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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Dad's Horse and Cart

I barely missed those horse and buggy days, but Daddy didn’t. One of our favorite bedtime stories was the one about his first and only horse. We heard it only once.

“I was so proud to have Blue,” he said. “A boy didn’t feel like a man in those days until he got out of knee pants and had his own transportation. I’d ride her into town and everyone knew Blue. I used a bridle, of course, but I always rode bareback. She was smart and knew my commands as well as if she was human. I dare say no one felt prouder of his horse than I did my little filly.” 

“What’s a filly? Daddy?” I said.

“A filly is a small female horse. My Blue was the most spritely and beautiful of any animal I’d ever known, even though she was small.  And she was mine! I’d saved up the money to buy her with what Pa gave me for doing chores and helping him in the fields.”

Then Daddy got a dreamy look on his face as if he’d left us and was standing there admiring his little horse, not sitting at the foot of our bed.

I had to ask, “Why did you name her Blue, Daddy? Was she really blue? I never saw a blue horse!”

“Well, honey, if you’d ever seen Blue after I gave her a bath and curried her down in the sunlight you’d think she looked blue. I suppose she was actually black but I just had to name her Blue.” Then he went on, “Blue was my best pal on the farm and many’s the time Pa would have to tell me to leave her in the barnyard and get back to work. Well, I knew that Blue could run fast and when I saw they were having a cart race at the county fair that fall, I went to my savings again and bought a small cart and a harness.

I told her one day, “Blue, my girl, we’re going to practice racing this cart and we’re going to the county fair and show the whole world you’re not only beautiful, you’re the fastest little filly on the track! You’ll be famous! I knew she understood something of what I said because she whinnied and shook her head up and down just like she agreed.

“Did she do it, Pop? Did she win the race?” My little brother Danny was sitting up on the bed then, and he was eager to get to the end of the story.

“Now hold on, son, I’ll get to that. I have to tell you first how we practiced. It took her a while to get used to the harness and cart but soon she was all right with it, though I’m sure she preferred the way I rode her bareback. We’d go to the fair grounds to practice. She’d trot so fast that people would come to watch us. They loved little Blue, but there was a problem. When she was tired she’d slow down and plop on her belly. Now if that’s not tellin’ a person she’s done runnin’ I don’t know what is!”

Daddy went on. “But I never used the whip on Blue and I wasn’t gonna either. I just sweet-talked her and then she’d get up and go again. We got farther every day.

“Well, the day of the cart race came and I was sure my little Blue would win. The starting gun spooked her some but she was off. She wasn’t used to having other horses and carts on the track either but even that seemed to spur her on. She kept right on going faster and faster until I thought the wheels might bounce loose and wreck us both, but Blue had got us way out in front and the crowd was cheering for her.”

“So, she won the race, huh Dad?” Danny bounced on the bed.

“Well sir, I was sure she’d make it ‘cause we were not far from the finish line but then Blue started to slow down. I was not about to use the whip on her, not even then. I called to her from the cart and begged her to get up and go. I called out, ‘You’re doing great, Blue! Just keep it up!’ But by then she was tired and fell onto her belly. When the other carts raced on by she just looked at them curiously as if to say, ‘What’s your hurry?’ 

“Well, I realized then that she hadn’t ever practiced racing with other horses and carts and she was simply tired. I got out of the cart and whispered in her ear. I said, ‘You did OK, Blue, my girl. Even if you didn’t make it to the finish line and lost the race, everybody here knows you could have beat them all. I’m not going to be embarrassed, I’m still proud of you!' And, you know what? When my little Blue crossed over that line slowly, the last one, the whole crowd clapped and stood up for her. We couldn’t have been more cheered if we’d really been first!”

“But weren’t you disappointed, Daddy?” I asked.

“Of course I’d rather Blue won, but still I was proud of her. She was no dummy. We should all know when it’s time to quit. Later when the vet visited our farm he took a look at Blue and said, 'Sorry to tell you this but your little filly has a heart problem. If you’d have pushed her on in that race she may well have died on the spot.'”

