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Sunday, September 30, 2012

LwH: Luxury

Greetings friends,

We are back from a weekend in Sacramento attending the big reptile show at the convention center downtown. There were lots of animals and big crowds looking at them. No, I didn't bring a new critter home.

I am hopeful that my friends who own Professional Reptiles and Ron's Reptiles did well financially, because it is an expensive undertaking to vend at these shows and I want all of their hard work to pay off.

The local restaurants seemed to be busy, but complained of lower numbers than they were used to. It was very pleasant weather to walk around the 15th and "L" street area and I only saw two homeless guys during the entire weekend. That may be due to the numerous security officers in the yellow shirts and black shorts we saw patrolling everywhere in the evenings.

We stayed at the Residence Inn (a Marriott property) on 15th Street and were able to just park the car in the garage and walk everywhere, which is our favorite way to operate.

While we were gone Mr S. took delivery on what was supposed to be a replacement power chair, but he says they gave him a regular wheel chair instead. Tomorrow we will have to check that out and see what is going on. Just when you think it is safe to leave for two days... wrong answer!

This afternoon we were able to pass along a wooden toy box and some toys that belonged to my daughter when she was a little girl. The happy recipient is her own daughter (our granddaughter) so all is well. It was fun to see the grown up girl still fascinated by her old things and the amazement of her daughter as she discovered new things in the bottom of the box. The spot being vacated in the sun room will be occupied very soon by our newly constructed table.

This evening I bring you the fourth installment of Living with Horses, entitled Luxury, something that I had abandoned when I moved into a tent to babysit horses. Keep in mind that this is a true story about real people, who live in middle Georgia, which at the time was still firmly mired in the 1950's. Enjoy!

4. Living with Horses; Luxury

NOTE: On the advice of my editors, I have removed the last names of those in the story to avoid legal complications as this a true story about real people.

How does someone take their pants off while running?

My curiosity was such that I came out of "hiding" and walked out into the road to join the elderly black man who was possibly wondering the same thing. Together we watched the strange sight of one large old white man with no pants on, running down the two-lane blacktop for all he was worth. It was truly a sight to see on that hot June day and we were savoring it, as if we knew that this was a one-of-a-kind event and it would be a real crime to not catch all of it.

When the old farmer got too far away to watch closely, we gathered our wits about us and I introduced myself and offered my hand to my new friend. I figured that we had to be friends after what we had just experienced. That and there was no reason not to be. We stepped off of the pavement and into the shade as we continued our conversation and waited to see if the farmer would come back. From what I could see, it wasn't likely.

My new friend and most excellent mule skinner and farmer, had been named Seth by his mother some 68 years earlier and had been born and raised "right here" he said. I asked him if he meant Warrenton, or just Georgia in general by, "right here"?

Seth laughed at me and said, "No boy, RIGHT HERE" and pointed at the ground where we were standing, in the shade of this great oak tree. Sure enough in the brush there were the remains of an old brick chimney! He said that his family used to live in an old wooden house that creaked when the wind blew, right where the garden plot is now. When he was a young boy that old house caught fire in the middle of the night and burned to the ground with his entire family in it, except for an older married sister who had moved away a few years earlier and he never saw again. He figured that she thought that he had died too and never came back. Seth had gone out to sleep in the hay near his daddy's mule where he didn't have to share the bed with three others and especially when one was a bed-wetter. He said it was a lot cooler too, and the house was stuffy and smelled funny like "old people's feet". A smell that I had never contemplated, I must admit.

He said that "Old" Mr. T., (the daddy to the Mr. T. that had run off down the highway giving out war whoops), had arrived with his farm hands in his trucks, but it was too late to do anything, the house was burned to the floor and in the pile of debris was the remains of his eight brothers and sisters, his mother and father, and his grandmother. Old Mr T. had the bodies brought out of the rubble and covered with blankets and Seth was wrapped up in the old man's jacket and put inside the truck cab. He also made all the arrangements for the funeral and burying. Seth had heard comments from other white men in town that they should just dig a hole and shove all of the bodies and the remnants of the house into it and not "waste" good burial plots. It is hard to imagine the pain he had to suffer as he listened to prejudice and hate spouted about the family he had just lost. And from "good Christians" by their own description.

Inside that truck was a white boy who was exactly the same age as him (both born on the same day in 1903), sitting there with an expression of shock on his face, after having seen the bodies coming out of the ashes. The white boy's name was "C.R." T. III ... The "C.R." standing for Clancy Redoubt and while highly traditional in origin (as it was his father and grandfather's name too), it was certain to cause a fight if anything but "CR" was used within earshot of this nine year old boy.

Old Mr. T. took Seth into his home and raised him alongside of CR as an equal, even giving him his last name and formally adopting him to protect him from whatever evils which might befall him otherwise. This act of human kindness and decency gave him a home and family, and a white brother from whom he became inseparable (and who we just watched sprinting the two miles to the "big house" in his underwear).  Old Mr. T. and Seth's father had been friends, fellow farmers, and devout Baptists in that same little community for all of their lives. There was never any question in his mind about what to do with the young boy.

Seth believed that his family had possibly been murdered, because no one escaped the burning house in that 1912 fire, and he thought that he had heard a vehicle drive away. There were surely people sleeping near a window or door and logically should have gotten out. The fire and subsequent deaths were ruled "accidental", but popular sentiment said that money would not have been "wasted" investigating the demise of negros. Seth's father owned his property and house and that was a rarity in itself for a black man in those times. He had been offered a very low price for the property but wouldn't sell.

