Saturday, November 26, 2016

Horses, Horses

 I can't remember who this colt is, but the mare is Suzie. And that is me during high school.

I loved horses when I was growing up. I also was scared to death of them. They were beautiful, they were fun to ride, and they were terrifying. At least my dad's horses were terrifying to me. In our family, you were in the saddle before you could walk. A sister would hold you, while Mom led the horse around the barnyard, and then took your picture. We always had horses. In the summer, there was a horse tied up and saddled, next to the fence every day. I didn't have my own bike. I said that once to a friend when I was an adult. She looked at me sadly, acknowledging that indeed I did come from poor roots. But, hey! We had horses!Who needed a bike? There were actually more places to ride the horse, than to ride the bike. We did have a bike--it belonged to all of us. We rode it when we felt like it, and we rode a horse the rest of the time.

I'm probably about 15 months old in this shot, with my sister Connie.

 My dad holding a workhorse with the four "big sisters" and 
our little brother when he was about six months old.

One summer, a car pulled into our driveway. I didn't recognize the people, but my mother came outside and waved and gave the mother, who was behind the wheel, a big hug. We took the children, instructed by both mothers, for horse rides while my mom and her cousin (it turned out) talked and laughed for a bit. See, as this family had come down from the mountain pass that led into our little valley, the children were anticipating visiting some of their mom's family members. But, they were also longing to ride a horse. Apparently their relatives didn't have animals. So, the mother, mischievously said to her children, (knowing that within a couple of miles she would come around a curve and see her cousin's farm) "Okay, the next time we see some horses tied up to a fence at a house, we'll stop there, and ask if we can ride their horses." The children expressed their incredulity, and then their mother pointed out that RIGHT THERE were horses tied to the fence, with saddles already on them. She started to slow down, and her kids suddenly became hesitant to just stop in at total strangers and ask for a favor. But she turned into the driveway anyway. Now, the kids were just too embarrassed, and shrunk down in their seats. But! What's this? Their mom and this farm lady are hugging?? They had a great time riding our horses, and we thoroughly enjoyed sharing our best thing with them.

My dad loved beautiful horses. We had a mare that was part thoroughbred, and part quarter-horse. She was feisty. She scared me to death! Her leg had been injured in a cutter race, so we didn't ride her, which contributed to her flighty nature. But she made some beautiful off-spring. Men need a hobby and for my dad it was breeding beautiful horses. He'd pay big bucks (at the time) to hire a stallion, and then take Bo-Peep in his truck over to the romantic rendezvous. Each spring, we get a fantastic foal that pleased Daddy so much. Now, we weren't cowboys. We didn't have a big herd of cattle that someone needed to ride the range with; nor did we round-up and rope and brand calves out on the prairie. Milk cows are different. So, we did not need horses like a rancher might. But, beautiful horses was my dad's thing, so we always had four or five of them. He used them in the fall to go elk hunting. We children rode them during the summers for fun. He liked to show them off to his cousins who'd occasionally visit. He would sometimes sell one of the foals, and make a little profit. You know how some people just like having a collection of cool cars, or motorcycles, or a room full of fabric? Well, my dad had his horses.

This is Old Pal and I think the foal is Mickey.

We had Old Pal, a mare that could, and would, hold children from her neck to the tip of her tail. She would patiently allow the inexperienced to clamber aboard, and would walk along patiently keeping them seated. Or my dad could take her elk hunting in the fall, and ride her hard all day, pack out the elk quarters on her, and she would work for him like a champion. Her two off-spring were Mickey (a gelding) and Bo-Peep, a mare. Cutter racing was a big sport when I was child. Two-horse teams pulled a sled down the main street of one of the little towns. Bo-Peep had the legs and the speed, and a man convinced Daddy that she would do well with his horse in a team. Unfortunately, she was injured in a race (I don't know the circumstances, but I think my dad was upset with the driver's lack of judgement) and she was retired to be a broodmare. Her two daughters were Lindy and Susie. One spring, both Susie and Lindy were going to have foals. My dad told me that Lindy's would be mine. My own horse!! 

This is Suzie, patient as her grandmother, Old Pal.
Trish, Scott, Shelly, Daddy, Lorene, Lawrence

This is one of Old Pal's great-grandchildren, with a group of
mother's grandchildren piled on her, the way we used to pack ourselves on.

