A Star in my Eyes by
(14 Stories)

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My wife Anne, me, and our millennial menagerie in the year 2000. Star is the big girl.

If there were ever a watershed season and year for me, it was the spring of 1995. That was the brutal ending of one chapter and the beginning of another.

My first horse auction turned into a lifesaver in a time of painful and life-changing events.

Just with a different kind of partner.

A Sooner Moment

I was hanging out in my home state of Oklahoma, licking a deep wound from a pending divorce from my soon-to-be ex in Indianapolis, while on leave from my faculty post at Boston College. It was two weeks before the time I’d be embroiled in reporting on the Oklahoma City bombing, which would add even more intensity to this life-changing season. My next — and last — human partner in life, Anne, wouldn’t make her loving appearance for five more years.

Confusing already, no?

Looking for distractions from the pain of a lost marriage, I decided to drive south from Norman to Ardmore on a sunny Saturday morning in April and check out a horse breeders auction.

Just taking a look

I was really not thinking of buying a horse, but I thought it would be cool to see some of the finest horses in Oklahoma and Texas strut their stuff in the arena as buyers bid for the steeds. Had I just gone into the arena, taken a seat, and enjoyed the sale for a couple hours, it would have been a pleasant-enough day. Just not the great one it turned out to be.

Arriving before the auction began, I veered off into the barn where the neatly bathed and groomed horses awaited their moment in the sale ring. As I walked the sawdust aisle past the stalls, I realized I’d never seen so many beautiful animals in one place before.

A bright, shining Star

The horses all began to blend into one continual blur until I came to the last stall on the left and a two-year-old Quarter Horse mare bearing the hip number of 153. Her name was Star, and I was struck instantly.

Her reddish coat was so fine and smooth, while three of her legs bore gleaming white socks, and it was all topped off by a white lopsided blaze smack in the middle of her face, just between two of the softest brown eyes that seemed to peer right into my soul. In the vernacular of equine enthusiasts, Star sported a lot of chrome.

To the uninitiated, a Quarter Horse is a well-built animal bred for speed, and reputed to be the fastest horse over a quarter-mile. She certainly sent my heart racing on this April day.

A 4-legged painkiller

It was love at first sight and, I knew she was exactly what I wanted. She could make the pain go away, in time.

It would be several hours before we could ride off to the sunset, though, because she wasn’t scheduled to show until late afternoon. And, of course, I had no idea how much I’d have to pay to make this new dream a reality. Nor, for that matter, did I have a trailer to get her back to Norman. Nor did I have a place to put her back in Norman. And, oh right: I had no real cash on me. But I did have a brand new Master Card with a $5,000 balance.

I would need all of it.

I went back into the sale arena and sat on my hands while horse after horse went up for auction, afraid I might get impulsive and be tempted to bid on a lesser candidate before Star.

Deja Vu

As I sat through this parade, I realized this wasn’t the first time I had been jilted by a woman and opted to go forward in life with a horse instead.

It had been my senior year at the University of Oklahoma: 1968. I had been dating Susan for some time, and was so sure we would be married, that I cobbled together enough cash to surprise her with an engagement ring. I took her to dinner for the formal proposal and was so sure she would spill her soup in her rush to spit out “YES!”, that I didn’t even notice when she said no.

After a few seconds of a reality check, my words came: “Not sure I heard that right, Sue. Once more, please?” After all, since “no” can sound so much like “yes,” I thought I’d better check, and this time I heard the subtle distinction. For a couple reasons, the kind that don’t make much sense to anyone beyond 21, she had — in fact — said no.

Although I’ve been eternally grateful since then that she did so, it took awhile for my sanity to set in and displace my shock and awe that night. But we made it through the dessert, and I took her home. Then I went home, talked it out with my big sister, went to bed and had a good night’s sleep.

A ringer of a horse

When dawn broke, I decided to push forward. Zales would not take the ring back, so I decided to trade it for something that caught my eye earlier in the week: a horse named Shorty. Surely this kind of relationship would be easier to handle, and everyone knows how loyal your horse can be.

