Mick

His long nose unevenly divided a face that was strong, noble, and weather-beaten.  China blue eyes spelled mischief as well as cynicism, and the grayish-blond locks (much too long) lazily curled behind one ear lobe. The other, half removed after a mishap with the Jeep Scout and a telephone pole on a beer-and-whisky-shots evening at Phil’s Tavern, would no longer hold back the hair. So he often raised a large tanned hand to brush a few stray strands away from his face.  He towered over all of us – broad shoulders filling the doorway. We all called him Mick, but the name on his birth certificate was Stanley. He was one of my most unforgettable characters, and if you had known him, you would surely agree.

Stanley “Mick” Warmington hailed from Sedgeberrow, a village on the main road between Evesham and Cheltenham in merry old England. One of his sisters, known as Spatz, came to visit during a summer I was attending summer camp. “Peasants with refrigerators!” was the only thing I ever remember hearing her say in her clipped British accent. I guess she didn’t like Americans very much, or maybe she just missed her youngest brother and was not happy that he lived an entire ocean away from home.

Mick was the youngest of eleven children. He was a great storyteller, captivating audiences, young and old. When he was born, Mickey Mouse was a popular cartoon. Mick’s large ears protruded from the sides of his head, and so he told us he acquired his nickname after the famous cartoon character. I’m not sure I believed him.

 Mick April Me 2

My Good Friend Sue

Sue Mowery and I are so close we can finish each other’s sentences. We find it to be a quite natural thing, but Sue’s husband does not appreciate a long conversation in so many half-sentences. Sue is a gardener and has taught me a lot about planting native plants in my garden and why that’s important. Sue journals almost every day, and I have always enjoyed sharing writing pieces with her.  A decade ago, it would have been hard to find her at home. Sue traveled the state as a literacy consultant, living out of her suitcase to help teachers with their reading/writing workshops from Pittsburgh to Scranton.

Often, I wish she lived right around the corner from me so I could pop over for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and a good chat.  We live about ninety minutes apart – not impossibly far from each other – but just enough to make it difficult to visit regularly. Over the past several years, we have not seen much of each other, and I blame myself largely for that. In two weeks, my husband and I are traveling to Smoketown to see the Mowerys, and I am very happy about that!

I remember on Friday we went out to dinner before attending her husband’s art show in Lancaster.  Bill is also a dear friend, and I was eager to see his artwork in the hopes of purchasing something to take home with me. Their daughter Maggie, also an artist, was going to be there, too. It was going to be a great night!

We arrived at a restaurant new to me. It was really cool – we actually sat over an old well – kind of nerve-racking, but interesting – it looked like we were sitting on Plexiglass reinforced with steel bars, but it was still disconcerting. The well looked bottomless, and what if….

We had a great meal, and as we were putting on our coats to leave, I started to tell Sue about Nancy’s trip to Australia and New Zealand. I shared some details about her trip, including the fact that Nancy would travel on to Okinawa before returning home. But I never finished the sentence. “OKINAWA!” Sue screamed at the top of her lungs. I momentarily froze as I felt all eyes turn to look at us. I blushed fire-engine red, but Sue just laughed out loud.

We finally arrived at the art show, and I did find a piece of abstract art to purchase. I owned a piece of Will Mowery artwork!   When Bill asked about dinner, I told him about the well and ended with the embarrassing moment we had – or rather, I had.  Bill turned to Sue and queried, “Sue, do you even know where Okinawa is?” 

 

I am Missing All of This…

I am missing all of this:

the sunshine that melts on my tanned face

as I stand in the riding ring

watching the up-downers learn how to post.

The smell of alfalfa hay and clean shavings,

the sweet and pungent smell of warm manure.

 

I am missing the simple chores –

raking the courtyard in a criss-cross pattern,

dragging a hose to fill water buckets,

sweeping the paved and brick floors in each section,

even stacking hay in the loft in towering columns.

 

The swish of tails and the soft nickers of strong-withered beauties.

The peals of laughter from campers at overnights.

The Peter, Paul and Mary songs we sang,

gathered around a blazing bonfire and

the midnight trail rides to Valley Forge Park.

