Riding Life!

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

C: Fairness on the Airwaves?

For ten years now my cellular phone service has been with one of the giants of the industry. I won't mention the name, but its initials are: A T & T, and its logo is:

I am not technologically savvy—don’t want to be. I’m not up to snuff on all the doo-hickeys that are on my fancy phone. I mainly just want the blamed thing to work as a phone, give me my email and just let me go about my business. I don’t shop around for the best plans, although I am vaguely aware that I am “under contract,” which I don’t think is quite as beneficial to me as when the term was applied to, say, Elizabeth Taylor. Still, I’ve been pretty satisfied with my service. Until the first crack in my relationship with AT&T about six months ago. I'm writing now because it happened again...let me share...

My cell account is a “small business” account. I have had two numbers on it, one of which is used by my eighty-one-year-old mother. Ten years ago, she would not have had a cell phone (to use her phraseology) “on a stick.” Now she can’t live without it, fearful that surely the one time she leaves home without it there will be an emergency requiring its use. It is a reasonable practice, carrying a cell phone, and I am happy to provide her one. I have that “gotta have the cell phone” fever myself.

Some months ago, Mom left her phone at a restaurant. She had dialed her number and was relieved when someone answered.

You found my phone!” she exclaimed, only to be disappointed when the call was disconnected. What we now had was a stolen phone. I called the company and had them disconnect the service to the phone. The next day Mom and I went to the phone store. I explained the situation, asking for a replacement phone, expecting to pay for the same.

Well, you had no insurance on the phone,” the clerk said, slightly accusingly.

That’s right,” I answered sheepishly. Clearly I was a numbskull for not having insurance; just another example of my ignorance in the cellular world. In any case, I knew I would be purchasing Mom a new device. It was fine with me. You take your chances and go; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Whatever.

That will be $220.00,” said the clerk.

What!?!? Did you say $220.00??!!!”

Yes maam,” he replied. “I know it’s a lot, but you’re not entitled to any upgrades; let me tell you what else you can do. You now have two lines on your account. For only $9.95 more per month we can add a third line to your account. But, of course, you will have to re-up your contract another two years. But this also means that your phone will only cost $30!”

Such a deal. Let's see: $10 (roughly) x 24 months extended contract = $240 PLUS $30 for the phone - $270!!! And I would continue to pay $9.95 for the original second line which would now be entirely useless! I’d say you could buy a helluvalot of “phone insurance” for the money he was demanding from me.

I don't think so! Instead, I stomped out with Mom in tow.
And, as mad as I was then, it did not hold a candle to how I felt after the next part of the story.

I drove to the local discount giant and went to their phone section, intending to buy Mom one of those pre-pay thingies I had heard about. She was cool with it, but fretting a little over the fact that her number would change. I didn’t blame her. It had been her number for years now, and changing it with all her friends would be a pain, not to mention memorizing the new one!

I shopped and felt just a tad overwhelmed, became logical and asked for help. I pointed out the phone I was interested in, and the young man retrieved one for me. Oddly, it was only $14.95. Still it was the one that looked like Mom could operate best.

Is this a ‘for real’ phone?” I asked. “I mean, it’s cheap, what’s the catch?

The young man explained that there was no catch. It just was not the trendy, nifty style that everyone pays a premium for. It was just a no-frills phone. Great!

Having found a friend, I bemoaned my situation and told the young man my woes with the cell company. That is when this clerk really became helpful.

If you’ve lost your phone, take this one back to them and tell them to register this SIM card to your phone number. They won’t charge you because you lost your other one.”

And that is just what I did. I climbed back in the car with my $14.95 phone and drove to my cell provider’s store. Into the store I marched. At the counter, I pulled out my new purchase—still in its plastic clam shell—and said, “I lost my phone. Please register this SIM card to my number.” And they did. Gratis. No questions asked. Total cash outlay: $14.95 plus tax.

I left the store with a phone my mother could use and with her old number. For $14.95. But it was with no help from my phone company. In fact, they had tried to skin me. Now, what steams me is wondering how many people have been fed this line of bull and thought they had to swallow it? How many people thought, “Oh well, I’m under contract and, stupid me, I did not have insurance…”?

