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Friday, October 12, 2012

Living with Horses: Leaving at last

Greetings Earthlings,

What a crazy few days!

I agreed to make a coffin for a friend... relax, it is a Halloween decoration, not a final resting place for a body. It is full size and has taken a lot of hours to construct, but finally, I am down to cutting out the lid and attaching it with a piano hinge. I decided that she can have the "honor" of painting it as that is the part that I like the least and besides, the paint fumes make me ill.

The good news is that because I have been able to use materials that have been stacked up around the house for years, with the exception of the hinge that I will have to purchase, the cost so far is zero.

Also on the news front was that the MRI for my neck (C-spine) and left shoulder which has been scheduled and rescheduled, actually happened yesterday at Renown in Reno. You may or may not know that I am extremely claustrophobic, for reasons that I won't go into here, but believe it. This has proven to be a problem for me to get the procedure done, until yesterday when I was knocked completely out and they had their way with me.

Of note was the quote of the day for the event when as I was being placed on the sliding table to go into the machine and still very much awake, the Doctor seeking to calm me says, "You are OK, you are good." and I responded, "NO Doc, you're OK, I'm freaking out... knock me out, NOW!" I was seconds from bailing off of the table and leaving that room.

The saving moment was when Nurse Natalie (who is a burner btw!) took hold of my hand and told me that she would not let them put me inside until I was out. That helped more than anything else at that critical juncture. The sedative was being injected into my IV and was burning its way up my left arm while all of this was transpiring, ending up at my now very painful left shoulder. I guess gravity was part of the problem too, as the shoulder was not supported and the weight of my arm was enough to make me hurt.

Thankfully just as the pain was getting absolutely ridiculous, the happy juice kicked in and I went out. Hurray! They were able to get all of the images they needed and no worries of me moving or freaking out and I didn't have to endure the horror of the machine. I am glad that part is over.

Today was lunch and shopping with Mr S. and somehow we made it through that too.

Anna is in "Hell Week" with her publishing of the Neva-Mind newsletter, which lasts from the 10th to the 20th of each month and makes her stressed out as she waits for her contributors to get their stuff in and she arranges and rearranges everything to make it all work. She also creates the crossword puzzles and the Kid's pages herself. A mostly thankless job which she alternately loves and hates.

Well here we are at the last entry to the Living with Horses saga, where at 18 years old and just graduated from high school, I was on my own in the wilds dealing with problems and crazy people. I believe that it was very good for me and I learned to trust myself more than any school or city situation could have taught me. I hope that you have enjoyed the story and will come away feeling like you have gained something too.

6. Living with Horses; Leaving at last

You knew that it had to happen eventually; the saga of a young man having an adventure must reach a conclusion some time, or there would be no room for other adventures in his life. And so I bring you this final chapter of Living with Horses.

If in the last installment it sounded like I was more worried about getting wet than taking care of the horses, that is definitely not the case. I was up frequently and spent most of the time that it was actually raining, out in it. Which was miserable, but it was what I was there for, and it seems that I didn't melt.

Second, I didn't mean to imply that the storm hadn't bothered the horses, they were scared, (a little bug-eyed), but they were handling it very well and stayed close to each other and snorted and grumbled a bit, but no wild panic. I was a bit worried about the smell of fire spooking them, but rain kept that down and the wind was blowing any smoke away from the horse pen so it was all good.

The enclosure that I constructed was made out of recently cut pine trees so it had some give, but was very strong. I was able to lay the trees down horizontally between other standing, live pines and by alternately stacking the "poles" was able to construct a very simple but strong, small corral, that was 6 feet high and about 25' X 25' if I recall correctly. It reminded me of a fortress built out of "Lincoln Logs", and with the trees closing off the sky overhead, it was quite "cozy". It was not intended to be their home, just someplace to hold them if I felt it necessary. It was lucky, (with a touch of good planning), that I had it ready on that night.

As for the pine tree that got hit by the lightning and burned through the night, (in spite of the rain) I still believe, as I did then, that the force of electricity which both ignited and exploded that tree, actually came from the ground up, not from the sky down to the tree. There was a scorched spot on the ground, exactly ten feet from my tent, (I measured it with a tape measure that I borrowed from CR), and a trail of burned grasses leading to the tree stump. Thus my theory; that and I actually saw the tree blow up. Without the other data I might have wondered if I had seen it correctly.

