Adventures in Child Rearing

by | Apr 19, 2024 | My Wild and Precious Life

A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.”

Dorothy Canfield Fisher


His clear, crystal blue eyes captivated me the instant I saw him as I leaned over the beer keg to fill my cup. My eyes traveled down to take in his engaging smile. He said, “Hi, my name is Rick Bishop.” I told him my first name, filled my cup and hurried over to rejoin my date— feeling a little shaken and off balance.

I was attending Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s (SAE) Thank God It’s Over party held at the end of each semester at UCLA where I was just completing my freshman year. I went to the party with a date along with several of my Alpha Chi Omega sorority sisters and their dates. We were all making the rounds that evening on June 10, 1965—visiting several fraternity parties.

I walked down the short hallway to use the rest room. No sooner had I walked into the bathroom than I saw Rick standing in the doorway holding the door open. I said, “You can’t be in here, it’s the ladies room!” He said he would leave as soon as I gave him my phone number. Blushing, I quickly scribbled it down on the paper he held up. True to his word, he left the bathroom.


I began attending UCLA in September of 1964, right after graduation from Aviation High School in Manhattan Beach. My good friend, Julianne Gillespie, had encouraged me to enroll in UCLA and join a sorority together. Since both of us had top grades we were easily accepted, but the class schedule was rigorous and sorority life took many hours. I also chose to work part time at May Company department store in Westwood, a short bus ride from campus. Ever the overachiever, I carried a heavy load of 21 units with a major in Political Science and a minor in Languages, taking French, Spanish, and Swahili simultaneously. I thrived on my busy schedule.

My family home in the “tree section” of Manhattan Beach was a 30 minute drive from campus, so I visited my parents often on weekends. Rick began to pick me up there and take me on dates. He charmed my mother as well as me. One of our first dates was to the spectacular Host restaurant in the flying saucer-themed building at the Los Angeles Airport. It’s closed now, but back then it was pretty fancy. We also went to movies and to nightclubs like the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, where we once saw Dizzy Gillespie. It was a whirlwind summer for me. I was completely head over heels in love with Rick.

Toward the end of the summer, my world began to crumble little by little without me even realizing it. It started when we were sitting on my parents’ living room couch. Rick handed me a letter to read, addressed to Larry Rocker. I was confused and didn’t understand why he would show me a letter addressed to someone I had never heard of. He said, “That’s me.” I was so befuddled by this revelation that I didn’t know what to say.

A week later as we sat at my parents’ kitchen table Larry (formerly known as Rick) further revealed, “I want to be honest with you and let you know that I have been married.” I was surprised but thought to myself, “Well he is six years older than I am and I’ve heard of people getting married young.”  I responded, “Oh, but you’re not married now, right?” He said he wasn’t. Larry said he lived in Fresno with his mother and helped take care of her. (After this strange turn of events with Larry I could never call him by his name.)

Larry visited me often and one time he took me to Ventura. It was so beautiful there and I had never seen this part of the coast before. I remember feeling so grown up, taking a car ride with him to another city two hours away. While we were there he said, “Do you remember I told you I had been married? Well, there was a child.” I was surprised but thought to myself, “Well, I guess people have babies when they are married.” But I responded, “But she lives with her mother, right?” Larry assured me she lived with her mother in Fresno.

By the end of the summer Larry revealed to me that he actually had two children, not one, and not long after he clarified that it was actually three. Both revelations absolutely astounded me. In retrospect, I should have walked out the door and never spoken to him again. What’s the future like living with a liar? Amazingly I absorbed that information and did not object. At any rate, he went on to assure me they all lived with their mother.

In September I returned to my life at UCLA and the sorority house. Larry and I continued to date. I invited him to be my date for my sorority’s winter formal on December 9, 1965. It was a fancy affair and so much fun. At the end of the evening he said he had to go to Fresno because his mother was sick in the hospital. Larry asked if I would go with him. I agreed but since the sorority rules did not allow members to enter the house after 2:00 a.m., I had to climb up the trellis onto the balcony, pack an overnight bag, and climb back down to his waiting car. Of course, this only added to the excitement of the evening with this charming guy.

