Monday, December 24, 2012

AS IF...and Then

AS IF…and Then

Nothing quite hits a person between the eyes the way a loss does. I suppose it does not have to be the loss of a person that one loves—it could be the loss of a job, a silly thing, some ideal, or just about anything that we cherish. But in my case, this has been the loss of my husband. Someone said that the loss of our mate leaves a hole shaped like that person, and truly, I believe it because a huge part of what I consider to be “me” has disappeared. The hole shaped like Lewis is large and the edges of the hole are still pretty raw. Eventually the edges may not be as painful, but until then, I am just having trouble with the “as ifs” in my life.

I have to act—or at least I try to act—as if anything matters. But nothing except the children, a few friends, a random stranger or two—these are the only ones that matter. And I have trouble even making myself want to be around anyone. Yet I am still as lonesome as the last flycatcher heading south. I try to make myself find something to do each day. The cat gets me up every morning—whether or not I want to does not matter to him. The dog follows me from room to room as if to be sure that I don’t need something he can do for me. I wonder about that.  My friend Nan says that he senses my moods and knows that I need something. Maybe that is true. I still try, but I catch myself thinking: as if it matters!

I have lost two jobs in my lifetime. We lost a two-day old baby daughter, and then we had a miscarriage. Lewis lost his job—he called it being fired, and I guess it was, but basically the company finished out its agreement with Darr Equipment and let all the older men like Lewis go the day the agreement ended. He suffered terribly for a long time because of the way that they let him go and the fact that it was not his choice to leave. I hurt for him, but I had to keep telling him that it was probably for the best. These losses all hurt, but it seemed we held on to each other and had hugs, reassurances, and whatever we needed just because we loved each other. It is not the same now; he is not here to hold me when I cry.

He didn’t tell me not to cry. And danged if I don’t do a pretty good job of it once in a while. He came to our daughter in a dream and told her that I would be ok. I think he felt that way before he died. He seemed reassured for some reason when he found out that I would still be working with students as an editor and tutor. It wasn’t like I needed to go to work, but teaching keeps me from just sitting down and holding my hands like some little old lady. But keeping busy or reading, playing on the computer, or whatever I do toward keeping the house clean and orderly does not really serve to help me heal—or it does not seem to in my way of looking at things.

All the things I do bring me back to the “as ifs” in my attitude. As if it matters if I work or not, as if it matters if the house is clean, as if it matters if I go to services and sing with others: these are some of the tiny little things that don’t amount to a hill of beans. I try to eat decent food; I try to be sure that my clothes are clean; I try to talk to others with a cheerful attitude. But I feel as if I were on auto-pilot. I go through the motions and then see myself from a distance, as if I were not really there at all.

Folks who have been where I am—more or less—have told me that this experience—and that term irks me for some reason since “experience” has always seemed more like a choice—will take time. Healing takes time, they tell me. Yes, I have had some injuries and a pretty difficult healing from a surgery. But this does not even seem to compare. The pain stays with me in the background, welling up to grab me by the jaws and in my throat every once in a while about the time that I think I might be “getting better.” Getting better in this case means that I am not bawling and tearing up every time I am around someone. Getting better means I can take a deep breath and wait for the pain to subside while I duck my head and hold on to a better thought.

Sometimes I wish I had something that could keep my interest—something I could look forward to in anticipation. I thought that going to Scotland and Paris might be interesting, but now I just want something common—a good flower garden, a new roof, maybe a reorganizing of the junk in the storage and work sheds. I don’t mind getting dirty to keep me busy. I just don’t want to feel useless and empty—alone with the “as ifs” of life. I can’t have him back; I have to wait and go to him. And then maybe that damned hole will be filled with the love we had all those years. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

A House Divided

Today I was reading some posts on Facebook and found myself shaking my head and feeling both sad and astonished. Many years ago our nation divided itself along the lines of monetary and cultural differences. Now, I would never consent to seeing anyone enslaved in chains and their children sold out of their homes, but I am seeing something that looks decidedly similar in some respects. Once the industrial North declared that the South had to give up slave labor. The South was almost totally agrarian, so giving up their slaves meant that what they had depended on would no longer be there for their farms. And no, I would never want ANYONE to have to obey a "master's voice" out in the fields. But has anyone noticed that the fields have changed? Farms have tractors and huge plows, huge tanks of chemical fertilizers, and huge harvests--when there is rain. The back breaking job of hoeing out the rows is done either with chemicals or with cultivators on the back of tractors. So at least some things have changed.

The problems today that seem to divide our country again really have nothing to do with the color of someone's skin. For a while we saw some backlash for the reverse discrimination caused by the mandate to hire so many folks of color or of a particular nationality--whether or not those folks had the skills needed for the jobs. And the colleges accepted anyone who applied regardless of their SAT or ACT scores--but simply based on numbers, not even numbers of colored or national origin. In fact, many of the colleges were thankful to receive the applications of many of the Indian students who came here from India to take their tests to qualify for medical positions in hospitals and pharmacies--mainly because this nation has not taken the shortage of qualified physicians and medical personnel seriously. And now the shortage is at an emergency level!

