has been cut off from many venues sisters. I have heard from a few of you…the few and bold and brave…. No worries. We must let things be. They come in their own time. Just know we are waiting here...come to the light….to Freedom’s Front Door….but don’t be rash sisters…one must….after all survive to fight another day right? Right…. Let things come in their time.
So back to Keeneland….authors see things in their heads. Tell me a story and I see it. Perfectly.
That day in Keeneland….which was American Pharaoh’s last ride. I could not be there….but I imagine it with perfect clarity….
In Kentucky a mist rises in early morning….in fall and spring….
The last time she rode him was that day when she lay in the grass with Patrick and loved him with all her heart.
Storm was woven into her heart and life carrying both of their bittersweet memories.
He broke through the mist and galloped to the fence tossing his head and neighing in quiet greeting. She laughed softly and petted his nose. He snorted his happy low hum. She giggled and took his head down to hug his big gray nose. "Oh how I have missed you."
She pulled the apple from her coat pocket and served it up to him. He gave her another appreciative snort.”
This is from the pre-derby scene:
They were taking a couple of trailers with everything in them, including her Derby uniform. It was red, gold and white and it bore the coat of arms of the Earl of Meath. Patrick said the title was created in 1627. It was embroidered on the back of her jockey shirt. Patrick had it special made and Jolene was certain she had never worn anything so fine. The coat of arms was red scrolls with a night's helmet on top and three birds across a flag.
At the top of the coat of arms it read Vota Vita Mea. Patrick told her that it meant.
Prayers are my life.
The rain stopped while they were driving but Jolene fretted about Big Storm continuing to prance in his trailer even in the small space he was in.
Jolene had never been so scared in her life. Her fingers shook when she adjusted the radio and her heart pounded the entire trip.
Patrick didn't seem much better though he tried to hide his emotions. He was quiet and serious in a way Jolene had never witnessed.
Bernie and Herbert attempted to lighten things by making jokes in the big Ford SUV. They even resorted to playing some of Patrick's favorite Irish ballads on cd.
Entering Louisville, even this early in the morning with the sun barely coming up beyond the tall white spires, people were already waiving their signs.
"Park here for $20."
Children ran around in their front yards in bare feet excited about Derby day even if they had only ever viewed Churchill Downs from the outside. Its white towers that could be seen for miles like a double church steeple, shadowed the surrounding neighborhoods. Churchill Downs was their lifeblood and the Derby brought in the pretty people in suits, dresses and hats parking and walking by. Those pretty people who came to the Derby were part of another kind of life that was different and spectacular.
Barbeques were smoking and homemade signs were hung with balloons that read "Stop here for barbeque and beer."
Nearly all of the little wooden houses were decorated for the big day. Since Churchill Downs sat in the middle of an older city of residential homes, its tenants were an intricate part of the Derby. Every house had people preparing for the races.
They were poor houses.
But not on Derby day.
Everybody put on their best shine and made their money on Derby Day.
Even this early in the morning the women who sat on the porches or manned the barbeques wore tank tops and shorts, the wardrobe staple of the south. Men wore white tee shirts and jeans sporting their exotic tattoos. Sometimes their arms and shoulders were completely covered in ink with symbols, signs and pictures intermingled in a complex raw beauty to tell a story that only they completely understood.
They watched the scenes of the Derby in individual vicarious positions where they could also dance within the moment with those pretty people who parked and walked past them to the front gate, or rode in hired golf carts, waving and friendly when on other days they might be afraid.
Jolene was always one of them. The one running in bare feet seeing the world vicariously and not truly understanding what it was to live their lives.
Until this moment.
She wasn't just at the Derby.
She was going to be in it.
Riding Big Storm.
Just like her father had dreamed about the day Storm was born.
Jolene turned her face away from the window shaking her mental voyage. She would not take any journey right now except the one to the finish line at Churchill Downs. One thing her father always told her about being a jockey was, "You have to focus and put everything out of your head but the horse. Feel him. Know him. Become him."