Fast forward to this week and another little encounter with AT&T. When my mother-in-law moved back here, I added her to the account. She left from her first trip here with the phone and used it the month she took in moving down here. Hence, when the blamed thing quit holding a charge and would not turn on, we were past the thirty day return/exchange period by two days!!!

I stood waiting for service on this for one solid hour last Saturday. Chatting with the nice man who greeted people (lulling them into thinking someone would be "right with you," I discovered that, while he could not help with my problem because he was only a greeter, he could tell me that they would be glad to send my phone off for repair. Of course that would mean my mother-in-law going without her phone. This was not going to happen.

I waited and waited and waited (lying in wait, so to speak, for the jerk who was going to refuse to replace the phone right then) and, finally, could not wait any longer. This is kind of how this cowgirl was looking (I wish, but you get the mood):

I turned on my heels and left, driving straight to Best Buy, where I purchased a comparable phone for $30, slipped her SIM card in myself, and Voila! We had cell phone usage.

I plan to package up the AT&T phone and send it in with a hot letter about both the junk of their equipment and the lack of service.

This little essay is a rant, alright, and I feel better for having articulated it. If it keeps even one of you readers or anyone you know from being taken by the cell company, I wish you would let me know. It would make my day and I invite you to circulate it to whomever you can think of who might need to know: Fairness is NOT the name of the airwaves game!

And, by the way, the phones work great! C

Sunday, July 26, 2009

C: The Father Who Broke the Mold

July 25 brought to my mind my late father. That's him and me, above. July 25 was his birthday, so it made me think back over his life as I knew it, and recall how much his passing has left a hole in my life.

This last statement would not make sense to the casual observer of my childhood. My father was, in many ways, broken. He was an alcoholic, although he never admitted it. He was the type of drinker who would go quite a while (months) and then we’d have a long spell of alcohol-induced craziness. It was never expected by us—always blindsided us—even though, over the course of time, you’d think we’d come to expect it always.

I was firstborn—the “fixer” of the family. I remember when I was twelve we were gearing up for our annual trek to the beach, and excitement was high. The plan was to leave during the morning, driving until we were tired, staying overnight on the road and finally the next day reaching the beach. About 9ish my father got the bright idea that we needed an ice chest to ice drinks down for the road. He left to run purchase one. We did not see him again until he showed up inebriated about 8:00 that night. Can you imagine what the day was like for my mother and for us two kids? When he didn’t show after a couple hours, we knew in that sickened gut place what was happening. And, remember, there were no cell phones.

I remember him coming home that evening and me, in my alpha-child rage, ordering him to bed to get some sleep because, hangover or no, we would be pulling out at dawn the next day for vacation. My poor mother was so dashed and hurt that she just seemed to sit in numbness while I ordered my father around. He, probably feeling some guilt, let me, and we did, indeed, drive to the beach the next day. I remember Dad that morning as I shook him awake for the drive. He was sluggish and reeked of alchol smell; not in good shape.

Being kids, my brother and I lived only in the moment. As I remember it, the vacation went just fine for us. We ran up and down beaches, played in the water and ate the seafood we craved and could never get during our childhood years in our inland city. But what must that week have been like for my mother? I can’t even begin to imagine. I've posted this picture before, but here's what our family looked like on the outside. My sister came along about ten years later.

The drunk-before-vacation episode is only one of many, many alcohol-related episodes my father foisted on his family, and I won’t even go into detail about the many women in his life. My mother finally got her craw full and divorced him when I was about 16. Three weeks later he married wife number two, to whom he was married when he died in 2006—after having divorced and remarried her about five times (we’ve lost actual count).

So, I rest my case: he was broken.

Having said that, he had some good qualities. I believe he loved us kids. He had a hard time staying “on task” in the parenting department, but he did sporadically try to show us his love and, hungry as all kids are for parental approval/attention, we lapped those episodes up. With my father it was feast-or-famine indications of love. Either we didn’t hear from him for weeks on end and he could not seem to pay his meager child support or he brought us a new car…kind of a schizo life, as I think back.

