My friend, Sam

19396984_10214052718058673_6761842725271749094_nI have an old coonhound named Sam. We aren’t really sure how old Sam is, he was someone else’s throwaway who landed at our door. Kennedy was on the front porch one evening and Sam just sort of ambled up onto the porch and took over our hearts. Kennedy came and got Ken and I out of bed so we could see what was outside. She excitedly led the way and what we found was one of the most pitiful things I’ve ever seen.

Sam is a blue-tick coon hound. He has big chocolate ears, a sad brown face and his body is a map of liver spots and ticking. His ticking is creamy white with blue/black tick marks. When he found us, he probably weighed less than fifty pounds. His coat was dull and coarse and he had more ticks on him than I ever thought could get on a dog. Ken and I sat down with Kennedy and Sam just walked up and rested his head on my knees and sighed really big. It was like he was saying, “I’m so tired.” Belle soon joined us and for the next few days we spent any free time picking ticks off of Sam. Kennedy would rather cut her fingers off than touch bugs, and yet she loving pulled hundreds of nasty bugs from Sam. There were hundreds around his eyes and so many in and around his ears. That was the worst of it. They were so tiny and it felt like we would never get them all. We also started feeding this skinny hound. You could run your fingers down his sides and count every rib. His shoulder blades stuck out like sails on a ship. He was just all angles. Except for his big, loppy ears. Sam has great ears. Anyway, we fed him dozens of scrambled eggs and hot dogs and anything else we thought would put weight on him. Ken got up one morning and made biscuits and gravy, after all, gravy makes you fat! We groomed and nurtured and fattened and loved this sweet dog back into doggy shape.

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It wasn’t long and Sam made it into the house and was taking regular naps in the sun beams crossing the end of the sofa. He moves with the slowness and ease of an old timer. He saunters around the house, stopping to chuff things out, sizing things up and making sure things are at the right. He is an affectionate scoundrel. He loves hugs. He doesn’t seem to realize his size, which is now closer to eighty pounds than the scrawny fifty he was when he landed here. When I sit in my chair, he comes over and puts his front paws up on the foot stool and slowly starts maneuvering his way into my lap. Usually I am trying, unsuccessfully, to explain to him that he is too big to be in my lap. It would surprise you how small he can make himself when he is determined. He lowers his head and pushes up against your chest with his forehead and just stands there. It’s like he’s saying he is so thankful. Or he’s telling you he will keep your secrets. You can trust a dog with anything. They listen and love and in the end, you both feel good. You can’t say no to Sam. It would break his heart…and mine.

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I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a coonhound, but they don’t bark, they bawl. Sammy has the most mournful bay. It seems to start around his tail, by the time it gets to his throat, his head is thrown back and a deep siren of a call comes out of him. I can’t get enough of it. Even after this many years. Other’s aren’t quite as passionate. Belle has a friend who fishes with his grandfather on our lake, she has had more than one phone call telling her to shut her dumb dog up, he’s scaring the fish away. His cry does echo all across this lake. Wherever you are on the lake, you can hear Sammy. He also loves to swim. If he gets out, oh my gosh. First, you can forget catching him. Stubborn. He doesn’t hurt anything, but he loves to ‘tree’ cats. He stands at the bottom of the tree and with every breath announces to the world that what he was trailing has been caught. When he gets bored, or hot, he heads for the water. Not just in and out. He gets in, leisurely gliding in until his feet no longer touch, then he just swims. Back and forth. It stresses me to no end in the summer months. I am afraid someone is going to come in to our little cove and run right over him without ever knowing he was there. When he’s had his fill. he climbs out, shakes off and has a nap in the sun under the huge oak tree in the front yard. People in the neighborhood always stop to say hi to him. He has a big, easy grin and he loves a bit of a scratch behind those big ears.

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He has become the favorite of everyone in the family, but his heart is really Kennedy’s. She isn’t home much, she’s out adulting. He waits. He knows her car. Just as soon as he hears her, he starts in. Sound the hounds. Out the doggy door, to the fence, in the doggy door to the front door and back. This is a constant loop until she comes in. Then he hugs her. He stands up, wraps his front paws around her neck, puts his forehead against hers and just stands there. He is so happy she is here. For the next three or four hours, no other animal will be able to get anywhere near her. She is his. He chuffs and gruffs and lays across her. It’s obvious to me. She found him and saved him. He came to her. She said it best, “God sure gave us a special gift when he had Sam show up.”. That’s the way we all feel.

