Saturday, December 28, 2013

Five Days of Christmas

Christmas always is a hectic time. This year was no exception.

On December 21, I took my daughter, Amanda, and two grandsons, ages 6.5 years, and  21 months, to Chattanooga for the North Pole excursion at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. It included a visit to the Elf Workshop so the boys could make Christmas ornaments and gifts, tickets to the Miniature Railroad Museum, a picture with Santa, the North Pole train excursion and an Elf Tuck-In. The latter involved two lively teenagers dressed as elves who came to our motel room, where they read and acted out, “The Night Before Christmas.” Then they jerked the sheets from the bed and used them to tuck-tuck-tuck-tuck-tuck-tuck-tuck (their words) Gabriel into bed, leaving him wrapped like an Egyptian mummy. Next day, we spent a few hours at the Tennessee Aquarium, where we watched Scuba Santa feed the fish. 

the Santa at the train depot, Mati, the younger one, decided the white-bearded fat man was one scary monster. He couldn’t stop crying. The photographer suggested putting him in his brother’s lap. It didn’t help. When Amanda turned to put down her purse so she could hold Mati, he reached for her, and fell. We watched in horrific slow motion as he hit the sleigh, bounced off the steps, then landed on the ground. He now has a big bruise to show for the trip, and holds the dubious distinction of having fallen out of Santa’s sleigh. It’s a good thing I already had a photo of the boys with the Bass Pro Shop Santa. 
When we tried to get a photo of the boys with

Gabriel wanted to spend a few days with me after the trip. How do you say “no” when your grandson wants to stay with you? We made gingerbread cookies, and he helped me drill holes in the legs of my new deer feeder so I could secure it to the ground stakes. We don’t want the wind or the raccoons to topple it. Other than that, he spent his time in front of the television and on the iPad while I baked the ham, cooked the chicken, made chicken and dressing, and baked a cake and a pie. 

I took him home Christmas Eve, had dinner with the family, including my oldest daughter and her hubby. I spent the night, and enjoyed the chaos of Christmas morning with the two boys. It was about 3 p.m. when I got home Christmas Day. The silence of the house was truly golden.

Next day, I just loafed. 

I figure I deserved a day off.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Of Horses and Friends

It was a sticky September Friday morning, and the air was heavy with the promise of rain. I was headed to Troy for my second competitive trail ride weekend, and I had spent two days and checked off numerous lists getting my trailer loaded.

On the trip down, I had the fleeting thought of how horrible it would be to forget one’s clothes on a trip like this. Must have been a premonition, because after unloading my horse, Mallory, at the camp and parking my trailer, it hit me like an iron skillet in the hands of a jealous wife: That’s exactly what I had done.

I arrived with only the clothes I was wearing. There were no comfy jammies, no riding pants, no shampoo, no toothbrush. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I remembered putting my bags on my EZ-Go 4x4, but that’s as far as they got. Fortunately, I had parked the EZ-Go under a shed, protecting it from the weather.

Man, was I bummed out. I felt as stupid as a brick, and my self-esteem was about as low as chewing gum on the bottom of a shoe. I stomped around, fussed, fumed and called myself names that I can’t repeat here, in case my grandson reads this. My fellow riders tried to calm me by relating similar experiences. That wasn’t much help to someone facing a day of sweaty riding without a change of underwear.

Several folks pitched in and loaned or gave me items of clothing, and I purchased toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant at the camp store. Fortunately, I had my towels and linens, food and drink, plus all my tack and horse feed. I washed out my underpants, but they didn’t dry in time for Saturday’s ride.

It was a great ride, even if I was in borrowed breeches. At least I didn’t have to worry about panty lines showing. That night, a friend gave me a pair of panties and someone else gave me a tee-shirt that I slept in and wore the third day with my original jeans. I didn’t have a hair dryer, and my water heater wouldn’t work, forcing me to take tepid showers. But at least I was clean.

When the awards were handed out Sunday, Mallory took first place out of the seven horses in our Novice division. We won’t discuss where I came in. Her win made up for all the horse manure I went through.

Novice or not, I have a great horse and good friends. What more does a woman need?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Touch of Holiday Nostalgia

I usually get very nostalgic and sometimes sad around Christmas. This started long before my husband died, but his death certainly adds to the sadness. I think it has to do with remembrances of Christmas past, when my dad's side of the family got together to celebrate.

