Monday, October 31, 2011

A Crash In The Night

it's Halloween, and i live in the woods at the end of a long wooded driveway - nobody comes here to Trick or Treat and if they did, well, i wouldn't answer the door, because a sure sign that someone isn't right in the head is to go Trickertreatin' in lonely places.
My sweet husband has gone to town for Tai Chi class, his first in a few weeks, since he's had the Epizoudic as my grandfather used to call it - the cough has kept us up for nights now, and usually i'm the lung case here, but this time it was him.

So i'm here alone, with the fire going, and a slate blue sky that is the afterthought of a rainy afternoon that gave up. If there's a moon, my hounds will have to find it for me. The pines are black and thick against the western sky.

i'm making Julia Child's Potage Veloute Aux Champignons - that's Fancy for Cream of Mushroom Soup and you can find it on page 40 of Mastering The Art of French Cooking. I wouldn't normally make such a thing, but i bought a chicken and roasted it a few days ago, because i had a dream about attending a banquet where little roasted birds were served on pearl white plates and well, after a dream like that, you must make a roasted chicken, and then make a lovely stock of it's remnants a day or so later. Well, I used half the stock on a risotto with asparagus and white wine, and now i'm using the remainder to make this Potage Veloute . . . i have failed to mention here that i bought far too many crimini mushrooms at the market today because i was listening to a nearby conversation and in order to stay put i kept putting handfuls of the cool round fungus in the bag and besides, there is something rich about mushrooms isn't there? Oh the smell of dark dirt they carry.

so there i am in the kitchen, just a while ago and i have fed the hounds their dinner and have tended the fire . . . have i mentioned i can build a hell of a good fire? It comes from years of visiting my mother in her unheated house where the only source of warmth was her fireplace - they made me sleep on the sofa near the fire, warm indeed, but it came with a heavy responsibility, stoke the fire all night, or we all freeze by morning . . . i understand the Three Log Rule, and if you know about fire, you know what i'm talking about.

so anyway, there i am, i've brought the stock to a boil and i've carefully sauteed the onions in butter and added the flour and i'm getting ready to add the stock and chopped mushroom stems from a pound of mushrooms, along with the bay leaf and the thyme and the parsley, to the stock, when i hear a Crash.

No ordinary crash, it's the distinct sound of breaking glass.

you know that sound, it's a sharp shrill and then a tinkling like Tinkerbell just arrived, am i right?

Well, i was torn - i was at a critical point with the stock and i hear my hounds running through the house. This was quite a challenge for one such as me - i'm not only afraid of the dark, but am quite prone to Madam Panic -- yeah? Oh shuttup.

i decided to do what Julia wanted me to do and i combined the boiling stock with the other ingredients and i forged on and my hound Boogie showed up in the kitchen, repelled by the steam, but drawn by the chicken essence in the air, with a boding look in his eyes, "They broke something . . . " Boogie never busts things up around here, the girls do, my girl hounds are simply unable to control themselves, and so i looked at Boogie, "they have and well, i can't come right now, because i have to bring this back up to a simmer and make certain the flour doesn't clump, got me?"

But then i had visions in my head of one of the girls with bloody paws, so i left my fungus stock and began the search through the house for the source of the Crash in the Night.

You know, the night before my grandmother died, there was a terrible bump in the wee hours of the night. It woke my grandfather and my grandmother's Polish nurse who was very Catholic and heavens-to-Betsy more superstitious than my grandfather, and this so frightened her that she ran to Pop's bedroom and woke him and said the sound meant Death was near. My grandfather told her to go back to bed, but knowing him, he was completely undone by her declaration. She insisted he walk the house with her to find the source of the sound, but they found nothing. My grandfather deposited her back in her bed next to my grandmother's bed, my grandmother who had been out of her mind for over a year at that point. The next night my grandmother died, choking on her medication after dinner - it was middle March and there was sleet falling and the Polish nurse ran from the house and waited in the dark cold driveway for her sister to pick her up and take her to the train station. Pop told her she could wait in the house, but she refused, Mr. Death was too close for her comfort.

