Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christmas Trees and Turnips




It is a few days after Thanksgiving and there are Christmas trees outside the Minute Market. Every time we stop for a gallon of milk or a bottle of corn syrup (because the Minute Market has everything you could possibly need and I was in the middle of making a pecan pie when I realized I was all out), my child tugs on my arm and reminds me, “We have to get our Christmas tree.” Getting the tree is one of the highlights of Christmas. It’s almost as good as getting the presents.

The trees lean seductively against the plate glass window next to the propane tanks and the half dead mums that I feel sorry for because no one bought them. There are two kinds but I don’t know what they are. One has long needles. My father would call it a Scotch pine but I don’t know if that’s what it really is. I found out I can’t trust what my parents call things. I recently learned that, all these years when we thought we were eating mashed turnips on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, they weren’t really turnips at all, but rutabagas. Rutabagas? What the heck is a rutabaga anyway? Sounds like something in a beautifully illustrated children’s book about bunnies written by a tea-sipping, scone-nibbling English woman. Rutabagas?

I found out about the rutabagas when Pearl invited me to come and pick some turnip greens from her garden. I said, “Those don’t look like turnips.”

“Yes Ma’am, them are turnips alright,” she said.

“Humph.” I scratched my head. I wasn’t about to argue with Pearl since she really knows her stuff about gardens so I did a little research in Wal-Mart. Meaning I looked at the signs and what was below them. And Pearl was right. I confronted my mother.

“We just call them turnips,” she said, uninterested. “They’re really rutabagas.”

Nice letting me in on it. I can only wonder what Pearl thought when I gave her my mashed turnips recipe. I don’t know if she tried it on the real turnips. And if she did, I don’t know how they came out. My whole reputation could have been ruined here if I’d given out that recipe to all the PTO ladies who were making a book of recipes to sell for a fundraiser. Jeez! Mashed rutabagas are delicious. I don’t know about turnips. At least now I know what I am eating.

So I don’t know if that long-needled tree is really a Scotch pine or what. The other trees have short, tight needles. The short-needled trees look old-fashioned so that’s what we’ll probably pick. But first we’ll go down the road to the nursery because they have a sign out saying they have trees. I like to patronize the local farmer if I can help it. I have nothing against the Minute Market. In fact, with its stock of important things you run out of but don’t feel like driving to Wal-Mart to buy, I practically live down at that store. I wouldn’t even mind working there if I was so inclined to get a real job. It’d be fun to talk to everyone who comes in and out.

“Looks like you’re baking a cake,” I’d say to Effie, holding up the vanilla.

“I always wanted to can my own vegetables,” I’d say to the lady who put the box of rubber rings on the counter.

And, “Lot’s of good news in there today. Check out page three,” I’d advise the man who was buying the paper.

I’m friendly. I like to talk to people. While waiting on line in there last week, I stood behind a hunter. He had on camouflage sweatpants, a camouflage sweatshirt and a blaze orange baseball cap. It was schizophrenic. So I asked him, “Tell me, do you want to be seen or you don’t want to be seen?” He raised an eyebrow. I pointed with my chin, “The cap. It’s orange. And your clothes are camouflage.”

“That’s the law. We gotta wear something orange.”

“Ah huh. So you don’t shoot each other,” I laughed. “Well, doesn’t that make it hard to catch a deer? Doesn’t he see it too? Kind of defeats the whole purpose of the camouflage then, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t rightly know,” the hunter replied and stepped up to the counter. “But you Yankees sure are dumb.”

No, he didn’t say that last part; I just imagined he was thinking it. Either that or he thought I was cute and charming. I’ll go with the cute and charming.

At any rate, he ordered one of the trees outside. He said, “I’ll take one of them white pines out there Brandy.”

“Ain’t they so pretty Calvin?” Brandy asked.

“They sure are,” Calvin nodded. “That’s the kind my daddy loved.”

Aw. Here was this big gnarly killer with a wad of chewing tobacco bulging out his cheek like he had a ping pong ball in there and a week’s worth of gun-metal-colored stubble on his face waxing nostalgic about his father. It appears many things are contradictory about hunters; not just their get-ups.

I found out the other trees were Fraser firs. I followed Calvin outside to see which one was which. He plucked one of the long-needled trees out of the line and tossed it into the back of his truck like he was tossing a wet towel into the tub.

I took another look at the white pines. Maybe I’d get one of them after all. If Calvin got his father’s favorite kind of tree… My father loves them too. Scotch pines and turnips. White pines and rutabagas. Whatever they are called, it’s one of the highlights of Christmas.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Quitting Smoking



I live on an old tobacco farm. They raised pigs and tobacco here. It must have been stinky in the old days—the pigs rolling in the mud, the farmer rolling cigarettes and smoking and spitting.

When I was first supposed to be off the cigarettes, I’d sneak one behind the tobacco shed. It is covered in something poisonous, oak or ivy, we’re not sure what yet—the lady from the extension office took a sample but being all distracted and out of focus with this quitting business, I haven’t called her to find out what she found out. I’m lucky I can get my teeth brushed on a regular basis and maybe slap some food together for the family before they starve. I can’t do anything not absolutely necessary right now. Withdrawals suck.

Doesn’t matter which poison it is anyway. I would have dove into it headfirst if it meant I could smoke. I would have taken a quick dip in a vat of acid if I could smoke one. But the tobacco shed was an apt spot to sneak a smoke, covered with poisonous weeds or not, considering it’s where they used to make the stuff. Plus, it’s private. No one could see me over there except for the neighbors down the road if they came out of their house and craned their necks. They’d see me but wouldn’t be able to tell what I was doing. I was too far away. Only the dog knew what I was up to.

Sneaking the cigarettes kept me in constant withdrawals. I couldn’t smoke as many as I wanted, so I always wanted one, was always jonesing. Suddenly the barn and the garage had interesting things going on at all hours of the day and night. I had to get something out of the freezer. I needed a box. I better go and lock that barn door.

I also felt terribly guilty and could hardly stand myself. I was bad. I stunk worse than the pig farmer, figuratively and literally. At least when I was a kid and I was sneaking them, I could go to confession on Saturday and get a few Hail Mary’s and then everything would be okay. But I didn’t even know where there was a Catholic church around here.

But the good part is I cut down from 45 cigarettes a day to 8. Kurt was already off them for a few weeks and was on my back. He’d used Chantix but I had a bad reaction to it. Felt like I was going to bust things up. Maybe commit a murder. But it worked for him. He quit. And then he nagged me about it. I told him, “You quit your way and I’ll quit my way.” So I cut down and got it down to 8. It was really hard. But I did it. I couldn’t believe it.

Then the number started going up again. One day I smoked 9. A couple of days later I was up to 11. Ut oh. I knew that I had to quit now. This would be the easiest time to quit, if you can call any time easy, before I got back up to my normal amount. Just like alcoholism, nicotine addiction is a progressive disease. I wasn’t going to lie to myself. Next week I’d be smoking 50 if I kept it up.

So I quit on Sunday. No more sneaky trips to the tobacco shed. No more midnight runs to the barn. Which is the whole point of this post. To let you know that I’m not abandoning my blog. I can’t think, never mind write. I’ll be back. I just have to….kick some butts first.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving



This is Tom, who belongs to the brothers Dewey and Fred. Quite a goodlooking guy.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Old Reliable




The new pony, Apache, was not drugged after all. He’s still dead quiet and unless there is some new kind of drug that never wears off, it turns out this is just one mellow pony.

Kelly has had some good horses. There was her first, Minnie, about as high as my hip and cute as a button and who we still have even though everyone begs us for her, pleads, cajoles, promises great favors and even blackmails us: “I’ll tell everyone how you fell off Lowdown and were hanging upside down like a monkey if you don’t let me have her.” You don’t find ponies this cute and bombproof. Desperation kicks in. But the most I’ll do is a loan and that’s only to my very best friends. I say, “When you have a grandchild, I’ll lend her to you.”

Buddy the pony was blind, had half an ear and one foot in the grave. I’m embarrassed to admit we didn’t know these things when we got him because we bought him in the dark. One of the many lessons we learned—always buy horses in good light. In fact, here are some tips about horse shopping:

1. Don’t go when you’re hungry. Just like food shopping, everything looks good. In this case, you’re not going to eat the horse but you’re in a rush to get to Pizza Hut on the way home and you’re not thinking straight—tonight’s the Veggie Lover’s Special.

2. Don’t get on the horse first even if it’s supposed to be a bombproof child’s horse; even if you’re a tough barrel racer who’s ridden some wild and high spirited colts; even if the seller has a sprained ankle and can’t ride. ESPECIALLY if the seller has a sprained ankle and can’t ride.

3. Don’t use the seller’s saddle and don’t trust him to cinch it up. The last time I did that, the seller put me on an English saddle, which I had never sat in before and about the time my butt barely grazed the seat, it slipped sideways and a 13-hand child-safe pony bucked, bolted across the arena and promptly threw me to the ground before I even knew what hit me.

4. If the seller says he’s never done this before, make a note that this is his favorite mode of operation.

5. Don’t pull up with the horse trailer even though it’s three hours away because no matter what you do, the seller won’t give you a dollar off the price even if he told you over the phone before you left home that the price is negotiable. If he sees the horse trailer, he thinks you’re easy, not unlike some chick with her boobs hanging out. Don’t look motivated.

