Saturday, May 15, 2010

Through the Glass Ceiling but Vaguely

My own first brush with the "Glass Ceiling" was as a ten-year-old baseball player!!

I have often thought that if the world had really, really wanted to get the best of me, I should never have been allowed to hit that first base-ball! It is difficult to make anyone understand the feeling of utter power that came to a skinny ten-year-old girl with the painful vibration up that old wood bat and watching that ball get tinier and tinier. I loved it!

Thanks to a baseball-loving brother-in-law, I could catch anything, no matter how hard it was hit or how much it stung. I could and did hit a lot of balls clear into the tree line on the playground at Munger Elementary School. Being small and wiry, I could run faster than any of the boys.

But then one day Ms. McPike, the fifth grade teacher and Ms. Bruns, the fourth grade teacher, both short, homely women and extremely kind, they in their rumpled suits and comfortable school teacher shoes, clomped across the grassy ball diamond we had laid out to tell me that I couldn't play ball anymore. It had something to do with me acquiring a top similar to Jane Russell, a very breasty movie star famous in those 1950's days.

Their reasoning was pretty confusing and it really didn't make much sense to me. I don't think it did to them either.

After all, Ms. McPike was the one who taught us all the really hard games like "Red Rover Red Rover" and "Prisoners Dare". Moving among us, over the clumps of unmown fescue, cheering us on and demanding that we run faster and try harder, she was the one who spun me quickly one day, redirected my skinny ten-year-old body to an empty path towards the goal line...and whispered to me, "Go..go..., Janie..go hard".

And I burst from her grasp full of the power the day gave me..and it didn't matter at all that I was clobbered and stomped and eventually, although graciously momentarily, smothered by the bodies..all bigger and heavier..of my schoolmates.

And it didn't matter at all because I thought for sure next time I would win...because Ms. McPike was whispering..."Go...go...Janie...go hard"

P.S. Nobody ever did mistake me for Jane Russell.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Conversation of Cows

To say that animals do not speak is a grave error. I have been privy to remarkable conversations over the years and I’m here to tell you that those who eschew evesdropping, for moral reasons or otherwise, miss out on a lot.

The first time I realized with absolute certainty that animals converse was long ago while living in a developed area consisting of small homes on three acre plots. Each plot was complete with barns of varying architectural quality and the requisite pond. Our own home site included five large oaks, a stream in the front yard that ran through a tube beneath the driveway and a row of heavy-bearing apple trees, grapevines and a garden lot in the side yard.

The acre of pasture, sturdily fenced with woven wire, at the back contained our very own barn painted a rather fantastic pink and trimmed with cute little white shutters and pink doors with white crossbars on them. At the time, this pasture was the sole domain of Fred, a Jersey steer, originally purchased by city-bound friends to fill their freezer.

After making the mistake common to all novices of the agricultural world of allowing themselves and their two small daughters to accept the slobbering friendship Fred offered from day one, Fred was taken off the freezer list and hauled out to our place. There he enjoyed the good life of soft summer mornings, heat-hazed afternoons, sweet twilights, and the camaraderie of my sister-in-law’s milk cow and the black calf by her side. Fred and the cow would spend long and silent hours, each on their own side of the fence, swishing flies and occasionally swiping each others’ faces with long, wet rubbery tongues.

Fred’s lot in life was enhanced by the fact that he was able to come and go at will. One of the lessons I learned from Fred was that fences, no matter how good, only keep livestock in as long as they don’t have any pressing reason to get out.

However, Fred pretty much stayed in the pasture unless the kids were playing in the back yard, (he loved company and was incredibly curious) or I was hanging laundry. He had the habit of wandering along behind me to slurp the wet clothes, I think he liked the taste of soap, and I was always having to stick my arm down his throat to drag out a towel or something he had managed to half swallow.

Fred was very smart for a steer and until the last three days of his sojourn with us, never left the place. Even I, who believe in the conversation of cows, admit that his disappearance from the neighborhood the very day the call was finally made to send him to Morris’s Meat Locker in town, could have been a coincidence. It was not until three days later that we located him a mile and a half from home and clear across the highway. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions here.

