A Village of Angels

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Sounds pretty nice, huh?  A village of angels.

Well, that just happens to be what I’ve landed in!

You know the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Well, that works at the other extreme of our lives’ stories as well.  As we age, it often takes a village to love one another well, to get to really know and appreciate each other, offer support when needed and desired, and share with generous spirits when some of our lives veer off into sometimes cruel detours brought on by poor health or deep, aching loss.

I made it to the CARE Center (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees) last week.  CARE is unique.  It is the only place in the country (maybe even the world) that offers assistance to RV’ers who need to stay in one place for a time for medical reasons.  It is actually open to non-RV’ers, as well, but the vast majority of residents have RV backgrounds of one variety or another.

Residents live in their own homes.  Their RVs–which have ramps built next to them for safe access–surround the main facility that houses the dining hall, multi-activities room, and nursing and administrative offices.  CARE also offers a daily care (ADC) program for people needing more concentrated assistance.  For more details, you can visit their website at www.escapeescare.org.

But CARE is much more than you will ever find on a website or in a brochure.  Most of the residents share a common love of travel, of RV’ing and camping–some for vacations or extended travel and many for full-time living.  This common element is a special glue that helps to bond the program’s participants–residents, ADC, staff, and volunteers–together.  Honestly, in my former work I encountered a great many people in a variety of retirement and assisted living communities, and I’ve never seen this kind of cohesiveness.  People here truly care for one another, watch out for each other, and give of themselves to the best of their ability.

The angel in this picture was made by a beautiful, extraordinary lady who attends the ADC program.  Her name is Frances.  She gave it to me as a thank you gift for helping her during the bingo game–I was her lucky sidekick who helped break her losing streak with a two-game win.

But what she gave me was worth more than she knows.  For Frances has some major physical challenges that severely impair her movement, hearing, and ability to communicate–things most of us totally take for granted.  I honestly did not know what Frances’ abilities were when I sat down to help her with her four bingo cards, and I was nervous about doing too much or too little or talking too loud and not being able to understand what she was trying to say.

By the time the 90 minute tournament was over, I had a real sense of the woman next to me.  Her strength, her intelligence, her abilities that went well beyond what you could see from the outside.  We were in sync.  Mostly without words.

The words came later.

Later, in the dining room, I was talking to Crystal, officially the CARE Volunteer Coordinator but in reality the beating heart of the place.  Crystal saw Frances looking at us, trying to get our attention.  She went over to her and I followed.  When I bent down, for the first time I could understand everything Frances said.  “Thank you for helping me.  I want to give you something.”

She struggled to stand.  Dawn, a beautiful caregiver, helped her with her walker.  Frances went over to a table with crafts material on it.  She picked up this delicate, lace angel.  She gave it to me.

A village.

Of angels.

Of love.

Of generosity.

And incredible strength.

I only hope and pray that I can return in some measure the priceless gifts I receive during my time in this very special place.

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Cows, and Then Some!

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Dawny got an eyeful of cows and we both got some great country walks on our vacation from our vacation!  My bonus was a few extra pounds put onto my very spoiled self by our hosts’ incredible cooking, which included home made pecan pie (I pronounce that correctly now), fire-broiled steaks (of the melt-in-your-mouth variety), and meal after meal of just simple good country cookin’.  Our Texas friends, Carol and John, could not have been more gracious, generous, and accommodating.

We took a couple of day trips through the local countryside.  North Texas is beautiful.  We saw Gene Autry’s home town and drove by Randy Travis’ estate.  Pastures, lakes, and vineyards, small towns with their town squares (including the bank from the movie Bonnie & Clyde), country roads and big-city suburban traffic snarls–all painted in North Texas hues.

The area is blanketed by gently rolling hills and is home to some of the best horse country there is.  The soil is sandy, rather than the clay you find further south, and it is easy on horses’ legs and good for growing the grasses they love to chomp on.

I learned about that from Carol, who went to Agricultural College after she met John and began helping him with his ranch.  If she gets herself a lamb to raise, she will have all the agricultural animals covered.  At this point she and John have raised cattle, horses (wild ones, which Carol personally and patiently tamed), chickens, pigs, goats, and donkeys.  They have simplified over the years and now work just a small herd of cattle.

And then there’s their dog Ashley, who Dawny decided was an arch enemy in her quest to take the ranch over for herself!  I love Dawny, but sometimes I think she’s a bit of an idiot.  Ashley was wooed from a pack of wild, abandoned dogs that had been frequenting the area.  Carol and John  worked tirelessly to gain her trust and draw her into their garage so she could give birth to a litter of 12–yes, 12!!!–pups that winter many years ago.  Ashley is now firmly ensconced in her self-selected abode under the backyard shed, unless it thunders and lightenings, at which point she comes inside to cower next to John and Carol until Father Weather calms down.

FullSizeRender-609John has had his ranch for over 50 years.  Carol has been with him for over 35 of them.  Theirs is a second marriage for both.  They met while their respective children (teens at the time) played in a soccer league.  Both divorced, they recognized kindred spirits in one another and had the gumption to give the whole love connection another go.

