Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wanting a Pony

“I want a pony.” That is a statement that almost every parent hears. Whether or not the family lives in an apartment complex in a busy city or in a house in a country town, that desire for a pony seems to be universal. Why? Maybe it is because humans have had such a long history with horses, our companions in labor, transportation and even warfare for centuries. Perhaps it is deep within us to want to interact with equines.

Be that as it may, I know I wanted a pony more than anything in the world when I was a boy living in a small town. Mother would explain that we didn’t have a place to keep a pony. My response was that we could keep it in the back yard. I even made a little corral out there and stocked it with pine straw, much to the amusement of my big brother, who thought every idiot knew horses didn’t eat pine straw. But my persistence paid off and Mother finally bought an old plow horse that we kept at the old farm place in Louisiana, about an hour’s drive away.

Old Nancy was not exactly a pony. She was a very large draft horse. She made up for not being a pony by her gentleness, though, a good kid horse. She didn’t exactly enjoy my company and she seldom wanted to go in the direction I urged her in, but she was gentle, having no ill will for humanity. She was just lethargic and perhaps insulted that a little boy a long way from manhood was her master. I mean, she had belonged to firm, hard-working men who insisted on their way with some force. I was more of a suggester than a demander and she showed resentment by her recalcitrance. She always took me where I wanted to go, but it was obviously a ride of resistance rather than pleasure for her.

I brought more forcefulness to the rider-horse relationship as I matured and found that the beasts want their riders to be in command. They feel a bit insecure if the human on their back is indecisive. I don’t mean that riders should be cruel, but they should certainly let the horse know who is boss. And, if the horse messes up, we have to remember that their attention span is short and their memory even shorter. They should not be punished for anything that happened more than 20 seconds before the correction.

The Kazakh people have been horse keepers from time immemorial. We have someone from that heritage in our family, so I am obviously interested in that way of life. What I see as the main principle in their culture is love of horses, but a love that includes getting the animals to be of one mind with their masters, and that takes some doing. Even little children understand the principle and they pursue that oneness of mind with their horses with vigor, determination, skill and great love.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Heart Thing

In the audiologist’s waiting area of the big VA hospital in Little Rock recently, I heard two elderly veterans discussing their heart by-pass surgeries in great detail. They told well-rehearsed and apparently oft-repeated stories about their trip to the hospital, the aides and nurses, the doctors, the anesthetist and other individuals associated with the process. What struck me most was their good humor and joyous delivery of the stories. The experience each shared brought roars of laughter from the other and a kind of camaraderie that I had not observed since my days long ago back in the barracks.

At first, I thought their mirth was brought on by a sense of relief that they had been through a trauma and survived. But the more I listened, the more I understood that there was much more than relief involved. The surgery experience had been life-changing for both of them.

One of the men said, “I’ll tell you one thing, when we get up there to Heaven and meet up with St. Peter, he’s not going to say you go over there if you are a Catholic, there if you are a Baptist, there if your skin is dark, there if it’s light. No, we are all in this thing together and we had better start treating each other that way.” The other veteran loudly affirmed the observation with an “Amen” and added a few insights of his own about the equality of all mankind in the sight of God. He then told a heartwarming story about the wonderful treatment he got from one of the aides of a complexion other than his own.

As I listened to the old soldiers, I thought of my father-in-law’s change of attitude after his by-pass surgery. He was eager to let everyone know the he had been wrong all his life about relationships with others. Like the veterans at the VA, he insisted on the equality of all people, always concluding with his conviction that, while man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart.

Of course, as a Baptist minister, my father-in-law recounted the Bible story of Samuel the prophet looking to anoint a new king for Israel. Samuel thought some of Jesse’s son’s looked every inch a king and wanted to anoint the very first one that came before him, but God said no. Finally, when Jesse’s boys had passed before him, Samuel asked Jesse if he had any more sons. He said, just a young lad out taking care of the sheep. Call him here, Samuel requested, and Jesse sent for him. When little David showed up, looking nothing at all like a king should look, God told Samuel to anoint him King. Then, as my father-in-law loved recounting, God told Samuel that He always looks on the heart, nothing else.

Sometimes I’m glad about that. Sometimes I’m not. I’m glad God knows my heart when people misjudge me or ascribe motives to me that aren’t my motives. I’m not glad when I have something such as a grudge lodged in my craw.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Paying the Price

After basic training down in Texas, I enjoyed a 30-day leave before shipping out to Hahn Air Base, Germany. After a long season of GI issued food, it was heaven to sit at Mother’s table and, in a leisurely fashion, enjoy the food I had grown up on: fried chicken, purple hull peas, mashed potatoes, hot water cornbread, sweet tea and a great variety of raw vegetables, including succulent tomatoes. I came home for the leave skinny and departed for Germany with a loosened belt.

I rode the Greyhound to Trenton, New Jersey, from whence I was to board an airplane for my first trans-Atlantic flight. While I was waiting a long period of time to receive the final copy of my orders and the instructions as to where to gather for the flight out, I went to a busy restaurant just outside the military establishment to have a hamburger. There were lots of Americans in uniform there, apparently awaiting final orders as I was. An attractive young lady came up to my booth and casually sat down beside me. She introduced herself as Mary Jones, very ordinary name for such an extraordinary beauty.