Luckily we only broke the rule about buying a horse in good light when we got Buddy. The good part is he was child-safe, but Kelly only got a year out of him before it was time to retire him. We gave him to my friend Danielle who feels even more sorry for animals than I do and has a lot more money. He now lives a life of leisure and indulgence. He gets acupuncture, massage therapy and his own special food eight times a day since he’s lost some teeth. Danielle pays someone to take him for walks, groom him, and install and remove his fly mask every day while she’s at work. If he was a human, he’d be writing his memoirs and giving interviews in one of those high class nursing homes celebrities retire to.

I tried to unload Doc a number of times after we bought him. He’s the big guy. I didn’t like buying him from the get-go because of his size. I wanted a pony. Little kids should be on little horses. They’re closer to the ground. They’re used to getting bows put in their hair and Barbies balanced on their backs. But when we were out in Oklahoma, though we searched high and low, we couldn’t find a child-safe pony. All the kids out there ride big horses. They’re a bunch of wild Indians, practically born in the saddle and kids barely out of diapers ride horses with smoke coming out of their noses. So, even though this was horse-land, there were no ponies to be had.

Doc was a full-size horse, actually bigger than both Kurt’s and my horses. But he was a child-safe, ex-barrel horse. His riders were a couple of kids who rode him double and their father, a one-legged man who had used him on barrels. If that wasn’t an indication of a well-trained horse, I didn’t know what was and so we gave up the search for Misty of Chincoteague and we took him. But I was scared to let Kelly ride him.

About a year after we had him, I decided to try to find a pony again and I put him up for sale. Luckily I was honest and though I could have thrown his papers away and told people he was 15, or even 12, I told them the truth; Doc was 22. As soon as I said that, they suddenly got a call coming in. “Uh, can you hold on a minute? Someone’s beeping me.” And then they never came back. Everyone was scared of the age. No one wanted to buy him even though I assured them he had plenty of life left and was healthy as a horse, sound as a two-dollar bill, all the good clich├ęs. Finally, my girlfriends yelled at me. “Just let her ride him! You have a perfectly good horse right there in your own barn!”

At the rate the pony hunt was going, if I didn’t listen to them, Kelly would have had grey hair by the time she got back in the saddle and so I let her start riding him. Before long, she was riding him all over the place and he never did anything wrong. If you wanted to go out on a trail, you could take him out on a trail. If you wanted to go to a show, you could take him to a show. If you wanted to take him down the road, you could do that. He’d go out by himself or with other horses; it didn’t matter. Whatever we asked him to do, he did, and he acted exactly the same every single time even if Kelly hadn’t been riding him, even if he’d been sitting around in the pasture for a few months, twiddling his thumbs—he was still true blue. Old reliable. One of those once-in-a-lifetime horses, and this may sound corny, but I feel that God rewarded me for being a good person and not concealing his age because I never would have known.

But now he’s turning 25 and though farting around the field or the occasional trail ride is fine because he’s still sound and healthy, we also barrel race and Doc doesn’t deserve to have to work that hard. So we are semi-retiring him. When the out-of-town guests come down from the city once or twice a year and want to play cowboy, we’ll put them on Doc. Or if one of Kelly’s friends comes over who’s never ridden a horse before and she wants a ride, Doc’s the man. But for hard riding, it was time for Kelly to move on. Which brings me to Apache, the pony.

I started riding him because I wanted to see what was under the hood. Lucky thing, because with his disposition, I wouldn’t have expected trouble. He’s still dead quiet but I’ve discovered he’s herd-bound. I suspect he was owned by some kid who let him get away with murder and therefore he has been testing me. He’s a creative pony with a variety of methods in his repertoire. He tried to run me into the trees and he tried to whirl around to go back to Doc. The trickiest maneuver in his arsenal is what I call the combo. The combo consists of a buck, rear and whirl, all at the same time. It sounds lethal, but this is not a very athletic or fast-moving pony and so it is more like a half-hearted crow-hop, a lightening on the front end and a watered down turn. Your basic temper tantrum by a two-year-old. Annoying, yes. Scary, no

He’s doesn’t rattle me one bit. Actually, I love riding him. He’s easy. Easy on and easy off. Nothing bothers him. And he’s comfortable, which is unusual for a pony. In fact, I like him so much I asked Kelly if I could have him but forget it. Talk about temper tantrums. But he’s not ready for her now. One drawback about buying a child a bombproof, child-safe horse is that they never learn how to handle the bad things. Minnie, Buddy and Doc never did anything bad. So she doesn’t know what to do when something goes wrong. She’s never learned that part. She wouldn’t know how to handle a combo. So I keep riding him.

In the meantime, she is still on old reliable.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Jamie's Artwork For My Book



The colors didn't come out right on my computer, but this is the illustration that Jamie did for my stories. Check out the high heels and the cell phone.

She's a great illustrator and I'm not just saying that because I'm her mother! So if you need something, check her out. She also makes the cutest jewelry that looks like real food and it's real cheap--here's her craft website: www.magicbeanbuyer.etsy.com

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dirty Jobs



There are some dirty jobs on the farm. Quantity-wise, manure removal is the biggie. Even though I don’t keep the horses in their stalls, I still pick up three wheelbarrows full of manure every day. The pasture, if you can call it a pasture, needs to be picked up because it’s too small for five horses. Maybe if I had one or two horses, I could leave the manure out there and it wouldn’t bother anybody because it would disintegrate in the sun and the rain and the crows would pick it apart and spread it around, pulverizing it even further. But with five horses, there is no time for breakdown before they deposit more.

When we first moved here, I didn’t pick up any manure. I was used to having 110 acres in Oklahoma and 53 acres in Ferrum where the manure would turn to dust or decayed before it was discovered. And so I didn’t even think about it. We were so busy settling in, fixing things and hurrying up with important projects like putting the heat in, that I didn’t even go into the pasture. It wasn’t until I decided to check the fence line that I came upon the horror that my neighbors across the road were looking at every morning while they were having their tea. Hundreds, no, thousands of piles of manure, big blobs of poop, were everywhere. It was an obstacle course of land mines, bowel explosions, if you will.

It took me a few weeks to catch up. The neighbors were probably relieved when they saw me out there with the wheelbarrow and pitchfork. I made three manure piles where I empty the wheelbarrows. I dump onto whichever pile is the closest. I wish I had a ramp like I used to have in Jackson. Then I could just push it all the way to the top and tip it over. The manure pile would get taller and taller. But that’s another project that we haven’t gotten around to yet so I just empty them on the edges, as high as I can get the wheelbarrow, and the pile gets wider and wider, threatening to spread into Rockford County if this keeps up. Kurt moves the manure piles around with the tractor now and then to help it break down and sometimes I take shovelfuls of the rich black soil that is underneath for hole-filling or for the garden, but in the end, he will push it all down into the gully. In many years, the gully will become a slight dip in a lush, nutrient-rich pasture that won’t be so steep to mow.

Kurt wonders why we can’t just train the horses to walk down there and leave it there themselves.

“They’re not cats,” I said.

“You’ve got Motley crapping on the side of the yard.”

That’s true. Motley, the dog we got from the pound, aka The Big Stupid, turns out is not very stupid after all. Another dirty job we have around here is picking up the dog poop. We go around the yard once or twice a week with a bucket lined with Wal-Mart bags (what better use for them than that?) and a pooper scooper and pick up all the, how did we say it as kids? We pick up all the doggie doo-doo. Nine times out of ten, all fecal matter the dog is responsible for can be found on the fence line. Ninety percent of that is on the fence line behind our garage. Very easy.

Still, even with short cuts and good luck, Kurt said he was tired of being the middle man regarding the horses. We buy hay, feed it to them, it goes in one end and out the other and then we pick it up. Then the whole cycle starts all over again.

“The least they can do is put it in a convenient spot,” Kurt said. “I don’t think I’m asking for much.”

My horse Harley has potential. Though Kurt won’t give him credit for anything because he hates him. Harley used to be Kurt’s horse but he was unrideable due to being scared to death of Kurt’s deep, gruff voice. Kurt has the voice of ten men, hands and feet to match, and Harley is afraid of men so I had to take him over. Now Kurt won’t give him the time of day because I’m the only one who can ride him and he’s jealous of my power; the power of gentleness is what it boils down to.

I’ve watched Harley walk right across the barnyard, climb on top of the manure pile like a mountain goat and let loose. That’s stallion behavior, even though he is a gelding. Stallions tend to be neat and they often make stallion piles, going in the same place over and over again until there are little mountains of manure in all their favorite spots. I suspect Harley was gelded late because this is not the only stallion tendency he has. When we first got him, he tried mounting Minnie a few times. I don’t know what he was thinking, considering she is only up to his knees and he’s missing some of the required equipment. But like all American males, animal or human, he was driven by something other than his brain.

Quality-wise, perhaps one of the dirtiest jobs on the farm is sheath cleaning. Ironically also involving the private parts of horses, this one requires a person to be hands-on. Literally. It is not for the shy or the squeamish.

Most horses need their penises cleaned once every year or two. Dirt and crust accumulates on the penis and a lump of smegma can lodge in the urethra called a bean. This can cause infection and a blockage. What do they do out in the wild, you say, when there is no one out there to clean their penises? If they need it done and there is no one out there to do it for them, they die. It’s called the “crusty pecker disease.” No, only kidding. I don’t know what it’s called.

If the new pony Apache was out there in the wild, he’d be one of them with a short lifespan because I never saw a horse penis that dirty, ever. I don’t know how he fits it back in his sheath when he takes it out for air; it is so covered with dried gunk. It looks like the crust on a lemon meringue pie that’s been overcooked and now it’s sitting there in the glass case for too long because nobody will buy it. So I had to get out there and clean it ASAP.

