Little Faces

Today I received a package from my sister, who lost her husband a little over a year ago, to a stroke, or heart attack, or whatever takes one aged 59, suddenly.  It was filled with pics from his childhood, which she wanted me to scan.  This after a week of my saying things about reflecting on pictures of little faces who didn’t know their lives were going to end prematurely.  My best friend had returned from a once in a lifetime trip to her homeland, Cuba, with photos of her older brother, Moses.  Moses was killed in Vietnam when he was 20 years old.  The photos, taken in his homeland before the immigration to the U.S., show a young boy full of laughter and promise.  That’s what I had been reflecting on all week, prior to receiving the photos from my sister.  Her batch of black and whites show exactly the same thing:  a little boy excited at seeing a barnyard rooster nearly as tall as himself.  Watching a groom brush a big birdshot grey horse while standing directly in the line of its back feet.  A baby cooing.  A baby smiling. Little faces that don’t have a clue what’s going to happen.

Then, at 4:30 this afternoon, I biked downtown to the First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street, which for non-Capital City residents means it is the “Black” church, there being an uppity White First Baptist across from the Capital Square.  I went for a youth rally against the restrictive voting legislation that our regressive General Assembly just passed.  And as it turns out it was also a memorial to the four little girls (and one boy, who is never mentioned) whose lives were sacrificed in the Birmingham Church bombing.  Again I am faced with the photos of four little children.

The photos for the most part look like school pictures.  Typical smiles directly into the camera. What kind of world do we live in?  Where little girls are memorialized for attending a Sunday School that is dynamited by members of the Ku Klux Klan? I come home to find that the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington DC was visited by a mad gunman, who killed 12 others before himself.  Somewhere there are the school pictures of smiling boys and girls, with no clue as to what their fate will be.

Driving Miss B

I wonder how many folks have ridden as a passenger way up high in a mighty tow truck?  I did today. I was stranded roadside with my 1,000 beast in tow, literally.  It turned out well, all things considered.  Jasper must have known, using his horse sense and all, that something was going to happen, because he popped right up onto the trailer, no prodding necessary.  “Wow,” I thought.  I’ll get to Raleigh in plenty of time for the hoof trimming appointment.”

Then I got into the pickup to start it, but no sound. Just a cluck. Damn.  The person living closest to the barn was a daysleeper, working the night shift and I had never laid eyes on him, though he parked his little red mustang really near where my truck was now sitting.   I remembered how awful it felt when I had little babies and was sleep deprived. Still, I mustered fortitude and knocked on the door and after a bit, I heard heavy footfalls.  He opened the door and I explained that I needed a jump.  I don’t have any cables, he muttered.  “No problem,” I said, holding the jumper cables high in the air for him to see.

“Okay,” he said as he shuffled barefoot, trousers sagging, to his car.  His toes were all bandaged and I felt sorry for him, wondering if he had been wearing ill fitting shoes.

The truck engine started right up with just  a second’s worth of jolt from the Mustang’s battery. Off I drove down the long lane from the barn and onto the main road, still with lots of time to spare.  We had just climbed the first knoll and were gliding downhill when the engine died.  Red lights came on across the dashboard, one message ordering me to “Check gauges now,” and then there was nothing.  I steered the coasting truck and trailer into a long driveway and out of the road.

Recently I had joined a roadside assistance program for equestrians, so I wondered if this constituted a full blown emergency.  I was within a mile or so of the barn, having just left, but it was clear that my truck was not going to start. The sun was in noonish mode and neither truck nor trailer was in the shade. The black horse was sweating. What to do?

I called the roadside assistance service and Malcolm answered. He was direct and persistent, and once he learned that I was safe, he peppered me with questions relating to my whereabouts, the kind of trailer I was pulling, and whether or not my horse needed water. Now that’s a service worth paying for: bringing water to a thirsty animal. Malcolm explained that it would take him awhile to set the service in action, since it would require towing both truck and trailer. What choice did I have?  Once he had everything scheduled, he said, he would call me back.

