Riding Life!

Riding Life!
Life is like a wild horse--Unless you ride it, it will ride you! (from the movie: "Princess of Thieves.")

Sunday, September 28, 2008

V: The Empty Chair: Part l: Paul Newman and my dad






I felt sad when the news anchor broke in to announce that Paul Newman died a few weeks ago. Shortly after, my youngest daughter called to be sure I had heard the sad news. "He reminded me of grandaddy", she said. Yes, he reminds me of my father too. The same coloring, silver hair, blue eyes, handsome features, and athletic grace. My dad was pretty "cool" too. He was a pool player extraordinaire who had played with the best of them - Minnesota Fats and Fast Eddie of The Hustler movie fame. Fast Eddie was the best according to my authority! He loved that movie and even more the Paul Newman/Tom Cruise movie, The Color of Money. When my dad passed away, there were people lined up wanting to buy his custom made pool cue, which of course my mother would never sell! I'm exaggerating just a little! lol

Now it may sound contradictory to say that someone who hung out at the pool hall was a gentlemen. I conjure up imaginations of a smoky, sleazy atmosphere, and it is definitely a man's domain. No question about that! Women do not hang out at real pool halls! My dad started hanging out at the local pool hall after school when he was sixteen, because he worked there. Probably not the best place for a teenage boy to be he later told me. When my dad told my mom with his customary "wink" that he was going to the office, we all knew he meant the pool hall. I recall a few times when mom took my sister and I shopping downtown and needed to get in touch with him. We would walk to the pool hall and she would open the door just a bit and motion to the nearest man to fetch my dad. Hearing a few chuckles of laughter as someone went to get him I remember peering into the dark, smoky, mysterious room, waiting for dad to come to the door. Years later, newly married and working downtown, my car wouldn't start. This was long before cell phones, and I walked to the pool hall to see if my dad's car was there. It was. So, I went into the furniture store across the street. I walked up to the salesmen and said: "My car won't start, and my dad is in that pool hall across the street. Can I use your phone to call him"? They were greatly amused!

There were other "perks" to being the daughter of a pool shark. In the sixties and seventies, dad would often win anything from $40. to $100. on a good day--the days off from his "regular job" at the newspaper. This was tax free money since it was under the table, so although we were never rich by any means, and we took few vacations or trips, there was always eating out money and my mom never had to work. When I was in high school, dad opened up a neighborhood recreation center with pin ball machines and six pool tables. So every guy in town wanted to play pool with my dad! I'll bet you can guess where C and I spent all our free time! My dad owned our hangout place!

When dad died 17 yrs. ago at the age of 69, an old lady in her late eighties accompanied her grandaughter to the funeral home to pay her respects. She had never met my father herself, but she stood with me at the casket and said to me "my your father was a handsome man". In the midst of grief, I had to smile to myself, because although dad was charming in many ways, he was also reserved and just a little vain! He knew he was handsome. Everyone told him he was his entire life, so he just knew it! He had a way of winking when he laughed,so even though he wasn't even conscious of it, he looked like a flirt! Women loved him, though he was shy and always faithful to my mother. You see, although he was gifted in many ways, my father and grandmother had been abandoned by his father before his birth, so he never quite accepted that he was good enough.