If Fred was ever bored he never complained so I was surprised to see his excitement when the new owners moved into the place at our south fence line. But even I was impressed. It took them three days to unload. The first day the large cattle van groaned up the drive, easily visible from my back porch, four times. As soon as all this excitement commenced Fred ran like a deer, tail hiked in a wide sweeping curve, from the fence line where the milk cow and her black calf stood to station himself at the opposite fence line.

The first load contained a large but ancient white horse who seemed unable to lift his head above the level of his front hocks. I never saw a horse look so tired. Beside him trotted a very small brown pony. We learned later that the big one ate fence posts and the little one bit. But that was later.

Horses are convivial people for the most part and that day it didn’t take the pair long to approach Fred at the fence and..well the only way to say it is that they “communed.’ Heads hung low, hindquarters shifting rhythmically, punctuations of an occasional horse headshake or an indignant switch of Fred’s tail, the conversation obviously covered all the rudiments of new acquaintanceship.

I didn’t have anything better to do that day, like my life has been so earth shatteringly interesting, so I stayed there on the porch and watched the comings and goings of the trucked in newcomers and Fred’s neighborly response. After a few dozen headshakes and tail switchings Fred turned on a dime, the old tail hiked up and off he ran to report to the milk cow and the black calf. Same story, different fence. Heads down, indignant tail switchings, punctuated this time by long gazes across Fred’s shoulder toward the newcomers at the far fence line.

Another unloading, this time two black steers and a spotted cow..they understood the drill..straight to the fence line. Fred’s at his station..heads down..tailswitchings.. Turns on a dime and back to the milk cow and the black calf.

This continued until an incredible Noah’s Arc, sans arc, appeared on the three adjacent acres. Like I say, even I was impressed.

Throughout the rest of Fred’s stay with us he reported faithfully back and forth between the two, obviously friendly, camps regarding who’s moving in..who’s moving out..the health of all new babies..the inevitable death of the old horse.. Of course this is only conjecture on my part. I have no way of really knowing what was said in those urgently friendly first conversations or the subsequent neighborly discourse. But one thing I do know. They were conversing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Horace Greeley and the Lovely Lyzette

Horace Greeley

and the Lovely Lyzette


A Tragedy in Too Many Parts

Scarcely have I regretted anything more than my tragic and ill planned interference in the affairs of Horace Greeley and Lyzette.

I wonder, occasionally, how things would have turned out if I had stayed my inclination, just for once, to always have the last word..the upper hand etc.... Could things have been different.. Would all that tragedy have been averted or perhaps just postponed? It doesn’t bear thinking about as the deed was done and cannot now be altered.

But like all regrets..mine are gnarled and tortured with thoughts of the Eden that could have been and how sadly it was destroyed.

Horace Greeley, or Greeley as he soon came to be called, was a magnificent creature..a Drake of the Muskogee tribe in full manhood with a great deep grey chest, a broad smoothly feathered back and that wondrous red Muskogee knob that grew across the top of his slick black bill and down the side of each cheek. His flock.. (there for awhile I thought it was my flock) consisted of four sturdy and matronly hens, Edgar the over-grown half-breed drake who lived out his life at the periphery of Greeley and his grand dames, and the lithe and lovely Lyzette.

Lyzette was also a halfbreed but the better for it. She was small, sleek..and like I said, lithe with a gentle and graceful demeanor. She was not a bit uppity and never lorded it over the older and plainer ladies as they moved ponderously and seriously about the tasks Greeley set for them and for their part they treated her with a respectful gentleness I found hard to explain.

In the normal course of events I would never have been aware of Greeley’s management of his little flock but early that first spring, after a week or two of Greeley’s rather harsh and violent attentions, the hens began to lay large, white eggs willy-nilly all over the yard and barnyard. I herded the little group into the small yard between the house and the barn, rigged an open-faced, sloped roof shelter, filled a rubber feed pan with water and hoped the hens would take to motherhood. Greeley saw the potential immediately and set the hens to their task.

