I first met Olla and Cicero Rust after the big flood on the Little Blanco River in June of 1985. They had just recently moved into my neighborhood into the Edgar McClain place. My friend Linda and I had been taking English riding lessons at their place during the transition so we were very familiar with the barns and the riding arena.
The flood left me devastated as it had taken all of my beautiful horses except for two. Luckily Peaches had been at Becky’s place, and Surprise outswam the wall of water that roared through my place in the middle of the night.
Like good neighbors, as they always were, they offered to let Peaches and Surprise stay in their horse barn as a place of safety until I could relocate. It was a wonderful miracle, a prayer answered, to have a safe place for the horses at that very sad time in my life.
I got to know both of them as I would go over daily to feed and care for the horses. They were always cheerful and so welcoming. I remember the boxes of huge overripe peaches they would give us from their orchards in Stonewall for special treats for the horses. Of course, I think my friend Becky and I ate more of the sweet, sweet peaches than we gave to the horses.
Time passed and my birthday rolled around. Olla loved to cook and it seemed she was always conjuring up something delicious in her kitchen. She surprised me with a special birthday dinner invitation and told me to invite a few friends so Becky, Linda, Leslie and I joined Olla and Cicero in their lovely warm home for a most delicious birthday meal.
The conversation was light and fun, and we started talking about their courtship. As it turned out, Olla told us that her dad never really felt like Cicero was good enough for his little princess of a daughter and discouraged their marriage. Of course, she was madly in love with him, as she was until the day she died. Her dad told her she had to make a choice between him and her beloved horse that she adored. When I remarked, “Oh, Olla, how could you do that?” She didn’t hesitate, but answered, “There was no question in my mind which one I would choose!”
I finally moved into a new place that was safe for all the animals but would visit with the Rusts occasionally. When I would see them on the road, they were always together. Olla was the constant companion for Cicero, even when her health was becoming more fragile. When Earl and I went over to take them fresh Texas Valley oranges and grapefruit, the first thing we noticed as we walked up to the porch was the handmade handicap rail that Cicero had built to help Olla walk around outside and get back into the house more easily. Of course, Earl remembered the wonderful smell of cookies and candy that filled the house as they invited us in to share some warm neighborly company. There was a flickering fire in the front fireplace and the wood burning stove was roaring in the kitchen also. Cicero told Earl, “I love to keep the fires going throughout the house.” I think his joy until the day he died was going out into the pasture to cut wood so he would always be well stocked. C.A., Cicero’s son, remarked that what he misses the most about his dad is getting up to take his dad for his daily drive and walk through the pastures.
I will never forget the devotion of Cicero sitting beside Olla’s bedside, tucking her in and speaking softly to her in her last days with him. They had moved into a small cabin on the property, which kind of brought their lives full circle around to the way they started out. They were snuggled in together, loving each other privately, with Cicero feeding and caring for Olla’s every need.
After Olla passed away, Cicero carried on, with his son taking his mother’s place beside his dad. Now, however, C.A. was driving and his dad was riding. One of my last fond memories of Cicero was when he drove into my driveway, which was only about a half a mile up the road from his house, with a pickup load of firewood in the back of his truck. He said to Earl, “I think I may have shorted you on that last load of firewood that you got from me so I just wanted to make sure things were right.”
What a wonderful family and a beautiful love story for all of us who have known them. I’m sure Olla and Cicero are side by side holding hands somewhere in heaven’s pasture now.