There was a feeling of resentment and animosity in the community towards Old Mr T. for treating a "colored" boy like he was white and they made sure that he was aware of their disapproval at every opportunity. Which I was told backfired, because he was more stubborn than his mule by all accounts, and the ignorance of the community couldn't sway him.

We waited long enough for the bees to calm down and carefully picked up the pants out of the street (checking for trapped bees) and retrieved the truck keys and after securing the mule to the oak tree with a long rope so he could graze, we drove to the big house. Actually I drove, Seth didn't have a driver's license. He was going to get in the back of the truck, when I stopped him and insisted that he get in the cab with me. He smiled and said, "You sure ain't from around here!" 

When we pulled up in front of the house, Mr. T. was sitting on the front porch, still in his drawers, gulping down a big glass of iced tea that Mrs. T. had brought out. He was red faced and sweating like crazy, but he said that he felt fine and only had one sting after all of that. Another small miracle, given the number of bees that entered his pants!

You could have knocked me over with a feather when Mr. T. greeted me by name! I had figured that he couldn't miss those flashy horses running around and I was correct, but how in the world did he know my name? What followed was a lesson in "small town USA" reality.

When the Captain and his brother had dropped me off with all the BS about staying hidden and watch out for this and that, they were supposed to be on their way home. Instead they went to the barber shop in Warrenton for a haircut, and blabbed everything to total strangers and from there it was all over town in a flash.

Mr. T. was in town and heard the juicy gossip before the two brothers had even left the barber shop. He knew my name, how many horses were there and that there was a retired Army Colonel looking for them, and had been very curious to see the "White Boy Who Runs with Horses" and the very fine horse flesh up close.

Mrs T. said that he decided to put the garden in the clearing by Seth's old home when he first found out about me and had been driving past our gate watching constantly. He had 700 acres of good growing dirt surrounding his house, with running water and lots of help available and tractors, etc., but the soil just wasn't right (so he said) for growing the best tomatoes and peppers. That garden spot across from our gate was the best in the county.

It would have been a breach of Southern etiquette for him to "interfere", or make the first contact with me. I was in "hiding" after all, and even though I was "hiding in plain sight", and the horses were frequently at the water trough, right by the road, he couldn't "go first" so to speak. I don't believe that he would have chosen a "Close Encounter of the Yellow Jacket Kind" as the way to get me to come out of the, woods, that is. But it did work out that way and we became good friends rather quickly.

I was extended the offer of dinner, which I gratefully accepted. We were even going to eat INDOORS, with plates and silverware, sitting at a table! I was glad that I had grabbed a shirt before driving here, I would have been mortified to sit at a dinner table without my shirt on. It wasn't that I was ashamed of my body or anything, but it just wasn't something that was done in polite company. Mrs T. was a Southern Belle and it just would not have been proper.

I had learned an appreciation for the finer things in life; things that I had been taking for granted in my short 18 year life span, like running water and tables and chairs, and cooking food on a stove and not having to scrape the burnt part off before you attempted to chew what you had just cooked. Clean towels and napkins to wipe your face with. The single greatest thing of all was the "best seat in the house."

How do you spell Luxury and Relief all at once? T-O-I-L-E-T... INDOOR PLUMBING! Ain't life grand in civilization!


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

LwH: Leaping for it

Tuesday afternoon greetings,

I have the opportunity to include another segment of this story and decided to just do it and not wait until Friday. My tasks and assignments for today are all caught up, so why not, right?

I am not satisfied with either the operation or visibility of my blog on and will be exploring alternate hosts. I am most interested in what you readers have found to be the best blog hosts. You can let me know via e-mail at or via my Facebook page.

The story being told here, Living with Horses, was a definite exercise in understanding human nature and what makes people behave the way that they do. I had seen prejudice many times before, but mean and crazy combined with paranoid (the Captain) was pretty new to me.

Being just 18 years old I was being pulled back and forth between the conditioning to obediently do what I was told, and deciding what was the right thing to do and then having the courage of my convictions and standing nose-to-nose with someone in disagreement. I found that it was easier to do when I was standing up for the welfare of others (like the horses I cared for), than it was for my own rights.

As always, feedback is appreciated and encouraged. I know that this blog site is hard to comment on, so again, email me or post on my Facebook page if you wish.

3. Living with Horses; Leaping for it

I had just found out about the joys of manual Dihydrogen Monoxide transportation and supply, in the last segment. Let's see what discoveries await us now.

It was 1971 and I was alone on 120 acres of meadows and pine forest; alone, except for six very expensive Appaloosa horses whose owners were squabbling over who owned what, and what they could do with what they owned. We were hiding out here in the "bushes" awaiting the outcome; but it was OK with me, I preferred the company of horses over people any day!

I hauled water that first day until the trough was full, and then again to top it off, when the "children" were done trying to find the bottom of the trough. They had to have been playing, as they never drank that much at once before. I was the one who usually watered them everyday back home, so I knew that they were being weirdos. It was a new-to-them trough, and in a new location, I will grant them that, but you have to wonder just how much was equine creative mischief making. Or put another way; just how much can we make the human do before he quits. I know that you horse owners are nodding your heads right now.

We (the horses and I) made sure that everything was secure in camp, as I had seen raccoon tracks earlier and those little devils will get into everything; and then off we went at a trot. No, I wasn't riding one of the horses, I was running along the fence checking for openings or breaks that my "kids" could get out through and go wandering where they shouldn't be. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but is the major inspiration of horse behavior. One little gap in a fence will draw horses to it like a giant box sugar frosted flakes to a kid!

