Hillbilly Zen – Haiku for Two Trees (Scars)

Haiku for Two Trees (Scars)                                          Photo courtesy of lovinchelle

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Hillbilly Zen – The Liebster Blog Award (I’m lovin’ it!)

For people with a full quota of self confidence, sharing themselves comes easily.  For the rest of us it can be a real struggle.  No matter how much encouragement comes from family and friends, there’s always that hesitation to reveal inner truths.  Ironically, sometimes it’s family and friends who planted that doubt in the first place, but that’s a topic for another post.  When we take that first chance with words on a page, photographs, paint, sculpture or music it’s terrifying.  Even though it becomes a bit easier with each successive effort, we tell ourselves it doesn’t matter if anyone likes our work or not.  We lie.  It matters a whole honkin’ lot.  So to be recognized as a peer by someone whose opinion we respect is a wonderful thing.

That’s what’s happening here.  lovinchelle, whose blog is one of my very favorite places to be and who is one of my very favorite people, nominated me for The Liebster Blog Award.  Some folks don’t care for these awards and that’s cool, but I think they’re great.  Will they enhance a resume?  Nope.  Will they increase income?  Nah.  Will they improve my love life?  Not so much.  What they do is whup the tar out of a creative person’s inherent insecurity.  They allow us a Sally Fields “You really like me!” moment.  They’re also the gift that keeps on giving, introducing us to fellow bloggers we might have missed otherwise.  By participating, we have the opportunity to experience the inner truths of others, to be one of the voices who offer encouragement.  We can make our little blogosphere a better place, and maybe learn a thing or two about ourselves and our universe in the process.

Here’s the deal:

Liebster Blog Award Rules:
1. Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
2. Answer the questions that the tagger has set for you plus create 11 questions for the people you’ve tagged to answer.
3. Choose 11 people and link them in your post.
4. Go to their page and tell them.
5. No tag backs!

(I’m going to mix this up a bit and answer lovinchelle’s questions first.  My coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, so I’m taking the path of least resistance.)

1. Favorite thing to do? – Fishing
2. Ideal job – Turning my farm into an agri-tourism destination
3. Whats one thing you wear that probably needs to be thrown away? – A pair of ratty old toe socks
4. Do you work well with others? – Usually
5. Whats your mental age?(kid at heart?) – Hard to say – sometimes I feel incredibly old, but I still laugh when my dogs fart, so….six-ish?
6. Have you ever worked in a restaurant ? – Good golly yes, off and on, either as primary or secondary income for over 30 years
7. What do you like to eat? – Pretty much anything, and I’ve got the hips to prove it
8. Do you prefer outdoors or in? – Out, definitely
9. Could you survive without internet or cell phone? – Absolutely
10. What time is it? – 10:00 a..m. – time for another cup of coffee
11. Di d you groan or smile when you read the rules for this award? – Both

Eleven things about myself, otherwise known as TMHI (Too Much Hillbilly Information):

1.)  My favorite breakfast is pancakes and sausage on a stick and hazelnut coffee

2.)  More often than not I prefer the company of critters over humans

3.)  If the lottery gods ever smile upon me, one of my first expenditures will be opening an elephant rescue

4.)  I studied pre-law in college (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth)

5.)  I’m not a big fan of organized religion or political parties

6.)  I’m a huge fan of margaritas on the rocks

7.)  My favorite song is Janis Joplin’s version of “Me & Bobby McGee”

8.)  I’m a sucker for kids, critters and old folks

9.)  I believe that pantyhose were invented by the Devil himself

10.)  I smoke like a chimney when I’m writing

11.)  I do not suffer fools gladly

And now for my nominees:

Childhood Relived

Kristen Lamb’s Blog

Olio talk by Suchitra Kaushiva

The Blue Hour

dlightblog

Rachel Mankowitz

seapunk2

Shoeful of Drool

A Little Bird Tweets

Gnawing the Bone

My Daily Minefield

Here is my list of questions for them to answer:

1.)  When did you discover your talent?

2.)  Who gave you the most encouragement to develop your talent?

3.)  Have you thanked the person from question #2?

4.)  Do you work better on sunny days or rainy ones?

5.)  What’s your favorite beverage to drink while working?

6.)  Favorite comic strip?

7.)  Do you prefer to be on dry land or on/in the water?

8.)  Do you speak more than one language?  (Yes, Klingon counts!)

9.)  If you could re-live one day in your life, which one would you choose?

10.)  What’s your favorite quote?

11.)  If you were offered the ability to fly, but only by becoming a buzzard, would you do it?

Okey dokey, nominees, have at it.  Remember, there’s no pressure here.  If you decide this isn’t your cup of tea, it’s all good, but I encourage you to participate.  It’s turned out to be very enlightening and rather fun.

This award is a little more complicated, logistics-wise.  Eleven is a big number when answering or asking semi-personal questions and making notification visits.  The only really easy part was picking that many nominees, so if any of these folks choose not to participate, don’t be a hater – visit their blogs anyway.  They’re that good.

Speaking of that good, thanks again to lovinchelle for being the wonderful soul that you are.

Hillbilly Zen – The Versatile Blogger Award (sometimes ADD really pays off!)

Motivation doesn’t come easily for me.  I have a tendency to rest on admittedly tattered laurels rather than risk rejection.  Pieces that have received past praise get dusted off, tweaked a bit and trotted back out.  Re-entering the whirl that is WordPress is forcing me to change that behavior, and although uncomfortable, I know it’s a good thing.  If we allow it, the Universe will send us rewards for our efforts at improvement, and this is a case in point.  A rockin’ young woman named Britt, who blogs at Fairytale Epidemic, nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award.  I’m a big fan of her work for several reasons;  she’s fearless about sharing her own fears, she’s sometimes funny but can be a little dark and is just a beautiful woman, inside and out.  Plus, the music videos she often showcases keep me from sinking into “Classic Rock Syndrome”.  So thanks, chicklet, for the cosmic nudges.

For those of you about to be nominated who are not familiar with the award process, it may sound a little chain-letterish (a friend dubbed it ” a positivity Ponzi”).  Someone nominates you for the award, you nominate others, they nominate others…you get the idea.  It’s a great way to discover new blogs that you might not have found otherwise, and if you choose to participate I can tell you from personal experience it’s a win/win.  First there’s the warm fuzzy of being recognized by a blogger you admire, which is always nice.  Second, it blows the roof off your blog stats, also nice if your goal is attracting more readers.

Please note that I said IF you choose to participate.  In my  thoughtless enthusiasm over a previous award, I nominated someone who didn’t really want the extra attention and has subsequently deleted his blog.  It may be hubris on my part to think that the nomination provoked his disappearance, but it has saddened me greatly.  So…no pressure, nominees.  If you’re not comfortable answering the questions and/or spotlighting other bloggers and you’d prefer not to cut and paste the “bling”, no worries.  I think your blogs are awesome either way.  With that said, here are some bloggers that rock:

Abandoned Kansai

Inspirez

Urban Wall Art & Murals

conTIMplating

Humbled Pie

Little Mind Seeds

Peculiarities and Reticences

Here’s how this works:

Versatile Blogger Rules  (If you choose to obey them)

  • Display the Award Certificate on your website
  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

I cheated a little on the number of nominated bloggers.  I was also the recipient of The Liebster Award, so I had to keep some of my other favorite bloggers in reserve for that one.

So…seven things, eh?  And they have to be interesting?  Yeebees….

1.  I’m an aquaculturist (fancy name for fish farmer) with the goal of developing my farm into a successful agri-tourism destination.

2.  I participate in Bible study by phone once a week.

3.  I’m an Aquarius.

4.  Normal people scare me.

5.  Harley Davidsons make my heart go pitty-pat.

6.  One of my dearest friends is a seventh generation witch.

7.  Starting to blog again ranks as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

So there you have it, folks.  Stay tuned for more talented people in my next installment, “The Liebster Award”.  Thank goodness this can all be done while wearing sweats.  If these were red carpet events I’d have to get all gussied up in my Sunday-go-to-meeting overalls.

Hillbilly Zen – El Diablo (The Devil’s In The Details)

 

“Goodnight, babies.  Good job today.  See you in the morning!”  With one last swish of her ponytail, the stable manager flipped off the lights and closed the barn door.