When dad was 9 yrs. old, my grandmother remarried to a man she admittedly did not love. Both of her parents had died by the time she was 30 and they were left alone at the family farm. My grandmother's brothers had already moved to town. She told me that she felt she had no choice because she was stuck out on the farm and she thought her son needed a father figure. Unfortunately, Mr. Smith wasn't the best father figure. On one occasion when my grandmother wasn't home, he beat my dad with a chain because he forgot to feed the pigs. My grandmother told him if he ever laid a hand on him again, he was out for good. One afternoon when my dad was 13 yrs. old, my grandmother had gone to town to shop she was contacted by the police to come pick her son up at the station because her husband had shot his business partner and killed him, supposedly in self defense. My father was alone at the house and unaware of anything that had happened, but the police went to the house and found him and did not want to leave him alone out there in the country. My grandmother packed Mr. Smith's bags and that was the end of him in their lives. She moved to town where she bought a small bungalow and got a job with the county as a Home Extension Agent. Mr. Smith never went to trial because his brother-in-law was the Governor of Arkansas and kept delaying the trial until the statute of limitations ran out. Because she was working, she relied on her brother and his family to help out, so my dad spent a lot of time with his three cousins and partners in playing hookey and pool. To nip it in the bud, my grandmother paid a teacher friend to take him to school with her out in the country where they had lived before moving to town. So that squelched the playing hookey routine! My dad once told me that although his cousins were more like brothers, he also felt that they felt sorry for him because he had no father around.
In his early twenties, dad joined the navy during WWII and spent 4 years in the South Pacific on an aircraft carrier. He had pretty much raised himself and never gave my grandmother any real trouble. His letters reveal a good son always concerned for his mother. So it may sound silly, but whenever I see a Paul Newman movie, or catch a glimpse of an older man with silver hair out of the corner of my eye, I always think of my dad. - V

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

C: Power Woman Update



Bear with me, here: FYI, I have learned to bushhog!! It was great fun, although the pasture does not look as good as it did when my wayward husband used to do it. I must say that, while it was fairly easy, I had a moment on a hillside when I thought I was going to tump over and realized I could kill myself in a heartbeat on this thing...must not go on hills horizontally! I am working on my farmer's tan, too.

To be fair to myself about how the job looked, I must say that the grass had grown over my head in places and I am not yet skilled in getting around trees, etc., although I am getting there. I think the next bushhogging will make the place look decent. I was running low on fuel and have to get diesel before continuing. I can't believe I'm buying diesel--this is way out of my bailiwick, but I'm adapting.

I also have learned how to air up the tractor tire with a compressor (!!!) and, when I found the tractor battery was dead, I charged it up all by myself!!! Of course it took almost an hour for me to find the battery and then I just took a freakin' chance on how to hook up the charger. (Did you know if you let the end parts of the charger cords touch, that sparks fly everywhere??! I didn’t—I do now…). I got the charger to work--I guess I didn't go to college for nothing. I am quite pleased with myself. Can you tell? (It's the little things).

For you males reading this, remember that mechanical know-how is transmitted to you genetically--I, being female on the other hand, had to discover it. My son gets credit here for some instruction on bushhogging and trying to talk me through the battery thing over the phone.

I could not resist e mailing my husband and telling him that I had given him way too much credit over the years, while I thought he was out there working his butt off on the tractor (and he worked that angle for all it was worth). Not only is the tractor not rocket science (it was always mysterious to me...the mysterious tractor...) but it has made me realize that there are only two things he can do that I can't: 1) pee standing up and 2) abandon his family responsibilities. Thankfully, I don't wish to do either. (My friend, Dee, points out that he can stand up and pee neatly, which really is the only difference…a valid point).

Was it mean that I said that to him? It is true. And I don't care if it was mean. I got meaner and told him that I realized that my only problem with the tractor was unfamiliarity--that just having a little information made the process easy. That it would be like asking him to take no-good deadbeats to court for failing to live up to their court-ordered obligations--hard for him to do because he doesn't know how; easy for me--a divorce lawyer--and almost as much fun as bushhogging. He will understand the reference: he still owes me money from July and there is a plethora of obligations under our agreement he has totally ignored.

Anyway, tractoring has been rather empowering. Just thought I'd share the moment. When I sent her this little essay, a young newly-divorced friend replied, "Hey! Not that this compares, but I did feel rather like a big girl getting my own car tags yesterday, and updating my insurance, etc.. I am kind of amazed at how scared I have been of doing simple things. Maybe men tell us we can't do things by ourselves because they are afraid we would take the world over if only we knew how capable we really are." Oh, yeah, girlfriend, you are so right.