If you are distracted Jolene, he will be distracted too. Forget the tank tops and the poor children with short fuzzy red hair running with no shoes. Don't worry about who is going to park on the lawn or whether they will sell barbeque. God takes care of all things big and small.
They had pinned Jolene's wild hair tightly and her head was already smarting from the countless barrettes and pins Mata had nervously poked all over her scalp. She came dressed already in her jockey outfit, not wanting a scene with the other jockeys just in case they shared a locker room.
Besides, she didn't want to talk to any of them anyway unless it was necessary.
It was another distraction she didn't need.
They unloaded Big Storm and sent Jolene off with the other jockeys to the waiting room. In the waiting room no one communicated with her other than eye contact and a nod. But she couldn't blame them after all. They all knew each other. Raced together. It was a club and she was not one of them.
A few smiled and wished her well.
She smiled back and returned the kindness.
She soon took to pacing around the room in her little white pants, thankful she was slender and not very tall for a woman because she was certain she was the biggest one in this room.
Good thing Big Storm was big.”
American Pharaoh’s last official race….after which….he gets to…..now…retire…hopefully to a farm near Finnegan’s Run….racing towards fillies…
Finnegan’s Run is my farm. My family farm….where my perfect son Joseph and my more perfect husband Joe lives….when he is not visiting me or helping with important engineering things in Cincinnati. Very important engineering things.
Someday…. Someday I will make my way back to that country road…..to Finnegan’s Run. I have work to do yet here in California but when my work here is done….I am going to take a long leisurely ride down a country road…..yes, past the “crack” house which is featured in Once Upon a Misty Blue Grass Hill. Back to my farm….
To know the story of Finnegan’s Run is to know me and have wine with me at home. At Finnegan’s run.
Oh…I get lost in the moment…so back to Keeneland….It is the most elegant horse race track on earth. Yes, it beats Churchill Downs…in many ways…and Keeneland is where you find all the pre-derby horses….. Not as noble with the spires…and believe me…I love Churchill Downs…I do….I am hoping and praying that May is going to bring me ten things…that is one of the ten things…..you can only be left to guess the rest of the 9…giggles.
American Pharoah is the stuff of true legends. To pull away like that. And he trumped it then in Keeneland…arguably where it starts for race horses in many ways…and well that it should how elegant that track is.
So…here is the scene…I have been there a number of times….never in a moment like that….
But if I wrote the scene….from being there….
You’d arrive on a crisp morning. The girls from the college would be dressed like pre-derby in hats and dresses…somewhat approaching derby…teetering on their high heels because they didn’t learn to wear them, elegantly….if you are any kind of woman, you can run in heels even when you are old. Flats are flat and lazy….
County girls can run in heels…and wear boots…with equal beauty. But in modern days they are learning to wear heels the first time as they go to Keeneland with the dapper young men who do wear something close to a flamboyant…..cotton suit…I would see them in front of me…the amazing thing coming from California…was that young people actually wanted to take time to look beautiful.’
And one should look beautiful…when coming to a horse race…as to see the Monsieur….they have come with all of their elegance and skill…hard work….it only seems natural to dress in honor….I think that is why there is the true tradition of hats at Derby and before Derby at Keeneland…because if ever…if ever you saw any true race horse run by you…A stallion…..which I have……win or lose…they are gifts of God…..their power and majesty just touches you. It will make you cry and always did make me cry. They deserved you to dress up in your best Sunday clothing and give them honor.
They did and I could have gotten Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale at the race track….I’d have worn red. Blood red….or…maybe all blue with red high heels….I’d not be teetering like the young girls…I’d show them how to walk in red high heels…and run if necessary.
There are no mint juleps that I know of sold in Keeneland….though mint julips are amazing at Derby…they are not Keeneland…..Keeneland is different….Keeneland must be like the proverbial smoke filled room only in racetracks…”he did well in Keenelande.” Etc. Keeneland is utter elegance.
