Where’s Memphis? Or It was a Dark and Stormy Night

Lightning, clear-veined and jagged, cut through the moonless sky as rolls of thunder cracked in the air surrounding the house. It would be hard to drag Memphis outside to do his business, but the girls would gladly go. I sighed. Two trips tonight. I’d take Merri and Rhonda, and then come back for my stubborn male Corgi who hated rain but loved snow.

As we walked off the porch and into the backyard, rain began to fall in thick sheets – curtains of relentless rain. It seemed as if someone had slit the sky ceiling, allowing rain to pour down so hard and fast that we were instantly drenched. Why hadn’t I thought to bring an umbrella along? Late summer birthed storms that were unpredictable and sometimes wild. It was too late now to turn back for an umbrella or rain slicker. I slogged on in silence. Walking in rain is not my idea of fun.

The backyard quickly turned into tiny rivulets and muddy slopes. A pool of water formed between the two silver maples, It was going to be a bad storm. I cast a quick glance toward Sandy Run Creek. Although I could not see it, I was almost certain I could hear it, gurgling and slurping its way through the park,  churning and gushing beneath the old bridge on Limekiln Pike,  rushing and roaring its way through the golf course.

It had been raining almost every day since September had started. The creek was running higher than normal. It wouldn’t take much more for it to overflow its banks. I shivered more from fear than the cold. I had already lost a car to a flash flood. The creek was a little too close for comfort, even though I had never even had water in my basement. But this storm was different…

I trotted the dogs back to the house and grabbed towels to dry them off before they sent water everywhere. Then I called for Memphis. Where was that dog?  I called again and again as I walked through the house. Nowhere to be found.  I raced up the stairs, looking in each room and even under the beds. Then I panicked. Did he go out the door unnoticed as I took the girls into the backyard?  Memphis was a tri-colored Corgi, mostly back. Maybe I didn’t see him follow us.

With my heart hammering in my chest, I flew down the steps, into the kitchen and into the utility room to grab a flashlight, once again forgetting to nab an umbrella. As I darted past the downstairs bathroom, I stopped and backed up. Could it be….? And there he was, my Memphis, wedged behind the toilet in the downstairs bathroom. Obviously, he was preparing for a hurricane or tornado. No amount of coaxing would get him to budge – not even dog biscuits. Memphis was terrorized by the crackling and booming.

Finally, sometime after midnight, I was able to retrieve Memphis and cuddle him in my arms.  And then I thought of Snoopy in the Charlie Brown comic strip: “It was a dark and stormy night…”  I had a story to share with the fifth grade students tomorrow. I thought they would like it.

 

 

The Hornblower: It Was Worth the Drive to the Airport

On July 14th my husband and I departed for the airport to fly to Buffalo. From there, we were going to rent a car and head to Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. My husband did not comment when I arrived 15 minutes late from a PAReads meeting in West Chester. He had already packed the car with our suitcases, so we headed to Norristown to pick up my sister and brother-in-law. Of course, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway and the Blue Route. My husband drove, gripping the steering wheel until white-knuckled while muttering, “We are never going to make it.”  My husband – the eternal pessimist (although he says he is only being a realist).

Niagara Falls 2c Hornblower Falls Tour (74)

I tried to tell him that we would make our plane, that F Terminal is not that busy, that we were all TSA precheck, that we were not checking any bags, that the plane could be delayed, that all that mattered was that we were there before 6:30 to board.  Then I shut up. No response from Ralph as the minutes seemed to tick by in a deafening tone. And then, we were moving. We found a spot at the parking lot, hopped the shuttle, and made it to Terminal F. Yes!  It was not crowded. The plane arrived, and we made it to Buffalo. After a short flight, we arrived and piled into our car rental. About an hour later, we were crossing the border.

Niagara Falls 3e View from Observation Tower (American Side) (5)

We woke up early the next day, ready for fun and adventure. After walking the beautiful path from the Welcome Center to the ticket line for the Hornblower (the Canadian version of Maid of the Mist), we were pretty hot (and I would learn later, that I was getting a good sunburn!). Even though it was about 75 degrees at 9:30 a.m., the sun reflected off the sparkling water.We had stood to take photos of the Horseshoe Falls and the Bridal Falls. Now we were walking down a long ramp with many turns and out onto the dock to board the boat. We all donned out melon-red ponchos. Ralph and my brother-in-law Willie were not sure if they would use their phones or cameras to take pictures. It was obvious we were going to get wet. The air was filled with chatter in many languages – French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and English. Then  the Hornblower arrived and after it emptied, we piled on.

