"I wrote 63 songs this year. They're all about Jeter." Just kidding. The game we love, the players we hate, and more.

Culture and Criticism

From Norman Mailer to Wendy Pepper — everything on film, TV, books, music, and snacks (shut up, raisins), plus the Girls' Bike Club.

Donors Choose and Contests

Helping public schools, winning prizes, sending a crazy lady in a tomato costume out in public.

Stories, True and Otherwise

Monologues, travelogues, fiction, and fart humor. And hens. Don't forget the hens.

The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour: Day 2

Submitted by on March 25, 2010 – 10:47 PM25 Comments

I spent most of the day on interstates. I'd rather take blue highways all around, but in this part of the trip, I don't have time.


I did get to take the Bourbon Trail for an hour or so, though — miles of two-lane roads through rolling hills, minty white fences, and thoroughbreds. I used to dream of this part of the country as a little girl, the little girl who read the Black Stallion books over and over until the spines gave way (all of them, even the ones about the Black's second cousins in harness racing and gymkhana). I would put the Chariots of Fire LP on the stereo and "ride" a wing chair to victory in all three Triple Crown races, in my head. I knew everything about racing tack, diseases of the hoof, how to walk off a colic. By the age of ten, I'd already grown too tall to become a jockey, and I knew it, but I couldn't let go of it, that life I wanted to step into one day.

And of course I didn't. Of course my parents used to tease me on car trips by calling the horses we passed "gloofs" (an abbreviation of "glue factory"), and of course I had no sense of humor about it and annoyed the entire family with lectures on…I don't even know. Equine sensitivity. Of course they knew what I refused to, that Pippi Longstocking is only a story and you can't just put a horse in a boat, or keep him on the roof. No one just "has" a monkey.


The day's theme, evidently, was animals. I couldn't help noticing that raccoons of southern Ohio and Kentucky have a doomed romance with highways; I saw at least 20 after crossing the border from Pennsylvania. Roadkill is not a new concept for me — I come from New Jersey, after all — but there's something about the attitude of the carcasses that got to me a little. All of them lay slung over on their sides, jaws to the sky, paws over their faces, very much like a certain orange cat of my acquaintance who likes to nap in poses from Braveheart: The Musical.

Another book I read a gazillion times as a kid: Rascal. When I reread it, though, I always skipped the part where Sterling North released Rascal and said goodbye, that gorgeous, wretched moment when he sees Rascal, months later, and they recognize each other, but Rascal goes back into the woods, back into his real life. I jumped instead back to the beginning, to the part where I could still believe that I could have, could keep, a tree house and a baby raccoon.

So maybe the day's theme was not so much animals, but rather my childhood assumption that I would not have human friends when I became an adult.

Next stop: Murfreesboro, TN.

Be Sociable, Share!



  • Cyntada says:

    Rascal was another childhood book I loved (or at least, the excerpt I had access to in an anthology) and I gotta tell you… Sterling North sanitized things a bit there.

    My BFF currently has a live, legal, fish-and-game-permitted raccoon living in her home, and the word of the day? Chaos. For that matter, my partner once kept two pet raccoons in a custom-built run in the backyard, and they caused chaos too.

    Cat chaos cannot even come close to raccoon chaos. Just think: all the havoc-wreaking potential of cats, but with a bigger brain and opposable thumbs!

  • anne says:

    I thought that "No one just 'has' a monkey" was the best sentence I would read today, until your conclusion punched me in the stomach. You make an absolute present of your idea with that beautiful bow.

  • Sarah J says:

    Sars, you and I led parallel childhoods. I may not have "ridden" to Chariots Of Fire, but I'd "ride" along beside the car I was in, jumping hedges and ditches, galloping on the grass verges, trotting over slick driveways. I knew Margaret Cabel Self's horse care books backwards and forwards, and The Black Stallion was my comfort-food read.

    I LOVED Rascal, the book is still in my bookcases somewhere, I bet. I made the mistake of thinking that Ring Of Bright Water was going to be Rascal all over again except with otters. I cried for days.

    And your childhood assumption? Ummm… that might be me now. I may have more animals than human friends, I'm a little afraid to count! (Currently 9 cats, 2 dogs and 7 horses)

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    After battling the urban wildlife raccoons that kept breaking into my basement and breaking a finger when I fell on the full spool of barbed wire that entailed and having to get a tetanus shot because I FELL ON A GIANT 50+ LB. SPOOL OF BARBED WIRE, raccoons are the devil. Don't get me started on opossums. I pepper sprayed one last fall. I had good reason.

  • avis says:

    I loved the Black Stallion books! And they are why I know an owner cannot ride his horse in a race.
    I especially liked the one about the island horse and the *spoiler alert* aliens! Awww…. I miss reading those for the first time.

  • JennyMoo says:

    I mean, who needs human friends, anyway?

    Sarah J — the route to my grandmother's house was through rural horse country and I'd do the same thing — staring out the window, imagining myself galloping across the fields we were flying past, and just out of sight over the rise of the hills, of course, was my gracious manor house. (I grew up near Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, you see.)

    And sometimes, these days, when I am visiting my parents' house, I pull the yellowed, dog-eared Black Stallion books off the shelf and start at the beginning.

    Speaking of Sterling North — did you ever read The Wolfling?

  • mrs f says:

    To this day I still find myself "riding" along outside the car window! And I'm 37!