 

I miss the weekend horse shows from sunup to sundown,

the special brunch after the Thanksgiving Day Hunt,

the traditional Christmas party at the stables

and always going with Dave to choose the tree,

the early morning hours to braid manes and tails,

bandage legs, load tack in the trunk, load horses in trailers.

 

I miss the walks to the pasture to release horses to buck and play,

the walks to the creek with Winnie dog to teach her how to swim, 

the evenings sitting on the stone ledge outside the courtyard,

sitting in silence before I went home,

watching the fireflies blink on and off

in the inky, sweaty-warm June night

and filling the trees like tiny Christmas lights.

All Around

 I am missing all of it,

each and every day!

All Around Farms

 

 

My Great Uncle Earl

My Great Uncle Earl was a tall, handsome man with snow-white hair, a tickly moustache, and brilliant blue eyes that twinkled with mischief. He loved to laugh, and when he did, we laughed with him – it was contagious, that laughter of his!  And we all knew he was about ten years younger than our little Great Aunt Elda, but that was supposed to be a deep, dark secret, so we kept our secret that we knew “the secret.”

Uncle Earl had a passion for taking photographs and movies – the kind that had a reel to thread in a projector.  We viewed countless movies in the basement of my nana’s home on Lehigh Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Some movies just showed us racing around the enormous pine tree in the middle of the big backyard or trying to eat our ice-cream off the sugar cone before it melted.  My uncle loved to take movies of the family, and he was always shooting movies, but never in them.

My aunt and uncle lived with my great grandmother, and it was a blessing. Nana lived to be ninety, and she was able to stay at home and enjoy her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Nana’s house was large, with three bedrooms on the second floor and a “secret” staircase that led to a huge attic. My Great Aunt Elda’s nephew Henry had lived there until he moved away to California.  My aunt and uncle also had a parakeet named Peety. Sometimes, he was allowed to fly around the house. My mother and father always shook their heads disapprovingly. Then Uncle Earl would whistle, and Peety would fly to his long index finger to perch.

Uncle Earl loved to buy gifts of jewelry for his great nieces, so my sisters and I always received beautiful bracelets, necklaces, and pins on our birthdays and for Christmas.  We loved his taste in jewelry and the fact that he did not follow my parents’ and grandparents’ advice to buy us clothing: socks, blouses, jeans, or sweaters. We had enough of those practical items from the rest of our family members.

Whenever there were family gatherings, you’d see Uncle Earl duck outside to disappear from the disapproving eyes of my great aunt, my grandmother, and my nana in order to smoke a Chesterfield.  He knew everyone wanted him to quit, but he just didn’t want to give it up.  “When I’m eighty-five,” he’d say, and cross his heart solemnly. But he did not live long enough to keep his promise, and we all knew it was the cigarette smoke that buried him. My Great Aunt Elda was heartbroken. The shiniest star of all had been extinguished from her universe, and we knew we had lost a true family treasure.

Reflections on Lake Tahoe

I cannot describe the exact moment when the image of Lake Tahoe in its entire splendor registered in my brain. It was such unbridled beauty that I could not drink it all in at once. I felt powerless to take my eyes away from the glorious blue waters to the surrounding mountains.

Inky blue water, the color of which I had never seen before, and the emerald waters of a hidden bay startled me. High in the sparse pines were eagles’ nests and falcons’ nests. The paddle boat’s rhythm was slow and easy; my heartbeat, much quicker. Night time here would not be welcomed. The hunger for the vast blueness of the pristine lake framed by majestic mountains created an insatiable appetite for a rugged, yet tranquil beauty I had not known before.

 

A Walk in the Poconos

He takes my hand and guides me up the narrow mountain path. Everywhere there are leafy queens and prickly kings. They tower like formidable giants, keeping us cool on this hot August afternoon.  We step off the path and walk on needled ground that muffles our steps.

I spot a woodpecker high above me, working his beak in quick stabs on the bark of this ancient tree. Grandpa follows my gaze. “Woodpecker’s having a late lunch or an early dinner,” he remarks and winks at me. My stomach rumbles. I am thinking about the dinner we will have tonight. It’s my last night at the cabin. Tomorrow morning we will pile suitcases into the trunk of Grandpa’s Dodge and drive to Philadelphia. School will start soon, and my summer vacation is almost over.