So, i hated to leave my soup, but i ran down the hall and found one Hound Girl in my office with a very guilty look on her face - she had my loofah from the shower and was getting ready to tear into it. There was nothing broken in the room - no shards of glass anywhere. I took the loofah from her and she followed me down the hall. I found my other Hound Girl standing in the hallway with that Veronica Lake smile, "What did you two break? I heard breaking glass . . . where is it?" They took off down the hall and asked to go outside. I let them out and proceeded to turn every light in the house on and found NOTHING. I returned to my soup and told myself that perhaps I was hearing things. Perhaps it was in the music i had been listening to. My heart began to pound. No. No. I heard glass breaking. Nothing else sounds like glass breaking.

I looked at the clock. My husband was a half hour into his Tai Chi class by now, but something frightened me,  i had found no source of the terrible sound. I went back to the soup. I lit the burner again, and like Julia prompted on page 41, I brought the stock to a simmer and set the timer for 20 minutes. The windows went black and thoughts of my husband's car in a ditch somewhere between here and there came to mind. I texted him, "Are you okay?" I asked. No reply - of course not, he's in Tai Chi class, i tell myself, or or or or, dead . . . the stock began to steam slightly and the hounds stared at me through the glass doors, "Yes, yes, come in." They wanted cookies and then it occurred to me i had not checked  the office downstairs, my husband's office, and i went down there, and it was terribly dark, and the dogs came with me, "Whatcha doin? Whatcha doin?" They always want to know, don't they? And I turned on the lights and I stared at his empty chair, and some weird sadness came over me and i burst into tears at the sight of all his computer monitors . . . there are so many, and they were dark, usually they are lit with terrible amounts of information on them, and then i moved his chair, and i heard a clank . . . a ting tang of glass . . . yes! his green banker's lamp was laying on the floor under the blinking lights of our servers, it was in a million pieces on the tile floor. I exhaled. And then my phone made that high pitched "the Quiche is done" signal . . . and it was him, my good husband texting me, "I'm on my way home."

The dogs stood in a small battalion at the foot of the stairs, "Well?" I asked them.

"Trick or Treat!"

Project Vacate Facebook . . .

Jamie Wyeth's 
Pumpkinhead, Self-Portrait
(1972)
Happy Halloween my dear imaginary readers of San Jose! After a successful trial run in September, I am once again vacating the land of social networking and returning here to a place I feel most comfortable - I will endeavor to remain a loyal Pumpkinhead servant until at least the New Year, if not beyond, unless something stupendous happens and I have to share it with my 230 friends . . . or was it 229? But I doubt earth shattering news will befall me anytime soon, and so I will hunker down and try to wrestle some stories into shape for you.
Have I ever mentioned my obsession with the Wyeths? All of them? N.C., Andrew, and Jamie? What men! What artists! True testament to what living in bleak landscapes can do for creativity - really. The bleaker the better - empty fields, bare trees, weird reclusive neighbors, and only crows and pigs to observe. I keep this in mind all the time as I look for inspiration on the lonely soybean field horizons.
So it's just us now, let's see if it's a Trick . . . or a Treat.

Skateboards Not Guns

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Faster, Faster!




so this morning, this was on the tube - this amazing weird tale of  revenge with Lionel Barrymore. What the trailer doesn't show you is my favorite scene, perhaps one of the most wonderful scenes I have ever witnessed in a film, really. Barrymore, disguised as an old toy-making woman, enters the office of one of her victims and lays a toy circus pony on the man's desk. But this is no ordinary toy pony, Barrymore urges the man to ask the pony to do something, anything he wishes, and all the man has to do is think that he would like the pony to stand, and the little painted pinto circus pony comes to life on his desk and begins to walk in a circle on one corner of the blotter, next to the leather pen holder and not far from the telephone. The man asks the pony to go, "Faster, faster, " and the pony obliges with a trot, and lovely perfect trot in the same space on his desk. Round and round the delightful pony goes. Barrymore picks the pony up and begins his ruse with the man and the pony is never seen again in the film. I sat there all morning waiting for that pony to come back. And when he didn't I searched google and youtube and vimeo in vain for a clip of the magical lilliputian pony. I want THAT pony . . . sorry, but it was one of those cinematic moments that I will never ever get over.