She was a great conversationalist. She was mostly in the interrogative mode, seldom revealing information about herself. She found out a bunch from me, including my interests in sports, automobiles, especially hot rods, and current events. The little bit she revealed about herself sounded somehow as fictitious as her name: her mother was ill, her father had left them; she had to work hard to support herself and a number of younger siblings. Then came the sales pitch: “Since you are going to Germany, how wonderful it would be if you could stay connected with the States by magazines. I have some really great rates on Hot Rod, Sports Illustrated, and Time.”

To make a long story short, I gave her $10 and my APO address, and she promised that my subscriptions would start immediately. I would probably have magazines waiting when I arrived at my base. She concluded by saying she had really enjoyed our time together and that, if it was okay with me, she would correspond with me. Of course, I was delighted.

There were no magazines waiting for me at the base. There was no letter from Mary Jones waiting for me at the base. No magazines and no letters from Mary ever came. It was a scam, but, as a lonely teenager about to embark on a long trip into the unknown, I enjoyed her company, whoever she was. Was it worth $10? Yes, if I can forget about her callous lies and dishonest ways. No if I cannot. And I can’t. But I did get at least $10 worth of experience from the situation and, as I think back without projecting my older and wiser self into the picture, I sort of knew I was being duped and didn’t care. This was the last American girl I would talk to for a long time. I paid the price.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Spoon Bill

I bought a canoe one time and had fun fishing out of it, even though other fishermen looked at me funny. But I didn’t care. I could get that slender slip of a boat into places to fish that even the little 14-foot fishing boats couldn’t go. In fact, a friend and I took the canoe on a trip down the Dorcheat Bayou one summer and I couldn’t see any evidence that other boats had been down that slow brown stream.

We floated under several limbs that had big old wide-headed moccasins sunning on them, sprawled out up there thinking they were pretty. We came upon incredulous deer which stared at us with deep puzzlement. They had seen nothing to resemble us on the Dorcheat. We saw a baby beaver and a couple of armadillos as we came to the place where the bayou broadened out into the first of several little lakes.

I had been told by old fishermen who knew such things that if we wanted to catch catfish, we should try the deep water just when the bayou flows into the lake, so we baited up with smelly bait and fished deep for a long spell. Not a bump. At length, my companion said, “Let’s just do some normal bream fishing over yonder,” pointing to some willows and a little batch of stumps in the shallows. So we worked the canoe over in that direction and baited with red wigglers. As soon as the bait hit the water at the edge of the willows, chunky and feisty red-ears started tearing it up.

We fished one spot out and then moved down to the lower end of the lake, where we lodged the canoe in and got out on a little sand bar to have lunch. While we ate, we threw our bobberless and heavily weighted lines out towards the middle for catfish. I casually held my spinning rig in my lap—I was eating, not fishing. My buddy, however, was merely nibbling on some Viennas and concentrating on the feel of his line. Several times he thought he felt something on the line and gave his rod a jerk, but he came up empty. At length, he settled down to eat in earnest.
He put his rig down on the ground beside him as he reached for his second can of sausages, and at that moment, his rod and reel started travelling towards the water.

I never saw a plump fellow move as fast as he did as he retrieved his equipment at the last moment it would have been possible for him to do so. He jerked and reeled and played the fish that was making his drag squeal like crazy. When he finally brought the six-pounder in, we got our first up close and personal look at a spoon bill catfish. After carefully examining the odd looking fellow we took pictures and sent the primordial fellow back into the Dorcheat. He probably ended up down in the Bistineau.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fish Story

People on our planet have such a hard time getting along with each other, imagine what it would be like if other inhabited planets were close enough for interaction. Oh, I know science fiction writers have been imagining that for years. The title “Star Wars” puts our expectations for the outcome of interplanetary contact succinctly: wars. If we can’t get along with each other on our own planet, how could we possibly expect to get along with entities from out there somewhere? The intelligent designer was certainly intelligent to space inhabited planets, if they exist, out through space-time beyond the possibility of contact.

Let’s say an advanced civilization somewhere was actually able to send some scouts to earth and they landed at Rolling Fork boat ramp on Lake De Queen. You had just loaded your boat back onto the trailer and were looking forward to cleaning and frying up a pretty good mess of bream and crappie. You felt a strange and unusual desire to go sit at one of the picnic tables in the shade for awhile before pulling out, and as soon as you did so a little greenish blue man who spoke perfect south Arkansas language through a little box in his throat popped out from behind a pine tree and you two had this conversation:

Greeny: Hello, I’m here from far away on a research mission and I wanted to ask you a few questions if I may.
You: Sure.
Greeny: Why did you take them fellows from their homes in the lake and put them in your aquatic vehicle?
You: Two reasons really, sport and food.
Greeny: You eat them fellows from the lake? And you enjoy slaughtering them?
You: Well, we don’t consider it slaughter. It’s fun to lure them onto a hook and feel them fight as you pull them in. And they taste great fried up.
Greeny: Do them fellows from the lake ever win the fight?
You: Only if we eat too many of them and get indigestion. I guess they win in a way if you look at it that way. Sometimes they get away. Especially the big ones. Everyone has a story about the big one that got away. Often these stories are not true and the size of fish gets exaggerated regularly.
Greeny: So people on this planet say things that are not true to impress other people with their ability to be good sportsmen and gluttons?
You: No, you are missing the point. We tell things that are not true to entertain the listeners. Most people with any sense don’t believe stories about the big one that got away, they just enjoy hearing it. They are entertained by the extravagance of the lie. Let me ask you a question, do y’all fish where you come from?
Greeny: We ARE the fish and I consider myself the big one that got away--way away.
You: How can you breathe air if you are a fish?
Greeny: Air is water where I come from. I hope you have been entertained by that whopper.