Riding Life!

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

Saturday, July 30, 2011

C: Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land

Kathryn_Stockett_The_Help_book I just finished reading “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  This book is written mostly from the perspective of black maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60’s—just my era.  I could not put this book down.  I identified with so much in it. 

This is an uncomfortable subject for me.  It was our life back then, but looking at it from 21st Century eyes, I see just all kinds of vestiges of slavery in the way our society was structured those days.  It is, as I say, “uncomfortable.”  Still, it is history, and I”m going to tell you what my life was like in this respect.

My father was a lawyer—Southern country lawyer.  I remember him going to court in the summer time in blue and white seersucker suits and light (white or “light buck”) shoes.  This was not unusual for attorneys of the day.  Courtrooms were hot, and a dark suit would have probably been unbearable.  I also saw lawyers back then with straw “panama”seersucker hats, although my dad never wore one.  In this day of air conditioning, I don’t notice anyone wearing seersucker at the courthouse anymore.

Although my father was a professional and we were well-provided for, we were not “society” (my Daddy’s behavior just did not fit that), nor were we rich.  Still, we were white.  Back in that day, that’s pretty much all it took to have “help” at home.  Amazing, as I look back.

V’s family wasn’t rich, either.  We lived side-by-side in identical-but-for-the-chosen-exteriors tract housing.  We had few frills, but we had ironing and cleaning  ladies.  I can’t remember V’s “maid’s” name off the top of my head.  I know ironing lade that her grandmother’s “Elizabeth” was a long-time, trusted servant. 

I feel the need here to interject:  NO MAID UNIFORMS!  At least our “maids” never wore uniforms…

When we moved to the country the summer before my fifth grade, we moved into what we called the “farm house,” an old house from the 20’s which stood on the acreage our father purchased and would serve as our home while our new, more modern one was built.

Out back of the farm house was a shack.  It was an old, long rectangular house with a central kitchen-living area flanked by two bedrooms.  You wouldn’t have wanted to live there…the floors were uneven and I doubt it was very warm in the winter since there was no insulation.  It was old, old.  But there lived Beal and Betty and their two sons.

I could not find a picture that fit, but this one below is close with one exception:  the only door was on the long side, not the end…and there was a long, low, wavy porch across the front.  But it still hashackd this “shotgun” architecture of just being a row of rooms—no hallways in this house.  And it had a tin roof.

Beal took care of the outside chores, including tending to my horses.  Betty’s portion was the inside of our house.  She did all the ironing and cleaning and some of the cooking.  On my parents’ bowling nights, Betty would leave her own children out in the shack with Beal.  She would sit and watch TV with us and babysit until my parents came home.   She also was responsible to look after us when my parents were out at night any time, and these would be the times she would usually do the cooking.

Beal and Betty moved after a couple of years, and Dad had the shack bulldozed down, if that tells you anything.  This all happened about the time we moved into our new home, just around the corner.  And at that time we switched “help.”  I don’t really have the story on why Beal and Betty left—whether they just found opportunity or something else.

Our new help were Dannie for the inside; Willie for the outside.  They were not related, but they came from the same small black community a mile and a half or so north of us.  Living areas were not integrated at the time—no more than schools (except, of course, when one had a shack out back…).  We all knew where black folks lived—all together, and who could blame them?

I remember riding with my mother or father to transport Dannie to and from work.  Lanky, proud-tall-standing Willie, on the other hand, walked wherever he went.  Willie reminded me of pictures I had seen of Mmasaiasai warriors.  He stood well over six feet tall and was thin as a rail—probably from all that walking and hot outside work.  Despite his menial labor, he had a nobility to his carriage. 

Willie had a distinctive, rhythmic walk, his long, long legs, eating up distance, his long arms swinging far to his front and then back, in time with the beat of his walk. 

Willie was nearly blind and I remember him placing his face right down next to a nail head before he began hammering in order to be accurate, which he was once he got this up-close look.  His poor sight, incredibly,  did not interfere with his hard work.

There were other black men who helped my father outside occasionally, but Willie was the “constant” for years.

Dannie was with us from about my sixth grade until my sister (twelve years younger) was through most of elementary school.  When I would come home from school, it was Dannie who fixed me an afternoon snack—fruit salad or chicken salad sandwich or pimiento cheese.  She was intimately involved in our lives and knew all about us.  I think I knew even back then that her parallel life was not so open to us.  She was entrenched in ours; we knew little about hers.

And, here is part of the shame I feel as I look back:  In order for my family to afford this, we must have paid her peanuts.

I remember that Dannie sang in a Gospel group called “The Spiritual Echoes.”  She had a deep, rich, beautiful voice that I would hear as she rocked my little sister to sleep.  She was kind and gentle with us, and years later when my mother’s mother was dying of cancer in our home, it was Dannie to whom we turned.  She would come every single day and take care of my grandmother with competence and compassion. 

Dannie is dead now.  I remember her with great fondness.

So, reading “The Help” made me reflect.  It was an odd time in our country’s history.  I imagine my black friends might think of terms other than “odd” to describe it.  It was a  hazy limcentral highbo land for them, hung between slavery and freedom—they had legal  freedom, okay, but for what?

In my junior high days we experienced integration.  The Central High episode of 1957 (I was 5)  is famous in my state.  When I consider it, I wonder if I would have had the courage that those black parents showed in sending their children through that screaming mob—I doubt it.  I imagine those parents sent up lots of prayer around those nine children who were sent to forcibly break down the racial barrier to education.   But at my schools we did not have much racial trouble.  I recall little tension, just awareness.  And the separateness of our lives continued.

I am grateful to say that I believe we have made strides in  this area, as I have many black professional colleagues, crossing swords with me in the courtroom and I don’t bother to think about race when we do.  I hope they don’t, either….but I sure thought about it as I read this book.

I wonder what my black friends would think about my view of the era.  What would they say at the thought that I, who was not a rich younconfederate_flag_wallpaper_downloadgster, grew up with “servants?”  That this was my privilege, not because my family could particularly afford luxury but because the labor of my black neighbors was valued at so little that we could afford that. 

As I say: uncomfortable.  But I’m going to talk to them about it.  My interest is raised…I’ll give you a report.

I would love to hear your own stories from this time—especially if you are African-American.

As for me,  it is, indeed, the part of “Dixie” from which I do want to “look away.”  C

Friday, July 29, 2011

C: Cake Walks

nostalgia At the risk of sounding even older than I am, let me say that there are things I miss about “the good old days” of my youth.  Yes, life had its trials back then, too, and—especially having just finished reading “The Help,”—I realize that being white and growing up in the 50’s and 60’s was a whole different experience than my black friends had.  But, still, there are by-gone things that I miss.  For example…

Each year we had a Halloween carnival at our school.  And, no, we did not call it a “fall festival;” it was a Halloween carnival.  As I recall, it was a fund-raiser.

It started out with dinner of some kind in the “cafetorium,” which doubled as a lunchroom and auditorium for plays and programs.  It had a stage at one end of the large room with the kitchen and serving window at the other end.

 cafeteriaschool stage

In between stood long folding tables with chairs to accommodate the school kids at lunch each day and, on this occasion, the community diners.  Often the ladies would have prepared huge vats of chili or spaghetti.  Sometimes just hot dogs were sold. 

After dinner, the volunteer parents would take their places at the activities set up in the class rooms, and the doors would open to the carnival, proper.fishing

We had standard carnival activities, each costing a small price to participate and each offering some kind of “prize.”  There was  always a fishing booth.  Volunteers were behind a sheet with small prizes.  The contestant would drop a fishing line over the sheet (the “hook” was a clothespin) and wait for a tug on the line.  When he brought it back up, there would be his prize!  No skill required but somehow fun for us kids.

There was always a haunted house room, and there is no telling how many kids we scarred for life with this venture.  It was always in a darkened room, of course, and we would be told the back story of the poor dead man who was scattered about the room.  We would be led from station to station to feel all his parts…grapes were his eyeballs; cold spaghetti were some of his “guts.”  You get the picture…we loved it!

But the one activity that was a draw for everyone was the cake walk.  I’m sure the schools still have them, but there is one big difference: Schools nowadays require the donation of only packaged, commercially-prepared baked goods at school functions.  Back in the day, no one ever would have even considered donating a german chocolate cake store-bought cake for the cake walk!