Roasted Acorn Squash ala Wolfy

So I made this the other night as a practice run for Thanksgiving, and a few folks asked me for the recipe when I told them about it. Here it is, but know that I made this thing by "feel" and I have tried to apply measurements here, but you may want to add or delete ingredients or put more or less of some things in -- it really is a cornucopia, so have fun with it. And btw, you can make several of these in a large roasting pan, that's my plan for Turkey Day at least.

1 medium sized acorn squash
olive oil
6 strips of bacon, cut into one inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup diced apples
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped
fresh rosemary to taste
red pepper flakes to taste
salt to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup feta cheese
5 or so tablespoons of apricot preserves or plum chutney or chutney/marmalade of your liking

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the acorn squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and now cut the halves in half again, and place the four squash pieces meat side down in a baking dish that’s been smeared with two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Put in the oven for 30 minutes.

While the squash is cooking, in a saute pan cook the bacon til it’s soft and has rendered some fat, now add the onions, the raisins, the apples, the walnuts , the green pepper and the rosemary, and season with red pepper and salt. When everything is sauteed to a nice softness, take off the heat. If you want to be really decadent, add a tablespoon or two of butter.

Pull the squash out of the oven and turn them over so the meat faces up. Take your sauteed filling and spoon over the squash, do your best to fill the squash, but it’s okay the just smother the squash in the all the filling. Now crumble the feta cheese over the top and dollop (what a word!) the preserves or chutney over the top. Put the dish back in the oven and cook for about a half hour or til everything is bubbly and carmelized.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

From The Department of Observations . . . Near Halloween

The light on King Street turned green and the wind blew poplar leaves across the courthouse lawn and a small crowd, not the lunchtime crowd, but the midday Trick or Treater crowd anxiously crossed the street - Princess Leah's pale hands let go of her son, Darth Vader, all of eight years old perhaps, and 75 pounds of nervous energy, gangly and spider like in black pants, black long-sleeve t-shirt, and a cape that lifted him over the curb, he turned his masked Vader visage to me for just a moment before he ran a Jerry Lewis sprint to the next candy stop.

My Halloween fright came in the form of a turkey vulture lighting heavily, like death i suppose, from the low limb of a pin oak on the edge of the road my dog and i were walking -- the vulture came hauntingly close, noisy with his feathers, upset by our nearness, he swooped up into a pine, and sat satisfied, as though he'd been sent . . .

The wine colored leaves are coming down and the air is still warm enough to smell the remnants of last night's rain . . . a sense memory of a boy walking to my house to borrow a book overwhelmed me to tears, but i swept it away, because although i felt it, as though it was the present, it never really happened.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chores

So there we are at the Dump, me in the back of the truck tossing stuff in the dumpster and Boogie at his station, the driver's seat with his big old head out the window, and a man with a white beard and full camo coveralls backs up his truck next to us and starts unloading his trash, when he stops and looks over at Boogie and says to me, "That's a big hound, you must live in the country!"

Yessir . . . and then we discussed blood hounds and coon hounds and red bones like we were having coffee together, but the trash ran out so we parted ways.

And on the way home, the early autumn morning light all kinda golden like came through the foggy windshield and lit up Boogie's muzzle which I noticed for the first time has turned completely grey. Don't you just hate it when your dog gets old?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pictures of the Day

the world seems to be on fire today . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Blast From The Past . . . God Drove A 1965 Mustang

so this is the only story i have ever had published - it's really old, and i'm still happy with it, even though i wrote it when i was 20 years old, which is so many many years ago - it was published in The Greensboro Review (number 40, Summer 1986) and i suppose if i tried much much harder, i could get another story published, or my book published (but my agent is working on that), but how much harder can i try? i mean, really . . .

