Monday, December 20, 2010

My Mother's Sweaters

I wear my mother’s sweaters. A nice, big, cable knit, olive green, from Land’s End. It’s the kind of sweater you wear when you’re eating soup or getting firewood. She never got wood. She thought this life on the farm was, “A hop in the ass.” Those are her words. She also said, “This is for the birds.” She shook her head and said, “You’ve really got to love this…” when she watched me going out to feed the horses, putting on the rubber boots, camouflage sweatpants and ski mask that makes me look like a burglar, twice a day. I took that as a compliment. She saw my passion.

I can’t wait to look in the mirror when I put on one of her sweaters. With a face like mine, that looks so much like hers, and then in one of her sweaters, I can trick myself. If I stare into my eyes in the mirror, and look really hard, she looks back. I get a fleeting glimpse.

Sometimes I think about dying my hair red to see how much I will look like her. She was a natural blonde like me but she dyed her hair red for so long that I don’t remember her as a blonde. I always used to joke around that I was going to do it to see what kind of trouble I could catch her in, when people mistook me for her. With a name like Cookie, and red hair, she was bound to be in trouble. But I never got around to it. Now I’d like to do it to see if I could channel her, like I do in the bathroom. But I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed when I find out it’s really not her.

When I was in the beauty parlor last week, they took my coat. It was my mother’s coat. I wanted to say, “Be careful with that coat! It’s my mother’s coat and she just died in April!” My father let me take whatever clothes of hers I wanted. I left my sister the Elk’s jacket even though I wanted it myself because it was all covered with her pins and buttons, a real piece of her. But Sharon is an Elk. That’s what they had together. I think about that jacket a lot but I’m proud of myself for giving it up. Especially since no one asked. No one would have even known, there were so many clothes and shoes and pocketbooks to sort through and I was all alone, taking what I wanted. That’s what my mother would have wanted. For me to be good. She could count on me for that.

I worry about what’s going to happen as things wear out. Should I conserve the sweaters and wear the coats only on special occasions? Some things that she gave me long before she died are already wearing out. Hand-me-down sweatpants and sweatshirts, flannel pajamas, things she knew I could always use on the farm because I’m hard on them or because they would keep me warm. The sweatshirts have dark cuffs from dirt that won’t come out, bleach splatters and paint stains, red like the barn and grey like the porch. The neckband on the sweatshirt from Wildwood is loose and hangs like a necklace. What happens when one of these is to the point of no return? Do I throw them away? How can I throw an item of my mother’s clothing in the garbage? I don’t care how messed up it is.

The silence in this house is loud when I think about the loss of her. You really notice it when you’re alone and you stop for a minute. The finality of it. I will never have another chance to tell her how I appreciate the hand-me-down pajamas with the pictures of the monkeys on them. I can’t believe it myself how much I didn’t appreciate these things enough when they were coming on a regular basis. How I took it for granted that they would always come, worn ones replaced with new ones, another kind she rustled up just because I mentioned liking the ones with elasticized ankles. She had a pair! “Here, see if these fit you,” she would say, coming out of her bedroom where she had been digging around.

I want to say to my daughters, “Appreciate me.” Not for my sake. For theirs. I want to warn them to pay attention, to slow down, to savor whatever I do to show them how much I love them. But they won’t listen. They can’t imagine. Just like I couldn’t imagine. I thought I knew what it was going to be like, losing my mother. I worried about it my whole life, in fact. Pictured screaming and crying. And I have screamed and cried. But I never imagined I would feel so powerless, that this would be so final, that I would never have another chance, no matter what I did, and all I can do to comfort myself is wear her sweaters and hope I feel a little bit better by the time they’re all worn out.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A New Low

I’m a garbage picker. I get a big charge out of it when I find something good in the trash. In fact, I’m proud of it. Saving money and helping the environment at the same time by being creative and resourceful is fun. Especially in this economy and because of the mess the earth is in. But even I have to admit that I’ve sunk to a new low.

You can find all kinds of good things in the garbage. Some of my best finds have been an antique cookie jar,
a couple of metal motel chairs with original green paint,
and Jamie’s turquoise swivel-chair,
circa 1950 or so. That chair was a real coup. We found it at a garage sale. We wanted it bad but the sellers wouldn’t budge on the price. They were asking fifteen bucks for it. That was too much money for a single chair in an outdated color and style, no matter that we loved the color and style, at a garage sale.

On Monday evening, around midnight, we happened to be driving home down the road where the garage sale had been and lo and behold, what do we see sitting out on the curb waiting for the garbage pickup on Tuesday morning but the turquoise chair! I slammed on the brakes. Jamie ducked down. I made her get out and help me load it up. Had to drive all the way home with the hatch on the little Geo Storm flapping open but it was worth it. That chair looked great in her bedroom with the cool lime green walls and black carpet and is still going strong in her funky apartment twelve years later.

Here in Virginia, the garbage is a sitting duck because we don’t have garbage pickup—every few miles there is a collection of green Dumpsters for residents to dispose of their household trash and unwanted goods. These are often surrounded by a chain-link fence that is never locked, convenient for night-picking, and have identifying labels: Household Goods, Recyclables, and directions and warnings: No Commercial Dumping, No Brush, County Residents Only.

I’ve gotten some good stuff at the Dumpsters. A yellow coffee cup that matches my kitchen.

A vinyl webbed lawn chair for the poolside that adjusts to four different positions.
Plastic chairs for the horses. Well, not actually for the horses. More like for watching the horses. I keep one in my arena and one behind the barn and this way if you ever want to take a load off, just sit down. After a while they crack from being out in the elements all the time. But I don’t care because I got them for free. Last winter was hard on the plastic chairs. I had to throw one away. I kept my eyes out for a new one. It took me about a week before I found a replacement at the Dumpsters.

One time I picked up a vintage chrome breadbox.
As soon as I put it in the truck, another truck pulled in behind me. He was towing a flatbed trailer filled with junk. I couldn’t tell if he was a metal man, or he was looking for good stuff to sell on eBay or keep for himself, like I do. Either way, he would have liked the chrome breadbox. I tried to make eye contact with him because I wanted to gloat, “Na na, na, na, na, you just missed out on something good,” but he wouldn’t look my way. He strolled over to the other Dumpster and nonchalantly peeked inside, watching me out of the corner of his eye, waiting for me to go. He would have never imagined that he and I were on the same page, garbage pickers, me being in that diesel-taking dually blasting the Sirius radio. He probably thought I was one of the rich people from the lake and he wasn’t about to let me catch him digging in the trash.

It helps to live at lake where all the rich people have huge houses with round rooms and walls of glass jutting out over the water like crystals in a stone. The stuff they throw out… Sometimes you can upgrade. I finally admitted it was time to throw away my white wicker set that I kept on the front porch and that the cats favored as their own personal scratching post. I hated to get rid of it because that set looked perfect on my porch. But it was falling apart so, reluctantly, I loaded it up on the truck. A few minutes later I returned with almost the exact same set but in like-new condition, plus an extra piece for my bedroom that matches the grey-green in my Victorian carpet. It doesn’t make a lick of sense why someone would throw away something that was so good. The rich people.

They’re the ones that probably left the food. It was sitting right there in a perfectly fine Kroger bag, off to the side so someone would see it. I never like to show any interest when I see something someone doesn’t want anymore, but thinks is too good to throw away because someone else might want it, so they put it to the side. Don’t want to look like a low-life if there’s someone around who doesn’t abide by that kind of thing. You know, snooty people. Those ones who are too good for themselves. The same thing the metal man was afraid of. So I looked around. I was alone. I flung another bag into the Dumpster where it landed with a thud and casually walked over to the sack and peered inside. It was stuffed with boxes of cake mix. Poppy seed. German chocolate. Yellow. I stuck a hand inside and took a better look. They were all sealed. But what sealed the deal was when I saw the black walnuts. Two large bags of walnuts. I got excited. Walnuts are expensive.

I quickly pulled out a couple of boxes. Clean. There was a bulk-size box of Gummy Bears someone probably picked up at Sam’s Club and then found herself disappointed on Halloween when no trick-or-treaters came. There were also jars of spices with the cellophane wrappers still intact. I considered inspecting it all right then and there but thought better of it. Someone might catch me and I didn’t want to rush the job. We’re talking food here. So I picked up the whole bag and threw it in the back of the truck just in time. Someone pulled in. It was Effie in her old turquoise pickup truck.

“Hey girl,” she said, opening the gate to her truck and lifting a white plastic bag. “You git any a them tornadas last night?”