No, mothers baked their finest to show off their culinary skills.  There would be pies galore.  Ms. Elta’s three layer German Chocolate Cake was a legendary standard,  much-anticipated each year.  There would always be at least one large coconut cake with seven-minute frosting (no canned frosting!).  If there were cookies or brownies, they were definitely homemade and piled high, as befits a prize.

And it was this activity that would bring Phroney Hale right into our midst for a change.

If you have read this blog much, you know that I grew up coconut cake surrounded by eccentrics.  You can read about some of them here and here, where I wrote about Bud and Cassie.  Phroney was another odd one.

Phroney was a man—maybe in his 50’s or early 60’s, hard to tell looking back—who lived, so I was told, miles on up our road, far away from our little hub of a community.  His face looked permanently swollen and disfgured which, alone, caused us kids to shy from him. 

Also, we understood, he was a hermit of sorts.  He apparently lived alone in poverty.  We knew very little about him, only that he was a fixture ofhobo sorts in our rural community.  We saw him several times a week, walking, walking, walking along the side of the road.  He clearly had no car and he would carry things wrapped in a cloth—exactly like you might see a hobo do.  In fact, “Hobo” was the word you might think of if you saw him.  Today you would peg him as “homeless” from his look.   He was tattered—usually in  coveralls, as I recall; never looking very clean.

A lonely figure, always.

Sometimes he would be sitting cross-legged under a shade tree, munching on a sandwich at midday.  He never spoke to us and we sure never spoke to him…skirted him when we saw we were meeting him on the road.

Phroney kept to himself as far as I could tell, and had no use at all for any social graces.  One time when my brother was a young teenager and suffering from the pangs of acne, he stood in line behind Phroney at our little grocery store.  Unbidden, Phroney turned to him and gruffly said, “If ya’d use a little Epsom Salts on yer face ya could clear that mess up.”

My brother was shocked and not a little hurt that one who had such a messed up face as Phroney did would have the nerve to call his face a mess!  It only served to heighten his anxiety about how bad hobo2 he looked with his acne…

So, back to the carnival:  Every year Phroney Hale came to the carnival.  I do not recall seeing him partake of the pre-carnival dinner, but every year, without fail, he would pay his dimes and take his place on the cake walk, walking until he won an appropriate piece of baked goods.  Each year we’d see him walk away into darkness, toting his goodie.

As I look back with warm nostalgia, I realize that this was just an opportunity for Phroney…it was a way for him to have—for once—something good and home-made by others.  I wonder if it was an indication of more than just a hankering for these fine and beautiful cakes.  Maybe it was a desire, too, to fill his lonely life once a year with some other kinds of home-baked goodness.

As I think about him this morning, I realize that there was more to Phroney’s life that we knew about.  We knew very little about him, really, and what we didn’t know, I’m afraid we probably filled in some blanks badly, ala Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.  It is my hope, as I sit her, that Phroney, in fact, had a circle of friends around him at his distant house or maybe family of some kind who would share time with him.

We just never saw any evidence of it.

halloween carnival So, yes, I miss those days of show-off-Mom cakes and pies; of popcorn balls made by neighbors and shared with kids without fear of poisons or contamination.

And I miss some of the eccentricity of my neighbors in my community, which I realize now was moving from country to suburban life in America’s march toward more and more to the homogeneity of civilization.

Yes, I miss so clearly seeing those marching to different drumbeats. And I miss Miss Elta’s three-layer German Chocolate Cake.  C

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guest Post by K: Whirlwinds of Change & a New Normal


Cowgirl V: 

Shortly after the tornado that struck Tuscaloosa, AL, I asked my sister if she would consider writing a guest post about her experiences there.  She is a registered nurse who previously worked with Hurricane Katrina refugees. V


Tuscaloosa tornado

Enormous, menacing killer tornado looming over Tuscaloosa, Alabama April 27, 2011


Well, it has finally started happening.  I knew the day would come, but it has taken much longer than I expected.  You see, I live in a tornado ravaged city.  The April 27 devastation that occurred in Tuscaloosa, Alabama did not destroy my home.  In fact, we had no damage.  We were out of town when the storm hit but were glued to the television as we watched it begin to tear across the city.  I cannot describe our feelings we had as we watched this giant storm make its way across the city.  Then we had to come home.  We actually came home a day early to see what we could do to help.


