The Carriage House

Maida Korte

“Again the early-morning sun was generous with its warmth.  All the sounds dear to a horseman were around me – the snort of the horses as they cleared their throats, the gentle swish of their tails, the tinkle of irons as we flung the saddles over their backs – little sounds of no importance, but they stay in the unconscious library of memory.” 

~Wynford Vaughan-Thomas

 At the end of our driveway sits an old carriage house. It was converted to a garage for automobiles and other things like bicycles, tools and yard equipment a long time ago.  It is here that I park my car each night while Andy’s truck stays outside, unable to fit into its shallow depth. It seems that in 1903, carriages were not as long as trucks.  I suppose that, if one measured, horses and carriage together would have a longer length than a Chevy Silverado, but horses were unhitched from carriages and led to their stalls while the buggy would be wheeled into a separate room.  When I walk into our converted garage, I can see exactly where the buggy would have been stored and where the horses bedded down for the night.

 An overhead garage door, complete with automatic opener, now replaces the old swing doors from the early 1900’s, which were part of the original design of this space.  Rather than press a button on the roof of my car to open the doors and drive in, the buggy driver would have stepped down from the buggy and walked to the front of the carriage house, opened the doors one by one, and then returned to unhitch the horses. The ceremonial aspect of hitching and unhitching the horses was, in itself, part of the procedure that meant life was less complicated and there was time for hay and tackle.

Our house was a homestead house, being one of the early homes in the area, built three blocks from the town square. Someone of substance built this house on a hill and as such, had a buggy and horses to maintain.  Long ago building a carriage house was a sign of prestige.  Now it means that a structure stands ready to be converted for an imagined function, but the long ago ritual that went along with getting horse and buggy ready for a drive in the country is easy to imagine.  There still lingers the faint smell of leather and hay and hide when walking into our garage on a musty day. The connection I feel to this house originates in these horses from the past.

I won my first art contest when I was seven years old.  At Churchill Grammar School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, the second grade class had been furiously drawing and painting for days.  Miss Pastor, our teacher,  chose what she felt were the best examples of youthful seven year old exuberance more than real talent, and taped up these art contest submissions high on the wall.  Opposite the art display were the windows of the classroom which faced the parking lot.  Our local art teacher who taught at several schools in the area each week, arrived on this particular day, strode into the classroom and pointed right at the painting I had done of a horse’s head. 

“I saw this from the parking lot as I drove in and it is the winner.”

I was called to come up to the front of the class and receive a blue ribbon which I still have. It is taped to the front of the old torn painting, never framed, and stored in a trunk in the attic. My submission was bold strokes of color in blue and red and yellow which gave the appearance of op-art gone mad, but the vision of a horse could still be seen clearly. This singular event changed me as a little girl.  I went from having an average fixation with horses, common to most little girls growing up in a mildly suburban area where glimpses of horses could be caught easily, to an obsessed youngster who pretended to be a horse at recess. I became the horse expert, though I’d never ridden one, and made friends purposefully with anyone who owned a horse.  Pam Nelson, whose family moved into the area when I was in the third grade became my inseparable friend. Eventually I learned to ride on Honeyman, her brother’s pony, while she rode her Shetland, Tina.  My education in all things horse related came from getting on this pony, falling off and repeating that endless cycle until I could ride bareback.  Mucking out stalls, reading all the Walter Farley books plus a series by an author I cannot remember about a young girl who solved all sort of crimes by knowing everything about horses.  I was convinced that I too would eventually become a horse riding boot wearing ponytailed freckled agent of some yet to be named department needful of my services. 

Some dreams are for the early years of grammar school and nestle there with dusty doors that we all open when feeling nostalgic.  I love looking back because it pushes my foot against the blocks of the race before me.  My back door opens and my daughter and grand-daughter come in. I have to go out back to take newspapers to the carriage house and Summer toddles after me on firm little legs.  She helps me open the doors to the converted garage and fill a bin with newspapers.  We then go inside and make hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows floating on top which melt into warmth and I teach her how to blow softly before taking a sip. I look out the back window of our kitchen to the carriage house beyond and begin to tell my grand-daughter about art contests and horses and buggy rides.  I realize that some of the best treasures our old house brings are the memories it inspires in me even when I lived somewhere else.                       

One Response to “The Carriage House

  • I finally had time to sit and enjoy this memory with you. I am blessed by your writings.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: