We Will See What We Can Do

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I wanted a horse. This was long after
we sold the work horses, and I was feeling

restless on the farm. I got up early
to help my father milk the cows, talking

a blue streak about TV cowboys
he never had time to see and trying to

convince him that a horse wouldn’t cost
so much and that I’d do all the work.

He listened while he leaned his head
against the flank of a Holstein, pulling

the last line of warm milk into
the stainless bucket. He kept listening

while the milk-machine pumped like an engine,
and the black and silver cups fell off and

dangled down, clanging like bells when he
stepped away, balancing the heavy milker

against the vacuum hose and the leather belt.
I knew he didn’t want the trouble

of a horse, but I also knew there was nothing
else I wanted the way I wanted a horse—

another way of saying I wanted
to ride into the sunset and (maybe)

never come back—I think he knew that too.
We’ll see, he said, we’ll see what we can do.
~Joyce Sutphen “What Every Girl Wants”

 

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I once was a skinny freckled eleven year old girl who wanted nothing more than to have her own horse. Every inch of my bedroom wall had posters of horses, all my shelves were filled with horse books and horse figurines and my bed was piled with stuffed horses. I suffered an extremely serious case of horse fever.

I had learned to ride my big sister’s horse while my sister was off to college, but the little mare had pushed down a hot wire to get into a field of spring oats which resulted in a terrible case of colic and had to be put down. I was inconsolable until I set my mind to buy another horse.   We had only a small shed, not a real barn, and no actual fences other than the electric hot wire.  Though I was earning money as best I could picking berries and babysitting, I was a long way away from the $150 it would take to buy a trained horse back in 1965. I pestered my father about my dreams of another horse, and since he was the one to dig the hole for my sister’s horse to be buried, he was not enthusiastic.  “We’ll see,”  he said.  “We will see what we can do.”

So I dreamed my horsey dreams, mostly about golden horses with long white manes, hoping one day those dreams might come true.

In fall 1965, the  local radio station KGY’s Saturday morning horse news program announced their “Win a Horse” contest.  I knew I had to try. The prize was a weanling bay colt, part Appaloosa, part Thoroughbred, and the contest was only open to youth ages 9 to 16 years old. All I had to do was write a 250 word or less essay on “Why I Should Have a Horse”. I worked and worked on my essay, crafting the right words and putting all my heart into it, hoping the judges would see me as a worthy potential owner. My parents took me to visit the five month old colt named “Prankster”, a fuzzy engaging little fellow who was getting plenty of attention from all the children coming to visit him, and that visit made me even more determined.

When I read these words now, I realize there is nothing quite like the passion of an eleven year old girl:

“Why I Should Have a Horse”

When God created the horse, He made one of the best creatures in the world.  Horses are a part of me.  I love them and want to win Prankster for the reasons which follow:

To begin with, I’m young enough to have the time to spend with the colt.  My older sister had a horse when she was in high school and her school activities kept her too busy to really enjoy the horse.  I’ll have time to give Prankster the love and training needed.

Another reason is that I’m shy.  When I was younger I found it hard to talk to anybody except my family.  When my sister got the horse I soon became a more friendly person.  When her horse recently died (about when Prankster was born), I became very sad.  If I could win that colt, I couldn’t begin to describe my happiness. 

Also I believe I should have a horse because it would be a good experience to learn how to be patient and responsible while teaching Prankster the same thing. 

When we went to see Prankster, I was invited into the stall to brush him.  I was never so thrilled in my life!  The way he stood there so majestically, it told me he would be a wonderful horse. 

If I should win him, I would be the happiest girl alive.  I would work hard to train him with love and understanding.  If I could only get the wonderful smell and joy of horses back in our barn!

I mailed in my essay and waited.

Fifty three years ago on this day, November 27, 1965, my mother and I listened to the local horse program that was always featured on the radio at 8 AM on Saturday mornings. They said they had over 300 essays to choose from, and it was very difficult for them to decide who the colt should go to. I knew then I didn’t have a chance. They had several consolation prizes for 2nd through 4th place, so they read several clever poems and heartfelt essays, all written by teenagers.  My heart was sinking by the minute.

The winning essay was next.  The first sentence sounded very familiar to me, but it wasn’t until several sentences later that we realized they were reading my essay, not someone else’s. My mom was speechless, trying to absorb the hazards of her little girl owning a young untrained horse. I woke up my dad, who was sick in bed with an early season flu.  He opened one eye, looked at me, and said, “I guess I better get a fence up today, right?”  Somehow, fueled by the excitement of a daughter whose one wish had just come true, he pulled himself together and put up a wood corral that afternoon, despite feeling so miserable.

That little bay colt came home to live with me the next day. Over the next few months he and I did learn together, as I checked out horse training books from the library, and joined a 4H group with helpful leaders to guide me. I made plenty of mistakes along the way, learning from each one, including those that left behind scars I still bear. Prankster was a typical adolescent gelding who lived up to his name — full of mischief with a sense of humor and a penchant for finding trouble, but he was mine and that was all that mattered.

That and a dad who saw what he needed to do for his passionate kid.  I haven’t forgotten.

 

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A Thread to Knit and Mend Hearts

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To Lea on her birth day, celebrated twenty five years ago with much drama and joy — we cherish each day with you in our lives…

 

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May the wind always be in her hair
May the sky always be wide with hope above her
And may all the hills be an exhilaration
the trials but a trail,
all the stones but stairs to God.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts…
~Ann Voskamp from “A Prayer for a Daughter”

 

 

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Your rolling and stretching had grown quieter that stormy winter night
twenty five years ago, but no labor came as it should.
A week overdue post-Christmas,
you clung to amnion and womb, not yet ready.
Then the wind blew more wicked
and snow flew sideways, landing in piling drifts,
the roads becoming impassable, nearly impossible to traverse.

So your dad and I tried,
worried about being stranded on the farm far from town.
Our little car got stuck in a snowpile in the deep darkness,
our tires spinning, whining against the snow.
A nearby neighbor’s bulldozer dug us out to freedom.
You floated silent and still, knowing your time was not yet.

Creeping slowly through the dark night blizzard,
we arrived to the warm glow of the hospital.
You slept.
I, not at all.

Morning sun glistened off sculptured snow outside our window,
and your heart had ominously slowed in the night.
We both were jostled, turned, oxygenated, but nothing changed.
You beat even more slowly, letting loose your tenuous grip on life.

The nurses’ eyes told me we had trouble.
The doctor, grim faced, announced
delivery must happen quickly,
taking you now, hoping we were not too late.
I was rolled, numbed, stunned,
clasping your father’s hand, closing my eyes,
not wanting to see the bustle around me,
trying not to hear the shouted orders,
the tension in the voices,
the quiet at the moment of opening
when it was unknown what would be found.

And then you cried. A hearty healthy husky cry, a welcomed song.
Perturbed and disturbed from the warmth of womb,
to the cold shock of a bright lit operating room,
your first vocal solo brought applause
from the surrounding audience who admired your pink skin,
your shock of damp red hair, your blue eyes squeezed tight,
then blinking open, wondering and wondrous,
emerging saved from the storm within and without.

You were brought wrapped for me to see and touch
before you were whisked away to be checked over thoroughly,
your father trailing behind the parade to the nursery.
I closed my eyes, swirling in a brain blizzard of what-ifs.

If no snow storm had come,
you would have fallen asleep forever within my womb,
no longer nurtured by my aging placenta,
cut off from what you needed to stay alive.
There would have been only our soft weeping,
knowing what could have been if we had only known,
if God provided a sign to go for help.

Saved by a storm and dug out from a drift:
I celebrate each time I hear your voice singing,
knowing you are a thread born to knit and mend hearts.

 

*my annual “happy birthday” to our daughter Lea, now a 4th grade school teacher*

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To Be Bread and Thread

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To Lea on her birth day,
celebrated twenty four years ago with much drama and joy.

And now you feed your students the bread of knowledge
and piece together with threads of love
the brokenness you witness.

We cherish each day with you in our lives…

lea005
A farmer’s daughter

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May the wind always be in her hair
May the sky always be wide with hope above her
And may all the hills be an exhilaration
the trials but a trail,
all the stones but stairs to God.

When it’s hard to be patient…make her willing to suffer
When it’s ridiculous to be thankful … make her see all is grace
When it’s radical to forgive…make her live the foundation of our faith
And when it’s time to work … make her a holy wonder.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts…
~Ann Voskamp from “A Prayer for a Daughter”

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A Blessing for Hairy Toes

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“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”
J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Thorin Oakenshield addressing Bilbo Baggins)

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photo of Samwise Gamgee by Nate  Gibson

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photo by Nate Gibson

Tolkien’s Hairy Toes Blessing has been one of my more popular blog posts when I have posted it before, most likely because our corgis are just like hobbits with irresistible hairy toes. Yet the message itself goes beyond cute: it is indeed a good thing to give and receive blessings.

It’s a safe bet my toes and your toes have never been subjected to such a blessing.   But I like the idea of blessings starting from the bottom up,  encompassing our most humble and homely parts first.

The world would be a better place if we rediscovered the art of bestowing blessings–those specific prayers of favor and protection that reinforce community and connection to each other and to something larger than ourselves.   They have become passé in a modern society where God’s relationship with and blessing of His people is not much more than an after-thought.   Benedictions must extend beyond the end of worship services to all tender partings;  wedding receptions can go beyond roasting and toasting to encompass sincere prayers for a future life together.

Today especially necessitates a special blessing not invoking hairy toes: our daughter moves several hours away to start her first permanent teaching job, so I send the following blessing with her as she drives away to start her new life (shared by my dear friend Alice in New York):

…Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path….
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.
May anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
~John O’Donohue from “Blessing for Presence”  from To Bless the Space Between Us

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Following His Broad Shadow

I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod.

I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.
~Seamus Heaney from “Follower”

My father did grow up plowing with horses, and hated every minute of it.  He was overjoyed to one day be able to afford a tractor, and although it was only a little Farmall Cub (in one of the photos below), it teamed up with my dad to do remarkable things.

I’m telling this story again as my Father’s Day tradition since it says a lot about who my dad was, but even more so, it explains much about who I have become having grown up in his shadow.

My father departed this soil twenty years ago, having completed umpteen “projects” in his spare time and leaving just a few unfinished.  This was undoubtedly the most remarkable.   He dove right in to whatever he decided to accomplish and his Farmall tractor was often part of the plan.

These photos chronicle my father’s 1968 backyard project.   This was no ordinary project, but like every other project he took on, it was accomplished during the daylight hours after he got home from his desk job and then consumed most of his weekend waking hours.  He had been dreaming it up for a number of years, and then one day, grabbed a shovel and simply got started and didn’t quit until it was finished.

He was determined to build a full size swimming pool, by himself, with his own two hands.  He did use his little Farmall Cub tractor to blade away the first layer of topsoil, but the rest of the digging was by the shovel-full.   He wanted a kidney shaped pool rather than a rectangular one, so he soaked the wooden forms in water to form the graceful curves. The cement was poured by a cement truck, but the sidewalks were all self-mixed in our own little cement mixer that ran off a small engine.  The tile that lined the top of the pool was all hand grouted and placed, square by square.  The pumphouse/changing room was built alongside.

I was 14 that summer, not truly understanding how extraordinary an effort this was, but simply accepting it as another “dad” project like any other he finished through sheer will, stubbornness and a desire to go on to the next challenge.   Now, 46 years later,  as an adult who is plum tired at the end of an office/clinic work day, I marvel at his energy putting in another four or five hours of physical labor when he came home at night.  No wonder he never suffered from insomnia.

Once the pool was declared finished, a hose ran water for several days, and it took 2 more days to heat it up to a temperature that was survivable.  Then my dad took the first dive in.

Once he had taken that first dive, he was happy.  He swam every once in awhile, but was soon onto another project (reconstructing a steel walled gas station that arrived on our farm in piles of panels on the back of a flat bed truck, so that he could have a full size “shop” to work on indoor projects during the winter).  It was sufficient for him to just to be able to say he had done it himself.

So as I study the look on my father’s face in these photos, I am startled to see my self looking back at me, like a reflection in the water.  I now realize determination and utter stubbornness manifest in different ways.  I have no mechanical skills whatsoever,  but like my father,  I always have a dream I’m pursuing, and I follow his broad shadow in that pursuit.

Thanks to my dad for showing me how to dive right into life and not waste a moment of it.  The water’s still fine.

Knitting Hearts

leawheaton2

leaponyTo Lea on her birth day, celebrated twenty two years ago with much drama and joy — we cherish each day with you in our lives…

 

May the wind always be in her hair
May the sky always be wide with hope above her
And may all the hills be an exhilaration
the trials but a trail,
all the stones but stairs to God.

When it’s hard to be patient…make her willing to suffer
When it’s ridiculous to be thankful … make her see all is grace
When it’s radical to forgive…make her live the foundation of our faith
And when it’s time to work … make her a holy wonder.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts…
~Ann Voskamp from “A Prayer for a Daughter”

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