“There’s more tornados here than when I used to live in Oklahoma.”

“You musta brought ‘em with ya.”

“Either that or global warming,” I said. “The weather’s been crazy lately.”

“That there’s a conspiracy by the government,” she informed me. “They wanna put folks out of jobs is the reason they’re saying we’re having global warming.”

“Ah huh,” I said.

No use arguing. One thing I learned about country folks is they’re set in their ways. Plus Effie is as cute as a button. Crossing mean rednecks is one thing. Crossing a little old southern lady who drives an old turquoise pickup truck with a spirit catcher hanging from the rearview mirror is another. And good thing too because she invited me to the cake sale down at the church. I wouldn’t want to be excluded from that. In fact, I offered to contribute. Poppy seed, chocolate, yellow, whatever they wanted!

I helped Effie throw out the rest of her trash. Then I hurried home to go through my loot.

I opened up a couple of packages of cake mix and examined the plastic bags. Clean as a whistle. I put it all in the freezer—just in case I missed anything, a little time in the freezer would kill it.

When I made Kurt listen to this story as I was working on it like I always do (I like to read them out loud to him), he said, “So where is this free food you got at the Dumpster?”

I looked at him. “Uh… You’ve been eating it?”

I don’t know what’s lower. Getting food from the garbage or feeding it to people without their knowledge. It’s just not right! Not that I actually got the cake mix out of the garbage. But it was low nonetheless. The question is, why was it so much fun? And where should I put that breadbox?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Cold Winter

The only good thing about winter coming is, now that I’m fifty, time flies. I hope this one goes fast because they say it’s going to be another doozie. They know this because a lot of nuts are on the ground. I don’t mean nuts like that one from Delaware. Nut nuts. Acorns, hickory nuts (or as they say in the country, hicker nuts), walnuts, even pecans, are all over the place clogging gutters and getting stuck in the clefts in horses’ feet. (Not the walnuts. They are the size of small baseballs. They’ll dent a car though if you’re stupid enough to park under a walnut tree.)

I wouldn’t care if winter was going to be bad if I didn’t have to go out there. I don’t mind short dashes when we’re having a doozie, like going back and forth to my car, although in Jersey I’d been known to leave it running while I went into Fashion Bug to get some more clothes and jewelry and pocketbooks—whatever I needed to keep up with the other hot chickies up there. Of course I had to lock it in Jersey and so I had a second set of keys or else it could get stolen or someone could swipe all my CD’s like they did one time when CD’s were still cassettes. Nowadays I have Sirius Radio and so even the CD’s are going to become obsolete. The technology today... I’d really like to get one of those electronic things where you can start your car right from your warm spot at the kitchen table where you are just finishing up your coffee and getting ready to put your boots on. I don’t know if you can do that with the diesel-taking dually. I think Kurt said no.

Anyway, running out to a cold car is not the worse thing in the world. The worse thing in the world is the horses. That takes time. Feeding, watering (at least I don’t have to deal with frozen hoses and water barrels anymore since Kurt put in the hydrants and electric), standing in the same spot for hours holding horses for the farrier, cleaning stalls… It’s a nightmare! When I was a kid, we used to throw the frozen balls of manure at each other. It was a primitive game of laser tag. I also used to ride in the snow back then. I thought it was fun when the hairs in my nose felt like tiny shards of glass and I couldn’t feel my feet anymore.

Now, the wind is kicking up out there and the temperature dropped to fifty degrees. Fifty degrees is nothing but it feels like it’s thirty degrees because just a few days ago I was in a tank top. Now I’ve got the heat on! But I’ve got to ride that horse if I ever want to get him barrel racing again. I think I’ll just send Kelly out there. I’ll get her to lunge him for me. If she resists, I’ll lob at walnut at her. Or wait until winter and the manure freezes. She grew up with electronics. She won’t know what hit her.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Horse Stuff--The Rest of Them

Okay, so real quick, right around the time my mother died I found myself with too many horses on my hands and I was overwhelmed. (Everything that happens is measured in time against its relation to my mother’s leukemia and death—before my mother got sick, right before she died, around the time she died, after she died, like B.D. and A.D., as if she were Jesus.)

So I leased Doc and Steel out to a therapeutic riding place called Unbridled Change. Doc, who is twenty-seven-years old, works one day a week for a couple of hours giving rides to children with special needs. He works another day a week with the kids on the ground. He looks even better than when I had him. His top-line filled out and he gained a little weight. Michelle, the owner of Unbridled Change, started feeding him three times a day; plus she has plenty of grass. And a little exercise probably helps. When we pulled into the driveway to visit him, he came cheerfully over to the fence nickering hello. He’s happy. I hope she is able to use him for a long time—at least through the winter—because I’m really enjoying the break. Whenever she feels he’s too old and needs to be retired completely, I’ll go and get him. He’ll be taken care of until he dies because that horse deserves it. He’s one of the good ones.

Steel, the little grulla, it turned out has a sore back. That is why he was crow-hopping when transitioning to the lope; not because he was being stubborn. I feel really bad that I was unaware of it and I made him lope. (Perhaps this is one of the reasons I’m getting Lowdown checked out even though there’s probably nothing wrong with him—I’m paranoid now.) But with these quiet ones it’s sometimes hard to tell because they tend to be lazy and stubborn and since they don’t speak English they can’t say it when they don’t want to do something because it hurts. I thought I ruled out pain when I Buted him up for a few days and he still acted exactly the same. There were no other symptoms. No lumps, bumps, swellings, or heat. Nothing. He had some issues transitioning to natural barefoot trimming but once his feet grew out, he was fine. When I consulted the vet about the crow-hopping, he thought, like with “the good old country pony” I had a few years ago, I was worrying over nothing. And the farrier didn’t seem to think it was anything physical either.

So I felt really bad when Michelle reported that Steel’s back was sore. There were a couple of vertebrae out in his spine and her chiropractor has been working on him and feels with a little rest, he’ll be fine. I hope so otherwise I am stuck feeding an unsound horse for another twenty years. He’s only six. I couldn’t sell him. I couldn’t euthanize a horse that’s not all broken-down lame or sick. I wouldn’t be able to ride him if he’s unsound. It’s bad enough when you’ve had a horse for a few years and had some good times on him and then he founders or something and you have to take care of this huge animal who eats you out of house and home and who you can’t do anything with. That’s bad enough. But when it happens to a horse that’s not part of what I call my “core herd”—I’ve only had him for a short period of time and the jury was out on whether or not he was a keeper—that’s really bad. But it’s still an animal with feelings and I’m responsible for him. So I hope everything turns out okay and she is able to use him for a long time too.

Minnie. There is nothing going on with Minnie. There never is. She’s just out there looking cute and waiting for grandkids.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Horse Stuff--Part Three-Lowdown

Here’s the lowdown on Lowdown. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Lowdown. I named him that because of the Boz Skaggs song and because I thought it sounded cool. Lowdown. How lowww can you go? That’s how you say it. Lowww. Like Barry White growling in love songs low.

I wonder if there are any people around here who listen to Barry White who aren’t black? The only stations on the radio are country stations. That’s all fine and good. I can dig country, especially when I’m on my way to a barrel race. But that’s all you can get. Thank God I got the Sirius radio in the new truck and I’m tuned into Barry White again. Why just this morning I even heard the Fifth Dimension, Melissa Manchester, and Tony Orlando and Dawn. I suppose when I get out of the diesel-taking dually in my red-and-black checked jacket and camouflage sweatpants that the guys in the pickup trucks next to me think I’m one of them. Then they hear the radio. I don’t turn it down when I get out. I leave it blasting for all to hear. That’s got to throw them for a loop.

Okay, I’m done making an excuse to mention the new truck.

Lowdown. I’m afraid something’s up with him. First, I couldn’t transition him to natural, barefoot trimming like I do with all my horses. For months, he walked around like he was on broken glass. That surprised me because when I used to have him in Jersey, I pulled his shoes after every Showdeo season and then I’d go out and ride him the very next day and he never took an ouchy step. But here, I couldn’t get him to transition no matter what I did. Biotin, Easy Boots, Venice turpentine, conditioners, deep bedding—nothing worked. Finally I told the farrier to just put the shoes back on him.

Now granted, we had a couple of issues that I didn’t have in Jersey. His heels were contracted when I got him back and his angles were a little off. Also, it’s very hard and rocky here, whereas in Jersey it’s soft and sandy. However, I still didn’t expect that we wouldn’t be able to do it. I was even able to transition Doc, who had the worst feet in the world! But I couldn’t transition Lowdown. So we put the shoes back on and he walked a hundred percent better.

