Not long ago I assigned a “Big Question” interview. The subject of the interview was to be Dr. Dean Richardson, who had leaped into our consciousness as the vet who was performing medical miracles to keep Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro alive. Dr. Richardson, who graduated from Dartmouth, and whose parents live near to us here at Yankee, had given hope to millions of people who face long odds, in all circumstances.
We were planning on running the interview in our May/June issue. The writer told us he was having some problems lining up the time with Dr.Richardson. First, Richardson had been away in California receiving an award from a horse association.
Then came word that Barbaro had taken a sudden, and to most of us, an unexpected turn for the worse. And then came the news on the morning newscasts of January 29. Barbaro had lost the fight. I still hope the writer is able to connect with Dr. Richardson because the message of his battle against all odds to save a single horse is not one that is any less important because the battle was lost. As Dr. Richardson told reporters while fighting back tears, “Barbaro had many good days.”
The same week that the nation lost Barbaro, I opened an envelope that had arrived from a writer in Vermont. I did not know the writer, the wife of a country vet and a lecturer in literature at the University of Vermont. We say these unsolicited stories arrive “over the transom,” like infants left at a doorstep. In the course of a year, a scant few ever make it onto the page. The competition for publication is great, pages always too few, no matter the magazine, and all magazines have their stable (to keep with the equine theme) of tried and true writers.
But there are always surprises, stories that grab you within the first few paragraphs and keep hold. That was the case here. And the subject was the fight to save a beloved horse. The setting was Vermont, locked in bitter subzero cold. The writer captured perfectly the sense of walking into a barn on such a morning:
Even the barn chores take longer. Manure freezes hard onto stall floors and we have to whack it with a shovel to pry it loose. We keep a pick-ax next to the shavings pile to break the frozen sawdust into manageable chunks. We keep a hairdryer in the barn on a hook above the hose bib so that we can defrost the valve enough to fill buckets. Our fingers go numb, refuse to work properly, and we know how much they will hurt when they thaw.
I gave the story to four others to read, I wanted to be sure they had the same reaction–that here, over the transom, had arrived a story that in a few pages caught winter, love, hope, and grit all in one small essay. They said, yes, it had.
Reading the piece, which I expect you’ll see in next winter’s Yankee, reminded me that all around us, there are private, unpublicized battles to save the animals we love, the animals that win only our hearts, and give us all a reason to hope that unexpected miracles, like a story opened in a deep pile of manuscripts, can happen anywhere.
Mel Allen is editor of Yankee Magazine and author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son.