Amazing what broadening one's horizon's can do for one's spirits and confidence and, to paraphrase Dorothy, "You don't have to look any farther than your own back yard!" - C

PS - I'm thinking of starting a "learn-to-tractor-power-course for women..."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

V: Cowgirls Forever!!





So we fifty-something cowgirls had just turned three-years old when we first met. Alas, I am the older, by exactly one month! My parents had built a new house in a new neighborhood, like so many neighborhoods of the mid-fifties fashioned for World War II veterans with growing young families. Both of our dads were members of that "greatest generation," Navy veterans of the South Pacific theatre.



I remember our parents were visiting at the edge of our adjoining properties as C's house was still in the building phase. Her mom was holding her baby brother and somehow we both ended up on my new swingset. There began a lifelong friendship so unusual today as neighbors move off and lose touch in our fragmented society.



We galloped all over that neighborhood, because it was some years later that people began putting up fences. Red haired Randy lived up the street and we all played together, although I do not recall that the boys in the neighborhood ever rode stick horses. Seems that being horse crazy was a girl thing. Randy's hero was Davy Crocket, king of the wild frontier, and often we would awaken as we heard him singing that song at the top of his lungs in our backyard early in the morning. He even wore a coonskin cap atop his carrot top head! But we cowgirls loved everything western too! We pretended to be Annie Oakley (that's her picture here with this post), toting our pistols, charging around in our cowboy boots (mine were red with spurs), and fringed skirts, vests and hats. Late afternoons brought reruns of Gene Autry and Roy Rodgers on the black and white television. The shows alternated being shown on different days. C's favorite was Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans. My favorite was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy who my dad took me to see at the rodeo when I was five years old. C and I would fight and argue about who was best.


We spent carefree summers running barefoot through the grass, playing outside in the hot afternoons, coming in to eat dinner and running out again to catch fireflies in jars with holes punched through the lid with an ice pick. When we were called in for bathtime, the creases in our necks would be lined with dirty sweatbeads. One summer we found a horned toad in C's front yard, and we took him to the zoo to live! Oh, and I can never forget the time when both our mothers went to the grocery store together. As C and I raced out of the store to see who could get to the larger mechanical horse first with our dimes, my big toe got stuck in the electric door. Really stuck! Bystanders pulled and tugged with no success. A crowd gathered; the manager appeared with our mothers and after much strenuous pulling, my toe was finally released with barely a bruise. Still our moms decided that this warranted a trip to the doctor and an x-ray which revealed no permanent damage.



It was at this same grocery store that a real elephant was brought in for children to ride. Her name was Topper as she was named for Top Value stamps that shoppers collected to redeem for various gifts. C and all the neighborhood kids had been able to ride the elephant, and I wanted to ride her so badly, I threw a fit at the store. My dad said that elephants were dangerous, unpredictable, wild animals and all it would take was for a car to backfire to send that elephant charging through the parking lot trampling everyone, so he refused let me ride and would not relent despite my pleas. Because of the fit, I was promised a spanking when I got home. My dad later said that he would have forgotten all about it, but I begged all the way home to not get the spanking, so he HAD to follow through. So I never got to ride an elephant, but I STILL want to!



Growing up in the fifties, was carefree in a lot of ways, but not perfect. All families have their problems, and ours were no different in that respect, but it was a different time. Most mothers in our neighborhood stayed home and raised their own children - and in some ways it was " like a village". Neighbors looked after each other more and helped supervise each others children. Our mothers took their iced tea out into the backyard and visited as they hung out the daily wash, and we children played under their watchful eye. No, I do NOT want to go back to no dryer or air conditioner, but in many ways it was a simpler time and children benefited from a slower pace and homecooked meals eaten at a table set with real dishes with an entire family sitting around it.