God Drove A 1965 Mustang

    God drove a 1965 Mustang...I was sure of it. His hair was almost black, almost blue-black like the car and it flew wildly as he drove. The first time I saw him I was walking to school and the flash of his sunglasses in the sun made me melt. After school I stopped at Henry’s for a Coke. I was sitting with Bernadette by the window and God drove in the Exxon across the street. Bernadette was talking about her Pop and how he wanted her to go to beauty school or something when we graduated next spring. I was watching God. I kept wishing he’d get out of the car so I could see how tall he was. Bernadette got awful mad at me cause I wasn’t listening, but I pointed to God and she about died. “What a fab car,” she said. Yeah, what a fab car.

    You know when you’ve got an infatuation and you’re looking all over for the guy, but you don’t see him? You forget what he really looks like...he’s just pieces in your head like those crazy Picasso paintings, some sunglasses, some hair, a fire-bright flashing chrome bumper. Well, I kept expecting God to appear at school or at least his car in the parking lot, but he was nowhere.

    Every Friday night Bernadette and I used to go to the movies. It didn’t matter what movie it was, we just went to see who was there. You couldn’t even hear the movie for all the yelling. We always sat in the very back row so no one could spit in our hair or snap our bra straps. Well, on this night, Mr. Bronson, the manager of the theater, got really mad and turned off the movie. All of a sudden it was dark except for the red exit signs and the one thin white line of light that comes through the crack of the swinging doors and travels down the aisle. We thought the movie broke, so we were yelling at Mr. Bronson to fix it, and three minutes later the swinging doors opened, and Mr. Bronson was standing there all black and square like Frankenstein. He told everyone to shut up and you know what? You couldn’t hear popcorn crunching. “I’m going to shut all you brats here and let you all kill each other.” “Hey, man! Don’t oppress us.” It was God. He was all white in the light. I didn’t know what he was saying, but it sounded good.

    “What’s your name, boy?” Bronson asked.
    “I ain’t got a name.”
    “Don’t play games with me, son.” Bronson wasn’t breaking, but God just turned and walked out the exit door. Bernadette grabbed my arm. “What a fab guy,” she said. I didn’t say anything, I was numb.

    We all left and headed for Henry’s. Bernadette parked her car and asked me if I wanted a cigarette. I lit it and we went around the front of the diner. At the door I knelt down to fix my sock. I turned my head and saw the silver hubcap, the symbol of the Mustang’s stretched stride in flashing light. In it I saw my face reflected and all screwed up. The car was ticking with heat. I stood up and looked at the car, every inch of it. He was there, he was at Henry’s the same time as me.

    Bernadette and I took a booth by the door. The diner was smoky and green white with flourescent light. There was talk, loud mottled voices all about the movies and a rebel. While Bernie was ordering a Coke, I spotted God, sitting in a booth alone in the back. He was staring out the window. His face reflected bright in the blue lit window full of stars and headlights off the highway. He was thinking hard.

    “Bernadette, don’t look but he’s in the back.”
    “Smile at him,” she said, intent on her cigarette. God, she’s stupid sometimes.
    “Shut up, Bernie! That isn’t the way to do this.” But I looked over at him by accident and he looked back. We didn’t smile, just electrified each other...or at least me.

    Then Sam and Ely had to come and throw themselves into our booth. Bernie liked Sam, but I thought he was a real jerk. And Ely, he always wore the same plaid shirt and told me how pretty I looked. His nose was stuffed up that night and it made him uglier. Bernie would say, “Be nice to him, Marina, he’s Sam’s friend.” I would say didn’t that tell her what a jerk Sam was? But she was blinded by love and the fluorescent lights off of Sam’s greased hair.

