Sunday, July 18, 2021

Jane, In Memoriam

Jane Pastel (1925-2021)

I'm a firm believer that teens need an adult mentor in that teen's special interest who has exceedingly high expectations of that teen. Jane was my mentor as a kid. We attended the same church, which is how we met.  The church was holding an auction fundraiser and I had donated my meager drawing skills listing off that I was best at doing horses (lol oh tween me) and could work off of a photograph. 

Jane was the only one who bid on my services and she invited me out to her house to meet Barron and Pooh Bear.  Barron was an already ancient chestnut, Morgan gelding, arthritic and cranky and nearly toothless. Pooh Bear was a spit fire black Shetland gelding going gray in the face with age who absolutely ruled the roost. Both were absolutely doted on by Jane. 

Up until that moment, my little bits of horse exposure had been the occasional pony ride at the fair, or as a treat, a birthday trail ride out of a massive trail ride business somewhere near UConn, and summer riding lessons at UConn as an 11year old. I was a sponge that had read as much as I could and all that was left, was the hands on stuff. Jane's vast amount of knowledge was this treasure trove that I soaked and immersed myself in. 

She had been raised in the British Pony Club style, as had some of her kids. She taught me how to brush a horse and in what order (curry comb, stiff brush, body brush, soft brush). She told me I should get to know the horses first before drawing them for her. What a clever woman.  My dad and I would come out on the weekend. I would brush both Barron and Pooh, my Dad learned how to clean the stalls. I would dump the wheelbarrow for him (he has polio in a leg and the terrain was too rough for him to do it himself). 
Jane and her husband, Harvey, ca 2008 at my wedding in Groton, CT

One day we arrived and Jane informed me that she had a new horse that I should go meet. I remember it was a cold, late winter day. The ground was frozen but what greeted me was a very friendly, bay gelding who I was informed was named Classy Clyde. He was a Standardbred, off the track pacer and Jane had found and acquired him. I was informed, if I was to ride him, I would need to join the local Pony Club.  And she would pay for everything about him except for my Pony Club membership and his Coggins every year. Eventually, I became her trusted farm sitter, caring for the horses when she'd take her annual trip to the UK to visit a daughter who lived there. 

I rode him a little that really cold day and he was honest and steady and I decided then and there that bay standardbreds were my most favorite horse in the world and I wanted nothing else. This dude occupied a little piece of my soul. And I like to think that he decided I belonged to him too. 

Jane would pick me up after school in her big red diesel truck. Sometimes with the horse trailer in tow if I was going to a pony club lesson. Clyde took me through my C-1 until I finally left for college. Every winter I'd come home and hope to be around for Jane's Christmas Party. As a teen it was a fantastic time, held in her old farmhouse with multiple levels of floor as rooms had been added on over the years. There'd be caroling around the piano and I'd always escape out into the frigid air to visit the horses, already tucked in for the night, munching on their hay. 

I spent my summers at her house, cleaning stalls and riding for hours on the trails that connected into Bolton Notch State Park and Valley Falls Park. I knew that valley in and out and Clyde and I would head out and we'd just leave the trail and explore because I knew I'd always be able to get home. It was contained wild space, to a degree. I'd love to go back and ride those trails again, just to see them because they were such a quiet, tranquil space for me. 

2008, dancing at my wedding
Later, when Erica and I were engaged, we took engagement photos at her property. And when we did pre-marital counseling we were asked to identify a married couple we admired and looked up to. Jane, with her husband Harvey, was our immediate response. Or at least mine, and it didn't take long to convince Erica why. Harvey and Jane were married for what felt like ever. He was a retired surgeon, absolutely brilliant, kind man, and spent his retirement affectionately pinching Jane's bottom, playing tennis, and building beautiful, delicate model airplanes out of balsawood and rice paper or intricate origami pieces of art. There was so much love evident with the two of them and it was so obvious that something they were doing was right. They were lasting, they communicated and their love just continued to blossom. He passed away in 2017. 

It was because of Jane's tutelage that I felt confident diving into home horse ownership. I wouldn't be the equestrian I am today without her. She demanded skills and knowledge out of me and I rose to meet her expectations. Her confidence and trust in me was so crucial to me as a teen. Even if I'd fuck up at school (and I did... my resulting punishment was me delaying getting my drivers license), having Jane and Clyde was a constant in my life that I could rely on. 

Jazmin on Pooh (L) me on Clyde (R)

I kept meaning to write to her. To call. And realizing I can't anymore, that my procrastination cost me the chance to say hi and good by one last time, to send a purposeful thank you.... Fuck that hurts.  At least I can make the memorial service. 

RIP Jane. Harvey was probably impatiently waiting for you. I'm glad you're reunited with him again.