It had to have been a comical sight; a scrawny white boy in cut-offs and sneakers, (no shirt or socks) trotting along a barb wire fence with six spotted horses trotting along in a single file behind him. If I turned left, they turned left. If I turned right, they turned right. The best part of this was that they were paying really close attention to me; when I stopped, they stopped. I really liked the part about not getting run over by approximately three tons of quadruped tail-gaiters.

I ran several miles a day, every day, while I lived on that plot of land, and along with hauling water and cutting down trees with a borrowed axe to make corrals, it did wonders for my physical fitness. I was an athlete all through school, but I had never been in as good of shape as I was when I left Warrenton.

These goofball horses ranged in age from one to ten years old, but they all acted like new born colts, afraid to get more than a few feet away from me at any time. It made going to the bathroom in the woods a whole new experience! Nothing in this world had prepared me for a cold wet nose pushing into my posterior, at just the "wrong moment", if you get my drift... followed by a blast of air snorting out of flared nostrils that felt like a "leaf blower" had been pointed at the juncture of my gluteus maximus. Whoa!

After completing the circuit around the entire 120 acre property that first day we were done with our "perimeter". Fortunately the fence was in excellent repair, what problems I found were easily fixable by hand or with the aid of a rock or my pocket knife. Good thing too, the Captain hadn't left me a tool box to fix anything with. Details like tools or supplies were not something that he concerned himself with, so it was a good thing that I was fairly inventive.

The hiding place for the horses was easy too, in fact I had several set up, just in case. In case of what, I didn't know. I was just following orders and that didn't require an explanation in those days. The boss said it, so you did it, it was that simple.

The following morning I waited for the pickup truck to come and go from the well, and then crossed over to begin my task of carrying water for my charges. They obviously couldn't do it for themselves, so it fell upon me to handle. I would have loved to be able to just put a hose in the trough and turn it on like back at the ranch, but that option was not available where we were, so you just do what you have to do.

I tried to pick up the cans like I had done the day before; one in each hand at the same time and received a rude surprise. My arms were screaming obscenities to my brain and my hands were on fire! I could not lift the cans off of the ground. Unable to comprehend (or accept) "can't", I carried the cans one at a time, held close to my body with both hands under the bottom, over and over again until the tank was again full to the top. It was a good thing that I didn't have to fill the entire trough like that first time or I don't think that it would have happened. I gained enough strength in my arms and hands after about a week, to go back to the original method and it cut my trips in half again. I was happy, this was a good physical improvement for me. Funny thing, I never saw myself as weak or incapable of physical acts until that little bit of education happened.

I had accomplished everything that I had on my to-do list, the very first day. Now what? I was pondering just that, sitting in the shade of the tree which provided cover over the water trough and which was right up by the road, where I wasn't supposed to be. The whole hiding idea was ridiculous, I mean, the horses were in plain sight of the road most of the time. That error in judgment on my part, (not hiding) was really a blessing in disguise.

As I sat musing, the old tan colored Ford pickup pulled up across from the gate, parking in the grass along the side of the road this time. Sitting in the back of the truck holding onto a lead rope connected to a very large mule, was the elderly black man that I had seen the first day. The very man who had unknowingly (or so I thought) shown me the location of the well and saved me from having to hunt for it.

The man doing the driving got out, and he was a big fellow, well over six feet and while not fat, he was "solid". He was dressed in a khaki shirt and pants with a fine Panama straw hat on his head, which was/is the unofficial uniform of the middle Georgia farmer. And he was white if it matters. Both men appeared to be Social Security age and had gray hair covering their heads.

They took some equipment out of the back of the truck and carried it into the area just past the well and put it down, returning for the mule, which the black man led to the same spot. He then harnessed the mule and connected a plow to the harness and away they went, turning dirt like crazy. At the end of each pass, they stopped, the little old man lifted the plow by the handles and then he and the mule turned around in well practiced ballet of side steps, and started the next row going back.

This very efficient team of man and beast had already plowed half of the half-an-acre garden plot when the funniest and most amazing thing happened. Something that still makes me wonder almost 41 years later. Read on and be patient.

The farmer had been working in the shade next to the well, and I confess that I thought that he was just "supervising" from the shade while the old black man did all the work. It wasn't true at all, he had been separating plants and setting them up in order to be planted, and had decided to water them . This should have been a very good thing.

I was close enough now, (having moved right up to the fence line directly across from the well), to hear an ominous buzzing sound after the farmer dropped a bucket of water that he was trying to pour. It didn't hit his toes or break anything, it just landed with a resounding thunk on the boards under his feet, which surrounded the well, and emptied the gallon of water onto those same boards.

The sound that a swarm of angry Yellow Jackets makes when they go on the attack is incredibly loud! There was a nest below the boards that the bucket landed on and between the impact and the subsequent dousing them with water; well, it had really made them mad!

The bees flew out so rapidly that they caught the old farmer by surprise and flew right up the pants legs of his tan trousers, actually billowing them out like a sudden gust of wind had blown up them!

I don't know if you are familiar with what is called a "Yellow Jacket" in rural Georgia, they are somewhere between the size of your thumb and a humming bird. They are the bees which are so often copied in costuming with their alternating yellow and black stripes. And you don't want to be on the receiving end of an angry yellow jacket's stinger, it hurts terribly with a combination of intense stinging pain and a burning sensation that won't quit!