The problem is, I’ve never done it before. I usually get the vet to do it when he comes to check teeth and do Coggins tests, but it’s not time for that now and when the vet was here last month because I was afraid the pony was drugged since he was so quiet and then he got hives from eating the weeds, I was so worried about all the other stuff I didn’t even think about his penis. And a farm call is fifty dollars just to get him out here. Then there’s the charge for the actual procedure and sedation on top of it because vets don’t like to take the chance of getting kicked even when you tell them that this horse is as gentle as a lamb. Plus a sedated horse’s penis will usually drop out of its sheath in a real relaxed way, exposing itself for easy cleaning. But I just spent a couple of hundred dollars on vet visits, and disgusting things don’t bother me too much, so I knew I should just go and clean it myself.

I saw the kids do it at the 4-H club. The lady from the Roanoke Horse Rescue came and did a demonstration. Everybody donned rubber gloves, squirted some Excalibur cleaner on their hands and then they stuck their hands up inside the horses’ sheaths, Kelly included. Actually, I also had my hand up there for a split second but with the horse rescue lady’s step-by-step guidance, I might as well have had a camera on the tips of my fingers because I felt like I could see everything inside of there as she told me what to do and what I was feeling. If Apache wasn’t resistant, there was no reason why I couldn’t do it again.

Apache didn’t blink an eye. I got my hand right inside the sheath, rubbed around and pulled out as much black gunk as I could. But I was afraid to go through the portal, the hole leading into the inner cavity where the penis had retracted. I was afraid I was going to have trouble with this. I also couldn’t bring myself to stick the thermometer up my babies’ butts when they had a fever because I was afraid I’d hurt them and so my mother had to come over and do it. I was quite relieved when they came out with digital thermometers that you just stick in an ear for ten seconds. I obviously have a fear of going inside body cavities that are really not meant to be entered.

Sweat dripped into my eyes. It was tight in there. I could feel his muscle. I thought I was feeling the portal. What if my hand got stuck?

“What’s he doing?” I asked Kelly, who was holding his head.

“Nothing.”

“What are his ears doing?” The position of a horse’s ears will tell you what he’s got on his mind.

“They’re going back and forth,” she reported. Okay. He was thinking but he wasn’t mad. If they were flat back against his head, he was ticked off and I better get out of there quick.

“Do you want to do it?” I asked her. “It’s kind of fun.”

“Mama!”

“Well, it’s YOUR pony.”

I just couldn’t make myself go any deeper and so I extricated my hand and stood up. I dropped the wet gauze by my feet and said, “That’s it. Maybe I can pay Ashley a few dollars to do it. She can use the experience. Maybe she can use it for extra credit or something.”

Kelly rolled her eyes. Ashley is one of the older kids we know from 4-H who wants to become a vet. The pony was no trouble. I was sure she’d jump at the chance to get some real field experience.

Later, I did another dirty job. The barbecue grill. It appears that Kurt, unlike most men, doesn’t like to barbecue. He doesn’t care about the fancy stainless steel grill we splurged on even though I would have been perfectly satisfied with one of those little cast iron grills that come in a cardboard box with Chinese letters on it. He has no interest in it whatsoever and so he neglected cleaning the grill for the whole season other than taking the scrub brush, turning the heat up high and scrubbing the metal grates now and then so the grease would burn off. Just enough care to prevent us all from getting a case of botulism or whatever you get from dirty grills, but no real maintenance. I was unaware of the extent of the neglect since I had no idea to inspect the grill being that the burgers always came out so good and the point of grilling is so I didn’t have to cook. I had no reason to check up on him. I had no urge to hover. I was usually on the phone waiting for the hamburgers to get done while he was cooking.

But then I caught a glimpse of it by mistake and I was horrified, wondering what my brother-in-law thought when we asked him to do the grilling because Kurt wasn’t home from work yet. I could imagine the stories circulating in the family. You should see their grill; it’s disgusting. You should see their grill; nobody ever cleans it, rats would live in there if they didn’t have those cats. So while I had out the box of rubber gloves, I took it all apart and cleaned it real good. I put the grates in the bathtub with steaming water and a few glugs of ammonia and I let them soak. A little while later, I started scrubbing. The burnt-on grease came right off. My gloves were covered with black gunk not unlike some other black gunk on the farm and I got to thinking, why am I always the one who has to do the dirty jobs? It’s not my grill, it’s not my pony. According to Kurt, The Big Stupid is not even my dog. What am I the queen of yucky stuff?

It could be worse. I could be putting on pantyhose in the morning and driving to my job in some windowless customer service department in an appliance repair store where people on the lake would call and scream that the confection ovens in their Viking ranges didn’t seem quite hot enough or the freezers in their Sub-Zeros didn’t seem quite cold enough and they were having a dinner party and so I better get the repairman out there today, chop, chop, if I knew what was good for me because, wink, wink, they have money and they have power and I might lose my job if you know what I mean. That’d be taking some crap.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Catchy Things--Part Two



The fever broke. Once I remembered about liability insurance and all the sue-crazy people in the world today, I started thinking about selling stuff on eBay instead. If I had to buy insurance for giving a couple of lessons a week, it would eat right into my profits and what would be the point?

I’m scared for all the locals around here. They have no idea about sue-crazy people. It’s still like the old days down here when people took personal responsibility for themselves and if they tripped they paid for the Band-Aid themselves or if they hit their head on an awning that fell too low because a wind kicked up, they chalked it up to accidents happen—no one meant for that awning to fall on their head.

But where I come from, people search out reasons to sue. They are just waiting for their chance. They figure it’s the only way they can get even after all the taxes and insurances they are forced to pay. People up north are scared to death of getting sued because they know what they would do if they lost their balance on a loose railing. Therefore, they go above and beyond the call of duty and refuse to let children play on dirt playgrounds or metal slides. A kid might skin his knee or burn his butt. There’s a million dollars right there. They install special footing and plastic climbing equipment that is environmentally safe, organically created, strategically placed, with ergonomic corners and encapsulated bolts. And still, they get sued.

When we had our flooring business in New Jersey, Kurt got sued four years after he installed carpet in an office building because a worker tripped on it and supposedly, the key word here being supposedly, because we know she was lying, was irreversibly disabled. She was completely shot. Kaput. Might as well have been hit by a Mack truck. Couldn’t even have sex with her husband anymore. It didn’t matter that this woman had a history of frivolous lawsuits. It didn’t matter that the photographs of the carpet showed that it was in perfect condition. We fought them for years until our insurance company finally settled with them because it was cheaper to give up. And then the insurance company dropped us. Even though we never had another claim before. The new company was a high risk company with sky-high rates we couldn’t afford. In effect, it put us out of business. Which turned out to be a lucky thing because that’s when we hightailed it out of there and moved to Oklahoma.

What’s even scarier about Virginia is I heard they can take your house if you get sued and don’t have enough insurance to cover it. I worry about the people around here because they have the same kind of thinking they’ve always had but now they are surrounded by northerners who think differently and who will sue at the drop of a hat.

When we were driving home from looking at some hay the other day, we saw someone at the light with Jersey plates. We always get excited when we see Jersey plates. It’s not all bad up there. But Kurt thought he was funny. As we passed, he yelled out the window, “Go home Yankee!”

“Kurt!”

“I can say that because I am one. Of course it’s by association and that would be your fault…”

Kurt is really from Washington State. I said, “That’s up north too.”

“But we weren’t involved in The War.”

All you have to do is say, “the war,” around here and everyone knows what you mean. The Civil War. There was no other war so important or interesting.

“Well, she’s going to think the people around here are mean if you’re yelling ‘Go home Yankee!’”

I’m always protecting them. They are innocent. They are nice. Most of them wouldn’t think of suing if an accident happened, but what if I’m giving a lesson to a Yankee and I don’t know it? Or what if it’s a local but the Yankee ways have rubbed off on him? He watches TV. He knows this may be his chance to hit it big.

I have plenty of stuff I need to get rid of anyway. There’s a nice gas fireplace in the garage with a wood mantle that has just been sitting there all summer and a set of hand-painted antique lamps. Of course I will have to buy shipping insurance. But at least I won’t lose my house.

Catchy Things--Part One


This is with apology to all my friends who are into racking.

Kelly got a new school bus driver this year. All the neighbors are suspicious since the old one has been doing it forever. I found this out when I called him to see if he had any hay. He told me he quit the school bus because he had to take a job driving a truck for the landfill, times being tough. I don’t know if the new guy, Dwayne, will offer any of the special services like the old one did, like selling hay or shoeing horses and knowing things like who has a pony for sale, but he seems nice enough.

Since all the neighbors were up-in-arms not knowing who the new guy was and because I couldn’t remember what the name was that the old one told me, they got all the kids riled up worrying about it and it rubbed off on Kelly. She barely knew the old one because we just moved here, but she got riled up right along with them. Things are catchy with kids.

They catch everything when they go back to school. They make them come to school with hand sanitizer right alongside the three-ring binders and page dividers to try to prevent the spread of germs. They don’t want the common cold running amok. I already warned her not to touch her face with her hands; not to tap her lip while she’s thinking when she’s in school. But what do you do about soccer?

I found the soccer papers in the stack Kelly came home with that took me all night to read and sign. I warned Kurt, “Ut oh, we better get going with her riding lessons again or else we’re going to find ourselves doing soccer.”