It was pretty amazing. Up till then, I was rather afraid of our horses. I'd had a few exciting experiences: hanging on for dear life when the mare I was riding decided to turn back and run for home because her nursing baby was back in the other field. Or the time my older sister and I packed a picnic lunch, and were going to ride Mickey up the field. However, he was very, very unhappy at the sound of the ice-cubes clanging against the side of the honey bucket we'd filled with water and tied on the saddle with the back strings. We just got through the barnyard gate, and was passing by some parked farm machinery, when he exploded in fury, in an attempt to get rid of that bouncing, clanging thing. We girls both flew off and landed on the ground, and I rolled under the drill to protect myself. He bucked like a rodeo champ, trying to throw off that noisy can. I can still picture his hoofs slamming into the dirt so close to my face, as I huddled under the edge of the overhanging seed buckets.

But, something about getting my own horse made it all different. First: he was just a little baby! He was small and not taller than me. After all, I could look over the top of a cow's back since I was about nine years old. And cows moved slowly. Horses were all legs and stepped lively. But, he seemed calmer than his fidgety mother. I'd read a lot of books about horses (well...ALL the books about horses in the town library...) and I had some ideas. I worked on gentling my colt (named Bucky) and over the course of a year, I'd taught him to come when I whistled, (I bribed him with grain), and to stand calmly while I touched him all over. He grew taller, but I didn't get frightened of him. We had an understanding. The winter he was two years old, I asked Daddy to let him stay with the calves in the field behind the barn, instead of going to the upper fields with the rest of the herd. During most winters, our horses just hung out with the cattle, living a herd life, eating hay daily when we took it to them. But they weren't "our" horses during those months--they became a little band of their own, with the oldest mare as the leader.

With Bucky available for me to talk to, pet, and bring grain snacks every day at milking time, he and I became a little team. I started to tie him up to the fence during milking, and I'd go out and talk to him, and touch his back, and lean on him. Eventually, I climbed the fence and sat on his trembling back very gently. I did this every day until he didn't care anymore. Then, I introduced the saddle blanket, then the saddle, then I cinched it up. Then, I sat on the saddle. All of this was done gradually over the Christmas break,and through the January evenings while we were outside anyway. Finally, at the end of February, when the sunlight isn't gone so early, I had my dad lead me around the barnyard. Bucky was very nervous, walking with that saddle and a 14 year old girl on his back. But, he calmed down when I talked to him. Daddy led me through the gate, so that I could ride him in the pasture, which was three feet deep in snow at that point. Bucky and I rode like that for several weeks, and by the time the snow melted, he was completely comfortable with me climbing up in the saddle and riding him wherever I chose.

I know it sounds like a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, or maybe something by Walter Farley. But, seriously, I just was so obsessed with having my own horse, that I was determined to really make him mine. I've reflected on this two year period, and realized that having my horse helped me to grow up. At the same time I was taming and training Bucky, I was also in Junior High School. Now--picture this: very tall, skinny, knocked-kneed girl with ugly corrective shoes. She is now entering a school with about 250 other students, of whom she only knows about 25. And, although she knows them, and can chat and say "hi" she really doesn't have a "friend"---yes, I did not know anyone who I could say was my "BFF." I was friendly, but not in a group. I look back and realize that I preferred reading books all the time, and that I tended to be a know-it-all because I'd read so many books. I wasn't shy about sharing my knowledge. I was taller than most of the boys, and I milked cows every day. I wore my sisters' hand-me-down dresses, which had been fine up till then. However, fashion changed dramatically in the middle of Junior High, and now my clothes were so last decade. Sigh. Plus...who among us has ever felt "cool" at that age?? (I also realized as an adult that NO ONE loves Jr. High.) So, at school, I was always embarrassing myself by talking too much, or by not having anyone to sit by at lunch, or by getting caught reading a book in my lap, when I should have been paying attention to the teacher.

BUT! At home, I was a confident horse trainer! I helped my parents milk cows, feed chickens, gather and sort the eggs, feed the calves, help with younger siblings, and generally be a competent contributor to our family. I was a decent student. I got good grades. I had writing skills...math?...not so much. But, when I wasn't at school, I lived in a world that brought me a great deal of satisfaction, all thanks to my horse, and the cows, and even the dopey chickens.

See, this is my plan for the little gangsters I see roaming the big city where I now live. They get into gang life for real around middle school age. They're looking for a purpose in life. They need a team, they need to feel value in their existence. School work? Maybe not...It's hard to care about the "author's purpose" when you don't read that well, your parents don't read English at all, and your hormones are telling you that you need to go and show off for the girls. But...if some of these kids had a group of calves to take care of, or a car to fix, or a horse to train, maybe then they could channel some of the youthful enthusiasm into a positive place, and they wouldn't need the fake validation of gangster life.