For a few seconds, the only sounds were rhythmic munching and the muted rustling of tired horses shifting in their stalls. Then came the distinct sound of a throaty bass chuckle.

“Did you see the look on his face?  ‘I swear that horse tried to kill me!’” Frank’s normally deep voice rose several octaves, mimicking the panic-stricken voice of the rider.  Still snickering, he dipped his muzzle into the feed tub and lipped up another mouthful of oats.

“Priceless, Frank.  Everybody was looking at him like he was nuts, and there you stood looking all innocent, with that ‘one step away from the glue factory’ face you do.  Priceless, dude.”  Hank yawned and stretched his muscular neck into his water pail.  “That woman, though…she knows one end of a horse from the other. No way was I gonna to be able to get anything over on her.”

“The little girls were sweet.  So well behaved and considerate.  Good hands and seats, too.  I think I got more pats and smooches today than I have in the past month.”  Tinkerbell’s gentle voice floated up the stable aisle.  From the stalls on either side of her, George and Gracie nickered in agreement through mouthfuls of rich alfalfa hay.

Frank stretched his massive frame, old spur scars whitening beneath his bay coat. Yawning widely and giving a dog-like shake, he grunted in contentment.  Life was good, and a far cry from his days in the rodeo.  “El Diablo” they’d called him back then, and many a cocky cowboy had lost his seat and his dignity in the arena dust swirling around Frank’s hooves.

“Okay, time for this old gelding to hit the hay.  Night everybody.”  As his stablemate’s responses drifted from the rows of stalls, the old quarter horse shifted his weight one final time and dropped his head.  Almost immediately he began to snore softly, dreaming of cheering crowds and glaring lights.  His slightly swayed back twitched with memories of tightly clamped legs loosening as bronc busters flew off his back in windmilling arcs.

“Gelding, schmelding.”  Hank murmured, lips twitching in a sleepy smile.  “You’ll always be a stud.  Sweet dreams, El Diablo.”

 

bucking horse

Hillbilly Zen – Ponies on the Patio

When I was a kid, I had an imaginary stable of horses in one of my Granny’s flowerbeds.  There were horses of every conceivable color and breed, their names changing each day with the winds that swept the hilltop of our old homeplace.  They were perfect, requiring no food or maintenance of any kind, always ready for any adventure that a solitary child with a vivid imagination could dream up.  All I had to do was pick one from the “stalls” lined up in the beautiful deep purple iris beds that lined the fence in front of the house, saddle up and we were off to the far reaches of the farm, as fast as my pudgy little legs would carry me.  Scraggly scrub cedars became a dark, forbidding forest.  The large pile of moss-covered limestone remnants from an old rock fence was the perfect spot to converse with faeries and elves.  I pretended that the barn was a haunted castle (complete with very real cows that would occasionally emerge from the shadows to scare the peewaddin out of me).

Now I’m on a farm that reminds me of the one I grew up on, and I have three real horses that require real food and maintenance.  Lots and lots of maintenance.  Iris blooms don’t keep them in their stalls these days, and patching the dilapidated fence around their pasture is often an adventure in itself.

One repair mission in particular produced a surprising result.  Luckily, most of my neighbors are truly good people who alert me when there’s been a breakout, and sometimes even help capture the varmints.  A friend’s son was on his way home and noticed a large hole in the fence, my three hay burners investigating the gap with obvious mischief in mind.  He alerted his mom, who in turn sounded the alarm to me.  So it was that at midnight on a 20-degree winter evening I found myself ankle-deep in snow with wire cutters in one numb hand and a stubborn strand of barbed wire in the other, seriously questioning the benefits of horse ownership.

Hooves and Hammers

The three potential miscreants observed attentively, crowding in way too close and completely ignoring my irritated attempts to shoo them away.  Irritated is a gross understatement, and the printable gist of my grumbling was a caveat to my “helpers” that if they got knocked in the nose by a hammer it was their own darn fault.

