Monday, February 27, 2017

Muma's Cookies

I've been thinking of my Grandmother today, Margaret France Crone, or Muma, as we called her. Muma would have been 101 years old on February 25th. She's still with me, I know, but I've been missing her a lot these days.

Colm has her cheeks. So do I.

Summer, 1970

I wrote this poem in 2000, when she was first diagnosed and being treated for esophageal cancer, which claimed her life a few years later. I love you, Muma. Happy Birthday.


You told me it was the depression that brought you together;
You took the bus to work each day,
stood on the corner in your stockings and heels,
auburn hair coiffed, hands gloved. He saw you
as he pumped gas; looked for you every morning,
ignoring customers to watch you
disappear up the stairs, the winged doors
wrap around you and take you away.
You told me he was afraid
the morning would come when you didn’t.
I can just hear him fumbling, bumbling:
“My name is Bernie…It is a pleasure.”
I can just feel his hand shaking inside yours, pressing
warmly with his thumb, not wanting to let go.

“That is how I became your grandma,” you said.
You told me this
seventy years later, as you lie
with seventy years worth of medical discoveries
pumping through your veins,
so much data and collective evidence, your
cells might as well be graphs; numbers
instead of blood swim through your capillary-charts.
You told me all of this in private,
but as he walked into the room, eyes so big,
so red, more scared than a lost child’s,
I knew, he too, was thinking about that time:
watching you climb the tall bus stairs,
your heel slipping out of your dark shoe.
Standing in that room, your hand pressed
in both of his, he felt the same terror
choking his heart, as if he were watching
those wing-doors swathe around you,
and take you away.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Giving Pickle Cookies

I've been riding horses since I was seven years old. Apparently I started asking for lessons when I was five but my parents finally gave in when I never.stopped.asking.them. Plus, they probably realized I looked like the awkward goose in a gaggle of first-grade ballet tutus and realized they were dancing me down the wrong path.

Eventually I had a few years of almost-national, definitely-regional success with some pretty amazing horses and extremely talented trainers, faking my way through the uber-elite horse world by cleaning stalls and grooming for myself every weekend. And then I went to college and that world was pretty much behind me, at least on a regular basis. Later on I still stood at the show ring, but usually had a rag in my back pocket and a martingale hanging on my shoulder. Sometimes I made it into the ring, schooling a horse in a warm-up class, or filling the adult eq classes. Sometimes I qualified for finals with those fill-ins. And sometimes that was enough.

All of this to say, the barn is where life gets re-set for me. This is true for most horse people; I'm definitely not saying anything new. But the sounds of the horses quietly eating hay, the background noise of the sparrows and the swallows, the smell of the tack room--those things reach inside and straighten out my soul a little, put life-sized annoyances back into perspective.

So then why did I decide to bring my five year old with me to the barn? Why did I sign her up for lessons? Why would I take away my sanctuary--let my chaos meet my peace? Because she was facing her own bit of chaos in her own five year old way. Kindergarten threw her for a loop. And going to the barn is always my answer.

She was quiet about it at first, like she is about everything. She was tentative and shy and barely spoke to Megan, her amazingly enthusiastic and empathetic instructor. But afterwards, she came alive when she talked about Pickle the pony, and she asked to go back. And so we did, several times. And yesterday, I sat in the viewing area, wrapped in the wool that I've spent years throwing over the backs of horses at shows, feeling like a barn mom. How did I get to be a barn mom? I know this literally happened a few weeks ago but when the hell did this happen??

And then. And THEN. Megan and Grace asked Pickle to trot and Grace just started posting--like really posting--up and down with each pony step, using her tiny bird legs wrapped in her almost-baggy baby britches, her little heels in her tiny paddock boots sinking down. And I started to cry. And laugh. And I covered my mouth so I didn't make one single sound. But she got it--something clicked and she got it. And I was so proud.

That's what is so awesome about riding. You try and you try to communicate with this giant animal. You squeeze a little harder, squeeze a little less, raise your right hand, change your track, keep your eyes closed, whatever. And then, it clicks. You get it; the horse gets it; it's accomplishment, but accomplishment with a good friend. And Grace had her first moment yesterday. And I was the stupid barn mom, crying with pride, laughing at myself at the same time.

I didn't know this was possible, but yesterday I loved the barn even more.

Unexpected, yes. But not surprising. For now, I'll be a barn mom on Wednesdays and a rider the rest of the week. And hey, I might wind up standing at a show ring with a rag in my back pocket, holding Grace's martingale. Or maybe she'll be holding mine. Either way it will be enough.