Niagara Falls 2c Hornblower Falls Tour (62)

Our plan was to head to the upper level, starboard side and as close to the front of the boat as we could get. We succeeded!  As we approached Horseshoe Falls, the air became filled with mist and the sound of the water conveyed its incredible force. I was in awe!  We had such a good view, but occasionally, I found myself closing my eyes due to the driving waves of water. It was an incredible experience. The beauty of the falls and all its splendor is something to add to your bucket list if you’ve never been – and I would suggest a stay on the Canadian side.

Niagara Falls 2c Hornblower Falls Tour (64)

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We returned and did all the other attractions – The Cave of the Wind, the whitewater walk, the aerocable car across the Niagara River. Eventually, we made our way to Niagara on the Lake, a charming town where we will stay next summer. We hope to rent for at least a week and enjoy the vineyards, ice wine slushies, fresh fruit from the farm stands, Lake Ontario, and a possible return to Niagara Falls where we will ride the zipline(?????????)!

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Big Mama on the Hunt Field

Big Mama loved to jump!  She always knew exactly what she was doing, and I have to say, I never saw her refuse a fence (not jump it). She could pace herself and find the “just right” spot to rock back on her hind legs and spring into the air. She made it look easy.

But Big Mama on the hunt field was a different matter. It was all about staying with the pack and not letting the first several horses get too far in front of her.  On the hunt field, Big Mama was completely in control; her rider, just a passenger. Even though we fitted her in a rubber Pelham bit, two reins to this bridle with a curb chain under her chin, the rider had little hope of having the upper hand.

Thanksgiving Day was always a big deal. Riders from horse farms in the Montgomery County area gathered at the big field in Gwynedd Valley off of Gypsy Hill Road for a drag hunt. In other words, someone (almost always Jack Trainor’s nephew Roger) went on ahead on a very sensible horse and had a long lead with some sort of bag that had the scent of fox. Roger dragged this scent before the foxhounds were unleashed and the hunt began. We never hunted live fox here, although they still do in Unionville, Pennsylvania, and I would imagine, in many places like Virginia and England.

The horses were always perfectly turned out, often braided for this event. The riders looked handsome in their riding coats, canary yellow vests, breeches, and shiny high boots made from the softest leather. Old timers and novices joined a crowd of more than fifty for this event followed by a breakfast (really brunch) at All Around Farm.  Our riders were close enough to ride to the field where this hunt started and ride back to the stable after it was finished.

On one particular Thanksgiving hunt, Richard Fennelly (the stable manager and very Irish) needed a horse. So I offered Big Mama. Off they went, Richard with his stirrup leathers adjusted higher than normal for him because he was so tall and Mama was a little horse (“Big” came from her width, not her height!).  There must have been more than a dozen riders from All Around. It was grand to see them jog off. We drove down the road and saw the start. Jack, wearing a bright red coat as the huntmaster, tooting a horn and leading the way.

When our riders returned to the stable, they were all laughing and chattering. “What’s so funny?” I queried.

“Ask Richard!” Jennifer said in spurts of giggles. 

“It seems that Big Mama has a mind of her own. I tried to get her to slow down,” he said in his Irish accent, “but she was exhausting me. So I stopped pulling on the reins, and I realized that she only went a wee bit faster and my arms could relax.”

“Tell her the rest,” Jen said with a funny look on her face.

“Yes,” Jessie sputtered. “Tell Dormouse about how you broke the rule about everyone following single file when we jump a fence.”

“W-e-l-l, you see we were riding to a coop and Mama decided she wanted to canter alongside this beautiful grey gelding. I couldn’t get her to slow down. So I tipped my hat to the lady riding the big grey and said ‘It looks like we’re going to be jumping the next fence together, Ma’am.’  She looked as white as a ghost. I’m not sure she understood what was going to happen. But she jumped the coop and Mama and I sailed over the three-rail fence. We were in the air at exactly the same time and landed together. Then Mama picked up a little speed to catch up with the horses in the very front.”

I just shook my head. Big Mama had a mind of her own!  She was like a little freight train on the hunt field. Maybe Richard was right. Just throw the reins at her, lean a little forward, grab mane, and go!”

A Great Little Horse

Big Mama was extraordinary – smart, athletic, dutiful, and spirited. She was quite an unexpected find. Richard went with me and we made our way to a property in the Lancaster-Lebannon area of Pennsylvania. The man who was selling a horse brought out a very furry, little bay mare. She must have been about 15.1 hands at best, wide and sturdy, with an abundance of black mane and black tail. She had four black stockings and sturdy, healthy hooves. I stared into her soft brown eyes and was instantly hooked.