Most of my dad's three brothers (a fourth died when I was a toddler), three sisters and their children would gather at Thanksgiving at my Aunt Vera's. She's dead now, and so are all but two aunts. I miss the missing ones most during the holidays. Like they say, when the generation ahead of you is gone, so is the umbrella between you and eternity.
I can still see those long tables set up in Aunt Vera’s basement, laden with the yummy foods my aunts would bring. That's how I learned that mac 'n cheese didn't originally come in a box, the way my mom made it. My Aunt Rubye made the most mouth-watering mac 'n cheese I’ve ever tasted.

After lunch, we’d draw names. Then we'd get together again around Christmas and exchange gifts. Grandpa Hobson used to buy something for everyone, but because there were so many of us, he couldn't spent much on each. They were token gifts, but I appreciated the thought. My mom, however, didn't. He often gave the women hosiery, but at 5'9-1/2" tall,  her legs were too long for any of them to fit. She always resented that.

  As the family grew, exchanging gifts became expensive. My cousin Ed had five children, and announced one Thanksgiving that he could no longer afford to buy the extra gifts. He suggested we let the kids draw and exchange, and that worked out fine. I can't remember when we stopped the name-drawing altogether.

After Aunt Vera died, my Aunt Rubye and I took turns hosting the gatherings. In fact, I had already hosted a few of the Christmas parties. Once I had a friend come in dressed as Santa Claus. We took pictures of the kids (and a few grownups) sitting on his lap. No one knew him, and because Ed had not arrived yet (like income tax refunds, he and Diane are perpetually late), everyone assumed it was he. You should have seen the looks on their faces when Ed and Diane walked in! 

One Thanksgiving stands out because of a game. It was my cousin Pat's idea to play "Oldyweds," based on the then-popular TV game show, "The Newlyweds." She picked out three couples who had been married for various lengths of time.  Pat sent the three husbands into one room, their wives into another, and everyone was instructed to contemplate three questions. One of them was: "When was the last time your spouse made you mad?" When my Aunt Violet recalled the last time Uncle Alvin had made her mad, she got mad all over again just thinking about it.

When I moved out here to the country, I tried to keep up the Christmas gathering tradition. It was hit or miss, because aunts and uncles were aging and cousins became scattered far and wide. Everyone had so much to do during the holidays, so many church and school obligations, that it was difficult to get many to come. So I stopped. It took a cousin's funeral to get us started again last year.
This year, only two families showed up, but I still had a house full. There were 15 of us, including three first cousins. It was worth the exhaustion I felt after three days of housecleaning and decorating.
We decided to try for a November date next year so more folks could come. We also agreed we should get together more often. We’re talking about  a summer get-together, when the kids can play outside and visit my critters.
Since we're considering a summer gathering, though, I may try to persuade one of my cousins who has a swimming pool to play host. There's nothing like seeing a bunch of old geezers in swim suits to get the nostalgia juices flowing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Don't It Get Your Goat?!?

Betsy the Goat

I really need a goat. The underbrush in my woods is so thick I fear it will soon climb in my windows and choke me in my sleep, as in a B-horror movie. 
My next-door-neighbor died recently, and her daughter didn’t know what to do with her mom’s aged horse, donkey and goat. I offered to adopt the goat.
Betsy is a gentle soul who loves to be petted. She followed me into the small corral at my neighbor’s barn. I closed the gate, placed grain in her bucket, and approached Betsy with a llama halter. I had no idea goats were so fleet-footed. After chasing her around the corral a few times, I managed to hold her long enough to wriggle the halter over her ears. But the game had just begun.
The distance from barn-to-barn was only a few hundred feet, yet it took an hour to get Betsy to her new home. I would rattle the feed bucket and tug on the lead rope, Betsy would take a couple of steps, then she’d stop. Then we’d repeat the process. Over and over again we repeated the process. By the time I got her through my gate, I was sweating like a woman in labor, and Betsy and I were exhausted. 
Betsy’s udders were so enlarged that they bounced against her back legs when she walked. While I was taking her to the vet, my handyman attached wire fencing to the gates in the llama compound so Betsy couldn’t slip through.
The vet said her condition wasn’t unusual in milking goats. Trouble is, Betsy hadn’t been milked in two years! He inserted a small tube in each udder so they would drain. If they filled up again, we might have to resort to surgery. 
With visions of a double mastectomy in my head, I paid the bill ($72.)  By the time I got Betsy home, her udders were back to normal and my horse trailer smelled like a cheese factory. So I screwed the caps onto Betsy’s tubes, unloaded her, and paid my handyman (coincidentally, $72). After hosing down the trailer, I said good-bye to Betsy.
Next morning, there was no sign of Betsy. Suspecting what had happened,  I hurried over to her home place. Yep, there she was, commiserating with her buddies about being dragged through the woods by a crazy woman and having tubes shoved into her teats.
Wisely, I had left the halter on her, so it didn’t take long to get a leash on her this time. I tried to get donkey to accompany us. He wouldn’t budge. Again, I wrestled Betsy up the hill, a few steps at a time. This trip took only half an hour. I put my smallest pony, Nibbles, in with her, hoping the two would bond. 
But next day, guess what? No Betsy. Like the Great Houdini, she had managed to escape again. I had spent $144, and still didn’t have a goat. 
I wonder how much a cow would cost?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Little Log Cabin In The Woods

