Happy Birthday, Big Guy

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Each April I don my “Twist of Fate” duds, crank up the country western and direct my vehicle to Longmeadow Rescue Ranch, a few miles west and south of Union.

Dressed in a pair of scuffed brown clogs, and a blue jean jacket that’s become an old friend, I head for a ranch that’s impacted my life in a big way — home to Twister, a beauty with expressive eyes, and a sleek, shiny coat — a miraculous colt, become strong horse, that appears center stage in my children’s book “Twist of Fate.”

Last week, Twister turned 5. It hardly seems possible that so many years have passed since the Interstate 44 accident that made news across the United States.

Many of you will recall that Twister’s mother “Mama” was on that truck headed for a meatpacking plant in Illinois when it turned over on a curve. The 42 animals inside the trailer were tossed about like dominoes. Twenty-five horses and a hinny survived. Many of the injured were taken to Longmeadow where they were nursed back to health, their bodies stitched and bandaged, their fears assuaged with gentle words.

Of course Twister doesn’t remember. He was inside “Mama” at the time, and didn’t make his debut until the following spring, April 18, 2007. I recall what Earlene Cole, Longmeadow’s previous ranch manager, said about the night he was born.

How Bazonka Donk, a hinny rescued from the accident was hootin’ and hollerin’ to beat the band, in a stall near “Mama’s.” How the hinny signaled something was happening in his half-horse, half-donkey dialect, directing Earlene to the spot where the new colt with the Harry Potter-like lightning bolt on his face had just been born.

Though I’ve read and told the tale of Twister’s birth to thousands of schoolchildren, the story still seems too impossible to be true, the stuff of legends, a pinpoint of hope in a world hungry for happy endings.

To be honest, there are lots of happily ever-afters at Longmeadow Rescue Ranch. I’ve been privileged to hear about many in my trips to the ranch to read “Twist of Fate” to children visiting on field trips. Just like the students, I’m eager to hear about how the characters in the book are doing — how Bazonka Donk is faring, and Willy is enjoying being treated like a little king up the road in Gerald.

All of the horses from the Interstate 44 accident have now been placed in good homes, thanks to the efforts of the folks at the ranch.

A few weeks ago students gathered around me on the grass near the pavilion as I read my book, afterward answering their questions with the help of volunteers and Linda Chapman, lead ranch education specialist.

Of course the students are always abuzz about Twister, how they’ve seen and petted him, a book-come-to life occurrence that’s pretty special. And Twister is a magnificent sight to behold. Even if you’re not a horse lover, he’s a love of a horse, a real character and a tribute to his trainer, Scott Jaycox, who said he’s a marvel to work with.

From the time he was born, Twister’s been greeted by flashing cameras and crowds of adoring people. His glorious past has formed his personality. He enjoys all the attention, and though he’s accused of being a bit spoiled, Twister is a model of decorum, even lowering his head so children can reach him when they want to give him a pat. And pat they do — you can’t resist.

Longmeadow will always be Twist of Fate’s home, and anyone can go and visit him. The ranch is open to visitors; information about their hours can be found on the ranch website, www.longmeadowrescueranch.org.

Be prepared to be amazed by the beauty of the ranch and the quality of care lavished on the animals. The volunteers and staff continue to provide incredible support and love for the horses, pigs, ducks, cows, and other farm animals that call Longmeadow their home.

Late Monday evening, I learned that “Twist of Fate, the Miracle Colt and His Friends” received third place in the Show Me Reader’s Award presented by the Missouri Association of School Librarians. What an honor for Twister and all at the ranch. Thanks to all who voted for my book and to all the school librarians who have supported and encouraged me.