Here are some more horse photos. I'd post one of Bucky, but I do not think I own one of him. He was a beautiful buckskin, with a black mane and tail. We looked good together.

There are many more horse stories. Someday I might tell them. The horses were just part of the family.

This mare is BoPeep (see her damaged front knee), and I think that foal is Suzie. 
Stanford, Baby Scott, Lawrence, Daddy, Connie

This is Trish and Suzie in 1971.
Trish was the Lincoln County Fair Queen,
and she and Suzie attended rodeos and
 parades all over the area. Suzie loved to barrel race.

This is me in December 1964, before my colt, Bucky,
was born that spring. I'm the flagpole girl on the left.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Our Best Friends

Naturally, I'm talking about pets! There just isn't anything more satisfying than having an animal that loves you. Well, it's not necessarily obvious that cats love us, but they still desire our attention, and hang out with us, on their terms, of course. I'm thankful for all the animals I've known in my life.

I started out talking about pets...but I also mean all the farm animals that I interacted with in my childhood and teenager years, too. Some of our cows had vivid personalities. Gyp: a Guernsey who had an obsession with being the first cow into the milking barn each night. She'd plow through the herd, knocking over any inattentive humans in her determination to step through the door before any other animals did. Sheesh....her stall was # 5 or #6, I forget. No, we humans did not assign the stalls. The cow hierarchy did that. Goldie and Jewel were in #1 and #2. They were the purebred Guernseys my dad and mom brought over as calves from central Wyoming when they moved to our farm in 1953. I was 10 days old. They'd been working on a big dairy farm in Kinnear (near Riverton) and decided that it was too far from "home"--Star Valley. So, they packed up their three girls and returned to their home town and started a little farm of their own. Those two calves were the basis of their herd. They acquired some Jerseys, and a couple of Holsteins, and then my dad loved adding other breeds like Brown Swiss, milking shorthorn, and once we had a red Holstein, I think.

Anyway, contrary to any perception one might have of docile dairy animals, our milk cows had a complex social order. There were the head honchos and their best buddies, and then there were the lesser, not-as-cool cows. It was weird to learn about, but vital, because you did a lot better when you knew what the Cow Rules were. They are big, and generally calm, but you cannot win if you decided to mess up the "correct order" of events in a cow's daily schedule.

One of these cows was a Jersey named Malice. My sister, just 15 months younger than me, had made a pet out of her. I don't recall the beginnings of this amazing friendship. But it was true blue. Malice had a weird mannerism of letting her tongue flop out of the side of her mouth when she was hanging around, sometimes during cud chewing. Sometimes, it also was a greeting to my sister. And Malice had to be acknowledged, petted, and admired before she would go into the barn. If my sister was holding her cat (another weirdo) when Malice approached for loving, then the cow would shove the cat out of her arms to the ground, and thrust her own cowy head into my sister's grasp. Malice liked to lick my sister's head when she sat and milked her each night. They call an uncontrolled swirl of hair a "cowlick" because, not even Gorilla Snot hair gel can match the power of cow saliva to push one's hair into a position that can only be undone in the shower with shampoo. But you KNOW you are loved when your pet cow licks the side of your head while you milk her.

Our barn cats were pretty fabulous, too. They kept the mice population under control in the grain storage area, and we treated them with warm, foamy milk each night for supper and each morning for breakfast. And they were a teensy bit spoiled, I believe, because when the foam had melted, and the milk in their little pan was cooled off, they would merely sniff at it, and walk away. By then, it was only good enough for the dog. We had a large family of barn cats. They all had crazy names, and interesting personalities to go with it.
And none of them would have ever allowed us to carry them into the house. They were BARN cats, and they only allowed human interaction during milking time. Hug and pet them at that time, the rest of the day, leave them alone.

We had several dogs on our farm, too. The first one I remember was just called Dog. I have no idea his breed, he was large, black and brown, with flopped over ears, and a big bushy tail. He supervised EVERYTHING. He helped round up the milk cows each morning and evening. He followed us around while we hauled hay. He was at my dad's heels as he did all the stuff I never knew about on the farm. Dog was our loyal friend. One day, he disappeared and my dad went out in the truck after 12 hours to look for him. Apparently, Dog had followed the pickup truck part way up the highway, as he often did, but when he turned back to go home, he had been struck by a vehicle. My dad found him lying in the road ditch, alive, but unable to move his hind-quarters. Dog was very excited to be rescued. We fed him, and petted him, and laid him on the straw in the central part of the barn, where the burlap bags of cow grain were stored. Each day, my dad would pick him up and carry him out into the sunshine, so he could lie just in front of the barn and survey his kingdom.