After watching her jog to make sure she was sound, we loaded her into the small horse van. Her sides bulged and touched the dividers of the stall sections as we backed her in. “She is a big mama!” Richard remarked. And the name stuck. We called her Big Mama.

Mama’s best friend in the pasture was a flashy pony named Farnley Chimes.  Chimey had been green pony hunter champion in Virginia, but along the way he decided he didn’t like riders telling him what to do, so he started planting his feet at the base of a jump and refusing.  That’s how we ended up with him as a lesson pony.  He tolerated the short stirrup riders, kids he felt he had to take care of – and he did. But he had a mind of his own as did Big Mama, and they became fast friends.  Whenever you looked out into the field, the pair of them could be seen sharing a pile of hay nose to nose or drinking from the trough (a bathtub) together.

Mama continued to amaze me. She would carry a beginner around the ring with a slow, steady trot. When it came time to learn how to canter, I could attach her bridle to a lunge line and say the words, “Canter, Mama.” Then she would immediately break into her rhythmical lope in a small circle around me.  Students felt confident and at ease, learning how to keep their balance and move with the horse.

It was jumping a course where Mama actually was at her best. This little mare loved to jump, jerking her knees  tightly  while arching her neck and rounding her back slightly. Mama’s ears were always pricked forward, eager for the next obstacle.  She could jump a 3’ 6’’ course, but we didn’t often test her at that height.  If she had been prettier, she would have made a great show horse, but her head had little refinement and her small size was against her.  To me, she was the most beautiful horse in the world!

One day I was teaching a lesson. Mama was carrying a beginner. Some of the riders in the group were ready to practice jumping, so I had set a small course of three jumps about two feet high on one side of the ring – a single to an in-and-out. The riders who were not jumping were told to ride to the inside of that line of jumps.  Mama dutifully trotted by two times. On the third try, she could not stand it anymore, and pulled the rider to the jumps. The young woman, a girlfriend of one of my adult riders, screamed.  I told her to grab some mane and lean forward. I knew Mama was like a missile on target, both ears pricked forward, her stride lengthening. The girl made it through the course, but I decided to keep Mama in the center of the ring with me until everyone had finished jumping.

Honestly, Mama looked very proud of herself. Dave’s girlfriend finished the lesson, but that was the last time I saw her!  That horse just loved to jump the fences in the ring or cross country.  She was good at it, and she knew it!  

Bat in a Shoebox

For me, one of the most bizarre things that happened at All Around Farm was the day Sue called to me and asked me to come up to the apartment when we finished throwing hay to the horses and filling their water buckets.  It was a sunny spring afternoon, and I climbed the steps thinking about all the things that had to be done to get ready for tomorrow’s horse show competition. Some horses still needed a bath, tack had to be cleaned, and a few grooming boxes packed. Braiding and bandaging wouldn’t happen until the wee hours of the next day.

The apartment above the stables was very spacious: a kitchen, office, bathroom, two bedrooms, long hallway, large livingroom, and a room beyond with a bar area. Sue Scales lived there as the business manager. Richard Fennelly also loved there. He was the stable manager.   All Around Farm had been at one time, one of the most prestigious show barns on the East Coast; in fact, it had international acclaim.  Once the barn for a large summer estate, during World War II, it had been used to store fancy cars. In 1957 Milton Kulp, Jr. (Junie) established All Around Farm. The 19th century barn had a wash stall, six large box stalls in the garage, a main aisle with a brick walkway and about nine big stalls, a section four with four stalls, and an outside stall facing the driveway circle. A large tack room, sitting area where trunks were also stored, and a bathroom with a shower were also part of the garage area.

On this day when I got to the top of the steps and opened the door, Sue motioned to follow her into the livingroom. There, hanging from a sheer wall, was a sleeping bat. I went back downstairs to get Mr. Joe Beily, the father of one of my riding pupils.  Joe came upstairs and asked for a shoebox. He cut the corners of the lid in a way to flatten it.  I took off my shoes and climber onto the ledge of the couch.  Mr. Beily handed me the shoebox. I was close enough to touch the bat. It was amazing how she could hang on that wall, and also amazing that she hadn’t awakened. Next, he handed me the lid which I slowly slid under the box. I heard a faint rustling, and then the bat was trapped inside the box!

Joe helped me down, and we walked to the back room where a porch and stairs led to the outside. Joe opened the door for me and we walked to the porch railing. I sat the box on the ledge, dramatically opened the lid, and nothing happened. We waited and waited some more. I was beginning to think, “Is the bat really inside this box?”   So, rather foolishly, I started to lean over the railing to look inside. Just then, the bat made its move. I would have fallen over the railing to the driveway below if Joe Beily had not grabbed me and pulled me back!  The bat flew off into some trees, unhurt but probably somewhat confused. 

