Tuesday, October 28, 2008
“Mr. MacNamara did but I spent more time reading essays than anything else,” I managed a smile, referring to the bag filled with essays about various topics, his among the stack.
“Oh, your eyes look red,” he said. “My eyes are always red after being in the corral with all the dirt blowing around. I don’t guess the wind is ever going to stop blowing.”
He grinned and left me at the door of my classroom to join a group of boys to go eat breakfast and prepare for the week ahead. I knew my eyes were red but cattle had little to do with it. One more month had come and gone without my being able to become pregnant. My doctor had tried to console me days ago but it was all that I thought about that weekend, especially when the open cows were hauled to sale.
My first hour class filed through the door and my classroom filled with students excitedly relaying news of their weekend and talk of the upcoming basketball games and the activities that would keep them busy in the week ahead. Classes came and went throughout the day and the quiet was welcomed when the last class bustled into the hall and the students headed to practice or work or home. Taylor came in as I sunk into a chair to begin my work in the wake of the students.
“Mrs. M?,” her voice was quiet. “I need to talk to you.”
“Sure,” I watched her settle onto the top of a desk and let one of her shoes dangle from her toe.
She told me the secrets she was keeping from her parents and I felt my breath catch in my throat. She was due to have the baby before graduation. We cried together for some of the same reasons.
When Grady came in from the barns that evening, he found me wrapped in a blanket on the porch. I was looking out toward the south pastures watching a cell tower’s lights reflect on dirty snow. My best friend, Steph, had already called him on his cell and he listened while the truck sat running.
“Are they going to keep the baby?” he took his hat off and rubbed his eyes. “Because if they put it up for adoption…we could…” His voice trailed off and he sat, tired from the day’s work. He sat down next to me and his rough hand was on the back of my neck.
The next morning, a substitute teacher opened my classroom for the day. Grady and I dropped Drew at the front door of the school and we drove north toward Greeley. Eastern Colorado was covered in snow and the snow at the roadside was dirty. Once on the interstate, the dual tires on the truck threw a tail of slushy water. The radio and the heater were both on. We sat while men in shirts with their names sewed on the breast put new tires on the truck and Grady drank coffee.
“Maybe we should see about adopting the baby,” I looked at Grady and said the first thing about Taylor’s baby that I had said since he had mentioned the option.
It’s a natural desire for a man and woman to have a child that looks like them. A child who has one of their noses or eye color. One who grows to walk or talk like the father or has the same laugh as the mother. But sometimes, a reflection of yourselves seems too much to ask.
We drove south and pulled into the church where Taylor’s father was the pastor. Christmas lights swung in the wind above the doorway and the inside of the church smelled like cinnamon and faith.
We sat across her father’s desk from him and Taylor’s mother stood behind her husband, resting her hand on the back of his chair. They were heartbroken and so were we. We talked for an hour about Taylor and her plans to continue her education. A few evenings later, the family car’s headlights bounced over our cattle guard and I nervously adjusted my sweater and stirred the contents of pans that didn’t require any additional stirring.
Taylor, her parents and the father of her child came into our home from the cold. The high school students looked nervous and her parents looked tired. We ate beef raised on our grass and made small talk, moving to the living room after the dishes were cleared. Taylor’s father, Drew and Grady pulled their boots on and walked to the barn to check the heifers while we remained in the house.
“Mrs. M,” Taylor looked like a scared little girl, younger than she actually was. “I’ve been doing a lot of praying about this baby.”
“I know you have, Taylor,” I said and fought the urge to find a mindless chore in the kitchen. “My parents told me that you and Mr. MacNamara haven’t been able to have a baby and I really want to go to college….I don’t think I can do this.”
“You don’t think you can do what, honey,” I said.
“I’m too young…,” and the tears began to run down her face. Her mother sat ramrod straight in a chair, unblinking. I moved to Taylor and sat beside her while her shoulders shook and the men came in from the barn.
One of the things I have loved about Grady is his ability to speak when others are unable. He took a seat across from us and cleared his throat.
“Taylor, my wife and I agree that you should get an education and there’s no need for us to lecture you on the importance of this to either of you,” he motioned a hand toward the boy. “If you can’t keep this baby, well, Mrs. MacNamara and I will adopt him or her.” The air was heavy. Taylor was crying and she nodded.
“I would like that,” she said.
