Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Tribute to Papa Bill

It’s Thanksgiving morning, and I am sitting at the hospital bedside of my grandfather, William Smith, or Papa Bill as we know him in the family.  Papa Bill is not my grandfather by blood, but by marriage, and almost more than that, by friendship.

I am not certain that Papa Bill knows I am here, but I think he does.  He is responsive to questions from the nurse and opened his mouth this morning when she asked, even nodding yes in response to a question.  When I speak to him he moans softly as though he is trying to answer.  He doesn’t open his eyes, though, and for the most part he is in a fitful sleep.  Papa Bill suffered a massive stroke three days ago, and this hospital room will be his final resting place.  This is by his own choice, his directives, written months ago when he was of sound mind, are very clear.

I have been through this process, the process of dying, three times now in my life.  Once with each of my grandparents, and once with my mother.  Practice does not make it any easier.  Still, I will stay, and think of the happy times, keeping Papa Bill company as he travels through his final earthly journey.

As I sat here yesterday, I wrote on the little hospital tablet that I found in the packet of materials with the room service menu and comment cards. I wrote about my friendship with Papa Bill.

This is what I wrote.

Papa Bill was my first real family ally when I married in my late thirties and tried desperately to fit into the new bunch of people who were now my relatives.  I remember early on in my marriage when I had my new husband’s entire family over for dinner.  I like to think I am now, and was then, a decent cook, but preparing food for Greg’s mom and stepdad, grandma and grandpa, was stressful to me, and I wasn’t my best.

I burned the rolls, and the (packaged) gravy was gelatinous and lumpy all at once.  I was mortified, but had no choice but to serve the meal anyway.  Most of the family judiciously avoided the problem foods, passing on the rolls and eating their mashed potatoes with butter instead of gravy.

But not Papa Bill.  He demanded a roll, smeared a little butter on it and took a big bite.  “Delicious!” he pronounced.  “This is just the way I like ‘em!”  He ate more than one, as I recall.

I didn’t see Papa Bill very often during those next few years, but I always remembered that dinner.

When Bill moved into a senior apartment/assisted living center a few years ago it was a difficult time.   His wife, my husband’s maternal grandmother, had died a few years previously, and it was simply impossible for him to continue living in the big house they had shared alone.  He sat and watched as piece by piece his home was packed up and transported away.  We took home his washer and dryer, along with his wife Sugarfoot’s china hutch, which graces our dining room to this day.  Her corner curio cabinet sits in our living room holding my collection of handmade red glassware.  I sent Papa Bill pictures of the new locations of his treasures after we moved them in, and I think he approved.

In early 2011, I started taking a memoir writing class at the local community college.  I found that I absolutely loved writing the genre, and since I had always been very interested in Bill’s tales I asked if he would allow me to record his life story.

That question kicked off a two-month writing adventure for me and a journey down memory lane for Papa Bill. I would travel to his apartment each week and we would sit, either in his little living room, or on one of the comfy couches in the community room and talk.  I wrote notes free-hand on a yellow legal pad that was completely full of information by the time I was finished with the interviews.

After we talked, Papa Bill and I would go have lunch in the dining room of the facility, and I loved to meet his friends and find out the stories of the people who were his neighbors.

Each week I would go home and carefully write up the notes from that session, working to incorporate each new installment with the last and aligning information so that chronology was preserved as accurately as I could.  When I was finished typing, I’d email the manuscript to Papa Bill, and he would print it out and make corrections in ink, giving it to me to update the next time I came to meet with him.

Papa Bill is an extremely intelligent man, and his recall of early life was impressive.  He remembered at each meeting exactly where he had left off previously, and started each session at the appropriate chronological juncture.

When the manuscript was finally finished, Papa Bill gave it one final read and pronounced it ready to publish.  I printed it off on nice paper and Greg and I went together to the office supply store to buy a binding machine.  I made Bill several copies and took them to him the following week.  He mailed some off to his daughters who lived away, and others to family members here.  When I had lunch with him the next time I learned he had also given the story to friends at his residence to read.  I was flattered.

I know Papa Bill worried that I would stop visiting when we were finished with our writing project, and he asked me to please keep coming.  Of course I did. I didn’t come every week though, and not as often as I should have, but I came as often as I could.

We had become friends.  Unlikely as it seems for two people separated by more than forty years of age, we “got” each other.  Papa Bill has an acerbic wit that many people don’t understand and sometimes take offense to.  His humor delighted me, though.   I found him to be wonderfully droll and never unkind in his comments.

Papa Bill had a small bulletin board in his apartment that was filled with pictures of family members, and large upon it was a color photo of Annabelle riding her little black pony Reno.  She wore a bright pink jacket and the photo stood out among the others for both its size and luminosity.  He asked every time I visited about the kids and how the horse shows were going.  He bragged to lunch companions about the amazing horsemanship of both my daughter and me, though he had never seen Annabelle on a horse and it had been years since the single time he watched me in a reining competition.

Each visit with Papa Bill at his residence ended exactly the same way.  After lunch I’d walk back to his apartment with him and he’d load me up with gifts to take home.  For a long time Bill had enlisted his dining companions to “save” the little packets of crackers from the dining room, and he would give me grocery bags full of crackers each time I visited.  There were more individual packets of saltines than I could possibly ever use, and although he never knew it I would take them and give them to our daycare provider, who used them at lunch time for the kids.   Eventually the kitchen staff caught on to the scam, and they began doling out the crackers individually.  He still saved them for me but the quantity was greatly diminished.  When Papa Bill couldn’t get crackers, and sometimes even when he could, he would try to send me home with a pie. He loved Marie Calendar’s Frozen Chocolate Satin Cream pies, and always kept a few in his small freezer.  The pies were delicious, but I tried to fend them off as best I could.

After lunch we would visit.  We talked of many topics, from recalling past stories to politics, even about Papa Bill’s dreams.  Not too long ago Bill had told me that he had dreamed of his mother and grandmother, when he was a little boy.  He felt there was some significance to the dream, and he talked about their deaths.  I felt like he knew he’d be joining them soon, and he seemed more curious than afraid at the prospect.

After we had visited a bit, and bagged up crackers, pie or candy, Papa Bill would stand with his walker to see me out.  Early on he would joke “I just want to make sure you really leave!” but on the last several visits he didn’t say that.

We would walk slowly out to the parking area and I would give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  He would squeeze me back and then he always said the same thing.  “Thank you for coming dear girl.  Please come back soon.”  Although we didn’t have a lot of conversation during some of those visits, and toward the end practically none at all, I know they meant a great deal to him.

A couple of months ago Papa Bill’s health declined to the point where he was unable to care for himself in his apartment and he had to move to an assisted living center. I had not been to lunch with him since he moved, but I was at his birthday party there after his move and I could tell he was diminishing rapidly.

I feel badly that I didn’t spend much time with him in the past weeks, but I think he knows how much I care for him.  As I sit here, on what will surely be one of, if not the, final visit, I say Godspeed Papa Bill.

Papa Bill 006

William M.Smith was born October 17, 1922. He was integral in establishing the Ham Radio National Traffic System that serves the United States today.  He is a World War II Veteran and a retired attorney and Magistrate Judge as well as an accomplished musician.

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Large Enthusiastic Dog Free to Home Without Bunnies. Or Books. Or Gloves.

Our two-year old Drahthaar, Winston, has finally outdone himself this time.  And that’s saying something.

Winston’s exploits are something of legend around our house and on this blog.  He is a digging, chewing, glove-swallowing fiend who has not only eaten most of the stuffing out of the couch that sits on our back porch, but chewed up countless toys, horse brushes and even horse blankets, along with anything else he can get his mouth on.

