And Then There Was the Time…

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I miss my best friend today. Autumnal Equinox makes me think of harvesting hay and Dickerson’s dances.


That was a text message I sent to my best friend yesterday afternoon. I was at work and found myself with a few moments of pause. What I felt in that silence was an aching sense of melancholy.

The angle of light has been changing for a while and yesterday the world looked a little different bathed in early Autumn sun.

A beautiful sunny yet hazy day as I found myself at a high elevation gazing across the amazing view, Oakland to my left, Golden Gate center, Albany to my right.

It’s hardly original to feel melancholy in the Fall. I will follow the old poetic trope and go there anyway.

Since I know I have a “thing” about Autumn, I started looking back in the archives of my blog and found something that perfectly captures how I feel today. I’m nothing if not consistent.

Autumn is, after all, my favorite season in Oh Fair New Mexico.

So here’s a repost to get me through the day. The words still ring true, even as time goes by.

___________________


Get outta the wayback machine!

Originally posted April 15, 2009


It was Fall, had to be. Slight crispness to the evening air. Anticipation thick as the fog of Aqua Net in the sorority house where I lived.

It was 1989, probably. Or somewhere close to that. The campus of New Mexico State University. I was a sophomore, maybe a junior, I can’t remember. Doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that I was getting ready to go to a dance at Corbett Center on the NMSU campus.

The woman who would become my best friend for what is now over twenty years was the driving force that night, and many just like it. Her parents had met at a Corbett Center dance, so she was especially incentivized to go scoot a boot and see what’s doing. Family history.

I nervously pulled on my too shiny, too new, gray goatskin round toe ropers and jeans that didn’t really go with the boots, but were at least long enough to be acceptable. “You should buy some Rockies,” I was told, and they were right. I would, later, in quantity. But then I had neither the money nor the courage. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get into, I just knew I was going to be there come hell or high water.

It wasn’t my first Corbett dance. It wouldn’t be my last. This story isn’t about one actual night, more an amalgam of a lot of great nights.

The gaggle of high-haired women walked out the back door of our home, a sorority house containing twenty-eight women of different backgrounds, and one understanding house mom. What bound us together was our choice of educational institution. A land grant institution. To the uninformed, that means an agricultural college.

It was a short shuffle over to Corbett, up the stairs to the third floor where they had the ballrooms. Pay the entrance fee. Five dollars I think? Maybe less back then. Get a stamp on your hand. Look around, see who is there already. Talk about who you hope shows up.

Hear the opening strains of music. Usually The Delk Band. A group of musicians, brothers, and their dad on fiddle. I went to school with most of the boys. I remember I thought one of the Delks was cute. I remember one of the Delks was the drummer and back then had a tendency to speed up the tempo as a song wore on. Hard to dance to a wildly varying tempo. But we did it. (note of update: Saw the band not that long ago and that is no longer a problem.)

They were our people, and we embraced them. And we danced. Oh did we dance.

The two-step. Not the Texas double up kind, no. The slow kind, keeping time to the music.

And a waltz. My favorite, how I love to waltz. The rhythm of a song set to the beat of a waltz still paces my heart a little differently.

The polka. If done right with the right boy (he had to be tall because I’m tall and otherwise we’d just bump knees) you felt like you were flying, feet hardly touching the ground.

Then of course the Cotton-Eyed Joe (stepped in what?) and the Schottische, played back to back, often enough. Linking six or eight of us, arm in arm, facing forward, laughing our fool heads off.

The ladies, my friends and I, would stand on the sidelines and take a look at the scene. My best friend would always get asked to dance first. She’s beautiful and a great dancer. Who could blame the boys for flocking to her blue-eyed, dark haired gorgeousness? Not me, certainly.

As I got better at dancing, I got asked often enough, too. The boys liked the girls who could dance, who liked to dance, who didn’t turn up their nose at dirty fingernails and cow sh*t on their boots.

There is something special about dancing with a boy who knows how to dance, a strong lead, who looks you in the eyes. The boys who had the right fold in their hat and smelled faintly of Copenhagen and beer and Polo cologne.

