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Silent’s Vigil

Silent's Vigil

The donkeys are standing very still—all together in a line, all staring at the same something.

If I have learned anything from living with donkeys, horses, and one fine mule it’s that you should always look in the same direction as your herd animals are looking. If all eyes and pointy ears are riveted and locked in one direction, there is always something to see.

Always.

They may show you deer. They may show you coyotes. They may show you a random plastic bag blowing across the field. In one instance they pointed out a young orange-clad hunter that had come onto our property “by accident.”

Today they are showing me our mare, Silent. Silent Confidence, as she is formally known, is a tall, willowy, black thoroughbred. She is a retired racehorse that boards with us. Her owner keeps Silent in memory of her late husband, who had cherished the horse, his dream horse.

Silent was injured in her last race. A tendon damaged in one of her delicate front legs forced her into an early retirement. She went on to have two foals, both used as pleasure mounts.

Then her owner, the man who lived the dream of owning his own Black Beauty, passed away. For a time the mare was left in the hands of people at a racing stable. There she may not have technically been abused, but she was certainly not leading a life of comfortable retirement and the woman who had inherited responsibility for the mare recognized that.

Silent hated being in a stall. She would pace from side-to-side. She would weave back and forth in frustration. She refused to eat her full ration of grain and hay. Basically, she was miserable.

A common friend knew I had a large pasture that was home to a few horses and donkeys, so she mentioned the plight of the beautiful mare to me. Her owner could not afford to pay much in board, but truly wanted to find a place where the horse could just enjoy life.

Having already provided a haven for a few other “useless” animals, it didn’t take much for us to agree to give Silent a home. It didn’t really matter to us that she couldn’t be ridden. It was enough to look out into the pasture to see the shiny black mare frolicking and stretching her legs across our gently rolling acres.

Now, we fast-forward more than a decade. Silent is a senior citizen horse of more than 30 years. Her black shiny coat is salted with a good deal of gray now. Her tall body has lost its tone and bones protrude where muscles once rippled tightly beneath her skin.

Every winter we wonder if it will be her last. We blanket her, we feed her a special diet that is easy for old teeth and systems to process. We provide shelter, though never, never inside a stall in the barn. No, Silent still can’t tolerate confinement after her years on the track.

So Silent lives in the small pasture behind our house with a loafing shed for cover and our mismatched herd of miniature donkeys, a miniature horse, one sheep, and our young orphaned filly for company.

Today, all eyes and ears are focused on Silent. The donkeys, filly, mini horse and sheep stand at attention, a respectful distance from the grand old lady who is lying in the middle of her pasture, embraced in beams of gentle morning sun. Even my big horses are perfectly still in the back pasture, focused on the old mare. Everyone is watching. Everyone is waiting. I am watching and waiting too.

Silent is lying on her left side. Her graceful neck is curved around to allow her graying muzzle to rest on her front legs. Her back legs are pulled in to meet her front legs against her belly. Everything about her posture is almost fetal, as if she is curling into herself.

I hold my breath for a moment as I watch, joining my animals in this delicate early morning vigil. Is she in distress? Is she “down,” or just sunbathing? I think in this moment my animals and I share the same images, the same concern. We all, animals and humans alike, recognize that Silent’s time with us is limited. The years are catching up with her. It’s just a matter of time.

Slowly, deliberately our precious paint filly walks quietly over to the old mare, the horse that stepped in to mother her when she lost her own mother just a few weeks after her birth. The filly sniffs the old mare’s neck and softly nuzzles her mane.

Silent raises her head to return the attention offered by the younger horse. Then, with a big stretch of her front legs, she pulls herself up, heaves a big sigh and shakes her whole body as if she were a dog coming out of a pond.

1 4 14 donksIn an instant, every member of our herd resumes normal activity. The big horses head out to graze in the east pasture. Silent’s little crew wanders to the big round bale of hay for a bit of breakfast. And with a relieved and grateful heart, I head off to feed the dogs.