Tuscaloosa tornado with people

The large building in the background is the local hospital.


44 deaths have been attributed to the April 27 tornado.  This photo is of a memorial set up across the street from the house where Carson Tinker, long snapper for the University of Alabama lived.   The home was destroyed;  Tinker was thrown 50 ft. and suffered injuries,  but his girlfriend and their two dogs were killed during the storm.

Tuscaloosa deaths


Since the day of our return I have driven past destruction, work crews and piles of debris at least 4-5 days a week.  It was such a shock to witness the piles of rubble everywhere and slabs of concrete completely  bare where the tornado seemed to have vacumned up the structure.  The landscape of the city is forever changed.  One of the first things I noticed driving into town on our return was how far away I could view specific buildings, like the hospital.  So many trees and buildings that were once obstructing the view are gone.  It will be quite some time  before this changes.  After several trips along familiar paths that no longer seemed familiar I began to wonder “When will this seem normal again?”  We all have our “normal” lives and circumstances that periodically get terribly disturbed.  This is one of those circumstances.  For me it is just a disturbance in my familiar surroundings and some inconvenience because some of my favorite shopping spots are gone.  For many their normal has  been terribly disturbed.  They are coping with loss of life, property, jobs, security, and even memories.  But the question is the same for them, “When will this seem normal again?”  We like our “normal”!


A mighty fortress - Forest Lake


So I have been thinking about that each time I drive by an area of devastation.  And yesterday it happened. I didn’t rubberneck!  Yes, a lot has been done to clear away debris, but a LOT remains.  The trucks and tractors are still busy.  A few businesses have been able to put a trailer on their business sites and reopen.  And I guess somehow I have finally accepted that it will be years before you will be unable to see where the tornado’s path of destruction travelled.  And in some way seeing things continually getting better, a little at a time, my mind has created a new “familiarity” with the scenes as I travel.  I didn’t feel the usual shock when I crossed the line between previous normal and new normal!  And it is good.  I am convinced the new normal will be a better city.  And a chance to make needed changes.


Refuse to be a victim


My personal philosophy about “bad stuff” is that it happens to all of us…maybe a different set of bad things but none of us get out unscathed.  The difference in the outcome from the “bad stuff” is attitude.  Some people come out better on what I call “the other side”, while others get stuck in the circumstances they are in.  I think this is called “the victim mentality”.  And so it is with the tornado victims.  I have a few friends that had damage and one lost all property and cars.  She has been amazing in the way she has handled this.  She already had a lot to deal with in her life because her husband is ill, her mom was very ill and has died since the tornado, and her daughter is pregnant with her second child and has had many complications.  Seems like that would be enough, “bad stuff” for one person to me.  But then this storm came through and destroyed her home, possessions, and cars.  But no injuries to her family.  So she feels blessed.  Yep, no despair.  There have been moments of anger and sadness and these are certainly normal reactions to the very abnormal circumstances.  But she has chosen to pick herself up and get on with her life.  She has even commented, “Well, it was certainly the only way I would ever have a new house, all new furniture, dishes, clothes and a new car all at the same time.”


Glass half empty and half full

Then there are those who continue to complain that “I’m not getting enough help” and declare that they will never get out over this disaster.  I do realize that for some who have lost so much and may not have good support systems for coping mechanisms it may take more time to work through the negativity.  But when working with Hurricane Katrina refugees I learned that there will be some people who choose to stay in their clouds of anger and bitterness waiting on someone else to rescue them or waiting on their circumstances to magically change.  Unfortunately their “new normal” will not be one of hope and change because they have chosen to remain a victim.

victim mentality ropes

I think in all of life’s adversity we have a choice.  We can remain a victim or we can become victorious.  I hope I always remember this no matter what circumstances come my way.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

V: Sisterhood and Survival


sisterhood mystery

If you’ve read Stick Horse Cowgirls for very long you would know that one thing “C” and I are in complete agreement on it is the importance of “sisterhood” –the enduring  friendship of women.  Life IS hard sometimes and we need each other!  I hope our friends out there do not get tired of hearing that message, but lately we are getting constant reminders of how vital it is to have that connection—sometimes for our very survival!