After checking into Reps 41 Motel on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno, Larry left me in the room while he went to the hospital. He said he felt so bad for his poor mother because she had just made new curtains for his room and now she was sick. Years later I discovered that it wasn’t his mother who was in the hospital, but the mother of his children. She was there having their fourth baby!

We continued to date during the following months and one day in June of 1965 Larry asked if I would leave school and come live with him in Fresno. He said I could finish up my school work at Fresno State University (I actually graduated from there with my Bachelor’s degree in 1974, which was 10 years after I graduated high school and started at UCLA). I agreed to go with him because I was so in love. It felt like a grand adventure to start a life like a real adult.

Of course, my parents were not thrilled with my decision and urged me to complete my college degree. But I gathered my things from the sorority house and off I went with my new found love to Fresno.

We found a small but adequate apartment above a garage and we carried our few possessions up the steep stairs and settled in. We made it our own by pasting a wild wallpaper over the large kitchen cabinet. Thankfully, the landlord liked it.

One evening we had just returned from a drive-in movie when I heard footsteps coming up our stairs. I was puzzled, wondering who it could be since it was dark outside and we didn’t know anyone in town. Then came a knock at our door. We didn’t have a porch light, so when I opened the door I could hardly see the people standing there in the dark.

The two women marched briskly into our apartment. One said, “Hello, I’m Mrs. Rocker.” The second one said, “Hello, I’m Mrs. Rocker.” They explained one was Larry’s mother and the other was his wife. Larry brought in two chairs from the kitchen and invited them to sit down. I was speechless but stood calmly by the wall heater in the chilly little room trying to appear non-judgmental. They proceeded to take turns saying what a bad father and husband Larry was and how he should be ashamed. Towards the end of the visit, they even had a few choice derogatory words for me. Eventually they left in a huff.

Larry was such a smooth talker and good salesman. He knew what to say to convince me that things were not as bad as they had described. He said he hadn’t lived with his wife from the day he and I moved in together. He explained that she had mental health issues and that his mother had a hot temper.

I have no clear idea why I didn’t run home or back to UCLA. Maybe it was because I was young and in love. Maybe it was because I was used to accepting and dealing with change and difficult situations—like my father’s abuse or our constant moves across country or dealing with never fitting in. Maybe it was because I just wanted to get safely away from my abusive home life.

Whatever the reason, I remember feeling like I could handle any challenging situation and make the best of it. So, I somehow chose to believe him and stay.

One day Larry announced that he had found a house for us to rent and his two sons would be coming to live with us (Rick was five years old and Mike was three). He said it would relieve some of the stress from their mother and that the oldest child, Pam, who was seven years old, would come frequently to visit us. Since Larry presented the plan by saying these poor little children needed a stable family environment, and since I have such a high level of responsibility for others, I was eager to do what I could to help.

So at age 19, I was now a “mom.”  I knew I had a lot to learn but I willingly jumped in to do what I could.

The simple two-bedroom house had a large front yard, a garage, and a sizable back yard. Rick and Mike loved the bunkbeds we installed in their bedroom. We didn’t have much money at all, but we did what we could to make it comfortable and homey. Larry went to work as a salesman for Sentry Insurance. While the boys were in school during the day, I attended Fresno City College so I could work toward eventually completing my Bachelor’s Degree. Since my goal was no longer to work for the State Department and save the world (as it was when I started UCLA), I changed my major from Political Science to Home Economics. I hoped that I could learn something about raising children and caring for a family.

Eventually, Larry and I were married. Larry and his first wife, Margaret, divorced on July 16, 1966 and Larry and I were married on June 29, 1967 a year after I first moved in with him.

One day when Pam was visiting us, our milkman Randy, knocked on the screen door and then brought several large bottles of milk into the house and placed them in our refrigerator, which was his weekly routine. Randy knew the boys but had never met Pam. So I said, “Randy, meet Pam. She is Larry’s daughter.”

As soon as Randy was back in his milk truck, Pam started crying. Through her tears, she asked me, “Why did you say I was Larry’s daughter? Why didn’t you say I was your daughter?” I took her in my arms and held her close. From that day on, I thought of Pam as my daughter just as I thought of the boys as my sons.

