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, June 30, 2010

C: So Aptly-Named—“Vanity Fair”

Scan_Pic0001 Look at this cover of Vanity Fair magazine.  Has there ever been a more beautiful human?  I was strolling through the store and spied it.  I was young when Liz and Richard Burton were heating up, but I know they were legendary, and the cover piqued my interest.   I bought it.

Sure enough, I turned right to the Taylor-Burton Romance article and began reading about the steam that was generated on the set of Cleopatra, and all the ups and downs of these “lovers.”  The article characterized the “affair” between these two already-marrieds as “scandalous for the times.”  I guess the implication is that it would be no scandal today…

I never made it to the end of the article,  however.  It became clear that Liz and Dick were in love alright, but only with themselves.  These shallow people soon became boring, extremely one-dimensional.  And they don’t come off as particularly smart.  I turned to see if there was anything of real interest in this expensive magazine.

I found it.  

The article is called “Something About Sally,” and oh my!  It is about Sally Quinn, journalist; erstwhile (briefly, very briefly) anchorwoman at CBS; and, according to this article, the zenith of D.C. society.  Apparently, Sally is a rather polarizing figure: one either adores or loathes her; no in-between.

I was puzzled that the Quinn and her husband would cooperate with this article because it sure wasn’t flattering.  We find at the end that they were not amused with the finished product.  No doubt.

Sally worked as a young journalist for the Washington Post and, according to this article, seduced its editor, Ben Bradlee, never mind he was married with children and twenty years her senior.  Nothing gets in Sally’s way.

To the right is the lead picture of the article, captioned: “Sally Quinn in the living room of her historic Georgetown home, which once Scan_Pic0002belonged to Abraham Lincoln’s son.”   We learn in the article that Sally set her sights on this townhouse because of the prestige of its historic significance. 

The owner, however, initially refused to even consider an offer from Quinn, so much did she despise her.  After being pestered, the owner jacked the price up over double the appraised price and allowed Bradlee to tour it alone, refusing to let Quinn in, saying to him, “Sally will never live in this house unless you pay a premium.”  He did.  $2.5 million in 1983.

Sally has devastated Bradlee’s relationship with each of his children prior to her arrival; and he has acquiesced.  Apparently, he doesn’t care.  The article was inspired by something Quinn did recently: intentionally scheduling their son’s wedding smack on top of Bradlee’s granddaughter’s (Greta)  already-scheduled wedding.  It created a huge social stir, so much was it a public smack in the face by Quinn to her step-family. 

Here’s what she said in an article she wrote in the Post about the incident:  “Over Christmas Greta’s mother and I came to an understanding that, because of existing tensions, it would be best  if none of us attended Greta's wedding.  Happily, we did not have a single overlapping guest.”  The underlined emphasis is mine—to underscore my incredulity.  No overlapping guests?  I guess except for Bradlee, huh?

Okay, I could go on and on.  The portrait emerges of a circle of folks totally bent on having their own way right down to the tiniest detail of life.  And they do not care who they step on to get it.  This is one article I finished—in utter amazement.  You just should read it…really.

So, in search of more meaningful fare, I flipped through the pages.  Here’s what I landed on next:


These little ladies are British nobility.  There’s another page of them—I couldn’t be bothered to scan both, I’m afraid.  The girls are titled, for instance: “Lady Lucia St. Clair Erskin, second daughter of the seventh Earl of Rosslyn.  Gown by Oscar de la Renta.” 

Declaring that these women are “lavishly-titled” and they have a “disconcerting ability to wither and arouse with a single haughty glance,” the short article seems to imply that these privileged women have meritorious, meaningful work; to-wit:

Lady Tatiana Mountbatten, daughter of the fourth Marquess of Milford Haven, who attends college, models, and daily trains her two dressage horses.

Ah, yes, real work…

Who are these people?! 

All of them: Liz, Sally, Tatiana??

The other side, I guess…fascinating.  C.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

C: Joie de Vivre!

r_joie-de-vivre009 Yeah, it’s French.  And, yeah, I’m faking it—I can’t speak French, at least not yet, but it’s the phrase that came to mind this morning.  See?  I know a little…

I found myself wanting to write.  But about what?  Those of us in Blogdom know that one way to get a post done is to sit at the keyboard and let our fingers do the walking…mine just seemed to take off.

I thought about taking off on a comment that Vickie of Sand Flat Farm made on my last post on cussing, no less.  Her point is that we are growing “numb” to things…yes, that’s a post all right.  But this morning I don’t feel like soap box ranting (do I hear a collective sigh of relief?).  Vickie’s inspiration will wait on another day.  No, I think I feel like just reporting.  On life. 

When V first dragged me into blogging and we were considering names for our blog, one of the first names my cynical mind came up with was “As if You Care!”  But I find that I do care about your mundane little life details, weird as it seems, even to me.  I love seeing the peas you have pulled from your garden; sharing a lovely meal with you, even if it is vicariously; and seeing that your life, too, has its ups and downs.  Finding out about you and your life  is what I enjoy most about your blogs: little windows into who you are and whaIMG_0210t’s happening with each of you.   Now, for a window into mine—today.

First, we are blessed to have my mother-in-law’s sister visiting with us.   She will be here a little over  a month, all told.  E arrived here a few days after her 87th birthday and a day before MIL’s 80th.  Naturally, we had to celebrate at one of our finest restaurants.  My mother joined us, and we dined on Walleye, Veal and wonderful free-range chicken stuffed with cheeses. 

MIL, also a blogger, presented E with a bound edition of her blog, Immigrant Daughter, which contains so much of their shared history.  E was ecstatic—what better birthday reminder than warm memories of a shared life?

Above are the two birthday girls, toasting each other, and toasting life.

And the, picture below, is my mother—not really wanting her picture IMG_0211taken, but being a good sport, nevertheless.