Daddy looked down then to where his hands were folded on his lap. I could see he was trying to hold back the tears when he finally said. “Blue didn’t last long after that. I sold the cart and never tried to win a race again. In fact, Pa had bought a brand new car, a Rio, before long. I was proud to drive that into town but you don’t love a metal animal, and I was smart enough to let the car go on its good looks. I never raced it."

Daddy added, “I wish I hadn’t raced Blue at all, but at least we were best friends and she was smarter than any horse I ever knew.” 

Then Danny said. “Well, Pop, aren’t you glad you didn’t whip her?”

Daddy looked up then and smiled at us both. When he hugged us we felt prouder of him than we’d ever have been to see him holding a blue ribbon!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

No Time For Being A Stick In The Mud

I just finished cleaning out the refrigerator. It shames me to find jars and cartons with their contents gone sour and moldy. I say to myself, This isn’t me! Yet it certainly can’t be blamed on anyone else. When I finish I feel good, more like myself. 

Before I tackled the refrigerator I got caught up in Facebook and as I cleaned out the fridge I wished I could do the same with Facebook. But Facebook belongs to those who write on it and if things get too obnoxious I can learn how to “de-friend.” (Haven’t had to do that with anyone yet.) 

Some of my friends say, “I don’t do Facebook!” I can see their point, but they may not know what they have missed. For me it would mean missing pictures of where my children go on their vacations. Pictures of their children and themselves at home as well. I would probably never know much of many of my nephews and nieces and their children. Wait for letters filled with snapshots and you’re likely to wait forever. Some of my Facebook friends share stories of inspiring feats of accomplishment, like acrobats, dancers, artists, comedians, people who have overcome adversities and succeed in life. There are many amusing pictures of darling babies, young people I know, friends and the things they say and do, the places they go. Often some of my Facebook friends send me U-Tube offerings, a variety of slide shows about animals and people that entertain, inspire or make me laugh. My only problem with Facebook is that I have to watch myself or I’ll spend too much time there.

When personal controversy enters in, and really good people forget their goodness in pushing their point, then Facebook is like going through the refrigerator and finding something good that has turned bad. It’s even sad. Then I think, shall I get into the act and add fuel to the fire with my own opinions or try to be a peacemaker or just overlook it? After all, my views as an octogenarian could get me classified as a kooky old woman. My point gets pitched. So, I’ve found it best to wait and be asked for my opinion. More time to think about things and argue with myself. 

In high school I took a class in debate and one of my assignments was to argue on the side of an issue that I totally disagreed with. I think it had to do with the age young men should be drafted into military service in times of war. (No drafting of women then, only enlistments.) I only remember that this forced me to see how I could be of another mind when I looked at the topic in a different light. I won the debate even though it didn’t change my private opinion. What it did do was show me how to be understanding and respectful. I learned that one can be convincing without putting down his opponent and demoting herself at the same time. 

It’s impossible not to have opinions but it is possible to know when, where, how and if we should voice them. When I think back on my life I cringe at the way I was so sure of everything. Sometimes I allowed temper to destroy my equilibrium, squelch my case and put me in the uncomfortable seat of apology where the point I’d been making got lost because of my behavior.

So this is just another way I’ve found that getting older is getting better. I am still learning how to communicate wisely. When I feel the adrenaline rise I am learning how to button up and pray. Do you ever find yourself carrying old grudges and re-igniting them in anger? I do, and I’m always sorry for it.  I’m more open to changing my mind now, more willing to consider all sides. 

When I hear where another is coming from and see where they’re going when I give them the floor and really listen, things become clearer. 

Sometimes I wonder if God isn’t giving me more time here on earth because I need to clean out my refrigerator, rather, my suitcase of lessons un-learned before arriving at the gates of heaven. This should be a time of polishing the gemstone of my better and best self. Old age, any age, is no time for being a stick in the mud! 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Someone is Waiting for You

“We have changed our policy and now allow one or two pets. With a substantial deposit, of course.” Sabrina, the young woman in charge of admissions here was responding to my announcement that I had a pet. Well, Tommy, my canary, passed muster and remains a sweet and songful presence in my new home, fun to watch, delightful to hear and like the nursery rhyme character Tommy Tucker he pays for his supper by being himself, singing and swinging and sharing my home. He can chirp too and always greets me when I come in the door.

