Just for laughs

Pigeon Feathers and Plaster Dust

Posted by on Apr 7, 2006 in Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments


It’s hard to pick out the stupidest thing I’ve ever done from among my many escapades over the years, but I do have a few adventures that stand out in my mind. I wish they involved jumping out of airplanes, or struggling through the rainforest with only a machete and my wits, but even my idiocy is mundane, like the time my husband and I decided we could insulate the attic of our 100-year-old fan house ourselves. The windows rattled in the slightest breeze, but we misguidedly believed that the fuel bills might go down if we could get some bolts of pink stuff in the three-foot high space over our heads.

We spent one long weekend crawling about on our bellies, frightening all the vermin who were either living there, or visiting at the gravesides of their departed friends. After we started stuffing those big fiberglass bolts up into the narrow space, both of us realized we were doing something really dim-witted. We took turns in the crawl space, but with only about one fourth of the area done, we began to see the absurdity. Sunday night when we were both blowing pigeon feathers, fiberglass, and god knows what else out of our noses, and we had to concede defeat. In fact, that project became the gold standard by which we judged all other foolish things we attempted. “Well,” one of us would say, “it’s not as dumb as that time we tried to insulate the attic of the house on Floyd,” followed by laughter at the recollection.

I have a sudden tumble of memories from that same house that revolve around our DIY projects. Lots of people were renovating houses in the up and coming fan neighborhood, and I decided we should hop on the bandwagon. I have labored through life with the optimistic notion that I can do anything I set my mind to, so I decided to tackle the myriad problems of that ancient house with only a thin home repair book and faith. After the attic fiasco I decided to confine my efforts to smaller projects, like fixing a one-inch gouge in the plaster wall of the living room.

The repair book said to cut a V shaped notch so the spackle would have a good foothold. Evidently the man who wrote the book had never dealt with 100 year old plaster, because my tiny tap with the screwdriver and hammer resulted in a piece of dusty rock the size of my hand dropping on my foot. I rushed back to the book and read that I should remove anything loose around the hole, so with some misgivings I headed back to the wall with my screwdriver. By the time my husband returned home at 5:30, I was standing in front of a spot large enough to hold a horse, with a still unopened pint of spackle sitting inadequately on the floor. He was horrified, but at that point we decided that it would be best to just remove a section large enough so we could nail up a piece of drywall (per the same helpful book). The plaster was indeed a crumbling mess, and by grasping it in your hand, chunks the size of your head would come loose. By 7:00 we had filled all the garbage cans with the boulders, and a fine layer of plaster had settled over the entire contents of the room, including our hair, faces, and clothing.

Hours later, when the giddiness of demolition that had infected us both wore off, we realized the enormity of the task we had created for ourselves. I had seen sheet rock, and I knew that it was not nearly as thick as the 3-inch layer of plaster we had dislodged. The next day I headed, less than confidently, to the home repair store hoping that some helpful employee would take pity on me and give me a simple answer. As I stepped inside and started looking through the aisles, I spied a solution all on my own. I came home with a roll of reed fencing that I cut in sections and stapled to the wall, cleverly disguising the whole mess.

It worked quite nicely, and for the remainder of our stay in the house we silently agreed between us to ignore the wall. It was amazingly easy to do until fall came, and we had an invasion of crickets. Evidently they considered the wall a playground created just for them, and made an inordinant amount of noise for such tiny little beasts. I remember being awakened by such a loud scurry and chirping one night that I woke my husband, believing we had intruders. He turned on the light, but the noise diminished only slightly. I began to imagine mice, or even rats were racing about back there on the lathing. “What are we going to do?” I said, and turned to him with that look that women have using since time began; the look that said since he was the man it was his responsibility to take care of household vermin. “I’ll get my shotgun”, he replied. The horror of his suggestion played across my face as I began to speak. “You can’t shoot a gun…” It was then he smiled, and we both started laughing. I thought how great it was that I had a partner that not only did not blame me for the mess I created, but had the grace to make me laugh at myself.

