Saturday, October 23, 2010

In which we celebrate Saturday Stories : a nice spooky story

Endurance Granny shared a nice spooky story on her blog this week, and asked other folks to share their favorite haunted tales. I am a storyteller--I know LOTS of scary stories. I spend the entire month of October every year telling scary stories!

This one is a story that I'll be sharing in the schools this week, leading up to a scary story program at the library right before Hallowe'en, and our super-scary-storytelling radio program on Hallowe'en morning. And now...I'm gonna share it with you.

I call it:

The Dare, or, Why I Became a Storytelling Librarian

My parents were teachers, which meant mostly that I knew something that most of my classmates didn’t know: teachers have first names.

Because my parents were friends with most of my teachers and their families, I knew that my 2nd grade teacher’s first name was “Roxanne,” that my 4th grade teacher’s first name was “Walt”, and that my 5th grade teacher’s name was “Greg.”

It didn’t occur to me until years after that I never knew the first name of the librarian at my elementary school.

I spent a lot of time in the school library with Mrs Walton. She was really good about letting me read the new books when they came in from the district office—as soon as she had finished reading them, I was next on the list. She also let me “help” in the school library. I got to put away books and file cards. I was thrilled.

One day I told Mrs Walton that I wanted to be a librarian like her. She smiled at me and said it was an excellent career choice.

To be a good librarian, she told me, a person needed to like books. I was good there.

A good librarian also needed to like people. Not a problem for me.

And then she said something that really confused me: She said that a good librarian knew how to be scary.


She told me that it was a long-standing tradition of librarians to be scary. And then she explained further by telling me a story that happened right in my own hometown, in the cemetery close to my house, from waaaaaaaay back in the olden days, when she was a little girl, about my age.

“There were two kids who lived close to the cemetery,” she said. A brother and a sister. The brother was Robert. The sister was Alice. They were always daring each other to do stuff that was silly. Or naughty. Or sometimes, scary.

Like, Robert would dare Alice to climb up to the very tallest branch of the apple tree and sing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” She thought that it was a silly thing to do, but she did it.

Then Alice dared Robert to steal a pie that their mom had baked for the PTA bake sale, and feed it to the chickens and put the pie pan back all clean and shiny before their mom had noticed it was gone. Robert knew his mom would be really mad if she found out who took the pie, but he did it.

Then Robert dared Alice to walk by the cemetery gates on the way home from school without whistling. Everybody knows that whistling keeps the ghosts away.

Alice was scared of the cemetery. It was a big, old-style cemetery, with black iron gates at the front, and big granite headstones scattered all over the green lawn. Some of the headstones had pictures of flowers carved right into the stone, and those were kind of pretty. But some of the headstones had pictures of skulls carved in, and those were kind of scary.

One big tombstone was in the shape of an angel with the wings stretched w-a-a-a-ay out. People said that the high school boys liked to sneak into the cemetery at night and paint the eyes of the angel with glowing paint, so they would light up at night. Alice never wanted to see those glowing eyes. She was too scared.

But she couldn’t say “no” to a dare.

“All right,” she told her brother. “I’ll walk past the gates of the cemetery without whistling. But if I do it, then you have to go into the cemetery at night, and touch the stone on the librarian’s grave and count to ten.

It was the scariest thing she had ever said. The cemetery was the scariest place in the whole world, she thought. And the librarian had been the oldest, meanest, scariest lady in the world…and just this week, she had died. And Alice knew that her brother Robert was especially scared, because he had an overdue library book, and it was still under his bed at home.

Alice thought that Robert would never agree to go into the cemetery at night, and she knew he’d be too scared of the librarian to touch her gravestone and count to ten. She thought that he would chicken out and then Alice wouldn’t have to walk past the cemetery gates without whistling.

But Robert didn’t chicken out. He looked really scared. But he said that if Alice would walk past those gates without whistling, then he would go inside the cemetery at night and touch the librarian’s gravestone and count to ten.

He thought that she would chicken out. And she almost did.

But then she thought, “He never said I had to walk slowly. I can walk really fast, and I can make my lips ready to whistle but without really whistling, and then I won’t be a chicken.”

Robert walked past the gates first, whistling. Then it was Alice’s turn.

She almost ran—but the dare was to walk. She made her lips ready to whistle, but she held her breath…and then she walked really really really fast in front of the gates, and as soon as she got to the far side, she pushed out her breath through her whistle-lips, which was not, she told her brother, not nearly the same as whistling in front of the gates.