We all four have much to complain about:  E and MIL are both bound to their canes, uncharacteristic for women who were active through their lives.  My mother is having diabetes-related vision problems; terrifying.  And me, well, you know I can complain.  But what we all felt was “blessed,” joie de vivre!  We toasted each other, and the birthdays, and the years, and life.  We splurged on dessert.  Amazing. 

My life is humming—well, more than humming, it’s roaring.  I never catch up at work and, for all that stress, I am able to see that as a blessing, too. 

And, hubby?  For those of you who have followed his miserable departure from our lives, here is the report:  His new business bellied-up.  Just over a month ago, he and girlfroldwomaninshoeiend (so I’m told) sold most of their household goods in a yard sale and quickly, quietly slinked out of town leaving debts everywhere, including his landlord a mini-storage unit and a car-financing company, all of whom have called me and some of my family looking for him. 

Word has it he has  moved to his girlfriend’s border hometown, over a thousand miles from here.  He turned sixty years old last month, has no job, no savings, no retirement plan, no home. 

What he has is a baby under a year old, two young stepsons and a residence with his girlfriend’s family.  I imagine the house is crowded, don’t you?

I know he is in desperate financial straits because he has called many people we know—including my own family—asking for money. 

He is surrounded by people of no relation to him (legal or blood) except for his baby.  He is forging new relationships, for example, with his girlfriend’s parents, who are younger than him by several years.  All are folks who know nothing of his history, and that feels sad to me.  But, maybe not; maybe he’s happy. 

I have reached the point where I pity and feel for him but have come to see him as separate from my own life, which I take as a healthy sign.

So, in the life-comparison game, I’m the clear winner, I think.  It has taken two years, but I have come to understand that life’s troubles are just gonna be there; that those troubles can redefine us—or maybe free us; and that life, in spite of them is beautiful.  It is a joie de vivre that exists in spite of circumstance.  My faith and my family and my roots are part of the way it is possible for me, in spite of my woes.

Wow!  I didn’t know this post would do this.  Thanks to you all for helping me realize and enunciate that realization.

As I looked for images to illustrate joie de vivre, this, from Gandhi, appeared.  I use it here because it does list some of the things I have learned through my sorrows:

joie de vivre gandhi

I think these ten are just good advice.  I haven’t absorbed them all, true enough, but I’m nearer to that goal, more quickly because of my troubles. 

So, there’s the report…hope you are all doing well, too.  C

PS – Are you following the Gore rumors?? Unsubstantiated as yet, but they will be proved out, mark my words.  Remember, I told you we’d find out that Al is slipping into that sad “Old Man Worried About Sexuality, Virility, Manliness” state…all too common.  A blindness.  Sad.  Watch and see…

Thursday, June 24, 2010

V: Wal-Mart Friends & Wonder Woman #1

Earlier I was checking in on Debbie at www.dcwisdom.wordpress.com.and enjoyed her funny post about an experience in Wal-Mart. I "commented" to Debbie about how I've become friends with a woman, who works the evening shift as a clerk at Wal-Mart. Her day job is in an office at a hospital nearby, and she works the second job to help take care of her aged (Alzheimer victim) mother and often has one of her adult kids and grandkids living with her. When I was taking an evening class a while back, I got into the habit of stopping by Wal-Mart to pick something up on my way home. I always park near the garden center because I like to check out the stuff and it's not nearly so congested as the rest of the store! She would often be working there alone in the not so busy garden center area, so she usually was the one who checked me out. Often we'd get into a little conversation if no one was waiting, and that's how I learned that she also had a mother with this terrible disease, and we would commiserate over prodigal children and helping to raise grandchildren. Our oldest daughters even have the same name!

I'm convinced that women bear the brunt of all the family responsibilities-
always have. Among women, there are those who bear more than the normal burdens of life, and "C" aptly refers to these women as Wonder Women. They may be accomplished by being a pioneer in a field not open to women in the past, such as her octogenarian law partner. But we can never forget the many ordinary women, who held families together and sacrificed to raise their kids right. And by the way, is anyone really ordinary? Considering that made me think of Rita. Rita was our neighbor who lived across the street from "C" and I when we were kids. Rita was a registered nurse, and the only mom who worked in our neighborhood. She had to! Her no-good, alcoholic husband couldn't keep a job to support their three kids, and so it was up to Rita to be the main breadwinner. I still remember the black lady, Essie, who stayed in the summers and helped raise Rita's kids. There were no day camps or daycare centers back then for working mothers! When Rita was a nurse in the 50's and 60's, they dressed like this.

Rita was a larger than life personality! She was tall, thin and lanky with a broad smile and the loveliest chestnut hair. Her hairstyle reminded me of the old star, Veronica Lake. Sometimes she'd come over for my mom to help fix her hair. My mom was not a beautician, but she had a knack for fixing hair and we had a couple of neighbors who would come over for coffee and she would put their hair in curlers or help with a perm. Rita had a loud guffaw laugh and I can still see her in my mind's eye, standing in our living room, sharing her newest joke (sometimes off color) with my parents, throwing her head back laughing while slapping her knee with the ever present cigarette dangling between her fingers. Sometimes she brought over a jar of jelly or something she had canned from her family's old farm place. She loved that farm, and considered moving there, but it was too remote to find work there. She was loyal and never complained about her mean husband, but we kids knew. Sometimes her husband came home drunk and in a bad mood and beat them all. My sister was closer in age to Rita's kids and she spent lots of time at their house. The kids told--and it's hard to keep secrets in a little neighborhood. Finally after over 20 years of putting up with him, she decided to end it. He left and we never saw him again. For a while she rented out her house and moved to a town about an hour and half away, but eventually they moved back. In the ensuing years, while raising teenagers alone, Rita underwent two mastectomies and then suffered from a benign brain tumer that was pressing on the optic nerve. Surgery saved her life, and prevented the blindness that had begun to affect her, but she was left with seizures to deal with after that. Do some people just never get a break? Through it all, Rita, never lost her zest for life or her outrageous sense of humor. She married again to a younger fella, and raised his daughter as her own. Her children never approved of the new man and they were estranged for a while. She helped send her stepdaughter to Georgetown University and paid for a lot of it! Then one afternoon she came home and found hubby in bed with a new lady! I don't recall how it came to be, but he stayed in the house and she moved into a rent house. Everyone thought she had really been taken to the cleaners by this jerk! He stayed in the house and drove the new truck that she had bought him? How did that happen?