I got to know those folks. All of them, the boys, the girls, the dancers, the musicians, the laughers, the people who liked to swing each other around the dance floor.

They became my family. We traveled in packs, dancing until we were sweaty, then heading outside into the cool air to take a breath, drink a beer, laugh a lot and occasionally find someone to spend a little time with.

Well not me, not then. I was still too awkward and mixed up to attract much in the way of boys at that point. I was more “one of the guys” than one of the girls the guys would chase. Don’t feel bad for me though, I eventually figured it out. (cover your eyes, mom)

Over time, we all aged a little, got to be over 21 and started to migrate from dancing at Corbett center to dancing at the local country bar. It was fun but seemed a little more complicated. Add more than a couple beers to the night and weird things happen.

But still we danced. By that time, I’d moved off campus and lived with my friend from TorC. She was crazy and fun and taught me a lot (cover your eyes, mom), and she loved to dance as much as I did. She coined the phrase “big bar hair” and gave me an education on how to get it, and keep it, despite dancing so hard sweat ran down your face.

Then we all aged a bit more, and we graduated and found respectable jobs. My best friend, her husband (a fine dancer, I must say) and I are all actually employed in the same area that’s listed on our diplomas. One might scoff at country folks, but all three of us hold a Master’s degree in our chosen fields.

Now, on the verge of turning forty well past forty, I find I still miss those days, mightily. I wished I’d enjoyed them more at the time. The stress of school and classes and “what do I want to be when I grow up” cast a pall on my days.

My own fault. A worrier by nature, a tendency that I fight tooth and nail every single day I take a breath.

When I’m having a bad day, when I doubt myself, when I realize I don’t fit in at my new place of employment, when I don’t feel heard or understood or very well liked, I can always go back to those days in my mind and smile.

I can’t get together with my best friend and her husband and NOT talk about those days. Magical. I’m blessed to have been able to have them. Once upon a time, I knew where I belonged.





Photo of The Delk Band in action





Image from The Delk Band website and found here.




On The Wrong Road

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This morning at an hour not early enough to avoid crushing commute time travels, I navigated my old Jeep through some swirls and whorls of Bay Area traffic and found myself on Highway 80 approaching the Bay Bridge.

As I did, I was thinking about the planned upcoming visit from my best friend in the whole world, and how excited I am to see her. Been too long.

I was listening to a shuffle of whatever music is on my iPhone by way of calming my nerves when a real old song came on, one of my best pal’s faves (a Waylon Jennings tune if you must know). As often happens to me in this crazy mixed up life of mine, what I saw with my eyes was the Bay Bridge but what I wished in my heart was that I was somewhere else.

Something about the springtime makes me miss New Mexico pretty ferociously. I let some memories in and found myself landing in a place called Lake Valley and the abandoned schoolhouse where we used to go to dance. That’s a whole other highway then were I was in that moment.

All of this reminded me that I once wrote about Lake Valley so I went into the archives and pulled this post up from 2007. I had to edit it quite a bit because, well, my editing skills have improved a bit since then.

So here’s a memory. Do click on that link to the Baxter Black piece if you get a chance. He says it better than I ever could.

Happy Dancin’ Friday to you, wherever you are today.



—————-


When memories reach up and grab you

Originally published March 26, 2007

Lately I’ve been on quite a jag of reading the works of one noble New Mexico-born left handed cowboy poet named Baxter Black.

He’s a good friend of my “adopted dad” (my best friend’s father) and I had the chance to meet him face-to-face back in college. Of course, I’ve heard plenty of his stories over the years.

I was heartened to see that my local library carried a good selection of Bax’s works. They make you smile, make you think and make you outright laugh yer bum off.

I just got done reading one of his collections of NPR material called “Horseshoes, Cowsocks and Duckfeet”.

One selection from that book is called “Lake Valley” and man oh man, that almost made me weep with homesickness. It also made me smile to know that two people, some twenty-five years apart in age, have similar memories of the same place and similar events. That’s the staying power of Lake Valley.