So it was Joe Beily who really saved the day, but I got to be within inches of a bat!  That is my “Bat in a Shoebox” story.  It really happened!  Since then, I have often thought about putting up a bat box in the backyard. Bats are wonderful for the environment, and they eat lots of insects including mosquitoes. I think these days, everybody needs a bat or two!  Maybe this summer I will do some research and actually put up a bat home with my husband’s help!

Horses! Horses! Horses!

Horses! Magnificent, strong-withered beauties

that playfully rear and paw at the passing clouds

or arch their backs to buck and buck

until they send their rider shooting like a cannonball

over their head and into the soft sand of the riding ring.

 

Horses! Eyes wide-set on a long face

sometimes decorated with a star or flashy blaze

and ends in a velvety-soft muzzle that loves to nibble

carrots and apples offered as a reward or treat

from an upturned palm of a human friend.

 

Horses! So frustrating that these powerful creatures

are so fragile subject to all kinds of ailments and injuries

– thrush, colic, sidebone, ringbone, bowed tendons,

cracked heels, founder, West Nile Virus, navicular disease.

Proper diet, plenty of fresh water, exercise, and a good blacksmith helps!

 

Horses! They are easily frightened –

the wind blows up a leaf, a car or motorcycle backfires, a bird flies from a tree.

Or sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason to their spookiness! 

What just happened? The horse leaps to the side or whirls around

and the rider may find himself on the ground (again!).

 

 Horses! A great teammate!

When you ride the course of fences,

 you feel that you and your horse are one – sheer poetry in motion!

Majestic, beautiful, intelligent, puzzling.

Residents of my head and heart.AAF

Woof! Woof! What Does It All Mean?

Slice of Life2

My Corgi dogs have at least five different barks. There’s the squirrel bark, the kitty-cat bark, the welcome guests and family bark and goodbye-to-guests bark, the Lost in Space, “Danger, Will Robinson!” bark, and the let’s-go-out bark. The squirrel bark is also reserved for smaller creatures including bunnies, chipmunks, and birds. The Corgis, Merri and Rhonda, are recreational barkers. They really bark at anything that moves. That includes large vehicles and bicycles and sounds much like the squirrel bark. But when guests come, they are excited, and it is their happy bark.  Basically, it doesn’t stop until guests or family members are seated. Then the dogs know that their people friends are planning to stay for at least a little while.

Although the girls bark to say goodbye when friends or family get ready to leave (They learned this from Memphis, who only barked when people were going), they do not bark when it is either Ralph or me. They give us very sad looks and find their designated spots in the hall to await our return, Merri curled in the very corner between the wall and the front door and Rhonda right in front of the door. When I go out, Ralph says she spends most of her time wedged up against the front door, only leaving her post for her dinner or to go out for a walk.

Now Mimi almost never made a sound. But it was the skunk bark that was most plaintive – mournful – recognizing an enemy who leaves his mark and is gone. The indignity of it all when her beloved human refused her entrance into the house! No – it is not true that tomato juice will lessen the stench. That skunk perfume just has to wear off.  It takes days – even weeks!  This event happened on the day I was leaving for a conference. After giving Mimi two baths, I called Ralph to come over and try to give her a couple more baths.  It was before we were married and living in one house.  Ralph dropped everything to drive over and start scrubbing.

 I am still amazed that my wonderful husband actually said the words, “I do.”  I am not sure he knew what he was getting into, but all the dogs instantly fell in love with him, too.   He’s learned to listen to their communications.  A couple months ago, the girls were out in the backyard and Ralph was bringing out the garden hoses. He noticed that the barks had suddenly changed from the ones that give warning but are all in fun to barks of a very serious tone. He started calling them and found they had cornered a young groundhog that was standing on his hind legs and growling. Ralph sprinted over, grabbed Merri by the collar, and dragged her away. Rhonda followed. The game was not any fun without Merri.

Another time, Ralph opened the door to a man who said he was selling siding. It was eight o’clock at night, dark outside, and why Ralph opened the door to a complete stranger – I will never know!  He noticed that Merri was growling in a deep, threatening way, making noises like he had never heard before. He quickly said he wasn’t interested in siding (it was evident that our siding had already been replaced!) shutting the door and locking it.

I am glad we have the dogs for many reasons, but most of all glad for their smiles and joyful greetings and glad for their protective nature. I just cannot imagine life without the Corgis!