It wasn’t until my grumpy muttering finally subsided that I began to notice the frigid tranquility of the night.  In the ensuing silence hooves and boots squeaked in the snow, interspersed by the crack of hammer against fence post that echoed like gunshots across the frozen field.  As anger’s heat dissipated, I began to feel the warmth of their bodies as they surrounded me, and appreciate their steamy puffs of breath as they peered over my shoulders.  Squinted grouchy eyes widened to see the brilliance of a full moon sprinkling diamonds across the snowdrifts, rivaled only by the crystalline clarity of the stars.  I was entranced, lingering even after the last strand of barbed wire was in place, just being present in that moment, trying to absorb such wondrous surroundings.  After planting frosty goodnight kisses on three soft muzzles, I drove back up to the house, musing on what I’d have missed if I’d have continued to feed my initial anger.  It’s extraordinary what our Creator sends us when we open our hearts and minds, and shut our mouths.

Equine Therapy

As I write this, my three red-legged devils are roaming loose in the yard, having escaped their pasture yet again to take up temporary residence with the dogs and cats.  Between working full time in town and more pressing chores on the farm, there just hasn’t been time to remedy the situation.  Truth be told, I’m dragging my heels a bit because I’ve grown to like having them so close.  There’s just something about having a conversation with a horse through the back door that makes me smile.

Some of their antics are not so endearing, true, but I love them just the same.  I love the way they smell when they’ve been warming themselves in the sun, and the calmness that envelops me while combing burrs from their manes and tails.  They listen patiently without judging as I recount the day’s events, commenting only with soft nickers and gentle nudges.  They don’t understand a word I’m saying, of course, but that doesn’t matter in the least.  They respond simply to the love they feel in my touch and the tone of my voice.  They also respond to the peppermints they get as treats when they hold still while being groomed, but mostly to the love thing.  Really.  It’s the love.

Even the mounds of “horse apples” that dot the yard (and the driveway – and the patio – and on one unforgettable occasion one of the cats, but that’s another story) are somehow comforting. They remind me of where I came from and where I am now, of childhood dreams that have come true.  If I don’t watch where I step they’re also a fragrant, squishy reminder to fix that fence.

 

Horse

The Reality Blog Award – How Cool Is That!

I’d like to thank the Academy…oh, wait…wrong acceptance speech.  That’s the one I do in the bathroom mirror on the rare occasions I have a good hair day, which involves the obligatory hairbrush/microphone and bottle of Suave/Oscar. Ahem.

Seriously, I do want to thank  janna hill for this nomination.  It’s funny, I just read a comment from another blogger, nominated for a different award,  who has “so many awards” she doesn’t accept them anymore.  No chance of that with this little hillbilly.  To be recognized by one’s peers is an honor, no matter the frequency.  By the way, I’m changing that “Y” in Reality from “Yippee!” to “Yeehaw!”  Just sayin’.

There are logistics involved with this.  The deal is, when you’re nominated, you:

1.) Visit the blog of the person who nominated you, thank them, and acknowledge them on *your* blog.

2.) Answer the five questions listed below and nominate up to 20 bloggers whom you feel deserve recognition.  Visit their blog to let them know.

3.) Cut and paste the award to your wall.  Easy peasy.

So with that said, on with our regularly scheduled program….

If you could change one thing, what would you change?

You earthling’s Humankind’s seemingly constant inclination to fight about every little blessed thing.

If you could repeat an age, what would it be?

Fifteen.  That’s when I discovered boys.  If I’d left them alone like my Granny advised, I’d be Supreme Ruler of the Universe right now.

What one thing really scares you?

Driving on snow.  I live on a little country road that’s only marginally better than a cow path, and getting up and down these hills scares the peewaddin out of me.

What is one dream that you have not completed, and do you think you’ll be able to complete it?

To be Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and (see question #2) …no. ~sigh~

If you could be someone else for one day, who would it be?

Again, I refer you to question #2.  As Supreme Ruler of the Universe, I could summon all  the world leaders together in one big room, slap the snot out of them, tell them to get their act together and then make them by golly do it.