One evening, there was a newborn calf in the center place, because that is where they went after the first 24 hours with their mothers. Then, we fed them their mother's milk for a couple of months, in a bucket, because she was producing far more than one calf could consume. Well, as we brought the cows into the barnyard for the evening's milking, the new mother went over to the doors, behind which she could smell her new baby. The mother cow began to moo to her infant. Remember stupid Gyp from the previous paragraph? Well, another of her weird quirks was claiming every new calf as her own, so she, too, pushed up against the real mother so that Gyp could bawl piteously also, at the baby on the other side of the center doors.  Unfortunately, the two cows were now standing right next to the disabled dog. He barked at them, and growled, in a warning to watch out, I guess. But dopey Gyp took it into her head to get aggressive right back. She put her head down, and started to butt and maul our poor, crippled Dog. He howled and barked, and squirmed around. I could see this happening and so I grabbed a shovel and ran over to chase away the aggressor cow. I yelled and waved and pounded her, and my sister and little brother grabbed Dog and pulled him away. My mother, hearing the commotion, had run out of the house with the broom in her hand to help us do whatever it was we needed done. This whole episode lasted fewer than a couple of minutes, but it really got the whole barnyard stirred up good! Seriously, Gyp was not my favorite cow.

Sometime later, a few days, a few weeks, I forget, but we accidentally dropped Dog one evening as we picked him up to carry him back inside after the milking was finished. He cried, and we were so sorry, and petted and loved him up. But---the next morning when we went to the barn to greet him and then go out to get the cows for the morning milking---he was up on all fours, tail wagging, and whimpering to be let out to go get those dumb cows with us! I guess whatever structural defect had been done by the original injury, was cured by our dropping him the night before! It was weird...But the best part was when we went out for the cows. By this time, weeks and weeks with no dog, they'd become very blase about our efforts to nudge them out of the feed mangers and down from the pasture edges to go to the barn. At first, I'd whistle for the dog, knowing he couldn't come, but the cows didn't know that. They'd look around and step lively toward the gate, not wanting to get a nip on the ankle. But about a week into Dog's injury, the cows had figured it out, and they no longer fell for the "whistle" or any other dog-related threat. But that morning! When we went out to their pasture, and I called out, "Get 'em boy!" and there was actually a black furry creature trotting alongside me, suddenly those cows were all obedient again. Ha ha! It was great! Sadly, our dear old doggy friend died several years later, mysteriously shot in our big field. My dad thought it was probably the work of someone attempting to steal gas from the tractors. We missed him. We had another couple of farm dogs while I was a teenager, but Dog was a legend.

Barn cats, surveying their kingdom from the palace loft.

Part 2 tomorrow: more animal love.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Things to be Thankful For...

It's that season of the year, when people are being thankful, out loud, for their blessings. I have a few blessings I'd like to recognize.

First, I'm blessed to live in this modern world where medical procedures have enabled me to continue to walk. If I were to have gone through the mess with my feet in another century (like the 1800's) I'd just be a person who could not walk! My feet are fairly crummy, as they are now. However, I CAN walk on them. I can put on shoes, and continue in my employment as a teacher. And now, science has repaired my aching, dysfunctional knee. Well, it is in the process of healing, so it still aches, but soon, it will be all healed and I won't have to think about it with every step I take.

Another thing I am thankful for, that coordinates with this new knee, is that I have a kind and considerate family. I have been an invalid over and over in the last four years, trying to get my feet back to functioning. Seriously, I've had two or three surgeries on each foot! And now this knee joint replacement! Each time, CoolGuy has been my thoughtful nurse. He has waited on me, cared for me, indulged my whining about not getting well fast enough. He takes me where I need to go, he helps me shower, he washes the dishes and cleans up the house. He sometimes threatens to tie me to the couch, so I won't stupidly get up and try things I'm not allowed to do. This surgery, our oldest son volunteered to come (and did so) for a week, to take care of me, so that his dad could go to work. (The other foot surgeries, CoolGuy was working from home on the computer, and now he is fixing motorcycles at a shop.) It was very kind and thoughtful of our son to come down and hang out with me, and be my helper.
Modern medicine and old-fashioned family love: two things I'm thankful this year, again.