I do know that one of the ways that Rita dealt with all that life had given her, was her strong faith. Not the usual "church lady; Rita was no shrinking violet of a woman. Her language was often peppered with expletives which was just a normal way of talking to her, and she smoked like a chimney! I've often wondered about all the conservative, country Baptist pastors who dealt with Rita through the years. I'm sure she didn't change her style of talking for them! Although he was known to use a curse word or two, my dad disapproved of cussing women and phonies. A little double standard for sure! But he did like Rita. She was fun and she was real and we all knew that her life was hard. My dad was naturally reserved, but Rita could always get a laugh out of him!

Rita came to my wedding and it was her house I ran to for help when my dad suffered a fatal heart attack in the wee hours of the morning. She was at the funeral. But a few years after that was when she left her unfaithful husband and we lost touch with her. That still makes me sad. "C"'s mom called her a few months ago when she saw the obituary in the newspaper for Rita. She had married a third time which was a shock to me, but was a widow. She passed away in a nursing home in a nearby town. The funeral had been several days before I learned of her death. If I had known, I would have gone to the service. Anyway, I sure wish I had a photo of Rita - or of all the neighborhood moms I grew up with. Life is different now and I miss a lot of it.

So when hubby and I go to Wal-Mart together and I speak to my friend there, he asks "so how do you know her?" "Oh, we talk in the evenings when I go in to buy milk or whatever", I reply. He's a little bewildered and amused that I know so much about her personal life. And there is a little something about her that reminds me of Rita. It may be her chestnut hair. Sometimes, we find our new neighborhood in other places--even Wal-Mart!

So does a particular neighborhood character stand out in your memories? I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

C: @%#*($#$!

no swearingDo you ever say “bad words?”  I admit it, I occasionally lapse.  But, then, I run with a rough crowd—lawyers.  We hear it all and see it all.  Sometimes, try as we might, we pick some of that up.

There are times, I must admit, when a “bad word” is the only thing that seems to fit.  My son told a story recently that just illustrates it:

Three of his friends (fine, church-going, Christian friends—none of them known to swear) were playing basketball at the local Y.  One of them took a flying fall and grabbed his leg, yelling “X@#&#!!” (very bad word).  The two other guys rushed over, “shsshing” him and saying, “Don’t say that!  There are kids around!”

Then they looked down at the leg he was holding to see his foot danbasketballinjurygling, his ankle clearly broken.  Simultaneously, they both let out a “X#$%#@!!”  (same very bad word).

The manager of the gym came running over,  “Guys!” he scolded.  “You will HAVE to tone it down…we have families here!”  Then he looked down at the injury and fairly yelled, X@#(J$#!!”  (Exactly the same very bad word).

Who oh picklesdecides what is a very bad word, anyway?  I mean, we have words of  varying acceptability that actually end up meaning the very same thing.  Some of them are totally verboten, while others—of the same meaning—might be used with your child.  So, it’s not the meaning of the word that counts, it’s the word itself…interesting.

Anyway, I try to be socially acceptable.  But I occasionally slip.  Sorry.  I’ll try not to do it here.  C

Friday, June 18, 2010

C: Books on Wheels Took Me Places!

summer Reading V’s recent post about our childhood sure stirred up memories.  She’s right.  Summer was divine.  While school was always enjoyable for me, summer was the zenith of the year.  We never went to school into June, and we did not return to school until the day after Labor Day, so we had a full three months off.  Summer had a whole different rhythm of life than the rest of the year.  Now that I am an adult, I don’t get to experience that change in beat (although V does, being a school employee).

My passion for reading dates from my early childhood; I’ve been reading since before I went to school.  There came a time when I could not find anything in my school’s library to read because I had read everything that was of remote interest to me.  For sure, I had read all the books on horses, dogs and native Americans, both fiction and nonfiction. 

When I was a child there was no such thing in our area as branch libraries.  The library downtown was the only library, and it was  housed in a big old building.  The children’slr_library1_f section was in the basement.  Here’s a picture of the building, although I remember a parking lot to the right of the picture, and there is where we would park for our library trips.  When Mom would take us or when the school went a few times on a field trip, we entered the basement through the back side of the building to the right.  See those little half windows peeking up from the ground to the right of the picture?  That was where the children’s department was.   Far from being basement-dreary,  it was like stepping into another world for me—a delightful world.

The library had low, child-high chairs placed at long, low tables.  These had big picture books scattered here and yon, and we could just take a seat wherever and begin the journey to wherever the book we chose would lead us.  As I grew older, I roamed the shelves, looking for titles.  We were allowed to take six books at a time, and I recall going back to the car each library trip with my limit tucked under my arm.

bookmobile1 In the summer a special treat was offered by the library: the bookmobile came every other week the three months we were out of school for the summer.  Flyers would be posted around, and the children would gather at the appointed time in the parking lot of the school. 

The bookmobile was a large Winnebago-type vehicle (not nearly as fancy as this one) which was lined with bookshelves full of books.  I think it was designed for kids, as I don’t remember any adults looking for books there. 

I remember that my mother would not let me ride my horse to get books.  She was worried about the presence of the other kids there and about my juggling the books astride my horse.  This was surely wise on her part.

So, we would walk the half-mile or so to the bookmobile, gathering friends as we went so that my brother and I might be accompanied by four or five by the time we got there to join the little throng that had already arrived.  We would all converge on the bookmobile and wait our turn.  The traveling librarian paced the number who could come in at once so there would be no crowding.

I can still remember the hum of the air conditioner as I looked among the bookmobileinside books and how wonderful the cold air felt after standing on the hot summer pavement.  This freebie was an event for us—a social event as well as one to give us summer reading material.  I saw kids at the bookmobile who lived in the community just far enough away that summer meant no contact other than this.  It was good catch-up time.