Everything was going okay until the next evening when Susan called to tell me she maaay have been a bit too hasty with the “no.” She wanted the ring, after all.

I was about to ask if she would settle for a horse instead because that’s what the ring had morphed into, but I took the high road and said, “Let’s think about that, Sue. This day has been rainy, and maybe you’re just overly depressed right now.”

The subject was never revisited.

As I’ve taught Interpersonal Communication in college over the years, I have sometimes suggested that students use a line like that when they want their “no” to glide down easily. It certainly worked well for Susan and me and allowed us to have much better lives than a hasty “yes” would have handed us.

The celestial moment arrives

Back to Star, waiting eagerly in the barn to start a new life with me. It was approaching 5 p.m., and she was one of the last horses to enter the sale ring that Saturday afternoon. Watching her go through her paces, I resolved that no one was going to separate me from this magnificent animal.

The bidding began, and it was lively. A half-dozen of us were battling at the start but, after a series of hundred dollar bumps, I leap-frogged a thousand over the last bid, and there were only two of us left. Another thousand later, and there was just one. Star and I were now a twosome, my Master Card was obliterated, and I figured out the rest of the logistics before nightfall.

From that point on, Star and I spent several years happily exploring the hills and trails of Oklahoma and Tennessee. She seemed to make it her mission to get me over the hurdles I faced. I like to think I did the same for her.

Profile photo of Jim Willis Jim Willis
I am a writer, college professor, and author of several nonfiction books, including three on the decade of the 1960s. Several wonderful essays of gifted Retrospect authors appear in my book, "Daily Life in the 1960s."

Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Thanx for your great auction story Jim!
    I have friends with horses who describe the same emotional connections you do.

    Years ago my teenage son worked at a riding stable and called us one afternoon to say a horse was about to foal and he wasn’t leaving until he could witness that beautiful, memorable experience.

  2. Dave Ventre says:

    A beautiful and touching story, Jim! Animals can save us from ourselves and others, for sure.

  3. I want to compliment you especially on the structure of this story. You bring the reader to the brink of telling the story of Star, but then you flash back to the “other time” that you involved yourself with an equine companion when you were dealing with the end of a human relationship. Then you come back to the more recent situation. It all works brilliantly, with just enough details (e.g, of the bidding, of the evening when the girl said no, etc.) to fill in a vivid picture in the mind of the reader but without so many as to get bogged down.
    BTW, I grew up in Indianapolis and still have one sister there. I’m sorry that place may not have good associations for you.

    • Jim Willis says:

      Thank you, Dale, for your kind words. Writers love to hear their story structure works, and we all have to navigate the rock and the hard place of too much summary and too much detail. Free writing is the only way I can write, because if I thought about the structure in detail before I started, I’d never get the first sentence down! Hope your week is good.

  4. Suzy says:

    Great story about a horse auction and so much more. Glad that Star helped you over your heartbreak, and a few years later you found Anne. They both look wonderful in your featured image!

    • Jim Willis says:

      Thank you, Suzy. Romantics never say die, and it has helped to have horses to fill the lonely gaps. I can’t imagine a life without animals. Part of what makes Anne and me work is that she can’t imagine it either.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Animals can help us through the toughest times (says this mother of a vet). Winning the auction for Star was just that for you. Great featured image!

  6. Marian says:

    The stars eventually aligned for you, Jim, with Star and then Anne. What a delightful story that was so much more than an auction.

    • Jim Willis says:

      Thank you so much, Marian. Yes, I’ve been blessed even after believing at age 49 that I didn’t have enough time left to find happiness again. Then Star appeared and kept me afloat until Anne arrived. How wrong I had been.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Great story. Funny how we think we are too old when, from our current aged perspective, that seems laughable. Sounds like you had an infatuation that was really love at first sight, and lived happily ever after with Star. I agree the story structure worked well as it wove together the threads of past and future lives, horses, and attendant relationships. And the auction too.

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