Pam would often ask Larry why he picked the boys to come live with us but not her. After we had been in the house for nearly two years, Larry asked me what I thought about Pam coming to live with us. He said, “One more won’t make that much difference.” I said it sounded like a good idea. But I remember after the first week of caring for all three kids, I was sitting on the couch, exhausted, and Larry said, “See I told you three wouldn’t be any more work than two.” Of course, I was glad Pam was living with us, but caring for the three kids took a lot of my energy.

My mother taught me to sew when I was young, so it felt good to sign up for a pattern-making class at Fresno City College. I enjoyed making most of Pam’s clothes and a lot of my own. I was even hired by my sewing teacher to tailor some clothes for her—and she was very particular. A few years later I designed and made fancy, long velvet dresses to sell in a shop in Manhattan Beach to make a little extra money

We didn’t have much money to buy furniture so we shoved two chests of drawers together and put a single mattress on top for Pam’s bed. She loved it because it had a ladder on the end so she could climb up and gain ready access to her drawers. All three kids had lots of friends in the neighborhood and would play games like “Statue” and “Hide and Seek” each day until it got too dark.

One day Larry told me he would like for me to have a baby so we could have a more complete family. I felt like I had my hands full with three children, but since I always saw him as being in charge of things, I agreed. I stopped my birth control and soon I was pregnant. I didn’t gain much weight, so I felt pretty good most of the time.

I would often take Rick and Mike to the nearby park so they could play and run off some of their energy. As we were walking across the large expanse of lawn on the way to the park one day, I began to feel a pain in my side. I thought it was just some gas but I had to stop every few steps to wait for it to pass. The boys kept shouting impatiently, “Come on Mom, hurry up!” Baird wasn’t due to be born until June 5 and this was June 2 so I thought I just ate something wrong.

That evening we had dinner with another family in their home. I have always been a fast eater—and I’ve often been embarrassed about it. That night I finished eating my meal before anyone else and when I realized it, I tried to cover it up with my napkin. But Mike, who was about six years old, sat up tall, looked around the table at everyone’s plate and exclaimed with a very loud, very proud voice, “Well I guess the fastest in our house is faster than the fastest in your house.” I was really embarrassed then!

I kept feeling little pains as I was eating dinner, similar to what I felt earlier in the park. Without my realizing it, Larry had been timing the pains. When dinner was over he asked if the other couple would watch Rick and Mike because he thought it was time to take me to the hospital. Baird was born that night.

My only mode of transportation was a used bicycle. One day I decided I wanted to get a new curtain rod for over the bathtub because the old one was bent and ready to fall apart. I was about eight months pregnant but it made perfect sense to me to ride the bike to the hardware store while the kids were at school to buy the curtain rod which cost $6.00. Once I purchased it, I asked the store clerk to help me tie it to my bike. I was riding along feeling pretty good about my ingenuity and thinking how surprised and happy Larry would be when he got home and saw my purchase.

I eagerly hung the shower curtain on the new rod and waited for him to come home. The first thing he said when he walked in the door was, “What in the world were you doing riding your bike down Shields Avenue today?”

I could tell he was angry, but I didn’t know why. I soon learned that he was driving in his car with his sales manager and when the manager saw me he exclaimed, “Hey look at that pregnant woman riding a bike with something strapped to the frame!” Larry said he felt humiliated and couldn’t bring himself to tell his boss that that lady was his wife. It didn’t dampen my spirits—I still felt pretty proud of myself even though I tried to appear remorseful.

Soon after Pam came to live with us, Douglas Baird Rocker was born on June 2, 1968. Pam loved helping me take care of him. My parents also came to visit us to help with his care. In fact, my mother took him back with her to Manhattan Beach for a couple of weeks because I was recuperating from a bad case of hepatitis which sapped all of my energy. I had prepared myself to nurse Baird, but the Fresno hospital nurses hurried him off to the third floor isolation unit when they realized I had hepatitis. So, I was forced to feed him with bottles instead.

Later, when Baird was old enough to eat baby food, I decided to make my own because I read that jarred baby food had too much sugar. I bought some extra ice trays, blended all sorts of cooked vegetables, fruits and meats together and filled the trays to the brim. I would take out the frozen squares of food, warm them up and feed Baird. Thankfully, he liked it all.

