Sand Rocks

If I heard “The Strawberry Roan” one more time I thought I might pull a hank of hair out of my own head. I absent-mindedly picked at the yellow crust of dried milk fat adhering to the spout of the beige Tupperware pitcher, stood up, and sighed. Teddi had told me that I didn’t need to put the milk back in the fridge since it was fresh, but I had wondered. She’d said they would have more tomorrow.

Milly was down for her afternoon nap, clean and sweet in a fresh cloth diaper. I’d gotten skilled at diapering a baby, and prided myself at never sticking them. I’d keep my fingers between their soft warm bellies and the diaper. If anyone got stuck it would be me. The diaper pins with the colorful plastic animals on the ends amused me. Milly’s had little yellow ducks on them.

“Hey, Skeeter! Are there any other songs that you like?” I asked, keeping my tone friendly, but cringing as he gently placed the needle on the 78 rpm disc that was spinning on the small, portable turntable. He was crouched over the record player in the middle of the living room on a spotted hide. His blond hair spilled over his brow and he tugged at the tooled leather belt holding up his slightly too large jeans. I plopped down on the pine log couch.  “Nah,” he said. “I like this one.” “What’s on the other side?” I asked, hoping to at least hear something else. “It’s not any good.” Skeeter looked up at me, concerned. “I like this song.” “Do you want to play a game or something?” I threw out one last gambit. I didn’t much like playing cards or board games, but even those appealed to me more than that strawberry roan. “Nah. I like listening to this.” I gave in, mostly. “I’m going to read my book. Do you mind taking your record player into your room?” I felt a little guilty asking. He reluctantly got up and glared at me over his shoulder, his little record player balanced against his belly, the power cord dragging. His bedroom was just off the living room. Asking him to close the door might be pushing things too far. After helping him plug the record player into an outlet in his room, I returned to the couch and opened to my bookmark in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The strawberry roan started bucking, again.

Before I could get engrossed enough in my story to tune out the renegade bronc, I heard the kitchen door bang against the wooden frame and boots heavy with spurs clank across the floor. “Hey!” Ron called from the kitchen. I got up to see what was going on. I hadn’t expected anyone at the ranch house. Teddi had told me that she would be back at 3:00. “Hi,” I greeted Ron, “how are things going?” Ron poured himself a glass of milk and then placed the pitcher in the fridge. “I’m just stopping in for a minute to grab a bite to eat.” Ron pulled Wonder Bread and some kind of meat and mayo from the fridge. “I need to head back out. We’re still riding fences.” “Oh, okay. And sorry. Teddi told me it was okay to leave the milk out.” I felt the need to apologize. “That’s okay, she don’t like her milk cold, but I do.” Ron smiled, picked up his hastily made sandwich in his wind-roughed hand, and opened the screen door with the other. “Thanks for watching the kids.” He held the screen door open with his foot as he grabbed his Stetson off the coat rack near the door and adjusted it on his head. “You are welcome,” I replied, a little envious, entertained by the more inviting thought of helping mend the fence line instead of listening to “The Strawberry Roan,” again.

Teddi arrived home promptly at 3, cheerily greeted me, opened the fridge door and put the milk pitcher back on the kitchen table, told Skeeter, who was still listening to “The Strawberry Roan,” to watch his sister for half an hour, gave me a handful of folded dollar bills and said, “Okay, let’s go. I’ll take you home.” I got in on the passenger side of the mustard-colored Chevy. “So how are you liking your new truck?” I asked as Teddi pressed down the accelerator and bounced us over a series of potholes. “I like it fine, but the color reminds me of calf scours. I would have preferred another color, but this was what they had. At least it’s a new truck.” Teddy zoomed over another series of bumps and I clutched at my collarbone. “Oh, does that hurt?” she asked. I replied, “Just a little. It’s almost healed.” I minimized the pain, but it did hurt less than it had. The raw ends of bone no longer grated against each other and were on the mend. “Eh, I just like to take the bumps fast, get over them quicker. I think you bounce less when you go faster, anyways.” “Maybe,” I said, gazing out the window as we whizzed past the sand rocks, blasted by the sun and wind, caressed and curved, pale yellow ochre against the clear blue sky. I thought of sick calves.

When it began.

Linda VelvetThe grass was waist high. A silvery wire fence stood between the two horses and my sister and me. Gazing up from my four year old vantage point, I felt a rush of excitement. My little sister began whimpering as the black horse lifted his head from the grass and ambled towards us. “It’s okay,” I said. “Pick some grass to feed him. That’s all he wants.” I picked a blade of grass and pushed it through the wire and the black horse tickled it with his muzzle before delicately and generously consuming the single blade. “That’s enough!” Our mother rushed in and dragged us away, glaring at me for frightening my toddler sister.

I couldn’t let go of the dream. When we moved to Wyoming I once again dragged my sister along to visit a fat little black pony picketed out in the grass to graze. I knew Blackie belonged to one of my fourth grade classmates. “I think it’s okay if I just get on her.” I said. My sister said I shouldn’t do that. Maybe I didn’t that day, but Blackie’s owner would bring her by to gallop up and down the hill in front of our house and she would sometimes let me take a turn.

“Mom! She won’t leave!” It was my first time babysitting for the neighbors’ two preschool aged daughters and it was time for them to go to bed. My sister had come over with me to play with the younger girls. I was 12. “You’ll just have to ask her to come home again. This is your job now.” My mom washed her hands of responsibility and my sister refused to leave. When the neighbors returned my sister was sitting at the dining room table with their daughters, and they were all eating vanilla ice cream with cocoa powder sprinkled on top. I apologized and turned hot, embarrassed and tongue-tied. The next day my mother told me she had talked with the neighbor and apologized for my failings and due to her timely intervention I was being offered a second chance.

Babysitting every Wednesday for the neighbors provided a weekly revenue stream of $1.50 which I dutifully saved in the back of a dresser drawer towards my horse fund. After that initial chocolate dusted disaster, my job fell into an easy routine. My neighbor let me ride her buckskin mare, Chipmunk, from time to time. She said if I were her daughter she’d buy me a horse. I wished she were my mother.

For my 15th birthday my parents gave me a card that said since I could drive to haul feed, I would be allowed to get a goat or other animal of my choosing. I leapt up, “I can get a horse. I can get a horse!” And I did.

Soft as Velvet

Velvet old truck

Sepia faded soft, her head turned in my direction. Tail in mid-swish, one ear towards me. Old truck rusting away behind her. Now I look again. Was the truck abandoned, or had I driven it there? Is that the old International?

You can’t tell she’s pregnant, can you? She’s three years old, my first horse. When the colt came the following April it was a surprise. I had told my non-horsey parents I thought she was pregnant, but what does a 15 old girl know?

She came from a ranch that owned the Morgan stallion that was her daddy. Her mom was Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred, they said. She was sorrel and had a few darker spots on her sides. The rancher had called them her “velvet spots” and Velvet she became.

She stumbled and fell one day while I was riding her at a gallop through the place where the barrels were set up. The neighbor’s daughter saw me walking home through the Wyoming summer grasses as she drove by on I-25. Sandra picked me up and drove me home. I gripped my right shoulder and gritted my teeth.

Velvet was already home, and Bonus was there to greet her. The neighbors unsaddled her and put her back in with her colt while my parents drove me to the hospital. They had just gotten home from a shopping trip in Casper and it would be a 40 mile return trip to take me. “Now we have to go all the way back to Casper!” exclaimed mom. I got in the backseat and removed my hard contacts lenses since I feared I may pass out.