Yesterday he finally took it too far.

It started first thing in the morning.

Desperate Hubby is gone deer hunting at the moment, staying in a cozy motel in his own room, eating at a restaurant for every meal and probably having a really nice time.  I am home, wrangling the children, trying to negotiate morning and evening routines with enough flexibility yet structure to keep Batman, who desperately misses his daddy, on track and on task.

So yesterday we were finally all dressed, heading out the garage door for the short drive to school. Annabelle suddenly cocked her head like a dog and bolted for the sliding glass door to the back porch.  Then she started screaming.  At the top of her lungs.

I ran outside to see Winston in the frosty grass, Zach’s tiny black dwarf bunny Batman in his jaws. As soon as he saw me Winston had the good sense to drop Batman, who fell limply to the ground, and slink over to the far side of the yard.  Zach (I know, it’s confusing, having BOTH Zach and Batman in the same story, but bear with me) immediately ran over and tried to kick Winston with his black Nike school tennis shoes, but the dog dodged him.

Annabelle, in the mean time, had run to Batman the Bunny’s side and tried to pick her (I know, I didn’t choose the name) up.  Batman hopped across the yard to where I stood and I bent down and grabbed her.  As I did so I knew that despite her apparent mobility we probably had a serious problem here.

First of all, Batman the Bunny does not like humans and is very hard to catch, even in the 2’ x 4’ bunny cage, so to hop right to me was a red flag.  Secondly, she was very limp.  I looked her over and she had no apparent injuries. There were no contusions or broken bones, but her fur was wet and slobbery and she didn’t struggle against my hands as she usually did when she was carried.

I carried her to the cage and put her in with her sister Snowfluff. The hutch door of the cage hung slightly open, an after-effect no doubt of the disaster-prone play date that Annabelle had enjoyed the previous afternoon (blog about that coming).  Snowfluff was wisely staying in the front part of the cage, away from the door and out of range, but Batman had always preferred to stay in the enclosed hutch area, nibbling on the redwood and staying out of sight.  Winston had no doubt noticed the door ajar and grabbed himself a little friend to play with.  I sat the bunny gently in the cage on top of a big pile of hay and proceeded to try to get my children to school on time.

After many tears and histrionics (Annabelle) and a promise for a veterinarian visit, if required (me), I got the wee ones to school and headed to the gym and then on to the grocery store.  I checked Batman the Bunny upon my return, and she seemed lethargic if not comatose.  I knew that cold was a close ally of shock, so I found an empty office tote in the garage and put a big towel in it. Then I wrapped the bunny in another towel and put her in the tote, which I placed in the small master bathroom (or “Daddy’s Bathroom” as the kids call it), which is one of the warmest areas of the house if you keep the door shut.

033

Then I went back to the kids’ school where I volunteer for several hours every week.  After school the kids were anxious to get home and check on Batman.

When I pulled into the driveway I noticed that the front gate of the yard hung wide open and knew that must have been another play date-casualty of the day before.  Winston ran out of the yard to greet us in the garage, merrily wagging his tail.

My quick check on Batman showed that she was seemingly a little better, slightly more alert and a bit perkier, although she had not moved her position at all.

After a quick boot and coat change, I went out through the back door to meet Ron, our farrier, who was waiting for me by the horse pens to put a set a shoes on Freckles.

As I stepped off the back porch I saw a broad scattering of confetti-like paper and packing peanuts scattered across the yard.  There was a bright red and yellow cardboard wrapper or cover scattered across the end of the porch, and a chewed up box as well as a large manila bubble-wrap envelope shredded across the grass.

It took me only a second to discover that the items shredded all over the back yard included a box that had previously contained a half-gallon of hoof ointment (present and undamaged) that I had ordered last week, as well as both a book (or pieces of it) and its mailing envelope that had obviously been delivered from Amazon.com.  I was so mad I was fit to be tied, and I told Winston over and over what a bad dog he was as he accompanied me out the back gate, bouncing happily all around me with his tongue hanging out.

I was mad at the UPS man for just a second, but I knew it wasn’t his fault.  He had simply done what he had done dozens of times before at our house, which was to put the packages on the front step and leave them.  Winston was (almost) always locked in the back yard, where he could do no harm to any deliveries that may be left unsupervised until we came home.  On this day, unfortunately, he was free to help himself to both packages (how he carried the large box containing 3.5 lbs. of bubble-encased hoof liniment the hundreds of feet from front to back I don’t know).

But this IS Winston we are talking about.

Anyway, after Freckles got her shoes on and we did our evening chores, we were invited over to Grandpa Vernon’s and Grandma Kay’s for a snack (me and the kids) and a glass of (excellent, red) wine (me).  Before we left, though, I picked up the hundreds of pieces of shredded paper and plastic peanuts from the back yard, along with the remains of my book.

As I did so I noticed a big black lump next to the shreds.  I tried not to look, but it was so obvious I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Sure enough, there was my left black fuzzy glove, one of a set that Annabelle had “borrowed” the previous weekend and returned to the house without.  It had very obviously been swallowed whole by Winston and then deposited next to my shredded book.  It was not vomited.

Annabelle ran inside to check the bunny, who she said was doing a little better.  I took my book inside and quickly tried to figure out which title it was, since I had ordered two and they were being delivered from different addresses.

037

I really couldn’t tell which book it was.

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When we got back from Grandpa Vernon’s an hour or so later, the bunny was still holding her own, and Annabelle pronounced her fine.  She took her outside and put her back in the cage, and I started the evening routine, complete with twenty minutes of hysterical crying from Batman (the Boy not the Bunny) when we couldn’t reach daddy on the phone.

This morning I was up early and went out right away to check on the bunny.  I left Batman the Boy sound asleep in my bed, moving quickly to sprawl over the scant eight inches of mattress he had allowed me to sleep on all night as soon as I vacated the space.  His sister slept across the end of the bed, covered in a deer blanket (picture of not fur of) snoring quietly.

I turned on the back porch light and Snowfluff  instantly hopped out of the hutch and over to see what was going on.  I opened the hutch door with a growing feeling of dread to find a stiff, very dead and probably frozen Batman propped against it.

Well hell.

I shut the bunny door with teary eyes and went back inside, silently praying that the kids didn’t want to check on Batman before they went to school.

They didn’t.

I spent part of the morning trying to decide if I should go and try to find an identical bunny before school gets out, or just tell the kids what happened and let Batman the Boy bury his bunny in the well-established pet and bird graveyard behind the back fence.

I decided on the latter, and boxed Batman the Bunny comfortably in a shoe box, wrapped in a little towel, for when the kids come home.

I have a feeling we have a lot of tears followed by replacement bunny shopping in our immediate future.

Winston

As for Winston, he is a member of our family and I wouldn’t really give him away.

Unless I could find someone who wants him.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Puffy

On Friday night Grandma Kay and Grandpa Vernon came over for an impromptu dinner of Desperate Hubby’s perfectly barbecued tri-tip steak along with roasted red potatoes and bacon-infused garlic green beans.

Did I mention my husband is a really good cook?

In the course of conversation Grandpa casually mentioned that he’d noticed a couple of brave pigeons had returned to the barn after the much-touted Pigeon Patrols had scared most of them off a couple of weeks back.  (See Batman’s Pigeon Patrol 2013:  If It Flies It Dies, if you are interested).

Batman was all over that information.

When I left for yoga yesterday morning at 10:00, he was dressed in full camo and crowded into the recliner next to DH, who was trying to catch an early football game or something equally compelling on TV.  I asked the boys what was up.

“I’m waiting for daddy to get dressed.  We’re going to go out and shoot those last two pigeons” my little sportsman matter-of-factly explained.