I was determined to do the best job of parenting I could for Baird. So I bought a book called, “Give Your Child a Superior Mind.” The idea was to expose the child to all sorts of textures, shapes, and sounds. Larry thought it was kind of silly, and maybe it was, but I was pretty committed to following all of the instructions.

About a year after Baird was born, Larry announced he had found a home for us to purchase in Kingsburg, a small farming town about half-hour drive south of Fresno. I had no idea how we could afford to buy a house since we lived so frugally. But, as usual, I went along with the plan.

We were all excited about this darling two-story house perched on a small hill in the middle of a nice neighborhood. Each of the kids had their own bedroom. It had a good sized backyard and a walkway lined with flowers, curving through the front yard under three elegant birch trees. We even got a cute little rat terrier dog that we named Jigger who was constantly running all over the place.

We raised the kids in this sweet house for about 10 years. I enjoyed making sure all three of the older kids took turns helping with dinner, setting the table and washing the dishes. I wanted to make sure they would be self-sufficient when they got older. I also wanted to ensure they all ate healthy, well-balanced meals. But when the three older kids began to participate in team sports, each one had a different schedule. So I decided to make my own frozen dinners for them.

I had a friend who used the Swanson TV dinners. Even though I would never think of buying such things, I asked her to save the empty tin dinner trays for me. Every Sunday I would cook two or three entrees—chicken, pork chops, meatloaf—and fill each tray with one entrée serving, some frozen vegetables and tater tots. I covered each one with tin foil and added a piece of masking tape listing the contents so they could choose whatever they wanted for dinner. I placed them all in the freezer. One time I counted 50 dinners stacked up.

This was before the days of microwaves, so each of the kids would choose their dinner and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. This worked like a charm—the kids got to choose their dinner and I knew they were eating well balanced meals.

The three older children had lots of friends at school and in the neighborhood. Pam was a cheerleader starting in junior high school and Rick and Mike played football and basketball and were on the wrestling team. All three kids were on the swim team. I never missed a match or a game, including Pam’s cheerleading events.

As I related in Chapter 1, it was during our time in Kingsburg that I founded the Kingsburg Community Assistance Program (KCAPS). So in addition to raising three adolescent kids and a youngster I was quite busy with all the various KCAPS programs: the thrift store, food bank, pre-school, and church.


For four years, while we were still living in Kingsburg, we owned a beautiful home in North Lake Tahoe where we enjoyed skiing at Homewood Ski Resort and boating on Lake Tahoe. It was a five-hour drive from our home, but we always enjoyed every minute when we were there.

We kept our cabin cruiser boat tied to a buoy not too far from our dock. One time my parents came up to visit and I wanted them to enjoy a boat ride on the lake. Larry didn’t come with us and he was always the one who drove the boat. But I thought I could figure out how to do it by myself since I really wanted to give my parents a ride around the lake.

I told my parents to wait on the dock while I went to get the boat and then pick them up for a fun ride. I climbed into the dingy like I always saw Larry do and paddled out to the boat which was fastened to the buoy with a large rope connected to a substantial hook.

I noticed that the wind had picked up and the waves were getting bigger. I wasn’t sure if I should unhook the big boat first and then attach the dingy to the buoy or do it the other way around. I tried detaching the big boat first but the wind began to drag the boat away from me. I was petrified as I realized I could easily lose the boat.

I pulled it back with all my might and prayed hard that I could reattach it to the buoy. It worked, but now I was still puzzled about how to get myself out of the dingy and into the big boat.

So, I attached the dingy to the buoy and then climbed up the thick rope until I was hanging onto the boat. I climbed into the boat and then hung over the side to detach it from the buoy.

I successfully started the boat and maneuvered it over to the dock, picked up my parents and we all went for a really nice ride through the wind and waves. Thankfully I was able to bring them back to the dock, reconnect the boat to the buoy and then climb into the dingy and paddle back to shore. I felt lucky to have successfully navigated all of this.

