I was born in the month of Sagittarius: I am a centaur, half horse, half archer, aiming high.
I get the horse half from my mom, Betty C. Fink: she loved to draw and sculpt equine themes. She would paint animal images on ceramic coffee or hot chocolate cups for frequent visitors. She chose carefully and whimsically what creature symbolized their nature.
For her own metaphor, my mom chose the workhorse, with blinders on! That, I guess, is how she saw her lot in life. Just doing what she was expected, supposed, to do: cooking, cleaning, shoveling snow, keeping Kosher, making her way through her errands. Just like the actual horse her father kept in her girlhood, both in Romania, in Podul Iloiaie, and in Trois Rivieres, Montreal.
The blessed beast had to pull the peddler’s wagon, and must be fed courteously, gratefully, not carelessly or casually. The well-being of the family depended on that horse – even the warmth of its body was crucial, supplying heat for human habitation. (When I listened to tales by the open wood fire on the hearth, I took the details very much to heart, as though magic just meant my mother’s past!)
Later in my mom’s life, when her artistic talent opened other opportunities for design, she crafted a mosaic table, rather large and quite colorful. What was the motif? A horse, of course! A much fancier steed, that stood, maybe, for her enhanced sense of self and personal worth.
Now, I’m one of those loyal sons who never stops remembering, with love, the story of a mother’s devotion – remembers forever, long after her passing. So I read multiple meanings into these few souvenirs, or even merely slides or snapshots of mementos, that have moved on to other households.
Yes, I teach at an art and design college, perhaps partly inspired by my mom’s visits to Lincoln Woods just to ride in a circle around the sacred and holy miniature forest and recall her first friendly pony.
Movies make much of horses that win races. But the horse my mother chose to depict was a useful servant who earned honor and respect from those who appreciate labor. The arrow pointing upward in her mosaic maybe stands for my ambition to aim for the stars above; after all, we are both earthbound and stardust, perhaps ….
Our solstice holiday, Hanukkah, combines its seasonal timing – the shortest day promises to start getting longer, second by second – with the national candlelit concept of dedication; we strive to go on with a devotion to Jewish ideals of learning, recalling and carrying the burdens like those horses of long ago that every Jewish family had to pay heed to.
You find this far-fetched? Read the children’s stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer. He wrote one that I heard at Temple Beth-El, in Providence, decades ago. Sus, the bookseller’s pet, knows the route for selling children’s stories along their pathway. When Sus dies, his loving owner and companion, Naftali, buries him in the vast lawn of a Polish aristocrat, and a tree goes on the grave.
When the storyteller passes away, he too shares the good earth with his animal familiar and friend.
Deep in December, it’s good to remember.
MIKE FINK (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.