Meanwhile, I decided to unload my horse and walk him the mile or so back to the barn. Normally I have three saddles and a multitude of bridles in the back of my truck. But not today, because I had cleaned it out to make room for hauling. I didn’t have any riding tack, so it was walking and leading back to the barn, in the middle of the road. My costume is worth noting for curiousity’s sake: Yes, at age 64, I was wearing short running/biking shorts and a halter top. And equestrian boots up to my knees. The only person I expected to see me in this ridiculous outfit was my farrier, and she would not be surprised.  I feared that some passersby would find us an odd sight, but they just glanced our way and gave us the rural salute: a mere flicker of the hand.  The kind lady whose driveway I had coasted into did come find us in her golf cart and asked if I was a member of AARP, and though I’m not, I assumed she meant AAA, nodded yes, and on she went, saying that she had to go care for the sick.

With the horse safe back at the barn, I walked back to the truck and trailer, empty lead rope dangling off my shoulder. Malcolm called and confirmed that assistance was on its way.

Upon the return to my vehicle I took off the boots that weren’t made for walking and donned sandals. I drank water and waited. The tow truck driver called and said “I’m on my way darlin’.” Normally I would have hasseled him for calling me darlin’ but today is was oddly comforting. It is interesting how politics matters so little when you are at the mercy of the world.

A guy in a pickup truck slowed and asked if I was okay. I explained that help was on the way. His brother, he said, had a tow truck just up the road. Was I sure I wanted to wait, or did I want him to go get his brother and the tow truck? I was confused by my choices. “Sure,” I said, “Get your brother.” I immediately regretted saying that, because the assistance service was paid for already, and this stranger’s brother wasn’t. First come, first served, I figured. That’s when I saw that beautiful gleaming tow truck with lights flashing. It was the one dispatched from the equestrian protection plan.  Yahoo, we were in business.

The fellow driving the truck emerged and the first thing I noticed was his upper arm tattoo (he was wearing a sleeveless shirt).  It looked like wild seaweed or tame barbed wire wrapping around his arm. He was friendly, and his shorts  would not stay pulled up over his buttocks when he knelt or laid across the bed of the truck.  I noticed that his rear end was peeling from too much sun near the point where the cheeks met.  He did not have all his teeth, but that did not affect his driving. The man knew how to drive a truck! He loaded my truck onto the tow vehicle with dispatch. Then he hitched up my horse trailer to a 2″ ball, a dimension I could never recall until today and now won’t ever forget.  The tow truck had it all,  the driver Just pulled a lever and the bumper extended the hitch right out to meet the trailer.  Amazing.

I climbed aboard, and trust me, it was a climb, as the tow truck passenger cabin was a lot higher off the ground than the cab of a pickup. It was roomy and neat up there. I don’t know my savior’s name, but let’s call him Don.  Don took my trailer back to the barn and parked it in the space where the grass was brown from being suffocated underneath the trailer.  Exactly the right spot, and he was backing it into a tight space in this massive truck  that was carrying my long bed pickup! Don had skills.

The two of us headed off to downtown Raleigh, about 30 miles away to deliver my truck to a mechanic. Hoof trimming would happen some other day. We hadn’t gone far before we simultaneously spotted an oncoming  tractor trailer, swerving onto our side of the road.  It recovered.   A large snapping turtle was in the middle of the road, heading into our lane.  I asked Don shouldn’t we stop and help it. He barely hestitated before saying “Yes, we should.” Don carried that savage angry reptile, it twisting one way then another, its long neck striking out at him like a cobra. I had never seen anything like it. I’ve heard lots of stories about snapping turtles but had never seen one in action. Don gingerly placed the turtle in the high grass along the shoulder and got back in the truck murmuring  “My hands stink.” Plus the mighty claws on the beast had scratched  him across one finger. I dug around in my purse for aloe vera to mitigate   some of the stink and discomfort.

We drove the rest of the way into Raleigh talking of Don’s Siberian Huskies, him showing me their photos on his I-phone, mimicking their way of talking,  and telling me of their mole digging antics. Then, just as we were nearing downtown, Don turned to me and said, “You know, that big ole snapping turtle I was telling you about, the one with a head this big (Don held both fists together side by side, while still managing to drive). “Yes,”I said, because he had mentioned it to me when we rescued today’s snapping turtle. “Well, my Daddy and me went fishing in a small lake and that turtle ate all our fish and all our bait, everytime we tried to fish.  So we got a ’22 and as long as we carried that ’22 down there, that turtle left us alone. “

“How did he know?” I wondered.

