Southern Legitimacy Statement: I grew up in North Carolina, within six miles of the land where my ancestor settled in the 1700s. Lacking frequent snow fall as children, my siblings, cousins, and I improvised. We used dried horse manure in our game, guard the fort. We lobbed these so-called horse apples at one another as we burrowed in ditches. The poop crumbled into small bits upon impact. These skirmishes ended with us covered in manure flakes. The most challenging were the ones stuck in sweaty hair. Years later, thanks to the accuracy I developed from this game, I was a crackpot softball pitcher. In church league.
Love Lesson #6 – Room at the Inn
Both my parents grew up hard and knew what it was like to live close to the bone. Maybe that’s why they repeatedly opened their door to family and friends in need. If you lost power in an ice storm, you had a place to stay. If your spouse kicked you out, you had a place to stay. If you came to visit from out of state, out of town, or were just passing through, you had a place to stay.
Once, a cousin was in a bad way and her ex was in no shape to take care of kids. Their two kids, Annie and Shawn, came to live with us for six months. Shawn was thirteen, a lovely age. I was only four and I wasn’t much better. Already, I seemed to have developed a tendency to be impulsive. I prefer to think of it as seize the day, live for the moment, you only live once, or as my nephews used to say, YOLO.
At the time, my brother had a bright red pony with a mane and tail the color of oatmeal. His name was Red Rock. Then, he seemed bigly but now, I realize he was smallish. In all the photos, he is surrounded by kids and his ears are pinned back. This says he was not a happy pony. You know what us horse people say? Ponies are evil.
One evening, Shawn brought Red Rock out of the pasture to graze in the backyard. Shawn climbed up and lounged. By lounged, I mean he was spine to spine with the pony. The top of Shawn’s head was almost even with the top of the pony’s tail while Shawn’s long gangly legs were bent, his feet resting at the base of the pony’s neck. As an adult, I appreciate how peaceful that must have felt for Shawn. I can’t imagine what he was going through and what his life was like during this time.
As a four-year-old, I was not as evolved.
I stood by the picnic table, my hands on my hips, and watched Shawn and the pony. Red Rock munched on grass while Shawn stared at the sky. Or maybe he had his eyes closed, I don’t know and I don’t know why I did what I did. I picked up a stick and threw it at Red Rock’s tail. The pony shot off across the yard. As for Shawn, it was as if I watched a cartoon where the character was suspended in the air then fell to the ground.
I did the only thing I knew to do, I made like Red Rock and took off. See, even though I was already on my path of living for the moment, I also had a fledgling sense of self-preservation. I had a head start and I wasn’t going to blow it. I ran in the house and ended up locked in the bathroom. Shawn was not hurt but he was spitting mad. I have a vague memory of standing in the bathroom, staring at the door, as Shawn banged on the door and yelled.
It took half an hour to catch Red Rock. When Red Rock was loose, he was running. By the time I was coaxed out of the bathroom, my Mom had calmed Shawn down enough that he promised not to get even with me. My Dad, being a bit of a rascal himself, was amused by the whole incident and I did not have to pay for my crime.
My father passed away in 2002. My mother, in her eighties now, still provides a place to stay. A few summers ago, my husband and I, along with thousands of people in our county, lost power. Twenty-four hours later, the energy company still couldn’t say when our power would be restored. I was desperate for air conditioning and a shower. I called a few hotels but there were no rooms available. Besides, we had two dogs. Two big dogs.
I called Mom and just as I knew she would, she said come on down. We loaded up the car and traveled three hours to her house. We arrived around eleven at night with our elderly golden retriever and our latest rescue, a one-hundred-pound very hairy dog. My mother didn’t bat an eye. She was still up, playing dominos with her boyfriend and another couple. Dinner at Wendy’s then dominos at my mother’s house is their usual Saturday night routine.
The next morning, Mom told us she nearly had a heart attack during the night. She woke up and someone had her by the throat. It was the one-hundred-pound very hairy dog. He had rested his head on her neck and shoulder. She spoke to him, I won’t repeat what was said but I imagine she later asked for forgiveness from her Lord and personal Savior. After she spoke, he settled down on the floor by her bed. They both slept until morning. I like to think he was thanking her, in his own doggish way, for taking us in for a few nights.
While my parents had an open-door policy when it came to people in need, my husband and I do the same for animals. Over the years, we’ve fostered, rescued, or adopted 98 dogs, two cats, two horses, and one time transported a pig to a farm animal rescue. Shawn, my cousin, went on to embrace motorcycles and stayed away from horses. I went on to embrace horses and hit the ground more times than I can count. My mother went on to embrace our one hundred pound very hairy dog but when we visit, she shuts her bedroom door at night. I learned many lessons about love from my parents. One way to practice living with an open heart is to offer an open door to those in need. I hope I do them proud.