Our years in Kingsburg were pretty idyllic. The kids did well in school, I enjoyed being involved in their activities and my work with KCAPS, and Larry was relishing his work. One Saturday when Mike was eight years old he was riding his bike around their elementary school with his buddies. One of the kids noticed some mounds of dirt and grass just beyond the school fence. So they decided to ride their bikes to the top of the mounds and play king of the hill.

Just as Mike got to the top of one of the hills, it all caved in. He and his bike fell into a pit of molten lava. Mike clawed his way out of the fiery pit, resulting in third degree burns on his hands and feet. Later we learned that we were lucky he didn’t fall all the way to the bottom of the very deep molten pit.

Mike crawled to a nearby neighbor’s house who called the hospital. I was in the middle of some basic housework when I heard the ambulance siren. Moments later our phone rang. It was the hospital telling me my son had been hurt and I should come to the hospital immediately. Since we lived near the hospital, I arrived just before the ambulance did. I was stunned as they wheeled Mike’s gurney out of the vehicle. His hands and feet were completely black. Right away he noticed how upset I was and he said, “Don’t cry mom, I’ll be okay.”

We found out later that the man who owned the field where the boys were riding had a contract with Union Pacific Railroad to clean the grape pumice out of their trains. He piled the pumice around his field. Over the years grass grew to cover the material and it looked like innocent mounds. Little did anyone know that grape pumice will self-combust without oxygen.

Mike spent the following months in the hospital going through painful debriding of his burns and ultimately skin grafts. His pain was indescribable but he always had an upbeat spirit. I left his bedside only to take care of the other kids’ basic needs. To this day, whenever I think of the burns Mike suffered I start to cry. This memory is often triggered by the sound of a fire truck or ambulance siren.


When Rick and Mike were in junior high school they started to smoke cigarettes. I tried everything I could think of to make them stop this filthy habit. Nothing seemed to work. Then I noticed some unusual odors and behavior from them. I suspected they were using marijuana with some of their friends. I decided to go visit the parents of their friends to suggest that we all join together to come up with a plan to stop them from using drugs.

I was shocked and frustrated when the other parents declared that their sons would never do anything like that. I got the same reaction from Larry when I told him about it. I finally accepted the fact that I would not be able to change the situation, especially since I didn’t have their father’s support.


During our time in Kingsburg, Larry became more and more involved in his work. He had started his own company in Fresno, Larry Rocker & Associates, providing business property and casualty insurance as well as workers’ compensation and healthcare insurance. Before long he began to travel a lot and stay out late, saying he had evening meetings with clients.

He also began to spend more money than usual, buying new cars and expensive clothes. I never complained about this, but in retrospect I realized that I was losing interest in my husband. I enjoyed being busy with all the kids’ school activities and expanding the scope of KCAPS but I occasionally missed the close relationship Larry and I used to have.

At some point Larry seemed to sense me withdrawing from him emotionally and said he wanted me to have another baby. I wasn’t wild about the idea, but I knew he would eventually win out, so I agreed.

It felt like it was almost time to deliver, and I was feeling some strong contractions. Pam, Rick and Mike were worried because they had never seen me in such pain and they didn’t know what was going on. They kept gathering around my bed and hollering, “Dad come here, something’s wrong with Mom!” Finally I told Larry it was too stressful for them to see me like this and suggested he take me to the hospital.

On March 26, 1976, after 24 hours of labor, the doctor performed an unplanned caesarian section and our youngest son, Matthew Clay Rocker, was born at Kingsburg Hospital. Pam was in her last year of high school at the time and loved doting on our sweet new baby boy.

Pam and I had a very close relationship. We talked all the time. As the women’s liberation movement hit its stride in the 1970s, we frequently talked about how needed these changes in society were.

When Pam left to go away to San Jose State University a year later, I missed her so much. She and I had been close for so many years—I sewed all of her clothes (until her junior high school began to allow girls to wear jeans to school) and taught her how to sew simple things like aprons. Now I was surrounded by teen-age sons and my only daughter was away at college.

Here we were, living in the middle of the beautiful San Joaquin Valley with grape vineyards as far as the eye could see. Larry had lots of friends in the agriculture business, many of whom farmed thousands of acres of Thompson Seedless grapes which they would transform into raisins. His friends often complained about the damage rain caused to the raisins, especially in early September.