My friends at dinner yesterday got to talking about their pets, dogs and cats, but no birds. I said, “We had a cute little dog when our kids were growing up. He was a stray and just camped out on our doorstep scratching at fleas until we broke down, bathed him and took him in. He looked like a Welsh Corgi, but probably had a Heinz variety background. I could write a book about Tykie and maybe someday I will.”

“Oh, you must do that!” they chimed. I could see they all were bursting to tell about their own pets so I let it go at that, but since I have no competition here at the computer I’ll tell you what I might have added. 

Long after Tykie died when I became widowed a small cat came to me. Because he came around Christmas I called him Tiny Tim. Timmy was a gray tabby. He was past the cutesy kitten age but not fully grown. I found him out by my mailbox and could see immediately that he’d been left there deliberately because there were two small plastic dishes under the stack of mailboxes. One had a few cobbles of cat food in it and the other held water that was getting low. I’d not have been surprised to find a little boy or girl hiding in the bushes nearby watching with tears, waiting to see who would adopt the last little kitten of the litter. No one had wanted him because he was so plain. This would be one last chance before the animal shelter. Maybe.                                                                                    

Timmy himself seemed to know why he was there and when my two small granddaughters saw him and how he purred, winding his little body around our legs they too recognized the signs. “You could take him, Grandma. We have Dottie, our Dalmatian, so Mommy wouldn’t let us have him, but you could take him, Grandma!”

“I’m thinking. I’m thinking,” I said. Then, “Maybe we could try him.” Back to my place with cat, food and water dishes and me thinking, “What have I let myself in for?”

Of course, Timmy was a shoo-in. He and I were pals of the first order, but when I got a job I knew he should have company so I found Tilly, a cute little female look-alike at a pet shop. Then, after about ten years I got married again. My two tabbies did not welcome my new hubby. They could probably see the beginning of the end for them when I moved to a different city leaving them behind with the house and cat sitter. Then the house had to go too and I knew I’d have to find a home for my cats. Robby, my new husband, knew I suffered. He said later, “There was a time when I wondered if it would be me or the cats.”

No one wanted two old cats but when the house sold our woman real estate agent said, “I know you’ve been looking for a good home for your cats so I waited to tell you that we could take them but they wouldn’t get the personal cozy attention you’ve given them. We have two house dogs that would not tolerate them in our house, but we live on a farm and your cats could join the other nine cats that sleep in our barn.” 

I knew Timmy could hold his own and Tilly might enjoy the company so moving day came and I tried to hold back the tears as I watched them go away in a cage in the back of a pick-up truck. A year or so later we came back to see how they were doing. 

Our friend said, “Tilly didn’t last long. The vet said she couldn’t survive an operation so we had her put to sleep. As for Timmy, he’s not a company cat so we’ve made a place for him in the garage.” 
When I saw Timmy lying there curled up on a thin pad I picked him up and looked into his green eyes. He stared back but there was no sign at all that he ever had known me. When we drove away I was heartsick.

I called a year after that to see how Timmy was and my friend said, “I’m glad you called now. If you’d called shortly after you left I’d have had to tell you he was gone. We hunted high and low but couldn’t find him. Then just a few days ago I stopped in to see the elderly woman who lives alone about a mile or so down the road. I hadn’t seen her for a long time. When I came to her door there was Timmy waiting on the doorstep! She smiled when Timmy strolled in and said, ‘You know, this little cat came here several months ago and just moved in with me. I love him. He’s such sweet company.’ I didn’t tell her where he’d come from. I just felt he’d done very well for himself.” 

You can imagine how I felt! As you see, I’ve got a good start on a book there too. I could also write a book about Lady, the little Border Collie pup we got when we moved onto the Oregon ranch. She had papers and was beautiful but turned out to be an untrained lovable little farm scallywag.  

Wouldn’t I have been a bore at the dinner table telling all that? There’s so much more. Like I said, I could write a book but everyone has their own pet stories. This is probably as far as I’ll go telling mine. You needn’t tell me yours either except in bits and pieces. You have to be best buddies with animals before you can cozy up to them audibly or in print. 

On the other hand, the exercise in writing memoir might be given a jump start if you could practice on your favorite pet. You could just find an opening line like, “There was ________, waiting for me!”