Let us cheer each other on!




In the blogging community, two neighbors, have come forth recently with their stories of desperate domestic situations.  Brenda, of Cozy Little House  http://www.cozylittlehouse.com , and Belinda of Ninja Poodles http://www.ninjapoodles.blogspot.com are both strong, smart women who have found themselves in a bad predicament.  I hope you will visit these women and peruse their archives—you won’t be disappointed!  They are both profound writers and exemplify the talent of women in the blogging community.   Brenda has recently taken action to get out of her situation and is planning a move to Oklahoma.  Belinda’s husband suffers from Bi Polar depression and she has a y0ung daughter.  Ninja Poodles was one of the first blogs I ever read—(she lives in our neck of the woods)!  At the time I didn’t really know what blogging was.  Unfortunately, Belinda stopped posting regularly due to the enormous stress in her personal life, but hopefully she is back.   I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to tell their story—they have done that themselves so very eloquently.  Truly, their writing is a gift!  Open it!


Opened gift


So, I just had these two women on my mind today and thought perhaps a shout out in the community might influence a few to offer their prayers,  support and encouragement. 

Kind words

Saturday, July 16, 2011

C: Cassandra Speaks…and Speaks…and Speaks…

cassandra Hearken back to your Greek-mythology/literature-study days.  Do you recall Cassandra?  She was the daughter of King Priam and his Queen Hecuba of Troy (Remember?  Iliad??)

A stunningly-beautiful woman, she caught the eye of the god Apollo; and it’s always a dangerous thing to catch one of those gods’ eyes.

Apollo, so infatuated was he, bestowed upon Cassandra the gift of prophecy, of foresight.  And, then, when Cassandra did not react to Apollo in the way he desired (can you spell S-E-X?), he put a little twist on his gift to her.  He cursed the gift so that, although she was unfailingly right in her predictions, she would never be believed. 

Her life was not good…

This picture is supposed to be of Cassandra.  See how she’s tearing her hair out? 

I thought about Cassandra the other day and wondered if the literary figure might be a metaphor for the wisdom of age.

I sat in my office just this week, listening to a very wise older-than-me (which is getting up there) woman speak of her domestic travails.  This woman had lived a life that had given her great insight into others and into life, I could tell.  Her husband of forty years, however, had seemed to go the opposite direction as he aged.  This man of nearly seventy had taken up with a 32 year-old exotic dancer and was acting the fool, big time.  Running backwards, as it were.

My client said to me: “ I have learned so much over my years.  Why, it took me fifty years to learn that men are so very much different than we women are.  I mean, I knew it and was told it, but I was over 50 before I really knew it.  I only wish my daughters would listen…”

And that last sentence is what grabbed my attention and made me think of Cassandra.

I am feeling very Cassandraish these days.  Mind you, I am paid for others to hear and heed my advice.  As a lawyer, advising is my job.  But why is it that members of my own family just won’t listen to the advice that others pay dearly to have?

Yes, another literary reference comes to mind: “A prophet has no honor in his own country…”

V, my sister, and I are all struggling with youths in our family (all separate instances)  who are treading treacherous paths.  Don’t get the wrong idea: we’re not talking about criminals, here, just plain, logical wrong advice(really wrong) decisions that are sure to make their lives much, much harder than they have to be.  From the vantage point of our age, we can so see disaster  looming around the bend in each instance.  These youths are screwing up—there is not one doubt about it. 

My little group of support (my five BFFs) met last week.  Besides V and me, there are two of that group whose children just will not listen.  I’m not talking about idle style choices, here; I’m talking about things that will impact these “kids” (not) for a long time and, in one case in particular, for the rest of her life.

So, what is it about we Cassandras of a certain age that preclude youth from believing anything we have to say?  Is it just that they must learn on their own? 