Here I am, just home from the hospital, on drugs, showing off my double chins!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

I Love to See the Temple

 I went to the dedication of the Star Valley, Wyoming, temple on Sunday, October 30th. In Nevada we had Friday, Oct. 28th, as a state holiday, to commemorate the day Nevada became a state 152 years ago. (It was actually on Oct. 31st, 1864, but a few years ago, they voted to move the state holiday from Oct. 31st to the last Friday of October.)  So, when I found out the date for the dedication, I bought myself a plane ticket, and reserved a rental car so I could be in Wyoming for this great occasion.

The weather was amazingly cooperative, too! Many Halloweens of my childhood featured a blizzard, or plenty of snow already fallen on the ground. There was a vigorous rain storm on Friday evening when I arrived, but then the clouds held it in for the rest of the weekend. It was a great help to all the people who were traveling through mountain passes to be in Afton for all the activities.

Here's why having a temple in our little mountain valley is such a luxury and a blessing. When my grandparents wanted to be married in a temple in 1912, this is how they did it: a brother and a sister were marrying a brother and a sister from another family. So, the two couples (who lived on the Idaho side of the valley in Freedom) packed their things in a wagon, hitched up the horses, and rode over the pass to the county seat in Idaho. There, the two couples were married by a justice of the peace, and then they continued on their way, for two more days, to the temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. The two sets of newly-weds were sealed for time and eternity there, and then they got back in their wagon for the three day journey back to their new homes in Star Valley. So, having a temple, right there, would have been a wonderful bonus for them. But, it wasn't an insurmountable obstacle to their fervent desire to be sealed in the temple from the start.

The tradition to stage a "cultural celebration" at the dedication of a new temple was followed here, too. It was simply delightful to watch! They made me cry with one of their songs, too. The theme of the whole show was "Mountain Heir"--meaning that the people who live in this region now (including the valleys of the Bear Lake region, and the surrounding parts of Wyoming) all benefit from the work and endurance of our ancestors who settled this region and stuck it out, despite the many hardships, and the isolation. It is a theme I've been constantly aware of, since I was a child. Our ancestors enabled us to live in a very fine place, with an excellent heritage of faith, hard-work, and family love. Here are the words to the song that made me cry:

The Lucky Ones
verse 1
I look at my life and I know that I belong.
I've had the help of loved ones, from generations gone.
They came to this valley, this cold, rugged land.
What they went through I'll never understand. 
But their memory enfolds me,
Their love consoles me,
I feel their strength, they're part of who I am.

The faith of our fathers, these noble pioneers,
Their courage and their sacrifice reach beyond the years.
Their banners on Mount Zion are shining like the sun. 
We're built upon their dreams---We're the lucky ones! 
verse 2
Their lives and devotion have made our fortress strong.
Their faithfulness and courage write a victory song.
We're in their debt. We won't forget
The trials they went through.
These heroes have blessed me and you.
For their memory enfolds us,
Their love consoles us,
We turn our hearts to them in gratitude.

The faith of our fathers, these noble pioneers,
Their courage and their sacrifice reach beyond the years.
Their banners on Mount Zion are shining like the sun. 
We're built upon their dreams---We're the lucky ones! 

It was that chorus that really got me! "We're the lucky ones!" That is SO true. I cannot say that I was a thoughtless, or thankless teenager. I knew how much work it took to live there in that beautiful place. My sisters and I helped our parents do it every day. I knew that it took courage to get up every day and work as hard as my parents did. Yet, they wanted us to go to college, and to go out there in the rest of the world, and do good, and make good of ourselves. Even though I, personally, do not live there anymore--nor do I want to live there--I really, really appreciate growing up there, and learning all those values. 

 It was a fantastic weekend, and I'm excited to be able to go up there to visit (in the summers only, thank you very much) and attend the temple in my very own home town, surrounded by those towering mountains that are as unchanging as the values of righteousness I learned as a child---I was the lucky one!

 This motto was on all the T-shirts they wore. The adults wore black, and the six stakes involved each had a different color of shirt for the youth of their stake.

 Cool new sign I hadn't seen before, at the mouth of the canyon that leads up and over the pass to come into Star Valley from the south. 

 It was pouring rain when I took this picture, but it still looks quite impressive, all lit up and shining. 

Here is the house I grew up in, and the barn where I spent half of that life! Cow milking is a good way to teach children that they can do difficult, tedious work, and survive. Plus, caring for animals is an effective way to learn that you simply have to put your own needs aside when someone else can only survive if you do your job.