They almost got into a real fight, with hitting and yelling. She said that walking fast was still walking, and he said that whistling on the other side of the gate was almost exactly the same as whistling in front of the gates, and he called her a chicken-pants and she said she wasn’t and then she said that he was a chicken-pants, and he would be too scared to just go into the cemetery and touch the librarian’s grave without counting or anything.

Robert said he wasn’t scared. He said he’d do it. He said he’d walk into that cemetery that night, as soon as it got dark, and he’d touch that gravestone.

She said he probably would just pretend to touch it, and that he was scared.

He said he’d touch that grave, and he’d stick his jack-knife into the grave-dirt to prove he’d done it.

So that night, they both went down to the cemetery. It was raining hard, and the night seemed especially dark because the moon was covered over by rainclouds. Robert had his hand on his knife in the pocket of his raincoat, and he looked back at her right before he squeezed through the iron bars of the cemetery gate. Alice stood at the gate, shivering in the rain, and watched him disappear into the darkness.

A minute passed. Then two minutes. Then, three minutes.

Then she heard a scream!

She didn’t wait for more. Alice sprinted back to the house, pounded up the stairs, and shouted for her parents to come and rescue her brother. They didn’t understand what she was saying at first, but finally they figured it out and ran out into the rain. They couldn’t fit through the bars of the gate, being grownups, but they hammered on the door of the caretaker who lived next to the graveyard, and he came out and opened the gates.

Alice waited outside the gates. It took them a long time.

Finally, she saw them coming back. The caretaker was helping her mother walk. Her father was carrying her brother. And Robert…wasn’t moving.

Her aunties were called, and her uncles, and they came to the house and took care of Alice while the doctor took care of her brother. One of the aunties finally explained to Alice what had happened:

Robert had walked up to the librarian’s grave. He pulled the knife from the pocket of his long rubber raincoat, and stuck it into the dirt of the grave, just as she had dared him to do. And then he turned to run away—but something was holding onto him. He pulled and pulled but couldn’t break free. Then he screamed. That was the scream that Alice had heard. He was sure that the scary librarian had come back from the dead because he still had that overdue library book.

He was so afraid that he fainted, right there on the grave dirt.

Then, when his parents found him, they discovered what was holding him so tightly: he had stuck his knife right through his own raincoat….and nearly died of fright.

Alice learned her lesson about making dares, Mrs Walton told me. She decided that she would never try to scare anybody with dares ever again.

Mrs Walton told me that Alice grew up and became a librarian. But she wasn’t the mean, scary kind of librarian. She was a nice librarian. And if she ever wanted to scare anybody, she would just tell them a scary story.

I thought that was a great story. I loved the idea of a librarian who scared people with scary stories, and when I grew up, that’s what I became: a scary-storytelling librarian.

As for Mrs Walton, she retired a few years ago, and moved to Florida. I went to her retirement party right before she left. I was really surprised to see what they’d written on the cake:

“We’ll miss you, our favorite librarian: Alice Walton.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

In which Lisa has her first riding lesson, and Guy gets a gold star

Lisa was soooooo excited to be taking riding lessons at last!
Her lesson horse is Guy, the same weight-in-gold horse that Willy (and many other kids) got as a very first lesson horse.
Clearly, Lisa has never seen some of these amazing tools before in her life (it was a hoofpick).

She was pretty enthused about the brushing, which Guy clearly enjoys. I think every kid should have a grey (mud-covered) pony as a first-lesson horse. As I recall, my first-lesson horse was grey. After that, I graduated (permanently) to horses the color of Swampland mud.
Feet. They are big and scary. Nobody else was inclined to clean them for a rider who was too scared to pick them up and clean them. She cleaned them herself.
Saddling is....
but eventually, accomplished.
Check stirrup length.

The bridle...also complicated.
Tacking up: accomplished! We head towards the arena.
Posted prominently in the arena:
She hops aboard: not graceful, but she did end up on the up-side of the horse.
When Guy started walking (shuffling), she could hardly stay on for grinning.
Dory explains the basics of steering.

Needs more practice. Guy doesn't mind.
He'll let kids practice as much as they want. Guy is a rock star in his own, calm, slow-moving universe. They practiced walk/shuffling around the arena for a while. Resting on your butt is not allowed! After a few circuits of the arena, it was time to practice the basics of (what will eventually be) a two-point position.
Hard work!
"Now, drop your stirrups and stand up without them," Dory said.
Lisa tried her dangedest to do it.