But the problems that divided our nation and caused many of the problems that led to the Civil War the first time have reared their ugly heads again. In a nation that once claimed God as its guide, we seem to have lost the ability to follow His laws and His way of love. We cannot tolerate others' opinions, much less allow others the same rights that we would claim for ourselves. The national election consumed as much interest as any previous election in my memory, but the amount of rancor has not diminished. The financial straits have bound those with lower income into an uneasy existence, but those with a moderate income have nothing to expect but higher taxes and more governmental control. Those with higher income are doing their best to remove their money and their businesses from such a volatile market place caused by higher taxes and compulsory insurance rules. For years companies like Walmart have reduced workers' hours in order to keep from having to pay any benefits, but now almost all companies with more than two or three employees will be doing the very same thing. If a company actually keeps employees on at regular hours, the cost of the insurance with be charged to their customers. The point of all this worrisome financial control is the fact that our nation no longer will have a choice about whether or not to be our brother's keeper. And yet, the government is actually not prepared to be much of a "keeper" of those who need health care. Without a sufficient number of health care workers, our country will be in the same boat as India and other third world countries. Yes, health care is "free," but just wait your turn. IF you have money, and enough of it, you can buy your health care in those countries, too. Gifts to a doctor are a type of insurance.

A woman I know used a broad paint brush to say that all the states who did not recently vote for the Democratic candidate were also the ones that were racists. Now that just makes NO sense whatsoever. Just because I don't think that the government has the right to tell me that I HAVE to have insurance or pay a "tax" does not mean that I am a racist. It really does not matter WHY I voted as I did when it gets right down to it. Castigation of others due to their beliefs or their votes is pure insanity--whether I do it or whether my neighbor does it. In my beliefs, God Himself puts those in power who He will. He used Pharoah to destroy a nation; He used Balaam's ass to turn folks back to him; He can use any man to bring this nation to its knees before His throne. Sad to say, but that may be the next major move for us. Whether we are a nation or separate states is beside the point. We are not a people under God's rule now because of our disrespect or Him and of our neighbor. God forgive us.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Watching Work

It is SO neat to watch some folks work. They know what they are doing and get 'er done! This morning the crew who are paving our road are out there doing their thing and were here before I even got out of the shower at 7:15--early in our part of the world. The backup alarms, the thunder and rattle of big machines and all the rest of the attendant noise just tickles the fire out of me. I take a gleefully devilish delight in waking up the neighbor across the street because he and his visitors wake me up at all hours of the night. Turn about fair play, right?

For as long as the road has existed up here in front of this old house, nothing but dirt or dirt and gravel have been on the surface of the road. When Fang and I were able to afford a load of crusher run gravel, we got a friend in the trucking business to dump a load to put in the worst of the mud places and spread it out some. We had to get another neighbor, now deceased--Leroy Fox--to spread it out for us since at the time we did not have a tractor. Fang and I have talked--and talked--about getting something done to this road, but we just never did. He had his heart attack trying to shovel the gravel back up on the approach. Then Donnie Anderson had a heart attack doing the same thing. Time to do something about it before we all start having heart attacks!

The City of Wichita Falls would not let Mr. Anderson deed this street to them for whatever reason, so we are responsible for its maintenance. But you can bet the trash trucks will be going up and down just like before--wallowing out more depressions. We want the trash service, but those trucks are something else again. This pavement is only going to be 12 foot across, so let's hope the trucks don't destroy what we are trying to accomplish.

A city can only provide so much out of its budget for improvements, but Fang and his family lived here for 63 years. I have only lived here with Fang for nearly 44, so maybe I would not have as much right to gripe, but it does seem that taxes ought to count for something in the overall picture of things. I know that we are in Wichita County and that the county commissioner ONCE had our street graded for us. Wow. I am underwhelmed by that kind of service. Of course, at the time it was all mud and dirt, but still. A load of gravel costs? And what is strange is that the city resents any "infringement" by the county services. Go figure.

Making one's neighborhood look half way decent should not have to cost that much. But obviously someone has to start somewhere to get things going. When we had our second child on the way, we tore down a derelict house next door to us. Most of the lumber was salvageable so some of the family and neighbors took the lumber and siding out of the way for us. Then we hauled off as much of the roofing material as we could pick up and burned the little pieces of wood that no one wanted. For all these years we have maintained the area and kept it mowed, even putting a garden in most years.

I think of the areas up north and how much debris has accumulated just from hurricane Sandy and feel sorry for the folks up there. It is going to take some massive efforts to reclaim the areas hit hardest by that storm. However, this is a good time to clean up and rebuild on a better basis. Just like the area between our home and the highway, we keep it picked up, mowed, and maintained the best way possible. Some things are just not possible for someone my age to do, but when it can be done with a little help from the neighbors, it is worth the effort to make home and one's home street look decent.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

That Time of Life

I have decided that I have entered the time of life when everything and everyone is changing faster than my mind is going to accept. This entire year has been pretty strange in my book. Of course, the biggest change came with Fang's death, but this Monday Daddy died and we buried him yesterday. He was 85--would have been 86 on November 24. He led a long and relatively happy life. The last several years were a bit difficult because he had lost his hearing. He could still see a snake across the river last fall when Lewis and I went to the river with him. But now he and Lewis can look for snakes, squirrels, and anything else that they want to see in God's kingdom. And neither one of them will have pain and can see and hear clearly.