We will have another day to enjoy Silent’s grace. Perhaps another week with Silent. Hopefully another month, or even year. Whatever the amount of time, we’ll all treasure it. Then, when the time comes for Silent to leave our herd, we’ll help her do that with respect, with love, and with an honor guard of wise eyes and sensitive ears giving her a final, fitting salute.

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Golden Love. My Dad and his Girlfriend.

“Bob is seeing a young woman now,” Dad commented, trying to sound casual.

He didn’t fool me. I knew he was trying to weave his way into a specific conversation he needed to have with me, so I played along.

Bob was a longtime family friend. His wife, Dorothy, had passed away a few years ago, a couple of years before my mother had died. Now, Bob was dating again. He had met a “young woman” of 60-something—I guess to my 85-year-old father, she was just a girl.

“Really?” I prompted, deciding to let him fill in the details I already knew. “How wonderful—I’m sure it’s nice for him to have companionship again after losing Dorothy.”

“I’m not sure his family is excited about it, Bob said they haven’t really accepted the idea of him dating again,” said Dad, turning his head just slightly to glance at me, almost like a nervous schoolboy. “They haven’t been very receptive, I guess.”

“Well, maybe they just need a little time,” I said. “I’m sure it’s an adjustment to think of Bob with anyone but Dorothy.” Just as it would be an adjustment to think of my dad loving anyone but my mother.

“Well, you know, it gets very lonely…I’m sure Bob has been very lonely,” Dad said, stumbling a bit between his reality and Bob’s reality. It was touching to see my dad’s struggle to find his I-need-to-tell-you-something words. Having spent a lifetime working to find just the right words to break news to him, I found this role reversal to be a bit awkward for both of us.

My parents had been married for just over 61 years when my mother died. Dad had survived several confusing years as he watched Mom’s steady decline in the grip of dementia. Now he had been alone for about 18 months. As alone, that is, as a man in an assisted living apartment complex can possibly be. Men are greatly outnumbered by women in retirement communities and whether he realized it or not, dear old Dad was a hot property at the Oklahoma Methodist Manor. My sister and I, noticing the ladies of OMM noticing our father, had always known that this moment, the need for this conversation, would just be a matter of time.

Over the past couple of weeks it had come to my attention that one of Dad’s neighbors seemed to be by his side more often than not. She was a lovely, trim woman who was always beautifully dressed, hair always just so, lipstick in place. She had a twinkle in her soft blue eyes and a gentle southern accent that carried an audible smile when she spoke. It was more than obvious that Ina and Dad had grown quite fond of each other.

Was it initially hard to walk down the hall to find my Dad holding another woman’s hand for a little longer than a friendly moment? Admittedly, yes—it was difficult to pacify the loyalty to my mother that welled up in my heart. But those feelings were quickly, gently soothed as I would stop to watch the young-at-heart couple, just before they noticed me heading their way. The look on my Dad’s face, the tone of his voice, the smile that spread not out of a sense of politeness, but from a place inside his heart, filled me with a new kind of peace. My Dad had been devoted to my mother for six decades. How could I expect him to just abandon that capacity for love now that she was gone?

So I sat with Dad and we talked about Bob, though we both knew we weren’t really talking about Bob at all. “You know Dad, I’m happy for Bob,” I said. “It’s a lucky man who is blessed to find special love twice in his life. I’m sure his family will see that too. They’ll welcome his happiness.”

Dad looked out the window, obviously not able to meet my eyes in that moment. “I’m glad to hear you say that,” he said softly, “It’s no fun to be lonely. It’s so hard.”

“I know, Dad. Everyone deserves to share their days with someone special.”

“Everyone,” I emphasized.

We sat a moment longer in comfortable silence, everything said that needed to be said. Then I saw Ina approaching, and I saw my dad’s face light up.

“Hello, Ms. Ina,” I said to my dad’s 93-year-old girlfriend as I got up from my chair. “Here, take my spot next to Dad.” Ina smiled pleasantly, as she always did, and accepted my place…now also her place…next to my father.  As I turned to leave, I kissed my Dad on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “Make sure you kids don’t stay out too late.”

With a chuckle in acceptance of my blessing, two hands clasped openly and golden hued love, secret no more, blossomed.

