Saturday, December 18, 2010

Of Hamsters and Harleys

Here it is, the end of the year, when all we've done, and all we haven't, comes swirling down at us in one big whoosh of emotion, wrapping paper, and re-gifted Snuggies. Finish with a flurry of frenzied shopping, and we wonder why assault with a fruitcake is so common in December.

I was Christmas shopping in a pet store the other day when I noticed a burly biker guy getting increasingly agitated. That’s never a good thing, but it’s especially bad when it happens in the hamster aisle, and even worse when it occurs near me. Suddenly the man of many tattoos swaggered toward me.

“Do you know where the leashes are?”

“For h-h-hamsters?” I stammered, trying not to giggle.

"Guinea pig, actually," he corrected me (on the plus side, though, he let me live). I nearly bit my tongue, at the thought of this tough, tattooed dude walking a guinea pig…

"It's for my twelve-year-old daughter. It's a gift for her pet," he growled. “But I can’t find one.”

He was in Christmas pain - that achy place you endure when you venture out of your own comfort zone and attempt to fulfill a loved one's wishes simply because you want them to be happy, even if it means you might get miserably lost in a world of tubular hamster toys, suffer the stares of strangers, and run the risk of coming home empty-handed.
I softened a little. Even Harley riders need help sometimes. Besides, he could have crushed me with his pinky. Lola, the inked portrait glaring at me from his left bicep, seemed to demand that something be done. With the eye of a seasoned shopper, I scanned the aisle for our holy grail.

“Over here," I scurried down the aisle, pushing aside a few crinkle-tunnels and chew-cubes to reveal a virtual smorgasbord of rodent leashes. "Ooh, hey, here’s one with metal studs on it!” Biker Guy brightened. Lola winked at me. Whew!

After some serious musing, Biker Guy narrowed his decision down to either a pink one with rhinestones or a studded black one. Meanwhile I did my best to stay serious, helpful, and alive. I nearly suggested that the black one matched his leather vest better, but I held my tongue. He put the pink one back. It was then I knew he was going to make some bad-ass guinea pig very happy.

“That’ll do. Hey, thanks a lot. Merry Christmas.” Then he was gone.

In our quests for cheer, we brave the traffic, the malls, the mayhem. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we Snuggie. The time we take and the effort we make are symbolized by the gifts we give. Behind each gift is a story of bringing home the joy. The story is unwrapped with the present, bringing it to life, adding sparkle, and reminding us that while shopping for a gift can be a major pain in the patootie, it's all good.

May you not suffer too long in the hamster aisle, and may your checkout line be swift. Happy holidays.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wanted: Woman, or tractor in good condition

A friend of mine has decided that all she wants for Christmas is a cowboy (eyeroll). Since I'm a dutiful friend, I'm helping her shop online at some cow-themed matchmaking sites. I come across a guy who seems to fit the bill.Then I read his profile, or, as some of us prefer to call it, the 'warning label':

Well here it is ladys. I am a cowboy, Im not a rich one, yet anway, yes im around horses and cattle all the time and thats all iv ever been and all ill ever be, im looking for a good woman who can keep house, cook, shoe the horses, do the chores, cut and split firewood, mow the yard, fix fence, buck hay, and most of all is sexy and knows how to make love.

Then I notice that at 40, he's a widower. Wonder what killed his first wife?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sophie and the Silverado

The garage was a mess. Normally this would not bother me so much, except that it was not just any garage, but my garage, and as such, an unpleasant reminder of my current messy situation. If I could get a tidy toehold on one snippet of my life, I reasoned, the rest might fall into place, like so many obsessive-compulsive dominoes. Maybe not, but I had to start somewhere. So I started with a sigh. Nothing happened. I wiggled my nose. Still nothing. I kicked at a Lego block, sending it skittering toward the trash can. Sigh, wiggle, kick. It was a start.

Toys were everywhere, to infinity and beyond – a cluttered kaleidescope of cars, puzzles, and balls – a goofy plastic rainbow of great times. I thought back to when they first sat under our Christmas tree, waiting to be unwrapped by my frenetic, giddy toddlers, then waiting a bit longer until I had enough coffee and a sharp pair of scissors to clip the endless number of wires and ties that restrained them in their packaging, like so much fun had to be physically tied down or it would break loose and run amok.

