Friday, September 10, 2010

The Crumb (1976)

The Crumb

Jean Slaughter Doty

1976, Greenwillow Books (William Morrow and Company)

It took me all of two seconds to yank on my jeans and jacket and set out for the hills on The Crumb. It was a lot colder than it had been the day before. The wind was damp and clammy and blew the pony's tail in all directions, which he hated, and he actually managed to dump me off by bucking through an open gate. I was insulted, the pony was cross, and we were barely communicating by the time we got to the back woods again.

Cindy Blake is riding her pony, formally dubbed Buttercrumb Cake and informally known as Crumb, through the fields near her home when she encounters the spooky vision of a horse van lurching through an old cow pasture. Instinctively hiding, she watches as two men unload a horse into an old hay barn, lock the door and leave. Perplexed, she investigates but the barn is firmly locked, the horse inside just a sad whinny. Still curious, she returns the next day but the lock is gone, the horse is gone. All that remains is some hay, a water stain and a hypodermic needle. Frustrated, Cindy shrugs and moves on to other concerns. Primarily, how to keep one pony fed, shod and clad in appropriate winter blankets.

Shyly, Cindy ventures to a nearby barn, a new and high-flying show barn run by the pleasant Jan Ashford, and lands a job as a groom, show helper and all-around gopher. Her liking for Jan makes it doubly confusing when that sinister horse van arrives with the same men inside. One is pro rider and trainer Alex Russell and the other is his groom, Dan. Worried and curious, Cindy decides to say nothing of the weird events in the hay barn - Alex isn't a permanent fixture, after all, and his presence at Ashford is an indication of Jan's kindness. She'd offered him a temporary wing of the stables when his own had burned down.

Alex, an unfriendly sort, has a dubious reputation as a rider but one fantastic horse, the jumper Cat Burglar, has changed his life. Like many people, Cindy envies him the horse and the chance it's given him to hit the big show circuit. But Alex is not very welcoming to fans, and she contents herself on the friendly side of the barn, with the kids and their ponies.

The early show season was about to begin and there was a lot to do. Every saddle and bridle had to be checked over and a single frayed stitch or the least trace of wear was enough to mark for repair or replacement. Shipping bandages were washed and dried and rerolled for each pony. Blankets, fly sheets and waterproof rain sheets and woolen coolers were shaken out, cleaned if neccessary, and refolded into each pony's own tack trunk.

Cindy's other problem is discovering there's an ugly side to horse shows. When she learns about trainers drugging ponies, cheating and using their connections to keep them showing, she's shaken. Big money, as her brother says, means big trouble, and she's swimming in far from comfortable waters as she moves from local fun shows and backyard ponies to professional shows and expensive ponies. Jan's a good person and Ashford Farms is a decent place, and Cindy believes she can take the good without having to deal with the bad. But reality can't be shut out. At a big show during a brutal heat wave, the truth comes out in the most painful way possible.

Two moments in particular are haunting and honest. In the first, Cindy thinks ragingly of the terrible unfairness of things:

I'd loved my pony, I'd taken good care of him and treated him kindly and called for the vet whenever anything went wrong, while the Alexes of the world went on their lucky way over the broken-down horses they ruined without a second thought.

The second moment is the final line, which needs to be read with the rest of the book, in time, and is a heartbreaker.

This is a very concentrated book. I didn't realize it until recently, but nearly all the action takes place at the one horse show. Most of Cindy's time at Ashford is compressed into a quick overview, and then, bang, we're at the horse show where everything happens. There are a number of very well-done flashbacks, so it's not as obvious as you'd think. It's not a flaw, just curious. The book moves along at a good clip, while still being tremendously realistic and satisfying.


Buttercrumb Cake, aka The Crumb - 14.1h dun pony gelding

Bright Interval - chestnut mare

Cat Burglar - brown gelding

Sam - gray Welsh pony

Whispering Sands - red bay Connemara/Arabian mare

Skipper - black and white pinto pony

About the Author


Jean Slaughter married cartoonist Roy Doty, with whom she worked on the local 1950's TV series The Danne Dee Show. She bred Welsh Ponies and Keeshond dogs at Rockrimmon Farm in Conneticut. She is elusive online. I did come across an online real estate listing for a property formerly known as Rockrimmon Farm in Simsbury, CT, but I don't really know if it's the same one, though the name is clearly a match and she did tend to set her books in the state.

Other Books - fiction
Summer Pony
Winter Pony

Can I Get There By Candlelight?

Monday Horses

Dark Horse

Yesterday's Horses

If Wishes Were Horses

Valley Of The Ponies

Gabriel (dog)

Other Books - nonfiction

Pony Care

Horses 'Round The World

Horsemanship For Beginners


University of Southern Mississippi - de Grummond Children's Collection

Another review of The Crumb, at The Horse & Habit blog

Other Notes

Just wanted to mention - the Wyeth illustrations were all from Wikipedia Commons, not my own images. In the course of editing, I managed to delete that particular note when I wrote that post.

Sorry about the complete lack of illustrations for The Crumb. I will add it when I sort out my computer issues.


Moggypie said...

I tried researching Jean Slaughter Doty back in April and came up pretty dry, too! I did learn that she died in 1991--there was a reference to an article published in a small paper bearing the date of 4/2/91, but a request to that paper to supply any information went unanswered. Other than that, I only found a little squib in the NYTimes about authors and artists living in "the country" in CT, and it noted that she lived in North Stamford. And the NYT also published an op-ed piece she wrote griping about all the people moving to Connecticut and spoiling it! And yet her home sounded like a jolly place, with loads of kids and ponies and corgi dogs.

Moggypie said...

And a p.s. to my previous comment! THIS treasure trove did not turn up in my search back in April--it's a link to a NC university's collection of original papers and typescripts of hers.

Anonymous said...

Fantasy is always better then reality. It was a beautiful piece of property but the "farm" is no longer in existence and has been parceled out. It was/is a very modern house (which is still there), not the county farm you would think of. But it had a lovely small 3 stall barn (which is gone). I was a friend of her daughters and I don't remember the dogs, but they had Siamese cats. You cannot find anything at all online about her or her family. Both of her children have also passed away (each before the age of 50). Very sad.