Okie dokie.  Now here’s the fun part – the bloggers that deserve all the love and recognition  they can get.  There’s prolly a bazillion more, but these are my personal favorites (not including  janna hill):

Thirsty Murphy

Masqua’s Art 

bussokuseki

lovinchelle

Masako and Spam Musubi

Wandering through Time and Place

Zen in the City

Mythic Bios

Undead Dad

hastywords

Jump for Joy Photo Project

Talinorfali

Now, all you freshly nominated folks – pay it forward!

Hillbilly Zen – The Way Of The Turtle

There’s a small suncatcher hanging in my kitchen window that reads “You’ll Always Be My Friend – You Know TooTwin Turtles Much!”  It is a gift from Vicki, who has been one of the best friends I’ve had for over 25 years.  Although she would deny it, she’s one of the most resilient individuals in existence. She’s survived breast cancer twice, a brain tumor, and has dealt with a host of family issues that would make most of us curl up in a fetal position on the couch and stay there.

I love her like a sister.  She’s a kindred spirit who can grieve for what is lost, then show a sense of gallows humor that sends sorrow on down the road with her footprint on its hind end.  She’s one of a kind, a blessing in my life and the lives of everyone who knows her.  She’s our rock – that one friend that can be called on for any reason, any time, who will always be there for us.

We met on her wedding day, which happened to be the same day I rented the other side of the duplex she and her new husband owned.  The reception was being held in the backyard as I moved in, and was without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had relocating.  The wedding guests, many of whom I’d never met, pitched in to help lug boxes and furniture, then we all pitched in to help empty a keg of beer.  After a few days of a tentative, landlord/tenant relationship something just clicked between us, and so began one of my most treasured friendships.  Since then she’s been one of the most loyal, trusted friends anyone could possibly hope to have.

Fargo, felons and felines

One of the first things we discovered about each other was a mutual love for critters.  Vicki’s dog Fargo was a massive Doberman, whose muscular frame and formidable, shark-like smile combined to create a completely intimidating first impression.  Once I got to know him, however, it was apparent that beneath all that fur and behind all those teeth was the gentle soul of a lamb and the timing of a comic genius.

Once of his favorite stunts was to drink from his water bowl in the kitchen, then saunter nonchalantly back into the living room.  There he would present his very best “I’m such a good boy, don’t you want to skritch me behind the ears?” demeanor to a seated guest.  When the unsuspecting visitor complied, Fargo would rest his huge head in seemingly blissful repose on their knee, then release the water he had stored in his mouth all over his victim’s lap.  Sitting back on his haunches, he would survey the ensuing reaction with the smug expression of a successful jester.  With very few exceptions, anyone allowed into Vicki’s home was an animal lover so Fargo’s prank usually resulted in laughter, especially from those of us who still had dry laps.

The years spent living next door to Vicki produced a wealth of cherished memories.  While relaxing in the back yard, she and I had ringside seats as a gun-toting felon fled from police through our backyard.  In our defense, we didn’t find out until later about the gun-toting or the felony thing, or we’d have hauled our butts out of those lawn chairs right quick.  We once found tiny kittens clinging to our front porch lights, one on each side of the duplex.  To this day we haven’t figured out how the little critters managed to climb up there.

Laughter through tears

One of our all-time favorite incidents is losing our breath and our dignity with our dear friend Eileen.  Having indulged in some…umm…herbal enhancement earlier in the day, the three of us piled into Eileen’s tiny car and headed to Parkette Drive-In for po’ boys.  Eileen’s a natural comedian, so when she spilled her Coke in her lap, her subsequent gymnastics and commentary sent us all over the edge. We were literally howling with laughter, tears streaming down our faces as we struggled to catch our breath.  This so amused the folks in a neighboring van that they brought us Kleenex and smiled knowingly, stating simply “Been there.”  Of course that set us off again.  If laughter truly is the best medicine, we released enough endorphins that day to ensure immortality.

The tears we wept were of an entirely different nature as we witnessed the birth of Vicki’s granddaughter, overwhelmed by the sheer miracle of new life and the incredible courage of her daughter.  There were tears shed for sorrowful reasons too, but somehow they seemed easier to bear when shared with Vicki.