I don’t know for sure, but I just imagine that with the emergence of branch libraries in neighborhoods, the bookmobile has become more rare; at least I never see any around our town.  I hope it still reaches out to small communities without their own handy library because it is such a good social tool.

Having this bookmobile come to us created a time for visiting with our friends, and excitement would build for the appointed day.  For me, it reinforced the connection between reading and pleasure.  It surely is a treasured summer memory.  C

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

V: Summer Days

I've always loved summer! Here it is mid June and I don't have to go back to work til August! I love to putter around the house and garden, try new recipes, go the Farmer's Market, etc. Eldest daughter is expecting her baby daughter very soon, so I am taking granddaughter to horseback riding camp this week! I would have loved the opportunity to attend a camp like that! "C" and I would play outdoors and get so dirty that the sweat and dirt would accumulate and make grimy rings in the creases of our necks--we called them "sweat beads"! I love my memories of summer growing up in the South!

"C" and I are old enough- ahem- yes, I'm afraid we are are old enough to remember the days before air conditioning! We played outdoors from sunrise to sundown--even after sundown some days and we had no neighborhood pool to go to cool off! Of course, with no air conditioning in our homes we were somewhat acclimated to the heat. We spent many afternoons running through the sprinkler attached to the garden hose. If you looked just right, you'd see a rainbow through the sun's reflection on the sprinkling water. On days when there were afternoon showers, we'd splash barefoot through the running water in the gutters. We welcomed rain those days! It offered a brief respite from the heat. Going barefoot was the highlight of the beginning of summer for me. I begged as soon as the warm days of May came, but my mother stood firm--no wearing shorts, going barefoot, or playing in the sprinkler until the first day of June!

Here is an old photo of my little toddler sister and I enjoying a tea party in our backyard on a summer day! I rememberwhen "C"'s dad built that wooden fence between our homes.

We played in the lawn sprinkler on really hot days and waited in great anticipation for the tinkling bell of the popsickle man's truck! We'd run to our moms for a nickle or dime to buy the frozen treat. You could choose from flavors of lime, root beer, cherry or orange, but my favorite flavor was blue moon--and it stained your lips and tongue blue for hours! During the hottest part of the day, we would go in to watch our favorite tv programs of westerns or cartoons.

Days were carefree with lots of time for a child to just be. We played on the swing set in my backyard while my mother tended her bed of lilliput zinnias or hung out clothes on the line. Our mothers often hung out their wash to dry at the same time, visiting while we kids played under their watchful eye. That is another subject "C" and I discussed recently. We felt safe in our little neighborhood. It really was a village in the sense that parents looked out for each other's family. One day my dad found "C"'s little brother wandering around in his diaper a few streets away and brought him home. We kids were kept in tow by parents who did use corporal punishment to keep us in line. "C"'s mom had her infamous fly swatter and my mom picked a switch off the nandina bush in our front yard if I didn't obey! We kids didn't get away with anything! Life wasn't perfect--our parents weren't perfect, but we somehow ended up being "raised right"!

In this photo my mom and sister are in the middle of our backyard. "C"'s house is behind them.

Today's children are so much more harried and pressured. Overly scheduled, many kids have never known what a lazy, carefree summer can be like--time to use your imagination, read, play in the sprinkler and lay on a quilt on the grass, imagining all sorts of shapes in the cloud formations. Some days "C" and I would lie on a quilt on the hill between our yards and point out clouds that looked like a rabbit or a bear. Once we saw a profile in the clouds that looked like Abe Lincoln, and we imagined many other wondrous things. I can remember us speculating on what lay beyond the blue summer sky - the heavens. Yes, even young children consider these profound mysteries! One afternoon as we sat on the curb by the mailboxes at the street's edge, eating our popsickles, "C" shared a few licks with her beloved black cocker spaniel, Hobo! When I pointed out that a dog's mouth was nasty, she insisted that her love for Hobo made it perfectly fine to let him have a taste!

This is my favorite photo of a typical summer day enjoying my sweet cat, Tom. We always had a litter of kittens--this was before people even thought of spaying or neutering pets!
Tom Cat and Me

So, despite the sometimes miserable heat, I love almost everything about summer. To enjoy the abundance of sunshine, flowers, rainbows, and new kittens. The smell of luscious ripe peaches, strawberries, watermelon. I even love the pungent, earthy odor of the tomato plant, and the heady fragrance of the mimosa and gardenia blossoms. I like the hum of the bumblebee, and the whirrr of the lawnmower, and the smell of freshly mowed grass. And last, but not least, the taste of all those wonderful fruits, berries and melons. The mint that grew in our garden that we put in our sweet iced tea will always remind me of summer meals, and the savory flavor of crisp fried okra. Okra needs a hot climate to flourish, so it only grows in the South! Some folks don't like the slimy texture of boiled okra, but fried okra is never slimy! If you've never tried this distinctively southern delicacy here's a simple recipe:

1 lb. fresh okra (or 1 lb. frozen, diced in a pinch). Okra is fuzzy and can make your hands itch, so I put it in a colander and wash it quickly with cold water. Pat gently with a paper towel and then slice it in 1/2 inch slices, discarding the pod end.

In a bowl, pour enough yellow cornmeal (not mix), seasoned with salt and pepper to taste and dredge the damp okra slices in the cornmeal with a large spoon. While you do this step, you can have about 1/4-1/2 inch oil heating in a cast iron skillet--I suppose any skillet would do--but we always used our heavy black cast iron!

When the oil is sufficiently hot, fry the okra til crispy and golden brown. Drain on a paper towel covered platter. Delicious!

Only a couple of things I don't care for in summer! Sweating and chiggers! Oh yes, and wasp stings. I was stung on 4 different occasions last summer!!!

So what do you like best and least about summer? I'd love to hear!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

C: The Volk’s on You!