This old man was faced with a terrible dilemma; there was a swarm of angry bees inside of his pants and he needed to unfasten his belt and take them off, to get the bees out and away from delicate territory... But if he stood still, or even stayed where he was, more of these buzzing hypodermics would be joining the swarm in his drawers! What would you do?

It was then that I witnessed something that I have never been able to figure out in 41 years. 

Here was a man about 6' 3", weighing around 250 pounds, wearing belted on trousers, laced up boots, and most of 70 years old; with his pants full of very angry bees. He was running down the road as fast as he could run, taking his pants off over his boots and didn't stumble, or trip, or even break stride. By the time he was a vehicle length past his truck, his khaki trousers were flying through the air and he was pickin' 'em up and puttin' 'em down at a dead run with his shirt tails flapping in the jet wash behind him! I don't think that as fast as I was then (and some 50 years younger than he was), that I could have caught him. He was motivated and motivating!

How did he get those pants off while running?


Friday, September 21, 2012

LwH; Lugging water

Friday greetings to all,

It has been a steady plodding week, with a lot of editing going on as Anna prepared and launched the Mensa newsletter, the Neva-Mind, and I went through the sections of this story cleaning up my writing errors.

I wrote the story in 2000 and the errors were in punctuation and capitalization for the most part, as I cared less about the mechanics than I did about getting the content down. A couple of good editors later now and I have learned better habits. I would still suggest to anyone trying to get a story written; first put down what you want to say, and then go back and clean it up. You need to write it down while your mind is producing.

Anna has also been doing some staining and sealing on a table that we are jointly building. I am on hold until she gets done with this phase as my power tools would create dust and ruin her efforts. Soon assembly will happen and photos will be provided. It is a lot of fun to build things again.

Today was lunch and shopping with Mr. S., and a new wrinkle, although not totally unexpected, occurred. Since several people have asked me to speak more about elder care issues or problems, I will relate this item from everyday life.

As those who deal with friends and/or loved ones with dementia, (especially Alzheimer's) have learned, people with dementia will hide things from whomever. This can be their caregiver, family, visitors, or even unknown persons. Sometimes they hide food and then claim that there is no food in the house, etc. A more common thing to hide is money. Everyone is out to get their money, whether it be large amounts or coins, it doesn't matter.

Mr. S. is putting his monthly allowance of cash in safe places so that the residents and employees of his assisted living facility don't find it (they aren't looking). The problem is; he often can't find it either. Or like today, he forgets to get money to put in his wallet and when he looks, he thinks that he is completely broke and keeps asking when "payday" is.

He really is not broke and we pay all of his bills for him, and he has meals provided where he lives. So he only "needs" money when we take him shopping so he can feel good buying his stash of groceries for his room. If he has more money on him he will give it to anyone who asks for a "loan" or handout with no thought about if it is the right thing to do or not. The discretion ship sailed a long time ago.

There is a change that seems to happen in the areas of inhibitions and discretionary decision making, which I have observed as common in both stroke patients and Alzheimer's victims. Where previously a person would watch what they say in public so as to not offend or cause problems, both stroke and dementia sufferers will say anything that comes to their mind without reservation, for example if someone is overweight or unattractive in some way. The ability to make reasonable decisions based upon common sense or experience, likewise seems to have been disconnected. A shining example of which is the giving away of everything in their checking account or in their pockets to a stranger, when it should obviously be the wrong thing to do. Telemarketers and door-to-door salesmen live for such contacts.

So my bit of advice is to be aware if friends, family or even elderly neighbors start getting a lot of packages in the mail or a steady parade of hustlers at their doors. They may be unable to defend themselves and be on that fast track to ruin. You might also become aware if they seem to always be out of cash, when logically they should be carrying some, like if you take them to the store. Also be prepared to call family for back-up as they will in all likelihood deny that there is a problem.

Today I bring you part two of a six part saga.  Living with Horses in its entirety is 12,038 words long and spans six weeks of time. I wrote the story on six consecutive evenings in 2000 during a time when I was turning out stories every night like a writing machine. Since I worked every day until 5:00 p.m. and would spend hours at the keyboard afterward, it was less fun for my family than me. Often there would be repeated attempts to get me to the dinner table before I could break away from my obsession. Many of the stories posted on this blog were written during that period.

The few people who have read this story have often asked me if there was more that I could write about those six weeks and the simple answer is; yes. But would anyone want to read it in more depth and/or in a longer story? That is the so far, unanswered question.

I have completed editing all six segments and will open this up to you the readers;
1.Do you want me to continue to release the installments one at a time
2.Do you want two at a time
3. All four of the remaining "chapters" at once.

I hope that you enjoy this true tale of a young man learning life's lessons. Read on!

2. Living with Horses; Lugging water

In the last installment we had just departed Augusta, Georgia, bound for a "safe" hiding place for six Appaloosa horses of questionable ownership. The destination was a 120 acre parcel of land owned by the brother of my employer, near the very small community of Warrenton, Georgia. The year was 1971 and the issue for me was not ownership of horses, but simply doing what I was told.

We arrived at the property after meeting at the store in Warrenton, and then my following them the several miles out to a "Texas gate" just past a cemetery and very old looking church. For those who might not know, a "Texas gate" is what I have been taught to call that section of wire fence that is removable on one end and can be pulled aside to allow passage and then re-closed by stretching the wire tight again and hooking loops of wire over the post found on the movable end of the wire "gate". This term seems to be common all throughout the country, from Florida to Alaska. What do they call it in Texas? I have no idea.