But that’s not the only thing. He looks funny to me when he lopes. He’s short strided and it’s kind of like he lugs his backend behind him. The people who had him these past seven years had done western pleasure with him so maybe that’s all it is—I’m not used to that slow western pleasure lope. To me, it looks crippled. I’m not sure if what I’m seeing is a western pleasure thing or he really is crippled. It’s nothing blatant. But I feel like something’s not right. I scrutinize him in the round pen and think I saw him take a funny step but maybe he didn’t take a funny step and maybe if he did take a funny step, maybe he stepped on a rock because even with the shoes back on (fronts only) he can still make contact with the rocks on the ground and the farrier did say his soles are thin. All this runs through my head.

Then I’ve got people sitting back and waiting, rubbing the hair on their chins waiting for me to reveal that Mr. Hart unloaded this horse on me because there’s something wrong with him. I know that’s silly. Mr. Hart knew I would take this horse back if he was three-legged lame and ready for the glue factory. I attached that promise right to his papers when I sold him the horse. I said, “If Lowdown ever needs a home, no matter what, if he’s old and broken-down lame, he always has a home with me.” I was thinking about the horror stories I’ve heard about famous horses who had been rescued at the sale and the rescuers couldn’t believe it when they pulled up a lip and discovered their skinny rescue who almost went to slaughter was related to a great horse like Secretariat. And those like Ferdinand, who actually ended up on somebody’s dinner plate in another country because he went from owner to owner to owner until finally no one knew who he was or what he had done, or cared, and he was slaughtered. There were many times I was sitting at the sale and I’d see what was obviously a fancy show horse in a previous life, or a wonderful kid’s pony and I wondered, how did he end up here? Do his old owners, who he had obviously served well, know what has become of him? I didn’t want that to happen to Lowdown someday. So I attached that note to his papers and I contacted Mr. Hart every time I moved to give them my new address so that they would always be able to reach me if he ever needed a home. That’s why Mr. Hart gave him to me. Because he knew I loved him that much. Not because he was trying to unload an unsound horse. But still. The skeptics keep putting thoughts in my head… Who gives away a beautiful ten thousand dollar horse to a stranger?!

Of course it’s possible, if there is anything wrong with Lowdown, Mr. Hart is unaware of it. After his daughter had lost interest the last few years, they leased him out to other kids in the stable and who knows what kind of shenanigans might have gone on? No one takes care of your horse like you do. Perhaps they didn’t condition him and they rode him too hard? Perhaps he was “off” and they were kids, they were too busy playing trick rider and event jumper and they didn’t notice so they kept riding him? It was a jumping stable. Jumping and western pleasure and dressage—all the things the rich kids do. It’s possible Lowdown has some wear-and-tear issues and Mr. Hart has no idea.

I want to find out. Does he have anything going on pain-wise or is he just being bad? He came back to me spoiled. He’s done a few things he hasn’t done since he was two-years-old. He’s done a few new things. He doesn’t like his forelock brushed. He’s cinchy. He’s nippy on the cross-ties. He won’t load. (Even though he’s been in this particular trailer a hundred times and never gave me a problem before.) And he’s bucked a couple of times. On top of that, I know nothing about this western pleasure training he’s got under his belt.

So before I push him to perform, I want to make sure it’s just him being spoiled or me not understanding what he’s been trained to do, and not pain. So I have the vet coming over next week. I told him to bring the X-ray machine. If there are any questions, I’m going to tell him to dig. I know they think I’m one of those crazy Yankees who keep horses in heated barns (I don’t know any Yankees who keep horses in heated barns) because when the receptionist asked me where he was lame, I said, “Well, he’s not actually lame.” Then she asked what actually the problem was and I had to admit I don’t even know if there is a problem. I just want to make sure. I know that threw them for a loop.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Horse Stuff--Part Two--Harley

Harley is my favorite horse. Him and Lowdown. Okay, they’re all my favorite. But Harley is the one who I’ve been riding all these years and he’s my barrel horse. He’s also the one I feel sorry for and worry about. Kind of like the runt of the litter. Or the problem child. He is a little small. But he never gets into any trouble. He never resists me; never says no. But if he was in the wrong hands, he could get into trouble.

Harley used to be Kurt’s horse but Kurt hates him. Harley is afraid of men and Kurt is pretty manly—big hands, deep voice like Sam Elliott’s, rough. Don’t let him dye your hair. One time I tried to get him to touch up my roots because I kept overlapping and it was turning into a Brillo pad in the back. So I had the bright idea of getting him to do it for me because he’d be able to see better, standing behind me and all. I don’t know whether he did it on purpose because he hated doing it so much or he was just plain terrible at it, but he smushed the hair dye all over my head and it came out even worse than when I do it myself. One time I got him to cut my bangs. Let’s put it this way—you remember Nellie on Little House on the Prairie? Well, that’s what my hair looked like. Point being, he doesn’t have a girly bone in his body and is incapable of any skill normally associated with being female. Like doing hair. Or babying a horse. Therefore, even though he’s kind and gentle with animals and children, Harley was terrified of him and required major patience. Kurt didn’t have any and was unwilling to try to summon up some when he felt there was no call for it.

“I’m not doing anything to him!” he’d cry in his defense when Harley was bugging out over something.

“Talk baby talk to him,” I’d say.

“I’m not talking baby talk to him. I’m asking him very nicely.”

“You’re scaring him Kurt!”

This went on until the day we attended a team penning clinic and Harley was so nervous when we were chasing cows, when we got down to the end of the arena, Kurt went one way, Harley went the other, and Kurt fell off. Sam Elliott did not like that in front of all the other guys.

(Edited to add: Kurt is denying that he fell off that day. He says I’m lying to add color to the story.)

After he fell, he said he was leaving Harley there when we went home. They had a weekly horse auction at the place and Kurt was going to cut his losses—he was leaving that jackass for the sale. I was so mad I couldn’t get him to like this horse who I thought was perfectly fine, who I’d picked out, in fact. It was one thing after the other with them. I said, “Fine! Leave him then!”

Luckily he changed his mind at the last minute and loaded him up. But he was still going to sell him. At home, my girlfriend Monica noticed how Harley followed me around the corral like a puppy dog. She said, “He really likes you. Why don’t you ride him for thirty days and then put him up for sale?” Normally I don’t have time to ride two horses because you have to ride your horse every day if you’re barrel racing but the Showdeo season had just ended and I was done competing with Lowdown. If I started riding Harley, I could tune him up and fix whatever little issues he had. It would be better for selling. But it wasn’t the money I was thinking about. If he was well-behaved, he’d be less likely to fall into the wrong hands and end up going down the road, so to speak. That was my concern. That he have a good, permanent home. So I thought Monica had a great idea.

At first I was scared riding him. He was so fast and reactive. But I remember the moment I fell in love. It was when my neighbors came over to watch me with him in the round pen and I overheard Harry say, “Look at the way his ear is cocked back listening to her; look at the way he hangs on to her every word.” I looked down. He was right. Harley was glued to me.

That was eight years ago. I’ve been riding him and loving him ever since. Kurt still butts heads with him. Recently he came storming into the house and threw the halter on the table where it skidded into the sugar bowl. “You catch that bastard!” I knew who he meant. I didn’t even have to ask him. I went out there and called him. He came running over and slammed on the brakes right in front of me. Errrrrrr! I didn’t put a hand up or take a step back. He’d never run me over. If he could speak English, he would have said, “I’m here! I’m here! What do you want?! What can I do for you?! I love you so much!”

But that’s not the end of the story. Harley has headshaking syndrome. We discovered this a few years ago. Headshaking is a neurological disease that is incurable. They don’t know what it’s from. There’s lots of theories—over-vaccination, allergies, an injury, genetics. A headshaking horse jerks his head up and down like a bee just flew up his nose. Horses head-shake for different reasons. A lot of headshakers are photic. Harley is triggered by exercise. When he’s having episodes, he’s unrideable. It often gets worse and worse until a horse has to be euthanized.

The first time Harley did it, we were riding in the tall grass in Oklahoma and I thought bugs or seeds were popping up and tickling his nose. I was getting frustrated—com’on, com’on, cut it out. I urged him on. But it got so bad that he tried to wipe his nose with his foot while we were trotting and he fell down with me on top of him! Luckily he’s really athletic and he scrambled right back up before I even knew what happened. But right then and there I knew what it was. I remembered reading about something called headshaking syndrome many years ago when I was a kid and borrowed every single book in the library that had anything to do with horses. I read them cover to cover even if they were about riders in England who put things on their horses called rugs and cruppers; even if they were about Iranian horses and breeds from places like China, Russia, and Trinidad; even if I couldn’t understand them—I took all the horse books out. Some things stuck. I automatically knew Harley had headshaking syndrome.