My mother seems not to be sure she knows me, but she is nearly always pleasant when she speaks to anyone, so I get the same treatment. Dementia or whatever it is called that takes away our memories has both good and bad aspects. In Mom's case, she seems not to be suffering from the loss of her husband. They were married for 68 years, so she will still know that she was married if she even has two brain cells that still function together. Some things are pretty hard to lose.

In the store a bit ago I saw someone who looked too familiar to NOT know. It turned out to be Lewis' cousin and his wife. It seems their son-in-law had had a heart attack and had been transferred to the hospital here in Wichita Falls. I told them that Lewis' sister was up there with her husband Lehnis. He had quadruple bypass surgery and was still in the hospital. It is amazing what medical science can do for us. Even so, our lives change as we age and those changes become more drastic with each passing year. Accepting the changes can be a very real challenge.

Yesterday our oldest son Lance and his family spent the afternoon visiting with me. It was so nice to have them here even for just the afternoon. Our daughter Jennifer had spent six days with me while we were waiting for Daddy to die, but those days were semi-stressful. As much as I enjoy having Jennifer around, it seems that we always spend our time together having to take care of situations instead of just enjoying being together. Of course, my children may get to the point that they feel the same way when they come see me. Last time Lance was here, he helped put a new roof on the workshed. Maybe next time won't be quite as busy or full of work--unless it is fun work.

As I age, I see that my children are taking on the responsibilities that I took on with my own parents. I never minded taking care of my parents, but sometimes it was all I could do to keep up with their needs and take care of my own household. I never want to cause my children stress, but it is wonderful to know that they care as much about me as they do. I guess it is just the time in our lives that changes as we age. And now I see that the grandchildren are just as sweet and loving as the children. Some things never change, and love is one of them.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Politics and Good Taste

One of my favorite professors once informed me that I lacked sophistication because I did not particularly appreciate John Updike's description of semen infused scrambled eggs or the wife swapping in the book we were reading. I told him that lack of sophistication had nothing to do with one's gag reflex. Just this week I have been reminded again that good taste and intelligence/and/or education do not necessarily go hand in hand. Around a table with several other women, the prevalent opinion concerned the "wonderful" speech given by former president Clinton. One woman enthused that even though she had never given her former husbands a blow job, she would be happy to give one to Bill Clinton. Somehow I kept eating.

Political discussions among those of like mind can be difficult for those who do not agree with the viewpoints expressed, but thankfully most folks have sense enough to know that not everyone will have the same perspective. One of the major benefits of a democracy is the right to express one's differences in politics or even one's opinion about Fords and Chevrolets. And most of us can be downright respectful of those differences. And for the most part, our differences are based on honest opinions rather than prejudices. At least, we hope that opinions are based on honesty. Sometimes we don't recognize our own prejudices.

Generally speaking, prejudice is opinion based on lack of knowledge or facts that are irrefutable. In at least one aspect of American life, our so-called knowledge is quite often based on what we read on the internet--whether or not what is written or spoken is based on anything even slightly resembling the truth. And I have been as guilty as the next person--maybe more so--about believing things that have been sent to me by e-mail. After several embarrassments, I have learned to look at or to see if some of the "facts" are indeed facts or pure garbage. And some of the opinions expressed by respectable journalists are not exempt from stupidities, either. Just because I admire someone's work does not mean that person's opinions are free from prejudice or even perjury!

I can remember a time when politics was not quite such a dirty term as it is now. Back when I was a little girl, the politicians still held up little children and kissed their cheeks to the admiring glances of their grandmothers. And a dime in the hand of a little child was as good as a vote for a good Democrat. Tony Fenoglio got many a good vote out of a trip through North Central Texas just because he knew how to talk to farmers and knew how to admire small children. But those were different times. My own parents and grandparents were Democrats because they felt that the Republicans did not care about the common man or his financial circumstances. In truth, I have no idea if the Republicans were much different from the Democrats back in that time. And I am reminded by a friend whose son-in-law was also in Texas politics that most of the time the politicians were simply show horses--willing to be seen in certain circles and neigh or yay for the one's who could pay their way. Politicians don't do much, but when they do, we all have to pay for it.

But more to the point of how I feel about opinions expressed: When did good taste go out the door? Yes, I might be the first to say that a certain politician is an idiot, but I would be happy to support his right to do his job the best he knows how--especially if criticism leveled is unfair or extreme and personal rather than measured objectively and intelligently. If anything has convinced me that political parties, clubs, groups, and other social gatherings have value, it will be for the good that they can DO for others in this world. I have enough grounds for my own opinions without the need for socialized gossip. Good taste obviously does not depend on becoming a vegan, a Buddhist, or an "enlightened" reader. For me, good taste means going about doing good quietly and with compassion with the least amount of offense given. I can't change the political system to one of unselfish concern for others, but I can at least keep a civil tongue in my mouth and refrain from insulting the intelligence of others with a different perspective.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Processing Grief

Today I am reminded that grief is universal. My friend Beth Graf lost her husband back in December of last year. We have shared so many similar feelings and frights in our lives. As she says, "We have history." We have known each other for a long time, but even if we had not had so many years of common experiences, I think Beth is the kind of person one just naturally trusts with one's heart. I wish everyone could have such a friend.

