It was another chilly morning outside. Inside, our wood-burning stove, Big Jim, was working away on some pieces of oak. He was another mouth to feed here on the farm, but it was worth it. Big Jim heated the entire house for a fraction of the cost of gas. Truth be told, I love feeding Big Jim. It’s either early morning as I’m still waking up, or late evening as I’m starting to get sleepy. I love that lightly smoky furnace-blast of heat, and the cozy, orange glow from the oak embers. When I get done arranging the new pieces of oak and finally close Jim’s door, my clothes are toasty–as if I’d just pulled them from the dryer–and my face feels sunburned. After that, the fresh winter air or a cool, cotton pillowcase is a comfortable contrast.
Kimberly was headed to work with a homemade egg and cheese muffin and her car mug full of hot, peppermint tea. I had my cup of coffee and some toasted cinnamon-raisin bread. I had a few more minutes in the warm house before I needed to be in the barn to serve the horses their breakfast.
Kimberly and I kissed goodbye. I watched her drive off and thought how nice it would be to be independently wealthy, so we could both be home and run the farm together. Maybe one of these days we’ll win the lottery, and Kimberly can quit her job. (I suppose we should actually buy a lottery ticket if we want to win the lottery.) I know Kimberly would love to be around the horses all day. I could help her and spend the rest of my time writing and cooking. Now that would be the life! My beautiful daydream was interrupted by my phone ringing. It was one of our boarders, Candy.
“Jeremy, it’s 40 degrees. Why is Boo turned out wearing two fly sheets?”
“And Tully is naked! And that woman is here. I knew I didn’t like her! She has to go!”
“That woman’s name is Patti–with an ‘i.’ And I’ll be right out.”
Patti was–like me–a recovering city dweller. I had taken pity on her, despite her naïveté of all things rural, and was doing my best to teach her about the basics of running a horse boarding facility. I didn’t feel she was adequately prepared for much more than mucking the stalls, but Patti was good at that. And I can’t say she often did poorly with the horses. Once she learned to distinguish an equine from a bovine, things went smoothly. In fact, after beginning a pet psychic correspondence course, Patti had stopped smoking, drank only green tea excessively and had become quite an animal fanatic. The time in the barn had done her some good, if only slightly.
People, however, were something Patti still couldn’t handle. Despite her best efforts, the people she dealt with were–in the least–agitated, upset, irritated or bewildered. More often, however, they were enraged, hopping mad, maniac, rabid or simply moved to desperate and violent acts of frenzied depravity. These latter terms more accurately described the situation on this morning when I entered the barn aisle.
“You’re too caught up in your mainstream mentality to see that other blanket was the wrong color and pinching Boo’s fifth shocker!” Patti yelled at Candy.
“Excuse me,” I interrupted, looking at Patti. “The trough in the lower pasture needs more water.”
“I just filled it,” she replied, looking confused.
“Perhaps it has a leak. It would be a great help if you could check it out. We can’t keep the horses hydrated if the troughs are leaking.”
“No, of course not. I’ll fix it right up and check the other troughs, too,” Patti said before turning and jogging from the barn. Candy remained silent until Patti was out of earshot.
“She thinks the animals are talking to her!” Candy said, exasperated. “And it’s 40 degrees–Boo and Tully are supposed to be wearing their medium blankets! It says so right here on the colored spreadsheet that Delores made. See?” Candy held up a wrinkled, though colorful printout.
“Yes, Candy, you’re absolutely right,” I affirmed. “Grab those blankets and come with me. We can talk as we get these on your horses.”
“She’s crazy!” Candy persisted. “I mean, we boarders are obsessive, meddling, overprotective and irrational, but I think she’s nuttier than all of us!”
(Note: This may be the most accurate and lucid admission from any of the boarders we’ve had. I was momentarily rendered speechless.)
“Er…” I responded, placing a medium turnout on Tully. “I wouldn’t say you boarders are nutty, you just care dearly for your horses. I would expect nothing less from a proper equine parent.”
“I knew you’d understand,” Candy said, tightening a belly surcingle and finally showing signs of calming down.