All too soon....
The lesson was over.

Once Guy was untacked and brushed, Lisa came back outside to shoot some photos of my lesson.
(I have to do that "post without stirrups" thing too, as part of my warm-up.)
Then, ditch the long-sleeved shirt and get to work!
Dory has to draw the pattern on her hand so I'll understand what she wants me to do.
Off we go, with a few tantrums, but no bucking! We practiced collected trot at a 20-metre circle, spiraling into a 10-metre circle and back out...and then (theoretically) transitioning to a canter to do the same maneuver. It wasn't smooth, but we made progress, and then worked on shoulder-in and haunches-in. Fee continues to improve, and she's so much fun to ride!

Lisa couldn't believe how hard this activity was. She thought the horse did all the work.

Five minutes after returning home, she was flat.

Life is good!

Monday, October 18, 2010

In which it takes an (endurance) village: a story of two riders

At the Foothills ride last weekend, there was a "keyhole" section of trail. Basically, it looks like a lollipop on the map:

Riders approach the watertanks at the base of the lolly. A sign on a tree at rider eye-level says "OUT --->" . There is also a sandwich board on the ground that echoes the message: "Out --->" and ribbons on the trees leading riders in the correct direction.

After completing the keyhole, riders approach the watertanks from the other side, and are greeted by another pair of signs. These signs read "<----IN".

Pretty clear, right?

But you know: If it can go wrong, it usually does for somebody.

Two riders went off-course at this location.

The first was a young lady new to the sport. She was riding an elegant foxtrotter stallion who had clearly spent a lot of time in the show ring, but was sufficiently conditioned to do fine in the 25-mile event. Somehow the rider got turned around, missed the keyhole, saw the ribbons leading back to camp and followed them. This process clips about 8 of the most challenging miles out of the ride.

When they got to camp, the ride managers immediately saw that a mistake had been made--this rider hadn't travelled nearly so quickly on the first leg of the journey, and it's unlikely that a horse will spontaneously double his speed over these distances. When they questioned the rider, she realized that she made a mistake.

"What can I do?" she asked ride management.

Now, here I must insert some words about our endurance village.

The managers of this ride are not only very experienced ride managers, riders, and leaders in our regional organization, they are experienced parents. They know what to do when somebody goofs: explain the options available, and offer whatever help is available.

In this case, the rider could call it a day, have a beer and a bowl of gumbo, and chalk it up to experience.

Or she could go back out to the spot of trail she had missed, do the trail, and return to camp. She would not be able to make it back to the finish line by the deadline, but they could give her "completion only" points, which means she would not have placing in the finishing statistics, but her mileage would still count.

The rider made her decision: she mounted back up, checked the directions once more, and headed out onto the trail. When she returned to camp, we clapped.

Another rider also mis-navigated the keyhole.

This rider is an experienced rider who has been competing for at least 14 years. When questioned about her mistake, this rider first denied cutting trail and was rude to ride management in a very loud voice. When the managers held their position, she admitted skipping the section of trail because she "figured she had been out there long enough." Then she stomped away and refused to talk to anyone else for the remainder of the day, despite having plenty of time to go back onto the trail to rectify her mistake and still finish the ride and get a placing.

Yes, our village is filled with all types of people. I'd like to say that the rude ones learn good behavior or they go away...

but it's not true.

Sometimes they stay. Like all the villages I've ever been part of, ours contains people that I don't like.

Sometimes we are able to teach them some better behavior, as I hope we were able to do with The Dude (though I doubt it).

Sometimes, they just aren't invited to the campfires to swap stories.

If you are new or interested in moving to our village, I should tell you that we have some rules. Although we don't talk about them much, we enforce them absolutely:

1. Safety is the most important thing. Not placings, not points, not records, not your picture in the yearbook.

2. Safety is the most important thing, and that means keeping everybody safe, including the vets, the pulsers, the kids in camp, and your horse. One of the vets says that if a horse runs over one of the staff, he'll check the ride manager's pulse and write THAT on the vet card--ensuring a DQ for the horse.

2. Safety is the most important thing, and politeness and kindness are right up there too. We won't ever let you do anything unsafe, but we also won't let you be rude to vets, ride managers, your horse, your dog, your spouse, or your child. If we think you're being rude, you may find yourself separated from the focus of your rudeness. We do this politely and safely, of course. (Sometimes the process makes for some very humorous stories to be told around the campfires in the evenings.)