When I came back home about an hour and a half later, the kids were nowhere in sight and DH was waiting for me in the garage so he could leave to run some pre-whitetail-hunting-trip errands.  My question as to the whereabouts of the little people was answered with “they are out in the horse pens skating on ice puddles.”

I changed my shoes and coat and went out to check.  Sure enough, there was an ice puddle about 5” by 3” that was strong enough to hold the weight of the kids, and they were sliding about it on their boots, holding two very unenthusiastic cats that were apparently participating in a “dance contest”.

I wandered around petting the horses and looking at the water holes that had NOT been strong enough to hold the kids, which now were sloppy puddles with a few remaining shards of ice clinging to the mud around the edges.

My meandering took me near the entrance to the covered barn area, which reminded Batman to tell me that he and daddy had “shot a pigeon but we must have only got him in the bum because he flew away.”

Nice.

Winston accompanied me on my rambles, as usual walking right beside me with his head held at the precise height that allowed me to pet him as we strolled along together.  In the darkest corner of the little barn he left me, suddenly dashing to the fence and running out into the sunlight at full speed with a dead bird hanging from his mouth.  Instead of the usual pigeons we had been seeing in the barn this bird was a (long) dead starling.

In life they look something like this.

The one we found looked like this (well, it did after I pried it out of poor Winston’s mouth and gave it to an ecstatic Batman).

By the Head

I hadn’t seen my little boy so happy since he had flown the last dead pigeon around by its poor lifeless wings.

He held it by the head.

He held it by the tail.

By the Tail

He flew it merrily about by the wings.

By the Wings

He showed it to Winston (who no doubt thought “Wait a minute boy!  That’s mine!”)

Look Winston

He showed it to Freckles, who showed far more interest in a dead bird than I thought a horse would.  Or should.

Look Freckles

It was unclear what had caused the demise of the small speckled bird, but whatever it was made my macabre little hunter very happy.  His exact words were “Mom! At least I got to have one dead bird in my day!”

Nice.

When he was finished socializing with the bird he walked happily over to the Bird Cemetery (I think he would have whistled if he knew how (Batman, not the bird)), where he buried the starling next to Perry II, Hunter and Tougher.

Gravedigger

I asked him what the name of the new occupant was, and Batman answered without hesitation.

“Puffy,” he said.

I don’t know.  I didn’t ask.

Once the bird was properly buried in the barely thawed mud and covered with dozens of small rocks Batman came in the house.  He was cold and wanted to put his snow pants on so he could go “ice skate” some more.

About that time Desperate Hubby came home.

“What have you been up to?” he asked.

“I found a dead bird dad!  His name is Puffy and I buried him next to the other birds.  It is so cool how many birds I have now.  When we move to a new house someday I am going to dig all those birds up and take them with us for a Bird Graveyard!”

Nice.

I’d like to add two things for the record:

1)  We are not planning on moving to a new house anytime soon, and I sincerely hope that Batman finds another fascination before that time arrives.

and

2)  It sure does seem like I have been writing a lot of bird stories lately.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 25¢ Goldfish

It all started out so innocently.

The wonderful charter school that my children attend held its Annual Fall Harvest Festival yesterday.  This is a very fun family event that we participated in last year with great enthusiasm (read my blog “The $120 Cake” if you want the details).    The event raises money for various school supplies and features games in every classroom as well as beautiful custom baskets designed by each class which are sold at a highly competitive silent auction in the library.

You purchase tickets at the door in the form of those little cardboard tear-apart coupons when you arrive, and a variable number of tickets allows you to play games in the classrooms or purchase pizza or other treats in the cafeteria.  It is a remarkably well-planned and executed event that makes money for the school and at the same time lets the kids have some fun with their classmates and teachers in a more informal setting.

This year Desperate Hubby would be joining us for the first time at the festival, and the kids were looking forward to playing all the games.  Each teacher had a basket of small toys or candy that they awarded for winning the games in their rooms, and Batman in particular was intent on collecting as much loot as he could.

We had just walked in the front door, our 84 tickets in hand, when I spied a child walking by carrying, of all things, a goldfish.  Yep, a live goldfish, in a plastic bag expertly tied on top just like when you purchase them at Pet Smart.  The kids didn’t see this at first, but as we headed down the hallway toward their respective classrooms we saw a few more children carting around the tiny orange creatures.

The bags of goldfish soon enough caught the dedicated attention of my pet-loving children, and there was nothing to be done but to immediately find the source of these remarkable prizes.  We located the goldfish game on the other side of the school and it was easy to discern just where the fish were being awarded by the line that snaked out of the room and into the hallway, ending in a milling mass of parents, strollers, and children holding clear wet bags of fish.

We entered the room (where the line was not as long as I feared) and got in queue.  You could purchase three tries at each go, and the children stood behind lines of tape on the floor at varying distances from a table with several fishbowls on it trying to toss little rubber fish into the bowls.  A fish in the bowl won you, well, a fish to take home and put in a bowl.

I expected Batman to be a whiz at this game with his exceptional hand/eye coordination, but in their first three attempts it was Annabelle who actually won a fish.  Which she promptly named “Goldie.” (Remember, these are the kids who name the succession of Betta fish (that we already have at home, thank you very much) either Bluey or Reddy, depending on their hue).

She was ecstatic of course, but Batman was devastated.  He sobbed as quietly as he could as I steered him out in the hall, and he begged me to wait in the (now longer) line with him so he could try again.  I sent Desperate Hubby off with Annabelle to find the face painting, and headed back inside with Batman to try again.

Alas, my poor son had no luck at all the second time around either, and we had to exit the fish room empty-handed.  For the rest of the evening, though, as we navigated game room after game room and ate pizza at the folding tables in the lunchroom, we packed around the fish that his sister had won.  At first Annabelle insisted on carrying it herself, and after she tired of that the fish was handed off to one family member after the other, with carefully monitored instructions as to the amount of motion allowed in the bag of water to avoid upsetting her new pet.

After two and half hours of great fun, an entire pizza in the lunchroom, pockets full of prizes and candy, one incident of accidental fish abandonment and subsequent rapid recovery by DH, and lastly the purchase of a beautiful marzipan cake from the cake decorating contest (I had not gotten it together to make a cake this year, and frankly I spent way too much time anyway trying to figure out how I would put the school logo (a new requirement this year) onto the pony cake, should I make one) we headed homeward.

When we got there the first order of business (even before cake eating) was to settle Goldie into his temporary home.

25 Cent Fish

I sort of hoped thought that the fish might not even make it through his first night alive anyway, after all the jostling, and I thought the disposable tupperware dish was a fitting habitat for a fish that cost a quarter, but Annabelle disagreed. As for Batman, he had recovered enough from his disappointment at not WINNING a fish that he brought up the fact that I had promised him if we went to buy the new fish a bowl we could just BUY him his own fish (hey, I was trying to quiet him down), we all agreed that today we would visit WalMart and pick up both an additional bowl (to go right beside the one that already housed Bluey the Betta) and a fish for Batman.

Fair enough.

This morning I got up pretty early because I wanted to write a story about the Red Tail Hawk that Grandpa Vernon had rescued yesterday.  I was in my office happily typing away and working on my second cup of coffee.  The kids and DH were having an animated discussion down the hallway in the living room, but with my office door mostly closed I couldn’t really hear the subject.

The first hint of trouble came when Annabelle came bursting in the door, excitement gleaming in her eyes, and asked where she might find a measuring tape.  This could not be good.  “For what, my love, do you need a measuring tape?”  “Because Daddy said we could get an aquarium and whole bunch of fish!  We’re trying to figure out where to put it!!”