The horses were unloaded and fed and watered, and my gear was unceremoniously dumped at the edge of some trees, about one hundred yards into the property. The Captain was constantly looking over his shoulder so to speak and his paranoia was driving me crazy. He gave me a long list of do's and dont's and what to watch out for; including instructions to find a good hiding place farther back into the property for the horses. I was also to make camp where I couldn't be seen from the highway, which was just a two lane blacktop passing through farming areas. If anyone was to stop at the gate, I was to move the horses deep into the trees and hide them until the threat was over. Threat, what threat?

I was becoming a little spooked by all this talk and was happy to have them decide that it was time to leave. As they hooked the Texas gate shut and adjusted the loops to make it less "obvious" that anyone had entered, the Captain said for me to get a branch and "sweep" away the tire tracks all the way from the road to where my equipment was, so that they couldn't "give away my position". Right; Is the Colonel coming looking for his horses, or are the Viet Cong taking "side jobs" these days? He had me looking over my shoulder now.

They finally departed, with the brother still driving the old rig and the boss (with one "good" eye and no driver's license), driving the one ton with the new four horse trailer bouncing along behind it as he ran off the edge of the road repeatedly. At least the horses weren't in it, they were safely tucked away here in the pine forest, in the part of Georgia that is just past nowhere and there aren't any road signs showing the way back.
I had to scramble to get camp set up before it got too dark to see to put up my tent. I was still too full of the Captain's BS to even light a camp fire that first night, so I just cold camped it and kept a close watch on the horses all night.

It was a wasted effort on my part to stay awake all night, those six horses stuck so close to me that they practically got in the sleeping bag with me. I think that they were scared of this new place and wanted the security of familiar sights and smells. I had been taking care of them for several months back home and they trusted me.

When the sun came up, I set out to accomplish some tasks that I had been thinking about during the extremely long night. I had to find the well which was "just across the road someplace" and using the 5 gallon cans, fill the water trough up near the gate. This was the only known source of water for my charges and I wouldn't let them go thirsty. Secondly, by the Captain's instructions I had to "establish my perimeter." Or in normal horseman's language, check the fence for holes. Then there was the matter of the hiding place for the horses, should we be invaded or whatever.

I got a lucky break on my first assignment; I spotted a pickup truck pulling up to a big oak tree just about straight across from my position and watched an elderly black man get out and disappear next to the tree and then return a minute later and speak to the man driving the truck. Apparently satisfied with the "report", the two men departed. I moved out of hiding and across the road to the oak tree and sure enough there was a gate and just beyond that was a well with a rope and bucket. It was a nice affair with a concrete culvert pipe about three feet across stuck vertically into the ground and a windlass over it to raise the bucket of water from the well once filled. All around the base of the well were boards to stand on, it was really "first rate".

I quickly ran and got my two metal five gallon "Jerry" cans and proceeded to carefully fill them up to the brim and carry them back across the street to the waiting thirsty horses. It wasn't too complicated, the only tricky part was getting through the wire with the cans because I wasn't going to open the gate just to haul water.

The distance seemed short with empty cans, and it was only about 50 yards, well to trough, so it couldn't be THAT bad, right? By the time I had hauled enough water to fill a 55 gallon water trough, with six horses doing their very best to drink it dry while I was trying to fill it, I didn't think that I would ever be able to lift my arms again. It took me seven trips with two cans weighing about 45 pounds apiece full of water, to fill that tank. Those goofy horses had sucked up 15 gallons of water while I was working and they not only looked like barrels, they sloshed when they walked!

When I got back to camp I checked my watch, which I left hanging on the tent pole, to see how long it took me, and I discovered two things; it was only 6:45 in the morning, and you really have to know what time you started to make the equation work. 

To be continued:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Living with Horses; the Lead in

Greetings friends,

I hope that you didn't think that I had quit writing this blog because of the gap between entries. I have been on the computer very little in the last couple of weeks, which was quite nice after spending most of my waking hours for the last few years virtually tied to the keyboard with Mensa business.

I have completed several long standing projects during this time and read a stack of books. It feels great to get more balance in my daily life again.

Mr S. just had his 87th birthday on the 15th and we took him to lunch along with his son Jason and D-in-L Fran who drove in from California for his special day. He enjoyed himself and happily told the same stories over and over again. We also took him shopping at Walmart and he got to look at nearly every aisle in the store which he really likes.

I was able to help place three rescue animals in new homes in the last two weeks and I am happy to report that they are thriving with their new families. No, they aren't puppies or kittens, they are snakes! Two red-tailed boas and a ball python. Reptiles need love too. And like puppies that grow up to be "dogs", they can get rejected or even harmed by people who should not have pets (or children). New beginnings aren't bad.

Today's writing entry is the first installment in a multipart tale from 1971. The entire story is fairly long (for me) and is quite complex so I will continue it each week and you will see the events unfold as I lived them.  Please have patience, this is just the beginning.

Living with Horses, the Lead in:
A lot of graduating high school seniors take trips to far flung places after their diploma is handed over; Hawaii, France, Australia even! I was no different when I graduated from George P. Butler High School of Augusta, Georgia in June of 1971. The U.S.Army was waiting for me in September, as I had enlisted via the delayed entry program to get the school that I wanted and I had three months to enjoy civilian life before I was off to Boot Camp. So naturally I chose to go to Warrenton, Georgia. Never heard of it? Not many people outside of the state had.