I became a true coonhound mom the night Sam was out and I thought he was hurt. It was the first night he had gotten out and stayed out all night. I could hear him baying over and over and I was convinced he was stuck somewhere. It was freezing rain outside, I was home alone and I couldn’t stand it, I had to go and see what was wrong. I put my robe on over my pajamas, my muck boots on, snagged Ken’s big ol spot light from the kitchen and went out front and jumped on the mule. The window was iced over, the wind was blowing and I was trying to hold the spotlight and drive. The week earlier, we had lost a tree in the weather and I was convinced he was caught in that tree somewhere looking like Jack Nicholson at the end of the Shining. Mind you, this is about three o’clock in the morning. So I am yelling and yelling for him and suddenly he jumps out in front of me. I swear he was smiling. He was wagging his whole body. He was having fun. I was so mad. I whipped that mule around and headed straight back to the house. Damn dog.

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Sam is terrified of storms. I know some dogs are nervous during bad weather. We have two others that don’t do very well during storms. Sam is not even on their scale. He can sense it coming. So on many occasions. he has alerted me to the fact that bad weather was on it’s way. Once the thunder starts, Sam is a full time job. I was the first one who got to see this. I kept telling the family how awful it was, but like most things, everyone poo-poo’s mom. One by one, they have each had their turn. It truly is pitiful. In March, I had just gotten out of the hospital and Sam had gotten out. He was amorously chasing another throw-away pet in our neighborhood who happened to be in heat. He was not coming home. We had been out in the truck, on the mule, on the four-wheeler. We had walked and yelled and bribed. When you got feet from him, he bolted. He was BUSY. Kade and Ken had been trying to get him in, we knew bad weather was coming. They both had to go to work and I was going to be home alone. I was nearly hysterical. Everyone left and I sat and waited, Periodically, I would go out on the front porch and yell for him. He didn’t normally come to the guys, but would usually always come to one of us girls. I yelled til I was horse. I wasn’t supposed to be driving anything but it just kept getting uglier and uglier out. I called Ken and Kade in a panic and they both told me to calm down, Sam was a dog, he would be ok. Well that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard.  I took this opportunity to use my furious-ness as the catalyst to stupidity. I got on the four-wheeler, which I never drive. It has power steering and goes two hundred miles an hour and I hate it. It just feels unsafe to me. Especially in the rain, with my eyes, legs and that peripheral vision thing…Off I went. I just kept screaming for Sam. I went up and down all of the dirt roads and all around the neighborhood. I went where he usually went if he managed to escape. Nothing. No sign of Sam. I was freezing. I was shaking so hard, I kept pulling on the handlebars and jerking myself to one side or the other. I kept slipping off the seat because everything was slick from the rain. My hair was in my eyes, the wind was blowing so hard. I decided I’d just better go back home. I got into the house, went straight to the basement and got out of my wet clothes. I grabbed Ken’s robe, it was hanging in the laundry room. I came upstairs, sat down on the couch and just boo-hooed. About that time, Sam walked in the back door. He was soaked to the bone and as cold as I was. I laughed and swatted his butt and then hugged his neck. After drying him off and making him a warm bed on the couch along side the one I made for myself, we cuddled. I cannot tell you the relief I felt.

Our dogs are our family. We have voices for all of them, so we carry out complete conversations we perceive they are having. They all have personalities and quirks that we cater to. We know who is scared of what and who is certainly going to get into trouble if left unattended. They get gifts at Christmas and they have special back to school treats. Although they aren’t going to school. they will be so sad Belle is. They hate it when that big yellow box takes her away for the day. Sam and Tag will stand guard waiting for her to come back home. I don’t know why God chose us for Sam to come to. I know that he has been a comfort to me on so many occasions. I love that big ol coonhound. He will look at you with those big brown, sad eyes and it just makes me smile. I don’t know who decided to throw him away, but I am thankful every day that they did.

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My Sister Friend, Ellen Pearl

I have often written about the women in my life. God has blessed me with some of the strongest women he made. I have an arsenal of female perspective and a gaggle of iron shouldered geese to lean on when my road gets bumpy. This particular story is about Pearl, otherwise known as Ellen Voyles, my sister in law. I don’t usually call her that. We are sister-friends. She is so much more than a sister in law.