This lone pine was about 40 feet tall and only close to other trees in the direction of my tent, that distance being about 60 feet. When it exploded, it really got pulverized, right down to kindling wood, except for about a three foot or so stump that burned deep inside for a couple of days, in spite of the cans of water that I poured on it. There were a lot of chunks of pine bark, but not a single large piece of tree wood on the ground in any direction. It beat anything that I had seen in fires in south Florida prior to that, and in explosions since then.

With the end of the storm (just before daybreak) I released the horses from their corral, threw the dogs off of my cot and then collapsed for about an hour, and it felt good. The air had that clean fresh smell common after a rain and the sun was coming up, causing every bird in the area to sing their little heads off. The horses were frisky and playful, and getting impatient for me to get going on our daily routine. I would have loved a cup of coffee at that point, but all the firewood was wet and it just seemed to be too much trouble to bother.

As I was hauling water across the road from the well, I saw the old tan Ford truck coming down the road and was a bit surprised to see a young black woman driving it, with Seth riding along up front too, and no CR or Mrs T. with them at all.

I would have loved to have been able to see the expression on my own face when they stopped and Seth handed me a cup of coffee without either of us speaking yet. How in the world did he know? Seth being a proper gentleman, hastened to make introductions and I had the pleasure of meeting his only child Geneva, who had been away at college in Atlanta and had worked a while longer at her job after semester ended, and so was just getting home for vacation. She was a real beauty and just as quiet and soft spoken as her father.

Seth's wife had died when Geneva was two and he never remarried, figuring that he was too old to start over, and not really wanting to. Geneva had been a "surprise baby", coming along after years of believing that they couldn't have children, and then there she was, with them in their late 40's. So Seth went on, raising the girl by himself and in the fold of the T. family farm. Seth had saved his money all this time and was paying for Geneva's education as was the wish of both his wife and himself, wanting to give their child a better chance than they had.

As we exchanged pleasantries and visited a little, I was "itching" to know how Seth knew that I wanted coffee this morning; it wasn't like it was an every day craving that could be predicted, as it was with CR. He had to have coffee first thing or everybody had better run for it. He was a real caffeine addict, no de-caf for this farmer! Actually, he would have added more caffeine if he could have, like you can at Starbucks now with a shot of espresso.

I finally gave up waiting for it to come up again in polite conversation, and just blurted it out, "Seth, how did you know that I wanted coffee this morning, of all mornings?" and I must have had a perplexed look on my kisser, because it made Seth laugh.

He said, "Simple boy, it rained all night, right?... and you were out in it tending to those horses, right?... and you were cold and wet and miserable, right? And this morning when you thought about making coffee, the wood was too wet to bother with, am I right again? I thought so! That's why I got up and put on a pot of coffee, 'cause had it been me out there all night, I would sure appreciate a hot cup of coffee to make things better and I wanted to help out a little. You're a good boy and I like you."

This was the longest speech that I had ever heard come out of Seth's mouth and it just about brought tears to my eyes when he said it. Geneva was crying, softly and not in a big way, just proud of her father and what a fine, caring person he was.

Which really set me up for the next question, when Geneva asked me to come to church with them this morning. What could I say or do after all this, and I was feeling a bit religious myself after that lightning bolt in the night... it might not be safe to say no.

They waited for me out by the big oak next to the well, as I finished watering and ran up to my tent and changed clothes. I put on my clean stuff, that I kept in reserve, (for what I didn't know), you just had to keep something ready if you were a "planner" like me. I guess maybe that this would be the occasion that I was planning for, as I certainly wasn't going to embarrass my friends by going to church in cut-offs and sneakers. I was awfully glad that I had the clean clothing and could be presentable.

The church was less than a mile down the road and Seth was beaming with pride when we pulled up in front of the old wooden church that morning. He was healthy and happy, his daughter was home, and he had brought a guest to church; me.