Back at NMSU I used to go to dancing at Lake Valley with my best friend. She’s the one who turned me on to it. Her parents used to come along for the fun because they went to NMSU too, and they danced at Lake Valley (probably along with Bax).

I remember at the dance they used to charge a family rate of $20. My fill-in dad would gather up all us scraggly college kids, blonds, redheads, brunettes, short, tall, thin, stocky and all about the same age. He’d lead us to the door, point to our gang, tell ’em that was his family, throw ’em a twenty and we’d all get in.

You know, in our way, we were (and are) family. [insert my best wistful smile right here as I miss my best friend for like the hundredth time today, already]

The way Bax describes Lake Valley in his writing is just how I remember it. When I was dancing, it was with a band called The Rounders and they played the old songs. What a talented group, The Rounders. They even played at my best friend’s wedding. Now THAT was a party.

At the end of this post is a photo I found online. It’s how the schoolhouse used to look when it was still a school. Ok, imagine that, but with no desks and a lot more years on it. That’s pretty much how I remember. See that riser there at the end? Where the teacher would sit? That’s where the band would play. It was a long narrow room so we had to dance in a long oval. Like Bax said, as we danced, the floorboards would give under your feet and they weren’t particularly even and a few nail heads were popped up, so you had to mind your feet. But oh it was a hell of a good time.

I’ve never felt quite so free, happy and in touch with the simple easy joys in life as I did dancing at Lake Valley. I miss the feeling of flying I’d get dancing a polka with my very tall and very dear friend Larry. I loved the camaraderie of wrapping arm around arm and doing the Schottische and Cotton Eyed Joe (“stepped in what?”).

And, as Bax said, when the band took a break, we’d all migrate outside to cool off and dip into someone’s ice chest for food, beverages and the telling of a few good stories.

We were all community then. We were bound by our heritage and our lives in New Mexico. Under that bright moonlight we were all inextricably connected, and it felt so right.

Ah the memories. If I let ’em, they’ll take over my whole day.







Image from Living Ghost Towns.




What Can BrownDog Do For You?

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Hi. I’d like to introduce you to a friendly face. His name is Brownie.





Yeah, his owner didn’t work too hard on that name. “Why, that dog is brown. I know! Let’s call him Brownie!”

What his owner (a neighbor of my best friend) lacks in creativity, he makes up for in being a pretty nice guy.

Unfortunately, that good neighbor has fallen on some hard times. His small plumbing business had success tied to the housing industry. When things were good, Brownie’s owner was doing good. When the economy laid down and didn’t get back up, the business struggled.

Sad to say, those good folks had to sell their house, horses, and fleet of nice cars.

And that leaves us back at The Brown One who is an Australian Shepard. He has papers to prove he is somebody, and a yearn for herding in his blood.

Brown Dog is bunking down with my best friend’s family these days. Brownie was largely ignored for most of his early life, so the attention of a whole family and other dogs to play with makes him super happy.

You see, Brownie is a special dog. Or, speshul. One would think that The Brown One isn’t very smart because he leaps and rolls and bubble heads his way around the world. Sometimes that dog makes me shake my head. And my fists. He can be so dense, really.

Brownie is the kind of dog that will come along with me when I take a walk, not that I have any say in the matter. He’ll escape his confines and come along no matter what I think on the subject. And further, he’s the kind of dog who will run ahead of me on the banks of the irrigation ditch, then down in the bottom, will roll in the muck, then run back and jump on me.

And when I holler at him, he wags his tail and that tongue lolls out and he looks at me and says “what?” in doggy-nacular.

Damn dog.

There is only one human in the world who really understands The Brown One, and that is The Good Man (who I happen to believe is part dog, if you must know). The Good Man will take Brownie outside and throw the ball and play doggie games and Brownie gets WAY over excited.

For his trouble, The Good Man comes away with bruises and small bites up and down his legs. See, Brownie will get himself worked up and then try to herd everyone as is true to his breed. Brownie is a jumper so his “move it along” bites can go as high as the butt region on the well over six foot tall Good Man.

Ow.

All of the rest of us, we holler at Brownie. “Damn it Brownie! Brown Dog, DOWN! Brownie, stop!!”