I always wanted a sister. I had brothers.  I had two step sisters once. Picture Anastasia and Drizella. I was so excited when I found out I was going to have not one, but two sisters!! I made a spot for them in my closet for when they came to stay. I had a trundle bed at the time, I pulled the trundle out and left it set up so they would feel like they had a ‘spot’. The older sister was a senior in high school and didn’t come very many weekends. The younger one was a year younger than me and came to visit a lot. She and I made friends quickly. Well, I did. You know me, I was full of big plans, I had visions of us becoming inseparable. We would do everything together, go shopping and do make-overs on each other and we would be there for each other when children were born and when family died and we would make super cool nicknames for each other. Maybe we would even have our own secrete language like twins sometimes did! Gasp! Slumber parties with all of our friends, mom making a batch of cherry chip cupcakes! We would, of course, share favorites in every thing!  I took the fantasy of having a sister and ran as fast as I could with it. I always do this. I’m forever excited and enthusiastic. Even now, at the age of fifty, my balloon doesn’t land. I’m the ant moving that damn rubber tree plant. Unfortunately, in this situation, I was flying a kite made of fantasy and destruction. I was ten miles down the road with my kite before I realized that the kite string had been cut, the kite was on fire and it was headed for the side of  a barn.

What I found out rather quickly was, she was a brat. Unfortunately, I was a brat too, and this was a one-brat-household. My dreams of my being the Marcia Brady to her Jan skid down the hot slide of life.

So there went my dreams of a sister. I eventually got married and was blessed with two sisters-in-law. I have loved these girls for thirty-three years. However, we have always lived so far away from each other. We’ve always been friends, we keep in touch even now. With busy lifestyles and long distance, it has been hard for us to have a close knit relationship. I always thought, ‘One day’. We think that about a lot of things, don’t we? One day we won’t be as busy. then we will……

So then a bunch of other crap happened that you don’t want to hear about right now and I met my second husband. In comes Pearl, Stage Left.

I came up to the lake house for the first time one afternoon in early summer. It was HOT! I had my hair cut in a cute little pixie and I had been tanning a little bit so my legs didn’t look like a can of busted biscuits. I wore a knee length skirt and my good luck t-shirt and my old keds tennis shoes. Pretty cute sea going fare. We skipped down to the boat, Yes, I said skipped, anyway…We skipped down to  the boat and hopped in and Ken took off like his pants were on fire. We hurled around the lake five or six times going about two hundred miles and hour and I couldn’t see a damn thing because my skirt had blown up over my head and I was too afraid to let go of whatever I was hanging on to. When he finally did slow down, it was with a jerk and I fell forward and smacked my forehead on the windshield in front of me. While I was trying to rearrange my clothes and smooth down my hair, he stuck his hand out and said “Wanna go meet my brother?” Grinning, I said “Sure!” Inside I was thinking “Holy crap they are going to think I’m Guy Fieri” because there was no way my hair was going to do anything at this point but stand on it’s ends and I wasn’t completely sure if I hadn’t peed myself. Hustling me up the hill to their house, we stepped up onto the porch and rang the bell.

Ken ushered me in, I sat on the loveseat with him and was immediately warned not to pet the dog who was cheerfully wagging his tail at me. “He’s a fraud and he bites.” I nervously laughed. Then Jim started. I didn’t know he had started then, I do now. “So, Tracey, you have how many children?” Without missing a beat, “I have five children. All under the age of seven.” Everything just sort of stopped. I laughed and said I was just kidding. He looked at Ken and said “Brother, I was going to ask you what the hell were you getting into?!” This was the beginning of a fantastic friendship for me. Jim and Ellen have become my family.

More importantly, Ellen Pearl has become my sister. Pearl is long and lean. She looks as if she swam her whole life. You can see her standing on her toes on the cliffs of the Norfork Lake, ready to push off. She has this marvelous head of steel and pearl hair. It’s the hair everyone wants. It’s natural curl is perfect and her only styling tool is a bobby pin. She isn’t a chirpy morning person. You have to quietly let her adjust to the day with her coffee. She is always calm. I have never seen her flustered, I think that is one of the things that draws me to her. That and her eyes. She has the warmest eyes. She is unwavering in her attention when it is placed on you. She isn’t fussy in her clothing. She always looks smart and neat. Last summer I got so tickled with her, She and I were texting and she said, “I got a floral blouse.” I commented something non-committal, Ellen doesn’t wear floral blouses. In fact, I think I might have said as much. She said something about it being time for an old woman floral blouse. A few weeks later we went for lunch. After we got out of the car and exchanged hugs, she said “Look! My floral blouse!” It was beautiful. She was beautiful.