I never thought I’d be able to ride him again. But this past spring I started him on Remission, which is mostly magnesium and has lysine and some other stuff in it. It’s one of the many things desperate owners of headshaking horses try. I don’t know whether the Remission worked or the headshaking gods were looking down on me or what, but I was able to ride Harley all summer and there was no headshaking. We even barrel raced a couple of times!

This is what happened at our first race. Harley and I were both scared out of our wits. It had been a long time since we competed and I didn’t feel ready. I wanted to scratch but Kurt got mad at me. He calls it tough love.

“Allllllright then… if you want me to get killed…” I said, hoping he’d say “Never mind, don’t do it.” But nooo. I thought, screw him. I’ll just jog Harley the whole way like it’s an exhibition. So what if I lose the thirty bucks entry fee? I was going to scratch anyway. But when they called my name and we headed down the alley and he saw the barrels, he wanted to go and it suddenly felt right and so I let him. Holy cow! We never went that fast or turned that tight! It was a 1D barrel if I ever saw one!

But then when we approached the second, I somehow lost both stirrups. Oh, I’ll tell you how that happened. That happened because I didn’t put my rubber bands on. Barrel racers put rubber bands around their feet and the stirrups because their feet are all over the place and it’s easy to lose a stirrup. The bands keep the stirrups with your feet. But if you fall off, it wouldn’t hang you up because it’s just a rubber band and it’ll break. I didn’t put mine on because, remember, I wasn’t going to run; I was only going to jog the pattern.

So I lost both stirrups and I almost fell off as we turned the second barrel. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, we veered out into the middle of the arena and somehow I stayed on. Got back on track. But halfway to the third, he bucked (probably because I was so off-balance) and I almost fell off again. I saw the dirt going by awfully close to my face. I climbed back on by my chin. Then turning the third, somehow, by some miracle, my feet fell into both stirrups; I mean they literally just slipped right back in like someone held them out for me and said, “Here, right here.”

I was able to stay with him and race home, laughing with delight. It was a mess. It was one of those runs that people put on the YouTube videos with titles like “Barrel Racing Mishaps.” But I was thrilled because all I kept thinking about was that first barrel. The potential! All that potential!

And I didn’t fall off.

That’s the story about Harley. I recently stopped riding him because I started riding Lowdown. I was dying to see what was under the hood after not having him for seven years. That story is next.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Horse Stuff--Bullet

Here’s an update on the horses:

We’ll start with Bullet first. Last you heard, the Bad Boy fell at the first barrel. When he scrambled up, Kelly’s foot got stuck in the stirrup and she got dragged. I immediately went out and got her the Breakaway Stirrups. If a rider falls and gets her foot caught, they come apart and the rider can get free. So now she’s in a helmet and the emergency stirrups. I was thinking about bubble wrap next. Actually, someone tried to sell me some kind of newfangled vest-thing, not unlike bubble wrap, that inflates when the rider inadvertently disengages from the saddle. He zeroed right in on me when he saw the worried look on my face as I gave Kelly directions at a show and how I hovered and wrung my hands. He looked from me, to her helmet, to the Breakaway Stirrups, and then back to me again. He knows who his target customer is and so he came right over and demonstrated, pulling the cord on the vest, throwing himself in the dirt, and rolling like he just jumped out of a helicopter and was trying not to get shot in enemy territory. The vest popped and blew up. But I didn’t buy it. It was time for Kelly’s class so we left him there in the dirt, struggling like a turtle trying to right itself.

Even though the vest didn’t make the Bad Boy blink an eye when it exploded right in front of him, sometimes he forgets he’s twelve-years-old and still acts like he’s a colt, nearly jumping out of his skin at the mere mention of a Walmart bag. Kelly is planning to take him to a cowboy competition. So she’s been sacking him out—trying to get him desensitized to things. I think I’ve got a good little trainer on my hands.

Last week we went to a gymkhana where Kelly hit a barrel in the barrels class and also in Texas barrels. Bullet is good for this. It’s because he does a rollback. Kelly’s got to work on that. But she got a fourth place in Speed barrels and won the poles! I think it’s because of me. I’m good luck. As soon as I got there, she started kicking butt. I missed her first three classes because I had to stay home to wait for someone who was coming to look at the farm. I knew they were looky-lous when their real estate agent called and asked if she could bring them over. (We’re selling the place ourselves like we always do but we are willing to give an agent a small commission if she brings us a buyer.) I’d asked if the buyers had horses. Their agent said no. I asked if they were planning to get horses and she stammered, “Uh, uh, no, I don’t think so…” Somebody did not do their homework… hence the reason we always sell ourselves.

So I knew this was probably not a serious buyer but someone out for a weekend drive wanting to go and see the farms and look at the pretty horsies. A large part of the value of this place is the fact that it’s a turnkey horse farm. If you don’t need the horse farm part, the barns, the riding arena, the round pen, all of that, you could get a better house on a half acre lot for the same money. So I knew. But you never know. When you’re selling by-owner, you have to be on call whenever a potential buyer wants to come. Therefore, I missed Kelly’s first three classes. But that’s okay. I made her a nervous wreck anyway. “Here, let me check those stirrups… Is that strap adjusted correctly? Did you tighten your girth?” And the mother of all mothers, “Go slow. I don’t like the footing here.”

“It’s a race Mama!”

Kurt—“Leave her alone.”

Hey, at least I didn’t make her get the exploding vest.

Next week an update on the others.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bad Bugs and a Bug That Brings You Joy

I've grown to hate bugs. In Jersey, it was only the cockroach I had to worry about. And the occasional mosquito bite. But here... I've got bees the size of a man's big toe; I've got spiders you remove with pooper scoopers (well, that was actually Oklahoma); I've got ladybug infestations and stinkbugs; wood bees that are drilling my barn down; moths that are running amok; mud daubers, chiggers, superhuman ticks and don’t get me started on the flies. Anywhere you see cows, there are flies. Big flies, little flies, in-between flies, flies that give you the middle finger…

One time there was a praying mantis on the top of Kurt’s head like a jaunty hat. He looked this way and that way (the mantis, not Kurt) and was kind of cute until you remembered praying mantises cannibalize their mates after sex. What was he doing on Kurt’s head?

Kelly found a beautiful dragonfly the other day. Neon green. He was as big as my pinky. He was injured, so she brought him in the house. I said, “Very nice but this ain’t a baby bunny we can try to nurse back to health. It’s a bug!” and I made her take him back outside again. The next day when I was sweeping the front porch, I found his carcass behind the geraniums. I felt guilty. When the bugs are so big you feel bad about their deaths, it’s a problem.

I still kill them though. In Jersey, I’d scoop them up in a napkin and carry them outside where I set them free. Except the cockroaches. Here, I’ve learned that as soon as I see two of something right in a row, I’m in for an infestation. It is going to be holy hell. There is nothing cute about thousands of ladybugs crawling up the walls and across the ceiling and dropping into the mayonnaise when you’re trying to make a sandwich. This is what happened when we lived in the Amityville Horror House. Not here thank God. Here I’ve got what’s considered normal bugs for the area. Which is bad enough. A few dozen of this, a couple of that. Just enough to annoy me, sting me now and then, and make me scratch.

I like some of the bugs. Lightning bugs. Cicadas. When they make that clicking noise, it reminds me of a hot summer day. Crickets. They’re good luck. And butterflies. Butterflies remind me of my mother. She loved butterflies. She had butterfly decorations in her house and a sweatshirt with a butterfly appliqué on it. She even had a tattoo of a butterfly on her ankle. I don’t even have any tattoos and she had one. I was very proud of her for that.

The morning of her funeral, everyone was waiting in their cars to proceed to the cemetery. The funeral home guys were going back and forth carrying all the flowers out to the hearse, and the family, Kurt and I, my dad, my brother and sister and their spouses, were standing outside the door watching them, smoking cigarettes and crying. The limos were waiting for us to get in, the doors opened.

All of a sudden a big yellow butterfly flew out of the funeral home door and fluttered in and out of us. It flew all around. We all started screaming. “Look! Look! It’s Mommy!” Then it flew up, up, up over the roof and disappeared into the sky. We all watched it go.

