Gratitude is an amazing word and one not used often enough. I have many things to be grateful for on Thanksgiving Day. I think some of the strongest memories I hold, especially around the holidays, are those of my dad. He passed away a while ago but his words and his actions remain with me today.
My family and I lived in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My father, who was from the city, desperately wanted to live out in the country on a real, working farm. My mother, who came from a very poor and remote coal town, wanted little to do with the country. So, the compromise became a piece of property that my dad bought, which was located halfway between our suburban home and the country. On this property was a little barn that my father rebuilt and used as a boarding stable, and it was at this stable where my brother and I actually grew up along with many wonderful animal friends along the way.
Our barn was the place where I learned to ride a horse. I started out on a little black Shetland pony named Licorice, who allowed me to make many mistakes and did not make me pay for them. Licorice taught me not to let oneself get rattled too easily.
From there, I graduated to a larger pony by the name of Buckets. Buckets was bombproof but he had one unique quality. Whenever he would come to an open field, he would take off like a rocket and wouldn’t stop until he came to the end of that field. I did not know this about him the first time I rode him. Buckets taught me how to hang on until I could catch my breath again…oh, and never drop your reigns because no matter how fast you are going, you still need to steer.
From there, I moved onto a true horse by the name of Crackerjack. Crackerjack was an impressive-looking Quarter Horse with four white socks and a blaze. He was stout and strong but he was petrified of mud. He wouldn’t step in it. It took a great deal of patience to get him through it, but he would always get through. Crackerjack taught me that even the biggest animals still have fears, but with a little patience, those fears can be overcome.
From there, I moved onto the love of my childhood, a horse named Cody. I started riding Dressage on Cody and learned how to jump. Cody was a very sensitive horse with a kind eye and was always aware of what was going on around her. I actually think she loved me back. Ironically, she is also the horse who accidentally broke my foot. I was standing next to her when she was stung by a wasp. She jumped suddenly and landed on my foot. When I came to the barn after that to see her, she would sniff the cast and then look at me with sadness in her eyes. Cody taught me to love someone or something more than myself.
Next, there was Khloe. Khloe was a big beautiful Hanoverian mare my father bought me to compete with. She was so regal and talented but feisty. I had to learn new ways to stick to the saddle as well as new cues to get her to pay attention. Khloe taught me discipline and true confidence.
Then there was our favorite dog Dundee. Dundee was an Aussie/lab mix and had a heart of gold. He was always there by my side trying to be the best helper he could be. He wasn’t afraid of anything and was a great protector. From Dundee, I learned how to be strong and how to be a good friend.
I spent a lot of time at that little red barn with my dad and my animal friends. And as time went on, I had to say goodbye to some of them, and eventually, to all of them. When my father passed away, my brother and I tried really hard to keep the barn going. We did a fair job for a period of time, but after so long, it became evident that we would need to sell it. We hung on as long as we could, longer than we should have, and then finally parted ways with what felt like the last piece of our souls—our barn.
We didn’t get that much in the way of compensation for the property. We tucked away that small amount in an account somewhere and promised each other we wouldn’t touch it—not for anything. Then, one day, we realized we were still tethered to the barn and the past. So, we took the money and invested it into a children’s book and toy line. The books are about a boy named Joey (named after our dad) who goes on an adventure with his barnyard animal friends. All of our old friends make an appearance in the books and there is a plush animal line that depicts all of the animal characters in the books. Why is this so important? Well, my father never had the pleasure of meeting my daughter. My daughter will never experience our barn. These books are a way to pass along to her the stories we had growing up and the love we had for our little red barn and everyone there.
Without our dad, we wouldn’t have had the barn. And if we wouldn’t have sold the barn, we wouldn’t have these books to pass along to my daughter and to children everywhere. The books now hold the memories I have long carried and cherished. Creating these books and toys has given me the chance to remember with my heart all that I had growing up, and in doing so, I have experienced a new sense of the word gratitude—both for all that has been given to me and for all that is yet to come.
By Dannie Maiolo
Dannie and her brother Steve have created a four-part, wonderfully illustrated children’s book series that stretches the imagination and teaches youngsters the power of a positive attitude, persistence, courage, and decision-making. When you collect all four books of this fantastic series, your little ones can help solve the barnyard mystery and create their very own actual little red barn from the book covers. Be sure to check out the handy barn book carrying case that comes complete with all of the plush barnyard animal characters in the story. You can find everything at www.littleredbarnbooks.com
This is a great gift idea for the holidays so make sure you take a look. We do not get compensated for this recommendation.