Grady and I stood at the door and watched the car taillights grow smaller and then turn back to the north. When he hugged me, I buried my face into his chest.
“Well,” he said. “When is our baby due?”
Monday, October 27, 2008
Conception has a number of classroom buildings, a gymnasium, cafeteria, dormitories and a basilica. We had some free time to write so I took my computer into the basilica to write.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
It’s easy to be famous nightly when you rodeo for a living. Every small town you roll through looks similar and people turn and pause and look as you pass by, diesel engine whining, to catch a glimpse of which cowboy is behind the tinted truck windows. Travis had been famous nightly in the professional ranks since he was in college. He pulled into a café in a plains town without much thought. He stepped out of the truck and as he strained to straighten, his back and knees reminded him that he had been rodeoing for a living for 20 years and countless miles. He limped a little and the glass door dinged as he entered the café and took a seat, he and his hauling partner had time to kill before that night’s performance.
When Grady finished the morning’s cattle work and returned to town with an empty stock trailer, Drew sat in the backseat fighting off sleep and happily covered with dirt. Drew sat up straight in his seat when they passed through town and by the café and he caught a glimpse of the flashy aluminum horse trailer with Oklahoma tags.
“Grady, look!,” Drew was glued to the window, watching the trailer disappear. “That looks like my dad’s rig! Over there! I bet he’ll come see me!”
Drew continued to watch the trailer as Grady rolled through town. At home, my phone was silent.
That evening Drew and I drove to the ranch for dinner, Drew sitting shotgun trying to balance a complicated dessert on his lap. His football was rolling around in the back of the car and the evidence of his earlier cattle work was smeared across his face and under his fingernails. We rattled over the cattle guard and pulled into the yard in front of a cloud of dust. Grady was still in the feed truck and he stopped long enough for Drew to clamber into Grady’s lap to offer his driving help. I took the dessert in the house and then flopped into a chair on the porch. The auger in the feed truck was running and the dust from the feed was blowing back toward the truck. The cattle in the lots were milling in front of the bunks and I could hear the truck horn from time to time, undoubtedly courtesy of Drew. Wes’s truck rolled to a stop in the yard and he joined me on the porch.
“Your boy was a big help this morning,” I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not knowing how helpful Drew could be sometimes. “Boy, he just does what Grady tells him to and he listens real good.”
“Well, he sure enjoys helping,” I said. “I appreciate you taking him with you.”
“When we were on our way home, he thought he saw his dad’s trailer in town at the café,” he said and I tried not to let my surprise show. “Is he in town for some rodeos?”
Taylor’s shoe was rubbing a blister on her foot and she was trying to relieve the pain and still walk into church without slipping on the steps. She followed her mother and older brother into the church where her father served as pastor. He had been called there almost a year ago and Taylor found herself in yet another small town fish bowl as a preacher’s kid. Her parents were strict and didn’t know that her brother drank beer on Friday nights after football games and that she wore makeup she applied in the bathroom at the high school. She was feeling sick in the mornings and knew that she would soon be forced to reveal her pregnancy to her parents. Today, however, was not the day.
When she told her boyfriend, they shared a sense of panic and uncertainty. Both seniors, he was slated to play ball for a junior college north of their hometown and she planned to enroll there as well. The pregnancy threatened to change their plans but at that point, they weren’t sure how. They hadn’t been careless the first time they had slept together and he never suggested that he would not support whatever decision she might arrive at.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Scary. I went to high school with a girl we'll call Tina and her hair was rad like this!
These photos would be slightly more amusing to me if they didn't present a fairly accurate, chronological journal of my hair. Picture me showing a sheep and you've seen me at 14. I only wished for hair this cool. Hell, I might have even gone to prom!
Monday, October 20, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The gin was cold and the glasses sweat onto dainty cocktail napkins purchased for just such occasions. In my grandmother’s closet hung her best outfit, pressed and starched to withstand the Louisiana humidity. I sat in the kitchen while she pressed it and talked to my grandfather.
“I told Dr. Wolfe the voodoo queens were coming,” she leaned into her ironing, willing the wrinkles to obey her. “I thought that if we carried her basket for her, maybe we could love her through this.” Her voice was thick now with the bayou and gin.