This was in April. It was cold up in Jersey. Butterflies weren’t even out yet. And butterflies don’t live inside funeral homes. It was a sign from my mother telling us it was okay, she was still with us, maybe not in the way we were used to, but she was here. And we really needed that. None of us is religious. Some of us don’t even believe in God. How do you get comfort if you can’t tell yourself, “She is in Heaven now?” I’ve come to realize that’s one reason why religion is good. Comfort. Or else you need a good, old fashioned butterfly.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Perfect Sunday

Yesterday Pearl dragged me down to the local church (local meaning pick one on any corner), where the church ladies stuffed me with fried chicken, ham, meatloaf, biscuits, macaroni-and-cheese, scalloped potatoes, corn casserole, green beans (from Effie’s garden), banana pudding, pecan pie, something with marshmallows—you know, all the typical southern fare—and the preacher’s son and Kelly looked at each other. Then I went home and went to sleep. It was a perfect Sunday.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Moving Back to Jersey

Pearl brought me over a chocolate cream pie the other day. Pearl’s pies are completely homemade, including the crust she rolls out with, I imagine, a rolling pin. You see them on TV, the rolling pins—animals clonk each other on the heads with them in cartoons and women in aprons on black-and-white sitcoms wave them. You will also see them in antique shops. For a while there, rolling pins were all the rage, especially the ones with the colored handles—Depression-green or black like my own, or red. There were also marble rolling pins and glass rolling pins which, as you can imagine, were hard to find, glass being very breakable. Especially if you’re going to clonk someone on the head.

But I know Pearl’s got one that she actually uses to make that homemade pie crust of hers. Unless I’m getting it mixed up and the rolling pin is for making bread. I don’t know because a homemade pie in my house growing up meant my mother put a Mrs. Smith’s in the oven. Normally we’d go to the bakery. There was one on every corner. Normandy. Catanio’s. Westside Italian Bakery. And even though there were no pies better than one from the bakery, on special occasions, we got the Mrs. Smith’s because you had to turn the oven on.

I, myself, thought I was making homemade pies until I got down here and started getting Pearl’s. I actually mix things up to put into the pie crust. A can of pumpkin. Or cherries. When I got brave, I cut up apples or even stirred pecans into a mixture of melted butter, corn syrup and sugar. Now tell me that’s not homemade. But my crusts came out of a plastic package I picked up in the freezer case. And my rolling pins with the green handle and the black handle stayed on top of the kitchen cabinet strategically displayed in a wire egg basket as if I actually used these things and they weren’t just decoration.

Kurt always rates Pearl’s pies. “Good.” “Yummy.” “She outdid herself.” He said this one was exceptional. When I called her up to thank her, because you’re supposed to say thank you again after you actually eat it, not just when you get it, I told her she outdid herself. But I was suspicious.

“You’re trying to get us to stay, aren’t you?” I asked.

“You’re onto me Debi,” she laughed.

Then she said something that, perhaps if I would have known sooner, I might not have decided to go back. She said, “I thought that you and Kurt were going to stay forever and you’d take care of me and Eldon in our old age.” Like her heart was broken. I had no idea they liked us that much.

I didn’t want to tell her I was thinking the same thing. I’m motherless now. But even before that, we’re down here all alone, with no family, and Pearl and Eldon have no kids. I always had the idea of adopting them. Pearl and Eldon. Not kids. Though I wouldn’t be against adopting a child. Actually, I often think about taking in a foster child. But that’s another story. Pearl and Eldon—we have a lot in common. Eldon’s a horseman. Pearl’s a clean freak just like me and worries about everything just like I do. And then there’s those pies…

But the homesickness already set in like pitting on a brass fixture or mold on the underside of a stirrup leather. There is no stopping it. Now that I’ve made the decision, I’m like a dog who gets loose at the airport and trots all the way home, determined, obsessed, a thousand miles back to his old backyard where there’s a bone buried next to the porch and other dogs who jump up and down and practically break their necks on the ends of their leashes when they see him.

So I’m going home. That’s right. We’re selling the farm. It’s been 7 years since we left New Jersey and Kurt says we’re done playing around. We tried it, we had fun, we learned a few things (though I still can’t make a pie crust) but when I lost my mother, I really started thinking about things. What if my father gets sick? Maybe even more importantly, do I want to lose sharing whatever years he has left too? And maybe I want to get close to my sister. Maybe all of a sudden I think she’s pretty cool.

And what about Jamie? That was nagging at me anyway. What happens when she gets married? How will I go dress shopping with her? What about when she has a baby? Who will babysit? How can I get close to this kid like my mother was close to Jamie when she was little and my nana was close to me? I have memories of things just as important as knowing my nana loved me, memories of sitting with her on the front porch in the rocking chairs drinking cans of Shop-Rite soda—cream, root beer, grape, orange—on a hot summer day; and at the end of winter, standing on her tip-toes looking out the kitchen window over the sink and exclaiming to my grandfather, “Harry! Look! My crocuses are coming up!” I remember watching her dance in her hula skirt while Pop-Pop played the banjo and taking my hand, “Com’on Debi!”; trying to teach me how to crochet; studying her dream book to find out what numbers she should play and showing me her system—basically, take a guess. All of that is just as important as knowing someone loves you. It is feeling it. It is living it. You can’t have that unless you are sitting in the rocking chairs together.

Not only did I start riding shopping carts after my mother died, but I learned I didn’t really appreciate the people in my life like I should have. It is stunningly gorgeous here. I always say it’s so pretty it looks fake. But I can’t enjoy it if I’m mooning over my family. If only I could have my mother again, I would live in a roach-infested tenement with views of the brick building next door and a naked light bulb in a chicken-wire cage.

It doesn’t have to come to that. We’re going to have a farm again. But I want to go home.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Big Truck That Takes Diesel

I get a lot of attention in the new truck. People appreciate trucks around here. Especially big ones. They really love big ones with double wheels in the back (Kurt keeps calling it a dually) that take diesel. That’s truck gas. You see that on Ice Road Truckers—the big rigs getting diesel.

I’m like that girl on Ice Road Truckers. If she can drive one of those big rigs, I can drive our dually. It’s not easy though. You have to watch those double wheels every minute. I never know where to watch! In the big mirror, or the little mirrors that are attached to the big mirrors, or the rearview mirror, or the TV screen thing that comes on when you’re backing up. Usually I like to turn around and see for myself because you can’t trust new technology. Sometimes the thing starts beeping and you’ve got plenty of room! The truck is more nervous than I am. That’s pretty bad.

I like to put on my sunglasses when I drive it because then I look really cool. Long blonde hair and sunglasses driving a dually that takes diesel. Even though I can’t see very well with the sunglasses on. Sometimes I need my trifocals. There are plenty of places to put things in that truck so I put the trifocals in one of the little cup holders in the middle and when I need to change the channel on the Sirius radio, I take the sunglasses off, put them in another cup holder, and switch to the trifocals. After I find what I’m looking for, I put the sunglasses back on.

I love that Sirius radio! I think I could quit smoking using it if I stayed out in that truck all the time because every song is good and I sing at the top of my lungs. I sing till I’m blue in the face. Which doesn’t take very long because of the smoking. But I rebound real quick. Half a song and I’m going again. I can’t help myself. There are so many good songs on. I keep going back and forth between 6 on Sixties, 7 on Seventies, and Soul Train—Motown! Glorious Motown! I haven’t heard good stuff like Sly and the Family Stone and Marvin Gaye since I left New Jersey!

I feel like hot stuff when I’m passing guys working on the side of the road. I might give my hair a little flip but I do not put on the trifocals. They stop and lean on their shovels and nod their heads like they can hear Sly too. I act like it’s no big deal—me driving this big truck that takes diesel.

Parking it is another story. I don’t know what I’m going to do when we go back to Jersey where there are no parking spots. Here, I park way out on the other end of the parking lot when I’m going to Walmart and even so, I am always partly in the spot next to me. I act like I do it on purpose. Like I was trying to take up two spots. It is a brand new truck. There’s metallic flake in the black paint. It looks like little specks of 14 carat gold for God’s sake! There’s a new BMW that I suspect belongs to the eyeglass guy in Walmart that is parked way out no-man’s land too. I don’t blame him. Who wants to get sideswiped by someone’s old beat up farm truck or have the door of someone’s mini van that has a sticker of a soccer ball in the back window inadvertently hit your BMW or your truck that takes the diesel?

