Friday, January 23, 2009

Cold People

The heater is in the horses’ water barrel and I check it now and then to make sure it hasn’t blown a fuse. I also stick my hand in the water once in a while to make sure it isn’t electrified. This is not as courageous as it sounds. It’s not really electrified. More like a little charged. A little buzzed. Like when your foot’s asleep. I heard that can happen and you don’t know it and your horses stop drinking and then they get colic. I can’t have that. I’m paranoid about colic. My first pony died of colic and I’m still traumatized by it thirty-two years later. We better not talk about Cherokee or else I’ll bust out crying. So I stick my hand in the water.

The other heater is turned on low in the well house and I check that one too, to make sure it’s still on. Also to make sure it’s not running constantly because I’m worried about my electric bill. And the heat tape under the house. I plug it in. I get more wood. I think about making soup. I’m trying to get ready. They’re calling for an Arctic blast. I can barely take the cold as it is, never mind an Arctic blast.

Kurt says if we ever move anywhere again, it’s not going to be to a place that’s one degree colder than it is here. I guess that rules out ever going home to family and real pizza and sandy-footed arenas and trails where if you tell the kids to go out rock hunting, it might actually be hard to find anything. It’s easy on a horse’s feet there and easy on a person’s back. Not that I want to leave. Although I have to admit I thought about it for a split second when I ran into a really mean redneck (ironically transplanted from California) who told me my family wasn’t welcome at the horse club I’d inquired about joining that she is the secretary of. In fact, she said I wasn’t welcome in Virginia. Turns out she didn’t like what I had to say about Sarah Palin on my blog. (Please take note—I’m not talking about joining a political club or even her church—it was a horse club.) I had to lie to Kelly about why we weren’t going to the club as planned because I couldn’t bear to break her heart by telling her someone was so mean and that an adult could be such a bully. For a split second I wondered, do I want to be around people like this? Do I really want to raise Kelly here?

The funny thing is, right around the time that I was asking myself those questions, I got a knock on the door and it was Pearl bringing me Southern Living and Progressive Farmer magazines she was done reading and wanted to share. Then Effie came by to see if she could take Kelly to the Colonial Theater with her granddaughter. And then I met with my writer friends who all told me that the short story I read to the group was the best thing they ever heard, in fact, it should be on the bestseller’s list and all the agents in New York are absolutely insane if they can’t recognize talent like mine. Not really. But they liked it.

Point being, not everyone is nice in the country. Some of them are downright cold. And you can prepare all you want. Get more wood. Plug in the heaters. Still, the fact is, sometimes you’re going to stick your hand in the water and get shocked. But that’s okay. I can take it. Because the rest of them make it all worthwhile.

“To once again be reminded of the astounding beauty of humanity alongside its depravity.”—Mary E. DeMuth

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration of Barack Obama

I remember when I first saw him. I was on the computer, writing a story, listening to Oprah. My head jerked up from the keyboard. Who was this guy? I turned up the volume. Wow. He’s different. He makes sense. And he seems really sincere. But too bad. He’s black. And he should have changed that name. He’ll never get in.


Change has come to America.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Making Improvements

I have the perfect guests. They don’t stay long. I’d be paranoid about it if they didn’t keep coming back. But they do.

I’m not set up very well for guests. I do the best I can but a lot of it is out of my control. I’m thinking of the one bathroom. That’s all I have. One. Not very conducive to city girls blow-drying and flat-ironing or whatever it is they do to primp nowadays. I have no idea. Since moving to the farm, I’ve gradually given up certain beauty routines such as changing my jewelry daily (or even wearing jewelry), lining my eyes with a Maybelline pencil that I soften with a lit match, and painting my toenails in the winter.

I haven’t even put on a pair of high heels in six years. In fact, I don’t own a pair of high heels. Shocking to those who know me since I used to be the queen of pumps. I had every color to match every outfit, including polka dotted (I know, I know, how many times am I going to mention those stupid polka dotted high heels? I can’t help it—I’m obsessed with them and I miss them terribly), plus suede, leather, patent leather, straw, acrylic, pointy-toed, open-toed, peek-a-boo, spiked heel, clunky heel; you name it, I had it. But those things just don’t seem that important anymore when you’ve got grain to unload in the pouring rain, hoses to drain, ashes to dump, and best of all, horses to ride.

