A Number of Years Ago
A number of years ago when I was forty-two
There were many more things I was able to do
I could run up the stairs without even a pant
Now when I try it, I absolutely can’t.
I could eat what I wanted and not gain an inch,
Without walking or exercise; it was a cinch.
My cholesterol did not have a tendency to rise
And I could thread a needle without straining my eyes.
Social security was withheld, not collected
And Medicare, was something I never expected.
My parents were older than I could conceive,
And I’m now approaching that age, would you believe.
When I met new friends I remembered their names,
And I could find my keys without playing mind games.
Phone numbers and dates I could keep in my head,
And no need to write down everything instead.
I could work or play hard, and never feel tired;
Why, I could even have had another child.
But, now that I’m no longer forty-two
I just try to maintain a good attitude.
What She Had Left
She rushed as quickly as possible down St. Aubin Street though progress was slow on the ice-covered sidewalk. Getting to the I-75 viaduct before dusk was vital to claim a high spot, tucked away under the overpass, but not so critical as to risk a broken limb—catastrophic for a street survivor. Most of what she owned was contained in a beat-up backpack that became part of her silhouette as she lumbered along—a decrepit androgynous hunchback in a brown tweed men’s overcoat and a maize and blue knit hat once worn proudly by some college kid—”GO MICHIGAN.”
As she approached the viaduct, her eyes scanned the other lumps and bumps already in place for the night. There was the odd couple, old Melba and Sammy huddled together and Big George who held her favored spot for a couple of donuts or a sandwich from the Baldwin Mission. Big George was lame—came home from Vietnam with a bum leg—but he stretched out long enough to guard their two spots and entire stash of cardboard. Those old flattened boxes were prized by her kind on a cold Michigan night—kept off the wind and provided a measure of privacy from cops, looters and other prying eyes.
“Bad news, Ida. I got chased out by a road crew. When I got back, all the boxes were gone. What say we go on up to the Mission, just for tonight. Don’t think my old bones could make it below zero.” Hot coffee and a dry space on the linoleum sounded mighty appealing just then, so she back tracked, mincing down St. Aubin with George in tow.
The line to get into the Baldwin Mission of Hope and Grace went around the block, but they finally made it to the front door. Big George nearly collapsed with pain and fatigue as he made his way through Intake to Men’s. Like all the applicants for shelter, they were patted down and her backpack was searched for knives, guns and drugs. Silly, she always thought. If I had anything that valuable, some thug would have robbed me a long time ago, or I would have sold it for a Big Mac! The next station of Intake asked her name. “Ida know,” she replied. “Honey, we gotta have your name. Think now, what did your momma call you?” Again, “Ida know,” she whispered through cold quivering lips and with eyes glistening with unshed tears. “Okay, dearie, Ida it is,” and she was mercifully passed through into the blessed warmth of Women’s.
A sister ushered her to a spot on the floor and said, “Let’s get that soaking coat off you and you can visit the Sharing Closet.” She only shook her head and clutched the coat tightly around her. That coat, ratty as it was a precious commodity—full of pockets to stash whatever she found useful and good camouflage. In it, she could pass as a man in the wild world she lived in. So she bundled it up to mark her sleeping area, and made her way to the dining hall.
It was already dark in the hall with the long rows of tables and stacks of folding chairs. The coffee pot was still cranking out its smoky brew, a rabbit-ear TV at one end featured some old Western, and folks dozed in a silent repose of hope and hopelessness for the coming day.
Nights like this, over a tepid cup of very strong coffee, she would mull over the events that brought her to this place in life—the unmet needs, the bad decisions, the tragedies and failures—and wonder how things got so terribly off track so very quickly.
With another night of no answers or solutions, she made her way through the sleeping bodies to Women’s. There, in her appointed space, her old top coat was gone—replaced with a pink, puffy hooded parka. Exactly like the last jacket she bought for Jenny.
In her mind’s eye, she saw the jacket bloody and torn on the floor of the ER. That ridiculous bright pink had not saved Jenny from the car that hit her, and would not protect her from the dangers of the street she now called home. In a panic, she ran past the sleepers, through the darkened dining hall, past the Sharing Closet and Intake, and out into the icy cold. “Wait Honey!” the sister on night duty shouted. “If you’re checking out, we need your name!” “Ida know,” she cried. Everything she ever valued had been taken from her. Julia Clare McCarthey would be damned if she would surrender her name.
Ruby Regina Witcraft
All eight mares have been bred for this year and the only one that hasn’t dropped her foal is late in doing so. With her in mind I went to the mare’s pasture to check on her at five in the morning along with the other seven new babies. Just as I turned the corner I saw, at that very moment, Babe making a huge effort and out came her foal, or I should say, dropped her. A filly! The fall to the ground is fairly gentle but is meant to force air into its little lungs for the first time in its new life. They come to life nose and front feet first and this one did. Thank goodness. No breach is fun for me or Babe which I will save you the telling of as it involves turning the foal.
This process is very successful and well protected as the other seven mares form a circle around her to see that no dogs, or other excited foals interfere with the birth. They must be the animal counterpart to midwives. I have seen only a few births as these ladies are very reclusive and tend to hold off until they are comfortable with the time and place. Don’t know how they do it as human women don’t seem to have that choice.
The first thing the mare does is blow into the foal’s nose to assure the little one it is safe and to connect the mother-foal connection. Next she starts nudging it to rise as it must learn to nurse for the antibodies in her milk. Knowing this, is mind boggling, to me but they both do know, for which I am thankful. Babe continues with the pushing and nudging until the foal starts to get the idea that something more needs to happen. It tries to shake its head but this knocks her over which leaves her wild-eyed and even more startled as to what in her previous world this never would have happened. Thoughts are now running around her brain about how to get back to before the time when she was dropped. But the nudging continues.
At this point the little thing looked dazed at the terrible, in-hospitable, world it had been so rudely dropped into. And, it must have wondered what those four skinny things, hanging from its body were supposed to do. The big figure with the sweet nose seemed to insist that, maybe, they could lift me. There was no longer food being fed, internally, so, that spigot hanging from Nose’s belly looked pretty tasty. If only I could get to them.
Stretching the long skinny things felt pretty good after eleven months of keeping them tucked under me. One can go this way, another the opposite, two behind. Push again Nose and here we go. “Plop, plop, plop.” Another big push which did the trick and skinny things held each corner of me better than seemed possible, but the tasty looking things disappeared. Standing supported straight popped them right in front of my nose and I suddenly knew what I was supposed to do with them. With a tummy full and leaning against Nose’s warm belly wasn’t all that bad.
By this time, of being in on this little wonder of nature coming alive, I was streaming tears of joy.