I opened my eyes and was no longer on the porch of my childhood in the bayou but on my own front porch on the ranch my husband’s family had owned for generations. I was in my 30s and my grandmother and her Bouree-playing girlfriends were all dead and gone. I recalled the woman they buried the day after their get together. I understood as an adult that the woman had suffered the long decline brought on by depression in an era in which it was not understood.
As a child, I thought the voodoo queens to be ugly witches who came around when death came knocking. On my own porch, I now understand them to be well dressed, charming belles who take mothers from their children. I’ve heard their voices and smelled their perfume in the darkness.
I heard the screen door shut behind Grady and I listened to his steps as he joined me on the porch. He sat down and stretched his tired legs onto a table. He smelled like wind and cattle tanks and chewing tobacco and dryer sheets.
“You should have seen my boy at football practice,” he stretched and put his hand behind my neck. “He’s one of the bigger boys on the line but he’s quick.”
It was my son that he was referring to, the one whose father was at a rodeo somewhere. Grady never referred to him as his stepson and that was a gift to all three of us.
I had spent the day teaching at the local high school trying to convince teenagers of the value of adjectives and literature written in a time with which they are unfamiliar. He had spent the day moving open heifers to pastures with our massive, black bulls to ensure February and March would bring calving season. In a few months, Grady would sort the heifers and cows that would not calve in the spring and cull them, sending them to a sale barn as they were of little use to us.
“I’m not pregnant this time either,” I blurted the words and took a breath of the dry air. I felt like one of the open cows who would be sent away since I had outlasted my usefulness.
“It will come,” he said.
The first time Grady invited me to the ranch for dinner, I brought tiramisu and we grilled beef that he had raised. After we ate and the day’s heat subsided, we made our way to the corral. Two black calves were looking at us through the gate, one with wraps on his front legs. Minutes later, I found myself sitting in the corral with one leg draped over the calf’s neck while I held his back legs. Grady was carefully removing the wraps from the calf’s buckled front legs. Flesh and yellow tendons were exposed and he gingerly separated the old bandages, occasionally dribbling clean water on the dried wounds to ease the process. The calf didn’t struggle much but when he did, Grady would stop and rub the calf’s head or hip and say, ‘It’s okay, buddy,” or “I know, but we’ll make it better,”. There, draped over a late Spring calf, sitting in a corral with my feet asleep and tingling, I wanted Grady to love me.
Several weeks later, Grady pulled up in front of my home with a trailer load of cattle. They rocked and stomped and swatted flies in the trailer, waiting for him to accelerate the truck and provide them with an Indian Summer breeze. It was dusty and loud but it was a breeze. My son, Drew, had been watching for the truck for what he thought was a lifetime though it had been only 20 minutes. I heard his aluminum baseball bat drop to the ground right before he and his dog came tearing through the house to reach the front door. He threw the door open before Grady had a chance to knock.
“I’m going with Grady, Mom,” he yelled and jerked his ball cap down over his red hair. Grady winked at me.
“Ready to go, buddy?,” he pulled my son’s ball cap off, tousled his hair and put it back on, pushing it over his eyes. Drew giggled.
Grady took big, sure steps toward the truck and my son bounced at his side. He scrambled into the cab of the truck and sat in the back seat in the middle between Grady and Grady’s father, Wes. They pulled out toward the highway and it was in between those two men over the course of months and years that my son learned the dignity of work and how to be a man.
Monday, October 13, 2008
The salsa was hot and ice cubes spun lazily in the sweaty glasses. We sat, getting the eyeball from folks who hadn’t yet realized that this is our new hometown. Cattle trucks lumbered through town on the heels of baffled tourists wondering if this is, in fact, the edge of the Earth.
We are out in the country where jack rabbits pack a lunch and you can watch your dog run away for two or three days. Driving home days earlier the flatter, browner and windier it became, the more at ease I felt. I stepped onto Corridor dirt, rubbed a little sand in my eyes and could see things more clearly.
It’s windy here and there’s little romanticizing this. Even the high school ball players don’t get too tall, they hunker down like tumbleweeds and like Wal Mart sacks on fence posts, we’re all blowing through.
I’m trying to fix my dreams at a different altitude. I’m trying to find that once sparkly girl who was fearless before she was reckless and misguided. Before she was Mrs., and worried about scary things that take your children in the night.