For this I got up out of my chair.  I only had to look at my husband and he knew how I felt about the aquarium idea.  He had floated (sorry) the idea of getting an aquarium for our home several times, but there was not a perfect place in our cozy house for one, and besides that I was already pretty busy taking care of the dog and the rabbits that he had procured for the children in previous instances when I wasn’t paying attention.

There are times in a marriage and as a parent, though, when you realize that this might very well be a battle you may not win, and that it is better to acquiesce and have some control over the outcome than to haplessly go to yoga and return to find a fifteen gallon fish tank set up in the middle of the kitchen table (I decided this morning was one of those times when DH actually suggested in all seriousness the table as a possible spot for the aquarium).

I looked around the living room and found a spot that I thought might work, next to the corner cabinet where I kept my small collection of handmade glass plates and bowls.  I took the tape and measured it.  If I moved (to where, I wasn’t sure) the basket that held a collection of folded blankets with which to snuggle on chilly nights, and pushed the cabinet over as close to the bookshelf as it would go, I could just get  a scant two feet of space.

“That will be perfect” said DH.  “I’ll find just the right thing.”

I said I’d unload and move the corner cabinet when I got home from the gym and headed out.

I went to yoga and stretched and lunged, hung upside down and breathed deeply, trying to focus on something other than my imminent future spent cleaning a smelly fish tank.  (By the way, a shout out here is required to Dalee, a fellow charter school mom and the instructor of the 10:15 Saturday yoga class at the local Y.  If you, like me, have wanted to try yoga but have been too nervous or intimidated to seek out a place, go to her class.  It was wonderful and inviting, and I didn’t ever feel one bit out-of-place.)

I returned home to find the fish aquarium assembly well on its way.  DH had purchased a serviceable little metal stand for the aquarium that measured a full 30 inches from leg to leg.  Unless I managed to either somehow shorten the couch or moved my red plates and bowls outside, I would have to find another spot.

I looked around, pacing in what I hoped was an angry fashion (I wasn’t actually mad, but sometimes you have to maintain the balance of power in a relationship).  Finally, with a deep sigh, I walked over to the coat rack on the wall next to DH’s recliner where I hang my custom-made leather show chaps when I’m not using them and took them down.  I threw them on the couch and said “Well, I guess I can find another place for these.”  DH looked at me a little anxiously.  “Do you want me to move the hooks for them?” he asked in a helpful tone.

I told him no, I’d just move around some other stuff and put shorter things that wouldn’t interfere with tank placement there and put my chaps somewhere else.  I ended up relocating a trophy halter and some tiny chinks that Annabelle had outgrown and putting my chaps in a few other spots around the living room and in my office.  I wouldn’t admit it to DH, but everything looked better in their new homes than the original anyway.

In the meantime, the kids and DH had been busy getting started on the assembly of the new fish residence.  Batman had been sitting patiently with his (seven) new goldfish in a bag on his lap and he was eager to get them in the tank.

Seven Fish!

DH moved the table (which fit perfectly in the new location, by the way) and placed the tank on top.  He carefully measured, cut and taped the ocean background over the back of the glass.  Then he washed and arranged the rocks and Annabelle helped get the plants in.

Plants

The trio had purchased what seemed to me to be an awful lot of stuff for one simple aquarium.

Lots of Stuff

Slowly, though, the tank came together.  I had purposely removed myself from the proximity, making beds and getting laundry sorted, but toward the end I did help DH get the water into the tank (it takes a lot of big mixing bowls full of water to fill a fifteen gallon tank, even with two people working at it).

Just as we put the bags of fish (one bag with the seven goldfish; one bag with a really cool looking plecostimus) into the tank, our friends Shawny and Sierra arrived to spend the afternoon and night with us.  We went ahead and netted Goldie out of his tupperware and released him in the tank, and the kids watched anxiously as the other fish swam in their bags and got acclimated to the water temperature.

Fascinating Fish

After about fifteen minutes of listening to the kids ask “When can we turn the fish loose?  When can we turn the fish loose?” I finally gave in an told them to go ahead.  DH had explained to me that due to the nature of the tank water stabilization the goldfish were likely temporary anyway. We’d get cooler fish in a couple of weeks when everything was all established.  He is smart about that stuff.

When it was all said and done, I had to admit that the tank looked really nice.

We did, after all, have just the perfect spot for it.

Not so Bad

I didn’t ask for, and was provided with, no details, but I imagine it was a pretty expensive home to build for a 25¢ goldfish. I wondered if any other parents had been going through the same new-pet assimilation challenges we had this morning.

But not to worry.

I have a plan that will make everyone appreciate just how big a commitment the purchase of a single 25¢ paper ticket can be.

I’m going to have my own booth next year at the Harvest Festival.  It’s going to be centrally located and I’ll find a game that even the youngest and most uncoordinated child can win.

I’m thinking of giving away kittens.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Rescue of the Red Tail – What is it With Us and Injured Birds Anyway?

I picked the kids up from school yesterday afternoon and ran a few errands.  We were getting ready to attend the annual Harvest Festival at school, so we needed to get home and get chores done in order to leave on time for the 5:30 start time.

I turned down the long gravel driveway to our house.  The kids argued in the back seat over what they would wear and whose classroom we would visit first.  As I drove I automatically scanned the pastures and fields on each side of the path, a habit of most rural folks and one that seven-year old Annabelle and I share to an extreme degree.

We both saw the bird at the same time.

Well, we both saw this “thing” at the same time anyway. About fifty yards from the driveway, across one empty pasture and in the middle of the next, there was what initially looked like a very large plastic bag hanging from the fence post.

A closer look made it look like……a giant wing hanging down?  What?  I slowed way down, and by this time Batman was on the alert too. “MOM!  It’s a bird!” eerily shouted my five-year old, “It’s not a garbage bag!” (I say eerily because he shouted it at the precise instant that the thought went through my mind “Is that a bird or a big garbage bag flapping on that fence?”).

I stopped the truck and backed up a few feet to look.  From our distance it was hard to tell, but after watching for a minute or two it was sickeningly obvious what we saw.

A very large bird was hanging upside down from the electric wire on top of the fence, right at the post.  His wings were completely outstretched and hung motionless toward the ground.  For a few seconds.  About every thirty seconds or so when the electric current pulsed through the fence, the entire body of the bird would convulse rigidly and the wings would rise toward the heavens as if in prayer.  After a second or two the bird’s body would relax and go motionless again.

The three of us stared in fascination, my mind racing as to what to do.  I could tell from the size of the bird that it had to be a large bird of prey of one type or another, and there is something about that type of bird that instills awe in any circumstance.  In this instance, the vision of this great creature in such obvious distress was disturbing at a primal level.

Our initial conjecture about whether the poor creature was still alive was answered quite rapidly.  Very close scrutiny revealed the head, hanging limply on the outstretched neck, would pivot slowly around every few seconds.  The approach of a curious steer from the pasture next door caused a momentary weak flapping of both wings, which was almost instantly transitioned into the same motionless limpness as before.

There were two fences separating us from the bird, both which were reinforced with smooth electric wire around them.  I was not sure of the status of those wires, but watching the current surge through the hawk deterred me from grabbing on and trying to immediately climb through.  The kids were getting increasingly agitated and I felt more and more helpless as I watched the defenseless bird convulse on the fence.

I grabbed my phone and called the only person I could think of who would know immediately what to do and who might also be nearby:  Grandpa Vernon.

