Thursday, August 15, 2013

Horse Crazy


The doctor told my friend that if she didn’t stop riding horses, she was going to need a walker.

So she went out and got the Tennessee kind.

That joke, and all of the posts on a medical board by people who fractured their spines in accidents, a shocking number of them from falling off a horse, whose main concern was not whether they would need surgery, or even be in pain for the rest of their lives, and not whether, but when they could ride again, illustrates that we cowgirls are not just tough. Some might say we’re crazy. And perhaps they’d be right, because most of us don’t even wear helmets, never mind protective vests, when we climb onto the backs of thousand pound animals who are unpredictable at best, who really don’t want us there to begin with, no matter how much we like to think they love us, and then perform daredevil acts like race around barrels on said animal at forty miles per hour. That’s a little cra-cra if I do say so myself.

My father said for years that I was going to break my back. He said it like fathers of daughters who hang around with the wrong crowd say, “You are asking for trouble, young lady.” He said it like the mother on “A Christmas Story” said, “You’re gonna shoot your eye out.” I don’t know if he really believed it was going to happen. Not literally. I like to think he is amused by my dedication and passion, how I have to leave every family shindig early because I have to go home and feed the horses, how I have indents in my upper arms from the muscle even though I am 53-years-old, how I report the number of circles I’ve ridden and how heavy my horse was breathing. How I got back on the horse after I fell off that night.

That one through him for a loop. I said, “But Dad! You’re supposed to get back on when you fall off a horse! How was I supposed to know I was hurt that bad?”

He heard enough tales over the years—Kelly falling and getting dragged; a friend whose horse reared up and fell over backwards on top of her, causing her to get half her intestines removed; a friend who lost her ear (the whole ear—they had to scoop it up like a clamshell from the shavings on the floor) when a horse tried to scramble out of the trailer in a panic. He even saw me fall one time. But back then I was still bouncing. I got back on the horse and finished the race. I don’t think I even had a hair out of place, never mind a broken bone. In all honesty, I was kind of happy about it. It was a good story to tell. And then Shada slammed on the brakes and I went over her head and landed in a garbage can (true story) and she stood there looking at me like, what are you doing down there? She’s so good. She didn’t even run off!

I haven’t fallen lately. It’s because I’m very cautious and I don’t even get on my horse if he’s been sitting around for any length of time until I work him in the round pen a few times first. I’m talking I’ll work him for a week, knowing that I’m getting ready to blow off the cobwebs and start riding. Then when I finally get on, I’ll only walk. Another week. Then I’ll start picking up speed. Some nice easy jogs. Another week. I don’t know how long it takes me to lope the first circle.

People laugh at me. And that’s the problem. I succumbed to peer pressure. I heard people’s voices in my head (Kurt), Let him go! I heard snickering from the girl I’m always trying to catch. You know the one. She looks like you, she has a horse the caliber of yours, she’s all decked out, and she puts the pedal to the metal and beats you every time. (She wasn’t really snickering but she was there.) And so I ignored my normal mode of operandi and when I was coming out of the keyhole obstacle, I stood up in the stirrups and gave him his head. The rest is history.

Every time I ignore my gut and listen to someone else, I get into trouble. I might as well be the daughter who’s hanging around with the wrong crowd.

When I got my first pony when I was a teenager, it was what kept me from hanging around with the wrong crowd. While my girlfriends were smoking cigarettes and standing outside Evan’s Liquor store waiting for someone who would buy them a bottle of Boone’s Farm strawberry wine and kissing boys, I was on my pony. I got on that pony first thing in the morning and didn’t come home till it was dark. No saddle, a bridle that hung on by a thread, shorts, bare feet, and of course no helmet. Sometimes I had a stick to make him go because otherwise he wouldn’t. I’d meet the other girls in town who had ponies and we’d ride from Port Monmouth down to Highlands on the dirt trail where the railroad tracks used to be, parallel to Highway 36. We’d race, miles and miles, first one way, then the other, stopping every time we came to a street and then we’d hurry across. Click, click, click, click, click, went the ponies’ feet, then quiet, onto the soft dirt again. People in cars on the highway waved at us. Nowadays it’s a paved “nature trail” and the only running that goes on is by joggers in Spandex shorts and pink t-shirts that say something about breast cancer. I don’t know if anyone waves at them.