Yesterday when I came out of Walmart, I saw a scratch on the wheel well. I started pushing the cart faster. What?! A scratch?! How did that get there?! I hurried up the little hill, huffing and puffing because whoever designed this Walmart did it backwards. The store is downhill and the parking lot is uphill. It doesn’t make sense. When your cart is empty, you’re going downhill, but when it’s full, you’re going uphill. So when I arrive, I give the empty cart a push and hop on and if I don’t hit a stone to throw me off course I can make it all the way down to the entrance. Weeeee! I used to do this only when Kelly was with me so whoever was looking would think I was just being a good mommy and playing around with the kid. But the last couple of times I was there I got brave and did it by myself. If there is anything I learned after losing my mother it’s that you better treat every day like it could be your last. And if that means a grown woman is going to ride around the Walmart parking lot on a shopping cart, so be it.

At any rate, leaving the store with a full cart is another story. It’s bad enough if you only needed a few things but if you came to get dog food and litter and cases of Mountain Dew, all the heavy stuff, it’s literally an uphill battle. But when I saw that scratch on my dually diesel, I was like one of those old ladies who lifts a car off a person who got run over—I suddenly had super human strength and I ran up that hill with the overloaded cart and held it with one hand while I bent down and inspected the damage.

But it was nothing. Just a little dirt. I licked my finger and wiped it off. Someone said, “Nice truck.” I stood up and looked around. It was the landscapers doing those little islands in the parking lot. They had big trucks too. One of them even had the double wheels. But no gold-flecked paint and I’m not sure about the Sirius radio. I put on my sunglasses the minute I got in and pretended like I could see when I waved goodbye.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Getting Dragged at a Barrel Race

Kelly got dragged at our first barrel race. It was my biggest fear—falling and getting caught up in the stirrup and being dragged. I was on the bleachers inside the indoor arena when it happened. I can’t stay with her by the gate. I’m a nervous mommy. I’m going to make the kid a nervous wreck:

“Okay, let’s review. What do you do if a horse bucks?”

She recites what I told her to do in a bored tone.

“What do you do if a horse rears?” (I think by saying “a horse” and not using Bullet’s actual name, I won’t put it into her head that this could potentially happen but I want her to know what to do if it does.)

More monotone repeating.

“What do you do if a horse bolts?”

She rolls her eyes.

“Stop rolling your eyes! These are emergency procedures that every rider should know!”

I continue. “Now shut up. What if you fall and your foot gets caught in the stirrup and he drags you?”

Once she gives me the proper answers, I slap said horse (Bullet) on the rump and say, “Okay then! You’re good to go!”

Doesn’t mean I stop worrying. One time we were at a race and I confided in the mother sitting next to me that I was nervous. She leaned over conspiratorially and asked, “Would you like a tranquilizer?” I was flabbergasted. Truth be told, nowadays I have gotten worse and I’d probably take one. Either that or some good old fashioned pot if I smoked it.

That’s why Kurt was out in the warm-up area with her. Let him do the dirty work. He thinks I’m overboard anyway. I felt my blood get hot like I was getting ready to run. When they called her name, I stood up and turned on the camera. The thing I was worrying about was Bullet acting up at the gate. He has a history of that with me. Trying to whirl around. Getting a little light on the front end. But he hasn’t done it with Kelly. They’re a good team. He knows she’s his herd leader and he has confidence in her. Me, he knows I’m scared. As in I’m 50-years-old now and I haven’t ridden regularly for a long time so I’m very weak and all I keep thinking is, if my horse throws out a little buck or jumps sideways, I’m a goner. Therefore Bullet has no confidence in me and when I try to calm him down, he says no way.

He entered the gate with no problem. Whew. They raced to the first barrel and I thought, “This is good.” He went a little past it but she stopped him and turned. All of a sudden, he disappeared from the camera lens. It looked like he’d dropped right into a hole. Boom! Gone! I looked up. He’d fallen down! Right on Kelly’s leg! When he scrambled back up, her foot was caught in the stirrup and he dragged her! I ran down the bleachers and hopped over the vinyl fence or through it, I don’t know. Kurt said I broke the fence. All you see on the video are big halogen lights on the ceiling jerking around and dirt flying by. And me crying, “Oh! Oh!” That’s when he was dragging her. She bounced like a rag doll being pulled in the dirt by a little girl with a thumb in her mouth.

Luckily, after a few strides, she somehow fell free. I think I was kneeling in the dirt helping her up and saying, “Are you okay? You’re okay! Are you okay?” before Bullet, the racehorse, even reached Kurt at the gate. That’s how fast I ran. Kelly jumped up and the audience applauded. She wasn’t hurt; just shook up. She was bawling out of shock but she was okay. Bullet was also okay. We walked back to the trailer, giggling now, giddy with relief, reviewing what happened.

“Did he trip? Was he on the right lead?” And “Did you turn over on your belly like I told you to?”


“Kelly! What about the emergency maneuvers?!”

I brushed the dirt off her back and she readjusted her helmet. Then she wanted to get on. I didn’t know if she was going to be scared to get back on him or not but she didn’t blink an eye. In fact, she was mad she couldn’t make another run. And she was a little high. I think she felt proud that she escaped unscathed and was enjoying the attention from everyone asking if she was okay, kind of like a war hero back from battle.

My father, when I told him the story that night, threatened me with my life. Said if anything ever happened to Kelly he was going to kill me and berated me for getting her involved in such a dangerous sport. I said, “Where were you when I was a kid?” He said, “Horses were slower back then…” I suspect he had tranquilizers.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Candy Panties and Pies

Pearl brought me a strawberry pie the other day. I think she wants to comfort me. Right after I got home from Jersey, she brought me a chocolate-cream pie. And now the strawberry. I don’t know if she’d still like me so much if she knew what I was listening to in the truck. Donna Summer. Kelly hates it. She said, “Mama, can’t we put something else on?”

I think I raised a little prude. I don’t know how that happened considering I have a rather saucy background. For one thing I used to make a living by selling lingerie and adult toys at “F-a-ware parties.” Sorry, I know it’s silly to block that word since we all know what I’m talking about but I don’t want to offend the church ladies. A little curse here and there is one thing. The F word is quite another. I don’t want them to think I’m trashy. It’s bad enough I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with the word “ain’t.” Or “gonna.” And I smoke. Of course this is the south where you’re likely to hear things in the Minute Market like, “Ain’t you gonna put any a them fancy Marlboro Special Blend cigarettes on sale anymore Brenda Jean?”

“I told you Frank, I ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. That’s on the tobacca company.”

Still, I don’t need to be saying F too. Well, unless I’m really mad. Like say if the horse stepped on my foot and I was wearing flip-flops because I didn’t feel like changing into my boots when I went out to feed. Or Brenda Jean forgot to put my Snickers in the bag.

Anyway, the poor older daughter endured more than most embarrassed pre-teens during the lingerie-selling period in my life when I was a single mother who also cleaned houses, tended bar, and sold Barcaloungers and curio cabinets to pay the rent. First, Jamie had to share a bedroom. Not with a sibling. That’s bad enough. I didn’t have any other kids at the time. No. She shared a room with me. Her mother. But it was even worse than that. She also shared it with my stock. Industrial-style steel shelves lined the wall on one side of the room to the other, across from the My Little Ponies and Rainbow Brites, and depending upon whether you were raised Catholic or not, it housed either medical necessities or X-rated novelties.

Either way, these items flew off the shelf. Literally. Especially to bored housewives. There were edible panties (in three different flavors), the Santa and the Bear Vibrator, Ben Wah Balls, penis erasers and the ever popular Joy Jell. I figured with all this stuff around, the kid was going to turn out to be either the biggest slut going or become a nun, one or the other. Turns out she turned out pretty normal. I don’t believe she ever slept around but I think she likes sex.

The little one, on the other hand, has swung in the direction of the nuns. This morning she was mad at me. She claimed she heard Kurt and I having sex. That was impossible since we didn’t make a peep and I told her so.

“Well, I heard your door shut,” she said.


“And there was whispering.”

“You know, maybe we closed the door because we didn’t want you to hear.”

She rolled her eyes.

The toaster oven dinged.

“You know,” I continued, “maybe you ought to be glad your mother and father still love each other so much.”

Jeez, it’s not like she has to worry about finding a pair of strawberry-flavored panties under the couch or something! Strawberry pie crumbs, maybe. But no edible underwear.

Friday, May 14, 2010


The one who asks, will always receive; the one who is searching will always find, and the door is opened to the person who knocks.—Luke 11:10

Alright, alright, I can see I have to get this show on the road and tell you what happened.