Ellen is gifted in many areas, painting is one talent that I am struck by. Her paintings speak to you. That sounds so cliche. It’s not deep enough. Trying to mark this with words makes it too small. There were several paintings in the house when I moved in. My  favorites changed with my mood and temperament. Now my favorite painting is the one we received as a wedding gift. I had mentioned periodically that this certain painting was my favorite of hers. When it came time for our wedding, she told me to pick out my favorite painting. I told her I loved them all so much, for her to just surprise me. I knew which one I loved, but I knew it was dear to her too. I would never have asked for it. On our wedding day, with no fanfare and all the love in the world, she gave it to me. It’s a soft painting. All whites and blues. There is a figure and he is reaching towards Heaven and releasing a bird. It’s not a dove. Not to me. It is the most peaceful work of art I have ever seen. I have it hung on the wall at the end of my bed. It’s what I see when I wake up and when I fall to sleep. It represents friendship, love, marriage, beginnings, family.

Pearl is also hysterical. She doesn’t even mean to be. She said she thought she might be going crazy because she was making sounds. Sounds? Sounds. She said her Godson asked her why she kept making that sound then she sort of made a ‘puh’ sound with pursed lips. I tried to imitate it, failed. She did it again. I tried again, sort of got it. If something is dumb now, we just make that sound. Our own secret language!!

When we first met, she kept calling me Sheila. She said I didn’t look like a Tracey, I looked like a Sheila. So I became Sheila. Belle introduced her to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back and they became Becky. Pearl, aka Becky, decided that Kennedy needed a name also and after long consideration, Kennedy became Maggie. Maggie Mae from Rod Stewart fame. Pearl said when she heard that song she could just see it was Kennedy Rod was talking about. So here we are, from left to right, Sheila, Becky, Becky and Maggie. Please to meet you.

Ellen Pearl Becky makes excellent strawberry cake and slaw. She introduced me to Japanese dumplings and how to make them. She has taught me how to pick colors for cabinets, tame a Voyles man and how to smile when you don’t want to smile.

Ken and I hadn’t been married very long when we have our first grown up fight. I was mad and had my feelings hurt. I shoved my feet down in his boots, there was three feet of snow on the ground, and went stomping over to Ellen’s house. I knocked on the back door, she took one look at me and  pointed the way upstairs leaving Jim bewildered in the basement. I laid my case out and cried and bawled and she quietly set a box of tissues in front of me and started talking. She became my lifeline in this part of the world. I hadn’t had that since I left Indiana. I’ve made a lot of friends, but not like this. She’s my sister-friend. We have gone through alot together in five short years. She has been my calm in the calamity more than once. When it came time for Ken and I to get married, we started discussing who we would have perform the vows. Immediately I asked if we could ask Ellen. I called her and asked her if she would care to be ordained and to marry us. She happily excepted. She wrote our vows, I still have the little black folio with her handwritten vows in it. No words were ever so full of love. They were written for us and to us. She has such a deep connection with Ken and it showed in the words she chose to use. We are connected now, Ellen and I. Not by our circumstances, but by the bond of sisterhood. I cherish her friendship. God always gives you what you need at the time you need it. Thank God for Pearl.

 

 

You Never Forget How Someone Makes You Feel

I got to see me brother a couple of weeks ago. He lives in South Carolina and I live in Arkansas and we aren’t that close so we don’t talk that much. He made a comment while I was there, it wasn’t about us, but it felt like he was talking right to me and it hit me right between the eyes. He said “You never forget how someone makes you feel.” Isn’t that the truth?