We lived in the house together for less than two years, then sold it along with it’s half insulated attic, crumbling plaster walls, and tilting floors, to someone with a lot more renovation know how. I had nightmares for many months after we moved out that the new owner was chasing me through the house, screaming things like, “Why didn’t you tell me about the water pressure?” or “I can’t plug in the toaster and the blender without blowing fuses!” In reality we had made full disclosure and allowed him to inspect freely, but my experiences had left me fraught with guilt at the amount of work he was going to have to do. I pass by the house often when I go into the city, and it’s certainly completely changed from the outside. I have never had the nerve to knock on his door in all those years to see what miracles he performed. I was told that he considered the house a great bargain, but that his fiancée walked out on him at some point during the refurbishment process. I suppose neither of them realized that in order to get through a renovation project as a couple, they would need more than technical skills. Equally essential is the wonderful gift of laughter, not to mention an unfailing sense of the absurd.

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I’m not making this up

Posted by on Jan 13, 2006 in Just for laughs, Mother in Laws | 0 comments

I’ve had several requests for stories about the further adventures of my stepmother in law, and I must admit, she provides endless amusement. I’ve not always felt that way, because in the early years I made the mistake of taking her seriously. I didn’t actually have an epiphany that moved her into the “annoying but entertaining” category; it came slowly, over many years. One of her most recent zany escapades occurred in late March, and coincides with the equinox ceremony of my first-born. I feel compelled to report the facts now, less they disappear, just like my father in law’s right shoe. It was the Saturday before the big event when Carl and Margaret headed out from the retirement home in Roanoke, on what may be their last trip to Mechanicsville. Margaret described her personal misfortune surrounding the nuptials as “the worse thing that has ever happened to me”, a remarkable statement coming from someone who lived through the death of her infant brother, World War II, divorce from her first husband, and the suicide of her step-son. I’m not sure how her rating system for disaster is calibrated, so I just took it at face value.

Her adventure began innocently enough with a stop at the local Sheets station, to fill up the gas tank before the trip. Pop is very feeble now, so I don’t think he got out of the car, but he evidently did at least open the door. By some strange quirk of fate, while they were filling up, one of the dress shoes he was wearing managed to fall off his foot and onto the pavement. Curiously enough, this loss was not discovered till much later in the day. He sat in the car in diddle-diddle-dumpling mode for many hours, totally oblivious that he had one shoe off, and one shoe on. Now in case you’re wondering, the tragedy Margaret described was not the missing footwear, but the flat tire they had many miles later. Startled and frightened, Margaret guided the damaged car off the road and came to rest on the interstate median, certainly not a pleasant place to spend a Saturday. She sat there helplessly till a man stopped and came up to her car. As Margaret tells it, she rolled down the window and he said, dramatically, “Mrs. Haley, I want to help you.” I hope there was some introduction before this statement, unless everyone on I-81 already knows her from her previous trips, where she barrels along in the left lane at 50 miles an hour. I’m sure the state policeman who pulled over behind them still remembers the incident. Pop and Margaret immediately quizzed him on his entire family history, just like they do with each new acquaintance, trying to find a connection between him and their Methodist church family. This perfectly acceptable habit, that served them so well in greeting parishioners, has become their custom regardless of the gravity, drama, or turmoil of the circumstance. I somehow imagine them walking the plank on a pirate ship while chatting amiably with the captain about his relationship to the Bluebeard family they knew back in Nelson County.

Their new friends, the almost Methodist officer, and the kind, chivalrous stranger, changed the tire post haste. The police car then escorted them to a local merchant, where they could purchase a replacement tire for the temporary donut they had put on the vehicle. It was at the tire store that Pop decided to get out, and finding his steps more unsteady than usual, noticed his missing right shoe. If he had realized it during the roadside incident, I’m confident Margaret would have tried to persuade the officer to go back to the Sheets and retrieve the shoe. Once the car was repaired, they continued on their way to Richmond, landing at my house much later than planned. Everyone in the house was in frenzied preparations for the ceremony, but Margaret insisted on repeating her tale of woe to each and every occupant, and many strangers that entered the house that day. I do want to assure everyone that the delay in starting Ben and Joriel’s ceremony the next day was in no way related to the tire or shoe, but as many of you already know, we were waiting for the notorious grandparents. We did not allow enough time between the three o’clock nuptial meal and the 7 o’clock ceremony for them to return home for their car. Why none of us though to ask them to bring their car to the meal, we’ll never know. I think I can be excused, as I was trying to make sure the hundreds of pounds of food and the three cakes arrived safely at the site, not to mention taking a few minutes to put on my dress. My long suffering husband will not be surprised that I lay the rap on him, since he was responsible for the travel arrangements. I rather wish my wonderfully funny son-in-law had taken the opportunity to tell the shoe story to the assembled crowd while we waited, but of course, without the ending part that came much later, it would not have been nearly as much fun.

