Independence Day

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The dew lays heavy on my back and in my nostrils. The sun hasn’t yet risen above the horizon but the day has begun.

I unlock my joints and shake my legs to clear the stiffness away, wandering slowly towards the nearby stream to take my first drink of the day. I slide my nose into the water and the coolness causes me to jump, splashing the water back onto my chest and down my front legs, causing a deep shiver to run through my body. I stop my splashing, smelling the air and listening to sounds carried by the morning breeze. It would not do to let the man catch me again, this time, luck might not be with me.

I shiver again when I think of the man and his ways of stealing spirit from your heart. It’s always the same with him, he admires the rawness and the wildness of something and then sets right away to tame it for his own uses.

I made my mind up quickly, the morning that he caught me unaware that I would reclaim my freedom or I would die. I would not let him on my back for long, if I let him on at all and in the end, his butt touched my back only momentarily before I shook him off, like a summer fly.

I tried to strike out at him with my hooves as he hit the ground but he had rolled away and gained his feet too quickly. I turned to face him and he side stepped towards the fence. I rushed at him and chased him over and out of my reach.

I wanted him to know that I was not one of his plow horses, born and raised inside his cage. I would not do his bidding, now or ever. I would not eat his grain and I would either be free to eat the wild grasses again or I would cease to be. I would be of no use to him.

I had waited for him to walk out of sight that morning, knowing that he would soon leave me alone and tend to his other duties, as he had every morning since he had captured me. I was beginning to feel the effects of little food and water, I knew that this must be the morning that I challenged his cage.

He had stood leaning against the gate staring at me, he had seen no other horse like me. I would not give into him as some of the others would. I had spent too much time free, I had too much free heart built up inside of me. I could not survive his way of life, even if I chose it.

After he had been gone from the gate for some time, I walked slowly around and around the enclosure, looking for a weak spot. I leaned against the fence here and there, looking for a place that gave a little too much. Eventually, I found a place where it had been mended before but the mend had not stayed tight.

As I watched for his return, I began pushing slowly and intently against the weakness. I swayed back and forth, putting my weight against it, then easing back away. It took very little time to work the mend almost completely apart. As the pieces parted, I heard his boots shuffle around the corner of the barn.

This would be my only chance, so I heaved one last time and sent the pieces of fence popping and flying as my chest pushed through and my hooves pushed down the splintering wood. He heard the noise and started to trot towards the corral but I was already through and close to a gallop. He yelled and flapped his arms like a giant buzzard, trying to spook me back towards the barn but there was only one fence between me and the high plateau, that was my summer home.

I glanced back once, to see if he would chase me, I knew that he would not catch me, even up on the back of his horse. He hadn’t even bothered to mount up, he knew I was gone.

 

text copyright 1996

image copyright 2013 by Traveler Wendell

Spring Fall

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Bernard never took to being called Bernie but it seemed like that’s what everybody called him. Way back in elementary school he had just decided to live with it. He still remembered when he was a kid, the grown-ups would laugh until they were red in the face when he would insist on being called Bernard.

Miss Gladys never called him Bernie, though. He had introduced himself as Bernard and even though all his friends did, she never called him Bernie. Not once.

She was smart that way, always knowing that one thing that was important to someone. He had watched it over and over during their 19 years together. She was always surprising someone with a particular kind of cake or pastry. They would look at her in wonder, thinking she must be psychic, Bernard knew her secret, but he wasn’t telling. He kept it to himself but he had figured it out pretty early on.

Miss Gladys was just a good watcher and listener, and nothing ever got by her that she didn’t store someplace in that pretty head of hers. She would notice when one of her friends would hesitate for a second longer than normal while looking at a scarf in the store. She would notice the look in their eyes when they described a certain dish. Everybody knew she was smart as a whip but they never put the two things together. But Bernard had.

Bernard loved Miss Gladys. Yes, he did. He loved her more than he ever thought he could love a woman again. In fact, he never thought he would love a woman again. Not in that way, not as a wife. When Alice had died from a bad heart, he was lost. All their children had moved away and truth be told, he had always missed them after each one had moved off but he never missed them as much as he did after Alice had died.

Oh, their kids had come and stayed with them after their mother’s heart attack. They’d taken turns and had always managed to have at least one of them there all the time she’d been sick. And Alice had been sick a long time, almost two years.

That was a long time to hold out hope and a long time to keep what he had known was inevitable hidden away in his heart. It wasn’t that he didn’t hope and pray that she would get better, he did. But at the very beginning, the doctor was quite clear, the heart attack had killed off a very large part of her heart. The doctor had explained and even showed them on that little screen how part of it just didn’t move like the rest of it did.