Turtle Tracks

Some of the best times we’ve had have been on our road trips.  Several of them have been day trips and a few were overnight, but they have all, without exception, been adventures.  We refer to these expeditions as “going The Way of the Turtle” because invariably, at some point in the journey, there is a turtle involved.  Sometimes this entails risking life and limb to rescue a confused box turtle from the middle of the road, irritating other motorists and most likely confusing the poor turtle even further.  At other times the turtles just seem to find us somehow.  Impromptu excursions to obscure little festivals in tiny, out-of-the-way towns, taking off for a weekend to the lake, even mundane shopping trips are all likely to include the slow moving reptiles in one form or another.

So we’ve been through a lot together, Vicki and I.  There are a multitude of other memories I could share, but I’m not sure the statute of limitations has expired on some of them, and some are just too personal.  You get the idea, though.

We don’t get to see each other as much these days – she’s still in Lexington and I’m down here on my hill.  But even though we’re distanced geographically, our hearts still live right next door to each other and always will.  We are Lucy and Ethel, Mary and Rhoda, Thelma and Louise.  Okay, so we’re not likely to drive off a cliff, but don’t tailgate us – we are women who journey The Way of the Turtle and we will not hesitate to slam on the brakes if there’s a terrapin in jeopardy.

We are sisters, therapists, confidants and partners in crime.  We are friends who know too much.

Post Script

When Vicki read this, she reminded me of another bout of helpless laughter.  When we coined the phrase “The Way of the Turtle” we discussed getting matching tattoos.  Failing to find a design we liked, just getting the initials of the phrase was an option….until we realized it would read TWOTT.  Say it out loud, and you’re in on the joke, too 😉

Hillbilly Zen – Cold Comfort: The Solace of Solstice

solstice-sun-580x336The sun disappears much too early these days, as if chased over the horizon by the icy claws of winter.  The “bold, laughing light” (https://hillbillyzen.com/tao-happens/) that so entranced me in the summer is less boisterous, its warmth weak and fleeting, snatched away by frigid wind and carried to other environs.  There is a nameless dread that clutches me every evening as the daylight wanes, as chores are done earlier and more quickly to exploit the last bits of twilight.  Simply walking out the door is not an option, now there are strata of garb involved; long underwear, fleece, coveralls, a hat, a scarf, gloves.  Melancholy seems woven into the very fabric of each piece of clothing swaddled against my skin, binding body and soul.  With one final, despondent sigh, “Another winter” (followed by the quickly repressed “Another year older”) I step outside, head down, breaths shallow to avoid a lungful of frost.

And yet…

Today the sun will shine a bit longer.  Not much, just a few seconds, but longer, a promise made by the sunbeam that slants across the room this morning.  Sophie and Puh (dog and cat, respectively) jockey for position within the boundaries of its warmth, draped on the recliner in languorous appreciation.  I situate myself between them, ignoring the glare on the laptop screen (and the ones they give me for disturbing their nap) in order to share the balmy caress.  Outside, my mare Annie stretches out in the sunlight, extending arthritic old legs to soak up the radiant comfort.  To be sure, winter is far from over, in fact has barely begun.  There will be snow and ice and much more dismal donning of winter attire.  This day after solstice, however, I will nap in a sunbeam between a snoring dog and a purring cat.  I will bundle up without complaint and go outside to stroke the neck of a feisty old quarter horse, sharing her contentment as the sun warms our bones.  I will luxuriate in the primal knowledge that there is more sunlight yet to come, a little more each day.

In Loving Memory of Miss Joan Davis

(Reposted in response to today’s Daily Prompt, Teacher’s Pet)

“’I don’t care what Donny Osmond says, one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch.’ This statement was made by my sixth grade teacher, Miss Joan Davis; a wonderful, funny lady whose gentle nature, deep faith and just all around good sense has enriched my life more than I’ll ever be able to tell her. She sought to avoid the domino effect of bad behavior on our class, but as with so many other things she has taught me over the years, this particular lesson transcends the boundaries of the classroom.”

