• Linda Gruenberg

Where Did the Idea for Hummer Come From?

When I was a horse-crazy thirteen-year-old, an old man named Riley permanently lent me a beautiful black Arabian mare who he called Roxie and I called Fox (or Foxy Roxie or Roxie the Fox or any other combination). Now you have to understand that I lived on a horse farm and was the luckiest kid I knew. I had a happy childhood and all the love I could wish for. It’s just that I had outgrown the babysitter horses I had been riding until then.

Old Man Riley was a rather poor, lonely man who used to ride the rodeo, like in the Hummer story. He had gotten too old to care for his own horses anymore. He first gave Roxie to my Uncle Marv’s family because they also had horses. But all Roxie did there was stand in the pasture. Eventually Uncle Marv told me that if I wanted to give Roxie a try, I could come get her and he would work it out with Riley later.


Riding Roxie the 3 miles home from Uncle Marv’s turned out to be the most memorable ride of my life. She was a hot mess of having been nowhere and done nothing for a long time. Roxie arched her neck in front of me, blowing and snorting with every stride. She danced. She bowed her head and lifted her knees high. Her ears strained forward with the energy of her whole self behind them. But she listened to me, all contained power and beauty you have to feel to believe. That may have been my first instance of understanding how a horse can be collected between your fingertips and the calves of your legs, ready to jump over the moon but waiting for the signal.


Long before we were home, I was in love.


Uncle Marv promised to tell Old Man Riley that Roxie had found a new home, and sure enough Riley turned up to watch me ride—then turned up every day after that. He was in a heaven of having a new life and riding by proxy. He brought me horse show fliers and competitive trail-ride bulletins, found a sulky to drive Roxie with, went to auctions to get her equipment, and on like that. He told me stories about his favorite-ever horse. I had never had so much attention riding before. He would stand on the outside of any arena where I was showing her, talking to strangers and gesturing to Roxie. He would criticize her just to hear strangers argue and rave what a beautiful horse she was. He never let on that she was his horse.


I was at that age where a horse could be my whole life. I spent hours with and on Roxie, doing tricks like somersaulting off her rump, making home-made jumps for her, finding out how slow she could canter (too bad for anyone stuck behind us in the showring), finding out how fast she could gallop, swimming and jumping and riding out alone, sometimes sleeping lying backwards on her back, sometimes riding home long after dark.


When Riley died, I was 17. I wanted to write a novel about him and Roxie, but when I included myself in the story, I found out I wasn’t a sympathetic character. I was too happy. I didn’t have any reasons to need the horse or the old man, either one, no matter how much I loved them or how much I missed Riley. I couldn't get any traction writing.


Then I thought of a little scrawny girl who rode my school bus. Rumor had it that her father slept in the barn and her mother never came out of the house. I thought, now there’s somebody who needs an old man and a horse to love her. Although maybe I had no right to re-imagine someone else’s life, I couldn’t help it. I began writing. I gave her a nick-name. In my imagination I gave her the beautiful horse and the old man. Then I set the wheels spinning to see what would happen. That became the story called Hummer.




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