    Sam and Bernie were giggling and talking with their faces real close. I sank down, I didn’t want God to see me with this nerd Ely. I tried to get my mind off it and looked at Bernie’s pink dress. It was tight and the material was sort of old and nubby, she looked fat in it. The dress was falling off one shoulder and I kept thinking she should pull it up or let her red hair hang down over it.. “You have hair like Elizabeth Taylor,” Ely said. He’d moved closer to me when I wasn’t looking. I told him his nose was running. He turned white and ran all spindly legged with his face down, out the door. Boy, was Bernie mad cause Sam followed Ely. “Sometimes Marina I...I...hate you!” Then she left, I saw her catch up to Sam outside. He put his arm around her and they disappeared among the cars and darkness.

    I looked at God, he’d finished his Coke and was getting up to leave. I decided to finish my cigarette and walk home. “Where’d your friends go?” Geez! He was talking to me.

    “Oh, I don’t know, they all got mad about something and took off. Now I’ve got to walk home.” Honestly, I didn’t mean that as a hint.

    “Wanna go look at the universe?” he asked. I almost died, right there.

    He opened the car door for me without a word and I got in. The interior was black and leather and clean. God right in and started the car. I threw my head back and closed my eyes, all I could see was him. Tall and lean, he wore tattered, almost white blue jeans and a black t-shirt. His black hair hung straight and shiny into a sharp bony face with quick eyes, almost like a bird.

    “What’s your name, girl?” he asked.
    “Marina,” I said.
    “That French?”
    “Yeah,” I said. His face suddenly go dark as we moved out away from the neon of Henry’s sign. “My name’s Gunther, call me Gun if you care to.”

    “How come I’ve never seen you at school, Gun?” We drove out in the flat fields and the wind flipped our hair about as to almost pull it out. I felt a rushing in my body all hot, all cold. Gunther-Gun-God. What a fab name. “I don’t go to school, I’m a poet. I’m here to learn.”

    “Learn what? There ain’t anything to learn around here,” I said.
    “Yeah there is. There’s the corn and sky and the diner,” he said.
    “Where do you live?”
    “Nowhere, I guess. In my car.” I had a hard time believing that, it seemed too clean. I felt I’d found something in my mother’s drawer that I wasn’t supposed to. We kept silent and Gun pulled off the road onto the edge of a cornfield. The corn was high and spoke when the wind asked it to. Gun closed his eyes and took my hand. “Marina, water, harbor, fish. You make me think of the beach with a name like that.” I didn’t say anything. I just looked at the purple night. The universe, bigger than any of us, bigger that our town. It was all lit up with fiery stars like a bunch of hubcaps. “Where have you been?”
   
    “Lotsa places, girl. The last place I was in was Coney Island. At least it was the last place I stayed for more than a week. I ran the Ferris wheel. Carrying souls round and round, high and low. I used to stop it and hold people transfixed in states of high or low. Then I got sick of controlling lives and came here to see the flatness.”
    “How long are you going to stay?” I wished forever.
    “I’m splitting tomorrow. Gotta find me something new.” I felt something fall from the top of my body to the bottom. But he leaned over and wrapped his arms around me and made me fell like I’d touched something for a while that nobody ever had. We sat there till the sun was striping the sky, watching the universe move.

    When Gun dropped me off I stood in the road and watched him turn into nothing but a black pinpoint with flashing red taillights. I turned and I saw my Pop standing at the screen door. All blue in the face, he screamed that I wasn’t going to anymore Friday night movies. I told him, “Don’t oppress me.” I didn’t know what it meant, but it sure did make him shut up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ode To Ogden Nash - Persimmons

i have one persimmon tree
but persimmons don't appeal to me
you may have them all my dear
too bad you're far and not so near!


for Anne Corio, October 18, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Of Riding on the Road and Ashford & Simpson Redux - a reading for The Mane Event, a fundraiser for The N.C. Therapeutic Riding Center

Before I read you a story, I have a confession to make - I’m not a volunteer, I’m a thief and I steal joy.