I’ll save the tale of the beautiful and amazing ceremony for another day, skipping forward to the departure of the Haley grandparents. Clearly, we are all a marvelous bunch of planners, since no one had anticipated the logistics of their exodus. If their suitcases had been put in their car in the afternoon, they would not have had to return to my house, after dark, to pack up before they left. As they are unaccustomed to climbing stairs, Pop managed to fall backward into the shrubbery while ascending the 5 steps that lead up from the driveway to the sidewalk. Although he was not injured, Margaret later told me that they would not be visiting us again until egress into our home meets the standards she is accustomed to, which I guess means I will not be starting a rest home at my house anytime in the near future. But I digress. They spent the night with a friend along the road home, and arrived at the Sheets station the next afternoon to inquired about the shoe. The harried manager told them that they indeed had found a black shoe, and went to rummage in the back room. He returned, empty handed, and admitted that after several days, someone must have thrown it away. He apologized, but Margaret was not having it. How could anyone throw away a perfectly good right shoe! She informed him that the pair of shoes had cost $120 and unless he compensated her $60 for the one that was lost, she would sue the station for poor customer service.

I can easily imagine the chagrin and amazement that went through the mind of that manager, because I have experienced identical feeling so many times. There was the time when I was carrying my middle son and mentioned I was awakened with leg cramps. Margaret, who has never had a child of her own, explained to me emphatically that pregnant women do not have leg cramps. I also recall being told that it is cheaper to run your dishwasher after 10 at night, even if you do not have an off peak meter for your electricity. The electric company magically knows when you’ve been good or bad and adjusts your bill accordingly. In the interest of brevity, I just won’t get started on her interpretation of all the physician’s instructions she had been given over the years, but suffice it to say that all the “top” doctors in Virginia would be startled to hear her version of their orders. I can almost see the play of emotions that passed across the face of the confounded Sheets manager. If he or she were quick witted, they might have suggested that they would provide matching funds for any amount Margaret was offered for the other shoe. Being polite, and dumbfounded, the manager could only stammer that the station couldn’t take responsibility for items dropped in the parking area.

I haven’t been so bold as to inquire about how the lawsuit is getting on. I let my husband do most of the checking up on his father, which usually involves a lengthy conversation with Margaret, who is now almost deaf. She has obtained a hearing aide, but other than emitting a high-pitched screech throughout our conversations, it doesn’t seem to serve any function. Margaret, being deaf, can only dimly hear the noise that sends the rest of us running from the room. Pop, who has habituated himself to Margaret’s vexing habits, sits smiling and oblivious during the ear splitting noise, just as he does through all her verbal tirades. Like people who live near a jet plane flyover, or in mosquito infested swamps, he no longer hears or feels that which is so trying for the rest of family. In a sense he is the ultimate Zen master, if one can master Zen unconsciously. I suppose a lost shoe now and again is fair compensation for the elimination of all irritation from your life.

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Thanksgiving 05

Posted by on Nov 20, 2005 in Just for laughs, Mother in Laws | 0 comments

As Thanksgiving approaches, and I count my many blessings, I am embarrassed to admit that not having to spend the day with my in-laws is right up there at the top. It’s very hard for me to talk about my husband’s stepmother in a way that doesn’t make me sound, well, bitchy, so I find myself skirting the topic again and again. I always try to empathize with others and give them the benefit of the doubt, but in Margaret’s case I am stymied immediately when I try to enumerate her good qualities. Perhaps we should take a Dickens trip to Thanksgivings past to better understand the Margaret phenomenon.

