THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
Down the Mountain, on the other side of the little waterway Gwen the Beautiful and I call Cloud Creek, lives Paradise’s legendary Horse Lady.
She lives alone except for three or four dogs of indeterminate breed. The number varies based on how much traffic has been going ‘way too fast along the road.
Oh, and the horses. For the past several years their number’s been holding steady at about a dozen. One’s a graying stallion. The others are mares. And, for much of the year, there are three or four foals. On a clear day, when the herd’s in the near pasture we can see them all from our highest window.
For the past few weeks Huck the Spotless Appaloosa’s been as restless as a teenage boy whose parents won’t let him drive the car. He’s been sniffing the wind and whinnying a desire an aging Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang no longer is able to fulfill. So Gwen and I thought we’d visit the Horse Lady and see if she had a young mare who could join Huck’s family.
We’ve talked to the Horse Lady several times in town, but we’d never been on her property until yesterday, and weren’t prepared for what we found.
Does the term “Tobacco Road” mean anything anymore? It was the title of a 1930s novel by Erskine Caldwell about Georgia sharecroppers living under conditions that would be substandard in even the most Third World of countries.
Conditions like those under which the Horse Lady lives.
The house is a shack. Dark. Packed with old furniture and deep memories. It’s wired for electricity, but “they turned the power off sometime in the late ’90s, I think it was,” the Horse Lady said as she made room for us on a sagging couch, “on account of I’d over-over-extended my bill.”
There’s no running water either. “Had that. What a joy! But no electric means no power for the pump so when I need water I go out to the old well. Granddaddy dug it a hundred years ago, and built the outhouse too. Both work just fine.”
Doing without the modern conveniences that most of us think of as necessities is something the Horse Lady’s used to.
“Living’s hard, daughter,” she said to Gwen when Gwen expressed concern. “Nobody ever promised me an easy time. My life’s been filled with bright flowers, don’t you worry about that.
“But for every single one of the good things—my late husband, our son, the beauty of the horses stretching and running and grazing and birthing out there in those fields—there’s been a dozen thorns.
“Lord! We’ve had fires and floods and ice storms. Internal Revenue problems—of course!—and walking ten miles into town because the car’s transmission dropped out. And, yep, every once in awhile it seems like I’m getting ahead…and then I lose everything and end up further behind—”
The Horse Lady stopped. Her eyes misted. “I buried my husband and son within three weeks of each other, you know. Back during the Vietnam War. That was more than a thorn. It was a spear in my heart.”
“What if you sold this place?” Gwen said. “Used the money to go someplace comfortable, where you could be taken care of?” She reached out to take the Horse Lady’s hand.
The Horse Lady pulled it away. “You don’t understand what I’m saying, do you, daughter? You’re offering me peace. But peace is what you get when you die. It’s the easy way. Trouble’s what happens between your first breath and your last. Don’t you dare begrudge me my troubles. They’re how I know I’m still alive.
“I’ve got nothing,” the Horse Lady said. “Not even a horse to sell you ’cause the last baby and her mother died in the spring, and the rest of the mares are dried-up old ladies like me. But say one word about helping me and I’ll throw you off this land so fast you’ll be wondering what happened all the way into next week.”
The Horse Lady’s voice was firm. Her eyes were clear again. She saw the look on Gwen’s face.
“Although…you know, if you’re ever baking, and want to bring me a pie….”
Today, one of life’s best scents is wafting in from the kitchen.
Home-made apple pie.
We’re hoping it’ll be a bright flower. To take its place amid the thorns.