One of the most frustrating things on the Journey was when I asked permission to stop somewhere and the ponies and I were turned away because “what we have to offer isn’t good enough.” Considering some of the places we Did find ourselves spending the night that was often a bit hard to swallow, but (remembering that nobody owed us Anything) I would thank them and wish them well and we’d continue on our way. Often the trail led on from that “rejection” to a great situation where people were wonderfully warm and welcoming, other times I’d wind up throwing the tarp down in a ramshackle shed on top of fresh cow manure because it was better than braving the weather. Whatever it was, we always did find a place to stop – every night. My standards of “good enough” weren’t particularly high – beggars can’t be choosers and all that. But honestly? I always thought that that line was just a lame excuse, that they meant something else, something more like: I don’t trust you, I don’t like you, I’m afraid you’ll sue me – that somehow I wasn’t good enough…
Well – this winter I found myself on the other side of that scenario. When I first arrived in Big Creek and my neighbors stopped by it was easy to offer a walk through of the house. Nobody had lived here in a long time, filthy was an understatement, chaos ruled, boxes everywhere, animals everywhere else; curiosity was high and expectations were low. The situation was easy to perceive as comical and temporary and people were understanding and encouraging and mostly incredibly helpful. But weeks turned into months, winter dragged on and I was no longer laughing very much, I was too busy surviving. With no insulation and very little money I’d gotten cheap, ugly used carpet remnants to cover the floor of the one room I was living in, trying to keep heat in and cold out. The dogs weren’t reliably housebroken and wet dogs smell bad anyhow. I don’t have a vacuum cleaner but it wouldn’t have helped. I’d gotten a small space heater for the bathroom but the rest of the house was Cold and cluttered and still really a mess. When people came by I met them in the driveway and didn’t invite them in for a cup of tea. What I had to offer wasn’t good enough. Ouch!
It took me too long to realize what I was doing and why. All of my excuses felt really valid at the time. Put two humans, three dogs and a perfect cat into a closed room for long enough and it’s going to smell like a kennel. Yuck! It felt awkward and wrong to entertain strangers in my bedroom. There wasn’t even much to offer in terms of a place to sit down. I was embarrassed, ashamed, broke and exhausted. I was afraid of being judged. People were being so kind and generous and I felt like I had absolutely nothing to offer in return – that’s an Awful feeling! Part of me wants to spin off here and talk about 1 Corinthians 13:13 and how, depending on the version of the Bible you’re reading, it’s “faith, hope and love” or “faith, hope and charity” which would lead one to assume that “love” and “charity” are (or were supposed to be) synonyms – but how somehow being on the receiving end of “charity” so often feels degrading and like the opposite of “love” – which is absolutely worth pondering. However, right now I’d rather tell you about last Sunday afternoon.
Sunday afternoon I had a visitor. On purpose! His name is Naz and he’s walking and biking across the USA and wanted to have a chat. He was taking a break and staying with some people living not far South of here who knew of my Journey via my blog. They had contacted me several weeks ago but somehow I never quite followed up on the connection. Then they brought him to the Steakhouse while I was working (which was fine) and I left the fryer to chat for a moment and we exchanged contact information and I didn’t think too much more about it. Then last week I got a ‘phone call and Naz said that he’d be leaving the area Tuesday and would like to get together before he moved on and did I have time for a chat between now and then? (Persistence is a valuable trait when crossing a continent on foot!) I took a deep breath and said yes.
Saint George and I have been working on “the parlour” this past month. It started out with a fit of curiosity regarding the log cabin structure that the rest of this rambling old house was built around. I wanted to see it, so we took a board off the wall. Then another board. The nails were hand forged – yes, we saved them. One thing led to another and suddenly those boards were becoming book shelves (my library hasn’t been out of boxes in a decade) and the 12″x 4″ beams were revealed and admired. The new curiosity is how old log cabins were chinked and with what (the white stuff) and how to keep that from cracking when the house shifts (which it does!) I was given an almost-new hide-a-bed sofa and a chair and by Sunday afternoon we were able to sit in the parlour like civilized folk and enjoy a fascinating conversation with a new friend. He didn’t even seem to mind that in lieu of tea we had lemon water in mason jars.
I’ve voiced the opinion that I had such an easy time of it on my ride because I’m a middle-aged, white female – with charming equine companions. I believed this to be true. Meeting Naz was a revelation because he’s been experiencing that same sort of hospitality, kindness and acceptance as a man who’s obviously “not from here”. His family comes from Mauritius (between Madagascar and Australia!) and he’s lived and traveled all around the world. His accent sounds as much British as anything (to my ears) and he’s spent quite a bit of time in France. He said that the people here in the US are the friendliest and most hospitable folks he’s met anywhere in the world! I love that. I don’t want to get all nationalistic and elitist about it – but Yeah Americans! Naz is on a charity ride (there’s that word again – in his case I believe the love synonym) raising money for diabetes and childhood disabilities and he’s writing (well!) about his Journey and perceptions here: https://www.facebook.com/nazacrossamerica
I’ve been wrestling with this next paragraph for over an hour because it feels hypocritical in the face of everything else I’ve written. Especially since I made a habit (while on the ride) of showing up at the doors of strangers unannounced! However, there have been a few times recently that people have shown up here to visit and I haven’t been home – either working over at the Steakhouse or out on errands. So – now that I have a parlour and places to sit down – and I’m working my way past the idiocy that somehow things here aren’t “good enough” for company – I’d like to make one simple request. If you’d like to come visit (and especially if you have to drive any distance to get here) please call first. Or e-mail or facebook or something – just to arrange a time that works for both of us. Because I do want visitors, however: 1) I want to be sure I’m here! 2) When I’m writing and I get interrupted (even briefly) it pretty much ends my writing for the rest of the day. 3) The other room of the house that has gotten cleaned up and organized is my massage room. I graduated from massage school 20 years ago and have earned part of my income doing therapeutic massage off and on since then. I’m hoping to return to that line of work part time here and a knock on the door in the middle of a massage is not relaxing! My number is 518-390-8481. If I’m working, writing or giving a massage I probably won’t answer – but I will call you back!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m expecting Spot to kid any day now. Mama Pearl died of post-partum complications two days after kidding. I’ve been assured by several goat experts that it wasn’t my fault and sometimes these things just happen – but I’m a bit of a nervous wreck. This will be Spot’s first time and your prayers that things will go smoothly and calmly – and that everybody will live through the experience – would be greatly appreciated. I’ll keep you posted!