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Friday, February 1, 2013

Renegade Champion

I purchased Renegade Champion, The Unlikely Rise of Fitzrada by Richard Rust because I knew the author, his mother, and his garandparents. Richard was my best friend growing up. He was the best man at my wedding in 1972. I then lost touch with him until I found this book. My first memory of Richard and his family is from 1953. We were living in Watch Hill where Richard’s Family had a beautiful house on a high hill across from the library in Watch Hill. A specific memory of that time is the hurricane Carol that was intense in the area. To our sadness it took down the ferris wheel in Westerly. Our crazy mothers, who were best friends and two of a kind took us down to the top of the beach road to watch the power of Carol. We also went to see the flooded town of Watch Hill before retreated to the safety of the house on the hill owned by Col and Mrs Pohl. Perhaps the most impressive image was watching these two crazy women swimming in the huge waves the next days after Carol left and provided some of the biggest surf I have ever seen and our mothers ride those waves, laughing and screaming with joy as each wave came. My mom taught me how to swim in these waters of Watch Hill and Jane taught me to ride on the trails in Leesburg, VA. Our mothers were always chatting, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. My mom was a frustrated professional in a man’s world. These two commiserated with each other while chain smoking and consuming pots of coffee. Richard taught me how to shoot a rifle in their Leesburg, VA home. Jane taught me how to mount a horse and get back on it when I fell off. I can’t say I ever learned how to ride a horse, but she did her best as she always encouraged me to gat back on as I was getting off the ground. Richard’s Grandmother, Jane, taught me about palm reading, a passion of hers. Before I went to Vietnam, she and I had many conversations about the power of reading hands and palms may be very helpful for me as it was for her husband when she read palms of his troops before the D-Day invasion. Today, I am now the caretaker of two still life paintings Grandma Jane Pohl painted. She gave them to my parents who proudly displayed them in our houses and now I have them. Another vivid memory was Jane’s marriage to a man named Moore. I didn’t like him. I don’t think Richard did either. The guy was very strict and had Richard doing intense body building exercises. We were both into light weight lifting and basic physical exercise like push ups, chin ups, and sit ups.  Moore took this to another level that wasn’t wanted nor even fun anymore. Our visits were sporadic and sudden during those years. After reading the book, I understand now.  Our visits to Leesburg and theirs to our homes were fewer.  Before I went to Vietnam, I visited Richard on a ski slope at West Point. His uncle had died in Vietnam. When I returned, he was the best man at my first marriage. When he left with one of the bride’s maids that day I never heard or saw him again. Last December, I did a Google search for him. I had taken a trip to Staunton, VA early that fall for a bike ride and drove through Leesburg. I made a note to search for Richard. I didn’t get to it until December and was devastated to discover he had died in 2008 and Jane had died in 2001, before 9/11. The only Google reference to Richard was the book. I knew this book, since Jane often told us stories of Fitz. The family was an amazing group of unique people and I was always sad to have lost touch with Richard after my marriage. I always attributed that to the life he had in the military.. As I started reading this book so many memories overwhelmed me. The most impressive memory was how Jane and my mom were such good friends.  Probably the only female friends both had.
I knew many of the stories told in this book and as always in awe of the ribbons she won. I was never aware of how important she was as a female rider. It makes perfect sense.  “The new Olympia classes were opened to women in anticipation of the rule change. A 1949 headline in a Dayton, Ohio, paper read, ‘Jane Pohl Rust Helps Prove Why Women Should Ride in Olympics.’” (p 153) In addition to the importance of Jane’s role in women participation happened in the year and city in which I was born. The part of the story about Fitz taking off on that field in Hawaii always impressed me. She or someone added that when she was finally picked up after jumping off to save her life, a soldier said to her, “Lady you were doing great until you fell off.” I was so happy to hear about her visits to Iceland and rode their unique horses. During my trips to Iceland I was tempted to ride these horses and remembered Jane fondly as I chose not to mount one knowing I wasn't a rider. Whenever I saw groups of riders on Iceland I always thought of Jane and knew she'd love this place to ride and was so happy to hear that she had made a couple of trips to Iceland to ride. I was happy to read about her and Richard’s life after 1972. When a horseshoe’s open ends face up that means “good luck” and when the horse shoe ends face down, “bad luck as it drains out.” Was it intentional to have the horseshoe used throughout the book to separate parts on page 199 to face down as that section speaks about the dismantling of the US horse cavalry? I loved this book as it reconnected me with a family that had a huge effect on me in my life. RIP

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