Mr. Hart gave me the horse. That’s right. Gave him to me. For nothing. A ten thousand dollar horse. Who does that? Yeah, people give horses away. I have given horses away. But it’s usually because they have a problem or the owner has a problem. Not for no reason. Old horses. Rescue horses. Rogue horses. Not valuable horses who would incite a bidding war if put up for auction. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like God was giving me this horse because of everything I’d been through and now this, the worst of all, with my mother. Not that any horse could take the place of my mother. I would go out there and shoot them all in the heads myself if it would bring my mother back for just one hour.

But the joy I felt… How can you feel such joy and sadness at the same time? The joy doesn’t take the sadness away, but it lessens the load a little. It gives you a rest from the sadness. And not just because I got the horse and could have fun with him. Yes, there is great joy in that. But also because someone, some stranger, could be this kind. The idea of it! How could a stranger be this kind? Every time I thought about what this man was doing for me, my heart welled up.

The timing couldn’t have been better. When Mr. Hart told me to come and get the horse, I happened to be planning to go and visit my mother but was considering postponing it because I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to drive that far by myself. No biggie. I’d been back and forth to Jersey a number of times since she got sick. I could wait another week or two to go up there. But I was afraid Mr. Hart was going to change his mind and not give me the horse. People at the stable, his friends, people who knew Lowdown, were up-in-arms that he refused to sell him to them and I was scared they would work on him and get him to change his mind before I got there. So I went right away, driving ten hours by myself pulling the horse trailer, sick as a dog, with irritable bladder and an inability to back up and therefore terrible anxiety about getting myself into a predicament where I would need to. It wasn’t pretty.

Oh! If I would have waited one more week to go up there it would have been too late! All these years trying to find the horse, crying over him, and his owner tells me to come and get him during the last week my mother had any lucidity. If I would have waited one week longer, just one week, she would have never known I was there. But she knew. I stared into the bluest, saddest eyes I had ever seen, took her beautiful face in my hands and she said my name.

“Debi, Debi, I love you so much.”

“I love you too Ma. I’m here.”

I sang to her. I sang a song she used to sing to my daughters. “You Are My Sunshine.” I sang it softly and didn’t care if the nurses could hear and didn’t know if she could hear, even though her eyes were open. She was in such agony… When I stopped, there was silence. And then she said, amazed, “You hear that?” Like she couldn’t believe it. Like it was an apparition.

And she cried to me. Oh, the suffering! If only we knew what she was going to go through… It is barbaric. It is unbearable when I think about it. You know what, I can’t even talk about it now. I am too sad. I often have to distract myself or else I can’t take it.

So let me get on to something good.

I was surprised when Mr. Hart didn’t ask me to sign anything when I took the horse. No contract to return him if I didn’t want him anymore, no agreement to keep him forever, no promise to send money if I ever hit the lottery. Nothing. Nada. He gave him to me free and clear. I didn’t expect to get the registration papers. But he gave me those too. I recognized Lowdown’s baby picture stapled to the top of the document a little dog-eared around the corners now but just as cute as ever. I figured, well, he won’t include the transfer report. If he includes the transfer report, I can reregister Lowdown in my name and if I was a bad person, I could turn right around and sell him.

When I got home and was going through all the paperwork, I saw that I was right. No transfer report. But that was because I didn’t need one. The registration papers were still in my name! There it was—Owner: Debra Van Cleave! Mr. Hart never changed him over! All these years he was still mine in my heart—I had no idea he was still mine on the papers too.

What amazes me is that Mr. Hart completely trusts me. He doesn’t even know me and yet somehow he can tell what kind of person I am. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because when I sold him Lowdown seven years ago, I attached a note to his papers saying that if he was ever three-legged lame or old and broken-down and unwanted, please don’t send him to the sale—he would always have a home with me. Maybe it is because I tried to keep in touch with them from the beginning. Or maybe God whispered in his ear. I don’t know.

What I do know is when I look at that horse out there now, I think of my mother. And I feel good.

It has become clear.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Gift from God

Here’s the thing. A few weeks after we bought Steel, just long enough to get attached to him, I got an e-mail. (The time it takes me to get attached has shrunk proportionately in relation to how aware I’ve become to all the abuse and neglect in the horse world.)

The e-mail was from Lowdown’s owner!—the palomino Paint I’d been crying over!

When I’d tried to find Lowdown a couple of months earlier, I called the person, the broker, whose name was on the old advertisement we’d dug up on him. It was probably a disconnected number by now. At the least, he’d be long sold. But maybe she knew where he was. It was worth a try.

A woman picked up. It was her. She told me that Mr. Hart didn’t sell Lowdown after all and he was still being boarded at the same place I’d left him seven years ago! I cried to her as well. She was a little cold. She didn’t say, “There, there now.” I sniffed and asked her to tell Mr. Hart I was trying to reach him. But he never called. I figured he didn’t care. Or she didn’t give him the message. Just in case, because you never know, I tried one more thing. I sent a letter by regular mail in care of the stable. I figured if it came by the U.S. Postal Service, they’d have to deliver it to him or break the law. But I still didn’t hear anything. So I resigned myself to the fact that Lowdown was lost to me. Then I went out and got Steel and tried to put it out of my mind.

Now there was an e-mail from Mr. Hart. I was shocked. I was scared to open it. I said, “Kurt, I’m not opening it…”

Many scenarios swirled through my mind. OhmyGod, was Lowdown okay? OhmyGod, was it possible he was for sale? And maybe even more importantly, was it possible that I could afford to buy him if he was? He’d have to be missing a leg or at least an eye for that to happen. I sold him for more money than I could ever imagine paying for a horse. That was one of the reasons that, when we had to sell one horse back then because we had no room, I choose Lowdown. Even though he was my own personal riding horse, I knew I could get the most money for him and truth be told, we could really use it. Plus, he was the only one without any issues and so would least likely be at risk. Harley could easily fall into the wrong hands. One false move and he’d have a heart attack and jump sideways ten-feet, perhaps buck or even fall down in sheer terror if his rider’s voice was any deeper than, say, a fifteen-year-old boy’s who had just begun to shave.

Anyone could do anything with Lowdown. He was born old. As a two-year-old, (a two-year-old!) he actually helped me get my confidence back after I had the bucker. I rode him all over the place—we went trail riding in the back of Great Adventure’s safari park where the lions and bears were caged and he practically waved as we moseyed by. We went team-penning every Friday night. We learned how to barrel race together. We were in parades, strategically placed right in front of the fire engines because of someone’s sick idea of a joke but Lowdown couldn’t care less. All the other riders on unruly, nervous horses were incredulous—“How old did you say he was?” The chances of someone messing him up and creating a problem horse who would switch hands many times on his way to the sale (i.e., slaughter) were pretty slim.

And so he was the one to go and I regretted it every day for the last seven years.

Was it possible I could get him back? Now I was in Virginia and had acreage. And though I was on what I call “full-horse-overload” with the stupid retired horses, and the new horse Steel, I didn’t care. Additionally, don’t forget, we got laid off last year with no warning and had to scramble to start our own flooring company— Considering the economy, we’ve been doing great. But it hasn’t been easy. Then, with my mother being sick, we‘d been going back and forth to Jersey every time you turned around, and every time we did, it was a big project, and expensive, because someone had to take care of all the animals. The last thing I needed was two new horses in the mix. But if there was any way I could get Lowdown back, I would. My heart was beating hard in my chest when I opened the e-mail.

Mr. Hart told me he was thrilled when he got my letter and thought it was a gift from God. He actually said that. He had been worrying about what to do with Lowdown because his daughter had lost interest some years ago but Mr. Hart loved him as much as I did and didn’t want to just sell him to anyone. Though people offered him even more than what he paid for him, including a friend of his, he didn’t feel their reasons for wanting him were good enough. He said he was so happy to find out that I was still interested in him. He asked me to call him.

I started jumping up and down. “Kurt! Kurt! I might be able to get him!”

But how? This was crazy! I shouldn’t get my hopes up.

Kurt said, “Don’t worry; we’ll get him somehow.”

This is one reason I love this man.

You may want to sit down for this. I sold Lowdown for ten thousand dollars. I’m sorry but I think that’s an insane amount of money, certainly way out of my price range. Unless he had something physical going on now, Mr. Hart would probably want at least what he paid. Though Lowdown was older now, he was surely even better than when I sold him. He had been in training with an Olympic trainer and doing some jumping. They did English equitation with him and western pleasure. At this point, he had pretty much done it all. What I didn’t do, they did. So he was not only gorgeous, but he had a variety of disciplines under his belt. The perfect all-around horse.