My father and Ina were an item at the Oklahoma Methodist Manor for the last year of his life. They ate all of their meals together, they spent afternoons holding hands as they sat in their favorite sunny spot by a large window near Dad’s apartment. Every evening, they would watch a little television and then Ina would turn down my father’s bed before retiring to her own apartment for the night. If I happened to be there as she was leaving, she would turn to me to say—and you really have to hear these words spoken in the sweetest southern accent possible—“I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to give your father some sugar right now.” And she would lean down to softly kiss Dad on the lips.

No, Ms. Ina, I didn’t mind one bit. Not one tiny bit.Dad and Ina

Little Stray

foursome

Three fosters dogs and one “foster fail.” Left to right: Bernie, Robby, Candy, and our cow dog, Edie. Tonight I hope that the tiny Chihuahua that stood confused and lost in the road by our gate will decide to come in. She couldn’t bring herself to trust me and ran, but later followed my trail up the driveway only to bolt away into the back pasture. Evening is falling and it is so dangerous for her out there. Please come in, little dog.

Come in, little one,
you need not run any farther.
The panic that shows so clearly
in your eyes,
in your stance,
in the carriage of your tail,
can be a thing of the past.

You were drawn here,
to this place,
to me,
for a reason.
Everything you need,
everything you long for,
everything you have yet to know,
is here.

Let your need override your fear.
Accept my outstretched hand.
You are hiding in a world filled with danger,
while I offer a world of safety,
of care,
of soft blankets,
of kind words,
of gentle caress.

Come in, little one,
your journey ends here.
You are already a part of me.
This is your haven,
the place where fear is released with a simple sigh.
In my arms you will learn trust.
In my heart
you have already found love.

Come in, little one.

I Just Can’t Take It. Suffering Through the Olympics

I can’t do it. But I can’t NOT do it, either.  LOOK—it’s even making me use double negatives!

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My trademark pose for watching the Olymmpics…get a dog and hide your eyes behind her/him.

For me, watching the Olympics is like driving past a really graceful car wreck. You know…don’t want to look, but you just can’t seem to look away either? Granted, it’s a wreck between really beautiful, shiny, high-end sports cars.

OK, I know. The Olympic Games are in no way the same as a car wreck. OR ARE THEY? I’m telling you. It is so stressful for me to watch. I almost dread seeing this date roll around every two years. Winter, summer—it doesn’t matter.

Why you say? How can I not be ready, willing, able, and chomping at the bit to cheer for the good, ole US of A athletes? It’s simple, really.

While the thrill of victory is…well…thrilling, the agony of defeat is just too much for me to bear.

I do not mean to come into this thing with a negative attitude, but am I the only person who watches the various events through my fingers, holding my breath most of the time?

These kids, and most of them are just BABIES, have spent a good deal of their short time on this earth preparing, training, practicing, sacrificing, not-playing-in-the-dirt-with-Barbie-and/or-GI-Joe for this ONE moment. This ONE chance on the Olympic stage. ONE here and gone in a blink of an eye moment.

For those of us sitting on the couch watching, it’s all about cheering the victories—and there are many stunning victories—or doing the that hiss-of-dread sound followed by “ohhhhhhh” when someone crashes down in defeat. Then you eat another nacho, have another slug of beer (or DDP, in my case), and move on to watch the next event.

But that kid? The one who just fell? Well, at a very tender age, a lifetime of preparation just crumbled. It’s not as if a nacho and a first sip of beer are going to make it all better.

And this is why I just can’t bear it. I mean, did you see the one speed skater who supposedly false started twice and was DISQUALIFIED in the qualifying rounds? DISQUALIFIED BEFORE SHE EVER EVEN SKATED ONE LAP IN THE COMPETITION?

I say supposedly, because I could NOT for the life of me see the alleged minuscule movement of her right arm before the starting gun sounded. Even in the super-duper slow motion replays. If that had been me, I would have put on a display of protest that would have made even John McEnroe cringe.