We had put Kelly’s riding lessons on hold over the summer because we were just too busy with family visiting, two vacation bible schools and assorted day trips. It was fine. She was still riding, which is what she loves. But she bugs us to join things like soccer or cheerleading whenever she goes back to school and sees what all the other kids are doing. So far we have been able to avoid it by telling her, “You can’t do everything. If you are doing choir, 4-H and riding lessons, you can’t do soccer and cheerleading too. It is physically impossible.” The real reason is, I would rather someone pull my nails out with a pliers than sit through some kids playing a game in a stinky school gym, or wherever they have these things, with a bunch of parents who have nothing better to do that they actually find it interesting.

Kurt said, “We can’t do soccer. We don’t have a mini van.”

“I’ll call the instructor tomorrow and schedule the lessons.”

Kurt rubbed his belly thoughtfully. Oprah was on the TV. “I think I’m going to go to one of those make-over shows. That way there’d be no way we’d have time to go to soccer.”

“What if the instructor is not doing it anymore? I heard she retired.”

“Let’s tell her she has to sell her pony if she joins soccer.”

“Kurt!”

Kelly’s instructor hadn’t called me back after I left a message on her machine and after waiting a full week to hear from her since country people don’t do anything fast except drive, being genetically linked to NASCAR in some way, I knew it was true. She retired. I’d have to find someone else to give lessons.

The thing is, there aren’t many instructors around when you live in a small town with only a few hundred people and not many more in the county. There aren’t many people around period. The other thing is, this ain’t Oklahoma, land of western events like barrel racing and roping. Or even New Jersey, where a person could find a barrel race within driving distance at least once a week because we horse people were all crunched up together in the only county left that wasn’t bulldozed over.

Nope, the people around here ride a different kind of horse. It’s called a racking horse and I’m not sure if that’s actually a breed, or all the gaited horses fall under it as a category, such as Tennessee Walkers and Saddlebreds. Whatever it is, it is nothing like the discipline we do, which is barrel racing. It is nothing like western riding of any kind.

First of all, the riders of these racking horses wear brightly-colored silk jackets with Asian motifs as if they are the servers in fancy Japanese restaurants. Some of them wear little derbies like Charlie Chaplin. (And the women wonder why they can’t get their husbands into it—com’on, it’s dorky man!) Their horses have long necks, long feet and long tails. Everything is long. The day is long when you are watching them in between the western speed classes you are waiting for and I imagine it’s only a little bit better than sitting through a fifth grader’s basketball game because your daughter is going to cheer for a few minutes.

I have to admit, the first time we saw these horses it was interesting. We’d never seen anything like it before. But after watching two or three classes of them prancing around and around the arena in jerky, spastic motions, we had had enough. It was obvious to us that, even though the movement made for a smooth ride for the human, the horses were physically incapable of any real function like actually rounding up cattle. Maybe when I’m in my eighties and the doctor tells me I need a walker, I’ll get the Tennessee kind, but in the meantime, we’re going to stick to our good old American Quarter Horses and do some real riding.

So I knew that finding another instructor who teaches western riding was going to be difficult at best. There is some English riding around here. I wouldn’t rule out Kelly getting some English lessons because at least warmbloods and Thoroughbreds have the same gaits as Quarter Horses do and can actually perform. In fact, Kelly has expressed an interest in learning to jump, so I wouldn’t be against it. I figured if I could at least find her some kind of basic balanced-seat riding, that would satisfy her need to belong to something and we could work on barrels ourselves.

But there were no games in town and the soccer sign-up sheet was stuck on the refrigerator waving frantically and terrorizing me every time the door was opened and a breeze came in. I got out all the phone books, made a ton of calls and sent out e-mails. Does anyone know someone who gives lessons? I found a lady over an hour away but it was only five dollars a shot. How can you beat that? But she was all heart and no substance. Her lesson pony, though dead quiet, needed training himself, and the arena, which was set up in the grassy backyard behind an abandoned church next door, was ramshackle at best. She had ropes rigged up from the church steps, to a couple of posts, down to the chrome handle on the door of a 1967 Buick, and back up to the church steps again.

The next one, also over an hour away, invited us to come and watch her give a lesson. What is the best way to put this? She had no bedside manner. I found myself thinking, did she forget we are here? We watched her bark orders and belittle the little girl she was giving a lesson to. “What is wrong with you?! Now get on the correct lead!” Nope, this was not the instructor for us.

Finding the right instructor is tricky under the best circumstances. She must be knowledgeable so your child actually learns something but she also must be fun so that your child wants to keep going back. She must have a safe lesson horse and a safe arena. She has to be affordable and close enough. Basically, like porridge—not too hot and not too cold. Finally, I found someone who seemed just right. We scheduled our first lesson. And then I got a phone call. It was one of the mothers of one of the little girls Kelly goes to school with. “Do you give riding lessons?”

“Uh, um,” I stammered. My mind started racing. I’d just heard the bad news from my hay man. He wasn’t coming over with our delivery. He had to go and buy hay himself. That’s not good when the hay man has to buy hay. There were no second cuttings due to the drought. No one else had it and the feed store was selling it for four times what I usually pay. It was even higher than New Jersey prices. With the new horse on the farm, things were going to be tough this winter. I could use some extra cash.

“Well, let me think about it,” I said. The funny thing is, this was the fourth person who asked me since we moved here. I’ve given lessons before and am pretty good at it, which probably makes you wonder why I would get Kelly lessons from someone else and not give them to her myself. Two reasons. One, a kid listens to someone else much better than the parent. I get a lot of eye rolling and “I knooowww,” answers when I instruct her. Sometimes it escalates to tears. Hers or mine, either way it’s not a pretty picture. Two, the ulterior motive. Taking Kelly to someone else’s farm where there are other kids to meet, play with and compete against, satisfies the same thing that she’d get if she was kicking around a soccer ball on a field.

But then I started thinking. If I was giving lessons, she’d get the same thing right here. They’d all be coming here. I have the perfect horses. I have a round pen. I have helmets. I have all the right stuff. Just think, I wouldn’t have to leave the farm—I could make money right here! Who cares if Kelly rolls her eyes and sighs when I tell her to do a figure-eight? And maybe I could inspire a few young people to have the same kind of lifelong love for horses that I have. It’s catchy, loving horses. Once it gets in your blood, that’s it, you are hooked forever. And I’m a carrier. I began planning my little lesson business.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Memory of 9-11


9-11 is my father’s birthday. Six years ago this morning I called him on the phone to wish him a happy birthday before he went to work. Then I looked at the TV on the kitchen counter. The news was on. There was a fire in one of the buildings at the World Trade Center and they were showing it live. The newscasters were matter-of-fact. They didn’t seem nervous about it at all but I kept thinking, what if that gets out of control? We’re talking about a skyscraper here. How are they going to put it out if it gets bigger? It’s not like the fire trucks have ladders that go up that high.

I got on the phone with my girlfriend. She was watching it too. I said, “I don’t think that’s good.” I never heard of a skyscraper burning down to the ground before but you never know. Jenise, always the calm voice of reason and not a worry-wart like me, didn’t seem concerned. Suddenly, a plane veered onto the screen and we watched it crash into the second building. Now I knew there was reason to worry.

We were only an hour or so away from New York if you weren’t traveling during rush hour. Many of our neighbors worked there. My sister’s husband fixed elevators in Manhattan. We all went up there for concerts and Christmas. One time I even read one of my short stories on stage at the Hudson Grille. We were close. We were so close we could see the smoke. Later, we could smell it.

Everyone knew someone who died in the buildings. For me, it was my real estate agent’s husband, Louis Minervino. Barbara called him Lou. I never met him, but I know of him. I can still hear Barbara’s voice talking about “Lou,” and I knew he was a caring and kind man. Barbara was a caring and kind woman and when I heard Lou Minervino died in the towers, my heart broke even further.

I have a picture of the New York skyline with the twin towers in it. It is taken from my father’s boat. It is really a picture of my new boyfriend, Kurt, who is now my husband. But New York was in the background. The funny thing is, there is a plane in the picture. It looks like it is heading straight for the towers. But it was taken many years before. It was taken at a time when we took the skyline for granted, when we always thought we’d have it, when we were young and we thought that we’d always have everyone.

This afternoon I turned on the TV in the kitchen and watched a special on Oprah about the children of 9-11. Six years later, some of them never even knew the parents they lost. Others took on the parent role and raised younger siblings because there was no one left who could do it. There were boys who went to Rolling Stones concerts because their father loved the Rolling Stones and it was a small way to keep him alive. There were boys who promised to grow up to be good men just like the dads they lost. All of them impressed me with their maturity and their determination to somehow make something good come out of such a terrible tragedy. You could tell they were all good kids who didn’t deserve to be in such a position. I sat there crying my eyes out.

Then I called my father and told him how glad I was that I could still call and wish him a happy birthday. I know how lucky I am.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Eating Weeds



We have big pasture problems. It turns out the weeds are no laughing matter. The horses have been eating them. Harley and the new pony, Apache, are covered in hives. Apache’s are pretty bad. Some of them are breaking open and I’m watching to make sure he’s breathing okay. Do you give a horse Benadryl for an allergic reaction like you do a child or a dog? I bought a bottle just in case. Maybe I should have bought ten bottles. Horses are big.

