Friday, May 29, 2009


My parents offered to give Kurt and me their boat. It’s a beautiful 27-foot Sports Craft called the Cookie Too, named after my mother. Not being able to go on the boat is one of the things that Kurt misses the most about New Jersey. Occasionally he would drive all the way back there, just to go fluke fishing with my father. Eight hours one way just to go fishing when we have a lake right down the block. It’s crazy. But sailing along the Hudson, cruising around the Statue of Liberty, reeling in fluke or bluefish or even sharks, is a little bit different than standing on a bank casting a line. Plus, I know that part of it is the special relationship that he has with Dad.

So they offered us the boat when they got too sick to keep up with it. Even though they could use the money by selling it, they would have liked it if Kurt had the Cookie Too. Kurt is dying to get a boat. We’re walking distance to the lake. We could hop in it and cruise across the lake and park it, go have some lunch or go shopping. We’d catch some fish. No sharks. But maybe some of those country fish like catfish or bass. Do people even eat bass? I don’t know, but it’d be fun. Even without the Statue of Liberty.

But we had to say no thank you. The boat is too big to pull back and forth on a trailer. It needs to be docked. And it doesn’t make sense for us to rent a slip, which is very expensive, and we really can’t afford, when we can keep one right here in our own backyard and just pull it down the block when we feel like going out and not have to pay a dime. It broke our hearts to turn it down. Not only because this was a free boat, but because it was the Cookie Too. Someday we’ll save enough money to buy something smaller.

In the meantime, I’ve been riding that buckskin out there, affectionately called “the Bad Boy.” He’s not really a bad boy but he’ll buck at the blink of an eye. His mode of operandi is to buck. Even if the situation doesn’t call for it. Even if it’s overkill. For example, the other day while eating grass in the barnyard, he farted and scared himself. So he bucked. He’s very flamboyant that way.
But at the risk of jinxing myself, and to his credit, he’s never bucked with me on him. Still. I know he’s got it in him. And so I wear a helmet. I don’t normally wear a helmet. I’m going to be honest here. It’s dorky. I look like a big egg head. Yeah, yeah, I tried those helmets with the cowboy hat attached. I looked like a big egg head with a cowboy hat attached.

Maybe that’s why that chick tried to run me over the other day. Because I was really ugly in that helmet and needed to be put out of my misery.

I wear a helmet when I’m on a new horse, or training a young one, or on one I don’t completely trust. Don’t bother telling me that an accident can happen on any horse, it can be the nicest Rusty in the barn and I’m stupid as well as ugly. I know. I have no defense.

Kelly’s a different story. Kelly is not allowed to ride without a helmet and even if she was, I don’t think she’d do it because I’ve got her brainwashed about it. At least give me credit for that. She’s been wearing a helmet since she was three-years-old and she thinks she looks quite happening in her brown suede Troxel. Even if she thought she looked like an egg-head, and even though I don’t normally wear one and it might occur to her to demand that I practice what I preach or else she doesn’t want to wear one either because it’s not fair, too bad—she’s still wearing one otherwise she doesn’t get on the horse. That’s the rule. She’s lucky I don’t make her wear body armor…

Anyway, poor Bullet. I’ve given him a bad reputation by badmouthing him all over the place about how he’s a bucker and I’ve got to wear a helmet when I am riding him when everyone knows I don’t normally wear a helmet so he must be really bad. And the poor horse hasn’t done anything wrong! He hasn’t even given me a dirty look! Of course he has that gate issue. But that’s why I’m taking him to Ducky, the trainer. Kurt calls him “the Duckster.” Now he’s got other people calling him that. My girlfriend the other day, on the phone: “So, did you bring the Bad Boy over to the Duckster?” I don’t know. Maybe he’ll like that name. It’s much cooler than Ducky. It sounds fast. And barrel racers want to be fast. Ducky is one of the fastest barrel racers around here. He’s like a monkey on a horse and wears a cowboy hat with a big feather in it but no helmet. I did take Bullet to him last week and he gave Bullet a good workout. He never once called him “the Bad Boy.” In fact, he was quite impressed with him and asked who trained him. I looked at Kurt. Kurt looked behind him. When he realized no one was there, he said, “Uh, I did?”

“You did a great job,” the Duckster told him.

I saw Kurt’s chest well up. In that instant, I thought he was actually going to start riding again, being so proud and inspired. But no. He’s still bucking for a boat. No pun intended.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Getting Run Over on the Horses

On Sunday, as beautiful and peaceful as it was, one of our neighbors, a young woman a part of the local and esteemed Johnson clan, farmers who own a decent piece of land in the neighborhood and do something with cows—I’m not sure exactly what—almost ran Kelly and me over on our horses.

We waited till church was in session before taking a walk with the horses. There wouldn’t be any traffic when everyone was in church. Not that we get a lot of traffic around here. We wouldn’t have bought this place if it was a busy street. But when we do get it, they go fast. It’s part of the culture around here. In Virginia everyone thinks they’re a NASCAR driver. So we waited till church was in session before we took our walk.

But I miscalculated and we were still on the road, heading back to the house by the time church let out. Most of the drivers slowed down and waved when they passed us except for a small dark car with two young people in it. They were coming fast. I stuck my arm out and patted the air to ask the young man to slow down but he looked right at me, looked right in my face, and stepped on the gas. In that split second I could read his eyes: “F you. You’re not telling me to slow down.” My horse jumped. I told Kelly we better hurry.