My mother was a hair dresser when I was young, she had a client who was a meany. When I think of her now, that’s how I think of her, that ol’ meany. When I was a teenager, she was always asking me what size jeans I wore then telling me that when she was a teenager she wore just a size under that. She would ask me my bra size and tell me that she couldn’t imagine having breasts that large at my age. My pants were too tight, my t-shirts were too tight, that color didn’t look good on me. Every time she was in the shop, these are the things she said to me. To this day I have a bad feeling when I think of her. It’s just been recently that Mother was telling the story about this particular woman stopping by the house once in a while so Mother could ‘freshen her up’ (wanting a free comb-out). She has stopped by for this particular reason and she picked up my brother, who was around three at the time. Now let me tell you, Jeffrey Haines was a gorgeous baby. I’m sure she wanted to pick him up and love all over him. She was trying to get some sugar from him and she said “What would you say if I just kissed you?” My brother deadpanned “God D@#%$t.” Mother said she was mortified! I was in Heaven! Then I suddenly thought, all those years that horrible woman was mean to me! This was why! (Picture a dramatic slump at this moment)

We also have people that make us feel like we have been wrapped in a blanket just taken from the dryer. My person like that is Beth Jones. Beth was a Kindergarten teacher at the Christian School my kids went to. I knew her long before then, however. She had cute sons that I went to church camp with. I have loved Beth Jones since the day I met her. She has this breathtaking smile that lights up a room and then she starts talking. She starts telling you how much she loves you and how beautiful you are and then come the hugs, oh the hugs. That’s the blanket thing I was talking about. When my children were young and I was having problems in my marriage, I would walk in to the class to drop one of the kids off and all she had to do was look at me and she would know. She would squeeze my arm and look me in the eye and tell me she loved me and I would start to cry. She would have her classroom aid take care of the class and step outside with me. She would say a quick prayer with me and tell me to come back on her lunch hour or on her break or after school and she would talk to me. She gave me guidance and encouraged my faith and my walk with Jesus and she told me I was worth more. She was the first person to ever tell me that I was worth something. It makes my soul cry writing this. There are not enough words to tell you how blessed I was to have God drop Beth Jones into my life. I survived a lot of years because of her.

You also have the people you meet on just a day to day basis. I go and get my watermelons from my cleaning girl’s daddy. She is a doll and he raised five amazing daughters, so I go out of the way to buy from his stand. Likewise, there is a fireworks stand in my hometown that I wouldn’t buy one of those little starters from. Two or three gals in that family ‘bought from my ex husband’s stand’, you might say, so I choose not to show my patronage to them on our Nation’s Birthday.

What will stick to your soul is the people you love. I was mean to my little brother. I was so jealous of him. He is an admitted Momma’s boy. They showed a lot of affection. I wasn’t built that way. I didn’t know what was wrong for years and years. I just thought she preferred him. So I was mean to him. As adults, we have had little to no relationship. I have a close, loving relationship with his wife, his two daughters and his two granddaughters. They are so dear to my heart. And suddenly, in the last five years or so, I want to be close to him. We have both been wary. It’s taken a long time. This visit, we seem to have turned a corner. I have felt like I have wanted this and he has not. I have felt all these years as if I didn’t deserve to have a relationship with him. I felt I let him down in so many ways. Then one day it occurred to me, I was a kid, doing stupid shit, acting out because of the circus we were in. I was a KID. So I forgave myself and decided that if God wanted this to happen, it would. In this new day, wounds are healing, hearts are softening and we seem to be moving toward each other for the first time. That makes me so happy. I want to be someone who makes him feel good, not bad.

The sad part of this story is I am fifty. This story started when I was about sixteen. What a waste of time. Miscommunication. Jealously. Anger. Resentment.        Why?

There is nothing so big that you should go to bed tonight knowing someone is feeling bad because of you. Fix it. Own it. Eat it. Anything else you do with it is just a sinful waste of time. And not only are you hurting them, you’re hurting you. Don’t let your time slip by. Reclaim your peace. Reclaim your love. Be a joyous human. Life is only as good as we make it.

 

Crockpot Prayers vs Microwave Prayers

Inkwell Swimmer

I pray. A lot. I pray for my children and my Mother. I pray for my almost children. I pray for strength. Sometimes I’m praying for the strength not to lose it and poke someone with a fork. Mostly I pray for guidance and wisdom.

My favorite spot to pray is on my front porch. It’s quiet and still on my porch. I have a comfortable chair and our front yard is beautiful. We have this beautiful old tree that I love. It’s so tall, I can hardly see the top of it. It’s strong. Even though it’s been damaged by a magnificent storm, it continues to thrive. When the wind is up, it’s almost as if that sweet old tree is talking to me. The rustling of the leaves comfort me. Bird families and squirrel families make their home among its branches. The singing and chattering of its guests…

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