The only human he’ll actually listen to is The Good Man.

What Brownie really needs is a job. He’s got this strong innate drive to herd cows or sheep or something herdable. Sad day for him, Brown ain’t got no herd to herd. Right now, Brownie would be a huge liability to an actual herd of animals because he’s not well trained. But with some work and some time, Brownie could be a damn fine cattle dog. He’s got more in that brain bucket than first meets the eye.

Instead he herds a group of humans who may or may not be his permanent people and those people yell at him all the time. Brownie just wants to run. He’s a country dog and knows no borders. He’s the sort of damn dog who will run at a car.

*sigh*

Poor Brown Dog.

But don’t cry for me, Argentina. Brownie has it all right. He’s landed with a family that gives him regular kibble and my two soft hearted goddaughters pull ticks and fur knots off of him and love on him and coo in his velvety ears.

And when he’s really lucky, Nina Karen brings The (Good) Tall Man to visit and someone finally understands.


Hit the Road, Jack

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What better way to celebrate the long drive home from L.A. than with my favorite story about the ubiquitous Grapvine. The Grapvine is what they call the bit of road leading through Tejon Pass in the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California. After miles and miles of bleak, hazy and bland I-5, the Grapevine is sort of a welcome breakup to the drive.

It also, in my opinion, serves as the gateway to Southern California. Everything changes once you come off that mountain pass and drop down into the outskirts of L.A.

This bit of road is the stuff of legend and lore. Many a car has met its match on the Grapvine as the climb from sea level to at times as high as 4000 ft proves to be too much.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to a great New Mexican, the cowboy poet and dear friend of my best friend’s family, Baxter Black.

I read this story aloud to The Good Man as we made the summit….being on the very same road made it that much more hilarious.

Enjoy.

____________________________


The Grapevine
By Baxter Black


Equisearch columnist Baxter Black ponders the futility of tryin’ to impress the ladies while driving a Chevy Nova.

How better to impress his new lady friend, thought Rob, than to take her to his friend’s rancho for an afternoon branding and BBQ.

She would be pleased to see that he had many friends who drove pickups with chrome grill guards, tinted windows and coordinated paint jobs. He admitted to himself that his own outfit was less ostentatious. His ’64 model two horse trailer had been repaired so many times that it looked like a well drillin’ rig! The ’76 pickup was using 2 quarts of oil to tank of gas and his horse was . . . well, ol’ Yella looked right at home.

Rob was eager as a piddlin’ puppy when he picked up Delilah and headed north outta the Loa Angeles area. He was anxious to make a decent impression but one large obstacle lay in the pit of his stomach like a pea in the Princess’ mattress . . . THE GRAPEVINE! It was a monster of a hill dreaded by truckers and people who still drove a Chevy Nova.

The engine was screamin’ and smokin’ like a burnin’ pile of creosote posts when they finally leveled out at the summit of the Grapevine. Rob had sweated through his shirt but he sighted with relief as he gave Delilah a comforting look. She smiled back uneasily. Then the motor blew! A big dent appeared in the hood and it sounded like someone had dropped a Caterpillar track into the fan!

They coasted silently into a service station at the bottom of the grade. He assured his sweetheart there was “no problema”. He had lots of friends nearby. Her reaction was one of forced optimism.

By dark he’d borrowed a pickup from Hank and they both agreed returning back home was the best option. He loaded Yella, hooked up the trailer and back over the Grapevine they flew! Halfway down Rob managed to slip his arm behind Delilah’s neck.. Soon she was lulled into discussing’ her dreams of home and family. She snuggled closer as he watched a tire bounce by him on the driver’s side. No headlights shown in his rearview but he couldn’t help but notice the huge rooster tail of sparks spraying up from beneath his trailer! He could see her astonishment in the flickering light.

Rob wheeled the screeching rig to the shoulder. Together they unwired the trailer doors and Yella stepped out, unhurt. Rob tied him to the highway fence and unhooked the trailer. Rob’s facial tic had returned.