When we started out for the church, Geneva had slid over next to her father, to allow me to drive. I felt embarrassed immediately, because to me it said that the white man must be "in charge" if he's there, i.e.: driving the truck. I hoped that I had not conveyed that image, or message to them. I didn't think that I had.

Geneva must have thought that I was one silly white boy when I said, "No thanks, you drive Geneva, my boots are all muddy and I'm going to ride on the tail gate and try to knock the mud off before we get to the church." 

I'm sure that it provided a topic for discussion for quite a while around the community when we pulled up that first Sunday morning; with the black folks riding up front, and the white boy riding in the back.

This was a Baptist church, but it was unlike any that I had attended previously; and I don't mean just because everyone there besides me was black. It was the fact that these people were happy and singing, and having a good time, actually rejoicing about being alive. This was very cool!

I was accepted immediately and welcomed with open arms by most of the congregation. There were some hostile eyes staring at me, mostly from a few of the young men, but they did not say anything to me, and would not cause problems in front of the others. I could readily understand their suspicion and distrust of some loony white guy who shows up at their church, even with an invitation. Times were scary for them and you never knew who was KKK and looking to do something bad. Of course there was the feeling of plain old resentment to deal with; if the tables were turned and one of these young black men showed up at an all white church... well, I'm sure you know how well that would go over. I just kept my smile going and did my best to be polite and respectful, without being a "suck-up". Apparently I did OK.

What endeared these wonderful folks to me right off, was NOT being asked; "Are you saved? Do you know Jesus?" or being made to stand up, (as if they couldn't spot ME) and "testify". If y'all have been to a "Hell's fire and brimstone" kind of Baptist church, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. It is embarrassing and painful, at least to me it was. And they did not put me through that, for which I was very grateful. We had a blast, with a very lively preacher who talked about every day, real life things, and kept the crowd involved. He could really "work the room" to use a show biz term. He was good!

The church building used to be the school house when Seth was a child, and the members bought it from the county after the new school was built closer to town and the old one abandoned. There was no need for a "one room" school with the new modern one. Note: The school building actually had more than one room, but there was only one classroom to hold all students K-12. There were also three outhouses (Girls, Boys and "Coloreds") a few yards away from the back of the building. And a well near the front, between the building and the road. 

I had the feeling that we were still not far removed from the days of slavery and primitive lifestyles. Seth watched me as I took it all in and just nodded his wise old head at me as he saw the understanding on my face.

The church congregation got together and raised enough money to buy the building and the one acre of the ground that it sat on, and set about repairing and cleaning it up, even installing indoor plumbing! (The coat room became the restroom). The building already had a "bell tower", (from which the bell had been removed), and they erected a large cross on top of that. It was pretty impressive and looked like it had been designed that way from the start.

They went for several years without a bell because they could not afford one yet, after putting everything into buying and fixing the church itself. All attempts (made by the preacher) to get the old bell donated back to the building that it came from were unsuccessful. It was ridiculous, but that bell was sitting in storage somewhere, totally idle. Simply put, whoever was in the position of authority to approve such things like; returning a bell, didn't want to. So nothing happened.

Enter the "Stubborn Mule" himself; Old Mr T. (CR's dad). He got mad about the sorry, stingy attitude going on in his town and contacted a white attorney from outside of the community that he knew. Mr. T. had him contact the county "keeper" of the bell and he was able to purchase it; just like that, no hesitation at all for some reason. The county official said that he was delighted that the "right sort of people" would get the bell, as it was too fine to go to the likes of "them as was trying to get it."

The old man really ruffled some feathers (and some white robes I'd say), when he made a big production of donating that bell to the church, "Where it belonged". Of course he had the newspaper cover it and put pictures of the smiling congregation, and the preacher and Mr T. shaking hands on the front steps of the church; all placed right on the front page. 

Things were a bit tense at the Warrenton Baptist Church (the white folks church in town) after that, but the old man just sang louder and looked everyone in the eye as he shook hands each Sunday and they had little choice but to let it go and get over it.

I was to attend that church just three times with Seth and Geneva before leaving, and I miss that happy attitude enjoyed by those good folks to this day. 

Let me tell one last story about the church before I move on.