Tomorrow our daughter will attend the funeral of a young man who just dropped dead at 36 years old. He leaves a wife and children. Our youngest son will attend the funeral of the grandmother of his best friend. The grandmother was also the mother of his dear friend and "other mother" Vicki. While they are attending those services, I will be sharing a meal and some fellowship with a large group of women and a man from a local church--all widows and one widower who have come together to find some solace in learning to grieve. It is not easy to grieve, but it helps if someone is willing to listen and to share the tears.

I have been reading books about how to deal--and NOT deal--with death. Of course, drugs and alcohol are supposed to be no-nos for those of us who are trying to make it from one day to the next. Yet last night I could not sleep again. It would have been nice to just take a pill of some kind to get my mind to shut up and let me stop thinking and sleep. Instead, I got up and did a little work and eventually got to sleep sometime after 2 a.m. I can understand why someone would think a beer would do it or something like that. I don't think it would work for me. But I also know that sleeping pills were created for some of these situations. In fact, the lady from Hospice called today and talked to me about taking something made by one of those over the counter drug companies. The name of it alludes me at the moment, but I am sure the pharmacist would know what it is. Maybe I will pick some up tomorrow. Not sleeping cannot be a good thing.

I went to see my parents in the nursing home on Tuesday afternoon after I had visited our family doctor about my allergy symptoms. When I took them out on the porch to smoke, my dad wanted to know how Lewis was doing. I tried to ignore his question and finally had to make him look at me while I said the words very clearly, "He is dead. He died in May." And yes, I just broke out in tears all over again. Later when I took them to their room, he asked how Lewis had died for the fourth time. I told him again. Seeing my parents like this is its own form of torture, but adding these questions just pours salt on the wounds. I guess at least the salt won't cause infections.

It doesn't seem to me that I ever had much trouble making decisions when Lewis was around, but then, he was always there to listen or suggest things to think about. Now I have the full responsibility for all decisions and choices. I try not to ask the kids to help me too much in decision making. They have their own lives to live and their own decisions to make. And I want to retain my independence as long as I can tell that I am making decent choices. If my life extends out to the same number of years as my parents or grandparents, maybe the decision processes won't totally go downhill as fast as the muscles in my arms. But that process depends on the determination to KEEP making my own decisions.

Probably one of the best things I can do is to get up every morning and do something--as Granny Lucy would say, even if I do it wrong! So I go to the mall and walk, or I get up early on Sunday morning and make the 8 o'clock service, or I sit on the front porch on our favorite bench and just remember how much I was loved once upon a time. Grief allows that. I can just keep on loving him, even if he is not here to hug me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Monsters Like Me

Monsters Like Me

When I was little enough to sit on the ground and notice the stems of flowers and the textures in the soils around me, I would fantasize about the little creatures that slept in the grasses and among the flowers at night.  I always hoped to get up early enough to find one still sleeping in the flowers.  All I ever found were bugs, caterpillars of various hues, or a toad or two.  I wouldn’t touch the bugs or caterpillars until much later in life in my life, but the toads were my friends.  I must have attracted flies and mosquitoes because the toads were close enough to have lunch on the gathering clouds of insects.

While I wouldn’t touch the bugs or caterpillars, I was not really afraid of them---unless they started toward me!  Bugs were supposed to go the other direction.  Caterpillars were never going anywhere too fast, so I didn’t really care where they went or which direction they were going.  But bugs were different.  Some of them really moved quite fast.  And if they were going toward me, I wanted to move away.

One day I was happily playing with my little figurine horses in the dirt by our front porch.  The wonderful horses galloped around the flowers and jumped little twigs just like champions.  But suddenly a frighteningly large, black beetle came toward my favorite horse.  What was worse, the bug went right past the horse and toward me!  I was sitting; the bug was racing!  I screamed; Mother came racing.

Mother was not impressed by the dangerous black bug.  Instead, she picked me up and swatted me good for scaring her.  “Next time get up and move,” she said, after I had cried that the bug was coming toward me.

It didn’t take long for my mother to relate the story to my daddy.  And, of course, my brother thought it was SO funny that his little sister was afraid of bugs.  But I wasn’t really afraid of bugs.  I just did not want them to come toward me.

Soon afterward my big brother brought me a June bug.  He finally convinced me to let it crawl on my hand.  It tickled.  Then he put a string on its leg and told me that I could fly it.  After holding the string above my head and watching the bug fly around as if it were a helicopter, I had to duck and dodge as it attempted to land on my head.  Its landing prompted a scream from the top of my lungs along with what must have been a hysterically funny ballet of wild dancing and jumping accompanied by thrashing arms.  The poor June bug didn’t have a chance, but it settled on my shoulder to ride out the storm.  That’s when my brother shook his head and told me that the bug must like me.