So I’m out of the loop. The only reason I even know about the flat-iron is because my sister grabbed me the last time I was up there and dragged me to the beauty parlor for a little makeover. It turns out the bleached blonde look I’ve been sporting was so nineties and I needed something called “low lights.” Plus it appears that I don’t know how to dress. I forgot everything I used to know. For example, I thought the purple sweater I got from JCPenney purposely for the trip was pretty happening. Certainly a big improvement over the usual sweatshirts I get from Wal-Mart and, if I’m dressing up, out of the western catalogs. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I was dead wrong.

Sharon stood back and appraised me. She gnawed on the inside of her cheek. “You need black and white,” she advised.

“Like a little check?” I asked, trying to be agreeable.

“No! Black and White! The store! Get out of Wal-Mart or Kmart or whatever it is and do your shopping in a store that knows about clothes—Black and White, or The Limited or Express… one of those places.”

I decided not to tell her that I don’t really go shopping anymore, per se. I might grab something when I pass the clothes racks on my way to the frozen food aisle and I see a T-shirt on sale for $7.99. Or if Kelly needs a white shirt for choir. Or my rubber boots sprung a leak and I got as much life out of them as I possibly could by lining them with plastic Wal-Mart bags. But to go out on a trip specifically to shop for clothes? Armloads of clothes from a store that doesn’t have shopping carts? To go on a spree? Those days are over.

At any rate, I don’t give my guests makeovers but I do take them out to see the manure pile and when I really want to impress them, I take them to Sweet’s store down the road where the brothers Dewey and Fred, who live in the doublewide with the big greenhouse; Dub Jackson, in camouflage and blaze orange no matter what time of year it is; and Leon Thompson, who drives a school bus for the county; sit in the back around an old Formica table with long burn marks in it the shape of Cheese Doodles. They feed logs to the woodstove next to them, Fig Newtons to the dog under the table, and lines to everyone who comes in. They elbow each other and raise their eyebrows when my girlfriends and I enter. We pretend we don’t notice.

I couldn’t help noticing they’ve been doing some improvements over at Sweet’s. After all these years with an outhouse, they finally put in a porta-potty. My guests took pictures. They’ve never seen an outhouse in real life. But they refuse to use the porta-potty. They say, “I don’t consider that an improvement,” and make faces. Dub Jackson overhears and offers to take them across the road to his mama’s house which has a bathroom that’s spic and span. Dewey, Fred and Leon snicker and the girls don’t know what to say. How nice! But he’s still a stranger. I tell them Dub’s okay—he’s harmless. I’d go if I was them. If I didn’t want to use the porta-potty, that is. Of course I go in tractor sheds so a porta-potty is nothing.

“Yep, he’s about as harmless as Miz Thelma’s kitty cat,” Dewey says.

“Ain’t never got hisself a deer. Don’t worry, he can’t shoot nothin’” Fred says.

“Not even a squirrel,” Leon adds and they guffaw and almost fall back in their chairs.

“Now boys, leave them ladies alone. You’re scarin’ away all my customers,” Thelma scolds from behind the counter where she sells homemade sweet potato pies in little Baggies, hand-crocheted pot holders and pink eggs. You can also get bait, dried pinto beans, and a cookbook put out by the ladies from Trinity Christian that includes recipes for venison stew, pickled peaches, and corn chowder.

My sister comes back with a kitchen towel that’s been crocheted on the end so you can hang it on the refrigerator door handle, red to match her d├ęcor, and a bag of crabapples and reports that Dub’s mother is the cutest thing and if only he’d get out of those army clothes, then maybe he’d get himself a woman, just on the strength of that mother alone.

“First of all, they’re not army clothes; it’s camouflage,” I correct. “And second of all, Dub’s been married three times.”

“Well,” Sharon says, “he still needs a make-over.”

I don’t know about that happening but I do know that my guests keep coming back. They don’t complain about my one bathroom even though we have to take turns and with all that primping going on—someone’s always in there. I guess they figure it’s better than an outhouse or a porta-potty. But it doesn’t compare to Dub Jackson’s mother’s bathroom.