I was nowhere near 70 when I read the book, but I expected to be someday.
I pictured this woman creeping around the barn slowing everything down so that she could handle the work that she still loved after all the years. At the time I read the book, could pick up a bale of hay and toss it. I could tip a 100 pound bag of grain into the bin. Now I can’t.
At that time I was barn manager for a small riding and boarding stable. Could I still be doing it when I was the age of this fictional woman? There is a lot of heavy labor to running a barn. Bales of hay run from 40 to 60 pounds. Bags of grain can be 40, 50 or 100 pounds. Mucking stalls consists of lifting wet straw and horse waste into a wheelbarrow and dumping it in a muck heap. Then there are the horses themselves. They are big and pushy. Things that horses do naturally, like nip, don’t work well with their human caretakers. They may not mean to push you over and step on you, but it hurts just as much as if it were intentional.
In my early 60s I graduated from horses to sheep. I’m going to consider that an upward movement, since it was dictated by my situation rather than by the size of the animal or my own physical condition. I do admit that I feel safer when the sheep step on my feet, since they leave bruises not broken bones. I liked being mobbed by the flock when I came to feed. My balance isn't great, but then seldom knocked me over.
Now I am the age of the woman in the Francis novel. I compare myself to her all the time. I can still lift 50 pounds but not as easily as I did when I was 55. Could she? I am slower. I was never particularly good at catching animals, but I am getting slower and now it is almost impossible. Was it harder for her? Three years ago I was driving to the feed store, buying grain and carrying the bags into the barn. I don’t do that anymore. Did she hire handsome young men from the village to help her? Why can’t I? Young men are just as attractive as they ever were. That doesn’t seem to change with age.
I have recently discovered a symptom of old age I hadn't known existed. Fear of falling. Wet grassy or icy slopes, stairs without railings, climbing over fences where there is no gate, they all terrify me now. I used to think it was fun. I don’t mind the bruise on my foot shaped like a hoof, or the black and blue mark on my hip where the ram got me this morning. I am convinced that one major broken bone will be the end of my barn career, and maybe everything else I enjoy. Will I stop writing if I am laid up with a bum hip? How long can I keep this up?