Vernon answered on the second ring. No, he said after I quickly explained the situation, he was not home but he was nearby and would be there in four minutes.  I hung up and stood with the kids in the chilly fall breeze, glancing anxiously back and forth between the end of the lane and the bird.  True enough, in about four minutes Vernon turned down the driveway and pulled up behind our pickup.  He jumped from his truck and went to the toolbox in back, coming around to our side carrying two large rubber handled plyer/wire cutter type of tools.

He walked right over to the fence we stood in front of and pushed the top wire down with his hand and climbed over. Obviously he already knew those fences were not hot.

I followed behind him, beckoned back after a few feet by the kids demanding to be included in the rescue.  I hurried back to the fence and lifted them quickly over, the three of us taking after Vernon at a run across the empty pasture.

The next fence was a bit more of an obstacle.  It was too tall for me to climb over, so the kids and I ran down to the end and climbed through the empty ditch, navigating a makeshift barrier that had been constructed with smooth wire to keep smaller animals like calves on the right side of the fence.

We walked quickly to Grandpa Vernon’s side, where he stood gazing at the trapped hawk solemnly.  He didn’t look long.  He took his  tools and moved to where the bird’s huge taloned feet gripped the electric wire in a literal death grip.  The bird had apparently landed on the wire facing away from us, and when his foot touched the metal post and grounded his body the force of the initial shock must have knocked him backward.  He hung facing us, wings outstretched, unable to remove his talons from the wire that sent pulses of electricity through his body in agonizing intervals.

Grandpa Vernon grabbed the wire next to the bird’s foot with one tool to stabilize it, then gently pried the scaly claw loose.  As soon as the electrical connection had broken the bird fell to the ground and lay limply but alertly, watching us with cautious eyes.  The magnificent creature breathed rapidly, lying with outstretched wings, head pivoting with every nearby motion.

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Grandpa Vernon confirmed what watching the bird seemed to hint at:  that fence was HOT.  The whole thing had happened so fast that I had not taken a second to get even a cell phone photo until the bird had been dislodged (dammit).

Batman was completely fascinated by a bird with a wingspan nearly as wide as he was tall, and moved slowly toward the injured creature.  “Don’t go over there,” Grandpa Vernon said.  “He is not very happy right now and he could really hurt you.  We need to just let him sit there and see what happens.  He needs to rest.”

After a few minutes we reluctantly departed the pasture, doing the reverse lift of kids over fence to get back to the truck, and drove home.  I wanted to get my camera to take a couple of photos of the animal, and Grandpa Vernon planned to call the Fish and Game Department to see if they could help.  I changed my shoes and coat, and was walking back out to the truck when Vernon called.  “Fish and Game was no help, just as I expected,” he told me.  “They referred me to a couple of people in the area who rescue birds but I haven’t had any luck.”

The kids and I drove back down the lane and Batman and I crawled through the fences again to take a few photos of the bird.  Annabelle, still in her school uniform of khaki skirt and polo shirt, remained in the truck, craning her head out of the window to track our progress.  The hawk was just as still as before, but seemed a little more alert and wary this time.  After getting a couple of good shots, I drove back home and got on the computer to find resources and make a few calls myself.

I tried the animal control people, who gave me a number of a bird rescue guy in our area.  As I was about to call that number I saw Vernon driving back down the road to where we had left the bird. He crawled over the fences and walked slowly up and down the ditch bank.  From a distance I could not see if the bird was still there or not.

A phone call confirmed what we had all hoped for. The bird was gone.  With just a scant twenty minutes of rest after what had to have been a grueling ordeal, he had managed to fly away. It was a miracle.

I habitually scan the skies around our place whenever I am outside.  There are a wide variety of fowl to see, from Batman’s coveted pigeons to seagulls, doves and crows.  Quite often we do see large birds of prey on the wing, gliding the currents in search of a mouse or snake to swoop down and snatch up.

I’ll watch a little closer from now on.

Fly safe, big hawk.

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Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Leave a comment

Two Good Legs and a Whole Lot of Heart

I heard my little sorrel mare nicker to me as I walked down the warm barn alley toward her stall, dust motes floating lazily in the air as I scuffed my black boots.  When I heard her welcoming neigh I felt a little guilty.  Annabelle and I had both shown her over the weekend at a reining show at the Idaho Center and I knew she had to be tired this Monday morning, but you would never guess it from the bright eyes and happy ears looking over the top of her stall door waiting for me.  She lowered her head into the halter just like usual and stood quietly as I buckled the latch.  I led her over the stall entry and into the aisle, stopping just outside the door to take off her sheet and leave it on the hanger of her stable door.

As I turned to the task of unhooking the blanket straps my eyes went, as always, to each of my mare’s legs, looking for anything out of the ordinary.  A quick glance at her right front leg almost made my heart stop.  The tendon on the back of the leg was puffy from the knee to the fetlock, and as I gently reached down and palpated it it was very hot to the touch.  Tears filled my eyes as I led her out of the barn, walking backwards to watch for signs of lameness.

On any ordinary day I would have called my veterinarian immediately for a consultation.  Today, though, I walked her out of the barn, past the saddling area and to the big arena, where my trainer was working a cow.  Like me, he was busily preparing for the IRCHA Futurity, Derby and Horse Show that was slated to start two days later.  Despite his focus on the subject at hand, Jake stopped immediately when I walked over to the arena and rode to where I stood.  “Freckle’s leg is swollen,” I said miserably.

As I waited for him to dismount my thoughts couldn’t help but flash to the previous three days when Annabelle and I had shared Freckles and ridden her for hours combined as we prepared for and then showed in our respective classes.  I had felt after the first day that she wasn’t quite right, nothing I could put my finger on, but maybe a little body soreness or one of those hard-to-pin-down lamenesses that seem almost transient as you try to evaluate them.  I had asked friends to watch her trot around at the show too, and they saw the same thing I felt.  She wasn’t really lame, but she didn’t seem quite right either.

Freckles was wonderful for Annabelle in the show, with the exception that my little girl couldn’t get her to take her right lead, which was the same direction I had felt a little soreness in as I rode her around that day.  I chalked it up to the short legs of the rider and the inexperience of the duo together, and didn’t worry about it too much.

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Show horses like Freckles are athletes, and it is not uncommon for one to feel a little stiff or sore every once in a while, so since her legs looked fine at that point, and there wasn’t even a definable problem to focus on, I went ahead and showed in my last class early on Sunday morning. She was great in that class.

I didn’t run her hard or ask her to exert herself since I was in the class to practice for the upcoming IRCHA show, but like always my little red mare had given 110% and shown beautifully.   We had won the class, receiving a beautiful embroidered turnout sheet and my very first NRHA plaque, along with a check for our efforts.

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As I waited for Jake to get off his horse and look at Freckles’ swollen leg I felt sick.  Had I injured my wonderful horse by going ahead with my schooling when she had felt a little off?

Jake’s expression was not totally comforting, but his words made me feel a little better.  “Go ahead and saddle her, and just ride her easy.  It looks like her suspensory is a little swollen, but we can baby her through this last show and then she’ll have the whole winter off.”

I knew I might be taking a chance on some level by riding my horse with an injury, even one that didn’t make her seem very lame, but I desperately wanted to compete in this last show, and Jake didn’t get to be a leading trainer in the NRCHA without a good share of his own diagnostic veterinary skills and proficient judgment about what was safe.

I got Freckles saddled and wrapped her front legs securely with stretchy polo wraps to support the tendons.  If I had any choice I would not have ridden her at all, but the show coming up in two days required herd and cow work competitions as well as the reining, and neither Freckles nor I had worked a cow in over six weeks.  With the level of competition I’d face at the IRCHA Derby it would be suicide to go into the pen without putting the mare on cattle at least a couple of times.

