Sunday, July 23, 2017


   Kathie earned enough money babysitting to buy a beautiful Morgan pony and a goat to keep her company. One morning Ed delayed his departure to the office long enough to fashion a makeshift gate at the barn’s entrance to the corral. He led Heidi and Pokie from their stalls into the corral, brushed the sawdust from his suit, and drove off to work. Awhile later, I looked up from my cereal and saw Pokie munching on my baby lilac bushes. Giving a scream that startled Kathryn, my household helper, and sent Dizzy flying, I dashed outside, then braked to a stroll as I neared Pokie. I didn't want her to suspect there was any feeling in my heart but love and admiration, any thought in my mind except approval of her lilac pruning.
     I extended a cupped hand as if it held a leafy morsel: "Here Pokie, here Pokie, Pokie."
     She lifted her head long enough to give me a bored stare, then went back to work on the lilacs. I backed away from her, calling affectionately, "Here, Pokie, yum‑hum, here Pokie, Pokie."
     I got a round of applause from Kathryn, who had joined our household when Esther retired.  She was on the front porch, watching the proceedings.
     "Oh, Mrs. Malley, if only I had a movie camera!"
     Since I couldn't lure Pokie to the corral by the force of my personality, it was time to try something else. What did Kathie do when Heidi got loose? The oats.
     I rushed to the barn, scooped up some oats and called Pokie, shaking the coffee can suggestively. Her head jerked up. She gave a bound of joy and began loping toward me. Screeching to a stop, she buried her snout in the oats.
     Now I had to induce Pokie to duck under the bars of Ed's gate and return to the corral where she belonged. I wasn’t thinking clearly, or it might have occurred to me that if she could duck in, she could duck out again.
     "Here, Pokie," I said, extending the tin of oats between the bars and trying to shove her under the lower bar with my other hand. Pokie humped into the knee chest position and refused to budge. Meanwhile Heidi had ambled over and was helping herself to the oats.
     "Come on, Pokie, there's a good goat," I lied. "Shoo, Heidi, go away!"
     Heidi bared her teeth and growled. I swear she did. I figured if she felt that way about it, I'd better drop the can. In a flash, Pokie ducked under the bar and began fighting for her share of the oats.
     I wiped my brow and started for the house, only to become aware that Pokie was trotting along beside me, friendly as could be.
     "Oh, Mrs. Malley, if only I had a movie of you and that goat!" Kathryn was hooting.
     She's such a necessary adjunct to our household, I have to put up with her odd sense of humor. I returned to the barn, shadowed by my buddy.
     "Okay, into the clink you go." I removed the bar from the stall door and entered, Pokie hard on my heels. Whoosh! I was out again, slamming the door behind me. I was stooping to replace the bar when bang, the door flew open, striking me squarely on the nose.
     Moral: when you're on one side of a door and a goat is on the other, make sure the door is bolted before you stick your nose out. Otherwise you'll get a nasty scrape and jocular comments from your housekeeper and your husband.
     Ed looked at my nose, heard my story, laughed heartily, then redeemed himself by promising to make the corral escape proof in the near future.
     A few days later, when I walked down to our mailbox at the end of the driveway, I noticed that Heidi wasn't in the corral. Vonnie must have forgotten to put her out. I went into the barn, sliding the door shut behind me. I opened the door to the ramp, then opened the stall door warily in case there was a stampede. Sure enough, I was almost knocked down by Pokie. My leap sideways had placed me directly between her and the grain barrel.
     Meanwhile Heidi was skittering around in the doorway of the stall, trying to avoid a pail that had rolled under her feet. When she finally emerged, she glared at me as if I had deliberately tried to trip her up. Kathie had told me Morgans were ponies, but she looked a hundred hands high to me. I pointed to the runway that led to the corral and said, "Out, Heidi!”.
     Pokie had given up trying to butt over the grain barrel and was trotting down the runway like a good little goat. Heidi shifted around and pointed her nose in the right direction, which meant that her kicking end was pointing at me. She definitely looked a lot bigger than a pony.
     She ambled down the runway, then stopped dead. I had forgotten to open Ed’s makeshift gate to the corral. My oversight created a ticklish situation. I hurried down the runway, sidled past Heidi ("Good girl, nice girl"), and opened the gate. Pokie trotted into the corral, but Heidi had meanwhile turned around and was heading back toward the barn.