I am a vagabond, and the people, horses and riders of The N.C. Therapeutic Riding Center are the sultans.

Oh I’ve got everyone fooled into thinking that I give my time to people less fortunate than myself, but just the opposite is true.

The trick is in the continuous feedback loop of healing and joy that exchanges between us and the riders as we work -  a centrifugal force that holds us together and a valuable currency that I fill my pockets with every time I leave the farm.

I should be ashamed, but I’m not.

Right from under their noses I steal patience, peace of mind, inspiration and perspective in an ever changing and confusing world. I feel so privileged to work with NCTRC - it’s more than my Happy Place, it’s my Nirvana Place.

When I was a kid, any time I fell off my pony I was told, “it’s a long way from yer heart” in other words, “Yer not dead, get back on the pony” - as though the heart were this mystical temple that could never be breached, never be violated by mere bumps, bruises, and broken bones.

NCTRC is a testament to the distance of the impenetrable heart .

We can ride, no matter what . . .  and that is the key to life, isn’t it?

That’s finally off my chest . . .

Now I can read you a story, a story from my memoir My Mother Jumping. There are a few things you need to know about this story; my childhood was largely unsupervised. I was raised by horses and my grandparents, while my mother pursued a career in horse racing. One of the characters in the story is Nick Ashford of the R & B husband and wife duo Ashford and Simpson, who wrote hit songs for the likes of Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye. Mr. Ashford recently passed away following a long battle with throat cancer. He was not only a marvelous musician, but he was a kind philanthropist who supported struggling inner city children.  Tonight, I dedicate this story to him and all those who work to make the world a slightly better place.


I used to ride my pony from my home on Bayberry Lane to get to the Fairfield County Hunt Club. It was something I did from the time I was six until I was eighteen. The Hunt Club was where many of my friends rode and it offered me horse shows, a polo field to gallop around, an indoor ring to school over jumps during the winter time, and access to miles of trails.

I didn't ride the road every day. I could ride my neighbor's property -- approximately 100 acres of woods and open fields, but the Hunt Club was the hub of riding activity and like my mother before me, I rode the road to get there. The trip by horse didn't take long, probably 20 minutes to cover three-quarters of a mile and I had to negotiate a busy intersection, that of Long Lots Road, Bayberry Lane, and Maple Avenue. Of course, my pony had to deal sanely with the road at all times -- he had to be fearless of school buses, trucks, bicycles, dogs, and Westport's then-form of public transportation The Mini Bus, a Mercedes bus who's diesel engine trilled loudly and spewed an acrid cloud of exhaust the color of coal.

People used to consider Connecticut The Country back then -- New Yorkers would move to Westport or keep a weekend house there and they called it their Country house. I think this still goes on up there -- this describing the area of western Connecticut as some sort of rural respite from the City, but last time I looked, it had transformed to something beyond suburban, despite the beaches and the emerald throngs of maple trees. Its no longer that idyllic location for Mr. Blanding's Dream House or Christmas In Connecticut. The thought of riding a horse down one of Westport's roads today only fills me with visions of disaster involving an oversized SUV blindly guided by a GPS. But back then, in the days of my childhood, most people in Connecticut knew what to do when they saw a horse and rider on the road -- slow down and give the horse some room.

I was a familiar sight on Bayberry-- I kept to the pavement, but once, once I was in a hurry and I took advantage of Mr. Kent's long beautiful sloping lawn to canter part of the way...my grandparents got a call that night, Mr. Kent said only one kid in the neighborhood could put that many divots in his yard. I was sent to Mr. Kent's house on my bicycle the next morning to apologize and promise that I wouldn't gallop my pony on his grass anymore.

On horse show days, I would ride to the Hunt Club just after sun up. My pony was turned out for the show with his braided mane, and I carried my supplies needed for the day in a bucket in one hand and the reins in the other. Sometimes in addition to the bucket, which had a brush or two, towels, and a hoof pick, I’d have a bag containing my show jacket and other necessary appointments for my classes. This made for a small feat, to get my gleaming pony down the road carrying all this. And of course, I was hopeful that at the end of the day I would return triumphant with a ribbon or two added to my load.

