I rode Kawliga into the front yard where my young sisters were taking care of Daddy, as they liked to do: while he was stretched out in a lounge chair reading his Bible, Renee combed his hair, Ramonda tickled his feet, Renda had just brought him a glass of tea. Ronda, (soon to turn 13,) was fanning him ... when an idea popped into her head.
“I want to ride Kawliga!”
“Daddy, tell him to let me ride Kawliga!”
“You can’t handle him. You'll get yourself killed,” I said.
“Daddy, he never lets me ride.”
“Let your sister have a turn,” he said without looking up.
I dismounted and loosened the saddle. “He's been acting up today, he'll hurt you.”
“Daddy, he’s taking the saddle off,” she said. “Tell him not to take the saddle off.”
Daddy glared at me. “Let-your-sister-ride-that-horse.”
“She can’t ride Kawliga,” I said.
Dad closed his Bible and sat up. “Did you hear what I said?”
“Kawliga’s too dangerous for her. I’m not going to let her ride him.”
Daddy bounced up out of the lounge chair, barefooted, and picked up a broken tree limb that one of the Reynolds children or dogs had dragged into the yard. He advanced a few steps, shaking the limb and Kawliga backed up, showing the whites of his eyes.
Daddy said, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way!”
“Yes sir, what?”
"Yes sir the easy way."
When Daddy went back to his lounge chair, Ronda gave me a triumphant look that I interpreted as, Nanny nanny boo boo.
Okay. So she won this round. I turned and tried to tighten the girth on Kawliga's saddle—but he took a deep breath and expanded his midsection. I pulled hard at the strap, but he wouldn't give in.
“Hurry up,” said Ronda. “Daddy, Randy won’t hurry up!”
I scowled.“Would you shut up?”
“Daddy, Randy told me to shut up!”
“Randall, don’t make me get out of this chair again!”
I could wait for Kawliga to exhale, or I could speed up the process by kicking him in the belly. But Ronda was yelling and Dad was already calling me Randall—a sign that things were getting serious—so I just cinched the saddle as well as I could with Kawliga still holding his breath.
I handed Ronda the reins. “Don’t run him and you’ll be okay.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
She mounted up, I adjusted the stirrups, and she rode down Kenzie Fitzgerald road and disappeared around a curve. I went back to let Daddy know, in case he’d missed it the first time, that he was wrong to let her ride a lively little horse like Kawliga. That conversation quickly ended and I was getting lectured about obedience when thundering hoofbeats caught our attention. We turned to see Kawliga running up the gravel road bucking and kicking at the saddle that dangled beneath his stomach.
“Great day in the morning!” shouted Daddy. “Look what you did!”
He picked up the tree limb.
“I didn’t do nothing! I told you she couldn’t ride him!”
“You left that saddle loose on purpose so she would fall off!”
For all he knew, Ronda was lying dead out there on the road, so I certainly deserved a few licks. By the time Ronda came trudging up the road, outraged and crying, I was crying louder. And then the back of my neck got hot and everything went white.
When I regained consciousness, I was on the couch on the screened-in porch and Daddy was rubbing a wet washcloth on my forehead.
“You got uptight and fainted,” he said.
I thought—but didn’t say—No, I got knocked out.
That was the afternoon of the night that I ran away from home for the last time. (And I would have stayed gone for good, but my dog Rusty got me caught.)