The only insurance available to raisin farmers at that time was through the government and it only covered complete crop loss. Larry was a really smart guy and he knew the insurance industry well. So, he decided to write an insurance policy for rain damage on raisins. After it was approved by the California Department of Insurance, farmers were clamoring for these insurance policies.

In 1978 President Jimmy Carter invited Larry to come to the White House to discuss his new rain damage on raisins insurance policy. Larry and I along with his partner, Joe Difilipo, and his wife Barbara, embarked upon a glorious, all-expense paid, trip to Washington D.C. We had our picture taken with Jimmy and Rosalind as well as other luminaries like Avrell Harriman and Alan Cranston.

Larry reported that during his talk with President Carter and his insurance advisor, Carter invited Larry to work in his administration’s insurance department. Larry declined saying, he was a small town kind of guy. I never understood that decision, but I knew better than to disagree with him.

The next year, 1979, Larry began to talk about wanting to move out to the country. Before long, he took me to see the ranch house we would soon move into. Even though it was very impressive, he got busy remodeling the house and renovating the yard. The 5,000 square foot four-bedroom house sat on 120 acres of Thompson Seedless table grapes.

Larry hired a ranch manager and a group of workers to tend the vines. The ranch manager and his wife and three children lived in a house toward the back of our property. The Haros became very good friends over the years. Thanks to them, both Baird and Matt became fluent in Spanish and have maintained that ability to this day.

The Haro family would frequently hold gatherings for their very large family using our enormous barn. We didn’t keep animals in the barn; instead we used it for charity fundraisers (like our then famous Hog Wild Hoedown) and other gatherings. There was always lots of delicious food, homemade spicy salsa and cold beer every time they brought their extended family together.

They would never actually start eating until Sal, the father and our ranch manager, called me on the phone to ask me to come over. They didn’t want to start eating until “La Senora” had eaten. I always felt this was a sweet, thoughtful way of showing their respect and gratitude.

One of their family members would prepare a plate of food for me as soon as I arrived, accompanied by lots of the homemade salsa and plenty of frosty beer. Then they would watch me enjoy the food. When someone saw I was running low on salsa or beer they would yell, “Mas cerveza y mas salsa para la senora!” And then someone would hurry over with more. What a fun time that was!

Larry’s remodel project included a 1,000 square foot master bedroom, renovated kitchen with the latest appliances, a cantilevered ceiling in the large family room, artistically designed, stunning stained-glass windows and doors throughout, a beautiful dry creek in the front yard complete with 12 antique street lights, a pasture, horse runs, and various animal and poultry pens.

He was enjoying buying expensive new cars and pickup trucks, a large motor home and several stunning jet boats. It appeared that Larry’s business was very successful, but he never bothered to discuss his business affairs with me.

While I was heavily occupied with adding our food bank to the KCAPS thrift store and developing the pre-school, Larry insisted that we needed a horse because we now had horse stables. So we went to the nearby horse sale even though neither of us knew anything about horses.

That day we came home with a very large reddish-brown horse that we named Cinnamon. Larry said that since he had purchased the horse for me, the least I could do was ride it. I was petrified! Since I knew I would eventually have to ride the thing, I asked a friend to give me riding lessons. This helped a lot but I still didn’t feel comfortable.

I signed up for a riding class at Reedley Junior College. I didn’t know anything about the terminology used in the various class descriptions, so I just signed up for a class that met at a convenient day and time.

The instructions said, “Show up the first night with a yearling.” I happened to have a yearling because Cinnamon had a baby soon after we got her. We named her Nutmeg.

So on the appointed evening, I loaded Nutmeg onto my newly purchased single horse trailer and drove the ten miles to class. For the first many weeks, we just learned how to teach the horse voice commands using a lunge rope and a whip. It was pretty easy getting Nutmeg to go around in circles and obey my commands.

Then one night, my instructor, Richard, said, “Ok Cynder, it’s time for you to get on that beast.” I was petrified. He put us in a round pen and he stood in the middle of the pen with a lead rope attached to Nutmeg while I sat nervously on top starring at her ears so I could see if she got upset. I couldn’t look at Richard for fear I would miss a signal from the horse.