The problem is we never mowed the fields. There was no grass to mow. The grass was iffy when we moved in and then with the drought, what was there, turned to dirt. Except for the weeds. I’ve learned that I’ve got every toxic thing that they make in Virginia. Jimson weed, pigweed, hickory nuts, acorns, cherry trees, red maple. We have beggar’s lice. I don’t know if that one is poisonous but it certainly sounds like trouble. Pokeweed is poisonous when it gets higher than a few inches. Ours is about as tall as the barn. I have an assorted variety of plants in the deadly nightshade family. There might be a persimmons out there but we couldn’t be sure from a distance, and the vet, who pointed it all out to me, didn’t volunteer to go out there and investigate.

The vet was here last week to examine Apache, the pony who was too good to be true. He did a lameness exam and a neurological exam as much as a country doctor in the field, literally, could do an exam, and he and his assistant and the neighbors who came over to watch pronounced this to be a perfectly fine pony. The vet took a vial of blood to hold just in case Apache goes berserk in a month and we need to test it for drugs, but he laughed and assured me, “You just bought yourself a nice pony.” Then they went on to chitchat about the brothers Lester, Darryl and Billy-Bob down the road who are grown men that ride four-wheelers with a big Confederate flag flying off the back of one of them and who are having a fish fry on Labor Day weekend. Everyone’s invited.

I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to get the vet out again until it was time to do the horses’ Coggins tests next year but then they got the hives. It’s always something, no matter where you live; either animal, vegetable or mineral. In New Jersey, it was mud and the people who moved down from Staten Island because they liked the country living and then promptly plowed everything over and complained that the horses drew flies and the chickens made noise. In Oklahoma, it was rattlesnakes and coyotes, almost as bad as the New Yorkers and just as cranky. If there were any poisonous weeds on that property, the horses didn’t zero in any because they had 110 acres of World Class Bermuda grass to dine on.

I don’t know if I have any black walnut trees here like I had a forest of in Ferrum. Black walnut shavings will cause a horse to founder but not the leaves or the bark. There are saplings that look similar. They are either trees-of-heaven or black walnuts. I haven’t gotten around to going over and breaking off a piece to smell it—trees-of-heaven stink to high heaven, hence the nickname stink-trees. Either way, I am sure it will be something toxic.

Normally we would have gotten out there with the tractor even though there was no grass and mowed the weeds down just because they’re an eyesore. But we were busy moving in, doing projects, fixing fence. Mowing weeds was low priority. Now the horses are entertaining themselves with them. Basically having a party out there. Even though I give them plenty of hay to keep them busy, they’re not quite busy enough because there’s no grass and being grazing animals, they’re bored. They’re like a bunch a teenagers slouching on the street corner with their hands in their pockets and too much time on their hands looking for trouble. I’ve seen them take a nibble on all sorts of things. Yesterday Bullet and Minnie were munching on something that looked prehistoric. I chased them away and went to pull it out. As soon as I touched it I jumped back and screamed. It was covered with microscopic thorns like fiberglass. Dumb-asses. That’s what Kurt calls the horses; dumb-asses.

Right now I have the pony locked in the barn so he can’t get to whatever he’s been into. He doesn’t like being cooped up inside by himself so I put Bullet in the stall across from him to keep him company and they whinny now and then—“Hey, have you forgotten us in here?” Sometimes there’s a thump. Someone’s kicked a wall. I hear a bucket clanking around. They are playing with it and so I’ll have to go and make sure they didn’t empty all their water out. I don’t like stalling my horses because it isn’t natural for a horse to be confined but until the vet comes back on Monday, the least I can do is keep Apache away from the weeds.

The other day my friend had me so freaked out about having Jimson weed all over the place that I got out there and pulled it all up by hand. There I was, out in the blazing sun, wearing gloves and plastic goggles because I was afraid the stuff was going to give me hallucinations, tugging and pulling and ripping it out by the roots if at all possible. I was paranoid. I kept thinking, am I feeling something funny? Are my eyes burning? Am I getting heat stroke or am I high? Oh no, I just touched my nose!

I pushed wheelbarrows full of it, piled high, down to the manure pile by the back gully where all the brush is waiting to be burned one day. Now and then I hit a rock and a clump fell off. I ran over it and had to stop and pick it all up. It got caught in the wheel like how a carpet fiber gets tangled around the roller in the vacuum cleaner and you have to stop to unravel it. After I dumped it, black seeds were still in the wheelbarrow. This is the bad part dumb teenagers eat to get high and sometimes die. They should know better. They are the real dumb-asses.

I poured out the seeds. What else was I going to do with them? There was no where else to put them. I know we’re going to have an even bigger problem on our hands next spring since we let everything go to seed this year. According to the internet, I’ll have to get an herbicide. That probably means we’ll need to buy a piece of expensive equipment to distribute it. We’re not talking about backyard garden beds here. I have acres.

I made an appointment with someone from the agricultural extension agency to come over and advise us. An expert in weeds and seeds and animal feed. Whenever you call them, they are eager to help, as if they live for educating city slickers like me about pasture management. And best of all, it’s free. Hopefully she’ll get us all straightened out and this won’t happen again.

On Monday, the vet will be back. I hope that this isn’t an indication of things to come. It reminds me of when we moved to Ferrum and I begged the large animal vet, who wasn’t accepting any new clients, to please take me on. I assured him I had healthy animals and I gave my own shots so I would only need to call him in the rare emergency. I had that vet out so many times in the first year that he claimed we purchased his vacation home. He’d leave and I’d have another sick horse so fast that I’d have to call him back before I even got the bill from the first time. Kurt got to the point where he said, “Just give him a blank check.”

Maybe Lester, Darryl and Billy-Bob have the right idea. Four-wheelers don’t eat things that aren’t good for them and they don’t bang their buckets and kick their stall doors when they’re bored. In fact, you don’t have to do a darn thing with them unless you want to go riding. Maybe we’re the dumb-asses.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Praying For Rain




Nothing is in my pasture except pokeweed. Well, there are other kinds of weeds. Morning glories count since they grow wild. There is something I don’t know the name of—purple Velcro pods stick up out of the cracked orange dirt—prehistoric-looking things surely kin (I’m trying to pick up the lingo around here) to Venus fly traps. These are things that look like they should be on the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There are sticky vines sprawling like spiders and plants with spikes and spines somehow both ugly and beautiful at the same time. There are stickers, thorns, nettles and burrs, thick stems that splash liquid when you chop one (we call it milkweed, though I have no idea what milkweed is), and tangles and knots of something drying up it’s easy to get your foot caught in when pushing a wheelbarrow through the gully looking for manure to pick up.

But there’s no grass. Somehow the weeds flourish in a drought but everything else stops growing. Maybe it’s Mother Nature’s way of evening the score. Weeds get such a bad rap. Everyone hates them. Perhaps they deserve to have gotten an extra dose of hardiness from whoever decides what’s what.

I’ve given up on my petunias. I put all the baskets in the wheelbarrow and dumped them in the manure pile. No matter how much I watered them, they dried up. I don’t know what we did wrong. We did exactly what the guy at the nursery said to do. We bought everything he told us to buy. Little white balls that slowly release nutrients. Special disease-free soil so soft you could lay a baby in it and so expensive I considered panning for gold. Something liquid in a spray bottle and metal wire baskets lined with brown moss. But nope. None of it worked. We’ll never do that again. From now on it’s the $5.99 pots from Wal-Mart that you just hang up and throw away come the fall.

Sometimes I dump tomatoes in the manure pile but I put them in the pile farthest away from the horses so they rot before the horses know they’re there and eat them. I don’t know if they’ll give the horses colic. I have three manure piles. One is by the barnyard right next to the barn. Pokeweed and pigweed is growing all over it. The other one is in the front pasture by the tobacco shed and where you wouldn’t know it’s there because weeds taller than a man cover it. It’s a jungle in that part of the pasture. The third one is down by the gully. When I’m picking up manure, I empty the wheelbarrow into the pile that is the closest. Someday Kurt will scoop them up with the tractor and push it all into the gully in the back. The gully is filled with split, splintered trees from when the old owner bulldozed them all over to make another pasture. It is a skeleton of rotting wood that shifts and moves according to the amount of rain and wind we get. We haven’t gotten any rain in a long time.

We want to burn all that wood. It is dangerous to climb on and it’s an eyesore, plus, it takes up space that could be made into more pasture. Someday, when we get up the nerve, we’re going to light a match. But I’m scared. Even though we had the firemen over here to advise us about doing it. It’ll be a big blaze. It’ll be a ball of fire. People far and wide will exclaim, “Holy smoke!” And my well is iffy. What if a cinder floats innocently over this way and lands on the house? My water is practically worthless. I can turn the hose on for five minutes exactly and then the well is empty. Then what do I do? Wait for it to fill back up again and prime the pump while my house is burning down?

This well might have been fine for the pig farmer who used to live here. There were no dishwashers and no pools. They watered animals like I do but the farm consisted of much more than the eleven acres I own that has no water source—no creeks or ponds—and no doubt included the creeks that are now on the adjoining properties. But someone sold off this piece a while back with no water.

For me, it’s a problem. I have to conserve the water. It works okay if you don’t use it all at one time. You have to spread it out. For example, I water the horses after Kurt takes his shower and I water the garden in the evening. I stick the hose in the pool to refill what has evaporated after Kelly has gone to bed and I put a load of laundry in the washer at midnight. We warn the others when we’re using the hose, “I’m using water, don’t flush the toilet!” and we make plans to wash the car or bathe a horse. It’s an inconvenience. Alright, it’s a pain in the ass. And it’s actually pretty scary because I always worry that the water is going to run out and this time we’re not going to be able to get it back on again. We have five horses who drink ten gallons of water per day each. That’s a lot of water. It would be a hardship if we had to buy fifty gallons of water every day down at the Wal-Mart just for the horses alone if we ran dry and had to wait for the well guys to get over here and dig us a new well.