Another thing about him is that he was incredibly smart and gifted. He was the first in either side of my family to attain a college degree and then he went on to become a lawyer, footsteps in which both my brother and I followed, and now my eldest niece is taking the bar exam this week. (And my prayers go with her—she’s gonna make it just fine!). He could build houses; he could plumb and wire them. He bought me horses and taught me everything about them. He could garden beautifully and cook. He was just a genuinely talented jack-of-all-trades. In so many ways he broke the mold.

And he was eccentric—beyond eccentric. Take these examples of real life:

He invited us over one evening for catfish. We got there, sat at the table and were served catfish. Period. No slaw, no French fries, no tea to drink, no nothing else. Just fried catfish, and plenty of it. UMMMM. I had to ask for a glass of water with which to wash it down. This also happened another time with chicken…

Christmas was another hit-and-miss with Dad. Some years we did not get even an acknowledgment that it was a holiday (although we always gave him a present and would dutifully trek the couple hours to his home for some semblence of festivities). And then some years there would be lavish displays, but odd ones. How about when my brother and I each got an entire, beautiful, expensive set of luggage—two Christmases in a row. It’s like he and my stepmother thought, “That luggage went over so well last year, so let’s just do it again!” Never mind that my brother and I were poor as church mice and did not travel. We sure had enough luggage for it, should we decide to take the grand European tour.

One Christmas he and my stepmother showed up unexpectedly at our Christmas Eve celebration, where all my siblings and my mother had gathered. Dad had at first
declined and then, at the last minute, hopped in the car. On the way they had stopped at a store bought presents, although no time to wrap them. We were shocked--Dad had foregone buying anyone anything for several years, so all the little grandkids (five of them ranging in age from 8 to 2) gathered around with sparkling eyes, realizing that PawPaw had presents! One by one, the presents were pulled from the sacks and handed out--to each adult. There was nothing, not so much as a candy cane, for the children. Amazing...

He build his dream house, and it was a beauty. It was way bigger than he and my stepmother needed, and he was able to incorporate everything in that house that he wanted. You know, like the side-by-side commodes in the master bathroom? I never could quite get this. I suppose it was so that he and she could do their morning constitutional together and easily pass the parts of the newspaper back and forth…too much togetherness for me. I've only seen this style of toiletry one other place: that would be barracks-style prison.

The eccentricity was not his, alone, I’m afraid, for it did not stop with his death. A year or so before he died, their beloved dog, “Duke,” had to be put down after years of loyalty. My stepmother was particularly moved by his passing, and had his remains cremated and stowed in beautiful mahogany urn which was kept at her bedside (she being as loyal to Duke as he was to her).

When my father died, my stepmother had him cremated without so much as asking our opinion and without any service whatsoever. She put dad in the urn with Duke, as there was plenty of room. We kids did hold a memorial service for my father, and my stepmother was kind enough to lend us the urn with Duke and Dad in it for that purpose. Surreal.

Since that time we have little contact with our stepmother, but we have heard through the grapevine that she decided to put Dad in the veteran’s cemetery. My question is this: Is this some kind of fraud, because I simply do not believe Duke was a veteran…

I’ve thought over my father’s life a lot these past few days, and V, who knew him most of her life, urged me to write about him. I do miss him now that he’s gone and, in a lot of ways he added richness to my life in addition to pain. As an adult I have come to understand that his behaviors, hard as they were on his family and inexcusable as they were, sprang from some insecurity or emptiness within him, and I am sad for that.

You will probably hear more about this character in this blog...he is rich fodder for posts. C

Saturday, July 25, 2009

C: Connections.

Some of you may recall that I took my first-ever cruise the beginning of this year, compliments of my mother-in-law. (See that post on February 1--I can't do the link thing for some reason). As I have been thinking lately about the connectivity of blogging, I remembered a “connection” incident I had on my flight toward that wonderful sailing vacation.

As I boarded the second plane of my journey, I sat on the aisle by a couple, W and his wife Y, who occupied the middle and window seats. W looked at me as I sat down and with the most serious voice and the most serious face said to me, "Excuse me, but you aren't going to be slow in getting out of here when we get to Florida are you?"

"Oh," I replied, "Do you have a close connection to make?"