The first year my husband and I dated I assumed that he would invite me to his parents for Turkey day, so I made no arrangements to go home to Kentucky. I ended up wallowing in self pity, and having cold baked beans for dinner when no invite was issued. Little did I know that my boyfriend did not feel confident enough in our relationship to believe it could endure a holiday with the “folks”. The next year I was invited to their house, so naturally, I asked what I could bring. Margaret gave me detailed instructions on how to get to a bakery in Richmond that made great rolls and told me to buy half a dozen. I though, how sweet, she doesn’t know I can cook and she’s trying to give me an easy task. I ignored her, made two pans of homemade rolls and a coconut cake with lemon filling. Judging from her reaction when I arrived, the home baked goods were not a welcome addition to the meal. She had made one pumpkin pie and was in a dither as to how we would resolve the issue of how to serve dessert. When our plates were put in front of us, they each had half a slice of pie and a microscopically thin slice of cake, arranged neatly side by side. I could not help thinking about the table in Kentucky that was, at that moment, groaning with the weight of no less than 20 pies, assorted cakes, and maybe cookies for the children who preferred chocolate chip. I wished sincerely that I could be with my parents, or in a restaurant, or even in my little apartment with just Ben and I, eating cold beans out of the can.

I certainly tried everything over the years to avoid spending the day devoted to joyful overindulgence with a person who has dedicated her life to parsimonious temperance. We drove to my parent’s house several years, where we ate until our eyeballs bulged out of our heads. It was a very long trip, even for a meal so grand, and we pretty much stopped it when the babies came along. The last year we lived in the city, we stayed at home for Thanksgiving and had my husbands grandmother and sister come for the day. The fallout from that year was dreadful and we decided we would just have to grit our teeth, bite our tongues, and go to Norfolk to eat the next year. The year my oldest graduated from high school we tried something new, Disney World! We spent a week there in the glorious sunshine and a Margaret-free Thanksgiving. As you may have figured out, we were once again deemed ungrateful, self-indulgent children. Margaret even tempted fate by announcing that we could have Thanksgiving on our own when they were dead and gone.

Since she never enjoyed the cooking or entertaining part of the day, I switched venues and asked them to come to our house for the big day. Margaret announced that she would bring the sweet potatoes and arrived with small glass dish, covered in marshmallows. As I was trying to get everything on the table, Margaret was in the kitchen giving me instructions in the guise of “helping”, which had made me nervous and clumsy. I was taking her steaming potato dish out of the oven when it just seemed to jump out of my hands, flip over, and land, marshmallow side down, on the hot oven door. Per her instructions, we scooped it up, put it back in the dish and served it anyway. From then on she always brought food requiring no heating, like her famous Jell-O salad.

I saw a commercial for a Napoleon series on the history channel which stated “Conquer the world, have a desert named after you”. My mind drifted to other foods that had been named after other people like Peach Melba and Baby Ruth. Naturally, the next thing I thought of was my mother in law and her Jell-O “salads”. I believe if anyone deserved having a food named after them it would be Margaret for her presentation of gelatin containing fruit and/or vegetables, cut into equal sized squares and served on a ruffle of iceberg lettuce, topped by a greasy dollop of mayonnaise. She varied the flavor seasonally and I actually didn’t mind the one with cranberries she served for Thanksgiving. I do, however, hate artificial fruit flavored lettuce and always left it on my plate, along with the mayo. I recall one awful Thanksgiving meal at her house where she yammered from the kitchen about the waste of “perfectly good lettuce” and declared angrily that she would just rinse it off and reuse it at another meal.

At our last Thanksgiving together she looked over the elegant, but mildly exotic offerings that my daughter and I had concocted and asked if we had any peanut butter. Considering the source, I was flabbergasted at her request. This is the same woman who demanded that my children eat liver and onions she had made, and refused them an alternative. The woman who has lived her life with the firm belief that giving people a choice of what they want to eat will only lead to chaos. They will be having dinner with cousin Keith at the Holiday Inn this year, where the menu will be simple and to her liking. My daughter will be making her own amazing Thanksgiving dinner for a grateful, but decidedly non-pilgrim group of London comics. She emailed me for pie recipes, so I know she’s going all out. My oldest will be working through the day in Seattle, and his wife will be on her own, hopefully not taking a cue from me and having cold beans. My sister will be holding up the family tradition for those remaining in the home of my childhood, and my middle son will be overwhelmed by his unexpected only child status for the day. I bought a small free range turkey, the cranberry sauce and potatoes are already made, and I conjured up pie crust this morning. I imagine we’ll have more than a few leftovers, but I am grateful that Margaret will not be here to tell me I’ve made too much food. Our usual open refrigerator door policy still applies, so come on by if you’re in the neighborhood.