I was working for a medically retired Viet Nam veteran; an Army Captain who got on the wrong end of a VC rocket and lived to tell about it. He was scarred up all over his upper body, had lost an eye and I'm not sure what else... a bit of gray matter probably, but at eighteen what did I know anyway.

We were hauling horses for people all over the South in their rigs or ours, depending on what they wanted. It was a transport service for people who didn't have the time or the inclination to move their expensive livestock around, but did have the money to pay to have it handled for them. We hauled race horses, show horses, breeding stock, rich people's pets (polo ponies), whatever horse business it was, we would get them there on time. The boss quoted them a delivery date and time and we would be there or it was free, (and the Boss didn't do FREE) so we made it on time, every time. Word got around about our dependability and soon we had three teams of two drivers each working 24/7 to make it happen. Business was good.

I was doing this before I even got out of school, in fact I parked a truck and trailer with four horses in it across the street from Bell Auditorium where we graduated, on the day of graduation.

But like so many things that develop too quickly and without good research and planning, the whole operation was in a constant state of delicate balance; if anything goes wrong, it's over.

Before you jump to any conclusions, no we didn't have any wrecks or hurt any horses. I did have some interesting times; flat tires on I - 285 around Atlanta at rush hour, and getting off on the wrong exit near the stadium and realizing that I was so very white in a very angry neighborhood... on a bad night to come calling, or even getting held up in Georgetown, Washington, DC and surrendering all our phony credit cards; which we carried for just that eventuality. If anyone used those credit cards it "red flags" immediately with "Call the Police, stolen cards!", but the twenty out of my pocket was real, so at least they could get a couple of quarts of beer while they waited for the cops to come and bust them.

None of that had anything to do with the demise of this very lucrative operation at all. And we always delivered on time, so it wasn't that either. So what was it?

Ego. A battle of ego's between two medically retired Army Officers; my boss the Captain, who had gotten blown up, and his old boss the Colonel, who had cracked up.

The Colonel was the money behind the operation; he bought the rigs we drove, and he attracted the high dollar clientele that we did business with. A lot of people did word of mouth promotion of our service and it worked like a champ. The Colonel was convinced that he was an officer in the Civil War in a past life and served under the "Great One" himself, Robert E. Lee. He was a bit of a loony, but I can't say that he was wrong. I don't remember being there myself, but whatever works I guess. He was also filthy rich, (by inheritance), and a snobbish type who didn't associate with common folk if he could avoid it.

The Captain was from poor white folks who lived on the fringe of the community and never had two nickels to rub together, but he was trying to make up for that, and was succeeding in the money end. Where he was failing miserably, was the attitude and ego department. He was becoming more important, more influential, and less rational, with every check that cleared the bank; and they all cleared the bank. Not a bouncer in the bunch, ever. Then he got too big for his britches.

He and the Colonel were going at it over the telephone when I walked in from my latest run. Nothing that I overheard sounded like friendly greetings or expanding business opportunities, but I also had a show to get to so I didn't linger to find out what was going on.

I was showing one of the up and coming young Appaloosa stallions in the bossman's herd in Western Pleasure and my usual trail ride competition horse in the Trail Class, both with a much better than average chance to win and continue to grab points for increasing the breeding value of his horses. So I left for Conyers, GA, (which is just outside of Atlanta) and I had to hurry.

When I got back that night and was taking care of the horses, (and yes they both won) the boss came out smoking a Cuban cigar; something he only did when he figures that he has scored a major financial victory, and that worried me.

He announced that "we" had broken off relations with that greedy S.O.B., the Colonel, and from here on out we would do business on our own. "We don't need that old crippled psycho anyway!" he ranted as he leaned on his cane and squinted his remaining eye, which he couldn't see much through because he refused to wear his Army issued prescription glasses.

I felt that cold sinking feeling in my stomach and when his wife loaded the kids in their car and left, "to visit her mother" who lives in Tampa, in the middle of the night... well, it didn't sound like pay raise time to me.
His first order of business was to stop all endurance rides and shows, saying that there was no immediate profit in them, so they will have to wait. That move cost us about $300 to $500 in non-refundable entry fees for the next events that we had already paid for and committed to; something which does not endear you to sponsors or team members from other locations who were depending on you (me) to "be there" and, he took away my fun! I was the rider involved.

Next we had to move six horses to an undisclosed location, because they might not be "safe" at the ranch. Safe? Safe from what? Or whom?

We didn't have any local Indian tribes on the war path this week, too wet for burning and the Piggly-Wiggly had some pretty good sales going on, so pillaging was out of the question; too much work for what you'd get from a bunch of broke white folks.

No mountain lions to speak of and I hadn't run across many coyotes in east Georgia, like, ever. Which brought me to the question; what kind of hallucinatory drugs is this boy on?

I should have known it right off, it was a simple deduction and I blew it. We were hiding horses from the Colonel because he owned most of every horse there, and he was going to claim his percentage and sell them. They had both contributed money to the purchase of really good breeding stock and jointly owned every horse there, by a 75/25 split in the Colonel's favor. If he could find them that is.

Three of the other drivers quit on the spot when they were told about splitting from the Colonel, the other two were out on a run and didn't know yet. But I didn't expect them to stick around either. It didn't matter much to me, I was leaving in September.

The telephone was strangely silent; it usually rang constantly, but hadn't jingled once all morning. When I picked it up to make a call, it was dead. The Colonel's money turned it on, and the Colonel's money turned it off just as quickly.

