In those days we were a bit asymmetrical. And, we wore our no commitment, free love on the outside. A messy eclectic sense of identity, I loved to shop the thrift stores for lovely old rayon dresses, the kind that old ladies wore. But sometimes I couldn’t remember not to throw them in the washer and dryer. So, inevitably I’d wind up with a doll sized dress that I’d only worn for a while. And we liked fur coats too. Real old. Real tattered.
The Greyhound bus
Once in a while we hitchhiked. But more often we traveled via Greyhound bus. I have no idea what my friend and I were thinking when we tried to get on a bus with a dog named, Rhya. She was a wonderful, smart white shep/mix girl and we wanted to take her with us to the country to a friend’s farm for the weekend. Only, when we tried to get on the bus with her, the driver wouldn’t let her on.
Not having thought this through, we did some pleading and promising…..she’d be quiet, she wouldn’t bother anyone…. but the driver wouldn’t budge. Bummed, my friend told her to go on back home, that she couldn’t go with us. She looked at us for a minute and then she turned and did just that. She headed home. There were others there that took care of her too. But we were so bruised because, what on earth was the problem? Baby girls living like big girls in the big city, not thinking.
But I’m clever when I bust a rhyme
I’m cleva always on ya’ mind
She’s cleva and I really want to grow
But why come I’m the last to know? ~ Erykah Badu
The proof in the photographs
Of those days, I know I asked a lot of questions like I should have. But honestly, much of the time I was winging it, eyes wandering the sky and crossing my fingers behind my back for good luck.
Every now and then my father felt the need to remind me I didn’t invent bad behavior. And, since I’d seen pictures of some of his past, all the telltale signs were there. He was telling the truth. It was quite apparent, by all accounts I came from a line of badass bad behavers. I’m betting his mother, my fierce Nonny, reminded him the same thing.
As a result, I came to the conclusion that all that recklessness, all that risk taking, was already there on a cellular level. I came by this rebelliousness naturally, so the propensity was already there. However, trying to use that as an excuse, never worked.
A kindred spirit
When I came home for visits, I always made time to see a woman I knew from my teens. She’s been gone a long time now, but I still hear her in my head when her little poetic quips roll off my tongue. She had catchy little phrases and she used to recite old cowboy ditties. One of them was about a cyclone rider. I’d make her rattle it off every time I saw her. I loved her cadence as she recited it. “I’m a cyclone rider…”, she’d start, drawing out the “I’m”. In a sing song voice, she’d recite it for me. And, she had little sayings for different occasions. When some of us didn’t place at a horse show, she’d say, “Okay, wipe the snot from your nose and let’s take you home”. Or, “Chicken one day, feathers the next”.
A force of nature
Tall and rail thin, she was known to locals as the person that was physically lifted off the ground by a tornado that came through in the 1950’s and tossed in the air. Decades later she retold the story as if it were yesterday. Who knows for sure how many feet/yards she was thrown? She still couldn’t believe she lived to tell about it. And, neither could anyone else.
The most serious injury she had was to her feet. She said she landed on her feet and they took the biggest hit. The details of the injuries we didn’t exactly know, but she wore heavy orthopedic shoes as a result. Those shoes probably weighed eight pounds, black and blocky. But those shoes didn’t stop her from being quite fashionable. She prided herself on her bronze tan in the summer. A little iodine mixed in baby oil and soak in the sun was all it took, she said. Thick, wavy, shoulder length silver hair, she was lovely.
Quite a pair
She had a big sorrel gelding named, Cinnamon. His claim to fame was that she’d ride him into town and walk him up the wooden steps and into one of the oldest bars in town. They’d set up a beer just for him and the boys in the bar would hoot and holler. They were both quite a sight as she ducked coming through the door in a wide brimmed hat (straw in the summer, felt in the winter with a chiffon scarf underneath).
And, she had a passion for silver. Silver jewelry draping her wrists and fingers, silver conchos on her saddle and just enough dangling silver off Cinny’s bridle and bit to make a jingling noise when he walked. And with his fast single-foot walk, you could hear them coming for a way.
Flying off like paper devils
Sometimes, she’d find these stretches of grass on little side roads and when I’d come home, she’d tell me about them. “Just like turf, Valarie”, she’d say. We’d head out on a nice day to the new area she’d found. That doggone Cinnamon, neck arched, would start to anticipate and single foot even faster as we got closer. But she’d hold him back and coo to him that we were almost there. Once we got there, we’d let the horses loose and tear off racing. When we finally pulled up, we’d all be out of breath and spit flying we’d walk it off all the way back to the barn.
I so appreciated how supportive she was about my career in veterinary medicine. When I first learned how to float teeth, she let me practice on a couple of her mares. It was on one of those practice sessions that I learned what happens when you don’t move your finger fast enough when checking a horse’s molars. My finger got crushed on one of those practice sessions and I lost the first of a bunch of fingernails. I got the job done, but I had to ‘wipe the snot from my nose’ and then I took my throbbing finger home.
The darker side
Evening visits would find us sitting up late, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. I’d tell her my latest escapades and she would remind me how I shouldn’t be trusting men. They were nothing but bastards. She would retell of a hapless marriage and eventual divorce. The stories on repeat were filled with contention and razor sharp with an opinion and a snarl.
I’d let her talk and retrace old wounds. There wasn’t much left at this point for her, so why not. Who did it hurt? In the end, it was her choice to keep the wound fresh. On that subject, for her there was no healing, only resentful bitterness.
Disappearing words and stories
But the rehashed, regretful tales of faithless love didn’t reach me. One adventure after another always gave me a fresh set of escapades to share with her. She’d listen in silence with a doleful look on her face. She never said it, but I’m sure she thought, ‘someday she’ll learn’.
I can’t remember the words to the cowboy ditty of riding a cyclone anymore. The words have disappeared from the earth just as she has. And Cinnamon too. I tell her story because that way I keep her memory alive in me.
Until, one day, I too will disappear. And, the stories I tell will long be forgotten. But, by that time, there will be new stories others will tell. And who knows, maybe there’ll be another story of a cowboy who was a cyclone rider.
Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed. Most peculiar, mama. ~ John Lennon