“Dunno, Don replied.

” But then one time we went and he was there and he started eating our fish. The ’22 held 8 shots, and I reloaded it 4 times. We put 36 bullets into him, and he just disappeared under water.”

“What?” I asked, aghast.

“Were the bullets pinging off his shell?” I asked, full of hope . . .

“Oh, no,” Don replied. “They were penetrating, just not gettin’ any vitals, I think. Then a few days later, we saw his shell, turned upside down, like a big bowl, by the side of the lake. Buzzards got ‘im.”

By now we had arrived and Don backed that big old gleaming truck into a tiny bay at the mechanic’s shop with great pride. Rightfully so. He was good.

After I arrived at home, I reflected on the adventure and I think that Don and I would have disagreed on many political issues, but he saved the day.  And, when he carried that turtle across the road, its head twisting violently to get at him, and its beak  snapping wildly, he performed a karmic act by saving its life.  I hope his finger isn’t infected.

First Court Appearance

So this morning at 8:45 I entered the Wake County Courthouse for my first court appearance after my arrest in the General Assembly. I went through the security maze and on to the tremendously long line at the elevators. Thankfully while I was there I spotted a partner in crime, who was older than me with an even older and slower husband in tow. She explained that she had already been up to the courtroom and that we were to be tried in the new Wake County Judicial building. Yahoo, because I was becoming very claustrophobic and obsessive compulsive with thoughts of “What if someone set off a bomb or there was a fire?.” It was a narrow, suffocating place.

On to building 2 where the worst event of the day happened. Even though my bag made it through security in the first courthouse, it failed in courthouse #2. I worried that someone had discovered my treasured penknife, a cherished item I saved from my Dad’s possessions. It’s tiny. The robust security guard asked me to produce my keys. Which I did. “More keys,” she said, “From the bottom of your purse.” I did. Nope, something else, in the bottom.  Oh no, my little red plastic corkscrew for those special occasions when I’m so desperate and nearly willing to chew the cork and glass off the top of a bottle of wine. Purchased from a cute little hardware store in Black Mountain, NC.  Yep, that one. “You can take it back to your car,” she said.  Blocks and blocks away, and the judge was waiting. I handed it over.

Next stop was courtroom #201, very modern, light and efficient looking and the approximate temperature of the meat locker at Kroger. A pleasant girl whom I guessed was a public relations official for the judge took roll and smiled a lot. I liked her, I thought.

My elder partner in crime with the slow husband finally made it into the courtroom where she was clearly upset at the fact that our lawyer was not present.  I was okay with that because I operate most of the time under the motto, “Often wrong, but never in doubt.” I figured I could defend myself, if it came to that.

Slow husband began to read the newspaper and he tried very hard not to make those annoying crinkling sounds by carefully pressing down each page he turned. My obsessive compulsive self wanted to yank it out of his hands and stomp it.  Still no lawyer, but much milling around in the front, near where the judge sat.

I should stop here and describe those of us who were waiting to have our cases heard. But what can I say that you don’t already know? Lots of diversity, mostly black, some Hispanic, few whites. Dress varied from jeans so tight I could see the thong underneath to crocks with socks. Some were way pregnant, some had very young children sitting and whimpering next to them. The young black man or was he a very dark Mexican man? on the bench in front of me had tatoos of little kissy lips snaking up from his shirt collar onto his jawline.

Finally our lawyer, a volunteer, arrives from Durham. She looked dazed. Not a good sign, I thought. She had a young man with her who was also arrested for being at the General Assembly and who, like me and my other compatriot, failed to disperse.

Another lawyer represented yet another of my co-defendants who failed to show. The lawyer explained that there was a wreck on 40. My elder compatriot leaned over and whispered, “Is there ever not a wreck on 40?” She’s not dimwitted, I thought.  The lawyer presented the case for the absent defendant, and all of a sudden, Miss nice smiley girl whom I thought to be in the public relations field turned on him and spouted off the house rules of the General Assembly. Damn, she was the DA and not nice at all.  “No,” she crowed, “The State did not want the defendant returning to the second floor of the General Assembly, where our legislators are doing their business.”  There was a bit of parrying between absent girl’s lawyer and not so nice pretty girl.  The judge seemed kind and asked for a compromise: a written motion. Bingo, lawyer produced it. Pretty girl pored over it, word for word. Took forever but finally an agreement was reached. I knew in my heart that my lawyer didn’t have one of those written motions waiting in the wings.