“I’ll talk to Patti,” I said. “Just because she seems to thrive on mayhem and fuming boarders doesn’t mean her intentions aren’t noble. Think of the silly things we all did when we were new to owning horses.”
There was certainly no shortage of things I did wrong when I was first married with horses. I remember turning out Vander and giving him hay, just as Kimberly asked me to do. I put Vander in the pasture, and then, with all my might, I heaved an entire bale of hay over the fence. I figured all horses acted that excited when they got hay. When I checked on him later, he had eaten about two flakes, and then strewn the rest of the bale around the pasture. Then he peed on it…all of it. I chalk that up as a lesson learned. I can only assume what Candy would have said about me back then.
“Patti put two fly sheets on Boo, Jeremy. Two fly sheets! And I saw her feed Vander a microwavable apple pie.”
“All right, I’ll be firm with her. But I want this barn to function, and I need you guys on board. Okay?”
“Okay,” Candy responded, seemingly uncertain as to how she had been talked into giving Patti another chance. Just then, Patti came jogging back into the barn.
“You were half right,” Patti said, dripping wet and slightly winded. “There wasn’t any leak before.”
“Before what?” I asked.
“Before I fixed it–the horses will get water faster now.”
“Okay,” I said, “I’m afraid to know what you mean–let’s step over here for a moment. I think you’re getting ahead of yourself with blanketing horses and advising boarders.”
“No! I’m rejecting my old, corporate life. No more will ‘the man’ keep me down! No more cold cubicle for me–I’m gonna live green!” Patti asserted.
“Green?” I asked.
“I’m taking a correspondence course to become a certified animal psychotic communicator. My online instructor says I have a definite gift for seeing the animals’ talents and bringing out the best in them,” Patti asserted
“Don’t you mean psychic communicator?” I asked.
“See, I knew you were going to say that!” Patti exclaimed.
“Look, Patti. What we’re running amounts to a horsey daycare. We need to follow some rules, and we have to listen to the owners, unless they’re really harming the horses. When you open your own farm, you can set your own rules. Until then, we need to blanket, feed and turn horses out following the conventional standards. Okay?”
“What about Boo’s shockers?” Patti asked.
“Actually, it’s chakras. Besides, Boo told me that you transponded her medial vibe with her sacral aura. It was a simple mistake, really,” I lied. Actually, I didn’t even know what I said.
“She did?” Patti lamented. “Oh, dear, I always confuse those two! I must apologize to Boo immediately!”
“And Candy, too,” I added.
“Absolutely!” she said, running off toward Candy and a newly-blanketed Boo.
After her conversation with Candy and Boo, Patti returned the “faster” trough to its original state, mucked the stalls and took her chakras home to study.
Bringing the horses in later that night went without a hitch (no pun intended). I dropped hay charges in every stall and properly dressed each horse for the predicted, sub-freezing nighttime lows. I’m no certified animal “psychotic,” but I didn’t hear a single, equine complaint about the food or the blankets.
“Microwavable apple pie?” I asked Vander. He just acted like he didn’t hear me and continued munching his hay. Perhaps he didn’t want to get his pie supplier in trouble, lest the treats run out.
The horses were set until their bed check, so I headed for the house. Inside, Big Jim was busy turning oak into efficient, affordable heat. Earlier, I had asked Kimberly to pick up a lottery ticket on her way home from work. So, when I came inside, Kimberly, Kit, Macy, Jack and I gathered on the couch to watch the lottery drawing. (Okay, so the animals weren’t that interested in the drawing.) I couldn’t believe it! Who could have predicted our good fortune? Our $1 investment won us $40! That meant 39 free dollars! I was so excited, I nearly squished both cats.
The next day when Kimberly arrived home from work, I handed her half of our winnings–$20–and a big red and white bouquet of lilies, daisies and carnations. (I know what you’re thinking, but she got roses last time. I’m trying to keep things interesting here!)
Okay, so we didn’t win enough for Kimberly to quit her job and stay home with me–maybe next time. Besides, things on the farm are good, and technically we can say, “We won the lottery!”
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.