I mean COME ON! Ask the other skater in her heat if she noticed. I guarantee she didn’t. What are they supposed to do? Stand there in that weird little skater-about-to-take-off pose while willing their circulatory and respiratory systems to just freaking freeze until that wait-for-it-wait-for-it-wait-for-it crack of the starter’s pistol?

I don’t even know what country this skater represented. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that after years of hard work, that girl skated quietly off the ice, eyes cast down in disbelief. I JUST CAN’T STAND IT!

And then there’s the “older” athletes. You know, like Shaun White, the legendary snowboarder. There’s no denying that he defines the sport. He’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist who, at the ripe old age of 27 (you know, OLD for an Olympian) was still favored to come in and show all of the whipper-snappers how it’s done. Except he didn’t. He fell down and went boom.

We can all whine that the Sochi halfpipe was in poor condition, but everyone was using the same darn pipe, so that kind of takes the steam out of that argument. And now Shaun just falls into my “you should have quit while you were ahead” category. I’m not suggesting that he’s not still an amazing athlete and competitor—he is. On any other day he could have won the whole damn thing. But going for that third Olympics…well, you’re just asking for the agony-of-defeat curse to hit you.

Shaun, buddy, you would have been a GREAT color commentator. I doubt I would have understood one single word you were saying, but it just would not have mattered one tiny bit. I would have been entertained and your Olympic record would have remained untarnished. But I guess kudos to you for going for it. Is that what I’m supposed to say here?

And then there’s figure skating. This event just kills me. The difference between national hero on a Wheaties box and just another washed up athlete who is destined to work in a factory (perhaps I exaggerate…perhaps not) comes down to one slip. That’s ONE slip while dancing and doing gymnastics on cold, hard ice while wearing knives strapped to the bottom of your boots. One “bobble” and the world comes crashing down.

How much longer do I have to endure this beautiful, talented torture? Until February 23? (Deep breath…roll shoulders…do a couple of those twists at the waist that I see athletes do.)

Ok. I’m in. I can do this. If you dear athletes can put yourselves out there like this, the least I can do is cheer you on…hiding under my blanky…peeking out from behind whichever dog has taken cuddle position on my lap.

I’m here for you, dammit, I’m here. But please, I’m begging you…

Just

Don’t.

Fall.

When Life Hands You Lemons…Make Root Beer

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Ok, the day started fine. Well, fine if you think getting up at 5:15 am on a morning when the temperature was in the teens is a good thing. But really, things went fine. I got ready for work, the dogs cooperated, the car started, I bought donuts, the employees were happy—all pretty good.

And then about two hours into my day, my phone stopped working. Well, let me clarify, it didn’t stop working entirely, but the display stopped working. This makes selecting functions a tad tricky. It would be like handing a blind person a Samsung Galaxy S-4 and telling him to check text messages. Not fun or funny.

Shame on me, but phone withdrawal was setting in fast. I grew up in the phone-attached-by-a-cord-in-the-wall-at-home era, so you’d think I would almost see this as a blessing, but no. I have embraced technology and NEED to know everyone’s latest status. I MUST be available at any and every given moment should someone need to invite me to lunch at the last minute. Something had to be done. Yes, I once survived without constant contact, BUT NOT ANY MORE.

So off to the cell phone store I went. They would have a quick fix, right? That’s what they do. They keep us connected.

Well, not so much. My little (seriously, she was actually tiny) friend at AT&T gave me a very sad look when I told her that my phone was playing hide-the-display-screen with me. She got quiet. Very quiet. She started to take the back off my phone.

“I have already pulled the battery and restarted it.”

“Oooooh. Didn’t work?”

Oh sure. It worked. I just wanted to come hang out with you anyhow. I’m on a mission to make new friends and what better place to start than my neighborhood AT&T store? (Voice inside my head)

“Nope. Still a black screen.” (Pleasant voice I allowed to escape my mouth)

More silence. More sad looks at my phone…which by now is making all sorts of alert noises, but I had no way of knowing why/who/what/what/WHAT!