MENU 2005











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Conspiracy Theory

Posted by on Oct 20, 2005 in All things natural, Just for laughs | 0 comments

My husband hates buzzards. I think it has something to do with a hunting trip he went on in his younger days. As I remember the story, he and his friend Buddy went out to kill rabbits, but fortunately for the rabbits, the guys weren’t having any luck. Wandering about, they came upon a creepy looking house with a “wake” of buzzards perched on the roof. Having nothing else to do, they may have randomly lobbed a few shots in that direction. Most of the birds flew away, but just for spite, the king buzzard flew over the two hunters, and having no bombs to drop in retaliation, he emptied the contents of his offal filled stomach in their path. I don’t think the barf actually hit anyone, as they were young and fleet of foot, but they still believe the bird stalked them the rest of the day. I personally think it might have just been a guilty conscience that sent them scurrying under trees at every bird shadow on the ground.

Now never having wandered out on a fall day to kill things, I have a hard time understanding why this resulted in long term resentment toward the species. I mean, they were firing ammunition which could have resulted in a buzzard funeral, while the birds were only trying to defend their life with what they had available. Over the years I have tried to point out the buzzards more endearing qualities to my mate, how beautiful they look flying circles far above, and what an important role they have in clearing decaying road kill from the highways. He scowls and curses under his breath in an agitated fashion till I can’t resist drawing his attention to each new sighting.

Living as we do near several interstate highways, we have a large population of carrion eaters in our area. They are particularly fond of the microwave tower near the cloverleaf of 295 and 301. Traveling back and forth to work each day I see them sitting patiently on the treelike branches of what they must perceive as a giant sequoia. Lately I’ve been thinking about what kind of effect those large bodies might have on the cell phone reception in our area. My cell phone worked in Yellowstone National Park where they had no TV reception and only one radio station, but it does not work in my house, 12 miles. as the buzzard flies, from the heart of Richmond. The husband has the same problem with his older phone as I do with my spiffy new flip open one.

I called the friendly customer service people at Sprint and asked about this problem. Connie, my friendly Sprint representative, seemed surprised and asked me several questions, including one that took me aback. “Are there a lot of trees in your area”, she asked, sweet as sugar, but trained to be evasive. I thought of all the pictures I have seen of the east coast of the US from the air and paused a moment. “Well yes,” I replied, leaving off the fact that the dominant land use for the entire 95 corridor is forest, “do microwaves not travel through trees?” She stated that she was sure that was my problem, but I could upgrade my phone for a small fee and possibly eliminate the difficulty. She also offered several other upgrades that she assured me would save me money in the long run.

After hanging up from the call I started thinking about the skulking outlines of the buzzards waiting patiently on the tower. I checked to find out the average life span of buzzards, but oddly enough, not that many ornithologists have devoted themselves to their study. The few who do, say that the bird is a highly intelligent and playful creature, capable of forming strong bonds with humans. One story I read happened in Virginia. It seems that a woman accustomed to walking daily up her local mountain, to view the birds in their native habitat, had stopped hiking because of a broken leg. After a few days the buzzards showed up on her backyard fence to see what was wrong, and continued to come every day till she was well. To amuse themselves they played with a large orange ball the children had left in the backyard. They are evidently also capable of communication over long distances, calling in other groups when they discover a windfall, like a dead cow. My local group spends so much time just perching up there, I’m sure they must communicate.