I once saw a horse cut loose and run the course backwards at Keeneland….my Granny saw it too…in her 90s….when we brought her back to find her home in a place called Greenup….which did turn out to be nothing more than one sign and two farm houses….but that was my Granny. [Her stories are found in Moonshine and Mountains].
Anyway….Keeneland serves Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale….and the finest of everything is in Keeneland….. It is the most elegant race track. Kentucky hides so many elegant secrets. I presume to keep out the riff-raff.
It is very inspirational and so touching to me that the Triple Crown Winner ran his last race there at Keeneland….I think there is a back story….
They took him the proverbial last mile to Keeneland…where it all starts….and he just elegantly moved away from the other Kings….. Again.
I can see it in my writer’s mind’s eye. My husband said that soldiers followed him from the field in Keeneland….
Arguably the finest horse of all time….because his field was even more difficult than Man’O’War’s….or Secretariat’s….
Apparently…many soldiers followed American Pharaoh from the field…that big beautiful black horse….
I bet American Pharoah was an arrogant man just then, yet humble….as a horse I have heard he was very humble…but on that day he must have tossed his head back...looking at soldiers following him and not quite knowing…but sensing….and saying…well…. “I may be a horse…but….I have the honor of a King. It must be true because I have all of these human stiffs following me….in fine uniform.”
Because I am a King.
He must have tossed his elegant head back and seen them…soldiers following him and all eyes upon him…and in that moment, he occupied sacred space. He was a King….and I am very certain…he knew it.
Now…he has a home I have heard…someplace near my farm in Kentucky. If I am lucky…I might someday meet a King.
An American Pharaoh.
That final victory concluded Man o'War's race career. He had achieved 20 wins in 21 starts and set a new record of $249,465 in earnings. His owner Riddle decided to retire him at this young age rather than face the crushing weights the handicappers had promised to impose on the red horse to make it fair for his opposition. Man o'War retired to Hinata Farm, north of Lexington, Kentucky which Riddle leased while shopping for a farm of his own. The horse and his retinue of mares and youngstock was relocated to Faraway Farm a couple of years later where Man o'War remained one of the biggest tourist attractions in the state until his death.
I have Kings in my own back yard if home in Kentucky. A farm behind me raises stock from Seattle Slew…
He is a fine man. Loves horses more than him….So who knows what the next Derby brings? Something beautiful born in the blue grass of Kentucky.…or more flamboyantly……perhaps…what does Keeneland bring besides Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale on tap….and green rolling hills where horses are Kings?
I lived and will live again among Kings. Keeneland brought the last elegant ride of a fine King….
If you had been at Keeneland that day…you’d be sitting in history.
“He was the bestist horse ever I did see.”
Remember to support horse retirement organizations like Old Friends and others because the Kings minor and major deserve our honor … always.
Now….this is not a perfect blog because I am not going to edit it much if at all…..I am just back from a rainy day in Carmel. I stayed there this weekend in my most favorite place …. My birthday is this week…so… to celebrate I went to my most favorite place on earth…..
I did some writing….visited art studios for inspiration. I visited one in particular that you have to go down a winding and beautiful path to get to…under trees and lights….it is amazing….I did it…and it is where I came away with a signature version of the Golden Gate [a signature version of my most favorite painting of all time…besides the renaissance paintings] and a painting of a World War II Veteran coming home called….”Homecoming”….oh and a lovely cottage painting. It reminded me to always live in the light. It reminded me of how magic the world is. It reminded me that we all have a special purpose.
Yes, yes….I am working on next book. I am nearly done with first draft…but needs a whole lot of work. So…. Goal was to finish by Christmas and arguably…I am going to finish the first draft if all goes well….. We will see after that. I have many missions just now. Very important missions. All things come in their time.
In Carmel I saw the most beautiful things. I met with old friends…and new friends…had at bottle of my most favorite French Champaign and …. Celebrated life.
I hope all of you are celebrating life and your own sacred space. That you have connection to something beyond this…and that you will walk toward the light. Blessings for the season.