Finally, I looked over at Richard and noticed he was no longer holding the rope. He said, “I let go of the rope a long time ago. You’re doing fine.” I let out a big breath, just grateful to still be alive. So, little by little, I learned how to ride and actually began to enjoy it. Later we bought two more quarter horses, Disco Dawn, a well-trained four year-old mare, and Moose, a two year-old gelding.

Taking care of the horses was my responsibility which I gladly heaped on my plate along with my other responsibilities.

Every Wednesday afternoon I would load up Matt’s horse, Black Beauty, in the trailer and drive us to Richard’s ranch for his riding lesson. I had purchased Moose from Richard several months earlier and I was paying him to finish the training on this green broke gelding.

One afternoon Matt, who was about 11 at the time, asked me to ride with him in the riding arena. I said, “No Matt, this is your time to ride not mine.” When he insisted I ride with him, I asked Richard if I could ride Moose. He quickly agreed and I went to fetch Moose from the barn.

I attached a lead rope to his bridle and began to lunge him as Richard had taught me to do. Richard came by and said, “Just get on the beast and ride.” I figured that meant that Richard had just ridden him earlier in the day. So I mounted Moose and rode into the riding arena to join Matt. I later found out that Richard had been gone for several days and had left Moose cooped up in the stall with no exercise.

Moose felt very nervous under the saddle and when I passed by Richard I said, “Moose feels like he’s ready to jump out of his skin.”

I’ll never forget Richard’s words: “Ah go for it, Cynder!” I took this to mean “don’t be such a baby” and I thought, “I can go for it as good as the next guy.” So I kicked Moose and off we went.

The next thing I knew he was bucking hard and high. I was determined to stay in the saddle but at some point my tail bone snapped, which made me unconscious. At that point, I fell off the saddle onto the decomposed granite of the arena floor without breaking my fall with my arms. I landed directly on my head and was unconscious. (This was before the days of wearing riding helmets.)

As I lay there on the ground on my back, I saw an angel. He was very tall wearing a flowing white garment and speaking into the darkness over my head. I couldn’t understand what he was saying but I had a feeling that whatever he was saying was keeping me safe from further harm.

When I came to, a fellow riding student was kneeling next to me, praying with her hand on my leg. I had a feeling that there was some connection between her prayer and the angel’s appearance. Someone whisked me off to the hospital and called Larry so he could pick up Matt.

It was discovered that I had a traumatic brain injury. While the rest of my body healed in a month or two, the brain injury lingered on. I couldn’t function very well or think straight for a long time. Noise and commotion quickly sent me into sensory overload. I craved silence and calm surroundings.

Elaine Olson, the most dedicated KCAPS volunteer, graciously agreed to keep things going with the various programs while recuperated. She would drive the six miles out to the ranch every day or so to keep me posted about the assorted issues. I was so grateful for her faithful help.

One day about five months after the accident, I began to have flashes of memory of the accident. One morning I clearly saw the angel and the woman kneeling down praying for me. I knew immediately that I needed to find that woman to thank her. I asked a couple of fellow students the name of the woman with the paint horse. It took a while but I tracked her down by her horse.

I called the phone number they gave me. When she answered my call, I told her that I was the person who had the horse accident five months prior. I said I was calling to thank her for praying for me. She said immediately, “Oh gosh, I was so embarrassed about that. I have never prayed in public before but I found myself on my knees by you as if I had no choice in the matter.” She went on to report that she had never been back to the class because of her humiliation. I told her I felt that her prayers saved my life and I really appreciated what she had done for me.

Just before I was ready to hang up the phone, I thought to myself, “I’ll probably never see this woman again so maybe I can tell her about the angel.” Up to this point I had told no one about the angel for fear they would think I was crazy or weird. I mustered my courage and said, “There was one more thing I remembered—I saw an angel when I was unconscious.” She said very matter-of-factly, “Oh yes, I know you did. As soon as you came to, you said very excitedly three times that you had just seen an angel.” I was dumbfounded to have this confirmation that my strange recollection was real and I wasn’t crazy.

Little did I know that my bizarre ranch life experiences had just begun.