 

 

On Poetry

Poetry is the language of visual images – the creation of moving pictures with specific details and examples. Poetry is folk art. It is a way to pass on stories and thoughts. Poetry is entertainment. It’s fun!

Writing poetry is a reasonable, doable goal for students. For many years, I teamed with fourth grade teacher and friend Kathy Randolph. Her students created a gallery of water color paintings. Then they wrote a poem to pair with their artwork.

There are many ways to build a poem. For example, we can use a seesaw structure such as fortunately – unfortunately or once I – now I. We could take a verb and offer a definition (see the work of Sara Holbrook).

Float is a way to stay

relaxed and still,

a quiet motion

in the ocean,

lake or swimming pool.

A great way to stay cool

without the splashes

or meter dashes.

No competition in mind,

and you will find

sheer delight!

Perhaps a  craft

such as a raft

to float serenely

among sunbeams

and dream and dream!

Poems about world views, a take on an issue, summarizing an event, telling a story, creating an imagined perspective from a biome’s point of view, or simply acting out a word with words – there is no limit to poetry. Of course, reading the work of myriad poets – both rhymed free verse poems – may spark a topic, a format, or style.  Anything is possible. Just take up your pen and write!

 

 

 

 

Summer Counting Song: And On and On!

I knew it was summer because I saw one bee buzzing around a rose.

I knew it was summer because I saw two small kids running through the lawn sprinkler and yelling!

I knew it was summer because I saw three bathing suits hanging on the line to dry.

I knew it was summer because I tasted four ripe strawberries from a stand on the way to the seashore.

I knew it was summer because I smelled five hamburgers sizzling on the grill.

I knew it was summer because I saw six places set at the picnic table on the patio.

I knew it was summer because I felt the raised bumps from seven mosquito  bites on my legs.

I knew it was summer because I heard eight birds chirping in the apple tree.

I knew it was summer because I tasted nine small samples of yummy fudge including peanut butter, maple walnut, chocolate chip, mint, eggnog, cookies and cream, vanilla, chocolate, mocha, and strawberry.

I knew it was summer because I saw ten tiny, white butterflies around my butterfly bushes  in our backyard.

I knew it was summer because I counted  eleven cars parked on our block in Ship Bottom , occupying both sides of the street on a Saturday by late morning

I knew it was summer because I made twelve deviled eggs for Fourth of July picnic.

I knew it was summer because I watched the sun sinking into the bay on LBI  surrounded by the summer thirteen: Mary, Paul, Tom, Linda, Gwen, Leigh,  Kate, Rocky (our dogs’ best friend), Memphis, Rhonda, and Merrill (our Corgis), my husband Ralph  and me.

 

 

Fiction: Scene From an Imagined Life

Sinking down into the hardness

 of the seat on the “El”

 I close my eyes and

try to rest as the humidity climbs

and the rocking of the train

lulls me into a false sense of peacefulness.

In the darkness, the world roars past me

and for a little while,  I am not thinking, not feeling…  

I just exist on this train.

Sudden stops and doors opening and closing.

 

Legs of lead carry me home:

 past a sea of featureless faces.

 past brilliant neons, the billboards,

past the blinking stop-and-go lights of city streets

where rainbows glisten

on oil-slick macadam in the warm summer rain.

Past smoky bistros that buzz with chatter

Where saffron-colored notes float in the jazzy air

and sidewalk cafes are filled

with couples sipping wine, red and white.

 

 

Opening the door to our brick row house,

my gaze falls upon a room

filled with wilting flowers,

a subtle reminder of the beautiful life

that seeped away as if drop by drop.

The easy days when we were a family

before I decided he had to leave,

those final days, long and sad,

when I just couldn’t breathe anymore

without mechanically making it happen.

 

I hear footsteps on the flagstone –

light footsteps running, running.

I turn towards the door,

 smiling through a wet mask of tears,

 knowing that soon I’ll have to

split my time with him

and share this curly-headed mass of sunshine

that now is bursting

through the door of the kitchen,

hurling himself into my waiting arms,

wrapping himself around me,

asking me if I had a good day.

 

I pour him a glass of ice-cold milk

and offer some sugar and butter cookies

that Grandma made for us.

Perhaps a ripe, red apple for me

and a cup of herbal tea to help me relax.

I look at the mouth edged in cookie crumbs

and a milk moustache up to his nose,

and I know why I can be strong,

why I must go on alone,

 yet not alone,

different but the same somehow.

And in that smiling face,

the one that is smiling back at me right now,

Is my joy,

my life,

my steady heartbeat.

And that’s all that matters!