Making Hay

You can take the girl out of the country, but … As I drove to Tappahannock to deliver books to T-Town Tack and Western Wear, my eyes took in the fields of waving wheat, harvested wheat and newly raked hay. For much of my life, this time of May has meant time in the hayfield. Putting up good hay, suitable for horses, is a complex process. It must be cut before it is too stalky, it must have time to dry, it must be baled at the perfect moment. Too early and the moisture will cause it to mold and build heat, even enough to spontaneously combust. Too dry and it will be dusty and of less nutritional value.

On a good year in Western Pennsylvania, Memorial Day marked the first hay cutting. We spent the weekend mowing, raking and baling the fragrant timothy. I think the alfalfa and clover fields were a bit later. I cherished those times, working with my father to put up hay. It was also a time of picnics with our good friends who lived only a few miles away. We got together on every holiday, either at their place or ours, grilling out.

But I digress. Today is our daughter’s birthday. She was born on a Friday morning and my husband watched my c-section through a door. Back in my hospital room, we held our precious gift and then that night he drove the eighty miles back home to work in the hayfield the next day.

Our son and our daughter learned to work in the hayfield. Our son talks about his job by saying, “I’ve hauled hay, this job isn’t hard work.” Our daughter and her best friend out worked their football player classmates when helping a farmer who baled hay in South Carolina.

We no longer have hay fields to mow, rake or bale, but as a horse owner and lover, I appreciate the process. I grieve for every farmer who has his mowed and raked hay ruined by rain (not likely this spring). And I love the scent of freshly mown hay—perhaps someone could bottle and sell it?

Gypsy

Our daughter, Wynn, has a horse. Those of you who know us or our daughter will not be surprised at that statement. She has had a horse or horses for most of her life. But let me unpack the statement a bit.

About two years ago she lost her twenty-something wonderful pinto Saddlebred mare to colic. A mare we had raised and trained and sold and she was able to repurchase for a low price. They enjoyed trail riding alone and with friends and Di (registered name Frostpoint) was the perfect American Saddlebred ambassador, beautiful and talented but eminently sweet and sensible.

So, we kept asking our daughter if we could help to find her another horse. She said she wasn’t ready. Too little time between work and kids and then Covid and homeschooling kids and trying to work from home. Last summer she resigned from her job, planning to totally homeschool her children and their best friends in partnership with their friends’ mother.

Then came August. Our 40- year- old active, slender, healthy daughter had a heart attack. SCAD—spontaneous coronary artery dissection resulted in a hole in her heart and the resultant heart attack. She spent several days in cardiac intensive care. From the time she came home until December, either her in-laws or we were there, cooking meals, teaching the kids, doing laundry etc. Our wonderful son-in-law was thankfully working from home.

Our daughter was prescribed many meds to keep her quiet and miserable while her heart healed. And since most heart doctors aren’t used to treating pre-menopausal women, blood thinners led to anemia.

Our daughter researched her condition, joined a SCAD survivor’s group and advocated for herself. By December, she was ready to exist without our help and take over the teaching and household duties, although still tiring easily. Covid made normal cardiac rehab impossible, but she was told to walk.

She began to search for a horse. In February she found a seven-year-old Saddlebred mare who had only been used for trail riding. After numerous conversations with the broker, a video and a search of the broker’s excellent reputation, she bought Gypsy Rose, sight unseen. Since Wynn wasn’t yet ready to take on horse care, we had her shipped to the barn where I teach and everyone who rode her loved her.

Last week, Wynn came down from Maryland to take Gypsy home. The mare backed politely off the trailer, looked at the swings waving wildly in the wind without a second thought and put her head down to graze. Wynn hasn’t yet started cardiac rehab but on the first day of Gypsy, her smart watch recorded 15,000 steps. Scattering hay in the paddock, checking on the mare, grooming her and bonding with her is the best therapy plan ever.

RIP Larry McMurtry

I learned that Larry McMurtry died today. Although he was a popular and most talented writer, I found Terms of Endearment and some of his other work unbearably sad, and didn’t want to read or watch more. No Lonesome Dove for me I saw The Last Picture Show and I remember my brother hiding my younger sister’s eyes for certain scenes.

The news clip I heard on NPR referenced his Archer City, Texas bookstore, which he opened because there was no local bookstore. I visited Archer City several years ago and bookstore does not begin to describe it. I was visiting my brother who was attending to business interests in Ardmore, Oklahoma, one of which is also a local independent bookstore, The Bookseller—shout out to manager Lois Proctor.

But anyway, we took a day trip to Archer City. Like many small towns, Archer City’s downtown was in decline. However, McMurtry had taken over buildings all around the square for book sales. There was a new book store, but also used book stores arranged by type of book in buildings all around the square. Each building was full to the ceiling with book shelves full of biographies or mysteries or non-fiction or children’s books or whatever. Shoppers were free to roam at will and bring any purchases to the main store. I remember buying a first edition book on foxhunting as well as a beautifully illustrated book on minerals and gems for my husband. Had I not been flying home in a few days, I’m sure I would have purchased much more.

When we arrived at the main checkout location, we saw the author himself out on the curb unloading books. A shopper asked him to sign one of his novels. He said, “We don’t do that, but there are signed copies for sale in that shop.”