I keep telling Kurt, let’s schedule it now. Let’s not wait until it goes dry for good and then we’re under the gun. What if the well guys are backed up and we can’t get them right away? But it’s one of those things that’s not fun to buy. It costs a lot of money and you don’t actually see anything for all of your pain. It’s about as satisfying as getting the yearly maintenance done on your furnace. You don’t see anything different but you know it’s got to be done. It’s not even as exciting as putting a new roof on. At least there, you have a couple of choices—black, grey, green, red, the new architectural tiles, metal. Digging a well, you don’t even have a color choice.

And now we’re having a drought. I wonder—will I finally use too much and whatever is down there will dry up hard as a rock like the dirt in the pasture? It can’t be an endless supply. I am praying for rain. I hate rain. I am outside all the time with the animals and rain puts, no pun intended, a damper on things. But this time I am wanting some.

My pasture is not the only one that’s all dried up and filled with weeds. Farmers are using hay they stored away for the winter to feed their cattle now. There may not be a second cutting of hay this season because nothing has grown. Therefore, hay will be in short supply and very expensive, if it can be had at all. We are about finished building our hay shed but I don’t have any faith that I will be able to get anything to fill it up with. It’s always something on the farm. Either I can get plenty of hay and have no where to put it or I have a place to store it but can’t get any.

I don’t know what happens down here when there’s a drought. Is it possible that animals will go hungry? My horses are starting to nibble the weeds even though I give them hay every day. They come up to the barnyard with burrs in their forelocks. They are desperate. They should be knee-deep in grass right now but they’re not and so there’s nothing to do.

If this keeps up, I expect to see tumbleweeds blowing across the pasture. I can pretend I’m back in Oklahoma again. The only good part is I haven’t mowed the lawn a half dozen times this season. But somehow, still, I’ve pulled plenty of weeds.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Good Old Country Pony



We got a pony. He’s too good to be true. This is the one that I’ve been looking for since Kelly outgrew her first pony, Minnie, five years ago. He’s dead quiet which is really surprising since he’s seven-years-old. I looked at his teeth and confirmed that. He’s about seven.

I keep thinking he must be drugged because he’s too good and quiet. I’ve had some quiet horses before but never any this quiet. I got him from a horse trader but that doesn’t mean anything. Kurt and I got three of our best horses from a horse trader. Nothing wrong with being in the horse business. Who wouldn’t want to sell horses for a living? It’s much better than plumbing supplies or insurance. But they do have a reputation for doing bad things like unloading bad horses on unsuspecting buyers. In my defense, I didn’t know he was a horse trader until we got down there. This one was exactly within my traveling range—two hours south into North Carolina.

I asked the horse trader—let’s call him Gus—what he knew about the pony. In the ad, he was described as green but suitable for an advanced beginner. I wouldn’t have necessarily agreed he was green. I could tell he had a lot of handling—nothing bothered him. A tractor trailer that suddenly roared by didn’t make him flick an ear. A dog ran up behind him and he didn’t blink an eye. Gus’s boy (that’s what he called him, “the boy,” though he had a mustache and was old enough to have boys of his own) got on him bareback with only a halter and a lead rope and he was a perfect gentleman. He was handled alright but he had no professional training; that was it. He didn’t turn well and didn’t know how to back or neck rein; that kind of thing. So I asked Gus if he knew what the pony had done in the past and he said, “Nope, he’s just a good old country pony.”

At least we got him on the trailer and were on the way home before Kelly named him. She is calling him Apache. He’s another Paint, but this one is better than the last. This one is a black-and-white Paint and he’s beautiful. He’s perfect for Kelly because he’s 14 hands high, small enough for her to crawl on him by herself but big enough that by all rights, she can ride him into her adulthood. And with him being so well-behaved and quiet, after doing a little training and making sure there’s nothing bad going on under the hood, I could have her riding him in a couple of weeks. He is perfect. And so I started to worry. Is he drugged? Is he lame? Something must be wrong. I got him too cheap.

I was glad John the blacksmith was coming the next morning after we got him because John is also a horse trader and he knows about drugging. Not that he’s ever done it himself. Only the bad guys do that kind of thing—the ones who stand down in the ring at the horse auctions instead of sitting in the bleachers like the rest of us and who call out, “Sells one hundred percent sound!” when a horse goes by who obviously has a big knot on his leg like an egg and who is missing an eye and maybe the other leg.

Plus, the pony needed his feet done. They were short but they were all broken off and ragged. The angle was wrong and I was concerned he might have had a club foot, but thank God, John ruled that out. He told me a couple of the signs of being drugged and the pony may or may not have them. When you start scrutinizing and worrying, you think you’re seeing all kinds of things.

Me: OhmyGod, why is he laying down?

John: They’re all lying down, it’s naptime.

Me: His thing was hanging out last night for a few minutes. (The penis of drugged horse will hang out of its sheath because he is so relaxed.)

John, laughing: They all come out now and then.

Me: What about that lip? Doesn’t it look looser than normal? His lip is drooping!

John: His lip is fine.

John said he didn’t think the pony was drugged but I’d know for sure in a couple of days when it wears off. Or a month if fluphenazine was used. Fluphenazine is an anti-psychotic drug they use for schizophrenic people, but some horsemen give it to horses because it calms them down and makes them focus. It is illegal in the show world and to use on racehorses. John said they don’t use that one very often because it’s expensive and its results are unpredictable, so I shouldn’t worry. Now I’m worrying that he was just trying to get me to stop worrying.

Let me add two really stupid things we did that I believe give me the right to worry. We thought we saw a little mark on the pony’s neck, in the triangle spot where shots are given, but we didn’t say anything. Kurt pointed it out to me and we bugged our eyes at each other when Gus’s back was turned and whispered. But we didn’t ask him about it. We were too polite. Hey, what’s this? Are you drugging this horse? What an insult. Gus probably would have chased us off his property with a shotgun. The last thing we, as Yankees, want to do is offend people. We have a bad enough reputation as it is. And so I think we go overboard in the other direction. We go out of our way to be nice, to prove we are not that kind of Yankee. And therefore, though we also have a reputation for being slick and street-smart, which we are, we sometimes ignore our instincts and our experience and become the ones who get burned. Besides, the pony had lots of little marks on him. It was a balmy evening and the bugs were swarming. We forgot about it.

The other stupid thing we did was we paid cash and didn’t get a receipt. Kurt even asked me if I wanted one! But no, I was so high on the deal we just made for the perfect pony that I said, “Naw, we don’t need one,” shrugged my shoulders and he didn’t press it. I guess he was high on the pony as well. On the ride home, realizing what a serious mistake we might have made, we reprimanded each other—if one of us messes up and does something blatantly stupid, the other one has to catch it!

Our only saving grace is that after we were all loaded up and were ready to pull out with our pony we got no receipt on from a horse trader in another state whose last name we were unsure of, Gus stopped us and said, “Now if there’s any reason you don’t like him, you just don’t get with him or something, you can bring him back and I’ll find you something else.” I keep telling myself, he didn’t have to say that. We were happy and it was a done deal. We were leaving. We were practically out on the highway. If he was trying to rip us off on this pony, he wouldn’t have said anything.

The next day after John the blacksmith did the pony’s feet, I thought I saw him limping but I couldn’t be sure. The day after that, I thought I saw it again, but I still couldn’t be sure. He’s a lazy pony and I don’t know whether that’s because he’s just so mellow or something’s wrong but we couldn’t get him trotting long enough for me to be able to tell whether or not he was really lame. I was about ready to have a heart attack running alongside of him in the blazing sun, dragging him along, trying to look back at the same time to see if his head was bobbing and if it was, which foot it was bobbing on. So on the third day, I threw him in the round pen and I got Kurt to help me watch. It was hard to get him going. I could tell he’d never been in a round pen before and my lunge whip, ten million years old, is missing the long cord on the end that you use to make a popping sound to move the horse forward. But I finally got him trotting long enough to get a good look and he wasn’t limping.

“I told you, you’re seeing things.” Kurt said. “This pony is fine. If he was limping, which I doubt, it was probably because he just got trimmed. But he ain’t limping now.”

“I know. You’re right,” I agreed. “It’s just that he’s so nice! It’s too good to be true! Why would someone sell a nice pony like this?”

“Maybe their kid outgrew him?”

“But why didn’t they sell him to someone they knew? Why didn’t they keep him for the grandkids? We kept Minnie. No one parts with the nice ones.”

“Maybe they didn’t want to feed him till they have grandkids. Maybe they got out of horses. Maybe they needed the money. I don’t know!”

I could tell he was getting mad so I promised to stop worrying.

However, when we took him out and gave him a nice cool bath, I started up again. He was so well-behaved, I couldn’t believe it. The only thing he did was raise his head a half inch when I went up by his face with the hose. Otherwise, he stood stock still and let Kelly scrub him all over. How could he be so nice and he wasn’t double what I paid? Even down here, I would expect to pay more for a pony like this and if I brought him up to Jersey right now without clipping a hair off his nose, I could get four times what I paid!

Kurt asked Kelly if she wanted to sell him. I never saw a dirty look like that before.

The fact is, I will not be able to sleep until I get the vet out here to take a look at him. Being that he’s a good old country pony he probably hasn’t had his teeth floated or his sheath cleaned anyway and so I made an appointment for the vet to come and do a whole bunch of stuff including a lameness exam. I will also ask him about drawing a vial of blood to hold in case the pony suddenly goes crazy in a month and I need to prove he was drugged and that we didn’t do anything to him. That’s a common tactic of dirty dealers—“Oh, you must have messed him up. He was fine when you got him.” So I’ll ask the vet to hold some blood.