I am re-reading one of my favorite books, Out of Africa, my go-to soothing literature.  In it I find that the Somali women of the 1920’s were not like us.  Their young women hungered to sit at the knees of their elders to learn of life and, yes, womanly arts.  They saw the opportunity afforded them by their elders’ teaching as privilege, and they revered the examples and lessons given. 

advice cartoon What is it about our society that we have lost the art of passing down/accepting wisdom of our elders?  I have bemoaned this trait before in another post.  It is as if Apollo had fixed us up to be Cassandras—blessing us with great gifts, but plugging up the ears of our youth to the lessons we have learned the hard way.

Yes, I guess they just have to learn them, too—in their own way.

Sheesh!  I sound just like Mama… C

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cowgirl V: Kool-Aid, The Egg Man & Unmentionables!


Kool aid ad with mom

Summers in the late fifties and early sixties were slow paced and hot.  We played outside all day long, coming in only to eat and then back outdoors again to play games and catch lightening bugs til bedtime.  Running barefoot through the sprinkler to cool off, moms made Kool-Aid for us to drink, and we ate watermelon on the backyard picnic table.  Great memories of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s--  except the nights when it was too hot to sleep before air conditioning!


Jewel Tea man


This was the last generation to see door to door peddlers, as most mothers were working at home instead of the office.  I barely remember the Standard Coffee salesman, and am a little too young to remember the Jewel Tea man, who sold loose tea in vintage tins like this, but this was the day before the large grocery stores.


vintage tea tins


How well I  remember the milkman (yes, milk tasted SO much better in the glass gallon jugs from Prickett Dairy), who delivered milk to our door several days a week.  We also had an Avon lady, and the old farmer who sold eggs and vegetables door to door in the summer.



My dad worked nights at the town newspaper, so he was always home during the day.  This was great for my sister and I to spend more time with him during the summer, but the evenings were pretty lonely and my mother never felt safe at night.  I remember her always hearing sounds in the night and looking out the window.


woman peeping out the window


The egg man would come to our house once a week with his offerings of eggs and whatever happened to be producing in his garden that week. I remember him as an older man with grey hair. The quintessential farmer, he always wore overalls and a straw hat!  My parents always visited with him and regularly bought eggs  and whatever vegetables he had out in his truck.  Sometimes it would be corn, tomatoes, green beans or peas; we ate from the bounty of his garden.



Then one year when summer was almost over, my mom received what she called an “obscene phone call!”  She was convinced that it was the egg man!  Apparently the anonymous caller inquired as to whether she was missing any “unmentionables” from the clothesline!  Yes, she was certain that she was missing some bras and panties, she told my dad. Perhaps the voice was familiar, but she was sure that it had to be someone who knew my dad’s unusual work schedule. The caller never called again, and there was no evidence it was the genial old farmer, but……we never saw him again.  It was the last summer he ever came to our house.  So I wonder to this day, WAS  the lingerie thief the familiar egg man who visited our home for several years?


mother and kathy & the clothesline

Yes, this is my mother and sister standing in our backyard in front of THE clothesline that probably had some unmentionables hanging on it for all to see!  I can barely see C’s swing set in the background!  This was before a fence separated our backyards.  I forgot to ask C if her mom ever bought anything from the egg man!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cowgirl V: So is it Okay to be Judgmental Sometimes?


Pot calling the kettle black


Nobody wants to be called judgmental!  Nobody!  So, I’ve been wondering just what does it really mean to be judgmental?  We’ve all heard the scriptural teaching that it is wrong to point out the speck in your brother’s eye, when you have a log in your own.  Jesus rebukes the accuser saying in Matt.7:5 “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”    So it seems that hypocrisy in judging others is the point of this rebuke. 


speck and boulder  


Since I’m sticking my toe  into the waters of theological territory here, I’d like to point out the distinction between correction and judgment as I see it .  I’m no expert, so it’s just my opinion— for whatever that’s worth!  Speaking out against wrong doesn’t seem to be the problem here.  After all Jesus and the Apostles were bold and rebuked sin and condemned evil where they saw it.  No lukewarm, wishy washy approach, thank heavens!  So, correction is NOT judgment. I’m wondering,  do you agree?