And years later here they were, staring back at me as if to say, “We did the run-amok thing - now what?” My boys had outgrown them, but they still weren’t ready to throw them out. Over the years I would quietly move them from their bedrooms to the garage, hoping to someday, somehow move them out completely. (The toys, not the boys. Although if you step on enough Lego blocks, the second option does cross your mind.) The goal was to make the toys disappear without inciting a rebellion by the small people who would eventually choose my retirement home.

Would I be remembered as the mean mom who, by the light of a pale, cold moon, cackled with glee as she tossed beloved toys into the trash bin? Or perhaps as the creepy neighborhood toy-hoarding biddy, who kept toys stacked head-high throughout the house, with only a greasy, narrow path from the back door to the microwave so she could heat up soup? Not much of a cheerful outcome either way.

One of the bulkiest toys was a battery-operated pickup truck, a Mattel PowerWheels built to carry two kids at a time. Years ago the boys would drive it down the block, lurching and whirring, to get the mail. Once in a while they’d take it off-road, one driving and the other riding “shotgun” while attempting to lasso the dog. Mud would build up in its itty bitty wheel wells. Under its menacing plastic tire treads, several sprinkler heads became roadkill.
The Silverado, as we called it, was still in great shape. Too good a shape to be sitting around inside on such a lovely summer day.

Later that day I stopped by a local horse ranch that a friend of mine, Kristin, managed. Sundancer Ranch was a delightfully quirky place, full of horses, chickens, dogs, quail, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, even turkeys, parrots, goats, mules, and one lone ornery cow. Most people drove in and quickly left, spooked by the precipitous cliff off one side of the driveway, or the gang of tumbleweeds poised like so many dusty, rotound rednecks chillin' on the other side. But to a farm girl like me, it was heaven on earth. I figured the cliff and weeds scared others away, kept them from seeing the magnificent heart of this place, like a country camouflage that hid it from the outside world.
A few of us were standing near the barn talking about horses when Kristin's granddaughter walked over. Sophie was almost four years old, a barefoot barn angel in a muddy sundress, with long brunette waves of hair, and round brown eyes. I had grown up the same way, a bit of a wildflower, a free-range child. I even had the same long tresses and brown saucer eyes. I remember preferring the company of horses and dogs to that of people. Not much had changed.

As we talked, Sophie wanderly shyly in front of me, holding up a wild flower she had picked. “Thank you,” I said, taking the bloom. She smiled a bit and walked away.

“What’s with the flower, Mom?” my son asked when I got home. But he quickly became distracted by something else, and plopped the flower down right where he picked up his next thought - on the Silverado.
“That’s it!” I exclaimed. “Why not Sophie?” My son stared at me, weighing whether it was worth asking me to explain what I was talking about, or if it doing so might inspire me to seek his assistance in whatever wacky plan I was concocting.

The boys and I loaded the Silverado in the back of our truck and brought it over to the ranch. I knocked politely on the door of the trailer, asking if “Miss Sophie” was available. Her mom, Kelsey, informed us that she would be out in a moment after she “fixed her hair.”
Soon Sophie glided daintily down the three steps of the trailer, glittery hairclips perched on her head, her brown eyes blinking in the bright sunlight.

“Sophie,” I said, “Thanks for giving me that beautiful flower. We heard you are a hard worker, helping your mom and grandma feed all the animals. We figured you could use a good truck to haul the hay. Would you mind giving this truck a good home?”

Sophie looked at the Silverado, then back at me, then rubbed her eyes. She looked at the Silverado again. She had been napping, and wasn’t quite sure she had woken up.

“Go on, honey, give it a try,” her mom coaxed. Sophie walked around the little truck twice, lightly touching its sleek, grey sides, then carefully tucked herself into the driver’s seat. After carefull securing her seatbelt, straightening her sundress, and adjusting her hair, she held her mother’s arm in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, and hit the gas. The Silverado lurched forward. Sophie stopped, broke into a big smile, and cackled with glee. She hit the gas again, with the same response – lurch, stop, and cackle. She got out to clear some rocks away from her Silverado. Then it was back to lurch, stop, and cackle.

As Sophie fussed over a parking spot for her new ride, Kelsey lowered her voice. “She sees her dad once, maybe twice a year, tops. Last Christmas, he came to visit and we all went to the toy store. Sophie was looking at the PowerWheels, and her dad told her to pick out one and he’d buy it for her. She was so excited! She picked one out and he said, ‘No, sorry.’”

Kelsey shook her head. “She cried for months. I never shared that story with anybody. Then you show up out of nowhere.” She looked up. I think her eyes were misty, but I couldn’t see real well at the moment myself. “Things happen for a reason.”