If any bird could hold a grudge it would have to be the buzzard, with that angry red face and yellow eye, but all my research indicates they might just love a practical joke. If they are sitting up there messing with our cell phones reception and snickering a bit maliciously under their breath, I wish someone could let them know that even though I married him, I am neither a meat eater nor a hunter. Meanwhile, I guess I better keep my landline paid up and quit calling Connie. I’m only using about 200 of my 1200 minutes per month now, and really can’t afford to save any more money. Besides, not wanting to sound paranoid, but I wonder if Connie has ever had a broken leg.

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Water over the Dam

Posted by on Sep 7, 2005 in Dad, Just for laughs | 0 comments

She went outside on the deck to have a quick smoke, but that’s not how she caught the houseboat on fire. After all, she had the whole river as an ashtray, so there was never a smoldering butt tossed in the trash or even in the bottom of one of the RC pop cans left empty on the deck table. I never asked her why she lingered so long over the cigarettes, but I understand the lure of resting under the shade of the sycamore and oak that overhang the dock, scanning the opposite bank to find out what the neighbors are up to, and waiting to see if the flotsam drifting slowly by is a tree limb, a snake, or maybe a turtle. If she had seen a snake that day she would have headed back inside for her gun to shoot it, so most likely Catherine didn’t spot one that morning.

I guess I should explain that Catherine is my Dad’s live in girlfriend, although I cringe when I speak it out loud. Dad will be 91 this month, with health problems that likely preclude any physical relationship between them, but Dad manages to be just charming enough to keep her there, cooking, cleaning, and mopping up after his accidents, without paying her a dime. Not that she’s the world’s best housekeeper or cook, but Dad’s standards have dropped in more ways than one since my Mom died in 94. She’s not what you’d call a genius either, but Dad brags on her strong points to everyone who’ll listen, mentioning her fishing abilities, then praising her extensive health care experience, “She wears one of those things around her neck. You know, like the doctors use,” he confides in his booming stage whisper. She sits nearby, a grin etching yet deeper trenches into her weathered face, testament to her years of river life.

On this particular morning her paramour was off in the pickup truck. They didn’t take away his driver’s license and cancel his insurance till some years later, after the second, or maybe third accident. She saw the black smoke rolling out of the door before she smelled it, and with the acuity of the panicked, she immediately raced into the inferno. The pan of grease she had left forgotten on the hot burner was ablaze and had engulfed the lower cabinet, blinds and the microwave. Using her lightning quick wits, Catherine grabbed the pan and ran with it across the living room, out the door, onto the deck and threw it over the railing into the Green River. Turning back, she realized that she had caught several items on fire as she passed them with the boiling oil, so she snatched up burning chairs and seat cushions and lofted them over the side too. Being boat furniture, the cushions were made to serve as floatation devices, so naturally they bobbed along toward the Rochester Dam like a war-ravaged armada. Frenzied, she returned to the stove looking for more items to throw into the convenient fire extinguisher, but found that while many things were melted, there were no more flames, only the choking smoke.

While she was assessing the damage, the phone rang. It was one of the neighbors across the way wanting to be the first to spread the news about the flaming fleet headed for the dam. By late afternoon the story had spread 30 miles and more in each direction on the air raid siren like gossip network that is unique to small communities of people. Months later when I came to visit, the cabinet, microwave, rug, and blinds had been replaced, and I helped hang the dry cleaned draperies back at the windows. I listened to Catherine and Dad’s recounting of the tale, and found myself amazed that the boat was not burned to the waterline and surprised that she came out without even a singed eyebrow. “Dad”, I said helpfully, “I’m going out today and get you a smoke alarm”. My father, the former fire chief, scowled at my suggestion. “We’ve got one of those dang things,” he replied, in an annoyed voice, “but we had to pull the battery out.” I held my tongue waiting for the reason I knew would follow. “That contraption just about drove us crazy. It went off every time Catherine cooked a meal”.