That’s the first paragraph of a column I wrote for the Danville Advocate Messenger a few years ago. When I asked for her permission to tell that story, Miss Davis was typically modest about her positive influence on her students’ lives. Had it not been for Miss Davis’ guidance and encouragement, however, I would not have had the ability or the confidence to write anything. Any one of her former students will tell you the same thing – she had a knack for discerning our talents and helping us develop them. Walking into her classroom was like being enveloped in a warm, soft fleece blanket. You knew you were safe, that your skills would be praised and your flaws overlooked, or gently discouraged. Always gently.

Miss Davis was not, however, a pushover. She never raised her voice that I can remember, yet she held total sway over her classroom. If we were less than attentive to the lesson she was teaching, she simply stopped speaking. Standing in front of us, usually with her hands folded and a pleasant expression on her face, she waited until we got the hint and settled down. When she resumed speaking, it was in an even softer tone that had us leaning forward in our seats to catch her every word. That tactic might not work on today’s students, but let me tell you it sure worked on us.

I lost touch with Miss Davis for several years after leaving Glendover Elementary. In reflection, I really believe it was divine intervention that prompted me to find her again. Her influence was missing in my life, and even if I didn’t realize it, God did. The blessing of being her student blossomed into an adult friendship, and the way she lived her life continued to teach me invaluable lessons for the next 42 years.

Her sense of humor is legendary, and more often than not our nightly phone conversations inspired helpless laughter in both of us. When she asked me a year or so ago to write a eulogy for her, Miss Davis absolutely forbade me from mentioning some of the really funny stuff, so suffice it to say that at one point I was inspired to nickname her “The Wayward Schoolmarm”.

Miss Davis told me that the hardest part of teaching was letting us go at the end of the year. After giving us everything she had during the school year, catching glimpses of the adults we would become, and providing the love and support than only Miss Davis could give, she had to let us go. She had to release us to our destinies, to bigger and better things. Knowing in her heart that it was inevitable didn’t make it any easier for her, just as it doesn’t make it any easier for us to let her go. But we know that she has beautifully and completely fulfilled her destiny; that she, too, goes on to bigger and better things. She has left us for a place where there is no pain, where her incredible soprano will ring out pure and strong, and where knowledge is infinite. And wherever there’s a group of giggling angels, it’s a safe bet that Miss Davis will be right in the middle of them.

One quick word to the educators gathered here today, both retired and “active duty” – don’t ever doubt that you have made a difference in this world. Some of your students may stay in touch, some may not, but please, know in your heart of hearts that you have made this planet a better place.

Joan Phyllis Davis was a marvelous lady who has been an inspiration on so many levels, a mentor, and a treasured friend. My deepest love and gratitude to you, Miss Davis, for always bringing out the best in me, and in all of us.

Hillbilly Zen – Nipper Belly

Nip was a good dog, except when he wasn’t.  He was one of those critters that we humans feel blessed to have in our lives, even when they’re not being exactly obedient.  His face could convey his emotions better than some people I know, and I swear that dog could smile.  He used that smile to his advantage, whether it was when he wanted me to be goofy and playful with him or when he’d been bad and knew I couldn’t scold him because I was laughing.  His favorite ploy was to flop down right in front of me on his back, wriggle like an excited child and present his belly to be scratched.  It always worked – I was powerless to resist.  “Ooooh, gimme me some of that Nipper belly!” was always my response, accompanied by vigorous skritches and pats.

Certain other maneuvers were not nearly so entertaining for me.  Nip, his brother Tuck and sometimes Jack (my one-eyed, bobtailed bird dog), would blow through the fence and take off over the hill, usually after spotting deer or some other critter on the far side.  I always worried myself nearly sick when they’d do that, because there are some sadistic wingnuts down here who get some sort of twisted thrill from killing dogs.  But I digress.

When they finally returned home, the escapees were invariably muddy, hungry, covered in ticks, sometimes reeking of skunk and trying really, really hard to look contrite.  While they didn’t think twice about stampeding through the electric fence in hot pursuit, when they reappeared they’d sit outside the perimeter and whine for me to come let them back through it into the yard.  While I covered the distance from porch to gate, they all got an earful about the dangers of coyotes, cars and rednecks with weapons.  The culprits would slink apologetically through the gate with heads down and tails between their legs – well, except for Jack, who could somehow tuck in his entire rear end to compensate for his abbreviated tail.