I e-mailed back and assured Mr. Hart that, yes, I was definitely interested! But I warned him that the money situation was “modest,” for lack of a better word. I fantasized that maybe he’d have mercy on me and let me have him for five grand and even though that was also a lot of money in our world, we would manage somehow. Kurt said we’ll charge it. Or we could make payments. Maybe, if I started playing real quick, I could hit the lottery or at least sell one of the children. They’re awful cute. And the little one is quite neat. The big one is messy but she can cook like no tomorrow.

Anyway, Mr. Hart e-mailed me back. “Call me,” he said. “Money is not an issue.”

That is when I felt God on my shoulder...

Friday, April 30, 2010

A New Horse Didn't Help

My mother has passed away since writing this but I’m posting it so you can catch up. Lots of strange things have been happening and though I’ve never been very religious, and this might be pulling at straws, I feel that something mysterious has been at work here. I call it God on one shoulder and my mother on the other.

There are two things going on in my life right now that are so completely unlike each other, so yin and yang, so dark and light, so heaven and hell, that I think I’m going to hit the lottery. Or be in an earthquake. Something’s going to happen. One is so sad, I can hardly take it. That is my mother. The other one has to do with a horse.

In the midst of what I shall refer to as my own great depression, which has since dissipated in response to my cigarette smoking (sad but true), I bought a horse.
The reason why I did it was two-fold. First, we needed one. Who doesn’t? No, we really did need one. Since retiring the old guy, Doc, Kelly swiped Kurt’s horse like most children swipe a cookie. The brainwashing, which I have inflicted upon her since birth (Look at the horsey! The horsey’s nice…) took. My horse, Harley, has headshaking syndrome and is retired for all intents and purposes. Basically, he’s shot. And Minnie, who looks like a My Little Pony come to life, is a little too small for either Kurt or me, about as high as the top of my thigh where I was thinking of getting Kurt’s name tattooed in pretty black script. Maybe in another language just to be trendy. Not Chinese though—that’s getting old. (He thinks it’s hot. Tattoos. Not foreign languages. I don’t. He does. But it’s the least I can do for him since he’s been building me barns and run-in sheds practically non-stop since we first laid eyes on each eighteen years ago in the Halfway Bar.)

So we actually needed two horses. One for Kurt and one for me. And since sooner rather than later is the best time in my book to get anything equine, I jumped right on the idea of rewarding myself for not smoking. That was the second reason. I thought it would help me stay off the cigarettes. Even though reward didn’t work as a motivating factor to keep me off them when I bought the horse trailer.

But an excuse is an excuse. If it works, I go with it. Therefore we went to the Great American Trail Horse Sale where I found exactly what I wanted: a young, small, green-broke Quarter Horse gelding with color. The fact that this guy has tons of racing blood was icing on the cake. I never imagined I’d find a Quarter Horse with running blood at the trail horse sale, or my favorite color, grulla, but there you have it.

However, it didn’t cheer me up. I tried to talk myself into being happy, told myself I should go out there and ride him so we’d be ready to run barrels in the summer, but something always came up. I can’t ride today; it’s too windy. I can’t ride now; I have to bake a cake. Truth be told, I could care less. I had a new horse out there, a beautiful horse, and I might as well have had a suitcase in the yard, that’s how much motivation I had to go and do something with him. Which made me feel even worse.

In addition to my malaise, I worried that I made a mistake and he was a little too small. I like a small horse. That’s what I was looking for—a small horse. But once I got him home, this one looked really small. Almost pony size. Which normally would not be a problem. Some of my favorite mounts were large ponies, 14 hands or so. Great to just hop on and tool around the property. But I needed a barrel horse. In barrel racing, as in Thoroughbred racing, every pound counts. We consider the weight of the saddle, and the stirrups; even the weight of the shoes. I knew he’d be fine for regular riding, but how fast was he going to be able to go hauling my fat ass around the barrels? It would definitely be a handicap.

Then I had an idea. The new one, who we named Steel, could be Kelly’s horse. Kelly is sixty pounds lighter than me so they’d be a better fit. Kurt could repossess his horse from the kid, and the second new one we got would be mine. But not now. I wasn’t ready for the additional expense and work of two new horses at once. Plus, I just wasn’t into it. I was too worried about my mother. So I’d keep riding Steel, make sure he was solid for Kelly, and if all went well, we’d make the switch in the summer and buy another one for me then.

But, as my mother always says, God works in mysterious ways…

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Frances (Cookie) Kelly

My father Bob Kelly, mother Cookie Kelly, and family friend Johnny See

I lost my mother on April 19. I thought I knew what sad was. Turns out I never really felt sadness. Not quality sadness. I’ve felt depressed, down, anxious, worried, horrified, sorry, and bad. But now I know I’ve never really felt sad. Until now.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Bad Time

My pretty mother, Cookie Kelly.

This happened in the middle of March:

I haven’t had the wherewithal to do much lately. That’s another one of my new words, wherewithal; like melancholy. Not new like I haven’t heard of them before. Of course I’ve heard of them before. I’ve just never used them before. Not until I quit smoking and became melancholy and have recently lost my wherewithal like I lost a receipt or a nickel. It’s just gone. Poof.

I’ve been depressed. That’s why I lost my wherewithal and have become melancholy. They say there is no right time to quit smoking, but I’ll tell you, I think this is a really bad no-right-time. My mother is dying of leukemia. Let’s face it—it doesn’t look good. This is my mother. This is the woman who was the prettiest mother in the whole school, who caused kids to say, “That’s your mother?” and me to look forward to parent/teacher night so they could see her. This is the woman who wrote “yummy” on the top of recipes she gave me, who scraped the paint off the windows with a razor blade in my new home, and who helped me give birth to my children. She was so excited over my daughters. Jamie, her first grandchild. And Kelly. When Kelly was born, still attached to the umbilical cord, she was so excited she screamed, at the top of her lungs, “She looks just like you Kurt! She looks just like you!”

I love her more than anything in the whole world and I’ve worried about her dying, in fact, my whole life. That’s how attached I am to her. That’s how much I love her. No one wants to lose their parents. But you expect it to happen when they get old. You brace yourself. You’ll be sad and you will miss them, but you expect it to happen to old people. Fathers in slippers and mothers in housecoats. Not someone young and red-headed and who still screams with excitement. How will I go on without her? That’s what I want to know.

The worst part of all is I know she is suffering.

On top of that, I’ve gone into menopause. I think it was triggered by the trauma of my mother because when I went up to Jersey to take care of her for a month last summer, that’s when I missed my first period. I missed my period and I thought, “Oh, this’ll be hot shit if Kurt’s vasectomy fails after thirteen years when I’m away for a month and my ex-husband has suddenly reappeared and is conveniently around all the time, wooing my parents with offers to fix the furnace and bringing them flowers and candy. That’ll look real good…” But it wasn’t a failed vasectomy. It was the beginning of menopause.

Oh, there’s all kinds of things. Kurt was laid off last year and yes, we went back into our own business and it’s going okay, but it’s still a struggle. It would be hard to make a living out in the middle of nowhere in good times, never mind when the country is practically in a Depression. Factor in that we started this on a shoestring and you will agree that we are magicians if we pull this off.

We moved three times in six years. They say moving is on the top ten list of most stressful things. Right up there with death and divorce. We moved a whole farm across country, to places we knew no one, with no jobs and no real plan except… this place looks good.

I’m not even going to get into the Evils.

Then I’ve got the regular stresses. These are the things people normally say is the reason for it being not the right time, like the roof leaking or getting a speeding ticket. Suffice it to say that I’ve got my share of those. Not speeding tickets though. Knock wood. I’m not a speeder. I got a ticket one time for having studded snow tires on my first car, a 1965 Ford Galaxie 500. Convertible. Powder blue. 427 engine. I had no idea what studded snow tires were, so really, it was not my fault. Actually, I still don’t know what studded snow tires are. (I don’t know what a 427 engine is either but the boys told me that’s what I had and they were very impressed so I go with that.)

Anyway, all of this together is knocking me for a loop but I’m not supposed to complain and whine because there is no right time to quit smoking. I’m sorry but I think I have a bigger no-right-time.

Still. I did everything you’re supposed to do to succeed. I’m not going to go into it all; it’s too long and boring. In the end, I felt so bad, I couldn’t stop crying. I also wished I was dead. That’s not me. My girlfriend, a psychiatric nurse, warned me not to take that lightly. So I went and got an antidepressant. I’ve never taken an antidepressant before in my life. I was mad I had to resort to that to stay off the cigarettes. But it was too late. I also went and got some cigarettes. I’m sorry. I know it’s wrong. But I immediately felt better. And I haven’t shed a tear since.

Except happy tears. And that story is coming up next. It has something to do with a horse…