We had the horses loaded before noon and had gone over the plans at length. I had the one ton truck and the four horse trailer, and the boss's brother took a day of leave and was driving the raggedy old pickup with a really shaky two horse with a fake tag hanging on it. It was a used car lot cardboard tag with mud smeared all over it to hide the print, but it looked good, I guess. We departed at the same time and went in opposite directions and the boss took off walking through the pastures to join up with his brother, near the interstate. He had made a big production of standing out front and waving good-bye to us as we pulled away, and then went through the house and out the back and down the hill. I was glad that I didn't have to ride with the guy; he would probably want to stop and "recon" over each hill on the highway, just in case. Paranoid or careful? I didn't know for sure, but it did make me wonder what I was getting into.

The destination was the same for both trucks, a parcel of land (owned by the brother), of some 120 acres near Warrenton, Georgia, which I assure you is only close to being a small town, it wasn't big enough qualify for that... at least not in 1971.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mama Moose

Greetings fellow travelers on this journey we call; life.

I gain new respect for professional caregivers, especially those who deal with seniors, every day! Yes, we have been dealing with elder issues for the better part of 16 years, but to do it full time for multiple people who are not family, takes a special kind of patience. 

For the rest of us, I know that it wears hard on everyone to watch people you care about deteriorate and fade. On good days it is easier to be upbeat and philosophical and maintain a better attitude... but every day is not a good day, nor are there any guarantees included for tomorrow. All we can hope to do, is to do the best we can do for each day and take it from there.

We have had a full week of hauling Mr S. to appointments, a haircut, and shopping, with lunch at Jerry's every time. He is worn out but loving being the center of attention. I am afraid that we have also created the expectation that he will get to go somewhere every day and that is not realistic.

His doctor visit went well enough and we are getting control of his blood pressure again, bringing it back up to a reasonable level by cutting back on yet another medication. It is our good fortune that we are able to have him treated at the VA clinic in Fallon where he gets the very best care and we are able to get fast appointments and lab work and they know his physical history. If we had to deal with the generic medical world out there, he would be suffering. Dr C. told him flat out that he has no more options left regarding knee pain except pain killers. An operation is NOT an option as the stress of the surgery would kill him. Finally, something that he can understand and accept. Will he remember it? Probably not.

I had an appointment for an MRI on the 28th and could not do it. I went alright, and got all the way to the point of being on the table, but when the nurse started securing my head I was up and out of there. I have severe claustrophobia and felt trapped and could not do it. I have a request in now for complete sedation during the procedure. It is the only way that they will be able to get the MRIs needed (left shoulder and C-spine) to determine how to proceed with the repairs.

On a sad note, my Emperor scorpion Napoleon died this morning. I have no idea why. I also heard that a friend has lost 7 of his snakes to a mystery problem in the last two weeks so I almost feel lucky. Life is fragile for sure.

Today's story is another somewhat humorous tale of the human species trying to fit in. The setting is beautiful Alaska where many memorable tales just wait to be told and every day is an experience. Enjoy!

Mama Moose

In 1976 I was in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska and had just weathered my first arctic winter. The snows had melted except for the deep shade areas and life was picking up speed with an energy and sense of urgency that only Alaskan winters can engender.

Bright and early one Spring morning I went out to the control tower to open it up and get everything ready for the day's flight operations. As was my custom I was earlier than the regular reporting time so that I could check everything out very carefully. It was quiet and beautiful and no one else was around our end of the airport property.

As I slowly drove down the gravel access road I could see a cow moose lying in the bushes about twenty feet from the tower. It was not an uncommon thing and nothing to be concerned about I figured. As a general rule if you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone.

I parked my vehicle and walked around to the door, which was at the closest point to the moose, and she just chewed her breakfast and acted like I didn't exist, which was fine with me. I don't know how many of you have seen a moose up close, but these critters are taller at the shoulder than the top of my head and weigh more than a horse. You wouldn't call them cute, or cuddly, and they are completely lacking in the elegance of the deer family. Still, it was pretty cool to be able to walk by a moose twenty feet away from you and not be in a zoo or some other artificial environment.

Control towers are of necessity a secure area, and as such kept locked at all times. We had keys and in most places have electric door lock releases, to let authorized persons inside. The door lock on this tower building had a "mind" of its own and it often took a lot of fussing, cussing and fumbling to get the thing to open. Not something that could be done in a hurry. I got inside and made sure the door latched closed again and climbed the stairwell thinking how much nicer it was than winter time where it could be minus forty-five degrees and you couldn't take your gloves off or you would stick to the handrail.

As I got things turned on and tested, I noted that it was just about time to open for business. There were some helicopters cranking up on the ramp getting ready for their daily flights and I was still by myself; something that I would address in a rather "unfriendly" way when my troops showed up. They should have been there already!

I was done with all of the items on the lengthy checklist and turned off the rotating light on top of the tower which flashed when we were closed, indicating that we were now open for business. Having been in this situation before, I arranged the microphones and radio controls so that I could work everything myself from one position without having to run back and forth between consoles.

The telephone rings and it is my second-in-command for that shift and he is foaming at the mouth (angry, not rabid). The new officer-in-charge of the barracks where the single guys live had decided to hold an "accompanied" inspection with no prior notification. That means that every soldier must be standing by his room until the inspection is completed. My controllers are being held hostage and no exceptions are being granted for the duty crew. I told my man that as soon as anyone who worked at the tower completed their inspection to send them to the tower, whether they are scheduled to work or not as I was alone and flight operations were starting.