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Horse Sense

Posted by on Jul 7, 2005 in All things natural, Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments

My mother approved of my friend Janice Sue because she thought the seemingly meek and popular girl would be a positive influence on me. She was an only child, the sole target of her mother’s compulsive neatness. She had chin length red hair with a natural curl that seemed to stay in place through anything short of a hurricane. Society dictated that young ladies wear dresses to school, a garment that required a modicum of ladylike behavior. I don’t know what kind of super fabric Janice Sue’s were made from, but they never showed the ravages of playtime. My own mother tried in vain to achieve the same effect with her tomboy daughter. She tortured my straight, plain brown hair into braids and dressed me in a freshly starched and ironed little dress each morning. These antiquated garments generally had an attached sash, tied in the back with a large bow. Janice Sue went home each day with her bow as perfectly tied as it had been when she started. My sash, done up with one of my Mother’s industrial strength knots, occasionally stayed tied, but it was frequently ripped from one side of my dress and hung flapping forlornly in the wind when I headed home. This actually matched nicely with my hair, set free, quite by accident, during recess, and trailing wildly behind me as I ran the 2 blocks home each day. Adding to the effect was the fact that through the whole of the second grade, I wore a short, black, plastic, jacket, fringed with white, purchased for me in a moment of maternal weakness.

As an aspiring cowboy, I kept the jacket on as much as possible, including during my second grade class photo. In my spare hours I dreamed of a life in the rodeo, lassoing steers from the back of a stallion that had steam blowing from his nostrils and fire in his eye. By age 10 I had stored this future goal on the back burner along with my aspiration to become a ballet dancer and pop singer, but I never quite let go of the romance of the idea. Imagine my delight when the friend I considered a bit on the prissy side turned out to have grandparents who kept horses. As incredible as it may seem, Janice Sue was an avid rider and was surprised when I told her of my hitherto unfulfilled yearning. Before I could say gitty up, I was invited for a Saturday visit.

We both showed up in jeans, the de rigueur uniform for cowboys, to which I added a plaid shirt and a bandana. The barn smelled intoxicatingly of hay and large animals, in fact, very large animals. A mild mannered, ancient gelding had been selected for my first ride, one that had not moved faster that a turtle for the last ten years. The first inkling that the romance of the open range might not be everything I had dreamed of was when I stood beside a stirrup, at eye level, and was instructed to put my foot in the hole, hold on to the saddle horn, and pull myself up. I had thought I might leap onto the back of the horse from the ground, like the TV cowboys. We ended up with Janice pushing upward on my rear end and me straining every muscle to pull myself to the back of the enormous beast.

Having failed to get clear instructions about how to drive the creature, I had no time to contemplate my awkward and unfamiliar situation. Free from human restraint, and evidently dreaming of his youth as a wild stallion, he took off like a shot, before Janice Sue could even board her mare. Once she caught up with us, and collected the reins I had dropped to wrap my arms about the neck of the beast, I had a brief lesson on the finer points of convincing a thousand plus pound animal that he wanted to be a conveyance for an aspiring cowgirl. Holding tightly to what passes for controls on a horse, I spent the next 3 hours shouting, “Whoa, Whoa”, while Janice Sue expressed her amazement at the frisky behavior of an animal that had previously been ready for the glue factory.

I tried to detect a smirk on my Mother’s face when I came in dusty and sore that evening, but she always played her cards close to the vest. I volunteered that I had a wonderful time and couldn’t wait for a second chance to further develop my equestrian skills. What I did not mention was that I had acquired a new respect for my “fussy” friend and a backside that needed a heating pad. What I lost that day was my idealistic vision of life in the saddle. In fact, the only time I ever got on a horse again was some years later when I accepted the challenge of a boyfriend. Neither the horse or myself were confident about the contact, but the horse proved his superior good sense by tossing me immediately to the ground, where I have remained firmly since that day.

Janice Sue turned out to be the kind of friend we all aspire to have, and she and I went on to have many adventures. We spent one whole Saturday walking on stilts, we chased boys together at recess and locked them in a “dungeon” of shrubs, and stayed up all night at an after prom party. We have lost touch with each other now, but I know she married and overwhelmed her “in control” mother by having four children. In fact, word is that she kept her last pregnancy a secret from her mother till it was far advanced, knowing the disapproval she would face. I would love to see her again and let her know that she was a good influence on me, but not in the ways my mother hoped. I have never become neat, and I have no passion for housecleaning, especially ironing, but at least my family did not have to endure the heartbreak of a daughter who moved to Texas and worked in the rodeo.

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