After about a half hour of a lot of lawyers milling about and snapping and crunching crisp cellophane panes on the front of yellow envelopes, my lawyer stood and approached the mean pretty girl.  She waited her turn patiently and my friend leaned over and said, “Did you see that? She deferred to the blonde woman behind her, and she let her in line.” Nothing got past my partner in crime.

My lawyer conferred with Miss Meanness and then called the young man, the third of we three musketeers, before the judge. It was over in a matter of seconds, with just a little bit of sniping from the DA about the second floor of the General Assembly. Then the lawyer called my elder friend, Ms. Freeman.  The judge looked up and he and I made eye contact. I swear it. He said to my lawyer, “Would you like to bring both Ms. Freeman and Ms. Black to be heard together?” “YES! my heart was singing.”

The lawyer sorta nodded and up I jumped. The judge, by this time, was almost winking at me, I swear it, really. Not in a sexy way but in a “I know a person like you would never get herself into a lot of trouble without a really good reason, kind of way.” He heard the case and when I asked my lawyer about being able to reenter the General Assembly, the judge turned to the DA and said, “Has the State changed its mind in the last 10 minutes?” “No,” Miss pretty girl turned bad said. So the judge instructed my lawyer to draft a motion just like the earlier lawyer had and she looked a little confused. “I’ll help you,” I wanted to shout, but didn’t.

It was all over, just like that. To be continued, next court date October 3.

But wait, there’s more. Just couldn’t get that red corkscrew off my mind. (Did I mention OCD?) I went back to security, and there it was, still resting peacefully between the nailclippers and scissors. I asked nicely if I could have it back. “No,” the security maven snapped. “I can’t lose my job over your corkscrew.” Fair enough, I thought. But what would have happened if I’d just reached down, grabbed it, and run?

Minding Elizabeth

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Stoic, wrote that “Life is like little dogs biting one another.” I thought of that today when I visited the historic Oakwood Cemetary in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina for maybe the twentieth or so time. I began coming to this particular spot on the hillside when I worked nearby in the State government complex and went for walks at lunchtime. I had read the newspaper account of the tragic automobile accident that claimed Wade Edwards’ life and morbid curiosity led me to his grave. There I was awed by the huge angel that clasps Wade’s face in her hands as she pulls him heavenward. She rises, unformed, from a slab of white marble, part stone and part heaven.

So now I am here again, visiting Elizabeth. I was wowed by Johnny Edwards’ good looks and charisma years ago when he spoke to a group of folks at the Poverty Center in Chapel Hill. I attended the kickoff rally at North Carolina State University when he and John Kerry announced their campaign for the Presidency. I found myself actually inspired by  their words of hope that at last, through politics, we could make the world a better place. I was a convert and believer.   That was all pre-Elizabeth’s diagnosis with cancer and pre-Reille. I, like many others, was fascinated by the tabloid drama that played out before our eyes when Reille, Riley, Reale, Really? Hunter caught Johnny’s eye in a bar in New York. When the fall came, I watched with morbid curiosity and disbelief. All those shining images of the two of them, Johnny and Elizabeth, overcoming the terrible grief of losing Wade, smiling and parenting on the campaign trail with their two new little children. It was hopeful. But it wasn’t. It turned ugly and sad. I watched Elizabeth’s funeral service, broadcast from the downtown Edenton Street Methodist Church. It was poignant. I wondered about where she was buried and what marked her gravesite, because it was said that now Elizabeth would join her beloved Wade in Oakwood.

I’ve begun a ritual daily bike ride to Oakwood. It’s quiet, beautiful, and peaceful. It’s safe for me because I’m terrible on a bike and there aren’t many cars.  Sometimes I sit on the granite bench in front of the angel sculpture, where Elizabeth sat in life and read the high school required reading to Wade in death . There’s a small marble slab that’s new. It bears a fitting inscription to Elizabeth, and was placed there by her brother and sister . You’d miss it if you weren’t looking.  A small faded silk hydrangea tilts to one side in its plastic pot. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the site looks abandoned and forlorn.