I quickly placed a call to our officer-in-charge and bent his ear about some new guy barracks officer playing silly games with my people when I had an airport to run and flight safety was being affected, etc. He assured me that he would personally go to the barracks and put a stop to it and send me some help, asking if I could operate alone meanwhile? I assured him that I would do my best, but if I deemed it to be unsafe I would stop flight operations and hold everything until I had a crew on hand. This brought a gasp in response as we both knew that the upper command would freak out if I held up the flight schedule. At that point I hung up on him as aircraft were calling me and I got busy.

As I was bringing helicopters down the taxiway to position them for takeoff I could see a dust cloud coming towards the tower. I was too busy to pay much attention to it, until it turned the corner on the tower access road and I could see that it was Jerry (my # 2) in his old beat-up green Ford pick up truck that used about as much oil as it did gasoline and smoked and sounded as if it were going to explode at any moment. Funny thing though, that old truck would start and run every time, no matter what the temperature was, even when the newer ones wouldn't start from the cold. One tough old noisy garbage heap!

I watched as Jerry slid to stop next to my International, sending a spray of gravel flying like bullets into the brush... and thinking how glad I was that he was much better at controlling airplanes than he was at driving... and then I had to look the other way to work airplanes.

A few minutes went by and I started to wonder what was keeping Jerry, as I knew he always bounded up the stairs like he was in a race or something. I looked down at his truck and he wasn't in it, so I just kept working traffic and puzzled over the delay. It was getting pretty hectic between the telephone lines and radios and working the aircraft and I was wishing that he would get up there and plug in and help. Even for someone as experienced and skilled as I was, it was getting to be a circus act.

What I didn't know was that Jerry needed help himself! When he drove up in that noisy truck it alarmed the cow moose and she got to her feet and was stamping and snorting, which is a bad sign. It was the sliding stop that really set things off though. That old Ford through gravel in the direction of the moose, which ordinarily would have made her turn and trot off, except for one, make that two, little things; a pair of twin moose calves which were lying down in the brush about ten feet out, completely hidden from sight. When the gravel went flying it landed on them and they squalled like you had ripped their tails out by the roots and that's when things got choice! OK, I will admit that moose babies are kind of cute, in an awkward soft looking way... but it doesn't last long.

Jerry was oblivious to his surroundings as usual (he was a city kid) and he didn't even know the cow moose was there until he heard a loud snort and heard the thunderous sound of her running... at him! He never did see the twins and he was almost to them when he saw the mama barreling down on him. He didn't have much time to react, but react he did! Zero to full speed in the blink of an eye and running like his life depended on it, because it truly did! It helped that the tower was built on a raised pad of compacted gravel about four feet higher than the surrounding ground and the cow had to run up that after passing her babies.

Even so, that mama moose was fired up, with blood in her eyes and hate in her heart, she was definitely out to stomp some human butt. Jerry took off around the control tower with the moose in close pursuit and was yelling at the top of his lungs for help, but I couldn't hear him as I had a headset on and was talking to aircraft.

A helicopter pilot finally spoke up and said to me over the radio, "Hey Tower, doesn't that guy know it's dangerous to play with a moose?"

I was not sure what I had just heard, so I said, "Say again?"

The pilot responds, "There is a guy in fatigues doing laps around the control tower with a grown moose right behind him."

Another pilot chimes in, "Yeah, he's made at least five laps around the building and it doesn't look like he is having fun Tower!"

It had to look like an Alaskan version of the Keystone Cops and it was a good thing that Jerry was able to keep turning around the building. If he had to run in a straight line that moose would have caught him in no time! He tried to stop and put his key in the lock and open the door, but there just wasn't enough time. We had seen a moose jump into the back of truck just the week before so he didn't want to try getting on top of the vehicles. The only thing he could think to do was keep running and hope she gave up soon.

After his fifth trip around the tower one of the airport firetrucks pulled up to the building to get in position for standby duty and Jerry ran right up the truck like it was a set of stairs! From there he jumped to the fire escape ladder on the side of the control tower and didn't stop climbing until he was inside and had closed and locked the door to the catwalk. I really didn't think that the moose was going to climb a ladder forty-five feet up the side of the building, but there was no convincing Jerry of that.

It took quite a few more minutes until Jerry was of any use to me at all and then all I could do was have him answer telephones as he was still too rattled to work airplanes. By the time the rest of my crew showed up the moose had moved her babies safely away from the loud machines and crazy humans and there was no more conflict.

The rest of the crew gave him an unmerciful ribbing about how he attracted females of the wrong species, were the babies "his", and asked what kind of aftershave he used, and was he considering running in the base marathon, etc. It did have a positive influence on the way he parked his truck (no more sliding stops) and how fast he drove on the tower road though, so all was not lost on him.


The new barracks officer did get told (by his boss) to excuse the controllers from further accompanied inspections from that day forward.  The down side was our guys had a very difficult time for the next month passing any inspections. They were drawing extra duty for failing room inspections where none of them had ever failed even once before.

I had a talk with the Command Sergeant Major about how the harassment was affecting morale and he made a couple of phone calls and everything calmed down again. It was another month before I found out that the new guy Lieutenant had been transferred to the 172 Light Infantry Brigade and would no longer be a problem. That may have been a coincidence, but I didn't ask. I have found that when things are going your way, it is best to keep your mouth shut.