"No, no, but...well, I mean I was just wondering if you were going to be slow or if you will quickly get out when the plane pulls up so that we can get out?"

Oh, dear! I recognized this fidget, as I hate to wait on the plane, too, but this was a little magnified. I could tell he meant business, and I more than halfway expected him to ask me to switch over to the window so that he and his wife could slide over one seat closer to freedom. (She, by the way, was sitting quietly watching the exchange with a Mona Lisa smile). I was confident of one thing: no seat exchange was going to happen.

I decided to put him as much at ease as I could and truthfully said, "Not to worry! The deplaning is absolutely my least-favorite part of flying. I'll be out of this seat in a flash."

He visibly relaxed, forcing a bit of a smile at me. "Okay," he quietly said.

Having just come off of a couple of successful spontaneous airport stranger conversations, I decided to press my luck. "Hi, I'm C," I ventured.

"Oh, uh, we're W and Y from...[not the South]," he replied.

"Well, W., I am so glad to meet you, and I share your lack of patience in the whole deplaning process, but don't you think we must be flexible? I mean, what are we losing by not dashing off the plane? Five minutes?"

In his most assured voice, he answered: “Nope, no flexibility in this. I'm going to want to get right off this plane!"

I laughed and tried to strike up a different conversation. He was having none of my flexibility talk, and he remained tense and aloof until something miraculous happened: we met at his "passion point." (Don't worry, no XXX here.)

Y spoke up. "Say, isn’t' that your red bag stowed up there across the aisle?" I confirmed.

"Honey, she's on our ship! I saw her cruise line tag!"

Mister immediately loosened up. "Are you on the Ms Eurodam?" he asked. Again, I confirmed.

This man opened up like an artesian well! He was an absolute fountain of information on the subject of cruises in general (he's been on 21) and on our cruise line in particular, it being one of his very favorites. Enthusiastically this couple began to feed me tips and, well, appetizers for the cruise because our conversation sure whetted my appetite for the cruise experience!

While we were talking, our meager airline lunch arrived. Pulling out an antibacterial wipe, W carefully washed down both sides of his tray table. Y smiled as she said, "He's just as meticulous at home! Everything must be clean, clean, clean! I consider it my bonus!"

We spent the rest of the flight in our pleasant cruise conversation, quickly become “old friends.” Our plane landed in Florida, and I jumped right up out of my seat as soon as possible, true to my word.

As we left, W said sheepishly, "You know, I don't often tell people how many times I've cruised--this is my second this year."

"Why?" I asked.

"Well, they tend to think I'm crazy."

My reply: "who cares what they think?" This couple had found something they love to do, and they are passionate about it. I say, "Good for them!"

Just talking about cruises unwound W and made him such a great airplane seat mate. Regaling me with ship stories and tips made him forget about schedule anxiety, and it softened that meticulous streak. It's just all about finding what people are interested in, I guess.

During my week at sea, I never ran into W and Y. On our next-t0-last day, our cabin phone rang. It was W, offering to buy us a drink in one of the ship’s bars. My sister-in-law and I took him up on it. This couple was so relaxed (of course, they admitted to having several drinks before we got there, which could have helped).

W was just eager as could be to know if my cruise experience had lived up to his predictions. He was ecstatic to know that it had and wanted badly for me to right then go and begin arranging my next voyage because they give you “such good deals” when you book ahead from the ship. I declined, knowing that my budget would require some extensive planning before I could manage that.

As we parted company, they took my e mail address, promising pictures. And all I could think was, "God, You are soooo diverse in your creativity!"

So, as I thought about blogging the other day, I thought about W. He started out such an up-tight grouch; but once we connected, he was a delight! (Wouldn't want to live with him, mind you, but he was a great seat mate!). I think we all hunger for connections with each other and shared passions and sorrows...my thought for the day. C

Monday, July 20, 2009

C: Don't Forget Him...He's Ours

I'm pretty sick this morning thinking about our soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, 23 years old, in the hands of some scary people--because he is in service to us.

I just can't resist writing this to say to whomever reads it:. "Don't forget Bowe. Pray for him as much as possible. We owe him that much, at least."