A lifelong friendship is a rare thing today. The good fortune to reap the blessings of a friendship based on trust, shared history and common interests such as reading, history, religion, a good margarita, and a love of animals, especially horses! Forever friends; forever cowgirls!

C: Can I Get You Something for that Headache? (or, Found: "Happy Pills")







This morning was take-out-the-trash day. This is a chore that I have been accustomed to leaving to hubby or my son. Since neither of them is here any longer, it falls to moi! I was determined to do my duty!

Of course, duty can get in the way. I had a 9:30 a.m. appointment—no problem; I had plenty of time. That is, no problem until you factor in my “dutiful” (new) exercise regime. I got out and did a brisk walk. It was invigorating! It ran me late…

I dressed in my lawyer clothes, congratulating myself on remembering the trash, a task I normally manage to repress. I went out with the first bag (yes, there were multiples, being the trashy person that I am) and stowed it in the “way back” of my little SUV. I left the back door open and went in for more. As I returned, my heart warmed; there was my Chili (one of my dogs, a Belgian Malinois), laid up in the back of the car.

“Awwww,” I thought. “Poor Chili wants to go for a ride! How sweet!” Then I noticed the bottle.

Lying on the ground behind the car was the Tylenol bottle that had been rolling around in the “way back.” For weeks I had been meaning to bring it in and take it to V, out of whose purse it had come. I had pitched it to the back from the beverage holder in the front, intending to retrieve it later, so I knew it had been least half full…not any more.

The bottle lay there, chewed to a plastic smithereens. I searched the gravel of the driveway—no Tylenol pills were to be found; not a single one. There could be only one explanation: they now lay in Chili’s stomach.

I was alone. On my on. Late for work. Knowing I had work piled up and a client on the way. There was no husband to call and either help me or lend a listening ear and give advice. No, it was just me.

Now, I know this sounds suspiciously like whining, and that’s probably because whining is just exactly what it is! Nevertheless, let me just say that there is great comfort in at least having someone who is “yours” to call and say things like, “You’re not going to believe what Chili has done…What on earth am I going to do now!?”

The question would have been rhetorical. Of course there was but one thing to do, and I certainly don’t need a husband to help me figure that out. It’s just the connection thing. I could have called my sister or brother or my best friend but, somehow, it’s just not the same. This is one of the aspects of single life I’m not liking.

I eyed the dog. Maybe he would be okay…but what if he was not okay? I love Chili. He had been my emotional salvation. He is beautiful, smart, noble and loyal—much more loyal, in fact, than the scumbag husband who had betrayed me—Chili would never have done that! No, I could not take a chance on my Chili dog! I called the vet and in a few minutes we were on our way to the dog equivalent of the ER.

Chili was elated! He was on a road trip! The elation was not to last.

When we went in, Dr. Peck was ready with a large syringe and a huge bottle of hydrogen peroxide, which he began to force down Chili’s throat. Chili was horrified and begged me with his eyes, with his paws, with his body language to intervene and stop this torture! He was so big and so uncooperative that he had to be sedated, but this only after I had managed to wrench my knee while trying to hold him still.

Finally, and quite without so much as a burped warning, Chili vomited—just what we had been waiting for! Unfortunately, it was projectile and aimed right at the object of his affection and petition for relief—me. My suit was ruined. For the day at least.

Dr. Peck, out of the three of us, was the only one really pleased. Now that Chili had regurgitated, he was finished! I was too, in a sense.

We went home so that I could turn my mischievous dog out to run and change my soiled clothes. In spite of it all, I managed to make it on time to the office…only to be stood up by the new client.

The morals (multiple) of the story for me:

1) I don’t need a man to help me decide to take the damned dog to the ER;

2) Not having a man to whimper to when life gets bumpy is not really such a big deal;

3)And now for the combo epiphany: You can only be where you are; don’t sweat the small stuff. Where I was that morning was running late and encountering unexpected roadblocks. There was nothing I could do about it once in the midst of the situation. What I learned: relax, find the way as best you can and don’t sweat it. My near-tardiness did not matter one whit—the client did not even show.