I was looking for a new hometown where old men sit and spit on the bench in front of the bank. I was hoping I could still two-step and teach and preach and hoping I could find a place for my 31-year-old self and a paint color for my walls. Trying to fix my dreams wasn’t even as difficult as determining the new ones. These dreams aren’t as shiny, but they’re real and good and are being washed clean in the wind.
The voodoo queens nearly carried me away more than once. I fought to keep my head above swamp water but know the sting of water in my nose. When I met Grady, the ground solidified and the voices of my past had experienced their turn and were silenced. The voodoo queens want you to think you aren’t whole enough to love or be loved. They want you to think that the swampy ground is safe and they want you to think that you don’t have any more strength left in you. They drawl and want you to believe that even though you may be able to find some kind of one night reprieve from an empty bed, no one will stay past dawn. Their voices drip with chickory and sweet tea syrup but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re right.
The years during which the voodoo queens were calling for me the most loudly didn’t taste familiar like gumbo and cheap wine but like second rate ground beef, diesel smoke and the garlicky taste of Dimethyl sulfoxide rubbed into the sore legs of horses. I was the wife of a professional rodeo cowboy for nearly ten years. My compadres took crank to look their best at their husband’s sides. I was flashy as hell but wondered daily if anyone would notice if I hurled myself down cold, concrete stairs.
We kept track of time by knowing when the books closed at ProCom and when designated slack ran. I knew destinations: Houston, Denver, Kansas City, Cheyenne, Pocatello, Chicago, Deadwood, not by tourist attractions but by hours with a trailer from the rodeo previous and by the quality of the hospitality tent. I sat behind signs that read, Contestants’ Wives at some of the biggest, best paying rodeos in the country with the tasks of looking good and videotaping the steer wrestling.
One night, after a rodeo somewhere in the Great Lakes Circuit, a many-time World Champion staggered out of his flashy rig, tanked with cocaine and cocktails.
“Who wants to fuck a Hall of Famer?” he slurred.
Without hesitation, a blonde woman a rodeo cowboy might refer to as a buckle bunny, set her beer aside and followed him into the trailer. No one bat an eye.
It might sound romantic traveling the country and being married to one of the best professional cowboys in the country. I had some of the best barrel horses around; one was out of Florida for $20,000 and another was also used as a hazing horse and backed up some of the best steer wrestling horses in the business including one who was hailed as the best in the professional ranks in the Great Lakes Circuit. I had custom made spur straps and a big diamond wedding ring. My friends, other pro rodeo wives, were and still are among the most beautiful women in the world.
Some rodeo cowboys are not far removed from those addicted to drugs, gambling or alcohol. The cash, the booze and the drugs flow freely and the time between highs is deadly. When the crowds are loud and the money is easy, the mantra is Younger Women, Older Whiskey and More Money. In the years when winning didn’t come so easily, I watched defeats etch lines and leave scars whether the defeat was missing the National Finals Rodeo by mere dollars or it came in the form of a blown knee or a crippled horse.
When he found himself well into his thirties playing a young man’s game, the crowds hushed a bit. He was referred to as a veteran of the sport. He was losing to boys who were younger and faster. The crowds dispersed and the fans forgot his name. Thus began his decline and like a junkie or a drunk he was desperate, clawing and searching for his next high. He frantically entered rodeos. If a guy enters enough, he’s bound to win a check eventually. He entered until he won but the costs of the wins weren’t even with the responsibilities of a wife and child. The wins didn’t pay for diesel rigs and starched shirts and t-ball gear. The harder I worked at my job, the harder and faster the money went down the road until I couldn’t even see the taillights anymore. I didn’t cry when I told him I wanted out.
Months later, I returned to a town in which we had lived when he worked as a college rodeo coach. I went to the bar with some girlfriends and a familiar face sauntered to our table and called me Mrs.
I told him about the divorce. I didn’t tell him that it was like stepping off the merry-go-round and I suddenly didn’t have any friends and no one even noticed I was gone.
“I wondered when you would find out about the girlfriends,” he said and handed me a beer.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The gallery show will include photographs of rural eastern Colorado side by side with poetry, prose and excerpts from "New Hometown."
So, my challenge to you, my dear readers, is to cook up a fabulous name for the exhibit. Think ranchey, think rural, think of something...quick! Post your most inspired names under the comment section of this post (Look for the pencil!) and I'll soon post the official title of the exhibit.