She felt good as I trotted her around, and in the deep ground I couldn’t even feel the small lameness that I had sensed the day before.  When we went into the big wooden round pen to work fast steers out of a small herd, Freckles amazed me. She was just as athletic, fluid and limber as she had ever been on a cow.  I felt relieved and even a little optimistic about the upcoming show.

When I left that day, Jake told me not to worry.  He’d have the leg wrapped in a standing wrap to take the swelling down, and we’d work a cow one more time in the morning to make sure we were ready for the show.

The next morning Freckles walked just fine as I led her out of her stall.  The standing wrap was supportive and smooth, so I was shocked to see her leg still swollen when I unwrapped it.  It was still hot to the touch, and now there was a quarter-sized bump right on the back of her tendon.  The bump was hot and very sore to the touch, and I felt my dreams of finishing the show season with a win on home turf weaken.

I led Freckles into the arena to show Jake her condition, and he surprised me with his evaluation.  “It looks like the bandage was just a little tight to me.  Go ahead and saddle her up.  Wrap her with polos and bring her in to see if she’s still sound.  That swelling should go down when you ride her,”

Once again I second-guessed myself, but I had competed all season long with the goal of winning the Intermountain Circuit Non Pro Limited Derby Championship, already showing in several shows around Idaho and in Utah to accumulate points in my division toward the year-end award.  I was tied for second in the Circuit going into this last show with my long time friend Shane Broome, and while I wouldn’t have minded losing to her and I knew it would be a long shot for me to earn enough points here to move into first place, I really wanted to win one of the organization’s big events before Freckles and I were no longer eligible for limited age events in the NRCHA.

This was our last derby.

At age five, Freckles was in the final year of her limited age competition.  Our future together as show partners was in limbo as I decided whether to stay and compete in the cow horse competition in the regular boxing class or move strictly to the reining arena.  All year-long I had planned on resuming competition in the cow horse fence work after this year of boxing derbies, but Jake and I had recently decided together that I wasn’t ready to move back up to that level of competition just yet.

This might not be only me and Freckles’ last cow horse derby together, but our last cow horse show, period.

I wrapped legs and saddled with trepidation.  Freckles stood quietly as I pulled the stretchy material around her front leg, although I knew it had to have hurt.  I got on her in the indoor arena and walked her around for several minutes.  She felt fine.

I kicked her up into a trot and she still felt fine.  Jake watched her go and said “Aw, she’ll be alright. We’ll just take it easy on her and get her through this last show.”  I worked a practice cow on her with a glimmer of hope that we might make it to the competition after all.

When I got done riding I walked Freckles out to the barn to unsaddle her. As soon as I stepped off and looked down I my heart stopped.  During our cow work practice she had stepped on the inside of one hind foot with the shoe of the other, tearing off a silver-dollar sized piece of outer hoof and skin right at the top of her hairline.  It hung from a flap of flesh toward the ground as blood dripped slowly in the dust.  When I started to touch the wound Freckles held up her leg in pain.

I got my mare unsaddled and took the wraps off the front legs.  As soon as I did so I could see that the swelling had not gone down in the right front at all; in fact it was, if anything, even more swollen and tender to the touch than it had been.  I waited for Jake to finish riding with a heavy heart, feeling sure now that my hopes for this show and my Circuit award were done.

When my trainer finished working his horses he came out to take a look.  He took his pocket knife and cut off the big piece of torn hoof and told me how to bandage it.  Then he looked at the front leg and shook his head, saying these chilling words “That doesn’t look good.  Looks like she’s trying to bow to me.”

He was referring to a bowed tendon, any horseman’s nightmare and often a career-ending injury to a performance horse.  “Put an ice boot on it to stop the swelling and then we’ll sweat the leg.  You’re going to need to have it looked at, but it wouldn’t do any good right now because they won’t be able to see anything on the ultrasound with all that swelling.”

Throat tight, I walked Freckles over and hosed her leg with cold water as I waited for one of the assistant trainers to get some ice from the house.  As the time crept by Jake and his team of help loaded his eleven-horse semi-trailer and departed for the show.  Jake’s wife Jessie had dropped everything she was doing to run to town to get supplies for Freckles’ bandage, so I watched helplessly as the leg swelled further and stayed feverishly hot despite the ice and cold water.

Jessie came back and wrapped the leg and left for the horse show herself.  I made an appointment at the vet clinic situated adjacent to the horse show venue for 8:00 the following morning.  The first portion of my competition was due to begin midday, and if by some miracle the vet gave her clearance to be shown I would already be right there.

I went home and packed the trailer, getting a temporary-but-needed distraction by the kids’ rescue of Perry the Pigeon II, and threw a show shirt in the pickup along with my chaps and a hat, even though I felt in my heart I would not be wearing them the next day.

I spent a sleepless night thinking about my lovely mare and all she had done for me.  I had bought her almost exactly one year previously and shown her at this same IRCHA event last year after two weeks of owning her.  I was very rusty, and the mare was pretty green at that show, but the whole experience made me remember just how much I loved and missed showing.  (Read Red Mare Beware, my blog from November of 2012, to see how Freckles had come into my life.)

After a couple of months of reining training that winter, I moved Freckles to Jake’s so she would be nearby and started riding her myself. Jake helped me with advice and lessons all spring, and in March I took her to an NRCHA Premier Event, the Stallion Stakes in Las Vegas, Nevada, where we place third in a field of ten, winning more money in one show that I had in all my years of showing cow horses, right up until a fence work accident had ended not only my showing but my riding career for the next several years.

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After I got home from that show I continued to work with my horse, getting more confident and enjoying myself more with every competition.  Despite her relative lack of experience, Freckles was remarkably consistent, giving me the same ride and high level of performance every single time.  We competed in both reining and cow horse events, tallying up a dozen different shows and over thirty separate “goes” or individual performances over the course of the spring and summer.

Reiner Stopping

She just got better and better.

Pretty Circles

In a sport where a lot of horses need to be in training at least part-time in order to prepare for their non pro riders to show them in competition, Freckles never needed schooling after her initial two months of training.  Despite my misjudgments and riding errors, the little mare never got mad or defensive with me or took advantage of my mistakes.  There is an old saying that some horses are ‘born trained,’ and I think Freckles is one of those rare ones.

She just did her job over and over again, forgiving my bobbles and exhibiting the wonderful attitude I had fallen in love with when I first met her.  Over the entire course of the summer Jake had gotten on her only two times.  Even more amazingly, out of the twelve shows I had competed on with Freckles, she won money in 10 of them.

She is just that kind of horse.

I lay awake all night thinking about my friend, worried sick about the chances for her rehabilitation but trying my best to think positive thoughts.

At seven-thirty the next morning I pulled into Idaho Equine Hospital. I had beaten the veterinarians there, so I waited in my truck in the parking lot until my appointment time.  When the young vet came out to perform the evaluation, I stuffed a couple of tissues in my pocket and unloaded Freckles out of the trailer.

Dr. Wahl was professional and compassionate, taking off Freckles’ blanket himself before having the technician trot her in a circle on the asphalt of the parking lot.  She wasn’t off much at all, “just a titch,” as he said, but I knew not to take comfort in that.  I had had plenty of time to read up on bowed tendons on the internet, and everything I read said they many times didn’t cause initial lameness.

We walked inside and the technician unwrapped the leg.  To my dismay, it was still swollen, though after several hours of sweating and then spending the night in a standing wrap logic said it should have been as tight as the other front leg.

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The doctor took a deep breath and gently felt the leg.  The look on his face said it all.  I knew it didn’t look good.

Before the ultrasound could be performed the leg had to be shaved.  Because it was so sore, one of the helpers had to hold the opposing front leg up so that Freckles would continue to bear weight on that foot and allow it be clipped.