In the early 1960’s my father took a civilian attorney position with the Air Force, which maintains a base about 20 miles north of our home.  Hetitan worked on contracts and other legal matters for their Titan II Missile Program, which I suppose is no longer “classified,” especially since one of the silos blew up in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980.

Naturally, my father rubbed elbows with the Air Force brass, and he loved to linger at the Officer’s Club.  Although I never met any of them, my brother and I became vicariously acquainted with these guys, hearing stories of “Colonel” this or “Major” that.  There was one colonel who was not a pvolkswagenblackarticular favorite of my father’s and, I gather, others in the office felt the same way.  We would hear tales of this man’s arrogance and boasting. 

One day the Colonel came in with a new boast.  He had purchased a Volkswagen, later called a “Beetle.”  These little cars were a rarity to us,  and I am sure the guys at the office gathered around to inspect it. 

Why, this little car will go forever on a tank of gas!” The Colonel exclaimed, rubbing in the fact that not only was he the first on the block to have this rarity but that it was a super-smart decision, to boot.  A plan hatched among his staff.

A task force was formed.  Before the Colonel’s first tank ran low, the rest of the guys begin taking turns going by his house every night to “top off” hispouring gas tank out of a gas can.  They all chipped in and shared the burden of keeping the Colonel’s tank full.

His car exceeded all the Colonel’s lofty expectations; he could not help but crow at how his gas gauge was barely showing a dent—after weeks!  The guys paced themselves so that it did appear gas was being used up, albeit it at an astonishingly-slow rate.  And the office staff heard about it—ad nauseum.  Except, of course those in on the joke were barely holding in their laughter.

This went on for weeks, and at one point the Colonel mused that he was going to contact the dealer because he wanted to know if this was normal that his gas mileage number should be three figures per gallon or if he had just happened on to an especially economical unit. 

My father leaped in, saying, “You know, I did a little research on your car, and it appears that after the break-in time you can expect your car to use more gas…kind of opposite to your regular models!”  This seemed to mollify the Colonel’s curiosity about his good fortune and allow the strike force to move to Phase II of the plan.

Phase II consisted of rotating the duty of siphoning gas out of the casiphonr about every other night…just enough to look like the car was turning into a gas guzzler.  This, too, raised the Colonel’s inquisitiveness, and he again considered calling the dealership.  He began tracking his gas mileage and discovered it was in single digits per gallon!  Finally, it was off to the dealership.

I remember my father’s glee as he recounted the entire office staff laughing over their imagined scenarios.  They could all picture the Colonel explaining to the mechanics that his car had gone from triple to single digit gas mileage.  The joke was over and, so far as I knew, the Colonel never was in on it.  He had enough clout that he could have made folks pay for his humiliation, so they had to be content with keeping the joke among themselves.

The Beetle must have made an impression on my father, because we had volkswagencont two in my childhood years, one of which was a stylish little yellow number with a black convertible top, which I wish I had today.

And, the love of Beetles carried over to my wedding day in 1970 when my father announced to all who gathered that he was pleased to present my new husband and me with the keys to a brand-new Volkswagen Beetle!  The entire crowd burst out in applause at his generosity—what a great start this would be for a young couple!  Our little car was dark green in color, on which we immediately plastered a peace symbol decal in the center of the rear window.

Dad’s Colonel Volkswagen joke came back to me the week after my honeymoon.  The dealership called to ask us to come in and “finalizepeace symbol” the sale of the little car, at which we were handed the payment book—with no money down.  It seems that my father, truly, had presented us with only the keys to the car—the payments were all ours!  The Beetle joke was on us….

Never mind!  We were able to pay for it and had many, many happy times in that little car, including fitting our huge German Shepherd in the back seat or, when I was alone, in the front…until I slammed the door on his tail, after which Ace would never get in again.  -C

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

C: Hey There, Little Red Riding Hood….

Do you think that most of us have some primal, unrealistic fear of wolveswolf ?  As a child I did.  As an adult I have grown to love reading and learning about wolves, but that interest also has heavy overtones of some vague fear not so far in the back of my mind.

When I was about five years old my father, fresh from law school, was an insurance adjuster.  This job kept him traveling all over our state.  I vividly recall one evening over supper his recounting of a trip he had made to a small town about sixty miles south of us.  “A large pack of wild dogs are on the loose down there,” he said.  “The entire community is on the lookout, and kids can’t stay out and play until they round them up.”

Why can’t the kids play out?” I asked, wondering how a group of dogs could be a problem.

C, these are wild dogs,” he replied.  “They’re dangerous.  The kids can’t play out because they could be snatched and dragged off by the dogs.  They are like wolves when they get in big packs like that.”

Snatched?!!  Dragged off?!!  Well, let me tell you, that imagery went right to my brain and played over and over like a horror movie.  I remember dreaming about wild dogs.  My mother remembers that when we’d head out for anything more than an hour’s drive away,  I’d ask, “Will there be wild dogs there?”  Clearly, it made an impression.

Not long after that, I was introduced to the Lon Chaney, Jr. Wolfman movie.  OMG!!  To see that wolfman stalking across a meadow in the light of the full moon!  I simply cannot tell you what this was like to me.  And it jumbled all up with that previous imagery of the wild dogs and the real wolves, who—after all—do have that chilling howling.  And I have to confess that, even today, I did not want to find a picture of the wolfman to post here—just a little too scary, still…

Along about the time these horror factors were merging in my mind, my father bought a farm about forty miles away, near his own upbringing and amidst some of his “people.”  My great-aunt Donnie and Uncle Fred (written about in an earlier post) lived there, caring for the stock, which included my first horse, a little black gelding named “Champ.”  We’d go up there on weekends, and I’d ride Champ around through our pasture and into our woods.

One day we were all milling about the yard in front of the farm house.  A truck pulled upon the dirt road which ran before it, and a distant relative of my father’s got out.  He pointed to the body of a canine tied across the top of his pickup.  My father exclaimed appropriately over the “kill” (which now seems quite sad to me), saying “Well, I’ll be…so there still are wolves in these parts!”