You can go home again, if home is St. Clair County

Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, but I beg to differ. About 12 years ago, I moved to Ashville in St. Clair County to live in the middle of 28 acres of hydrangea-studded woods. It had been my dream for many years to live in the country so I could stop paying board for my horse, and perhaps acquire one or two more.
My "Little Log Cabin in the Woods"
I'm not from St. Clair County, actually, but I feel as if I were. My maternal grandparents were from nearby St. Clair Springs and Springville. I made many trips up U.S. 11 through the years, visiting my great-great-aunt, Jolly McClendon. That could explain why I felt so at home as soon as the real estate agent drove me onto this property, and why I was able to adapt so rapidly to rural life.
During the first 10 months that I lived here, my Homewood house was on the market and I was paying for two houses. My constant prayer was that God would not allow me to fall into financial ruin. Obviously, God has a sense of humor, because the means he provided to keep me afloat was an editor's job that was only five minutes from the house I had lived in for 28 years. (I no longer have that job.)
I’ve found peace in St. Clair County.  I love the view from my windows, which changes from season to season. I'm a mere 7.5 miles from the freeway, but when I ride my horse through my trails, I feel as if I'm miles away from civilization. That's why I call my place, and my blog, "Happy Trails."
When the seasonal rains fill my run-off pond, I drive my 4x4 down to fatten the bream and catfish. Feeling the vibration of my vehicle, they swim over to greet me. When I toss them the commercial fish pellets, the pond becomes a churning mass of shiny black skin, white mouths and whiskers. They swim so close to my little pier that I’ve actually touched a couple of cats on their heads. If I had a net,  I could just scoop some up. When the pond dwindles to a mud hole during dry weather, I just pray that the blue heron who feasts on my bream won't take the bass and catfish, too.
Of course, there are drawbacks to living in the woods, and most of them have at least four legs, lots of hair, and bite. When my oldest daughter, Heather, lived in the one-room cottage on my property, she had a stray feline visitor she called “that devil cat” for several weeks. He kept terrorizing her cats, making nightly forays through her cat door to spray his male scent all over her house.
One day, she brought home one of those humane traps, hoping to catch him and take him to the animal shelter in Pell City. She thought sure she had him when she heard a commotion on her front porch in the middle of the night. Next morning, she opened her front door to find a opossum curled up asleep in the trap. When she tried to release him, he just hissed at her. So what did she do? What any 30-year-old daughter would do—she called mom. When I dumped him unceremoniously out of the trap, he prissed up the middle of my driveway as if he owned it.
That was the same week I came home to find a note from my youngest daughter, Amanda, then 19, regarding a certain member of the arachnid family. The note read: “Mom, please remove the huge deceased spider from my bathtub.” In her thank-you note sent via email later that day, she explained, “I got my huge boot to kill him so that my hand wouldn't have to be too close, and then I missed him like four times. I’m surprised you didn't hear me shrieking.” She didn't get along with the lizards that the cats brought into our house, either, but I thought they were cute.
Despite the critters, the lack of a decent grocery store within 20 miles,  and the hour-long weekly commute to my grandchildren's house in Helena, you couldn’t pay me to live in the city again.
If Thomas Wolfe had ever lived in St. Clair County, the literary world might be shorter by one classic. – Elaine Hobson Miller