I remember when Grandpa had to sneak the suitcases out into the car the night before he and Grandma were going to have to take me home. As I started to recognize familiar sights such as Trainer’s Restaurant on the corner of 309 and 663, I would begin to feel anxious. We had stopped there many times for food that tasted more like my grandma’s home-cooked meals than most restaurants. My grandpa always enjoyed the rather large portions.  It was when we past Trainer’s without stopping that I would ask, “You’re not taking me home are you, Grandma?  Grandpa?”  Then the tears would come, and Grandma would start crying, too. “Now, Dottie,” my grandfather would say sternly, “we have to take Lynnie home. If we always arrive with the two of you bawling your eyes out, they’re not going to let her stay the summer anymore.”

On this late August afternoon I am thinking about all my favorite foods Grandma has made for the last cabin meal of the summer season – corn-on-the-cob, creamy mashed potatoes, fried chicken, homemade applesauce, and her famous lemon meringue pie. Grandpa startles me. “Look!” he whispers and points at the same time.  I turn to follow his gaze just in time to see a small herd of deer leap over a fallen log and disappear into the deep quiet of the forest.

We step down the steep path, gingerly making our way back to the friendly cabin. My grandfather’s strong hand curls around my hand, and I feel safe and warm inside. Just as we cross the road, we see the sun sinking behind the edge of the lake, spreading its golden light on the shimmery surface of the water. The pines darken and become silhouettes just as the glowing cabin lights suddenly appear in our view.

“Hurry, Grandpa – we’ll be late for dinner!”  We both grin widely, but our pace quickens. Grandma’s quite fussy about being on time for dinner.  I can’t wait to tell her about our walk up the mountain. It’s my favorite thing to do at the lake when I’m on vacation, and I can tell it’s Grandpa’s favorite thing to do, too!

 

Welcome, Spring!

When Old Man Winter comes

In the middle of a snowy night,

December’s magic unfolds.

He sends playful snowflakes that chase

One another through dark skies,

Pile up on bare-branched trees,

Silence the world in whirling whiteness.

 

When the Young Maiden appears,

She softly steps, renewing the grass

And magically awakening the earth.

Trees and gardens remember their colors

As she send raindrops through dark skies,

Moistening the soil and greening the world.

Full of sweet days, warm and cool,

She sets her picnic table to celebrate with us.

The sun, her best friend for this party,

This celebration of beauty and life.

Welcome, Spring, Welcome!

The Dormouse

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare once asked. Actually, sometimes more than you would ever imagine. If you are a very shy eight-year old at summer riding camp for the first time and without a single person you know, a name (in this case, a nickname) can change your world.

That’s what happened back in 1961 at Broad Acre Farms on Sheaff Lane in Whitemarsh.  Stanley “Mick” Warmington (You can see that he had a nickname, too!) was my riding instructor. A tall man with long blond-gray locks, startling blue eyes, and an interesting English accent was the one who christened me. He had picked me up that morning in my Mt. Airy neighborhood, driving up in an Edsel packed with kids. I remember thinking, “How am I going to fit?”  Then I was sandwiched  into the backseat with laughing, noisy girls my age.  I didn’t speak one word. I was scared to death!

When we finally reached the stables, we piled out and followed Mick into a stable that smelled of clover and alfafa hay. We made our way past huge box stalls, into a tack room that smelled of leather and Lexol and saddle soap. Then we wound our way up the narrow steps into a large hayloft. There were two rows of chairs that faced the center of the room. Everyone took a seat. I could see that most of these campers had been here last year and were familiar with the routine and with each other.

Reading from a list of names (the campers), Mick assigned each camper a horse or pony for the week. He paused when he got to mine and looked at me with a funny sort of smile. He paused for what seemed a small eternity to me and said, “The Dormouse.”   Then he told me I would be riding a pony called Gobble Guts.  I was sure I was in trouble. How would I explain to my mom that I didn’t want to come back?  I had begged her to do this the entire school year.