How can a bug possibly like someone?  Does the person have to smell good?  When butterflies, lady bugs, and other small creatures alight on a child, are the creatures attracted to the small child for some reason?  My brother tried to convince me that little creatures were attracted to me, but then something happened that made me believe that even larger creatures liked me for some reason.  Standing in the sun in the field across from our house, I felt a sudden fanning of air as a large bird landed on my head.  His claws and beak raked through my hair and pulled some away from my face, frightening me into screaming again.  My mother had just glanced out the window to see a huge crow swoop down upon her golden-haired daughter.  After I had been assured that the bird was not trying to injure me, Mother explained that crows like shiny things—in this case, the golden blonde hair on my head.  My brother just shook his head and said that he wished crows liked him.  He wanted one for a pet.

Eventually my brother convinced me that most creatures could be handled and petted.  I learned to pick up the Texas horny toad and stroked it into a relaxed state.  I knew the lizards that would climb on the house trying to find flies and other insects to eat.  A pet possum rode on my shoulder; an owl “chirred” to me from our back porch.  And even a toad became a familiar friend.

My brother knew how to frighten me:  he would growl and crawl toward me as if he were a lion.  Only eventually I knew that the monstrous creature really liked me.  And now my daughter holds the hands of her boys to teach them to tie a string to the leg of a June bug, to leave out some water for the toads, to watch for lady bugs and lizards.  Yes, monsters like me.  And now “monsters” like my children and grandchildren.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Horse-brained and Happily Hobbled

Horse-brained and Happily Hobbled

Some folks are born to love horses. A child whose attention is riveted to the horses in a movie rather than to the dialogue is a child who is horse-brained. The Western movies that were so popular from the 1920s through the late 1950s had two attractions to some people—the heroes/heroines and the horses. Even by the time Clint Eastwood began to make movies, the horses were the beautiful Spanish barbs that made riders seem secondary necessities. Some of us just enjoyed watching the horses and dreaming of being the riders of such wonderful steeds.

My first ‘horse’ was the saddle that my daddy had stored in the old well house on Granddad Pollard’s farm. Dad brought it home and fastened ropes to it and hung it from our swing set. It didn’t last long, but oh the dreams that rode out on that saddle! But then, Dad would tell stories about his horse Rabbit and how the paint horse could outrun just about anything around. This same horse was the one that Dad had taught to take off as soon as Dad’s foot was in the stirrup. That lightning take off happened to be the cause of Grandmother Pollard’s injured kidney after she chose to ride the horse to the field to take Granddad his lunch and drinking water. Rabbit was well trained, but Grandmother wasn’t prepared to play a cowboy chase scene.

In among the pictures taken when I was a young child was one showing Dad leading a little pony with a happily grinning daughter sitting pretty with her skirt spread out over the top of the saddle. Little girls did not wear jeans in those days. The pony was one of those little Shetlands that were used in a circular riding ring that kept the children out and the ponies in. No doubt the owner made enough money to feed the ponies and pay for whatever tack might have eventually worn out. But back then paying even one dollar to let a child ride a pony was an extravagance.

Another picture shows a little girl in a winter coat up---way up—on the back of a mixed breed work horse of huge dimensions. Old Dan was a gentle giant that was used in a team to pull stumps out of the Louisiana gumbo. And that gumbo was dirt, not something to eat! Strength and patience was in Dan’s blood line, but for the little girl who was turned loose on his back, he was the nearest thing to heaven that a horse crazy child could imagine. One summer Dan was the center of one of those “take turns” that every child dreads. His back was plenty big for two children, but holding the reins and deciding the destination was part of the excitement of riding the horse. So when one rider ducked as the horse went under the clothes line and the second rider was left hanging by her chin, well, it is just possible that taking turns turned out to be a little less equal than expected.

One grandfather had a beautiful mare named Nellie who had a very deep objection to a curb bit strap. A sweeter little horse and more docile horse one could never expect, but just fasten her up with a curb bit that had a strap under her mouth and watch her head go up! She was good with the cattle as long as the rider didn’t try to do too much reining. Hit that bit a couple of times and the rider could expect some fireworks. One rider ended up in the middle of a stock tank when he could not get the mare to turn loose of the bit and turn. But he learned how to rein and began to leave her mouth alone. One summer she even worked as a diving dock out in the middle of a stock tank as the grandchildren swam back and forth in the pond. It was a sad day when she left the farm to go to another family.

Dawn and Patty were the offspring of Nellie. Neither had her fire, but Dawn was a pretty good horse for a child to ride just for fun. She had no problems with a curb bit and enjoyed a good run over the meadows just as much as her rider enjoyed the ride. It was Dawn who ran through the winter snow and fell, rolling over her rider. But that is another story all by itself.

Another wonderful horse was named Dusty and lived in a pasture near Granddad Pollard’s farm. He belonged to a man who worked with our dad. But Jeff Jeffries hardly ever rode Dusty because Jeff was getting pretty old and stove up from the work he did during the week. Dusty was spirited and had a tendency to rear up when he was in a tight place, so Jeff rarely used him to go get the cattle from a pasture south of Granddad’s place.