I can't imagine what he might be going through over there in Afghanistan, but even if he is well-treated, his fear must be enormous. And just think, too, of his family. It is such a desperate situation. C

Friday, July 17, 2009

C: On Spilling My Guts (not the possum ones)

I sort of ended my last post (see Stick Horse Cowgirls: C:Possum Days) with a quote from Isak Dinesen (author of "Out of Africa") about the healing effect of telling stories--of just turning your sorrows into a story for others. I'm thinking it may be akin to "confession is good for the soul," and and why talking in therapy can be so effective. I believe that it is simply a function of our innate need for one another and for connection.

When my husband ordeal first started--shattering the fairytale life I had lived--I bent my friends' ears unmercifully. It seemed that talking about this disaster gave some sort of relief; like vomiting when you have a sick stomach. (Sorry for that imagery, but it seems so appropriate. You know, getting the poison out of your system). I would say the same things to these friends over and over; asking the same questions over and over. I know now that it was a way for me to try and make sense of a senseless situation.

During this time I bought a piece of art which so richly illustrates my dumping of words on my friends over and over and over again. See a poor photo of it below, depicting a standing figure (me) covering up a friend with an avalanche of words...the title of the work is "What Friends are For."

Then V put me on to blogging! She had started reading all you people out there on the web and was so intrigued by your stories. I was a bit put off at first. Truthfully, it seemed a little like ego self-massage, and my first inclination was to name our blog "As If You Care," because my thought was, "Who cares about my sordid soap opera?"

But, V and I dove into it and, as I warmed up to writing and sending my thoughts out to God-only-knows-where, I realized that the exercise of expression, alone, was worth something to me. I had a whole infinite realm to spill my guts to now. So, I began (yes, I admit it) to hog the writing on Stickhorse Cowgirls. V can hardly get a word in edgewise, but that has worked out, because V's life has taken a little Roller Coaster ride, too. Don't worry, she's fixin' to write about it...

So, okay, back to the point...I was enjoying this writing thing and then along came a little bonus. Actually, it is a very significant bonus: Your comments. And then, my response by reading your blogs in reaction to your comments, and getting to know you through your wonderful words. And finding ("Suprize, suprize, suprize," as Gomer Pyle would say) that I DO, indeed care about your lives. And it gave me a flash of hope that you care about mine. I can't tell you what this did for me.

So, moving right along to last week and the subject of my last post: The week was hectic, to put it mildly, and then there was the possum guts of my once-true-blue husband pulling the twin sneakies of trying to cheat me on taxes and unveiling the birth of his love child. It was a hard hit, so I did what I had learned to do--I spilled my guts.

All during this I was receiving encouragement from all of you. Some of this was from posts prior to these recent events, but the residual encouragement from them came at just the right time. I spent some time this morning trying to incorporate into this post the names and comments and little gifts I received, but there were two fears in doing this:
1. This post would become waaay to long for me to name each of you encouragers individually; and
2. If I tried, I'd sure as shootin' leave someone important out.

If you have the time, just read the comments and follow those links to the sites to see what I mean. You bloggers are magnificent.

So, suffice it to say that you blogging friends have been a source of inspiration and support for me. I have loved the way you have encouraged me and the way you shared your similar troubles with me as a way to give me hope that I, too, can survive this tribulation. It brought to mind a Scripture:
And the picture that I have put with this Scripture is not idle--it is an illustration of how I feel from the encouragement I received from you all. It is like I have many hands to hold as I struggle through life. I pray, pray, pray that I can be an encouragement to someone as you all have been to me.
So, let me end by saying simply:More guts-spilling soon...C

Thursday, July 9, 2009

C:Possum Days

Well, I've been away from writing. Let me just give you the thumbnail sketch of my last week:

A week ago Tuesday, I flew to meet my mother-in-law (1100 miles away) to drive her here. We were two nights on the road (more about that in a later post).

MIL was here three days with me awaiting furniture, and my sister (who lives near) sold her house and moved in with me, along with her husband, three kids and three dogs (her fourth and eldest child went to my brother's house).

