135. Horsing Around

Happy Birthday, Susy!

Susan Marie Ford Warden, my fourth child, was born on Saturday, January 19, 1957 at St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital in snowy Dubuque, Iowa. She is 54 years old today.

Susy’s only cousin that was born the same year is Jenny Ann Ward.  Jenny is also a fourth child.  Her parents are my brother-in-law and sister-in law, Bob and Arlis Ford.  Jenny is married to Jim Ward and they have two sons, Joshua and Jacob.  Jenny is a jewelry artisan. (It would be jolly if Jenny and Jim and Joshua and Jacob eat jars of jelly and jam and Jello in June and July.)

Getting back to Susy, she was baptized at Nativity Church in Dubuque with my sister Joan Gorman Fitzpatrick and my brother Richard Gorman as her godparents.

My brother-in-law Tommy Fitzpatrick is holding son Tim and I’m between Joan and Richard.


Susy seemed perfectly normal till she was around, oh, 5 years old or so.  At that time, she took up a artistic career as a drawer of dogs.  Crayon at the ready, she drew pictures of dogs on new and used paper, toilet paper, the stairway walls, any other walls not already encrusted with ink, pencil lead, or crayon wax, the backs of old envelopes, and, seemingly, on any writable surface in kindergarten at Stevens Elementary School in Seattle.

One day, the kindergarten teacher corralled me at an Open House at the school.  “Mrs. Ford”, she announced grimly, “Have you ever considered getting Susy a dog?”

“Well, no”, I stammered.  “See, we’ve got all these kids. Unless the dog was the size of a horse, its days would be numbered.”   The teacher wasn’t amused.

“It’s obvious that Susan desperately wants to have a dog”, she said, pulling out a sheaf of Susy’s dog drawings and fanning them out on her desk.  “For the sake of her emotional health, you should look into getting a dog.”

Fumbling through the drawings, I heard myself saying, “Well, thank goodness, she hasn’t been drawing dinosaurs. We might be able to squeeze a small dog into our crowded domicile, but a T-Rex? Not on your short and endangered life!”

Just kidding.  Actually, I strode home planning to take immediate action.  And we did.  The next day, my husband Gene brought home a handsome little boxer puppy.

We should have named him “Hungry” because that was his most prominent attribute.  Instead, someone named him “Yankee”, which was actually more appropriate because he immediately fostered a revolutionary war.  One puppy is not enough to share among 7 small children. Don’t try it, unless you’ve had some extensive training in armed combat.

Fighting over him didn’t seem to bother Yankee, though.  All he needed was knowing where his next bowl of food would be coming from, and the location of some more shoes to chew on.

The climax of this drama happened a few days later.  Not finding a shoe handy, Yankee did some serious chewing on Susy’s left ear.  Fortunately, he didn’t chew it all the way off.  He just mangled it enough so it didn’t look like an ear any more.

The doctor at Group Health was very encouraging. He said Susy’s ear will probably get its regular shape back, maybe by First Grade.  She was very brave.  She never complained, even when the nurse gave her a shot.

The next day, she marched off to kindergarten with her head held high.  No deformed left ear was going to get the best of Susy.  But she never came home with any more drawings of dogs.  The paper she brought home that afternoon was a drawing of a horse.  Amazing.  I didn’t even know she could draw horses.

On the next day, and the next day after that, more crayon drawings of equines were appearing.  All over the house.  Pretty soon, little Gretchen was trying to draw them, too.  Next thing I knew, Gene was hauling all the little girls to the library to get “horse books”. I soon found myself urgently thinking of ways to avoid another confrontation with the kindergarten teacher.

Before writing today’s blob, I was digging through my stash of memorabilia from the kids’ school years.  Every Christmas, I used to weasel out of figuring out creative presents for Santa to bring.  What we did was to ask anybody who could write, to make out a list of items they might like Santa Claus to choose from.

This was a very serious task and one that was never completed in only one day.  It was actually quiet in the house while these lists were being compiled.  They were frequently re-copied to be as neat as possible. When she was only six, daughter Teresa typed hers on a typewriter to be absolutely sure that legibility would be pristine. The lists were very detailed, and they showed a concerted effort to be reasonable.

By reasonable, I mean that – like it or not –  they knew that Santa was going to be bringing pajamas and socks, so it was best to be polite and ASK for pajamas and socks like they really wanted them. Nearly every list included “pajamas” and some form of socks or leotards. Then, their duty fulfilled, they could get on to the good stuff.  As Mrs. Claus, I always appreciated their diplomacy.