In the meantime, I will try not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Wild Goose Chase


Once we make a decision, that’s it, we want it done yesterday, we “git r done.” No one can accuse us of being all talk, no action. One time Kurt decided that his horse wasn’t working for him and maybe he’d get another one. The next day we had Bullet. We still have that bad boy five years later. That’s what Kurt calls him. “Hey Bad Boy.” He’s not really a bad boy. Kurt knows how to pick horses. He has the knack for it. I have to admit that out of all the ponies we had, the ones who were hell on wheels, were the ones that I picked.

Of course the pony hunt is not quite as easy as horse-hunting but since we don’t fart around, we’ve already seen two of them and inquired about a dozen. Which boils down to we blew the whole weekend. And that made us mad because we’re trying to finish building the hay barn. I’m painting and helping and Kurt’s doing all the building. It’s a lot to get done on Kurt’s few days off. But Friday night we went to West Virginia because this pony was supposed to be it. It’s pretty country, here to there. I don’t think there’s an ugly place in Virginia. But we weren’t going sightseeing.

Since we’re tired of going on wild goose chases and because this one was three-and-a-half hours away, I prescreened over the phone till I was blue in the face. I should have known that the seller was going to be less than truthful because he tricked me into breaking my new rule of never traveling more than two hours to go and see a horse. The guy had an ad in the local newspaper; not his newspaper, but my newspaper. The number was one I didn’t recognize but I figured it might have been his cell phone number. A lot of people have cell phones with numbers from out of the area. I didn’t find out until he got me good and interested in the pony that he was so far away; way past my two hour rule. By that time, I knew this was the perfect pony.

I have driven from New Jersey to Oklahoma to buy a pony and from Virginia to New Jersey to buy a pony and everything in between, so a little trip to West Virginia for the perfect pony wasn’t out of the question. The ad said, “Child-safe pony, brown and white Paint, 7-years-old, $1600 or best offer.” I really didn’t care what the pony looked like but it was an added bonus that he was a Paint because Kelly is on a Paints kick. He was a little on the young side but we were done with plugs and it said he was child-safe. That was the most important thing.

However, I knew from past experience that I could be wasting my time and so I did everything I could to prescreen him. I scrutinized the pictures the man e-mailed me and then we were back and forth on the phone several times. When we finally decided to go out there, I called the man and said, “Before I come, I need to ask you some more questions. I’m not trying to pick apart your pony—I just want to make sure he’s suitable for my daughter. I don’t want to waste your time or mine.”

If I asked one question, I asked fifty of them. “How would you describe him as being? Forward or more on the pluggy side? Has he ever bucked? Has he ever reared? How’s his eyes?” (I ask that one now after buying a blind pony in the dark. I couldn’t see and he couldn’t see. I’ve noticed that every bad thing I’ve gone through with a horse—buckers, kickers, head-tossers, bowed tendons—I never fall for getting one with that particular problem again. If I keep going, pretty soon I will find myself with a flawless horse.)

I asked, “How is he to bridle and saddle? How are his brakes? Can a child lift all four feet? Does he tie? Does he clip? Does he load? Does he spook?” All the answers were good so Kurt came home from work early on Friday and we headed out.

He was a beauty. He was also the perfect size. You can’t always tell the size from a picture or from what they say. Someone’s 13.2 hands may not be my 13.2 hands. The Paint was dead-on. The man saddled him up and mounted. But I could see the pony was green. His head was up in the air, his mouth was opened and he didn’t know how to neck-rein. He also looked younger than seven. He looked more like four to me. Child-safe four-year-olds are rare. There just isn’t enough time in a year or maybe two, of riding, for them to get enough experience. (Most people start horses at two or three-years-old.) But it’s not impossible. He had a kind eye and a mellow disposition. He was so pretty I thought he’d be worth finishing off for Kelly.

I asked the man to lift his feet. He lifted the front ones. I said, “Can you lift the back ones too?” The pony yanked his foot away and tried to kick. The man wrestled him to keep his foot up. I scratched my head. Didn’t I ask this question? Green horses are one thing; kickers are something else entirely. Still, we didn’t rule him out. Maybe it was just his youth and I could fix it.

We also found out he had a needle phobia. The man volunteered this information. He said that when they drew blood to do the pony’s Coggins test (a blood test to check for Equine Infectious Anemia) he resisted so violently they had to throw him up against the trailer and hold him still. I’m still not sure why he admitted that one. Maybe to gain back some of my trust. Throw me off the track. I wasn’t spooked by the needle phobia. I didn’t like it but I wasn’t spooked. We still didn’t rule him out.

I got on him. There was no safe place to ride. We went up and down the gravel driveway. He was wobbly. He was definitely green. I didn’t jog or lope. The man’s saddle was too big for me, too big for the pony, hard and slippery and I felt it slipping. I was not secure. I had visions of a pony I had tried a couple of years ago who was supposed to be a bombproof child’s pony whose saddle slipped and who promptly bucked me off. Virginia dirt is hard and I’m getting older. I didn’t need to run the pony to know he needed finishing. Kurt and I took a walk and consulted with each other. Kelly loved him.

We decided we’d offer $1200 and hope he’d counter with $1300. We thought that was a fair deal. We didn’t think he was worth any more than that even though he was a looker because he was green. He wasn’t even papered. Just a grade pony. But if we could get him for a good price, it would be worth putting the time into him. It might actually take the whole year. Kelly wouldn’t be able to ride him now, but there was mega potential. And if we had problems, if I couldn’t get him right, we’d be able to resell him to a more suitable home if we got him a little cheaper.

The problem with going far distances to see a pony is you pretty much have to take your horse trailer with you just in case you buy. If you don’t, that’s when you find one and it’s no fun having to go back and drive all those hours again the next day. Sellers think they have you hooked before you even step out of the truck when you appear towing the trailer behind and you lose all negotiating power. But it was three-and-a-half hours away.

I also suspect that my honesty made the pony seller think he had it in the bag. I admitted he was beautiful. What was I going to say? It was obvious he was beautiful. If I didn’t say it, it would be like seeing the Empire State Building for the first time and not exclaiming, “Wow, look how tall that is!”

Besides, his ad said, “Best offer.” He was negotiable. Smart move. With the end of summer approaching and the dry weather causing a hay shortage, it’s a buyer’s market. So Kurt asked him if he’d take $1200. He flat out said no, he wouldn’t take anything less than $1600, the asking price. It’s like being at an auction and suddenly you are losing the thing you were bidding on that you didn’t know where you were going to put and weren’t sure if you really wanted and then you have to have it. Kurt jumped right up to $1500. The man said no. He said what all horse sellers say, that he had someone else who was coming to look at the pony.

We took a walk and consulted again. It was one of the hardest things we ever did, not to give that man the full asking price. We were mad. The pony was not what he said he was. In fact, we caught him in a couple of lies. And the feet. I specifically asked on the phone if a child could lift all four feet. He got us to come all that way by lying and wouldn’t budge a penny even though he implied he was negotiable. In a nut shell, he thought it was a done deal. We declined. His mouth dropped open. We told him if he changed his mind to call us. But Kurt said if he does call, he’s going to have to bring the pony to us. We’re not going all the way out there again.

Kelly cried her eyes out. Kurt said, “You should have turned the waterworks on when we were negotiating, that might have helped.” She cried harder. I tried to make her feel better by telling her we had that other one to look at who was closer to home. The other one wasn’t pretty like the Paint but we should at least go and check her out. I told her she couldn’t ride that Paint pony right now anyway.


“I don’t like that other one. I like the Paint,” she sobbed. “I was going to name him Cochise.”

That’s not good, naming the horse before you get him. It’s putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s like counting all your chickens before they’re hatched. It reminds me of my friend who has been planning her wedding since she was sixteen-years-old but who has yet to meet a man to marry. Who could compare to the fantasy man?

But by the time we got home, well after midnight, Kelly moved on. She got over the Paint and wanted to see the other pony. I Mapquested it. It was an hour and a half in the other direction, under the two hour driving limit and so we hit the road, trailer in tow. But this time we didn’t have to worry about negotiating. The pony was cheap, $700, and we wouldn’t insult the seller by trying to get a good riding pony for less than that. However, she was too short, too old and too much to handle. Waterworks again.

We got lost going there and going home. You can’t trust Mapquest and you can’t count on people giving directions remembering to tell you there are two highways with the same number, the old one and the new one. The hour and a half ride and quick let’s- look-just-in-case became an all day procedure. No barn work got done. But we saw some pretty country. I’m convinced that there isn’t an ugly place in Virginia. There may be a shortage of child-safe, reasonably-priced ponies, and honest pony sellers, but there are no ugly places here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Spot the Donkey


Someone tried to sell me a donkey today when I was in Sweet’s Country Store putting up a flyer saying I was looking for a large child-safe pony. He was one of the farmers sitting there at the Formica table in the corner having his morning coffee. “I ain’t got no ponies but I got a big jackass for sale.” When I told Kurt about it, he looked down at Motley, aka The Big Stupid, and said, “Did you tell him we already have one?”

We kind of do have one. His name is Spot and he lives right next door. We have the best of both worlds with Spot, the donkey. We get to enjoy him but we don’t have to do anything. He belongs to Eldon and Pearl and when he’s not in the pasture, they keep him in a lot right next to our driveway. He’s so close I can reach over and touch him. In fact, one time I did reach over the fence and put a little Swat on a small injury he had on his chest that the flies were getting to.