As we approached our house, the road curved so we crossed to the other side of the street so oncoming cars could see us long before they were upon us. We’d almost reached the yard when I saw the white SUV barreling down the road from way past Pearl’s house. Oh no. She was flying. We got over as far as we could go. We couldn’t get over any further because our neighbor’s mailbox and a ditch were in the way and there was no time to get back across the street or to turn around and run into the driveway we’d just passed. As she got closer, I started waving my arms, screaming, “Slow down! Slow down!” She was completely oblivious to it. Or she didn’t care. She drifted into our lane. I yelled for Kelly to get back, though there was nowhere for her to go, and I ducked, as if that would save me.

She zoomed by us. A swoosh of air blew up my pants leg. Both horses reared up and stumbled into the street. Their feet clattered on the pavement. If I would have stuck my foot out, her side mirror would have ripped it from its ankle like a baseball bat decapitating a mailbox, that’s how close she was. Then she was gone, in a split second, just like she was when she nearly ran us over the day we were picking up litter a few months ago. I recognized the car. I suspected she was the Chick-fil-A eater. Someone who has such a callous disregard for another human being would be the type to throw litter out her car window. She must be a transient, passing through the neighborhood. Or one of those renters around the block who have big bald spots on their lawn and a blanket with a picture of a buck nailed to one of their windows. That’s who it must be. A lowlife type. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After we put the horses away, we drove around the neighborhood looking for the white SUV. I wanted to know exactly where this idiot lived or was visiting. I expected to have to drive all the way around the block to the rental house or into the next county where there are some old trailers, but it turns out I didn’t have to go far. Right at the end of the block, directly across the street from the blue sign the county put up announcing that the Van Cleave family had adopted the road and would be cleaning up everybody’s crap, was the neat, brick Johnson house and right behind the manicured lawn, on the shiny blacktopped driveway, under the carport, spic-and-span like a respectable family lived there, was the white SUV that almost killed us. And lo and behold, right next to it was the little dark car belonging to the cocky punk who’d stepped on the gas.

I couldn’t believe it but in a way I should have known. It appears rude driving runs in that family. A few times a year, (I’ve never kept track of it so I’m not exactly sure how often, but it lasts a week or two), the Johnson boys, and perhaps their farm workers, (all I know is they are male and there are a number of them), zoom by here transporting silage or wheat or something for the cows in the back of great big dump trucks. One after the other, all day long, they barrel down the road, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, doing sixty, maybe even more, chaff blowing out the back, tires spitting up stones. If you have a lick of sense, as they say around here, you better stay off the roads when the Johnson boys are hauling.

At first I thought this was the culture. I’m not going to be accused of being one of those Yankees who moves down here and then complains about roosters crowing or pigs stinking. Nope. If this was the nature of this type of farming, if barrel-assing down the road like out-of-control runaway trains past other people’s property with no regard for anyone’s life or limb, if this was the norm in the country, if this was acceptable, which it must be since they smile and wave when they go by, then I’d just have to be extra vigilant about keeping the animals and our daughter away from the road during their wheat runs and retrieve my mail either before they start or after they finish. We’d come out of hiding when they were done.

But after Kelly and I almost got run over that day, I started venting to the neighbors about it and they jumped right on the bandwagon and complained about nearly getting run over themselves. They said they can’t stand it the way everyone in that family drives, the girl and the men, and how they wait till the coast is clear before going down the road on their tractor or moving hay. They said they’re afraid to take walks or go for a bike ride. They told about how they don’t let their children play on the front lawn when the trucks are hauling, how their cat was run over by the Johnsons, and how they are going to give them one more chance before they call the law. And I, the outsider, the Yankee who is trying to fit in here and get along with everyone, I should go down there and have a word with Robby, the head Johnson, even though they see them all in church and at the livestock market. I should go talk to Robby and here’s their number. Go do it. Go do it before one of us gets killed.

Oh sure, throw the Yankee to the wolves. I can just picture how that will go over. Like I’m going to get away with telling members of a clan who have been here forever how to drive their cars. I can already see the trash thrown onto my lawn and the bullet hole in my barn. Or maybe in my dog.

Kurt said, “That’s it. You just can’t walk down the road anymore.”

He’s right. But it’s not fair. I pay taxes just like they do. In fact, I probably pay more because their property is in Land Use. And I’m the one who maintains the road so I actually do more than my share. But it’s not worth the danger. Which is the ironic thing because everyone always complains about the traffic and the rude people up north. That’s supposed to be why I moved away. I lived in what was considered a rural town in New Jersey. It has a population as large as Roanoke’s and it was still considered the country—that’s how congested it is up there. It was difficult getting out of our street pulling the horse trailer because so much traffic would be passing and you couldn’t step on the gas and make a run for it because you had horses in the back. Sometimes I’d be sitting there for ten minutes before I could go. But you know what? When someone saw me walking down our road on my horse, they passed slowly and respectfully. They made a careful arc around me. They may not have smiled and waved. In fact, they wouldn’t even make eye contact. But they didn’t almost kill me either.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Happy Mother's Day

It’s a happy Mother’s Day. On Friday the doctor said she’s in remission. He used that word. Remission. She’s not out of the woods yet. She has to get a bone marrow transplant due to having the Philadelphia chromosome. The Philadelphia chromosome has something to do with her type of leukemia and according to my mother, it’s bad. But she’s in remission. That’s good. I’m running with that.