There was one bright afternoon I was riding down the road to meet a few friends for a trail ride and a Westport police car passed me. He put on the brakes, and quickly reversed. He swung the cruiser onto the shoulder of the road blocking me and my pony's path. The officer got out of the car and like all cops about to inform you of your trespass on the law, he straightened his hat and pants and cleared his throat. He was young, much younger than most of the policemen I knew. My family was great friends with many of the longtime Westport cops and being so young myself, I saw them all as Old Men, men of great authority and stature. I stopped my pony and said hello to the officer. He squinted and squared his shoulders, "How old are you?" he asked me.

"I'm ten, ten years old. Sir."

"And what's your name?" He had his ticket pad in his hand and he began to write something down.

"Shannon."

"Shannon what?"

"Shannon Woolfe. Sir."

"Miss Woolfe, do you know that horses are not allowed on the streets?"

"No sir. I've been riding on the road for a long time now. And my grandfather rides his polo pony on this road too. And...and..." Never talk too much to cops, it only annoys them.

"But its against the law,” he said, “Horses don't belong on the road. Just not safe, you know."

"Oh..." I was confused and my face felt all hot...I wanted to cry, but at the same time, something told me he was wrong. He kept jotting things down on his ticket book. I thought, gosh, he's going to give me a ticket!

"Miss Woolfe, where do you live?"

I turned in the saddle and pointed back up the road, "51...51 Bayberry Lane. I live there with my grandparents, Tom and Mabel Glynn."

"Miss Woolfe, I want you to turn your pony back around and go home. And I don't want to see you out on this road again."

"Yessir." I was near tears, but I did as he told me. He followed us, my pony and me, up the road with his car. We must have looked like a very short parade. He chided me once again when I turned into our driveway, "Remember, I don't want to see you and your horse out on this road again." And then he drove off.

I trotted up to the house and called for Pop. Out he came and asked me why I was back so soon? Why wasn't I riding with my friends? I told him about the policeman sending me home and Pop got all red-in-the-face-mad, "Jesus Christ...what the hell is going on around here? Listen, go for your ride, I'll call Mac." Mr. MacLeanan was a Westport policeman from way back. He taught me how to swim and had even ridden horses with my mother when they were growing up.

Pop called Mac and Mac called the Chief, who then found out who was patrolling Bayberry Lane that afternoon. He was a rookie, a new hire, a City Boy. He had never seen someone riding a horse down a road and he just assumed it was against the law. The Chief apparently called him in and showed him a copy of the Connecticut Driver's Handbook that explicitly stated that a driver must yield to pedestrians of all kinds including horses and riders. I would see the young officer every once in a while after that. He would pass me on his patrol down Bayberry and oddly salute me, never looked at me, just held up this stiff white hand as he drove by.

I rarely had trouble riding on the road, sometimes people didn’t slow down enough or give me ample room, the same thing that bicyclists encounter. It was times like those that I was glad to have a road tough pony.

But there was one driver who was downright murderous.

I was riding home and hurrying to beat the sundown, it was a gray winter afternoon, the kind that makes Connecticut seem like the last place you want to be. The trees were black and bare and there were remnants of a snow storm on the edges of the road...gray snow, dirty snow, the way snow gets when its been beaten into submission by the salt trucks and that black exhaust that pours from the school bus and the Mini Bus and the weird neighbor's old Mercedes station wagon. I was riding my new pony named Snow Poppy, a bay mare I had received for Christmas just a month earlier. She was new to this road work, but she was getting the hang of it. She was extremely sensible and I was smitten with her.