Jeff once asked that one of us kids ride his horse to go get the cattle for him. In bringing the cattle down the hill below the tank, Dusty slid in the mud and fell on top of his rider’s leg, but both horse and rider got up and moved the cattle on back to the barn. Somehow little mishaps like that were never shown in the movies.

The movies always showed the wonderful Mustangs and the friendly horses of famous cowboys, but never did those horses attack a rider. One rancher, Buster Zachary, kept rodeo horses on his ranch one year under a contract to keep them pastured and fed for the winter. When Buster rode out to check on the heifers in his cattle herd, the stallion that was kept with the rodeo mares attacked Buster and his horse. Buster ended up with a huge hunk of his leg torn and bruised. Shortly thereafter the rodeo horses were moved to the pasture north of Granddad Pollard’s place. It was there near the lane to the farm that we would stop and watch the horses as they grazed. And the little horse crazy girl would dream horse dreams for days.

Once upon a time Christmas seemed to make the impossible possible—at least for some of us. Dad did his best to make Christmas wonderful, but he still asked about our heart’s desire. A selfish little girl said that a horse was the only gift she would ever want. Frustrated, Dad quipped that a jackass might have to do. The girl’s smile was too much for Dad. That afternoon a muddy little donkey arrived to be kept in the back yard for the next four or five years. That was back in 1959 right before John F. Kennedy was to run for president in 1960. That donkey with a patriotic hat was one of the first pictures of Sir Clyde the First. He went on to become a symbol of more than democratic politics; he was the first of the flying donkeys. No one who has ever ridden a donkey bareback for any length of time needs to be told how wonderfully balanced a rider can become after riding for a few months. And a donkey that runs and jumps with its rider is especially good for building confidence and strength.

Family dynamics are not always sweetness and light, and for that reason, Dad felt that he needed to put a big raw boned gelding in our back yard. Chico was over seventeen hands tall and so skinny that he seemed mostly bones. He needed what the horse trader called ‘groceries.’ He survived being wormed and stumbled around until he was well fed enough to be ridden. It was the dead of winter when he came to us, but his presence became the foundation of a warm friendship. Chico understood his rider without reins or any other accoutrement of tack. Not many horses are as forgiving of a rider’s mistakes or awkwardness as this horse was.

Duchess came to us as a yearling. She was wearing her scraggly foal coat and needed to be brushed badly. And she had not even been weaned. She stood under the clothes line in the back yard where Chico’s saddle blanket was hung. She rubbed her head on it and lay down on the ground under it. Poor little filly missed her dam. After a year of training and handling, no one could have asked for a better young horse. But she had spirit and speed and the youth that made each fairly unpredictable. It took very little effort to take a wild run down the lane to the Groves’ farm, but then, she also was willing to work around the cattle with her head held down and her eyes on the cattle. The only problem with Duchess was really that she did not like to be alone. She could jump anything around four feet tall with plenty of space between her and the top of a fence or a pole. So she would not be kept away from the house or from our home overnight. It only took once for us to understand that she would NOT stay on the farm unless we were there too. Four gates and cattle guards were nothing to her. And because she demanded personal attention, she remained in my parents’ back yard when I went off to college.

The stories Dad told about his days on the farm and the horses and the big Holloway lake always made us wish we could have been back there with him in those days. Truth be told, he was probably pretty lonely out there on the farm with no other kids around for more than three miles. And I realize now that he relived those happier days in his memory from a different perspective than he had back then. Like the cowboy movies never showed the accidents, the tired muscles, and the lack of food out on the prairie, our memories often leave out some of the harder parts of reality. Maybe that is why it is so easy to love horses when the price of hay, the lack of pasture, the price of veterinarian bills, and the assorted heartbreaks involved can be left in the background with the typical movie music.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ovenbird vs. Governmental Regulations

A man I know--well, I have read many of his posts, but have never met him otherwise--made an observation about the oven bird pictures that I sent him that showed the process involved with its nest building techniques. His reply and observations just tickled me pea green, so I thought I would share. Now to give background, the oven bird builds its nest with a series of teeny tiny beaks full of mud stuck to a flat surface somewhere away from the ground in a normally inaccessible place. But that type of structure would NEVER be beyond government intervention in Keith's mind:

Interesting pictures. I was curious and looked up the bird. Took a little effort in Google to confirm my first impression. It’s an Ovenbird, more precisely a Red Ovenbird. They get their name from the mud nests they build that look like small mud ovens. I found another picture of a similar nest in a tree. Not sure what the greatest skill involved is. I don’t know of many carpenters who work with mud. It certainly is a feat of engineering. It got me to thinking.

If we would build a similar home for ourselves we’d first have to submit the idea to the engineering department. They would propose multiple designs and subject them to thorough testing over a three year period. Other engineers would experiment with several varieties and consistencies of mud and do more tests. Chemists would look in to making synthetic mud in case the demand for mud houses resulted in mud shortages. Prototypes would be built and cost estimates determined. The marketing department would develop a strategy to bring the design to the public and convince them they really need this. Finally blueprints would be submitted to appropriate government agencies for approval who would reject the plans because the house has only one point of egress.