3. Safety is the most important thing, and we also want to remind everyone that this is a game. Endurance is not world peace. Nobody "needs" to win a ride for the prize. We've seen too many bad consequences in sports where people lose sight of this. Statistically, horses are at risk just by participating in our sport, but we minimize the risk by keeping our vetting strict and our peer pressure strong. We'll remind you of this if we think you need reminding.

4. Safety is the most important thing, and if you goof up and get hurt, we will feed you, take care of your horse until you feel better, go with you to get your stitches put in (ahem, Lytha?) , send you flowers (or rum, depending on the circumstances) and make sure you have a brand-new helmet strapped on tight before we let you climb back aboard your horse. We will also rat you out if you do risky stuff before the docs clear you for takeoff again. (ahem, I think you know who you are, lurking blog reader).

As I have said often before, endurance people are nice, they are fun, and they are kind.

They help new folks learn, they share their knowledge and experience with you if you ask them...or even if you don't.

Our village is very safe. And very opinionated.

We don't always agree, and we don't always like everybody who lives in our village. But that's okay.

We like it that way.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In which endurance is a great sport, but it's the *people* that we love

We went to Foothills of the Cascadesand the weather (unlike recent years for the event) was FABULOUS!

(blog reader Karen W, is this you drawing on my pony's nether end?)

I drove to Molalla to help Sky celebrate her birthday by riding one of our favorite rides together! Although we've known each other for years, and we ride together whenever possible, we've never actually ridden together at an endurance event. This year, the weather was forecasted to be not-rainy, Sky's back wasn't sore, Cricket had a shiny new set of shoes, and Fiddle was finally ready for the additional challenge of doing an event with another horse.

We went!

We rode!

We had fun!

Some pictures from the (beautiful) trail:

I loved the trail signs. Most of the trails are named for kids and grandkids of ride management.

Yes, lytha , there were plenty of rocks on the trail. Next time I do this ride, I will put shoes and pads on my horse's feet. Fiddle did fine with just shoes, but for this ride the extra protection is warrented. Most of the pulls at this ride (with one notable exception, which I'll discuss in a later post) were for lameness. There were plenty of rocks to choose from--I am happy to have a horse who is careful where she steps.

We weren't alone on the trail:Ride and Tie-ers! I don't mind saying: some of those RaTs were plenty buff. We joked that the ride would get twice as many entries if the managers had told folks that we would meet Chippendale models running along the trails with us.

Actually, I'm not sure that we were joking.

One time at a ride years ago, Mads and I were trotting down a trail at about 7mph (I was wearing a GPS that day), when our trail joined up with a R&T trail. A very buff runner came alongside us, and talked with us as he was running for at least 5 or 10 minutes. Then his watched beeped, he checked it and said, "Oh, my rest break is over, I gotta go" and he sped up and left us in his dust.

(boggle) Those people are a very special and wonderful kind of crazy.

Speaking of special and wonderful, that's what endurance people are. Paul makes the best gumbo, and he feeds anybody who comes near his rig. I love parking next to him. He sent gumbo home with me--lunch tomorrow!

There is a kid under this blanket. Just hold tight for a minute...

Spencer has a beautiful smile, doesn't he? He had the task of collecting cards at the in-gate for our finish line when Sky and I came through. It's so nice to see smiling faces at the finish line.

Here's somebody else who always makes me smile:

Ashley Ann, age 3.5, is my very first grand-junior.

When Ash's mom Tiffany was a kid, she was my junior. She will always be one of my favorite juniors, even now that she has a kid of her own. Tiffany and Ash did the 10-mile fun ride. Tiffany said that Ash didn't complain (much). How many kids can do that before they learn to read? (Of course I frequently bring her books to practice "reading"...and she's definitely going to be a big reader when she gets old enough!) (Happy sigh) Ash is also an excellent lap warmer at the chilly awards ceremony.

Sky and I talked and talked and talked. It's been years since I've been able to ride an event with another person. Both of us could have travelled the trail much faster if we'd been alone--Fiddle had emotional issues at the start line and Cricket isn't quite as fit as my Fiddle. But that wasn't the goal of this ride. Our goal was to have fun. And we did. Oh, yes, we had fun.

We also decided that, although we'd started out doing endurance because we wanted to camp with our horses and see lots of beautiful stuff and challenge ourselves mentally and physically, we stuck with the sport because of the people. Are endurance people nice because they have fun?

Or do we have fun because we're nice to each other?

Either way, these are my peeps. I'm here to stay.
Life. Is. So. Good!

(p.s. Has my horse always been so tall?)