Maybe, just maybe, I can manage to manage myself without the dishonest betrayer I used to be married to—actually I already knew this. My yearning to reach out to him was mere pattern I had developed in our 38 years of marriage. The real epiphany is that with each little victory, like this one, I realize more and more that he was a habit, not a need for happiness. And this is making me happier and happier! - C

Saturday, September 6, 2008

C Answers the Initial Question: "What's the Stick Horse Thing?"



A few days ago a good friend e mailed me one of those questionnaires. You've seen hundreds of them; I usually pass them by. But this was a good friend sending it to me, and it was one of those days. I "bit" and answered the questions, forwarding it on per the instructions. It turned out to be great fun as all my "forwards" sent their answers right back, and I enjoyed reading them.

One of the questions was, "What was your favorite childhood toy?" I did not even hesitate: mine was my stick horse! From age three to about ten (probably older!) I had a whole stableful of stick horses. I had the luxury models with the plush on the outside, and I had the plastic-headed kind (these "mid-levels" were usually either white or red, as I recall). Those two models had reins: a distinct plus! These were the days before stick horses came with sound capability; all our horses' whinnies and snorts had to come through our lips!

But the stick horse that flashed through my mind as I typed my answer to the questionnaire was just a plain old broomstick with the bristle end sawed off by my dad. V lived right next door to me, and she always had one, too (wouldn't have been any fun, otherwise). The one I recall was a gold color, and his name was "Cimarron"; V's was green and answered to "Gypsy."

I grew up later to be a "real" horsewoman, but that stick horse may have been the most versatile mount I ever rode. V and I would meet in the mornings, saddle up, and ride for hours, stopping for drinks from our water jars in the fridge and for lying on our backs in the cool clover patches, letting our stick horses rest as we looked at the summer clouds above.

Our stick horses were not perfect, mind you. They actually sometimes bucked out of friskiness (never meanness--they were our great friends!), and there were times that an imaginary rattlesnake would cause one or both to snort and shy. These only served to demonstrate our equestrienne skills, and any tumbles V or I took fit neatly into the plot of the play that was spinning out in our yards. There were episodes, for example, where one of us was badly injuried, requiring that the other gallop off for help or throw a rope down the well to pull the other up. The possibilities were endless!

V and I never tired of galloping our stick horses. We would do it day after day, our mothers occasionally calling us in for grilled cheese sandwiches or a mid-afternoon snack of watermelon or an ice cream bar purchased from the melodic ice cream truck that came by each afternoon.

As I look around me now, I realize that for many children those are bygone times. They have fancy-schmancy stuff to occupy them these days: I-pods; electronic game devices; video contraptions--all going wherever they go! How deprived our childhood would look to these techno-kids. We never had these bells and whistles of childhood; my fondest memory was a bare stick! But, on the other hand, sitting on the couch on a fine summer's day would have been a punishment to V and me. Heck, we had horses to exercise!

I cannot help but think that those hours-upon-hours of free-form play with the barest of props were healthy and important. They kept us in tiptop shape (no couch-potato flab on us back then!). Certainly they forged a lifelong friendship for me that is of inestimable value and may have really saved my life in recent months. Many times since our adulthood V has thrown a lasso down to me and pulled me out of a well of despair--just as she practiced doing all those years ago in our heavenly summers together.

So, when that questionnaire basically asked about my fondest childhood memory, what immediately flashed were Cimarron and Gypsy and V. All of us living the magical life of childhood to the fullest.

When V came to me with the blog idea, I knew I wanted to do it. When we considered a name for ourselves, good old Cimarron was fresh on my mind and when I mentioned it to V, she said, "Yes! You and I will always be 'Stick Horse Cowgirls!'" C.
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