There would be a host of social and political issues to deal with. Residential window and door manufacturers would oppose them since houses with only one door and no windows would pretty much eliminate most of them. The carpentry and woodworking unions would protest that this is a Republican conspiracy to take work away from them. Home Depot and Lowes would lay off thousands of employees and shut down their indoor lumberyards as demand for two-by-fours and plywood dried up. Environmentalists would be pleased with a reduction of logging but worried about strip mining mud for all new houses. A super PAC would be formed to support only politicians who subscribed to their motto, “Mud houses are for the birds.”

Well, I didn’t say it got me to thinking very clearly.

Keith [Mattson]

Friday, July 27, 2012

Eye Wash On Demand

Well, this has been a week of eye wash on demand, especially if one considers tears that fall involuntarily a simple eye wash. The 'on-demand' part just means that thinking about Fang caused my eyes to blur with tears. And what really seems strange is the happy parts that still made me cry. A visit to Betty J. had us both in tears when we talked about our husbands. Then a message on the answering machine caused so much distress that tears were right on the surface for the rest of the day and into the evening. By the time dinner was served by the hosts of Under Angels Wings, several of us had cried together again. Yet we were able to find a good laugh when told the story of a friend who had stepped on her boob---after surgery for breast cancer, she had one of those bras with inserts that looked like boobs. She dropped one on the floor and accidentally stepped on it. Then she went in and told her husband that she had had a terrible accident. All concerned, he asked whatever had she done to hurt herself. "Oh," she said, "I didn't hurt myself; I just stepped on one of my boobs."

When we finished laughing at that story, we had a wonderful potluck dinner and visited for a couple of hours. Each of us comes from totally different backgrounds, but we all have some traumatic loss in our lives--husbands, children, parents, siblings--even a divorce. No matter what the cause, we needed the reassurance of like-minded friends to help us through this part of our lives. It doesn't help for anyone to tell us that time will heal, we will get over it, or that we should 'get on' with our lives. We are irreparably scarred by this experience. And we hurt. However, it helps to know that others have been where we are and were able to get their minds back to some semblance of normal. The immediate two or three weeks after Fang's death are a fog in the back of my mind by now. Our daughter reminded me of something that happened shortly after his death, and it simply was not 'there' for me. It undoubtedly happened, but my memory just did not record it.

Today should have been a fairly decent day. A friend whose husband died last December came by and picked me up for a run around town to several of her errand sites. We talked almost non-stop going from one place to the other. Then we had breakfast at a place we both know and enjoy--Pioneer of Texas on Maplewood Avenue. Again, the waitress knows us and was so sweet. The food was good, and the chatter was simply special with several good laughs. Then when I opened the front door of my house, a special UPS delivery (next day air) was in between the inner and outer door. That was a relief! Now I don't have to deal with Ameritrade or any of their financial brokers ever again. When the check clears, I can leave an account open for the estate affairs and go on with whatever I need to do without someone trying to tell me that I am not handling money wisely. Plus, the lady at the bank was able to tell me how to invest the funds for the most interest without any fees attached or any risk involved. Whew! It is simple; but I would never have known that without having gone through this other mess with a financial broker. I think the word broker is pretty well descriptive. 'Nuff said, I suppose.

The neighbor down the hill came this evening and put extra screws in the car shed roof and in its legs to better anchor the thing against the constant wind we have on this hill. When it was built, the men used the least amount of screws necessary. Their technique might have been fine and dandy in a state that has no wind, but in this part of Texas, we have wind when we don't have anything else. Anyway, he and I talked about the old dog he loved for 14 years that died last night. I had already heard from his wife about Max, and we had both shed some more tears together. Dang! No one knows how important love is to a person until that love has to be put away. Our old cat has been slowing down a bit more every day, and I just dread the day that he curls up somewhere and gives it up. He is over 12 years old now and skinny beyond belief despite foods that should be putting weight on him. But he still purrs and sheds hair all over me when he rubs up under my chin and paws my arms. He has no kitten left in him, but he is as loving as he ever was.

I guess I don't have any 'kitten' in me either at this point in my life. Kitten, kid, or filly...whatever that youthful little spark is that keeps a gleam in our just isn't there at the moment. Who knows, maybe someday it might light up inside again. But right now it's still eye-wash time and more solemnity than the proverbial judge. Eventually that will have to change if possible, but it may take a real effort to find joy in the little things of life. Ah well, fall might bring some rains and that HAS to be a better portion for everyone in this part of the world.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Provocation and Protection

Yesterday I took one of those CHL classes so that it would be legal for me to carry my revolver in my purse or truck whenever I travel here in Texas. I learned a few things about the laws of Texas that I had never known before. And, come to think of it, I learned a few things about the reasons that our country came to respect the rights of its citizens to “bear arms.”

Everyone has heard the arguments about disarmament and keeping guns out of the hands of irresponsible folks. One of the first things our instructor told us about those ideas was to make a comparison of automobiles to guns—they are both tools. We can’t outlaw F150s because so many die in pickup truck accidents, and by the same token, we can’t outlaw guns because there are idiots out there using them against others. Knives, baseball bats, tire irons, or any other handy hammer would be as easily utilized up close and personal. And my guess is that one of those big Humvees would be just as deadly as anyone’s .45 revolver.