It had been a long hard spell but Bernard had stayed strong for his Alice. He loved her and he owed her that much and more. She had been a strong and equal partner in their marriage, something he didn’t quite know how to handle in the early days but something he’d grown to love and respect as their marriage had grown and their family had grown.

Now, Miss Gladys, she was different. It wasn’t that she couldn’t do for herself, she’d proved that many times in their 19 years. No, she could do for herself, but the truth be told she enjoyed for Bernard to do for her. That’s another thing that Bernard had figured out. Having a man do for her made Miss Gladys feel loved. And Lord knows that she had done for him. She had taken care of him and the house while he was healing from what they referred to as his “Spring fall”.

They laughed about it sometimes but truth is, Bernard had come very near to following right after Alice.

He had been cleaning off the roof, like he did every year in the Spring. That year had been a wet Spring though and it was proving to be quite the job. After a couple hours of pushing leaves and debris, he was tired, even though he was in good shape for his 49 years. But he was that kind of muscle tired that made your hands fumble to hang on to things and your feet stumble over the least little thing.

That’s exactly what had happened, just a small stumble. He didn’t even really remember just how it had happened. One minute he was wishing the job was over and the next minute it was, just not how he had planned.

In the end, the damage added up to a bruised shoulder, a pulled back and a broken hip. Funny how the hip had healed up pretty quick after the operation but the shoulder still ached when it got cold and his back never was the same. But he’d been blessed in a number of ways on that Spring afternoon. He had landed half on and half off the sidewalk. His hip hit the concrete and that’s what broke it but the top half of his body had landed in the grass. Most important, the place his head had hit the ground was a mound of wet leaves.

The second blessing was that Miss Gladys had heard him fall, though she swore he didn’t cry out, and had been there beside him almost immediately. In fact, her face was the first thing he saw when he came to. The doctor wasn’t quite sure what had knocked him out, they ruled out a concussion, there was no real lump on his head but he had sure enough woken up, which meant that he had sure enough been knocked out, somehow.

Miss Gladys had made him promise to lay very still while she went in the house to call the ambulance. It isn’t like he was going to go too far on his own anyways. He could tell that his hip was broke before they did any kind of x-ray. And though he was pretty sure no other bones were broke, he knew he was hurt. Bad hurt.

He and Miss Gladys had only been dating at the time. She had been over for the day and was inside fixing lunch. After that day, though, she had never really stayed at her apartment again. She spent most of her time at the hospital as long as he was there, then the nursing home and then slept on the couch after he was able to come home.

Bernard had argued with her about that, it wasn’t right for her to have to sleep on the couch but he couldn’t manage the couch, even if she had agreed, and she never did. That actually played a large part in him asking her to marry him. He had told her that it was inevitable anyways and his “Spring fall” had thrown a wrench into his courting plans, they might just as well go ahead and get married, so at least she wouldn’t have to sleep on that couch anymore.

He hadn’t thought out how that would sound until it was out of his mouth. He stood there waiting for the explosion that was sure to come. Miss Gladys stood facing him for a full 30 seconds with a look of shock on her face, just when he knew he had loused everything up, she started to giggle and then laugh. Soon they were both laughing so hard they could hardly catch their breath.

Yup, they laughed now and then about his “Spring fall” but they laughed on a regular basis about his fancy proposal. He figured out real quick that he would never live that one down but somehow, the ribbing didn’t bother him, it just made him laugh and made him glad that no matter how he had proposed, he was just glad he had and that Miss Gladys had taken it the way he meant it and said yes.

It never really bothered him to sit and wait on Miss Gladys while she was in a shop searching out a special gift for one of their friends. He knew how much it meant to her, he even thought of it as her calling, almost like a ministry to make others smile and be happy.

Just now, though, the sun had slid behind the shop, leaving him in the shade. It was late Fall and it cooled off quick without the sun. He’d left his jacket in the car. It had been fairly warm when they had gotten there, how long ago? It seemed like it had been pretty long He thought he could see her at the cash register, through the window. He hoped she had found what she was looking for. He also hoped Miss Gladys didn’t spend too much time talking to the cashier, his shoulder was starting to ache.

Old Friends

This past few months have been quite interesting. I have become quite a fan of the online networking site, FaceBook. It seems every day or so I find or am found by someone out of the past, people I never thought I would hear from again. People that I had completely lost contact with and had no idea where they were or what they were doing.

Most of the time, friends just fade away. Life goes on and we get interested in different things. Sometimes though a wrong is committed, and friendships are severed. Those are the most joyful to renew. Those are the ones that not only renew the friendship but the faith that there were strong bonds in the first place and maybe that’s what made the hurtful act all that much hurtful.