As Dr. Wahl ran the clippers slowly along the puffy area, an amazing sight appeared.

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Although it was impossible to fathom how it could have happened, it almost looked as though the leg had a snake bite.  In reality it was just one of those obscure injuries a horse gets that you never figure out the source of.

Dr. Wahl let out a long breath.  Then he smiled at me.  “I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think you are going to be just fine.”  He ultrasounded the leg over and over again, up and down with different views and cross-sections.  At the end he said “Your mare’s tendons are perfect.  We are dealing with a simple infection here.  We’ll put some topical antibiotics on it and wrap it up.”

He told me that the injury to the hind foot was likely more problematic long-term, but we could leave the hind shoe on until the show was over and then we’d address the problem.

Then he patted me on the back and said “Go show your horse.”

I drove across the parking lot to the show barns and put Freckles in her stall.  We’d given her an oral anti-inflammatory medicine and she was sporting two brightly bandaged and taped legs.  She hadn’t had a bath or a decent haircut.

But that didn’t matter.  As I kept telling anyone who would listen, I was just happy to be there.

Freckles performed as well as ever in the reining that day, ending the first leg of competition in the lead.

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In the cutting pen the next day my mare was as good as she could be despite me.  The cattle were fast and I got a little flustered, kicking and hee-hawing her completely out of position a couple of times.

We were soundly trounced by our friend from Utah, Scott Wagner, who had beaten us at nearly every single cattle event in our Intermountain show series and was sitting first in the year-end standings.  When our herd work set was over I still clung to the lead but it had dropped to a slim half-point.

As it often does in these shows, it all came down to the cow work.  In the end, I drew a better cow than Scott, and Freckles worked like a champ, two-legged or not.  We topped the field by a small margin, finally achieving my year-long goal of winning an IRCHA show on home turf.

I even got a new buckle, which was even more fun since I shared that distinction with both Annabelle and my friend Jacki.

Three Happy Girls

Freckles and I were Champion in our division for the Idaho reining affiliate circuit we competed in this year, and we ended up Reserve Champion in the Intermountain Reined Cow Horse Circuit, behind Scott by just a couple of points.  But I didn’t mind.

I was just happy to be there.

As for Freckles, Desperate Hubby spent the next weekend building her her own safe enclosure at our place.  We’ve pulled her shoes and are waiting to see how the injured hind foot grows out.  Her front leg still bears a small scar but is almost completely healed.  She’ll spend the next few months sleeping, rolling around in the sand and flirting with Grumpy over the fence.

Happy to be Home

She’s earned it.

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Batman’s Pigeon Patrol 2013: If It Flies, It Dies

If you have been reading this blog for a long time, or have perused some older stories, you might recall one of the very first posts I did.  That post was about Perry the Pigeon, a hapless bird that my children rescued from the our old dog Toby’s Jaws Of Death, to allow him (or her) to die a lingering but much more peaceful death in a cardboard box in our dining room.  I know what you are thinking right now, so I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – in my defense, I thought it was a dove.

Anyway, here we are, about a year and a half later, and we happen upon another poor wounded feathered friend.  This one was running on the ground with the cats chasing him, and Annabelle went absolutely berserk. “MOM!!! We have to save him!  We have to save the pigeon!!”

I was packing the horse trailer for the five-day show that I was preparing to embark upon the next morning and I didn’t have much time or patience for a half-dead bird right then.  Nonetheless, I didn’t have the stomach to watch the dog or the cats maul him to death right in front of me either, so I dutifully removed the bird who was now not-so-gently cradled in Winston’s Jaws of Death and locked Winston in the kennel.  The bird fell to the ground and ran for safety under the truck.  Annabelle quickly retrieved a broom to begin the rescue.

It wasn’t an easy task.  Each time she would get the pigeon within arm’s length she would put the broom down to grab him and he would run back to safety.   My little blond zoo-keeper nearly killed the wounded fowl with the broom trying to scoop him out to where she could reach him, and in the end I think the capture only finally succeeded due to the bird’s progressive shock and the additional trauma imparted by the broom.

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Once she had her hands on him she looked him over with concern, saying “I think he’ll be all right mom.  Let’s put him in the cage and when he gets better we can turn him loose.”

It was somewhat surprising that Annabelle was so intent on saving the bird, since they are a verifiable scourge on the small barn that houses our horses.  Grumpy in particular spends a lot of his time standing in his shelter, and he is always covered in pigeon poop when we catch him.  It is disgusting. If the poop is dry the clean-up is not too bad – a little scrub with the curry comb and brush and he’s good to go.  If it is not dry……well that’s another story altogether.

The pigeons also poop in the water tank, the feed bins, pretty much everywhere the horses are. I think I can safely say that there is not a farmer or horseman anywhere who will say they think a pigeon should be saved from execution, but as I previously stated it was also impossible to stand by and watch a helpless bird be tormented to death right before our eyes.

So there we were.

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I seemed apparent to me that the pigeon had been shot; probably by our very own dear Grandpa Vernon, and it was obvious that he had a broken wing and possibly some other fractured bones as well (the pigeon, not Grandpa Vernon).  It was also apparent to me that unless I stopped what I was doing (organizing the overstuffed space in our small trailer tack room for the hundredth time this show season) I would not be able to concentrate on my task anyway.

I went to the garage and retrieved the large wire dog kennel where we had kept Winston when he was a puppy and carried it to the covered back porch next to the bunny cage.  The kids ran into the house and got a bowl of water, and I rummaged under the buffet in the dining room until I found the bag of cracked corn we had purchased for the last pigeon rescue (which had of course gone unused due to the rapid demise of the intended diner).  In almost no time we had the pigeon all set up.

He huddled miserably in the drafty cage, looking very traumatized and not all that happy to be rescued after all.

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Annabelle was worried that the pigeon would be cold, so as a final touch I went into the tack room and brought out a heavy horse blanket and draped it over his cage.  At about this point Batman, who had been watching more than participating in the activities, announced that we should name this bird Perry, since after all the other Perry was dead now and by the way did I remember when we buried him?  I told him that I did, in fact remember burying the original Perry, and then I went back to work.

The kids checked on the bird several times before bedtime, the last few checks with a flashlight shown brightly into the cage that had to have almost scared the poor thing to death right then and there.  The next morning all was still well; Perry had survived the night.

Fast forward about 8 hours.  After an emotionally grueling morning at the vet wondering if my injured horse could be shown in the first leg (no pun intended) of the competition that day  (yes, she could in the end) I had just finished the reining portion of my competition and was walking to Freckles’ stall when I received a phone call from the children’s school.  Was there a family emergency that they needed to know about since the children had not been picked up from school?

I took a deep breath, and said surely their father was on the way.  Then I called Desperate Hubby.  I had just called him thirty minutes prior to make sure that he remembered he was picking up the kids.

He had not answered his phone the first time.  This time he did.

He was minutes away, he said, and I went to unsaddle Freckles with a sick feeling about how emotionally traumatized the kids would be by the experience of being abandoned at school.  After a time I called his phone to see how things were going.  Annabelle was not at all traumatized, but she was very excited to tell me how much trouble her father was in for picking them up late.

Then she put Batman on the phone.  He didn’t seem very interested in talking about being picked up late, but he said he had some sad news.  “Mom, Perry the Pigeon passed away today while we were at school.”  I said I was sorry, and Batman replied “Oh, it’s all right mom.  We are burying him right now.  We got rocks and made a little cross and everything.”  He seemed pretty happy about the whole project.

When I got home I saw the results of their handiwork.

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It was pretty well done I thought.  Annabelle had (more or less phonetically) written Perry the Pigeon on a few of the rocks, and they had even put a few wilting marigolds on for color.  I was proud of them.