There ensued a discussion about the probable wolf population in the area and whether/how one could tell the howling of wolves from thahowlingt of coyotes.

Wolves?! Coyotes?!!  HOWLING??!!!  Okay, this was almost more than  I could take in.

From that point forward, I began angling to leave our farm well before dark set it.  I did not want to even hear howling, and I sure did not want to run up on one of these wild creatures.  Who knew?  There might even be wild dogs to boot!

One afternoon my mother loaded my brother and me in the car and took off for the farm without my father.  He was working.  We were going to get vegetables from Ain’t Donnie’s garden.

moon Well, Mom picked and picked, and I got more and more and more nervous.   It was getting dark.  Real dark by my book.  Furthermore, the moon was rising.  The MOON?!  Yes, a big, round moon.  I knew full well what the moon meant in terms of this wolf lore.  I was fit to be tied by the time we set out.  I remember sitting silently in the back seat of the car, barely able to look out the windows for fear of seeing glowing eyes on the side of the road, yet unable to keep from it. 

As we drove the winding, hilly country road in what was now the dark of the night, we started down a steep incline.  Understand that this was a country dirt road, complete with big rocks in it and ruts from running rain.  All of a sudden we hit somethincountryroadg!  There was a thud! followed by a grinding noise.  My mother pulled over to the side of the road.  She was afraid to drive any further for fear we would hurt the car.  She ordered us out of the car to walk to the dim house lights we saw a bit further down the road.

Out!! Was she nuts?  Was she kidding?? Apparently not.  I recall getting out of the car and, really, I cannot remember another thing about this incident other than feeling pure terror, that the diagnosis was the oil pan (does that sound right?) had been knocked loose, and that we somehow got home safely.

It absolutely solidified my fear of wolves and wild dogs for the rest of my childhood—without ever actually seeing either! 

My mother barely recalls this incident, considering it a nuisance.  For me, it was a horrifying experience.

And today I occasionally go try cases in the little town down south with the wild dogs long ago.  And even now I think of those dogs when I do.

Many years later when my son was about six, my father gave him a radio alarm clock for his birthday.  He was so taken with the concept that he requested that we set it for him when he went to bed so that he could listen to a little music, which would go off in half an hour or so.  We left him happily tuned in to an “oldies” station.

His father and I were two rooms down the hall, getting ready for bed when our little son came flying down the hallway and dove headfirst under our blankets.  When we asked what was the matter, he said “A really scary song came on the radio—can I sleep with you???”red riding hood

We went down the hallway and heard Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, singing, “Hey, there, Little Red Riding Hood.  You sure are lookin’ good…” complete with a wolf howl….

So, I ask you again: is there some innate fear of these creatures in us all? C

Sunday, June 6, 2010

C: About Bud (but turns out to be about Cassie…yet again!)

horse shoeing Some of you have asked for more of the story of Cassie, Barney and my childhood farrier, Bud, after my previous post on Cassie.  Indeed, that post spurred lots of memories for me, and my brother and sister have chimed in their own, bringing up that long unplowed memory ground.  If you haven’t read it, that previous post would give you a back story to this one. 

It came to me as I was writing this jesse jamesthat “Bud’s” real name was “Jesse James ‘S.’”  I had forgotten that, having become so accustomed to calling him “Bud.”  I doubt  that many knew his real name.  My brother was surprised when I mentioned that to him, saying, “You’ve got to be kidding!”  I worked for our father some, and we did some legal paperwork for Bud, so his real name was required.

I can’t tell you how fittin’ it was that Bud was also “Jesse James!”  Why he had a buckboard, wore cowboy boots everywhere he went (which wasn’t far, mind you) and he lived a very “Old West” lifestyle.  All he lacked for a complete costume was a six-gun…I think if he had worn one, it would have been a scary thing.  Not that I ever considered Bud dangerous.  It’s just that neither was he considered the most responsible person in the community. 

As clean and sprightly as Cassie was, slow Bud was dirty—always.  I’m searching my brain now for a time when I can remember Bud “cleaned forge up.”  Truth be known, I’m not so sure we’d have been able to tell “clean.”  Remember, Bud spent a lot of his time over the fire of the forge and at the hot, dirty work of shoeing horses.  There was a “darkness” to Bud, like the soot of the forge had been absorbed by his skin.  In any event, “dark” was a word that came to my mind in thinking of his physical appearance.

They say that smell is the sense which connects us to the past more than any other sense. It is certainly the sense that is evoked when I think of Bud, even these nearly 50 years later.  Bud always smelled of ash and sweat mixed with an ever-present odor of alcohol.  Even as a child I realized that, in addition to his other infirmities, Bud was an alcoholic. 

If there was a “fear factor” about Bud, it was the alcohol that caused it in us kids.  Our own father was an alcoholic, and he appeared to be a different person when he would come home drunk; challenging and sometimes violent in a way he never would have been sober.  We kids knew that alcohol made people do things that they might not otherwise do, so our familiarity with Bud was tinged with a skittishness.

I’m not sure why, but Bud seemed to drink mostly alone, away from home.  We knew this because we would often come upon him in the woods drinking straight from a whiskey bottle.  Sometimes my brother would “spy” and discover where Bud’s stash of booze was in the woods.

My good friend, “Debbie,” had her own horse, and we rode almost every day.  There were acres—square miles, really—of unfenced woods for horseback riding.  We had broad, shaded trails much like shown in this picture.  These were old logging roads, just perfect for cantering and practicing our horsemanship.  Then there were what we horsesinwoods called “paths” which we followed when we felt like exploring, pushing our horses through the briars and thick branches along what I believe probably were game trails.  Or, if there was no trail at all, we would just allow our horses to pick their own way between trees, seeing where we would end up and knowing there was no danger of becoming lost. 

Our horses had a keen sense of where the barn was and would always get us home.  Debbie and I often used their homing sense, and we were totally relaxed on the issue of getting lost—I can’t remember ever feeling lost in the woods.  And they were extensive enough that a person afoot certainly could have become disoriented.  Not so with our horses!