So, for nine days now there have been eleven people living in my house (plus five dogs and a cat). There are people everywhere. My mother-in-law and I are bunking together in my bed. My two front rooms look like a storage unit. Just look at our front living room:

We've actually been doing great! We get tired of each other, and the kids (youngest is 8) are a bit out of sorts not having all their things and having to sleep on the floor, but it's been a family time. We think my sister will close on their purchased home this Thursday, moving the weekend, so we're looking at another week.

My mother-in-law is nearly set up. She's got her utilites and is awaiting the arrival of her furniture on Monday. That place is shaping up, too. In a couple of weeks, she and I will be ready to start for "normalcy." Here she is, getting her kitchen set up:

The turmoil of so many in the house, routine out of sorts, has me sleeping not so well. I fall into bed and asleep but am wide awake by 3 a.m., thinking of the work for the day, how to sneak out of the house so early without interrupting anyone else's night. You can see two rooms here, sleeping bags and mattresses on the floor:

I did sneak out on Thursday morning and was pulling out of my driveway at 4:17 a.m., eager to get to the office and start my busy day. As I rounded a curve on my country road, I saw a possum in the middle of my lane. Too late to swerve, I hit him good. That is sickening enough--the few times I have hit an animal with my car have been most distressing. But it was a whopper of a hit because "something" fluid sprayed all over my hood and windshield. Yuck! At 4:40 a.m. I was sitting in the drive-through "super soak" carwash at the local Shell station, hoping that the carwash could take care of the possum guts.

(note: the possum shown is not the "real" possum--it is for re-enactment purposes only. No possums were harmed in the presentation of this possum-killing illustration)

It was an omen, because it turned into a "possum guts" kind of day. It was later in the morning that I found out that
1) my wayward husband (59) who is shacked up with his 31 year old has a new baby (no fool like an old fool), and

2) That he's monkeying with taxes, and--if he has his way(not going to happen)--I will be left with a big, unexpected tax hickey.

We're working toward divorce (I am NOT going to be stampeded into that to my financial detriment!), but I guess he and she just could not wait until matrimony to reproduce (most likely "she," since it's her third one by a man married to some else--her modus operandi).

I had known for a while now that divorce is inevitable, but this was a pretty hard kick in the teeth--a "possum guts" all over me, if you will. And it was for my son, too, who is grown but still our only child and who had always been the center of the universe. It is surreal to think of my husband of 39 years--all but the last two wonderful--having a whole life without us. Not supposed to be this way...

But, it's going to be okay, I am convinced. My projects with mother-in-law are moving along happily, and I have have this houseful of proof that I have a loving family who support me. I have come to the conclusion that all the confusion of the crowded house is timed perfectly to keep me from spinning into depression at this latest news of my husband's mid-life insanity.

And, I must confess, the darker side of me is actually chuckling a bit inwardly as my mind imagines hubby gearing up to send one through college at nearly 80 years old...sheesh! One never knows...if you think you have life under control, believe me, you are wrong. Reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books:

...the earth was made round so that we could not see very far down the road.
--Isak Dinesen
(Baroness Karen von Blixen), in Out of Africa

Believe me, if I could have seen the curvature of my life coming, I'd have been trying to dodge it. I would avoid all "possum days" if I could.
Probably not the best thing in the broad scheme of things (I'm still working on this philosophy...you know that God has a plan and His is best?)

And, I can't leave without saying that I owe you all a whole 'nother post on the uplifts I got from by blogging friends. Blogging just helps--it reminds me of yet another Isak Dinessen quote:

All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.

While I was stressing out through this time--not even writing--I was receiving unanticipated encouragement from those of you out there in cyberspace. It's a wonderful thing--I'll write about it, of course,watch for it. And the Baroness Blixen was correct: writing this story helps--bless you all. - C

Friday, July 3, 2009

C: Postscript to Post on Gertie

My mother just read and replied concerning my post on 6/27/09 about my grandmother Gertie. She said she recalls the "Christmas of no gifts," and walking home from a friend's house with her older sister. They were speculating on just what they had done to cause Santa to skip their house at Christmas. My mother remembers that the speculation centered on instances of their disobedience of their mother, including skating on the frozen creek!!

More to come...thanks for listening! C
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