Seeing all those posters on the medical board wondering, not when they’d be able to walk again without a walker, but when they would be able to ride, made me think that this is not unlike the trouble the bad girls get into after all. It’s an addiction. They get addicted to drugs and alcohol, pills, piercings, abusive men. We’re addicted to horses. It is crazy. But at least I’m not guzzling Boone’s Farm strawberry wine.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Charlie's Garden

This is the first time I haven’t had a garden since I left New Jersey ten years ago. Even in Ferrum, where we were under attack by the Evils, I had a garden. How could I not? One of the previous owners had put in raised beds and a little picket fence with a gate. You could access it from the porch off the kitchen, handy when you needed another potato for dinner, and see it from the upstairs sleeping porch—square boxes, paths of yellow pebbles, a birdhouse with a copper roof on a post and a bee box in the corner. I sat on a green hickory rocking chair, as old as the house, a ceiling fan above me, an old metal clothesline pulley on one of the posts in front of me and looked down. That is when I wasn’t dodging bullets from the Evils’ direction. But that’s a whole other story.

I put in a garden here last spring; our first year here. It was a good spot and it was a bad spot. When you first move to a place, you never know how things are going to work out, what to put where, what to fix first, and if you need a barn or fencing, or the previous owner hasn’t left you a garden, you have to make a lot of decisions fast. You make these decisions before you’ve had a chance to settle in. Sometimes they work out. Sometimes they don’t. As time goes on, you tweak it. You move the pots and pans to the cabinet next to the stove. You repaint the bedroom wall. You find a better spot for the brush pile. Or in the case of permanent changes it’s too late to do anything about, you make a note, the next time you move, you won’t put the barn there, because it was too close to the house. Or not close enough.

I wasn’t even completely unpacked yet when I had to decide where to put the garden. I thought I picked a good spot. It was good because it was convenient, not far from the house, right next to the barn and hydrant. Close, but not in the way. But it was bad too because that part of the yard was in low spot. It would actually make a good volleyball court if I ever played volleyball again (I haven’t played since I was in high school thirty-five years ago but I keep thinking about it) because it’s a perfect square, surrounded by posts we put around the edges of the driveway to keep the gravel where it’s supposed to be; not spilling into the grass. It would also be a good spot to put a wicker chair and read a book under the mulberry tree. But the tree is right near the road and everyone would look at me when they drove by. They would say, “What is she out there reading again? Her husband is working like a dog and she’s reading a book!” I’d rather them see me pulling weeds and picking tomatoes so I crossed my fingers, hoped the low spot was not going to be a problem and I read my books on the deck where they can’t see me.

I did get tomatoes and zucchini but my peppers didn’t grow. This was the first time I planted something and nothing happened. To tell you the truth, I was shocked. Kelly’s boyfriend, who is a farmer, supplied me with plenty of bell peppers when mine failed, but that is not the point. Having a garden is not just about eating the delicious vegetables you’ve grown, but the magic of growing them. Plus, I can’t be dependent on Mario’s good will every time I want to make a salad.

I didn’t try again. What was I out of my mind, putting in a garden the first year I was here? It’s the second year now and we still have tons of work to do. There are still broken windows, stained carpet, and fences half falling down, tangled up in rusty barbed wire and poison ivy. That’s what you get when you buy a fixer-upper. Plus I can’t decide on a new spot.

Then it occurred to me. Why was I doing all that work when I had Charlie right next door? Charlie sells organic vegetables off a picnic table on the side of the road. He has all the important stuff—tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, corn, peppers and they are cheap. Even if my peppers had grown and could win prizes at the county fair, I was actually losing money, if you thought about it, if I didn’t get them from Charlie. It cost me more money to grow my own vegetables when you add up what it costs to buy the plants and the vegetable food and all the other stuff you need every year—it could be bone meal, new tomato cages, twine, gardening gloves because the old ones have holes in the fingers… And I’m not even including the cost of my labor! So why do all that work when Charlie was right next door and all I had to do was walk over? Not to mention the fact that I have a broken back. Which is the same reason I can’t put in a volleyball court. But I can read a book under the mulberry tree. I’ll just put a sign out there, “Not loafing while husband is at work. Back broken. Plus Charlie has corn.”