Sometimes these explorations were rewarded by the discovery of a cool, mossy creek bank on which to rest our mounts and to have our lunch while our horses munched the grass nearby.  Some days Debbie’s beagle, “Gertrude,” and my mongrel, “Buck,” would trail along with us, sniffing and working the sides of the trails, checking out the underwhiskeybrush.

We knew these woods well, and we knew “Bud’s territory.”  These areas were in the woods, okay, but not so far in.  I assume that Bud, almost always afoot, stashed his whiskey conveniently near the road.  I don’t  recall ever coming upon him in the deep woods.

Now, I know what you must be thinking.  Two young girls in the woods alone.  And with a weirdo commonly out and about…But, you know, I don’t think we were ever in danger.  As I said, we were “skittish” of Bud.  Although we dealt with him when he tended to our horses and would politely exchange “hellos” when we passed him on the road, we never went near him when we would find him in the woods. 

And we always knew when he was there.  We were very aware of our horses’ body language, so experienced were we with them.  They or the dogs told us of people in the woods long before we could otherwise have known.  It would have been hard to sneak up on us and, I guarantee it, anyone on foot would have had a hard time snatching  us.  I think our biggest danger was of being thrown by a spooked horse.  

Back to Bud.  I’m not sure why Bud found it necessary to hide his whiskey in the woods.  It surely was not because his parents did not know he drank—everyone knew he drank, and those without previous knowledge of that would soon know by his odor.  Perhaps it was Barney putting the quietus on his drinking, because after Barney’s death Bud was sometimes seen on the road in a state of obvious inebriation.  My mother confirms that it seems to her, too, that the public evidence of Bud’s drinking escalated after Barney was gone.

I recall seeing Bud riding his tall mare down the road.  My sister remembers that this particular horse was named “Flicker.”  She is 12 years younger than me and recalls asking Bud the name of his horse (yes, she was on first-name basis with horses, too).  “Flicker,” he replied.  “Like in My Friend Flicker.”  She remembers the shock she felt in later years when she picked up a copy of Mary O’Hara’s classic book to find that it was actually My Friend Flicka!

Often as he made his way down the road, Bud would weave and bob in the saddle, like he could barely stay on, clearly drunk as a skunk. 

This scenario ended, though, when Bud and his horse were hit one night (yes, night!) on one of our country “highways.”  Bud and Flicker were obviously at fault, I don’t believe Flicker had any tail lights on her.   She was dark and probably impossible to see.  A bad mix with Bud’s driving style.  The police cited Bud with some sort of alcohol-related citation. 

My father, trialthe lawyer, defended Bud successfully!  Had they charged Bud with public intoxication, they might have made it stick, but the charge had more to do with impeding traffic, etc. and my father found an existing statute giving horses and horse-drawn vehicles right-of-way over motorized vehicles on secondary roads, which technically made the poor car driver at fault. 

Bud escaped the law’s consequences, but his leg was shattered.  (I am happy to report that Flicker survived, seemingly okay).  The injury limited Bud’s ambulation to hobbling.  Apparently, it also ended his horseback riding days and he also ceased shoeing horses.  I imagine the bending over to perform this job became impossible with his bum leg.  We had to find one of those new-fangled farriers who came to your house in a truck.

You may recall that Bud and Cassie bought themselves a mobile home after Barney’s death.  Over the next couple of years they purchased several more and rented them out so that they could have some income.  My father drew up a little rental agreement for them to use. 

Sometime after I had married at the ripe-old age of 18, I learned of Bud’s death by reason of a beating he had received at the hands of one of his tenants.  Bud lingered in the hospital for a few days with a head injury and finally slipped away into the eternal Old West.

The man with whom he had fought never faced any charges, it being said of him by the investigators that he was defending himself.  I believe both men were drunk.  No one who had known Bud as we did ever believed Bud would attack anyone.  We all felt that this was an injustice but, really, who knows the truth?

This left little Cassie pretty much alone.  She had a sister, but Ethel lived 15 or so miles away and had her own strict husband, although nothing like what poor Cassie had to endure.  As I write, I wonder: Was Cassie’s life sad from loneliness after the death of her son?  Or was it a relief to have her life to herself at last, free from tyranny of her husband and of the responsibility from a clearly-damaged grown son.  I wish I had thought to ask her sister Ethel when we talked, but I didn’t…

As we discussed this story, my mother recalled something I had never known.  She said that Mrs. “Y,” a widow who lived across the road from my father’s office, was a long-time friend of Cassie’s.  She said that after Barney was gone, Cassie would spend the night on occasion with Mrs. Y.  I was amazed at this revelation!

Now, these women only lived maybe a quarter mile apart.  Cassie could easily have gone home after a visit.  It makes me smile to think that Cassie and Mrs. Y spent some nights together for their mutual company. 

Mrs. Y lived in the same home she had occupied for decades china teawith her husband, between the homes of her two grown daughters.  It was a humble  dwelling but Mrs. Y loved pretty things.  Her yard was ablaze with flowers all summer, and she had little china cups and figurines sitting around, neat as a pin and dust-free.   It makes me wonder what ladylike delights she could have treated Cassie to.

I can picture Mrs. Y and Cassie in the cool of summer evenings, hearing the night sounds through the window screens, perhaps sipping tea, and talking.  It gives me something on which to hang my hope that Cassie’s life was better without either of the men in her life.

What do you think?  C

Saturday, June 5, 2010

C: Why We Divorce (Strictly Anecdotal!)

gore kissWell, Tipper and Al Gore are kaput!  What is the world coming to?   After that kiss at the convention!  After 40 years!

This morning on the way to try a divorce case, I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition discuss the Gore situation.  The conclusion of the article is that, basically, the Gores have “grown apart”  (what I call “drift”), and  that this is a common evolution of a relationship. 