Sometimes the measure of friendship isn’t your ability to not harm but your capacity to forgive the things done to you and ask forgiveness for your own mistakes.
Randy K. Milholland Something Positive Comic, 11-07-05

One of the greatest feelings in one’s life is to find that the person that you wronged has forgiven you, of course, it is then your duty to work to forgive yourself, so as not to taint this new chapter of your friendship.
I guess one of the things that I’ve learned in the past few months is that I am blessed. I have met countless people in my life and so many of them, even in our absences from each other, are still friends. What more can you ask for from life but to have people remember you fondly and hope to find you again?
Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
Simon and Garfunkel Old Friends

I’m the Ugliest

I feel like I should be writing something about you, Jay. That’s what I do. I write to express emotion, I write to stay sane and, among other things, I write to grieve.

Usually, things will start to formulate when something needs to come out, I’ll get snippets rattling around my brain. When I’ve amassed enough snippets that stick, then I sit down and try to sort through them and put them in proper order. But I’m having trouble with you. Big surprise, right. Most people who knew you thought that “Trouble” might have been your middle name. And they loved you for that.

I know when I’m sitting here trying to think of more to say, I’ll feel like I haven’t done you justice and that will be true. I’ll do my best, though and hope you already know all the things that I don’t mention.

I believe I met you first when I went to work at the courthouse in the Civil Division. You instantly took me under your wing, you never made me feel like a bother, but like I was doing you a favor by letting you train me. You took me over to get my work car from the person I was replacing. He was dying of cancer and you made what could have been a most uncomfortable situation, much more comfortable.

You did things like that. You made things easier for people on one hand, even while you were razzing the hell out of them on the other hand. Teaching seemed to come natural and easy to you. I never felt like a bad student, even when I asked you the same question over and over. Yes, you razzed me about it, but in such a good-hearted way that it never stung.

You told me who to trust and who not to trust. You were right on every one. You showed me how to drop serve someone, and I still laugh at the look on their face.

I wish I could do a traffic stop on you, just to talk. The same way you used to do to me, and others when you saw us driving through Williston. I wish I could know that the next time I’m eating breakfast at Hilltop, you’ll come walking in and comment on how it’s nice that there’s a restaurant in town that will serve anybody. The waitress will ask you if you want coffee and you’ll say, “No Ma’am, I’m driving.”

I wish we could be sitting down on the end of Fourth Street using the Laser Radar to clock dogs, or trees, or people on bicycles or just about anything else that was moving.

I wish we were sitting on your porch up in Cherokee, watching the creek go by. I know you loved that place.

I will always wish I spent more time with you. I’m sure I missed out on so much by not making more time for you. That will be a sadness I will carry for a very long time.

You always called me “Ugly” and some of the times I remember most were arguing over who was the ugliest. Well, it turns out you were right, I was ugliest, because you Sir, were a beautiful man. I love you and even though we haven’t spent a lot of time together lately, I miss you already.

Just so you don’t feel weird about all this, let me just say……Damn, you’re ugly!

Rest in Peace, Brother.

My New Wallet

I bought a wallet yesterday on the way home from work. It’s not something I do very often, not that I don’t enjoy the act of going through my old wallet and finding all those things I’ve stuck in there since the last time.

But this changing of the wallet was kind of different, I hadn’t bought a new one for almost nine years. The old one was still quite sturdy, still held all of the things I need with me. All the different forms of identification I’ve acquired over the years, credit cards and library cards. All the business cards people have given me, half of which I have no idea why I have them. All the things that I will continue to carry, probably for the rest of my life.

There are also a couple things that won’t be going in the new wallet. A couple of things I worked hard to get but don’t really need anymore. I guess you could say they’ve outlived their original usefulness to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very proud of the accomplishment of acquiring them, they are still priceless to me, but they don’t belong in my wallet anymore and they don’t mean the same thing to me as they once did. They used to prove who I was, or at least a part of who I was but now they are a tribute to tenacity I didn’t know I possessed. Now they remind me of something I should have never even dreamed but in the end, something that I accomplished, none the less.

I know it probably sounds a little like I’m bragging and I guess in a way, I am. I am proud.