When our instructor compared our abilities to protect ourselves against much larger and stronger opponents, it made sense to the women in the room that we would not stand a chance with a baseball bat or pepper spray against a man three times our size and strength. The man could easily take the bat away from us, and the pepper spray might not have any effect unless it actually hit the person in the eyes. Then too, one man who had been an MP said that someone hopped up on certain drugs often would be unaffected by the pain element from pepper spray because of the overriding effects of the drugs.

Two incidents—go ahead and call them tragedies—were discussed yesterday. One part of the discussion covered provocation of violence in regard to the confrontation and death in Florida of a teenager. Everyone has heard about it by now because of the extreme media coverage. Again, the long and short of the situation came down to bad decisions by both parties. But beyond the ‘who did what to whom’ part of the story, too many people see the right to carry a concealed weapon as the culprit or determining factor in the mix. The fact is that if the man carrying the gun had not used it, he would not be around to be standing trial. It brings back the old saw, “Better tried by twelve than carried by six.”

The second situation is the horror of slaughter at a movie theater among innocent people who never had a chance to either defend themselves or–in the case of a three-year-old child—never had the chance to really live. I seriously doubt that anyone in that theater was armed except for the insane man who murdered those people. But, if anyone had been more alert—and had been armed—it is just possible that the number of dead and wounded would have been greatly reduced. In Texas, it is not unreasonable to assume that as many as four out of ten men would be armed in almost any setting—theater, city park, or anywhere that handguns are not prohibited by law. And lately, it is not a stretch of the imagination to think that one of every ten women in Texas is also armed. At least, I know two that will shortly have their guns tucked safely away in a holster in their purses.

One of the reasons that Japan chose not to bring the war in the Pacific to the actual shores of America was the fact that they knew our nation was armed to the teeth. Every farmer, every rancher, and many businessmen were armed with either handguns or sports rifles. And all of them knew how to use them quite effectively. That was true all over this nation at that time. And the ownership of guns has increased in most states since World War II. More folks are members of the NRA now than of AAA.

Recently a treaty or firearm regulation agreement was supposed to have been discussed at the UN, but like so many other ideas, a few folks took off with the idea that our president was trying to totally disarm Americans. The Supreme Court had this to say: District of Columbia v. Heller, 26 June 2008: (T)he enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.

The treaty that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the administration seeks is one that has “legally binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons." Furthermore, the language of the discussion included this: that a provision in the resolution’s preamble – included at the request of the U.S. – explicitly recognizes the right of nations to regulate gun sales and ownership within their borders, including through their constitutions:
UN General Assembly Resolution A/C.1/64/L.38/Rev.1, Oct. 28: Acknowledging also the right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownership, exclusively within their territory… is one of the best places to dispel rumors and other stupidities that circulate about political or economic absurdities. Americans are pretty easily convinced of conspiracies and other hoaxes, unfortunately. But on the other hand, they are also one of the most stubborn and defensive in the world. Somehow one might have to really stretch the imagination to even think that America would be as easily disarmed as France or England or any of the other European nations were before World War II.
According to an article in Time magazine: “Though it may pale in comparison to America's 88.8 registered weapons per hundred people, the rate of gun ownership in Europe is higher than one might imagine. In Switzerland there are 45.7 guns per hundred people; in Finland, 45.3; France's 31.2 is a little higher than Germany's 30.3. The U.K., which banned most gun ownership after two massacres, has a rate of 6.2 registered guns per 100 people.
And in another publication: Although Norway has far and away the highest firearm ownership per capita in Western Europe, it nevertheless has the lowest murder rate. Other nations with high firearms ownership and comparably low murder rates include Denmark, Greece, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Holland has a 50 percent higher murder rate despite having the lowest rate of firearm ownership in Europe. And Luxembourg, despite its total handgun ban, has a murder rate that is nine times higher than countries such as Norway and Austria.
According to an article in GOA [Gun Owners of America] of 2008:
Nor does the "more guns means more murder" belief square with our own experience. The earliest American figures, dating from just after World War II, showed both gun ownership and murder rates holding at low levels. Today our murder rates are almost identical, despite six decades of massive gun buying whereby Americans have come to own five times more guns than they did in 1946. The intervening years saw a dramatic increase in murder followed by a dramatic decrease. These trends had no relationship to gun ownership, which steadily rose all the while (especially handgun ownership).

Finally, if common sense makes any difference in life at all, we should all know better than to purposely provoke someone. But we should also be aware that we need to be able to protect ourselves and our families from the insanity that seems to run rampant in today’s society. In a few years I will be too old to handle a gun effectively. At least, I cannot imagine being able to hold a steady aim. By then maybe I will get an old-fashioned scatter gun to keep by the bedside table and a big dog to growl at anyone silly enough to bother me. Until then, I will carry a gun with me for those situations that just may arise, and I will continue to appreciate the men and women who have taken this class in order to protect themselves and others around them.