The Dormouse

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare once asked. Actually, sometimes more than you would ever imagine. If you are a very shy eight-year old at summer riding camp for the first time and without a single person you know, a name (in this case, a nickname) can change your world.

That’s what happened back in 1961 at Broad Acre Farms on Sheaff Lane in Whitemarsh.  Stanley “Mick” Warmington (You can see that he had a nickname, too!) was my riding instructor. A tall man with long blond-gray locks, startling blue eyes, and an interesting English accent was the one who christened me. He had picked me up that morning in my Mt. Airy neighborhood, driving up in an Edsel packed with kids. I remember thinking, “How am I going to fit?”  Then I was sandwiched  into the backseat with laughing, noisy girls my age.  I didn’t speak one word. I was scared to death!

When we finally reached the stables, we piled out and followed Mick into a stable that smelled of clover and alfafa hay. We made our way past huge box stalls, into a tack room that smelled of leather and Lexol and saddle soap. Then we wound our way up the narrow steps into a large hayloft. There were two rows of chairs that faced the center of the room. Everyone took a seat. I could see that most of these campers had been here last year and were familiar with the routine and with each other.

Reading from a list of names (the campers), Mick assigned each camper a horse or pony for the week. He paused when he got to mine and looked at me with a funny sort of smile. He paused for what seemed a small eternity to me and said, “The Dormouse.”   Then he told me I would be riding a pony called Gobble Guts.  I was sure I was in trouble. How would I explain to my mom that I didn’t want to come back?  I had begged her to do this the entire school year.

But I did come back. I returned each year until I was fourteen. Then I volunteered as a junior counselor, groomed horses, cleaned bridles and saddles, and mucked stalls.  I was hooked on Broad Acre Farms, all my riding friends, the horses, and even the work.  My nickname worked like magic.  When Mick introduced me, most people always asked me how I was tagged with such a name.  I was forced to try to explain it, and so I had to speak.  I believed my name referred to the sleepy, quiet Dormouse in the Alice in Wonderland story. All the campers knew me – even the visiting blacksmith and veterinarian.  My name gave me confidence and a lasting bond with Mick’s son Anthony, also fondly nicknamed “Mouse.”  

From that day on, I was Dormouse.  Friends from the equine world still call me by my nickname as well as my beautiful goddaughters and their parents, and I love it!  Some people think Mick simply had changed my last name “Dorfman” to “Dormouse.” But I knew the truth – not at first, but much later. He had given me a precious gift – my nickname.  It changed my life in so many ways…but that’s a novel waiting to be written!