The reason I’m changing wallets is because of a letter that came in the mail the day before yesterday. It was one I knew was on its way. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it until it was in my hand. I didn’t really need to open it, I knew what it said, it was my doing that sent it on its way. It said that a part of my life was over, a part I worked hard for, a part I can be proud of. I never really took full advantage of what I had accomplished and there were lots of complicated reasons for that, not the least of which was a back injury that happened very early on. I used to be angry about that and a few other things that all but kept me from what I had been trained to do, but I was blessed, and that anger passed.
The whole experience has taught me an unfathomable amount of wisdom. It has helped me see what’s important in life, or in my life anyways. It taught me that nobody can tell you what you can’t do, they don’t know. It taught me why I was put on this Earth, that there are those of us that can’t stay away when something is happening, that can’t walk away from something that needs doing. Those that don’t care whether they look stupid or weak, as long as nobody gets hurt and it all turns out all right in the end.
Man, this makes me sound like quite a guy. The truth is that I am quite a blessed guy. I’ve had the chance to accomplish things I may never have accomplished if there hadn’t been roadblocks put in my way because it was those roadblocks that gave me that tenacity that I needed to overcome.
The great part about all this is the fact that it may have been a badge that helped show me all the things that need doing in this world but none of us really need a badge to accomplish most of it. We just need to stand up and be counted, we need to remember that it’s always the right time to do the right thing. We need to put ourselves in someone else’s place and realize how we would feel if we needed help and people just walked away because it wasn’t their problem because they just didn’t want to get involved.

Mr. Thomas

So much time has passed that details elude me. I try to remember because I know how much it would mean to me to remember. But I’ve forgotten so much.
Prospect, New York, a town of three hundred and fifty people or so, even now, was an excellent place to grow up in the 1960s. It taught me lessons about community and knowing your neighbors, about reaching out and helping where I could. It was the kind of place where a little boy could sell yesterday’s newspapers to the neighbors for a nickel with a cookie thrown in as a tip for delivering them right to their front door. It was the kind of place where a neighbor would stop by every day to have a little boy tag along with him up the hill to the post office and impart on him more wisdom and direction than he could ever know.
Mr. Thomas was very tall, or so it seemed to me but then I was quite small. I do remember that I had to reach high to hold his giant hand. He was a published author, though I didn’t really understand what that meant. He was most definitely a local historian, that being the subject of his writing, but I didn’t really understand about that either. I know that we started our daily walks to the post office before the age that I started school but I’m not sure if they ended altogether when I entered kindergarten or whether they were only relegated to weekends. You see, I’m not sure just when they started or exactly when they ended.
I don’t remember the contents of even one conversation we had. I don’t remember what his voice sounded like or what his face looked like. I only know that we had conversations. I know that whatever he said to me at such a young age clung to my heart and sparked a fire that has wafted and waned from time to time, but has never gone completely out. It has lost its way while I wandered down paths too numerous to recall, but it has always held tight in piece or part and is an ingredient in that recipe that has served as the core of that which defines myself to me. It is a component of me that seems as if it was always there. Its roots sunk deep into stone even when the wind and rain tried their hardest to sweep it away.
That spark has been a place to escape when things were difficult. It’s been an old friend to me on stormy days. A candle in the window and a fire in the hearth, arms to hold me, a gentle voice to comfort me. It has been a way to scream my most painful epithets to those who never had to feel their sting or bite. It has kept me from apologies I could never have found the words for. It helped me to decide what to keep within my heart and what to allow to peel from me like a skin that needed shed. It has saved me from myself and sorted out the webs and vines that twist from time to time to confuse me and make me lose my way.
In figurative terms, it has been a god to me but in reality, it has been the bridge back to my God. It has helped me to unwind and refine that which I believe and that which I don’t. It has helped to sort those things that I draw near to me and bask in, but also, those things which I shun. It has allowed things to flow from my heart that I did not know were mine. For better or for worse, it has shown me all those things that I am made of.
Such a difference the spark of writing has made in my life. Such a difference a kind old gentleman made, whether I can remember the details or not. I gave him my company in walking to the post office at the top of the hill and he showed me my eyes for seeing the world around me and turning it to writing on a page.

Parched

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It was nearly midnight and the full moon shown through the storm clouds, more as a backlight that stretched from horizon to horizon, than a light in any one place in the sky. It had just started to rain after an evening of promises and far off thunder. It was a much-needed rain for this part of the hills. The summer had stretched into fall and neither season had brought any relief, until now.

As the lightning strikes came closer and closer together, the figure standing on the hilltop became more obvious. He was not a large man but rather well put together. I could see that although he was obviously in good shape, his body sagged on his frame, sort of like he had toiled long and hard with a great weight upon his shoulders and had just recently laid this weight to rest upon the hillside.

I could see his long, wet hair barely moved by the wind of the storm. He stood very still and looked off into the distance as if he was waiting for someone. As I neared him, I could tell by the look on his face, that there would be no one else.

