During the spring of 1997, my niece Shaelyn and I stepped into a star-filled night bursting with a celestial glow. Incandescent light from streetlamps pooled nearby but never washed over the dark corner where three-month-old Shae and I stood. She rode in my arms as we left behind my grandfather’s house. Adult chatter and inactivity had stirred Shae into an inconsolable restlessness for which the only cure was movement.
Shae tilted her head back, seeming to forget the dull world we had escaped. The inky night and slivers of twinkling lights mesmerized her. Squirming, she flung tiny hands to the heavens, grasping at the solar system.
My wishes were more earthbound. I simply wanted to memorize the evening, carrying it with me forever. It was one of my earliest experiences as an aunt, the first time I fully understood the breadth of a child’s imagination and a hint at how inspiring my nieces and nephews would become.
As the years went on, Shae never lost her desire for motion. One afternoon, while watching her ride her quarter-horse Billy during a 4-H competition, she again appeared restless. It was easy to imagine Shae and Billy sprinting across the arena and leaping over the fence.
In my mind, she bolted along the sagebrush-dotted fields. Her brown braid bounced on her back. Turquoise eyes narrowed into slits as she surveyed her escape route. Then she vanished from sight, a tiny speck galloping toward the Owyhee Mountains.
That scene grew in my imagination. Taking pen to paper, I transported Shae back to the late 1800s, added a lariat to her saddle, and ended up with a novel, The All-True Adventures of Shaelyn Cheyenne.* Her wonderful name—a mixture of Celtic princess, Shaelyn (meaning “one whom is noble” or “from the fairy palace”, depending on the source)—and rodeo queen, Cheyenne—had always deserved to be part of a title or on a marquee.
But the real Shaelyn was, of course, my preferred companion over the fictional one. From bike rides to Barbie dolls to books like The Napping House and a love for Harry Potter recorded books, we shared hours of entertainment and companionship.
I was there on the first day she skied and later marveled at her ability to snowboard. The poetry she wrote for a high school project impressed me with its depth—yet she was completely unaware of her talent—while her ability to mimic always made me laugh.
And now the girl who wanted to capture that starry night almost 24 years ago has her own baby, Hayden Kelly.
She has opened her heart to not only a daughter but a family, including husband Joe and two-year-old Max. In Shae, I see her mother, my sister Kelly—both full of unconditional love and selflessness.
Shae continues to inspire, to be everything that I observed when she was a girl; however, her influence has strengthened beyond merely adventures and games. She has grown into a loving parent, niece, and sister.
In a sense our positions have reversed—when she was little, I tried to be her example. But now I follow her lead.
Happy birthday, Shae! Here’s to many more starry memories and a lifetime of inspiration!
* The plot involved a quest to rescue a kidnapped mythical horse—think the 1960s TV show The Wild Wild West.