     "Come on, Heidi, it's open now," I said, but we had a new problem. When she tried to turn toward the gate, there wasn't sufficient room. I could see she was considering going into the barn and starting over, but the door had swung to, just enough to discourage her. Heidi backed up a couple of feet, and her blanket caught on the branch of one of our surviving trees. She moved forward again and to save face, pretended she was interested in nibbling on a dead leaf.
     So there we were and what to do? I could race through the corral and back to the barn so I could open the half closed door, but Heidi had been doing some thinking, too. She began backing again, this time avoiding the protruding branch. She backed all the way down to the wide part of the runway and cantered triumphantly into the corral. "Smart girl!" I applauded, relieved that one of us had the brains to work out a solution.  
      We all overslept the next Saturday morning, so when Muffy Brewer phoned to ask who was going to do the trip to the 8:15 tennis lesson, we were far from organized. By skipping breakfast and turning Heidi's care over to Ed, Vonnie was ready in a tousled sort of way by ten past eight. Before she left for the golf club with her grandmother, she told me she brought the rope up to the barn so her father could conveniently lead Heidi into the corral
     Now I have to break the news to Ed, who has decided on this morning of all mornings to have a swim. When he sloshes up from the beach, I explain about the chore awaiting him.
     "Oh, my God," he groans. "I'm due at Blake's office in five minutes." Grumble, grumble, cuss, cuss.
     "I'll do it for you, Dad," says Tim, who has padded into our bedroom to see what his father is cussing about.
     "Are you sure you know how?" I ask.
     "Yes, yes, I put her in her stall last night when Vonnie asked me to. I didn't have any trouble at all."
     The next words I hear from Timmy come while I’m brushing my teeth. "She wouldn't have gotten away if Vonnie had left the rope where it usually is."
     "Timmy, that horse isn't loose again!" I gurgle, foaming at the mouth. The last time, she made straight for Mr. McKenna’s precious lawn, checkering it with divots among other things. Bill has had words with me about horses in general and Heidi in particular. He claims she is a danger to life and limb and ought to be chained.
     I tell Tim to keep an eye on Heidi, warning him that if she puts so much as one toe on the McKennas’ property, I will kill myself first and then him.
     I dial Blake’'s office, hoping to catch Ed before he leaves for Boston. I catch him all right, but none of us could catch that kittenish horse. She seemed to think we were playing tag, the object being to let whoever was "It" (all two-legged animals) come tantalizingly close—then with a snicker and a toss of the mane, away she goes.
     At 9:00 Ed says he’s sorry but he does have to go to work. I call the golf club and tell Vonnie to bum a ride home with someone as soon as possible. At that moment I see through the window that Heidi has her head in a pail of oats and Tim is snaking a rope through her halter ring. I tell Vonnie to take her time, everything is under control.
     The rest of the day was uneventful except for what Pokie did to my flower box. Vonnie tethered her too close to the terrace, and she ate my geraniums to the nub.
To Kathie from her grandmother
July 31, 1959
     Heidi escaped yesterday. In my room I could hear your father reasoning earnestly with her. Seems she was of a mind to keep her liberty. The goat also had a Day. She was on a tether that she discovered was of a handy length since it enabled her to turn the corner of the house and reach the terrace. 

     The nearest flower‑box today gives mute evidence of her visit. I was the one who discovered her on the terrace; imagine my horror when glancing out of the window I saw what I thought for a surprised moment was a rather homely bearded old gentleman staring at me.
     I dropped my book and ran out to tell him to get back to the Odd Fellows' Home, only to discover that the odd fellow was a four legged flower chewer. I think he is doing time, now, in the corral.
     The weather has been gorgeous to quote your dad. He does enjoy it so much. Both your mom and dad are well, Vonnie is faithful and dependable, Timmy is Timmy, and I am writing a lot. That in a capsule is the News. Loads of love, Isha*
*Derivation of Ish and Isha
     The tradition started with my maternal grandfather, Camden M. Cobern, an archaeologist and a Methodist minister. When they became grandparents, Camden and my grandmother chose to be called Ish and Isha, derived from Genesis and meaning "man and wife.” 

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