We were only a couple of hundred yards from my driveway when I heard the roar of an engine behind us. I turned to see a white van lurch as though it was raising up on its hind legs while the driver stepped on the gas. It sped up the hill toward us, the headlights were ablaze and it was coming right for us. Poppy and I were in a bad place too...there was no shoulder, we were riding next to a high bank, with a wall of saplings covering its top and there was just no time to cross the road to take refuge in the Goldstein's driveway. So I did the only thing I could with so little time to save myself and Poppy. I made her stand as close to the bank as she could and she miraculously stood stock still for me and I threw my leg, the leg that was exposed to the road over her neck, so that I was now riding sidesaddle. The van catapulted by us at a terrible speed and its sides brushed Poppy's flanks and shoulders -- and the stirrup that I had left empty by taking my leg up and over Poppy’s withers, rang a terrible metallic song. I held my breath and Poppy held her breath and then as quickly as he came, like lightning striking, he was gone in a filthy white blur up the road. But I did get one thing off that truck as he squeezed Poppy and me into that bank on the side of the road, I got the big blue word SEARS tattooed into my brain.

Poppy could have panicked but she was as resolved as I was to get home after the SEARS man had tried to kill us. We trotted, clippity-clippity-clippity up the center line and in the gate for home, where I found my grandfather making hot mashes for our horses’ dinners. My story sent Pop running up the hill and into his car. He sped out the driveway and disappeared. I untacked Poppy and looked for some sign of injury on her -- nothing, not a hair out of place. The only evidence was a gash in the flap of my saddle, and it came over me like a terrible wave that my leg could have been ripped open the way my saddle had been.

Pop found the SEARS man at the liquor store up the road. He took him to task in the doorway and told the shopkeeper to call the police. The SEARS man was arrested and I suppose he lost his job. For years after that Pop fretted that the SEARS man would come back to the neighborhood for revenge, but he never did.

Sometime in the late seventies, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson of the legendary R&B team of Ashford & Simpson moved into a grand old house at the far end of Bayberry Lane. This caused a bit of a stir around town, of course, being that they were Black Celebrities. Westport was very accustomed to celebrities-- it’s proximity to New York City made it a quiet haven for CEOs, actors like Paul Newman, and internationally acclaimed writers and artists.
But they all tended to come in one color: white.
Old Westport wanted Westport to stay a certain way, a battle they would fortunately lose. There were fears the wonderful clapboard estate would be turned into some sort of a MoTown Den of Inequity.
But Ashford and his wife lovingly restored the home to it’s 1920s grandeur.
Ironically, when they sold the home 20 years later, the house was demolished by a young couple, who made millions on selling children’s educational puzzles, to make room for a glitzy forty thousand square foot mansion, now the largest home in Fairfield county.
Not long after he moved in, our new neighbor drove by me and my pony on the road. I always turned round when I heard a car coming from behind and on this day, my young heart skipped a beat when I saw this spectacular car rolling toward me.
It was a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, a fantastic looking car, like nothing I had ever seen before, and it slowed way way down as it went over to the other side of the road to go around me. The window rolled down and there he was at the wheel of his shining ship, this gorgeous black man smiling this starry smile at me and wearing a deep purple velvet suit. He waved his lovely dark hand at me and I knew who he was, he was Nick Ashford! It would be like that for a couple of years...he would drive by and smile that smile and sometimes She would be with him, Ms. Simpson, and she radiated this unbelievable warmth as they glided by me in that car. No wonder they could write songs like Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and You’re All I Need To Get By! They seemed to emanate waves of Love everywhere they went.

Finally one day, he stopped and I stopped my pony and leaned over to see Mr. Ashford beaming at me from the helm of his magical car. And then he spoke -  "I just want to tell you how happy I feel when I see you riding that beautiful horse. It reminds me of my childhood in South Carolina and it makes my day every time I see you."

"Thank you Mr. Ashford!" I answered.  I wanted to tell him how it made my day every time he drove by me in his Silver Cloud. But I couldn't get the words out.

And then he drove off, and I felt like some must feel after they have been blessed by the Pope or have knelt in front of the Dali Lama. And I hummed “Ain’t no mountain high enough...” all the way down the road.