  • Kristina says:

    Wow – I'd never seen it put like that, but that's so accurate. I didn't have the horse fever, but a friend of mine did and we'd run like madmen through this big field near her house pretending that we were herding cattle from Texas to Montana, or wherever cattle are meant to go. My favorite part was when we called out horse names, even though all my horses were basically called Frank, Dennis, Larry, or Kevin.
    I miss being a kid a lot sometimes. I mean, who doesn't want to just have a monkey?

  • Jaybird says:

    Growing up in Alabama, I entertained a vehement preference for raccoons over opossums (as animals, not dinner, ew). Then I found out that of the two, raccoons are about 3X more likely to carry rabies. I still like them better.

    I sort of envy girls who went through horsey phases; I never did, despite reading the "Misty" books over and over. It's hard not to feel like I missed out on something, there.

    My sister and her husband have two monkeys, Russ and Mojo. And no, nobody just "has" a monkey–they're a lot like very hairy, compulsively-grimacing kids with a penchant for gymnastics.

  • misslisslee says:

    Watch for the switch from raccoons to possums and skunks when you reach Tennessee. Maybe that's a metaphor? Seriously, the whole state of TN seems to smell like skunk this time of year. Happy traveling!

  • Pegkitty says:

    Awww…Rascal. I think I still have it too, Sarah J. I just got a little teary.

  • Noelie says:

    We had a horse named Blaze, who was not exactly a rocking horse – his body was attached to a frame with springs, and his legs moved as you rode him. I don't know how many hours I spent in the cellar riding Blaze, but I was pretty convinced I'd be able to transfer my expertise to a real horse without any problems.
    So far I have not tested this theory.

  • Another Sarah J says:

    Aw, Sars I'm glad you liked the Bluegass State. That's my family's stomping grounds and I have a soft spot for them. I live in CA now and it drives me nuts when people ask if we have anything as beautiful as [insert California natural wonder]. That part of the country has some gorgeous areas if you let yourself see them.

    Now Southern Ohio? I have nothing redeeming to say about that [from the lady that lived in Cincinnati for 5 years and disliked almost every minute].

    Can't wait to read about the rest of your trip!!

  • Another Sarah J says:

    Edit to comment above – the BluegRass state. Heh, Freudian slip letting my true feelings shine through?

  • lizgwiz says:

    I hadn't thought about "Rascal" in years. I still have a milk crate in the garage filled with all my "horse books." I was a big fan of Marguerite Henry.

  • Jen S says:

    Owls In The Family had me convinced there was ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD REASON why two fully grown owls could not be my pets and perch upon my shoulders. Or perhaps a small falcon, a la The Other Side Of The Mountain.

    Weirdly, you know what stuck in my head the most from Black Beauty? The chapter where the kindly cabbie tells the rich guy to suck it, he's not working a seven day week to take Rich Snot Family to church, and his wife totally concurs. Labor Rights, kids!

  • rayvyn2k says:

    I devoured the Black Stallion books, just like you did. Read all about his sons, daughters, cousins…grand–foals? Loved 'em all. I also read My Friend Flicka (OMG talk about a tear-jerker), Black Beauty, the Misty books…I was horse-crazy. My friends and I played "horses", watched all the Triple Crown races…*sigh*. It was fantastic. Now that I live in Middle Tennessee and can finally HAVE a horse…I don't know if I have the energy anymore and that makes me sad. Wish I could get a glimpse of you while you're here, but as we've said so many times before…maybe next year.

  • Hannah says:

    I'm glad you got to see some of the Bourbon Trail (if only you'd had time to stop for one of the bourbon tours…). I'm still a rather recently transplant in Kentucky, but there are some pretty rural roads amongst the horse farms and distilleries.

  • Stormy says:

    I grew up on an acreage in the country.
    I had a horse when I was a child. She would bug my mom by jumping the fence, nosing the screen door open and walking into the kitchen. (She got lonesome for people, but my mom thought she would break through the floor and into the basement.)
    We also had a racoon who would come up on the back porch and eat catfood. My sister and I trained it so that it would eat from our hands.
    Both were pretty awesome.

  • Bo says:

    I read all the Black Stallion books, too, over and over and over. Best thing? When I was sitting at the Arabian Horse Show (very much an adult) at the Devon Horse Show Grounds and they introduced Walter Farley, who was sitting right behind me. Squeee!

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    My mom was big on me reading Kipling. I bugged my parents for a pet mongoose for three years solid because of Rikki Tikki Tavi. This was not an option in the plains states. They must be so relieved Meerkat Manor wasn't on TV back then. I must have a thing for weasely creatures. That would sure explain some of my ex-boyfriends.

  • Des says:

    Oh my. Sounds eerily similar to my childhood fantasies. And I did have horses (and goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits) and they were all going to be my BFF's.
    And the jockey thing, damn puberty. (sigh) So I did the next best thing I guess, I did other stuff at the racetrack and with horses in general & now I get to live in the Bluegrass & work at one of those big, pretty farms you drove past. Livin' the dream!

  • Jaybird says:

    Hee, Kristina had a pretend horse named Kevin. I love that!

  • Cyntada says:

    @mrs f: I am somehow relieved not to be the only adult that mentally gallops alongside the moving vehicle.

    "Hi, my name is Cyntada, and I still have a pretend horse…"

    Still have the Margeurite Henry books too, and quite a few by Sam Savitt as well. (He was my horse-drawing hero back in the day.)

  • Kristina says:

    @ Jaybird – now I've got two pretend dogs named Finkel and Einhorn and two pretend cats named Jamal and Momo. I cannot wait until I win the lottery and can buy that farm I've always wanted.

Leave a comment!

Please familiarize yourself with the Tomato Nation commenting policy before posting.
It is in the FAQ. Thanks, friend.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>