Before 1-55 South officially opened and was still in the dirt-road stage, my sisters and I used to ride our horses along it from our farm in Horn Lake to visit our friend, Julie, who lived about four miles farther south.
Our father told us that he'd rescued two of our horses "from the glue factory." That usually meant they were on their last legs and were no longer wanted. But we loved them, and riding horses on weekends became an integral part of our childhood.
Whoever said horses were dumb animals without personalities got it all wrong. Each of our horses had a distinct personality. Whenever I looked into their beautiful brown eyes, I felt they were looking into my soul. I always wondered what they were thinking, even though I felt we were assessing each other and bonding through a special wavelength.
My younger sister's horse was Joe, who was once gray but had turned white by the time we got him. Although we nicknamed him "Old Joe" because he was ancient with long teeth, he defied all odds. The other horses could hardly keep up with him. He loved to gallop, and once he got going, we'd laugh and shout, "You go, Old Joe!"
My horse, Daisy, a short-legged, plump bay mare, was quite a sight. I always considered her the equine version of Grand Ole Opry's Minnie Pearl and halfway expected her to come running from the pasture wearing a straw hat with the price tag still on it. She definitely had a mind of her own. Whenever other people tried to ride her, she'd throw her ears back and whip her head around, threatening to bite or kick them. For some reason, though, she and I understood each other and got along just fine. If ever Daisy trotted or galloped, it was a small miracle. But I was an observer and nature-lover, and her slow pace allowed me to take in all the beauty that the kudzu-lined back roads and trails offered.
My oldest sister rode a handsome, muscular palomino named Rebel, not young but not as old as Daisy and Old Joe. I'm not sure where Daddy got him, but he was majestic and very gentle, although he did have a stubborn streak. At the end of the day, when Rebel decided he was done with riding, he would gallop back to the barn, and there was no stopping him.
So there we were, three sisters on horseback, clip-cloppin' along our route to Julie's. When we took the exit from the unopened interstate to the secondary road leading to her farm, we were met with a canopy of golden leaves on the trees above us. Sun glimmering through, mixed with the shade the leaves provided, was a magical part of our journey that 1 remember most. I can still hear the crunching of gravel beneath our horses' hooves. Sometimes we'd sing. Other times, with our leather saddles creaking beneath us, we'd just talk and settle the problems of our own little world as we saw it back then.
Once we arrived at Julie's, she'd saddle her horse, and together we'd explore her parents' farm on trails that led to nothing in particular except shared childhood experiences.
We loved Julie's mom, who always made sure all four of us cowgirls were properly fed before we set out again on horseback. When it was time for us to return to our farm, she'd call our dad and let him know we were on our way. Then, off we'd go.
After a day of horseback riding in the autumn sun, it took us longer to return along the same route. We were happy as could be but tired, and so were our horses, so we'd just plod along. When Rebel finally saw our barn, though, he took off. That spurred Old Joe into galloping as fast as he could to catch up with him. Even Daisy's ears perked, and miracle of miracles, she'd break into a trot.
I recently ran across an old, faded black-and-white photo of Daisy with one of her foals. I immediately forgot about all the stressors of my adult world as I recalled those wonderful days with warm memories that became an integral part of who I am.
Times have changed since we rode along on our beloved horses, happy and carefree, sharing unforgettable times. Today, we'd never think of allowing our children or grandchildren to go unchaperoned on such adventures. How lucky we were back then during those golden days to have experienced the innocence of free-range, carefree fun and adventures. Clip-cloppin' along on those Mississippi back roads became a cherished part of my Southern heritage.