I thought I’d sit on the bench this morning and think about life and come to a major decision. Then I laughed aloud and realized there were no more major decisions to make, I’d pretty much made them all.  That’s when it occurred to me, there among all those dead, that the stuff of life really rests on all those little decisions we make on a daily, hourly, even minute by minute basis. I believe Elizabeth realized this, and it may help us all to remember it.   That’s why I like the quote by Marcus Aurelius. Life IS like little dogs biting one another.

Building a chicken coop

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Photographic chronology of building the chicken coop.

old, older, and oldest

At 61, I’m still keeping secrets from my Daddy. WTF? My 84 year old father worries that, as a horsewoman, I’m going to get hurt. As anyone who knows, loves, and “messes” with horses will tell you, “He’s right: sooner or later there will be a misstep (no pun intended), and some harm will come to the human of the equine/human duo.” So finally it happened, after five years, I took a tumble and horse took a roll. So I have joined the ranks of the injured (once again). The last time I checked in on my Dad, he said, “I just know you’re going to get hurt on that horse!” Literally, these were his last words before the Sunday ride when I took the tumble. I dared not tell him of the injury prior to my surgery. Better to wait, I thought, to see how that turns out. Now that I’m home with my leg in the air, should I confess to the injury and explain why I can’t check on him this week? I called him today to do that, but he was not doing well. I hedged because he was already short of breath, and so I chose not to upset him.

Here I sit, like a teenager, fretting over keeping something from my parent. I’m old as dirt, for God’s sake. How can I still be reacting like a kid? I want to be able to help my Dad, but I am totally non-ambulatory. Tommorow’s the day I’ll come clean. I’ll call him to let him know that darn it, he was right! I kept messing around with that horse, and I got hurt!

TJ’s Blog

I’m a horse. My mama, a 60 something lady, had a blog and she was going to write 60 posts during her 60th year. But she didn’t make it. Only wrote 12 or so, and then gave up because she’d named her blog “60 on 60.” Too bad. She turned the whole thing over to me, saying, “Have at it, TJ, tell the world what it’s like being you.”

There was another horse once that did something like this: Beauty was his name, but that was a long time ago, and way before blogs. I’m white, unlike Beauty (who was black) and I don’t have a lot in common with Beauty, except that we were both born horses and have been passed around, from owner to owner. I had another mama before this one who didn’t like me very much. I just didn’t suit her: couldn’t do anything right, and she cussed at me – a lot. Because I didn’t suit her, she decided to sell me, and as country cowboys are wont to do, they passed me from one to another, in search of a buyer.

It was about that time, in the fall of 2005, that my current mama got to thinking that she was really missing having a horse, and was wondering if she might be able to find a suitable one. So Cowboy Don made her an offer: told her she could test ride me on a trail ride, to see if she liked me, and if so, he would sell me to her, and board me at his farm for a reasonable fee. So my current mama took that test ride, and the rest is history so to speak. For her, it was love at first sight. For me, well, I had to keep my options open, because humans are funny creatures. Like I said, I’ve been the source of a human’s displeasure, and so I know how to wait. Funny thing is, lately my mama and I have gotten pretty tight.

She was always kind to me, even though she kept me on a tight rein in those open fields. She thought I needed some schooling, I think. But now, she’s got this notion that the two of us are going to have a relationship. It’s not going to be just about climbing onto my back and trudging through woods and fields with a bunch of yahoos and their horses. She’s decided to get to know me.

Today she took me to meet a thoroughbred, a classy guy, named Irish. He was okay. We walked around together a while, and I kind of got to know his place. It was very different from mine. Shady and cooler than my place, which is very sunny: baked in the sun, almost, although I think my pasture may be a little better than his. Anyway, it was all kind of okay. I found myself coming out of my shell, a little. I don’t know, maybe there is something to this relationship stuff. I’m learning some new tricks that seem to please my mama. She rode me in a large riding ring today, and I haven’t done that kind of work in a long time. I’d just as soon head on out the gate, which I tried to show her, but eventually I did a little loping and changed my lead, to everyone’s satisfaction. Like I said, it was okay. Life’s a little more interesting this way. Now when she shows up at my place, I don’t know exactly what to expect. It may be kind of interesting to see what happens. She’s notorious for giving me treats, and I play along, because I like the new butterscotch ones that she’s offering. Not a bad day at all, for a horse.


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