Somehow over the next week (I really have no idea how) Batman got it into his mind the remaining pigeons in the barn should be disposed of.  He has always been enamored with the whole idea and enterprise of hunting, so maybe realizing that there was game waiting right there in the barn just became too much for him, or maybe thinking about the fact that Perry had been shot gave him the idea, but all week-long he hounded DH to go kill a bird.  It’s all he talked about.

The next Saturday, while Annabelle and I were at the very last horse show of the year, Desperate Hubby and Batman spent most of the day building a kick-proof pen so Freckles could come home to our place for some R&R.  It was a cold, miserable day with drizzling rain and a breeze that cut right through you, and DH was more than ready to go in the house when the pen was finished.

But no.  Batman had been promised a pigeon hunt, and nobody in the house would rest until he got one, so DH wearily loaded his pellet gun and headed outside.  Apparently, though, the type of ammunition the boys used that day was not adequate, and the pigeons all escaped unscathed.

Batman was beside himself.

DH promised they would try again the next day, with a different kind of bird shot that was more suited to the close-range accuracy demanded by a successful pigeon extermination.  Batman was not happy with the delay, but eventually accepted that there would be no further hunting that afternoon and set about organizing his camouflage clothes for the hunt.

Sunday morning dawned cold but relatively sunny.  I was outside happily watching Freckles roll in the sand and prance about making the most of her freedom from stall life, when here came DH and Batman.  With a gun.

They walked inside the barn (empty of horses at the moment thank you very much) and immediately blasted a bird.  The pigeon’s death was pretty much instantaneous, but it still kind of grossed me out.  Batman raced toward the pigeon, but Winston beat him to it.  Batman screamed in frustration “DON’T LET WINSTON EAT MY BIRD!!!”  I called Winston over and he let me pry the dead (but dripping blood) fowl from his jaws.  Batman picked it up from where it fell to the ground, looking the carcass over in fascination.

“What do you think I should do with it, mom?”  “Throw it in the dumpster,” DH and I both answered simultaneously.

“I can’t do that,” Batman said.  “I’m gonna bury it.  Over next to the second Perry.”

After I locked Winston up once again to secure the safety of his dead bird, Batman got the shovel and started digging, the dead bird laying next to him on the ground.

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He dug and he dug.  I walked over to check on him at one point and he informed me that he had named the bird.

Hunter.

He named the bird Hunter because he had been killed by them hunting him.  Made sense I guess.  Hunter was going to be buried next to Perry because he was Perry’s big brother.

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Batman further informed me that Hunter would need a very deep hole, otherwise the cats would dig him back up.  It took him quite a while, but eventually Hunter was interred with proper ceremony, and Batman carefully filled in the hole, patting the dirt as smooth as he could on top.

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When the hole was completely filled and tamped down, Batman gathered up a whole bunch of rocks to cover it for further protection against digging.  It was our very own little pigeon graveyard.

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But that’s not the end of the story.  You see, there were still more pigeons in the barn.

The next day after school, Batman donned full camo gear again (you must wear camo when hunting pigeons because then they can’t see you) and headed out to the barn to “scout” for birds for when daddy arrived home.   A side note on camo that I just have to pass along…..Batman also informed me that he often would go out in the yard in his camo gear and stand very very still.  Winston would come over to where he was and sniff and sniff, because of course he could smell Batman but he could not see him.  This information was delivered with a seriousness that can only be pulled off by a kindergartener who actually believes it.

Anyway, the pigeons were in the barn and, apparently since he was invisible, Batman did not scare them away.  When DH drove down the long driveway on Monday after the first day of a week-long corporate audit by the Department of Finance, I was pretty sure that hunting pigeons was the last thing on his mind. Nonetheless, he had (imprudently) promised Batman that they would try to kill “a pigeon a day” until they were all gone, and he made good on his word.

This time DH, Batman and Annabelle all gathered in the truck parked next to the barn as the sun started to set, waiting with loaded pellet gun for their prey to come home to roost.  I myself was pretty good on my pigeon massacre quota for the week, so I went in the house and poured myself a glass of wine.

After about half an hour the truck drove slowly up the lane toward the house, and Annabelle burst in the garage door wild with excitement.

“Mom!  We got another bird and this time daddy had to shoot it three times before it would die!”  she yelled breathlessly.  I was in the kitchen and I turned from the stove to ask “Where is your brother?”

“Outside, burying the pigeon.”

Of course.

I walked out the back door. It was nearly dark but I could (barely) make out the tiny form of Batman and his shovel in the shadowy pigeon graveyard.   Batman was happy to see me.  “Mom!  This pigeon was really hard to kill!  He ran around and daddy had to shoot him and shoot him.  I am naming him…..Tougher – because he was tougher to kill!”

I had to coax my baby boy to hurry up the burying, since it was getting dark and a slow drizzle of rain was falling.  He completed his task in a somewhat shorter amount of time than his earlier burials, and he did not have adequate light or opportunity to get as many rocks for this grave.

But he got it done.

A few white feathers lay in the dirt around the gravesite, remnants of Batman’s generous decision to let the cats play with Tougher (they “beated him up”, he told me) while his final resting place was being prepared.

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Batman did cajole DH into one more bird hunt this week.  When they headed outside this time I asked Batman what he was going to name this pigeon if he got one.  He looked a little disgusted with me.  “Mom,” he said in a voice dripping with exaggerated patience, “I can’t name him until I kill him.”

Unfortunately, the pigeons are getting a little smarter and this time the boys were unsuccessful.  DH convinced Batman that it is probably better to let the flock get settled back in before trying for another kill, so he has mostly let the subject go.

Mostly.

On Wednesday morning I got a call from school.  The secretary told me that Batman was at the office, and though he wouldn’t really say what was wrong, his teacher had said he just didn’t seem right, and maybe he needed to come home.  I ran over to pick him up, certain that he had fallen ill with the same cruddy sickness that had kept his sister out of commission nearly the entire previous week.

He gave me a shy little smile when he saw me, and I hugged him before we walked out to the car.  Once he got home the first order of business was to polish off the cold lunch that we had uncharacteristically prepared for his lunch bag since he normally eats hot lunch at school.  Then I sat him down and turned on the cartoon channel, telling him that I needed to get back to my desk to work on an article I was writing.  I wrapped him in a warm blanket and went back to work.

Ten minutes later he came into my office and asked me for some paper.  He was going to do a project of his own.  This is not at all out of the ordinary for Batman, and I handed him several sheets of paper out of my printer tray without asking any questions.

Fifteen minutes later he came back, eyes glowing.  “Look! I made a pigeon spotting scope with my camo duct tape!”  He had rolled up the paper I had given him into a tube and covered every inch of it with camo tape.  It did look quite a bit like a real spotting scope.

“Can I get dressed in my camo clothes and go out to look for pigeons?”

“Absolutely not!” I told him.  “You are sick.  When you are home sick you have to stay in the house.”  “But I will wear two coats.” “No.  You can’t go outside.  If you come home sick from school and people see you outside we could get in trouble.  You absolutely cannot go outside.  You can play whatever you want in the house, but you have to stay inside.”

Batman looked at me for a long time.  He sort of halfway rolled his eyes, and then he said “Just take me back then.”

“What?” I wasn’t sure I had heard him right.

“Just take me back. If I can’t go outside and look for pigeons I don’t want to miss any more recesses.  Please take me back.”

So I did.

DH has promised Batman that he will take him “real” hunting this weekend, for pheasants.  Even Winston gets to go along.

It is still to be determined if we will cook the pheasants for dinner or name and bury them.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Leave a comment

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