Once safely in the yard, it was usually Nip who took it upon himself to get me back in a good mood.  All he had to do was give me that smile, accompanied by a nudge with a wet nose and a quick slurp on my hand as if to say “Aww, c’mon Mom, lighten up!”  My anger dissolved to relief that they were all back safely.  Reprimands trailed off, replaced by loving admonishments not to scare me like that again.  All was well, at least until the next time they made a break for it.

As you may have guessed, I’m one of “those” people who talk to and treat their critters as if they were human children.  Despite the eye rolls and derision from the woefully unenlightened, I am sublimely unrepentant for such behavior.  Those who treasure their pets as family members will understand, and those who don’t understand don’t know what they’re missing.  People exhibit both good and bad human nature, but I think it takes animals to teach us how to be a good-natured human.

Until the last couple of weeks of his life, Nip was one of God’s creatures who was just plain happy to be alive.  His exuberance lifted my sagging spirit more times than I can count.  I’d often look outside to see him flat on his back, legs akimbo, modesty gleefully abandoned simply because the breeze felt good on his body.  What a blessing it would be to take such effortless joy in scratching an itchy spot on your back against the warm grass, with complete and total disregard for the opinion of anyone who might be watching.  Whether motivated by sirens, coyotes yipping on a distant hill or just to hear their heads rattle, my dogs will sometimes burst into baying “song”.  What they lack in talent is more than compensated by their volume, and Nip put heart and soul into each and every chorus.

While I haven’t yet reached that state of careless bliss, I’m a little closer to it because of Nip.  He showed me the pleasure of simplicity, that it’s often the most uncomplicated acts that bring the purest form of happiness.

I don’t know exactly why Nip died.  He was a little under nine years old, still relatively young and healthy.  He got a bad ear infection but seemed to improve a little after a course of antibiotics and eardrops.  He really hated those eardrops but bore the twice-daily regimen without too much complaint.

Then, one sunny Friday afternoon I found him collapsed in the front yard, seizing and unable to rise.  There was nothing further that could be done except to make that final escape as comfortable as possible for him.  We spent those last hours together, lying on his favorite blanket in the sun-dappled shade of our back yard.  Some of the other animals (his “brothers and sisters”) seemed to know what was happening and would often join us, keeping vigil, saying goodbye.  Nip died in my arms early Saturday morning during those black, lonesome pre-dawn hours when time seems to stop and grief waits in the shadows.

There is a beautiful quote by Irving Townsend – “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached.  Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way.  We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.”  So I don’t want to remember Nip’s death.  Instead I will try to remember the lessons he taught me about living, remember his part in my necessary plan.  My inner child and I will continue to believe that there is a Heaven for dogs where the kibble is made from prime rib, and the water is cool and sweet.  Belly rubs are plentiful and there are lots of hills to roam, free of danger and filled with exciting scents.  There are no fleas, ticks or scary bumblebees and the ravages of disease hold no sway.

If you are one of “those” people who believe that too, please put your arms around your critters and say a little prayer with them that my Nipper is there, among all the other beloved pets that have found their final home.  That he is waiting for me; liquid golden-brown eyes sparkling with mischief, tongue lolling, big old hound dog ears flapping gently in the breeze, smiling that smile I miss so very much.

Even after all these years, I still strain to hear his comic contralto when the dogs sing; still half expect, half hope to see him loping across the grass to greet me.  His grave is under a young maple tree at the edge of the yard, overlooking the hills that he loved to ramble.  It is the exact spot that he and his brothers would slip through the fence in their quests for adventure.  It is a fanciful notion, perhaps, born of a broken heart, but I buried him on the other side of that fence.  In life, such a mundane assembly of wood and nails and wire could not contain Nip, as he had proved so many times over the years.  Accordingly, it seemed only fitting and proper that his spirit be unimpeded as he began his final journey.

So if you happen to be in my neck of the woods and see a round, middle-aged woman flat on her back in the warm grass, singing loudly and off-key, don’t be alarmed.  It’s only me, practicing the lessons learned from an unforgettable friend.

Nip Shelton

8/99 – 4/08

Good dog.

Go home.

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