So, Ms. AT&T informed me that I was going to have to take it over to the repair center. My phone and I had officially presented a problem beyond the realm of the quick-fix bag o’ tricks that the sales staff had in their repertoire.

Fine and dandy. Point me in the direction of technology salvation. I was in need of a geek. I needed a nerd-in-the-know. High school girls, don’t turn your backs on those nerdy boys. You’re going to need them and they will one day rule the world.

Ok…quick drive to Oz, aka the Magic Kingdom of Cell Phone Repair. Walk in…empty lobby. YES! I’m the only customer. This is going to be a snap. Techie guy, who soon revealed himself to be bitter techie guy, steps out to hear my tale of woe. I notice that his name tag says that his name is Jimmy. Only it wasn’t Jimmy, it was Jimmi. Hmm. Interesting, but amazingly enough for me, I let it go and did not question him about it.

I explain my dilemma. I show him sad, blank phone. I expect him to say that he will run in the back, sprinkle some nerd dust on the screen and restore it to its beautiful, full-color glory.

Insert sound of crickets chirping here.

He said nothing. He stared sadly at my phone. He shook his head. He mumbles something about how much he hates AT&T…the company that allows him to put food on his table.

“Well,” he said, “I have some bad news.” My screen would not be magically restored. AND, because my screen was dead and I had not backed my info up in any clouds anywhere, we were reduced to hoping that the guy who sold me this phone had transferred all of my data over properly (this involved some discussion of a magical chip inside the phone). If he hadn’t, I might lose EVERYTHING. Everything? EVERYTHING.

Of course he also found a reason why my phone did not qualify for the warranty that should have guaranteed free replacement within our first year together. Something about little hairline cracks he could see in the screen when he shined an evil flashlight on it, followed by more mumbling about how much AT&T sucks. (Really? You’re badmouthing your employer…to a customer? Seriously?)

Had I dropped my phone? NO.

Well, maybe.

A little.

Yes.

So there would be a fee…of course. Whatever. Just make it happen. New phone…same number…I could rebuild my mobile life if need be. I would bounce back, I bravely thought as tears pooled in my eyes.

As I was waiting for the transplant surgery that would hopefully transfer the brain of my old phone into a new body, another woman entered the store.

“Name?” asked Jimmy with an “i.”

“French,” answered the pretty brunette.

“First name?”

More crickets as new customer took a deep breath.

“Omega. It’s Omega.”

Reeeeally? Ok, I had refrained from commenting on Jimmy with an “i,” but was I really expected to let this go? Had this girl really spent the 30-someodd years of her life avoiding telling people that her parents saw fit to name her after one of the lesser letters in the Greek alphabet? In fact, the last letter? The sad cousin of the powerful Alpha?

I tried. I did. I bit my tongue. Hard.

And I failed.

“Did you have a lot of siblings?” I queried. She laughed, thankfully, and said no, she did not have Alpha, Beta, etc., as brothers and sisters. Her parents had just been a tad creative. I recovered by telling her how unique her name was and that while there were a herd of Nancys in my generation, it must be nice to be the only Omega. Ever.

We all continued chatting about names while Jimmy with an “i” worked to resolve our phone issues.

Then the bell on the door sounded and another young woman walked in. Dare I hope?

I held my breath as Jimmi asked her name.

“Angelica.”

JACKPOT! And it was the Spanish pronunciation. Aun-hell-ick-ah. You have to say it all breathy to really do it justice. The bonus here is that she was distinctly not of Latin American descent.

We caught Aun-hell-ick-ah up on our name game. She joined the conversation. Well, weren’t we all just making a potentially tedious visit to the phone repair place as fun as a barrel of monkeys?

Just then…you guessed it…door jingle. An older gentleman stepped in.

“Name?”

Hoping…hoping…hoping…

“Sylvan.” Hallelujah! AND he had a French Canadian accent to boot. Oh happy day!

At this point I officially changed my name to Nancois. I just couldn’t refrain from being a part of my newfound fraternity/sorority of uniquely named friends.

Jimmy with an “i” tried to claim a normal name. I threw my earlier restraint to the wind and informed him that Jimm-EYE was NOT ordinary.