So, why am I writing about this?  Friends in the blogging community recently brought to my attention that Nike has re-signed Michael Vick, football quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, after his felony conviction for illegal dog fighting.  Many people who love animals are protesting this for good reason.  So I posted to my personal Facebook page that I did not support Nike re-signing Vick.  Just a simple statement.  The next morning I discovered that a FB friend who lives in Philadelphia said that “people are far better than the worst thing they ever did in their lives.”  There is truth in that statement, but I interpreted that as a rebuke for being ---yeah—judgmental.

michael vick & dogs

I found some really horrific photos you would be glad I did not put here!

In all fairness, I thought perhaps I had been a little hasty in judging Vick.   So I decided to do a little research on Michael Vick.  I knew that dog fighting was inhumane, but I was shocked to learn that the crimes involved drowning, hanging, electrocution, using a dog as a jump rope and smashing it’s head into the pavement until it was dead. Some dogs who survived hanging, were then drowned in 5 gallon buckets.  Cruel torture of under performing dogs.  I couldn’t bear to read anymore of the gruesome details, but did note that Vick has a history of drug use, fraudulent misappropriation of funds, and other bad behavior. After the first raid by investigators, Vick wasn’t too concerned about it.  “I’m thinking, I can get myself out of this situation.  Money will get me out of this situation”.  Sorry, but I have no problem labeling him as a thug and all round bad guy.  How many times have we all heard that the most  dangerous people in our society are those who mistreat and torture animals.  My greatest hope would be that he would be genuinely sorry, but have to admit that I am skeptical.  Am I judging him wrongly? 

“C” and I discussed this last week. She asked, “So did it make you feel bad to be criticized?”  “Yeah, it did sting a bit,” I confessed. “ But I do think I was right.” Pressing on I asked, “So, what do you think about Vick—do you think  Nike was in the right in re-signing him?” “Well, there are some things in life that just disqualify you”, she replied. 





“By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?”  Matthew: 7:16


by their fruits you will know them.

What do YOU think?  Vick lost huge financially, but now after paying his debt to society with a prison sentence, he will be paid  millions to represent Nike to a public of young people looking for a hero.  Has Michael Vick disqualified himself as a hero? 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

C: Elephant Wisdom (or Over Thinking Again)

elephants When my son was a child and my husband was out of town, one of our favorite things to do was to sit in the bed together early and watch what he called “nature flicks.”  We enjoyed the Trials of Life series, National Geographic animal specials and all things such as might be found these days on Animal Planet. 

I love seeing into the social habits and ways of animals.  Often I see parallels to our own lives or hints at how we humans might could manage a little better than we do if only we’d take cues from our non-human brethren.  I thought about this aspect of nature study the other day when I saw a documentary on elephants.

In one scene a zoo elephant was being prepared for the delivery of herelephant four first calf.  This was one tame elephant—they are so huge that they’d better be tamed.  Her keepers were loving and attentive.  They had trained her to submit to restraints, fearing that her domestic life away from the herd  setting that nature had intended, had not prepared her well for delivery and motherhood.  They were taking no chances for the baby.  She was tied with heavy ropes at each leg, with enough room that she could comfortably move about some but also with several keepers at each rope’s other end, ready to restrain her further if needed.  They simply did not know how she would react when her baby came.

The birth, itself, was amazing—as all births are.  Mama was standing when she delivered, and that baby dropped right out onto the concrete floor of the elephant’s stall.  The keepers were quick to pull the baby to the side and Mama did, indeed, look worrisome to me.  She was clearly agitated/excited, straining to get to her infant but the keepers were concerned about this little 250 pounder being crushed accidentally.  They worked hard to clean the baby and get him to his feet steadily so that he elephant six could be released into his mother’s care after Mama had settled down somewhat.  All went well, and baby was standing and suckling within twenty minutes, Mama clearly enjoying her little one.

As the drama was unfolding, the narrator explained that this was not so far from what happens in the wild.  In the wild, elephants live in matriarchal groups—no grown-up males allowed.  Females in estrus go off for breeding and return to their herd of female relatives to wait two years for the birth of their calves.  When these wild births occur, they are big events.  All the aunts and sisters of the expected gather round.  When the baby arrives, he/she is surrounded by loving females, who all use their trunks to explore the new baby and help him to his feet and to his mother.