How he did this was simple but a little awesome. Every morning he herded them, one at a time, to the rubber feed pan of water and if they didn’t get in he would grab them by the neck and flog them with a two-foot wing until they did, whereupon he would dribble water over their backs with his bill and nibble under and around each wing to make sure it was wetted. As often as not this would incite him to a little play time but as soon as his lust was satisfied the hen would be driven back to the pile of eggs where she was expected to stay. And stay they did.

I saw him do this morning after morning. The purpose of the water was to keep the eggs moist I guess, an important component in the hatching of duck and goose goslings.

But Lyzette was totally exempt from Greeley’s hygienic attentions and was not required to attend to any eggs. She was his darling, the jewel in his crown..his personal pleasure. He kept her close and Edgar far. Much of Greeley’s day, after the hens were taken care of, was spent in keeping Edgar in his place and away from any contact with Lyzette. This was strange as Lyzette was never subjected to the somewhat manic physical attention Greeley visited periodically upon the poor working girls.

But Greeley was devoted to her and she to him. She moved lightly, always at his left side and he would speak in that chuckly cooing sound of contented water fowel and she would answer in a voice just a little more gentle as he called her to some choice morsel: ..a grub in the mulch under the forsythia..a half-sprouted kernel of corn over looked a few days ago... a hapless grasshopper downed by a swift and furious attack from Greeley’s bill.

And in the warm afternoons..when Muskogees take their rest, Greeley and Lyzette would lie breast to breast and he would allow her to rest her small white head upon him right at that juncture where the wing connects to the body and she would doze and he might doze but mostly he watched for Edgar.

But Edgar..poor Edgar.. My heart was moved by the vicious attacks inflicted upon him. His loneliness haunted me. To see a creature so alone but not alone was sad and needed a remedy. Or so I thought. And so the dye was cast.

I decided four hens were enough for Greeley and Edgar should have the gentle Lyzette. Oh that it could be undone but it cannot.

To achieve this goal I created a pen within a pen around the communal mound of eggs where the four hens were ensconced and herded Greeley in with them and fastened the wire. It took him about thirty seconds to see the separation of Lyzette and he called her to him and she came and paced the wire her side and he paced the wire on his.

Thinking they would adjust to this arrangement I went into the house to shower.

But I had grossly misjudged Edgar’s character. Just out of the shower and standing at the tall windows on the north side of the house, I witnessed the rape of Lyzette.

Edgar, once having understood that Greeley could not touch him and realizing Lyzettes helplessness, attacked with a vengeance I would never have attributed to any creature other than human. He grabbed Lyzette by the neck threw her repeatedly into the fence at Greeley’s feet until she was too stunned to evade him..and he did the dirty deed.

Greeley, insane with anger, and what I then recognized as grief, beat the ground, the wire and anything he could reach with both great wings. But I couldn’t get there fast enough and the innocence that was Lyzettes was gone.

I kicked at Edgar and cursed the day he was hatched and he merely shrugged as all creatures with small souls do when caught in some dastardliness but how was I to know his soul was so small? Oh, how was I to know?

I tore the fence down and hoped Greeley would tear Edgar apart but he did not. He went to Lyzette, a poor rumpled and traumatized Lyzette, and looked long and hard at her, turned his back and waddled away.

Who knows what goes on in Muskogee minds? All I know is that nothing was ever the same between them. All that was gentle and beautiful had been destroyed. No more gentle chuckles and coos between them, no more offerings of tender more afternoon snoozes..Greeley dozed alone.

For a few days Lyzette followed dejectedly behind Greeley as of old but he no longer acknowledged her. She lost that lovely sleekness and became a little disheveled and I realized that it had been Greeley who kept her groomed and glowing. Finally, for lack of any company at all, she joined the pedestrian ladies, lying at the edge of the communal egg pile, far lonelier than Edgar had ever been.