We drove by the Dairy Queen and the local movie theater and someone pointed out the roofline of McMurtry’s modest home. McMurtry used his small- town background in rural Texas to tell stories of the West and portray the culture and relationships of several eras. His works became cultural icons in themselves. So, RIP Larry McMurtry, author and bookseller.

Eclectic

As we endure the pandemic, Facebook is full of games and quizzes to pass the time. At various times in my life, I have seen requests to describe one’s self in one word. I have finally figured out my one- word description—eclectic.

I thought about this while we were eating dinner last night in our dining room, that room being an example. We sat at an oval table (Habitat for Humanity Restore find), its shiny dark surface at the moment covered by a faded cabbage rose tablecloth, purchased new from Home Goods. Across from me was a pine sideboard we bought when we first moved to North Carolina from Kentucky, since the massive antique oak table and buffet we had wouldn’t fit in our home. On the sideboardwas the silver chest given to us by my husband’s brother and wife for a wedding gift, a lovely lemon candle and a beautiful porcelain lamp I found at a thrift store. Above the sideboard is an antique mirror my mother bought in Kentucky.

Behind my husband was a tall china cabinet, a Salvation Army find, now painted a shiny deep gold. The original painting of a New Orleans plantation home dripping with Spanish moss sat on top of the china cabinet. We bought it as a souvenir of our honeymoon. The wall behind me held a watercolor hunt scene and a smaller such painting adorned the wall beside the china cabinet. We sat in French country light wood chairs, purchased from a friend who bought them from her mother’s retirement home for $10 each. We had them recovered in 2005 and have enjoyed them ever since, with two previous tables. Behind me, in the right corner is a reproduction grandfather clock willed to my husband by his aunt.

When we moved to this house, my husband mentioned wanting to buy a new, matching dining room set. But after pricing such things, he decided our eclectic collection might suffice.

And not only my décor fits that description. My wardrobe is equally varied. Classic sweaters and pearls, leggings and tunics, jeans and sweatshirts and one or two designer dresses have all caught my fancy. My various careers might also fit that description. How comforting to know what I am.

A New Hero: Mary Roberts Rinehart

One of my early favorite authors was Mary Roberts Rinehart. I loved her mysteries which were set in the Pittsburgh area, my home town. But until I Googled her today, I had no idea how prolific a writer she was.

In 1903 alone, she wrote forty-five short stories to help with family finances after that year’s financial crash. She was often referred to as the American Agatha Christie, even though her first novel, The Circular Staircase, was published fourteen years before any of Christie’s.

In addition to her many novels and hundreds of short stories, she also served as a war correspondent for the Washington Post during World War I and interviewed many heads of state. Her formal training was as a homeopathic nurse. No MFA, but she was awarded an honorary PHD in English from George Washington University. She survived breast cancer and wrote about it in The Ladies Home Journal in the days when it was a taboo subject.

She died in 1958 at the age of 82, about the time I started to read her novels. Wow. I’d better get busy.

Cherry Heads Unite

We are now official Cherry Heads, having seen Blackstone Cherry at the Beacon Theatre in Hopewell, VA. Thanks to our friend and my husband’s distant cousin, Richard Young of the Kentucky Headhunters, we received a backstage pass to visit John Fred Young, the awesome drummer of Blackstone Cherry.

This extremely talented yet very humble young man greeted us warmly and talked about family and the donkeys and American Saddlebred horses which roam his family farm, descendants of the horses bred by his grandfather, James Howard Young in Edmonton, Kentucky.

This energetic southern rock band rocked the house. They are touring the states and leaving for England in July where they are already sold out at the Ramblin Man Festival in Kent, England. John Fred told us with awe, Cheap Trick is supposed to front for us.

On June 22 they will meet up with his father’s and uncle’s band, Kentucky Headhunters at Bristol, VA. It will be a rocking good time for sure.

Tangled Tail

Does Maddie continue to investigate with Irish Garda Commander Simon? Does she adopt one of their human trafficking rescues? Find out in Tangled Tail –a case of diamond smuggling which leads to greater mysteries.

Now available

Desert Tail released today

Desert Tail (formerly published as Turkmen Captives) was released August 15 on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo and Kobo. The sequel, Tangled Tail will be released in September by Blue Fortune Enterprises.

Horsing Around

Tomorrow we are driving to the Shenandoah Horse Show, formerly the Roanoke Valley Horse Show which has moved to the Virginia Horse Park in Lexington, hence the name change.Although we are now horseless we still horse around quite a bit.

A few weeks ago my husband was lucky enough to show the nice pleasure driving mare owned by Tommy and Jeanine Lovell in Asheville, NC. I spent a week being a substitute riding instructor at Legacy Saddlebreds in Winston-Salem. I have the joy of teaching children to ride without being there when a horse colics, or the water freezes or the tractor won’t start. (Been there–done that.)

I have written a children’s book about horses, tentatively titled The Riding Lesson which will be released in October by High Tide Publications. I also wrote an e-book on How to Buy Your First Horse.

So while I don’t walk to the barn to feed on a daily basis, actually I did feed today for some wonderful horse people who do competitive driving, horses are still in my life and most importantly, in my heart.

Happy Trails