The keepers, according to the narrator, were merely fulfilling the same role as the herd would play in the wild.  They were a trusted, loving circle for this mother elephant, and they took care of the steadying of the new life and the introduction of baby to mother, just as her herd elephant fivemembers would have done on the African savannah.

These babies are central to the herd’s life.  The mothers, aunts, sisters of these little ones are all about their care and safety and giving them loving caresses with trunks.  Babies are watched by all with loving eyes.  When a baby elephant is in trouble, that is the concern of each and every one of the adults.  When one is orphaned, other elephants will nurse the little one.  Babies are taken care of.

elephant one

I began to be fascinated again by lessons to be learned by us.  Here are some of the quotes from my online elephant research which I found to be so pertinent to the conduct of our own lives:

Successful leaders (matriarchs) earn respect through their wisdom, confidence and connections with other elephants. They need to care for the needs of their herd, and be compassionate to their own herd as well as the members of other herds.

The matriarch is instrumental in teaching her daughters how to care for their own young. Once they start to bear babies, their sisters will assist in childcare. This provides training for them, preparing them for their own first calves. Elephant mothers are attentive to the needs of their young. Babies are born with almost no instinctive patterns, nearly everything they do has been taught to them by their mothers and aunts. What they get taught will vary according to the matriarch and her herd – different groups face different dangers and bear different responsibilities. The matriarch will determine what it important for that specific herd and mothers teach the young ones accordingly.

These female herds form deep attachments.  As the herd grows, it can split  into multiples, each going their own way but greeting each other with joy and excitement when their paths cross later, such as at the waterelephant twoing holes.  These “women” elephants are all about relationship from birth to death.

Grown males are no where to be found in this herd.  As the male offspring  mature (usually about age 14), they leave the herd to live a solitary life or to join male “pods,” coming to the females only to mate.  They have nothing to do with this marvelous matriarchal system of raising young.  Nope, they are used solely to produce these much-loved babies and to continue the existence of these marvelous creatures…

And it cannot be left without saying that these bachelor groups are the ones that cause trouble.  Wikipedia says:

The males spend much more time than the females fighting for dominance with each other.

During this season, known as musth, a bull will fight with almost any other male it encounters, and it will spend most of its time hovering around the female herds, trying to find a receptive mate.

Apparently “musth” is caused by excessive testosterone levels at that season, creating aggression.  It may be where the “rogue elephant” term comes from.

So, we have this peaceful, loving orderly society of lady elephants who choose their leadership for “wisdom and compassion.”  This is  juxtaposed against the males who gain their leadership among peers by fighting and  live just-for-me lives, “hovering” around the ladies looking for sex.   Hmmm.  Hmmmm. Overthinking kicks in.

Oh, yeah, my mind goes right to the human race with this. 

Yes, I know, there are exceptions, good and devoted men who are not this shallow—what I’m talking about here is a frequent observation everyone in my office has made at some time or another.  When women “move on” to other relationships, normally their babies go with them, incorporated into a new “blended” family.  These women (yes, there are exceptions) do not abandon the young who are so central to their lives.

Not so for the male who separates from his family—those original children will fade in importance in favor of children he has with his new one or, in some elephant friendscases, even the new stepchildren.  He often decries even paying child support, saying [I am so sick of hearing this], “If she would only spend it on the kids…” like she’s not “spending it on the kids” every time she pays the light bill.

You have no idea how many men I see in my business who “move on” because of sex, largely abandoning meaningful relationship with their  young so as to satisfy their own desires.  All the while these children are nurtured by their mothers and aunts and grandmothers; our equivalent of the matriarchal elephant herd.

And, this elephant society structure dovetails nicely with advice I give to all my divorcing women clients: “Keep your girlfriends close…”  It is important advice that I wish all women would heed whether they have great marriages or not.  (another post…)

But the elephants seem to have recognized and incorporated into their society a gender difference.  They have come to see that males have an important role to play—and they relegate those males to that role!  I love it.  Could it be that they have hit upon this scheme because they have an ability that we human women seem to lack?  Such as:  “Elephants never forget…”  C

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,

or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;

or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,

or let the fish in the sea inform you…  Job 12:7, 8

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