The narrator indicated that the Gores fit in the category she refers to as “the second wave of divorce,” referring to couples who have lasted in a marriage more than twenty years and their increased risk of divorce.  Her take?  “Let’s not call it a ‘tragedy,’ but celebrate it as a part of life…”  So, marriage-for-life seems kaput, too.

As all this was unfolding, I was asked to write a post for an organization composed mainly of “family scientists.”  I am the lone attorney in this group of professors, counselors, etc.   The request was for a post giving my view of the reasons people divorce.  They have surveys and studies abunch done in their scientific ways, but they were interested in my view from the ground, as it were.  The post here is an adaptation of that writing, because I thought the Stick Horse Cowgirl readers might like to see the results of my own survey.

Why do people divorce?  Well, if you’re talking the “root” causation, I’d have to say things like rank selfishness and unrealistic expectations play a part(you know, “my soul mate,” and billowing romantic fantasies of what marriage should be).happily ever after

But this post concerns immediate causes—the events or characteristics that people claim as the reason for their divorce.

As a divorce attorney I do have a window into this.  In my state, we still require grounds for almost all divorces.  Therefore, in most cases it is necessary for a party seeking a divorce to declare what his/her grounds for divorce are. 

The wisdom of requiring grounds over a no-fault statue is a whole ‘nother post, but I feel it brewing…

My staff and I discussed this “cause” topic and arbitrarily decided that we would inventory the last 75 divorce files we have opened.  Here are the stats as we found them—real life in action—from least numerous to  most numerous reason for divorce in these cases (can you hear the drum roll?):

Primary Cause for Divorce

No. Cases


Family Interference (parents hated daughter-in-law and won)


Finances.  Sole stated reason for divorce.  I believe financial strain plays a role in other divorces, but this one was pegged on this cause.


Mental Illness.  Whew! No doubt on this one…mental illness was THE cause.


Pornography addiction named as sole reason (pornography also played a stated part in approximately 6 other divorces, maybe more.  We are seeing internet and “Craig’s list sex” type of involvement more and more)


Incest (grandfather/ granddaughter). Caused divorce of grandparents (Thank God! You have no idea how often I see spouses of perps take up for them).


Drug Addiction (drugs played a part in several other divorces, too).  In these three cases, drug addiction was the stated ground for divorce.  Financial devastation reigned in all three…lost savings, foreclosure in one case, etc.


Domestic Violence (one was wife battering husband, repeatedly and undeniably)


Alcoholism (this were cases where Alcohol was the stated primary reason—alcohol played a part in others, especially where there was domestic violence)


Wife committed adultery


“Drift.”  This is the term I use when client says “We grew apart” or some such and there is no other visible cause.  To be truthful, rarely do I really believe this is the cause…”drift” often is a euphemism for something they don’t want to discuss, as I sometimes unhappily find out in trial.    


NO. 1 REASON FOR DIVORCE:  Husband committed adultery


And, now, Survey Says: the No. 1 stated reason for divorsurvey saysce in my files is Cheatin’ Husbands!  I knew that would be the case before this  tabulation, but even I was surprised by the margin.

And, yes, I represent cheaters, too. Take ‘em as you find ‘em.

Just an observation that came to me as I wrote this: Rarely do I see divorce after initial discovery of an affair if the cheater repents.  I cannot think of a case right now where someone “knee-jerked” a divorce action over a one-time fling and maintained it until final hearing.  It has been my experience that people are fairly forgiving of adultery if  there is change and repentance. 

On the other hand, my experience has been that people who cheat once during a marriage will usually do so again.  But, this may be a function of the fact that people who come to me because of cheating spouses are already fed up—I may just not get to see those who change their ways!

And, so you know, I do tend to represent more women than men.  Only 25% of these files were men clients, which did surprise me…didn’t realize my caseload was that woman-heavy!  Guess more women want a woman lawyer.  Again, this may skew my figures from the “norm,” but I am confident that the order of the causes would remain the same of any such list in our jurisdiction.

One comment to my post from a family science professor was the intrigued observation that I had failed to include “lack of communication” as a cause, because they all teach/are taught that this is a leading cause of divorce.  My reply: Never—not once—have I had anyone sit down in my office and say, “I need a divorce because we do not communicate anymore.”  I think this is the kind of “reason” that is given long after the fact—something you might say to Dr. Phil later on, but when you’re in your lawyer’s office, you’re “real,” and the issues are “raw.” 

We talked about the “Lack of Communication” statement at our office, and all agreed.  As our staff attorneys discussed the results of this tabulation, one associate spoke up.  She has practiced about three years and said something like this: “When a client says something like ‘we’ve just grown apart’ as a reason, I have learned to start looking around for a girlfriend/boyfriend waiting in the wings.”  She’s right, and I’d feel the same way if someone did the “communication” gig on me, although that does not happen. 

And all of us agreed that if a client says, “I just need some space,” he/she may as well be wearing a sign saying, “I’m Cheating.”  People rarely separate for no concrete reason without having someone else waiting in the wings.  (And Oh, Lordy, this is especially true of men—they do not want to be alone).

And many is the time when my client sits down to say, “We’domestic violenceve grown apart,” and I dig (because that’s my job), and end up with a weeping client revealing the shame (misplaced) of being beaten or being betrayed by  adultery.  Domestic violence is one of families’ best-kept secrets.  I do not understand why this is, but I do know it’s true.  Mostly it is women who are battered and keep it to themselves, but the few times I’ve seen battered men, they have that same sense of shame and reluctance to talk about it.

Back to Tipper and Al: they’re claiming “drift,” aren’t they?  Well, my cynicism and practiced eye tells me that’s not the whole story.  I’m going out on a limb here and predicting (on the worldwide web, no less) that because of the public’s eye on this couple, we’ll soon find out that their tipper divorce will fall in that No. 1 category (you know, that 1999 “Al’s an Alpha male” comment and all)…time will tell.

And, really, I must say to Morning Edition that never—not in 31 years of family law practice—have I seen a case where the divorcing couple viewed it as a “celebration of life.”  Sheesh!

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