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Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I heard the truck in front of the house and saw the awkward silhouette of a round bale perched on the flat bed. I was still in my clothes from the funeral, barefoot on the kitchen floor. I walked to the window again and still he was parked. He looked at me and motioned for me to come to him.
The insides of my coveys were cold on my bare legs, but I jerked the straps over my shoulders, shoved my bare feet into boots and walked to the truck.
Neither of us said anything and the heater in the truck burned my eyes. He put the truck in gear, and we rolled out toward the winter pastures above Bijou Creek. We drove to where the heavies lay in wait of their calves and where a few pairs were hunkered down against the wind.
I opened gates and he drove. He parked the truck on a gulch overlooking the home place and the engine purred and the wind rocked the cab.
“I never thought he would get old,” he said finally.
“I know,” I murmured. “I’m sorry.”
We sat in silence watching the snow and mud-caked fields dotted with black cattle and water tanks. He sighed and put the truck in gear again and we rolled back toward the house and took up life where we had left off.
Grady MacNamara had been taking care of business long before I met him. He has carried feed sacks, hay bales, his mother during his father’s decline and my sleeping son at one time or another. He carried me out of my pit to a place of mutual protection. In a country where the wind blows with nothing to stop it, he shelters me from the wind so I don’t blow away.
In the years before Grady loved me, I had, as my grandmother who was steeped in the sweet Louisiana traditions would have said, dropped my basket and nearly let the voodoo queens take me away.
A teacher new to a small town school cannot glide into town unnoticed, especially with license plates from two states away. I sat on the bleachers that first winter watching good, solid, down home men coach my son on the finer points of defensive stance, dribbling, rebounding and being a man. My son was enamored, I was thankful and sinking into feeling comfortable even on ancient, creaking bleachers.
Mothers made conversation with me and told me about their children. They asked enough questions to satisfy their curiosity regarding whether or not I was married. When they were satisfied that I am indeed unmarried, they would nonchalantly ask, “So, have you met Coach Robinson?” or say, “So you would have been in 4-H with Grady MacLennan, right? He bought a place in Agate…he’s not married either you know.”
When the basketball court cleared and the sounds of kids and the round ball died down, I sat, alone, in the bleachers for a few minutes.
This is not what my life was supposed to look like at 30. I’m supposed to be on solid ground not scrambling to gain ground while facing down giants.
For months after I finally found the strength to leave my husband, I would hear the growl of a diesel engine, and my heart would plummet, thinking it was him and he was here to strip our child away from me.
I thought the hard part would be the actual leaving, the rubber hitting the road. But it wasn’t. Hard was sitting on my porch waiting to see his headlights bringing my son home and the light never coming. He’s left the state and he has a six hour head start. I’ll never see my son again, I would think. That was hard.
Hard was getting a glimpse of my new life in the same zip code as my parents. It was feeling safe and hopeful and a part of a community. It was getting my hopes up and then hearing the Sheriff pound on my door to serve me with papers. Seeing first hand that a father who fails to meet his obligations can still file objections and other scary court documents to try to dash my plans. That was hard.
Being the mom of the only boy on the football field who doesn’t have his dad there, rubbing shoulders with the other dads and dreaming big gridiron dreams; watching my son look out at the bleachers, at all the moms and him knowing full well that I was on the fifty yard line with snacks at the ready, trying my hardest to be both mom and dad and not getting it done; playing catch with my son and knowing he’s embarrassed that his dad isn’t around to teach him to throw a spiral. That was hard.
Wearing heels and trying to teach my son how to be a man, that was hard. Sitting by myself and feeling so tired and so used up that no man would ever want me again is hard. Feeling that there is no possible way that I have one more ounce of strength left before I curl up and refuse to face my hand is hard.
So, no, walking out the door was easy and I’ve not regretted that decision for even a moment, but life afterwards isn’t what I thought.
I went home to lay low, to be in the same time zone as my family and at almost 31, it might have been just what I needed. I was out here trying to fix my dreams. The dreams I had at 22 had blown away somewhere along the trip. I saw it coming but I couldn’t get out of the way.
I am 31.
I am a single mom, a writer, a teacher and a livestock judging diva.
I live on the high plains of Colorado and am the sparkliest teacher in my school. There are 14 teachers, grades 7-12.
I have begun dating again after 1 1/2 years following a divorce.
I have some good stories.