At first I was afraid of him. Well, afraid is not really the word. More like suspicious because he’s a stallion. I don’t know anything about stallions; only what I’ve heard—that they’re unruly and a handful. They can be vicious. I don’t have any illusions that I could ever tame one like the little boy who was shipwrecked on the movie The Black Stallion.

When I worked at a racetrack farm when I was a kid, they had a stallion there. But just like how the black stallion in the movie was cooped up, so was this one. They kept him in a dark stall, a box really, with bars on the top half. I peered between the bars sometimes and tried to talk to him but he’d turn his back to me. Now and then he’d kick a wall or bang his bucket and I’d jump back. It was obvious he was uncontrollable; otherwise they would have kept him in the regular stalls like all the other horses. I felt sorry for him but I was never able to get to know him, to see if it was true what they say about stallions.

So I didn’t trust Spot at first. He was cute alright; all white with a couple of big black spots, hence the name. He had slitty eyes and ears big enough to place bananas inside. But when he wasn’t hee-hawing, he was too quiet. He watched me and flicked an ear in my direction. I cooed at him and he stared with no expression on his face that I could read. I was dying to reach over and pet him but I had visions of him suddenly grabbing a hold of my arm, lifting me off my feet and swinging me in the air.

Then he got the boo-boo and Eldon and Pearl weren’t home. Not one to leave an animal in a fix, I sent Kelly to the barn for the Swat and stood there looking at Spot, trying to figure out how to get it on him. I’m also not one who is generally afraid of any animals so it wasn’t too hard for me to get up my nerve and force myself to do a test. I touched his nose. One ear went forward and one went back like he was thinking about it. I touched it again. Nothing happened. So I petted his face. He seemed to like it. I reached over the wire towards his chest to see if I could reach the injury because I sure as heck wasn’t going to go in there and put it on him. It’s one thing to reach over a fence but another to get into a pen with an animal you’re unsure of. Standing on tip-toes, I stretched and touched his chest. Kelly came back, I put a glob on my finger and I put it on him. He didn’t blink an eye.

Eldon and Pearl are probably happy that we’re the ones who bought this place because I can see that Spot might annoy other people. He makes quite a racket when he starts hee-hawing. About a half dozen times a day, he opens his mouth and just like a cartoon character, he starts hee-hawing. His mouth is wide open, his tongue is sticking out and the words pour out like how words tumble out of one of those bullhorns on Sesame Street. Hee-haw! Hee-haw! Hee-haw! We’ve heard him hundreds of times already and we still stop and laugh. “There goes Spot!”

The best part is when he’s finished. He winds down slowly and ends with an “aaahhh!” like he’s totally pooped from all that work. I enjoy it so much I want to share it with everyone. If he does it while I’m on the phone, I say, “Hold on and listen to this,” and then I hold the phone out. “Hear that? That’s Spot, the donkey.”

So, no, I don’t need a donkey. Or a rabbit. Eldon and Pearl have one of them too. That’s the beauty of living next door to nice people. You get to share in the good things in life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Pony Hunt



We’re on the pony hunt again. Basically, we’ve been pony hunting since Kelly grew out of her miniature horse, Minnie, when she was about six-years-old. We took a break when I finally let her get on Doc, and she rode the big guy around for a while, but now that he’s ready to retire, we have to look again.

It’s almost impossible to find a bombproof pony if you’re not rich. And even if you are rich, they’re still hard to come by. Some people get them because they’re lucky they’re in a family who has one and he gets passed around from kid to kid. Ponies live a long time and sometimes the pony goes full circle and winds up being both a mother’s and her child’s first horse. They won’t part with him. They keep him for themselves, selfish things that they are. The rest of us have to find one the hard way.

Getting a good pony is like hitting the lottery. Which is the reason most people end up putting their kids on full-size horses like Doc. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ponies, per se, that makes them hard to find. Nothing bad is bred into them that’s not the same as what we put into horses. It’s just that ponies, like children, live what they learn. And they learn most everything from the children themselves. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it’s the sticky-fingered, knotty-haired, tantrum-taking riders who are the cause of the ponies’ bad reputation. Ponies are being piloted by little people who haven’t even finished growing and haven’t mastered the basics like patience, responsibility and self-control. Ponies have to tolerate little people who give them a whack one minute and a carrot the next—for the very same behavior. It’s no wonder they pick up some bad habits.

Plus, ponies are too little for most adults to train. A person who has a pony that’s too small for an adult to break, has to be satisfied with some line-driving and the bare minimum of amateur under-saddle work—if they can find a teenager to get on. So whatever ponies know comes from kids who don’t know much either. On top of that, ponies think they’re bigger than they are. They have big egos and a bigger nerve. But I was determined to find one.

You might be wondering why I don’t just buy another full-size horse. And you wouldn’t be alone. Ponies are harder to handle but they’re also easier to handle. You can just grab a pony from the pasture, throw a bridle on, or even a halter, and climb on up. You don’t need a saddle. Climb up, climb over, slip off the back end, slide off the other side. You can even mount a pony from the rear end. Just position him on a nice chunk of lawn, get a good running start and haul yourself up.

Ponies are the type that you can take right up to the back door and ask what’s for supper while you’re still up there. Some people have even taken them into the house but being the clean freak that I am, I require all of our equine to stay out of doors, funny or not. Ponies can be ridden all over the place and nothing fazes them. Down the road, over the hills, to the neighbor’s house, in the creek. I’ve seen them in the back of pick-up trucks like dogs going hunting. I’ve seen pictures of them inside cars. They don’t mind getting their tails braided or bows put into their manes. They put up with costumed kids on Halloween, purple and pink War Paint on their faces and small dogs on their backs. Good ponies are fun.

But most of all, the reason I want one is I think Kelly will become more independent, and without independence, if every task requires me to get out there and help her or do it myself, she will never learn to ride really well. She can’t reach Doc’s head to put the bridle on herself. Standing on a box that tips over is dangerous. She can’t lift the saddle up high enough to get it on him herself. She can’t even reach his back to brush him.

And I always worry about that far fall. She’s a little girl and he’s a big horse. You fall when you’re first learning to ride. It’s a given like having fun is a given on the back of a horse. I fell a hundred times. But it was from a pony. It didn’t hurt that bad. I saw stars, got up, brushed myself off and got back on again. A little girl Kelly’s size falling from a big horse is like someone falling off a roof. It’s not pretty. So once again, I’m out looking for a good pony.

When we moved to our ranch in Oklahoma, I thought the pony hunt was going to be easy. The place is filled with horses. That’s all everyone does out there. They sell horse feed and cowboy hats in Wal-Mart. There were two saddle shops in town but no clothing stores for people. But it turned out all the kids in Oklahoma ride big horses. They’re practically born in the saddle and little kids ride before they can even walk. They strap them in the saddle if they can’t sit up. They use Velcro and Magic Seats. Big horses with smoke coming out of their noses and steam coming out of their ears, pawing to get going, raring to go, are nothing to the mothers out there. They just put their kids on, smack the horse on the rump on the way out and hope they come back by dinnertime. Ponies were a rare commodity out there. Who needed a short, sweet pony named Buttons when you could put your kid on a powerhouse named Buster or Nuclear Demon?

But we did manage to find our share over the years. There was the buckskin pony that looked like Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, who nearly ripped my arm out of its socket when I reached for his halter. There was the one who had one foot in the grave, half an ear and who was blind in one eye (and who we had to retire almost as fast as we got him). There was the bucker, the kicker, the biter, the striker and the one who had a horse show phobia and went berserk, out of her mind, plumb loco and had a psychotic episode when we brought her to a show but was dead quiet at home. A Jekyll Hyde, if you will.

That’s about the time that I gave up and started letting Kelly ride the big guy Doc. And he’s been great. Doesn’t do a thing wrong. A real babysitter horse. But now he’s ready to retire and again, I have visions of something more Kelly’s size, something more like my first pony, Cherokee, a brown and white Paint who lived in the backyard next to the pool and a barbecue grill shaped like a flying saucer. He was very forgiving. My father fed him a ham sandwich one time (horses are vegetarians). I took kittens for a ride on his back and backed him across a rickety bridge with big spaces between the rotten wood slats to prove to my little girlfriends on their stubborn ponies that Cherokee would do it.

I rode him in the ocean where he did the doggie paddle and I laughed my head off; I rode him to Green Light Cemetery, the Keansburg Boardwalk, and to my first job in the next town where I tied him to the chain link fence while I babysat all day. I even rode him to school where I was picking up my friend, who got out an hour after I did—I stopped and got her pony first and led him behind Cherokee along a busy road to the school. Cars honked when they passed. Teenage boys hung out car windows and hollered. I waved. When the bell rang, my girlfriend ran outside and we went riding, galloping across the football field. I rode Cherokee all over the place.

And then he died. I’m 47-years-old but I still cry when I think about him.

I’m not trying to replace Cherokee. There will never be another Cherokee. I just want Kelly to have the fun and the freedom that I had. I know it’s possible. Because we have Minnie. (And as selfish as we are, we’re not parting with her.) She was Kelly’s first pony, sadly outgrown as they say in the ads for ponies-for-sale. I want another one just like her, only a little bigger. Bigger than Minnie and smaller than Doc. Something Kelly can hop on bareback and gallop across the fields. A pony she will love so much she will cry about him 31 years later.