It was the second Sunday that I went to church and Geneva and Seth picked me up again, only I was ready this time. We got to church a little early and were standing around outside talking because it was already hot and stuffy inside the building, as there was no air conditioning and no open windows. There also was no telling how long the preacher would talk if he got wound up. So you waited until the last minute to go inside and "Sweat for Jesus", as the preacher jokingly put it one time.

I noticed three young boys, (about eight to ten years old I'd guess) running around to the back of the building, which by itself was no big deal, kids are always running. The thing was, that these guys had an empty mason jar with them. I know it was empty because one of the "grandmothers" stopped them and made sure that it didn't have something "from the Devil" in it, meaning "moonshine" probably. I thought that they would have to be awfully brave and bold to do something like that, here. But hey, "grandma" knew better than me, she had been around for many more years than I and knew all about boy's tricks. But they were "cleared" and given their freedom to run once more, with the ever present warning to keep their "Sunday" clothes clean, or else!

I had been talking with Seth and Geneva and another middle-aged lady, about how they might get some books for the Sunday School class, when we realized that we were just about to be late for services and hurried up the steps. I was hanging back in order to let the others go in first, out of respect, not fear of entering the building. I actually felt welcome there.

As I was about to step through the doorway, two of the boys that I had seen run around the building, came blasting past me, excusing themselves as they almost knocked me down and sliding in and along the back wall, to stand up in the rear, as was normal with the capacity crowd. The younger ones would stand so that their elders could sit, a lovely tradition I thought.

I had noticed as the boys went by that their knees and hands were dirty and thought, "You guys are going to get it when "grandma" sees that". I didn't know if the woman was the grandmother of any of these boys, but all of the adults looked after all of the children in this church. I believe that the kids really benefited from it, they were very well behaved; most of the time.

The reason for the running and the dirty hands and knees didn't take long to materialize, even as I was wondering where the third little joker was and kind of looking around for him as the preacher started "Revving" up. It was hot and humid in that room and the sun was shining through the new stained glass window that one of the members had made, and was just installed the day before. I had to wonder why they hadn't cut some windows in to the side walls to provide ventilation, but I guess the preacher didn't want folks getting "too comfortable" and falling asleep or staring out of the windows instead of listening to him speak. (I would say now that finances for both windows and craftsmen to install them had that remodel item on hold.)

The buzzing started out low and quiet, and I probably wouldn't have heard it as soon as I did, but the Reverend had paused to get a sip of water before continuing. I heard and then saw, rising through the strange light from the new window, a swarm of angry hornets coming up through a shiny (clean, like it was wiped off by a cloth or pants) knothole in the floor, right in front of the pulpit, and obviously very agitated.

The Preacher uttered a common sentiment, no doubt felt throughout the congregation, (but probably hard to reference in the Bible) when he said in his loud, clear, Reverend's commanding voice; "HOLY SHIT!", as he was backing away from the pulpit and getting tangled in his robes.

The man was truly startled by the angry insects, and as he was trying to say "get out", people were already doing it; leaving the building fast, but careful of the elderly and the children. It wasn't as bad as it could have been. 

For whatever reason, the hornets kept rising until they were all the way up by the ceiling and the new window, possibly following the sunlight. I sure couldn't say. No one got stung or trampled in the exodus, so it was OK. 

One of the other young men my age and I, ran around the building to the back where we found the access door to underneath the building open and just in time to grab the third boy crawling out on his dirty hands and knees. Hmm, can you say "busted?". 

In the grubby little paws of this villain were tightly clutched; one cigarette lighter, and one mason jar with a sooty bottom and a dead hornet stuck to the bottom inside.

The other fellow took charge of the boy and the evidence, while I secured the access door and hunted around for the padlock that was supposed to be on it. (which I couldn't find). As I went back around to the front to see what would happen next, I was searching my conscience as to whether or not to tell on the other two boys that I knew were involved in this caper; was it my place to tell?

I need not have worried about it. Grandmother logic had already prevailed and the other two were in "custody" already! Their ears being "extended" by hard pinching grandmother fingers and the questions and answers were flying. I was having flashbacks to my youth and I was sure glad I wasn't them!

My stay in that community came to an end the very next Sunday, right after I got back to camp from church.

