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Szymanski: Unexpected rewards and passing on your passion

The big, log reindeer created by Grant Whitson.
The big, log reindeer created by Grant Whitson. (Courtesy photo)

As the new year ushered us into 2020, I began thinking about all the years I’ve been writing and all the unexpected rewards that come along with it. So many personally satisfying moments. Always at the top of the list are the people I meet and the things I learn when interviewing folks for articles I write for the Carroll County Times, for magazines I’ve written for over the years, and for my books.

Just last week, after my article featured a huge log reindeer that I’d seen on my way to get hay in Littlestown, Pennsylvania, I got an email from someone I’d interviewed in the past. Patty Whitson told me the gorgeous reindeer that had stopped me on my drive was made by her son, Todd Whitson, with his 3-year-old son, Noah. It was so large, she wrote, that, “It took a big tractor to get it out to the end of the lane.”

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Her words brought on a rush of warmth. Hearing that parents are still taking time to make these precious memories with their kids makes me happy. These are the important things we all should do with our kids. Creating something together that will be brought out year after year can be both a tradition and a memory, forging bonds of trust and love. I stared at the photos of this happy little boy and his loving dad. It brought on a rush of gratitude. Unexpected rewards.

Each time I write a story, it seems there is another reason to be grateful. I meet so many special people doing amazing things who share their stories and their hearts. I learn new facts and come away inspired.

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Even after years of researching the history and background of the Chincoteague Ponies, local sources still surprise me. Currently, I’m writing the third edition of my Chincoteague Pony Tales series — short stories about the Chincoteague Ponies on and off the island. Knowing this, my friend, Sara, wrote to tell me about her brother and how his family had purchased an orphan foal in 2006. I had been there that year and remembered several orphaned foals, but didn’t know the back story. She told me how this foal had been found along the shoreline, just a few days old. The Leonard family had cared for him until the day of auction.

I couldn’t wait to get to Chincoteague to talk to Hunter Leonard. I’d interviewed his granddad for my book “Little Icicle” and had interviewed his dad for my book, “Miracle Man.” Now, after all these years, I am interviewing his son, who grew up surrounded by the wild ponies, their stories and their care.

Hunter told me how he and his family had been out in a boat with visitors from England when they saw the foal on Pope Island, just off the Assateague Island. These foals are fast on their feet, even when they’re orphans. By the time this one was caught, several people had been soaked. They slipped him into the boat with the humans and carried him home to the farm for emergency care.

I love hearing stories like this. It’s not only the excitement, it’s the passion, and it’s hearing how much time and love others put into keeping all of God’s creatures safe and sound. One story often leads to another, and that’s what happened this time.

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“That’s not the only horse we’ve put into a boat,” Hunter told me. “I believe it was around Memorial Day or after when we had some friends visiting and we went out on a [boat] cruise. I was sailing up towards Cherry Hill Bay, that area is where you come to the end of Chincoteague. When I looked across the marsh. I could see a horse standing there right next to our clubhouse and my friend noticed that something was wrong. We looked closer and saw that she had massive, baseball-sized gashes in both of her front legs.”

That mare was Gingersnap. I recalled how she had been brought to the carnival grounds with an injury at 2 years of age, but I never knew the details. Now, Hunter was quick to share them.

“Gingersnap was very calm, but she was at least a mile from the road, so too far to walk her to meet a trailer. And I had cruises to do. I was scheduled to work,” he said.

So, Hunter called his dad and some of the cowboys. He delivered the vet to the injured pony and went back out to do his boat tours. When he came back a bit later, his boat was loaded with tourists.

“I am cruising along, and I see a bunch of cowboys coming toward me on a boat and they look kind of giddy,” he said, and then he laughed. “I look closer, and there she is, on the floor of the boat. They had tried walking her, but it was too far, so they rolled her over into the boat and they were holding her there. She was laying down in the bottom of the boat and they were all smiling. They thought it was so funny.”

As Paul Harvey always used to say, now I knew the rest of the story. Gingersnap had been taken to the Leonard’s barn for full care and healing time. As I listened, I remembered being on the island on the day she was released from that injury. I’d been on a cruise with Captain Dan and took a photo of her grazing on the waters’ edge. I love the details that make these stories all come together. That is another sort of reward.

The best reward of all comes when I do talks in elementary schools. Watching young kids get fired up about writing, hearing their well-thought out questions, and seeing their enthusiasm grow about writing stories of their own — that is better than the best dessert you ever ate!

Frequently, after I do an author talk in a school, those students write notes. I am as excited as a kid at Christmas when one of those packages arrives in the mail. A big envelope, stuffed full, with a school address in the return address area gets my heart pounding, and opening that envelope is Christmas times 10. Knowing that each of these kids — just learning to write — took time to carefully craft a letter about the day is the best feeling. Even if it is a class assignment, you can see their emotion, poured out on the page in words and beautifully drawn pictures. They list their favorite parts of the day or the facts they learned while listening.

“I loved learning about Surfer Dude,” one child recently wrote about the stallion I fell in love with many years ago. “I learned that a horse’s brain is the size of a walnut,” another child wrote. “My favorite story was when the pony frozen in the pond was rescued and then had a baby,” one little girl said. But the best of all is when these kids tell me they have started an Ideas Folder, just like I suggested, to collect ideas for stories of their own.

Someday, I think, they will be reaping the rewards of their writing. That is what it is all about. Let’s make 2020 all about passing on your passion.

Lois Szymanski writes from Westminster. Her Life & Times column, The Great Big World, appears every first, third and fifth Sunday. Email her at loisszymanski@hotmail.com.

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