Clarksville, North Carolina: 2016
Anna’s home, Kingston Stables, is located on state highway 45 four miles outside of Clarksville in the North Carolina foothills. When she made the turn into the winding lane that leads to the farm she never fails to be awed by the towering oak trees that shelter the lane.
To her, the trees are like old and trusted friends who offer protection from the unknown evil that sometimes creeps out of the past to terrify her. The branches remind her of a mother’s arms; arms that offer comfort and safety. Her first glimpse of the trees occurred twenty-one years ago. Now, the trees are taller and more gnarled, but they are still beautiful. Spring, summer, winter and fall, they welcome family and guests to Kingston Stables.
Over the years, so much about Clarksville and the farms on the outskirts of town has changed, but Kingston Stables remains much the same as it was on Anna’s first visit.
Unchanged are the stands of evergreens at the back of the property, fields of corn and wheat to the east and verdant meadows to the west. From May through June, the meadows and forests are resplendent with wild ginger, trillium, lady slippers, violets and countless other wildflowers. During her early years on the farm, she, her good friend Hallie Brown, and her mom Bertie picnicked in the west meadow. Over the years, Bertie painted dozens of canvases of Anna and Hallie picking wildflowers.
The farm crew keeps the rambling farmhouse, stables and utility buildings in pristine shape, and her mom updates the interior of the farmhouse periodically. The décor has changed over the years, but the end result remains comfortably casual. It is home; the one place that Anna can count on lots of love, a bountiful food supply, and conversation that is meaningful.
Anna spotted Simon, the farm's horse trainer, when she drove into the lane leading to the farm. He was busy mending a fence. She stopped and rolled down the window when she came along side of him. “Hey, Simon. How’s it goin’?”
“Hey, yourself. We sure been missin’ you, honey. Welcome home!”
“Thanks. It’s been too long. Mom at the house?”
“She’s been cookin’ all day. You’d think she was entertaining the Queen of England.”
“Some things never change, Simon. Guess that means I’ll see you at the dinner table.”
“I plan to be here all week, Simon. If there’s a horse show coming up this week, I would love to go with you.”
“Got one on Friday. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have tag along with me. We’ll talk at dinner.”
Ten minutes later, Anna stood in the kitchen doorway watching her mom in amusement as she rolled out pie crust and swayed to the music that only she could hear. Anna clapped her hands to get her mom's attention.
Her mom pulled the ear buds out and grinned. “1985. Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.”
Anna shook her head. “You and your 1980’s music.”
“Keeps me young.” She wiped her hands on her apron, and pulled Anna into a warm hug. “Welcome home, sweetie. You have no idea how much your dad and I have missed you. Simon and Carlos won’t admit it, but I think they’ve missed you too.”
“Sorry it’s been so long, Mom. Time has a way of getting away from me.”
“Happens to all of us. The older I get, the faster it goes. Seems like yesterday that we visited the farm for the first time, and we’re going into out twenty-second year as owners.”
Anna sighed. “Twenty-one wonderful years. I know you love your life here, but it’s time you and Dad started thinking about retirement. You’re both carrying a heavy load. Between Dad’s law practice, your painting and all of the work around here, you don’t have time to think, much less relax.”
“We wouldn’t change a thing about the last twenty-one years, Anna, but we have started talking about our retirement. I’m fifty-six and your dad’s sixty-two. We’ve been trying to come up with ways to cut back for months now. We couldn’t agree on the direction we wanted to go until Hallie and a couple of her friends came to visit. They pitched a project that interests us. Since then, your dad and I have been talking to several friends and professional people about Hallie’s project. If we can help her bring it to fruition, it would mean leasing or selling the farm. Preferably leasing.
“You’ve come at just the right time. Your dad has a meeting set up for Thursday. He’s bringing in a group of people to discuss the feasibility of the project, the cost to get it off the ground, and the number of qualified people it would take to keep the project going.”
“Wow. Sounds exciting. Tell me more.”
“I’ve said too much already. Don’t bother to pester me about the project or the people involved. Your dad will fill you in at dinner.”
When her mom said no, she meant no, so Anna changed the subject. “I hope you don’t expect Dad and me to eat all of these pies.”
Bertie laughed. “I’ll keep one out for you. I’m making pies for the church bazaar tomorrow. If you are inclined to help your overworked mama, you can wrap the pies that have cooled in tin foil. The labels are on my desk.”
Anna kissed her mom’s cheek. “My pleasure.”
Dinner conversation at the Kingston table that evening was a mixture of local politics, lawyer jokes, complaints from riders about poorly performing mounts—riders rarely blamed themselves—Bertie’s latest paintings, and the latest Clarksville gossip. By the time Bertie served apple pie and coffee, Anna couldn't contain her curiosity.
“Dad, Mom tells me that you have a project in the works. Are deliberately avoiding the subject just to get me to beg?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Anna.”
Bertie stopped in her tracks. “John, you should be ashamed of yourself. You’ve been counting the hours until you could talk to Anna about our plans.”
Her dad grinned. “Just kidding. Have you heard of the Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Oregon?”
“I don’t think so. Should I know about it?”
“It’s a camp that promotes healing in children by matching children with mental and physical issues with rescued horses.”
“I haven’t heard about that ranch specifically, but Hallie has talked about being part of a horse rescue team since she was a pre-teen.”
“If you want to know more about the ranch, there’s a book titled Hope Rising on my desk. The stories will break your heart, but the book has inspired your mom and me.
“Hallie and your friend Katie Flanagan heard that we were considering leasing Kingston Farms, so they came to us with a business plan.
"For over a year those two have been trying to put together a program to fit the needs of the disadvantaged children in Burke County. They flew out to Oregon to check out Crystal Peaks and came back enthused. Hallie, of course, is interested in rescuing horses, so she visualizes a program similar to the one at Crystal Peaks.
“Since Katie uses music as a tool to reach troubled children, she would like to incorporate the arts into the project. That’s where your mom comes in. They would like for her to teach painting.”
“And, you come in because they need a kick-ass lawyer.”
“Right, but they also need property, preferably a farm with stables. The team that is meeting Thursday includes Hallie, Katie and her husband Scott, Dr. Martin Gladscoe, Karen DeAngelo—a social services employee—and your mother and me. We have a long way to go before Hallie and Katie’s dream becomes a reality, but we’re making progress.”
“The concept sounds great, but I can’t throw my vote your way, until I know more. I’ll read Hope Rising, and then I’ll do some further research tomorrow.”
“We can use your input about publicity, and event planning.”
“That I will freely give.”