By the time she was 8 years old, Susy, aided and abetted by Gretchen and Terry, had swept the whole family into what I think of as the Ford Horde’s Equestrian Age.

This is what Susy’s “Want” list for Santa looked like that for the December when she was 8 years old. Her sisters had similar ones. 


In case you can’t read the 45 year old list, here it is in typewritten form:

WANT    by Susan Ford

1.  1 pair of pajamas

2.  Glamour Puss, stuff she is silky and soft.  (Editors note: And she’s not a dog.)

3.  Family of four beautiful palomino horses

4.  Riding academy complete with 4 horses plus a corral

5.  Kookie Komber

6.  The Circle X Ranch with Jane West and Jonny West with the house and barn

7.  Western Frontier Town, over 170 pieces

8.  Scale Model Truck and horse trailer


Was just getting to the best part of Susy’s story but time runneth out.  Stay tuned tomorrow if you love horsies.  . . . To be continued.

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6 Responses to 135. Horsing Around

  1. keytimer says:

    Happy Birthday, Susy! What a little doll! The photo of all of you guys with Yankee is one of the best kid pictures I’ve ever seen. I love the way you communicated your sincere desires. How could not a Mom respond. I look forward to more horse stories.

    Note: As in all the blogs, the pix in Word Press do not align until [Add a comment] is clicked. I was glad your beautiful handwriting page appeared then. …I wonder what ‘9’ was going to be…

  2. Tim Fitzpatrick says:

    Happy Birthday Susy!!! I still have fond memories of you and Gretchen visiting us in Iowa. What a ball!

    I hope you have a terrific day and a wonderful 54th year.

  3. Faithful "Going on 80" Follower says:

    Happy Birthday, Susie! I love the way your mom’s blog gives us a glimpse into her youth and reminds us of the memories of ours. Remember the style show you and Gretchen had when you came to visit that summer? Who knew then the tradition of ‘the dress’ was beginning??? Have a fabulous day!

  4. Josie Warden says:

    It’s funny you mention it, because just the other day I caught her drawing on the walls in the living room.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Happy birthday to my horse crazy mom! Susy still seems to love horses and dogs best, but she also loves all sorts of animals. We had a variety of creatures living in our house at various times. She did eventually draw the line with the frogs when their live crickets started getting loose in the house, where they did irritating things like make chirping sounds in the carpet and turn up dead in the open box of cereal in the cabinet. (I believe those frogs were soon moved to Gretchen’s classroom as pets.)

    Susy incorporated lots of artistic projects into our childhood, including painting on walls! She designed and painted cool murals at our elementary school (and even let kids help with the painting!) and made a special mural of Ralph’s farm in her own kitchen. She baked us crayon cookies, let us paint with colored shaving cream, took us on leaf collecting trips so we could turn them into tracings, and more. Some of my favorite art projects were the refrigerator boxes she would regularly get for us at the appliance store and help us turn into anything we could dream up—houses, cars, rocket ships, and more.

    Another really special art/craft project involved our bedrooms. Susy helped each of us kids create themed bedrooms based on our interests and passions. I remember a period when I was probably about 10 when Neil had a jungle room with all sorts of animals and things hanging from the ceiling, Gretchen had cats and rainbows, and I had an underwater sea room with fish nets on the walls, shells, and sponge paint. Our unique rooms made us feel special and important.

    Susy also planned special themed birthday parties that were by far the coolest parties I ever attended! Gretchen had a cat themed party one year where we all dressed up as cats and Susy painted our faces. I had a princess tea party where we all wore homemade crowns, leotards, and matching skirts. We had swimming parties, water fight parties, tie dye and puffy painting parties, and so many others!

    Susy made a point of planning trips for us to explore new parks constantly, which was exciting and fun! I also have great memories of walks in the woods and to Lake Marcel when we were kids, singing songs like Knees Up Mother Brown and Old Dan Tucker. I remember the first time I saw my mom swim across the lake and back. I was so scared for her and proud of her at the same time! She was like a superwoman swimming across an entire lake!

    I think my mom is still a kid at heart, which makes her an awesome parent and a ton of fun to be around! I am very lucky to have such a giving, loving, creative, and fun mother! Happy birthday, Susy!

  6. Christine Ford says:

    Happy Belated Birthday, Suzy! Did not know I have a Ford cousin that is close to my birthday! Loved your pictures and especially the family with Yankee and the story of your horses!

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