But I did come back. I returned each year until I was fourteen. Then I volunteered as a junior counselor, groomed horses, cleaned bridles and saddles, and mucked stalls.  I was hooked on Broad Acre Farms, all my riding friends, the horses, and even the work.  My nickname worked like magic.  When Mick introduced me, most people always asked me how I was tagged with such a name.  I was forced to try to explain it, and so I had to speak.  I believed my name referred to the sleepy, quiet Dormouse in the Alice in Wonderland story. All the campers knew me – even the visiting blacksmith and veterinarian.  My name gave me confidence and a lasting bond with Mick’s son Anthony, also fondly nicknamed “Mouse.”  

From that day on, I was Dormouse.  Friends from the equine world still call me by my nickname as well as my beautiful goddaughters and their parents, and I love it!  Some people think Mick simply had changed my last name “Dorfman” to “Dormouse.” But I knew the truth – not at first, but much later. He had given me a precious gift – my nickname.  It changed my life in so many ways…but that’s a novel waiting to be written!

For Richard

Cap pulled low on his brow,

The longest dark lashes you’ve ever seen

Fringe the beautiful blues.

Tall, lean, and muscular

With a delightful Irish brogue

You never tire of listening to,

He graced us with his presence,

This lad from Thomastown,

 Of the Emerald Isle, County Kilkenny.

 

Good horseman – no, a great horseman,

Groom, handler, stable manager of All Around Farms.

Always turned out show horses with unmatched skill –

Checkerboard rumps, perfect braids and tails,

Shining like a glass mirror – perfection!

Everyone knew him around the show circuit,

Girls loved his teases and swarmed to him

Like bees to honey – yes, it’s true.

 

Old Betsy painted dark blue and light blue,

Parked regularly behind Phil’s Tavern.

She probably could have found her way home,

And often brought him home to Gwynedd Valley

When we knew he shouldn’t have traveled.

Jokes about “Nasty Grasty” and songs he sang –

“Whiskey in the Jar” and “Seven Nights Drunk.”

St. Patrick’s Day, a big celebration each year.

 

Richard, a cigarette burning slowly in his hand,

Long columns of ashes spilled in the wind.

Tired, bleary-eyed, and full of beer,

Stumbling through the barn

to climb the long, somewhat steep stairs to bed.

The next morning he won’t remember

What jokes he told or how many mugs were downed;

What girls he kissed or heart he broke –

But he always made it home!

 

Today, I twirl the heavy ring,

Silver with a horsehead carved and

Split in two from years of wear.

I don’t have a photograph,

But I have this ring that slipped off his finger,

So thin he had become from the cancer.

I remember when he told me tearfully –

That he knew he would not beat it.

 

Richard was so full of life,

How could this thing take him from us?

He’d make the trip home,

Returning to Ireland once more

And tried to beat his illness.

His mother had already buried a daughter,

And now they would bury a son.

It wasn’t right. He was too young.

 

We miss you, Richard:

All the wonderful songs sung on

Trips to and from Kennedy Airport

for trips home to Ireland.

The delight in Elvis’s music,

The practical jokes – oh, the practical jokes,

Especially when you turned the hose on Sue Scales!

We couldn’t believe it – but you did it!

You loved all the dogs: Patches and Nugget and Lilly,

And they loved you right back!

 

Here at Phil’s Tavern on Saint Patrick’s Day

We still wonder if you are in New York

Or perhaps Villanova Stadium

Listening to The Dubliners

And singing along

(you always had a great voice):

“I am bound away for to leave you

and I’ll never see you again…

It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me

But my darling when I think of thee.”

 

 

Lad from Thomastown,

County Kilkenny of Ireland,

On this day and every St. Patrick’s Day,

We raise a glass to you, dear friend.

Missing your laughter and your smile,

Missing you so much,

Richard Fennelly, missing you…

                                       Credit to The Dubliners and their song “The Leaving of Liverpool.”

                   I had written this piece during the March Slice of Life, on St. Patrick’s Day, but I never posted it. I decided it couldn’t wait until next year. Richard was a friend, more than I ever realized in his lifetime, and I do miss him. He was a rascal and a practical joker.  He loved to have a good time.  Here’s to you, Richard!