In 1954, when I was not quite six years old, Ana Beker stayed overnight at our house outside of Sandy Spring, Maryland, while her two horses enjoyed the hospitality of our barn.
In those days the countryside between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland was quite rural—not the megapolis it has become today. Most properties were at least 100 acres. The local folk knew almost everyone else, and there were few strangers. The comfortable old house that was our home was built in 1756, and the barn was as huge and as airy as a great cathedral, which it resembled inside, with dusty beams of light shining down from the high windows above towers of fragrant hay where we built hay forts and tunnels. On the ground floor of the barn were stalls, where our riding horse, Toppy, and our neighbor Buck’s pair of great black Percherons, Prince and Queen, were stabled. (When Buck would let Prince and Queen out in the pasture, sometimes they would buck and play, and I remember feeling the earth shake.)
So my sister, Sandy, was quite surprised one day to see someone riding up the road, leading a second horse, dressed unlike anyone we knew and wearing a big sombrero. She was even more astonished when the rider rode up the lane to our house and asked to speak to our parents.
Ana Beker had stopped at Derrick’s, the local gas station, to ask where she might spend the night and where her horses might be fed and stabled, and Mr. Derrick had given her directions to our house. When she arrived at our house, she very modestly asked whether she and her horses could spend the night in our barn, and whether her horses could be given hay and oats. My parents replied that of course her horses could stay in the barn, but she herself must stay with us in the house and dine with us!
I remember being very excited, but I hung around Ana Beker as quietly as a mouse, listening to her stories but not understanding much because I had trouble understanding her accent. But my mother, Alma Pries, remembers that although Ana Beker’s English wasn’t real fluent, and she and my father’s own German and Spanish was hardly existent at all, they understood one another, and they spent the evening talking and eating together and listening to Ana’s stories. (My mother remembers that Ana loved asparagus, which was served with that night’s meal.)
Ana Beker said that she was on her way from Argentina to Canada to visit a friend, and that the first two horses with which she had started the trip had been given to her by Eva Perón. She had been riding for about three years in that endeavor and had had all sorts of adventures. She had fought off banditos in Mexico, defending herself with her pistol. But at some point they, or some other banditos, came back and stole her pistol and (my mother thinks) also one of her horses. She felt quite vulnerable until she was able to obtain another pistol. But Ana said that when she stopped at the famous King Ranch in Texas, they outfitted her and replaced the horse that was stolen, and maybe the pistol as well.
Ana Beker told my parents that she loved the people of Virginia. She had had a fine time traveling through the horse country there, where people in the countryside had given her many parties, inviting others to come meet her, who in turn threw even more parties, so she had lingered there a while.
When I spoke with my mother today, she said that she and my father had been quite casual about it all. Sure, here was an astonishing person who needed some food and a place to stay—they had a wonderful evening, and then she would leave and continue on her journey. (I don’t think they even thought to take photographs of her!)
The next morning I remember waking up quite early, as usual, and looking out the window. I was horrified to see that Ana was leaving—but nobody thought to wake me up so I could say goodbye! I remember looking down, sadly, watching. I regretted her leaving, and I felt sorry for myself for being forgotten. It was raining. Ana had on her poncho and sombrero. She was riding the horse today that had carried the pack yesterday; the other horse was all packed up. I remember that one of the horses was chestnut color. Ana switched horses each day, to rest them from the chore they’d done the previous day. My father had filled one of the packs with hay and oats for the horses, and my mother had packed a lunch for Ana. Ana said she would write to us when she arrived at her destination, but we never heard from her again. (I’m sure she had too many people to write to over all those years!)
But she has always been a part of our family lore—an exemplar of tenacity and adventurous spirit! These days I live with my husband and son in Oregon, where I teach riding to the local children. I always tell them about Ana Beker, an example of courage and adventure.
Attached are some files scanned from newspaper clippings from the Evening Sun (Baltimore) and Washington Post newspapers, which my parents saved all these years, along with a copy of her calling card. The “Mr. and Mrs. Richard Pries” referred to in the article titled “Milady’s Manner: Senorita Passes Through Town Unobserved” (in which Ana Beker’s name is misspelled Becker) are my parents.
Click on any image to enlarge.
We were so happy to learn from your websites that Ana made it to Canada. I hope Ana Beker still lives embodied in fact as well as in spirit!
—Suzanne Pries Copenhagen
Hillsboro, Oregon; December, 2005
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