I watched as water ran down his face and I was unable to tell if it was rain or tears. I hesitated approaching any closer, this soul did not welcome the stranger. Instead, I half-kneeled and half sat on the soaked ground, knowing that the wetness of the ground would not chill me any more than the sight that lay before me.

My heart reached across the distance between he and I but could find no purchase upon him. I was left unable to walk away and unable to go to his side. So, I stayed in my place, hoping that at some point I would be able to move, even if it was just to move away. I knew that time would not come soon.

As I watched, he seemed to grow stronger and straighter by the minute. He seemed to have found a strength that he had forgotten. The look on his face changed from tired resignation to one of wisdom, power, and courage. The water still ran down his face but now I was sure that if it were tears, they were tears of determination.

The wind blew and the sky was lit over and over from the storm but his soul stood still and firm. I saw a slight smile curl the corners of his eyes and he laid his head back and out of the night, I heard a howl that came from no one direction. It pierced the darkness around me and grabbed at my heart, which skipped a beat and started back in at a much faster and much stronger tempo.

I could not understand if there were words in the howl but I needed none to know that the howl was not one of victory but of renewed hope, renewed vigor for the battle. He had reached down inside of himself and found the one thing they could not touch, the one thing that they could not steal. He found his soul and he found it as strong and as vibrant as it had ever been. He now knew that even after his body was beaten and laid to rest on one of these same hillsides, that his soul would live forever and that it could never be beaten.

copyright 1996 by Traveler Wendell

Bellowing At The Moon

It was a warm January evening in Williston. The Jenkins family was watching television in their living room. Shelby the family dog, was kicked back, enjoying his regular place at the end of the couch. Shelby was the only member who felt the low, rhythmic rumble, which was the only warning of the impending danger. He wandered from room to room, looking for the cause of the vibration as the rest of the family, engrossed in the T.V., hardly noticed his search.

As he climbed onto Jeremiah’s bed, to get a clear view of the side yard, Shelby saw the massive creature staring back at him through the glass. Being the well trained attack dog that he is, he sounded the alarm. Unfortunately, Shelby sounds the alarm quite often, he takes his job as family protector quite seriously and the rest of the family ignored his first warning, thinking that it was merely the killer rottweiler from across the street. Little did they know just how wrong they were.

Shelby glanced frantically towards the living room where the stares of the rest of the family were focused on the television. He changed the tone of his bark, he bounced on the bed, he yelled, “HELLO!”, but nothing worked.

It was then that the creature through the glass made his move around the front comer of the house and out into the front yard. Shelby countered by diving off the bed, doing a perfect somersault as he ran past the T.V. and rushing the front window while waving his front legs as if he were landing aircraft in the driveway.

This finally got the humans’ attention, but by this time Shelby was too out of breath to explain, so he simply pointed out the window. Jerimiah casually moved a curtain to peer out into the darkness. He, trying not to alarm his parents, in a voice sounding almost bored said, “Mom, there’s a cow in the front yard.” as if it were the most natural thing to have a cow staring in the front window.

Shelby was beside himself as well as in front, behind and on top of himself. The cow, which was actually a bull, was not impressed with the dog’s gymnastics and actually thought momentarily about testing the strength of the front wall of the house, as this had always been a secret fantasy of his but instead he settled for playing with the tailgate of the pick up in the driveway.

It is surprising how fast parents can gather when they realize that the absurd statement that was just made by their offspring might actually be true.

Well, I will not embarrass these fine people by explaining just how funny it looked to Shelby to see these humans running around trying to figure out what to do when your pick up is being attacked by a bull but just about the time they worked out a reasonable plan, the bull switched to the 5.0 Mustang parked in front of the pickup. This changed the plan drastically as Jesse, the father, and Jeremiah, the son, spearheaded an unarmed attack on the husky marauder. This proved to be futile as the bull decided that people might be fun to play with, too, hence proving that two full sized men can go through a normal sized doorway at once. No one is quite sure how many times these two brave souls proved this, but let’s just say, they have no doubts about it.

Much that comes next is merely a blur, so I will not try to do a play-by-play. I will, however, tell you that when called and informed of this dangerous beast, the Williston Police Department responded in a timely manner by calling the owner of the bull, who instantly sent his brother-in-law to subdue the wrong doer. This he accomplished by letting the bull play with his tailgate, (on his truck), whilst he led the beast home.

As difficult as it is to believe that this happened right here in our quiet little city of Williston, it is completely true. Okay, so it’s mostly true, I’m allowed to dress it up a little. There was a bull, there was a dog, there was a Jenkins family. I admit, the dog might have polished up his part a little but who can blame him?