Constance means constant or steadfast. It also happened to be the name of one of my most steadfast friends and self-proclaimed adoptive mother.
Constance Plumb came into my life in 1988 when she responded to a “companion horse available” ad I had posted in the local feed mill. She had just lost an aged gelding, and the remaining horse was not coping well being the sole equine on the farm. The horse I had available was Élan, a 20 year old Thoroughbred (TB) broodmare who had recently foaled and given me a beautiful TB-Swedish Warmblood filly. It was my intent to place the mare in a new home when it was time to wean the foal. Connie was interested, and we set up a time for her to come meet Élan.
It was a gorgeous day in May when Connie drove down the long farm lane to the barn in her big silver Cadillac. When she got out of the car I liked her immediately. She was tall and elegant and spoke in a wondrously deep voice. She had white naturally curly hair, and her complexion reflected the years she’d spent outdoors. Her whole essence spoke of *Main Line wealth and breeding. But Connie was the most down to earth and least pretentious person I’d ever met. She displayed no airs and exuded a warmth that she reserved only for those she deemed worthy.
We walked into the barn together so she could meet Élan and her filly Lady Ariel. I quickly realized that Connie was a horsewoman in the truest sense of the word. Not only did she have a vast amount of equine knowledge, she also understood the psyche of the horse. I knew almost immediately that I’d found Élan’s new owner. And almost simultaneously I realized that Connie would become a very special friend. I knew our souls were entwined in many ways but brought together through our mutual love and admiration for horses.
When it came time to wean the foal, I loaded Élan in my horse trailer and delivered her to her new home on the Plumb estate with Connie and her husband Rumsey, more affectionately called Rums. It was my first visit to the farm, and I was in awe as I drove into the gated property. The long driveway ended in front of a classic 1800’s Bucks County stone house. The nearly 100 acres was protected under the Heritage Conservancy. Large horse pastures were bordered by woods and a stream which was spanned by one of the county’s historic covered bridges. Élan had just arrived at equine heaven under the care of two people who spoke genuine horse.
This was the beginning of my friendship with Connie. I was starting to school my 4 year old *Anglo-Trakehner mare Lark in basic dressage. Lark was a 16.3 hand dark bay with a small star and one white foot. She had the sweetest and most willing temperament, and Connie fell in love with her. As Lark progressed in her training, I began to take her to some small schooling shows. Connie would sometimes come to Lark’s shows and her quiet calm presence was always a welcome support.
We would often meet for lunch. These were wonderful occasions. Connie was an amazing story-teller, and she had the gift of being able to laugh at herself. I’ll never forget the story she told about mowing the horse pastures and fields which spanned acres of the property. One warm summer day she was mowing the open fields on a large farm tractor in a semi-hypnotic state, hour after hour, lost in a reverie of thoughts — aware enough only to guide the tractor in even, over-lapping rows. As the sun beat down, and gnats flew around her head, Connie guided the vibrating tractor along the edge of the woods that adjoined the field. Suddenly she was jolted out of her reverie when she saw something lying on the grass right in front of the tractor. She tried to avoid it, but it was too late. Just as the tractor rumbled over the object, Connie realized it was clothes. They were sucked into the blade and burst out of the funnel shredded to pieces. In high alert, Connie immediately slowed and scanned for people so she would not hit anyone with the tractor. Suddenly out of the corner of her eye she saw a young boy and girl in the woods, stark naked, and obviously in the throes of ecstasy. “Well,” Connie said in that deep voice of hers, “I just pretended I didn’t see them and kept on going. I don’t know how the hell they ever got back to civilization because I had just shredded every last bit of clothing they had.” I never tired of hearing this story, and only Connie could tell it. No matter how often I heard it, I would laugh so hard tears rolled down my face.
Another of my favorite stories was the day Connie fell into a grave. Because they had horses and Great Danes, they always had a large open grave so they could bury any animals that died during the winter when the ground was frozen. One day Connie was walking along the hedgerow when she took a bad step and tumbled into the grave. It was quite deep, and she was unable to get out under her own power. She called and yelled for help, but no one responded. So she gave up and just sat there hoping her son or husband would soon miss her and come looking for her. It so happened that Rums was doing errands, and it wasn’t long before he came driving down the driveway, not far from the hedgerow and open grave. Before Connie could gather herself to try to get his attention, the car slowed and Rums called, “Honey, is that you?” when he saw the top of Connie’s white hair. “Hell, yes!” Connie grumbled. “What are you doing in the grave?” he asked. Usually, by this point we both were laughing so hard that the rest of the story was assumed. Rums got out of the car and managed to get her out of the grave with great difficulty.
As Connie approached her late 80’s she started showing signs of dementia. She also had several driving incidents, and eventually it was not safe to leave her home alone. Her son and daughter ultimately made the difficult decision to put Connie into a nursing facility for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Hannah and I would go to visit her. It was difficult for me to elicit any response from Connie, but she always responded to Hannah. As time passed Connie became less and less responsive, and the last time I saw her, she was in a vegetative state. I knew it wouldn’t be long, and I said my good byes.
She’s been gone now for over two years, and I miss her. There’s this void that Constance Plumb used to fill with her blunt honesty, generous heart, gift of laughter, and strong essence of being. Constant and steadfast — yes — that was Constance.
*Notes: The Main Line is an unofficial historical and socio-cultural region of suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, comprising a collection of affluent towns built along the old Main Line of the Pennsylvania railroad which ran northwest from downtown Philadelphia parallel to Lancaster Avenue (US Route 30).
Anglo-Trakehner — An anglo-trakehner is a horse that is half thoroughbred (anglo) and half Trakehner, a German Warmblood breed originally developed at the East Prussian state stud farm in the town of Trakenen from which the breed takes its name.
PHOTO ABOVE — Connie with Lark