Rarely will you meet a couple who completes and complements each other so well.  They weave in and out of each other’s sentences, completing them, or simply filling in a few words mid-sentence, bouncing back and forth, reading each other’s minds with uncanny fluency, pulling from the same memories–although from slightly varying perspectives (hence, you often get some conflicting opinions on what really happened and when, where, why and how).  It’s an amazing thing to watch, especially when the give-and-take is a loving, light-hearted, respectful dance.

Back to more mundane matters, I was hoping to get an opportunity to shoot a cow, but with all the rain, the fields were too wet to be able to move them to the pen where they do inoculations.  John and Carol did get prepared, though, by moving the herd with the young bull in it to the field that had the lone, older bull (let’s call him Hamburger), and then putting Hamburger where the rest of the herd had been.  This had to be done efficiently and quickly as the two bulls needed to be kept a good distance away from each other.

FullSizeRender-628Carol helped with the gates, and John (a.k.a. the Cow-Whisperer) led the herd to the next field by calling them, slinging out feed from a huge feed sack, and working the gates.  The picture here shows John with Hamburger, who weighs in at well over a ton.  A ton.  Of bull.  Think about it.  They are close enough to be bosom buddies there as John leads him with his sack of feed into the field just vacated by the herd and the young bull.

By the way, I just read today that more people are killed by cows than by sharks every year.  That probably mostly happens to people who are careless or don’t know what they are doing.  Or just plain unlucky.  John and Carol work very closely with their herd, though, and they know each other well.  Raising cattle is an art.  And a science.  I was privileged to get a glimpse of both.

After feeding us for a week, Carol and John sent us off with our refrigerator packed with leftovers for another week.  They also gave us a precious souvenir.  For wine-thirty, I can now sit back in my little house wherever we are and reflect upon our friends and our time on their beautiful ranch.  They gave me a wine glass with the name of their ranch etched onto it!

FullSizeRender-617So, cheers!  Cheers to Carol and John, who through their southern grace made Dawny and me feel welcome beyond welcome.  Cheers to Ashley, who protects her people and her turf with a gentle, laid-back, but firm, ranch-dog personality from upstarts like Dawny Virgil Prewash Sassy…  as well as from the coyotes we heard in the evenings singing with raucous abandon (I had to wonder what they were drinking!).

And cheers to all the farmers and ranchers throughout this country who work incredibly long, hard hours and against often capricious odds (thank you Father Weather) with a dedication and love that few know, and we would all be better off if more understood.

And Remember, Love is Not . . .

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Ha!  Told ya I was heading off to work on a book and maybe check in once in a while and what do I do???  Post the very next day.  Oh well.  Apparently my attention span leaves something to be desired.

So today we arrived at a beautiful little state park in North Texas.  We stayed here last July when we were new-to-the-road and that is when we met a lovely couple that invited us to visit them at their ranch some day. We will arrive there tomorrow, and Dawny will get an eyeful of cows!

But back to the subject at hand.  For our evening walk, Dawny and I were strolling along the lakefront and we saw a cluster of people at the end of the fishing pier.  A man in a white shirt was at the head of the group, a sweet young couple–she in a tiny white halter minidress and he in a royal blue shirt and fancy jeans–held hands and smiled at each other.  About a dozen people, including a tiny baby and a sweet little flower girl, were there to witness.  A wedding, oh my!

We slowed our pace so that I could soak up the love in the atmosphere and Dawny could sniff out picnic crumbs.  All I could hear before we were out of earshot was, “And remember, love is not…”

Not what???

I can think of SO many things that it is… patient, kind, truthful… First Corinthians 13:4-7 is classic.  But I couldn’t think of specific nots.  This really bothered me.  I’ve been married twice.  You’d think I would have a list two arms long embracing what love is not.  At certain points in time, I was a fair expert on it.  But alas, I seem to have forgotten.

Dawny and I watched the ceremony wrap up.  The bride and groom kissed.  Pictures were taken.  Lots more kisses were planted all around.  Good people watched out for the flower girl when she wandered off too close to the water.  And I sat on a nearby bench waiting to see if I would have a chance to get an answer to this burning question, what is love not?

And good fortune smiled.  The wedding officiant and his wife said their goodbyes and walked up the path to their car.  Dawny and I intercepted them and I did my best to not act or sound sort of crazy.  Luckily, they were very open and kind.

“What is love not?,” I asked.

“It is not an emotion, it is a commitment,” he explained.  “If it was an emotion, we’d all get divorced the first time the toilet seat was left up.”

Well now, that does make sense.  It’s probably not original.  It’s one of those things that people know… really know… at certain points of their lives.  And just as often forget.  Unless they are lucky enough to find someone who will help them remember, when times are at their lowest.

I hope this young couple can grow in that kind of a love.  I was very touched by their simple little wedding.  Sunset on the water.  Surrounded by the dearest of family and friends (the officiant was the bride’s uncle).  Nothing fancy.  Just a commitment made.  To love and honor each other all the days of their lives.

L’chayim!