As I walked up the access "road" into the property, (noticing the tire tracks in the dirt), I found the Captain and his wife and kids waiting for me. I said hello and the boss fired back at me, "Where the Hell have you been?" I said, "church, why?" Which set the loco Captain off on a tirade about how he didn't pay me to go to church, and that I was neglecting my "duties" and should be court-martialed.

That was the end of my patience and it was now my turn to explode. I said, "Fine, then I will pack my gear and you can haul me back to Augusta. Right now."

The Captain said that suited him, because I was a lousy soldier anyway. He was nuts. He walked off into the woods in a huff, talking to himself like there was two people speaking. Actually speaking in two different voices and arguing with himself.

As I was packing what belonged to me, I spoke with his wife, saying that I was surprised to see her there. Noting as I did so, that Princess (the German Shepherd), was wrapped around her legs, trying to get closer to her than was possible. It was obvious that the dog really loved her, and that both of them were scared.

This tired and distressed woman then related to me that she had left when the Captain started getting really strange and wanting to do things to her sexually that she didn't like or want to do. The night that she left him (which started this adventure), she had refused to comply with his demands and he had tied her up and whipped her with a belt, until Princess burst into the room and bit him. That diverted his rage to the dog, which he had beaten until she (the dog) was unconscious, or dead possibly, (she didn't know when she left). 

When he untied her she acted subservient until he went outside and then she hurriedly packed a few things and grabbed the girls and jumped into her car and took off for Florida and her mother.

I asked her what had possessed her to come back, especially with the kids? She said that he had changed the bank accounts and drawn out everything in their joint account, which he could do, as they were still married. This left her with no income or assets to borrow against, and her mother lived on social security so she couldn't help.

She had become friendly with an attorney who lived near her mother and was working part time for him, and together they had devised a plan for her to get some money and property back in her possession and name. But it required her to be with her husband and to be able to access the records in their file cabinets at home.

When the Captain came back and found me talking with his wife he had a melt down about a "conspiracy" and in a rage started the truck and said, "Get in now or stay here". There is no doubt that he would have left all of us there too. So I grabbed my most valuable possessions and got in the back with the dogs. At the gate I barely got back in the truck after securing the wire as he peeled out. That was one scary ride back to Augusta and I had to walk and hitch-hike to my parents home from the ranch outside of town.

I did return to the campsite a couple of days later to rescue some items that had been left behind and son-of-a-gun if the Colonel didn't follow me out there and collect those horses! What a sneaky man that guy was... At least I knew that they were taken care of and not shot, or sold for dog food like the Captain threatened.


As for the people in this story, I know this much:

The Captain ended up in a psychiatric ward at the V. A. hospital by Christmas of 1971 after slapping a police officer for "insubordination", then a state mental hospital where he eventually died from a brain aneurysm. 

His wife and her attorney succeeded fabulously and eventually she owned everything that the two of them had; including the interest in the horses, which she sold to the Colonel. The ranch in Martinez that they lived on was sold. The court also awarded her half of the Captain's pension. She moved to Florida permanently.

His brother couldn't take dealing with the lunacy anymore and requested orders overseas to get away from him. He did well and moved up the ranks of the U.S. Army quickly and as far as I know, never returned to Augusta, Georgia. I ran into him eight years later and he was a Major about to be promoted again.

The Colonel sold all of the horses and equipment and got out of the business. I have no idea where my charges ended up. They were of very good blood lines so I feel like they were OK. I did hear that he invested in vacation rental property in the Bahamas, but lost track of him. I didn't really care.

I heard from Geneva when she graduated from college and returned to Warrenton to teach elementary school. That only lasted until her father passed away a couple of years later and she moved back to Atlanta to teach there. CR and Mrs T. had no children, so when they passed on, they left everything to Geneva, making her a very wealthy school teacher.


I have often reflected upon those days running with the horses in the meadows and living life in the quiet countryside with no radio or television and only brief interactions with people. I was happy and content with the animals and didn't have much to worry about past their immediate needs. 

The people that I met showed me that regardless of status in life, or educational or financial differences, there are good decent people and there are those who are worthless no matter what. The lesson learned was to not judge them by their exterior or station. And also to trust my gut instinct and go with it. 

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