Seemingly in control, he jumped in the pickup and headed south for the nearest phone to borrow a trailer. He returned to the scene to find Yella grazing in the median with semi’s whizzing by on both sides and his date shivering over the still warm axle, forgotten. She, herself, was smoldering. She spoke not a word and Rob conceded to himself that it was gonna be hard to regain her confidence.

In the space of 12 hours and 50 miles he had left his pickup, his trailer, his horse and his girl scattered from one end of the Grapevine to the other.

Next day he towed the pickup to the shop. He left his trailer to be impounded by the State Police. His horse made it home safe but Delilah changed her phone number, wrote him out of her will and has not been heard of since!

For more from this cowboy poet, visit BaxterBlack.com.

____________________________




iPhone photo of The Grapevine, copyright 2008, Karen Fayeth




Story reprint found on Equisearch.com.


Heeeeeeeey What’ll You Give Me For…..

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It’s been a whirlwind week for me, but I didn’t want to lose track of a certain topic that dates back to when I was still in New Mexico, just over a week ago.

The reason for my trip back home was to help comfort and support my two goddaughters as this was the first year they both raised pigs as part of their 4-H club.

A week ago Friday was the sale day, meaning a livestock auction at the Southern New Mexico State Fair. Unfortunately my girls didn’t score high enough in the judging to make the sale (their pigs were purchased by a friend of the family), but we still attended the auction because the girls were helping their friends to sell their animals.

It had been since I was in college that I’d been to a livestock auction. I used to go fairly regularly, but times marches on.

Over the years, I’d forgotten what a visceral experience it really is.

First, the auction barn is usually a tin building, high ceilings and concrete floors.

Then a generous amount of straw hay is spread across the floor, which gives a certain sweet smell of hay mixed with a crazy amount of dust. I was blowing dust out of my nose all week.

One by one, the animals are led into a small pen by the kid that raised them, and walked around and posed. The kid smiles a huge, though sometimes fake, smile trying to lure potential buyers to spend a little more. (Fake because the kids are usually pretty sad about selling off their animal).

The cows moo, sheep baa, goats bleat and ducks quack as the anticipation is almost too tough to take.

And then, the auctioneer starts up.



The guy on the left is the auctioneer, the guy in the middle is helping him spot bids and the guy on the right is keeping records of the bids.


It’s a droning, pushing, forceful sound. When you first walk in, it’s startling, a cacophony of noise, but over time it becomes like a steady background hum. You have to tune it out, or it becomes overwhelming.

There are guys in the audience helping spot, and every now and again, they’ll holler “HAW!!!” as they get a reluctant bidder to go up in price a bit more.

The two auctioneers we had that evening traded off duties over the course of the sale.

This guy was really solid in his work, and funny too. I mean, he’s got an intensity here, but he’d say in his auctioneer cadence “C’mon Justin, you got some more in you….” or “Hey Dave, I thought you went home…”





He carried this little gavel thing, and would rap the podium real hard when the bidding was done. “SOLD!” *whack*

It was a sound I could feel in my bones.



Then the kid would walk their animal out of the pen, happy to have gotten a good price, sad because that meant the end.

The scene back in the pens behind the barn was a different story. Low light, animals rustling around, and little kids crying.

When the kids sell their animal, they also put together a basket of goodies as a thank you to the buyer. A friend of my younger goddaughter slipped a note in her basket that said “Please don’t kill my goat. He’s really nice. Please keep him as a pet.”

Kinda breaks my heart because I know that goat isn’t going to be anybody’s pet. It’s getting loaded onto the packer truck with all the rest.

A bit of harsh reality for a nine year old.

Next year I think my goddaughters are going to raise either dairy heifers or rabbits. Dairy heifers go back to the dairy to give milk, they don’t go on the packer truck. And with rabbits, the buyer usually gives the rabbit back to the kid.

That’s all a bit easier to take, I suppose.

All in all, I had a good time at the auction. I got to see some good friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I drank some of the auction barn’s free beer. And I got to remember what it means to be an Ag kid in New Mexico.



All photos in this post Copyright 2011, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license found in the right hand column of this page.