He then informed all of us that he had chosen to spell it with an “i” to be different.

Crickets.

Ok, we killed a little time, and surgery was finally complete on my new phone. Fingers crossed, we turned it on. Everyone—all of my new friends and I—looked on. Then the clouds parted, the birds started singing, and my contact list appeared. As did all, ALL of my photos. Goodness I take a lot of cell phone photos. Even Jimmi thought so.

I bid Omega, Aun-hell-ick-ah, Sylvan, and Jimmi farewell and headed back to work where I would steal some time to get my apps back, set up my email again, etc. Life would soon be returned to normal. This was NOT going to be a bad day. This was just a tiny little hiccup. Onward and upward.

On the way, I stopped at Quik Trip to get my nectar of the gods, Diet Dr. Pepper. By the way, if you don’t live in an area where there are Quik Trip convenience stores, I am truly, truly sorry for you. LOVE my Quik Trips. They are clean, predictable, have good bathrooms, and attentive employees.

Because they are predictable, I headed straight to the refrigerators where I knew the bottles of Diet Dr. Pepper would be waiting in all their frosty glory and goodness. I grabbed a bottle…you know, in a hurry because my whole morning had taken a serious detour…paid quickly (they’re good at that too! These clerks can count change faster than seems humanly possible), and hopped back into the car.

Buckled in and ready to head out, I grabbed my bottle of DDP, only it wasn’t named DDP. My DDP was named Barq’s Root Beer. I had grabbed the WRONG bottle. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

The name game came back to haunt me. I started to peel back into the QT parking lot to exchange my root beer, but then I stopped. No, I said to myself, you were meant to enjoy this root beer today. Embrace the Barq’s. Omega would want you to.

So I did. And it was really very tasty. It was no DDP, but like changing my name to Nancois for the day, it was a nice change.

If I learned nothing else on this fine morning, Omega, Aun-hell-ick-ah, Sylvan, and Jimmi had taught me that different could be good.

Thanks to them, I was having a really good/bad morning. I was embracing my new/old phone. I was sipping  Diet Dr. Pepper in the form of Barq’s Root Beer.

When life hands you lemons, sometimes you just have to make root beer.

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Dear Mr. Winter…


Good morning! I see you’re up and at ‘em early today. Looks really chilly outside…just as you like it. And what’s this? Snow in the forecast? Oh, you are a giver.

So I’ve been noticing that you’re putting in quite a bit of overtime lately. Talk about dedication! No one can accuse you of being a slacker this season, right? All those comments we made around here last year about it being a mild winter—guess you showed us! Good for you. Good for you.

I don’t know how anyone ever gave you the nickname “Old Man Winter.” There is nothing old about you. You are obviously quite vigorous, vital, and fit. Kudos to your workout regime. Do you belong to a gym? Have a personal trainer?

Anyhow, I was just thinking that even the Chuck Norris of seasons needs a break every now and then. You know, a little time to relax, to just chill out. HAH! Chill out. You’d be great at that, Winter. May I call you Winter?

Truly though, if you have any thoughts about calling it a season and heading off to vacay, say maybe at the North Pole or somewhere fun like that, I just want you to know that we’re all behind you. I think I speak for just about all of frozen humanity when I say that we wish you well. You’ve done so much to us…I mean for us…already, what with all the effort behind the ice storms, the snow, the crazy low temperatures. Take one, two, or say nine months, and just go be your frosty self.

Relax. Enjoy life! Sit on an iceberg. Sip on a frozen margarita. Get to know some polar bears. Actually, they’d love to see you. You could beef up some of that frozen tundra for them. You could single-handedly put an end to any concerns about global warming. A philanthropic vacation! It’s so like you.

You’ve earned a little “me” time, Winter. You give and give and I’m wildly, completely sure you feel under-appreciated. So very sure.

So go. Just go. Let Spring step up. Oh, sure, she’ll eventually need help from Summer, but let them worry about that. We’ll try to get by without you. We’ll be OK. Really. Please. Go.

Much love and total respect,
Nancy

PS: Send a postcard!