Hay Surfing

I’m shredding down Afton Mt. at 45 mph under a gray sky, but halt my two wheeled descent for road construction halfway down. From his bundle of clothing and puffy hood, a half jolly, half terrifying hillbilly construction worker with a couple of teeth missing asks how it’s going.
“Chilly,” I say.
“Well you’ve got it made now. It’s all downhill from here. Ha-Ha.”
He looks back down the road to a line of cars coming our way.
“Guess you’re right.”
He turns back to me with wide eyes, “ya know, tha utha day I seen a rider comin up here, ‘n thur was a hay truck ‘n a strang on the back o’ that hay truck, ‘n that rider done grabbed that strang ‘n done got towed up tha mountain. Ha-Ha-Ha.”
He flips his stop sign around and lets me through.
“That was my uncle,” I say as I roll on past him.
Last Wednesday- and that construction worker is still talking about it- my Uncle Dan (Duncle), stopped to take a leak halfway up the mountain. “Phew! If it weren’t for that truck, I never would have seen you guys again,” he said breathlessly leading us to believe that he had motor paced up the mountain to catch us. You never know who’s watching. Ok, so he cheated on the climb, but not many people have the guts to grab a truck on the highway. Then again, not many people have the guts to be riding 80 miles this time of year. Watch out VA. Team King is running wild.

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Mundane Holiday?

It’s a rainy day. Thought I’d try poetry. Just don’t call me “cute.” I haven’t written a poem since Junior year of high school, not everything rhymes, and the pacing’s probably off. I’m a lazy poet and/or it’s modern art.

I’ve got no news
Mundane to dos
Routine humdrum
The Thursday blues

Another day
That’s just okay
Like this song I play
Don’t want it this way

Lots of thick lines
Color them in
Same old routine
With a new spin

A holiday’s just 24 hours
It has no special powers
But a face that glowers
Gets called a grinch

That’s plain greedy
Flip it around
Smiling always
Like its the holidays

Snap out of that funk
You thought it stunk
But that was the mundane
Now why complain?

I’ll wake tomorrow
Sip my morning joe
Smile everywhere I go
It’s a holiday, didn’t you know?

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GBBQ: Goat Rodeo

Some of you will cringe and label us ruthless. A few of you might shrug and think, “we’re not so different.” Still others will read this story and laugh like maniacs, because really, how many south-of-the-border-goat-rodeos have come through your neighborhood?

8 PM

Mark King, my dad, a competitive 48 year old cyclist, has just finished thrashing the local group ride in the usual fashion. He’s tired and hungry but tonight he’ll have to fend for himself, because Mom is out of town with my little brother and two sisters. Although it’s 8:00 PM, our cleaning lady’s car is parked in our drive-way in it’s regular 8:00 AM spot. Dad looks sexy in his red spandex, but before you jump to any perilous conclusions about an extramarital affair with the cleaning lady, know that she was there for the goats.

Pet goats might sounds like fun, but when the novelty wears off, you realize that it’s just a pet goat. Not to mention that my younger brother and sister’s pet goats were… were… geldings, which means they had no reproductive organs and thus nothing to give and no purpose. The angry little animals would not let anyone close enough for companionship. However, they were smart, and no fence could contain them. No matter the height of the boards or the latch on the gate, they would let themselves out a few hours after they were fed and watered in the morning. In a black and white flash, the driveway would be scattered with turds and petals from the recently demolished rose bushes, hourglass devil eyes glaring triumphantly. For what they were, it is incredible how proud they could be. The novelty had worn off.

Ernestina, our cleaning lady, had excitedly accepted the goats when my dad offered them that morning. He was not naive about her intentions. However, they remained unsaid. The goats had broken out and were roaming the yard when Ernestina and her friend arrived to collect them. Despite her efforts the short Columbian woman had no chance of catching the delinquents, and the past hour had been wasted. Of course, my dad, being a gentleman, would help her rally them into the dog kennel in the back of her car. The goats, who were simply pestered by Ernestina, would let her get within five yards before trotting off to graze a little further away. When my dad entered the scene, they started to enjoy the chase chuckling in their throats at the brightly colored man. Their personal bubble went from five to ten yards. Another hour went by. The situation was getting more serious.

9 PM

Ernestina’s friend had laughable confidence, so my dad baited him with a twenty dollar-bill if he could grab a goat. My dad went inside to put on shorts and a t-shirt, and next thing he knew, a caravan of lowered Hondas and beat up pickup trucks with spinners cruised into the driveway blaring a Spanish radio station.

My dad, Ernestina, and fifteen of her compatriots vs. two wild-eyed goats. Three Mexican children acted as translators between their parents and my dad, while the goats dodged, ducked, dipped, dived, and dodged their pursuers, like a miniature school of fish. In half an hour night had fallen and with it, the rain. A hot summer storm soaked the horse field and the surefooted goats gained an added advantage. Mexicans subbed in and out of the chase. It was a backyard futbol game in the headlights. While half of them rushed in for a slide tackle in the horse manure, the others pounded Tecate and talked with my dad through their kids.

10 PM

“Shoot them in the leg!” shouted Ernestina. “Then they won’t bleed much and we can catch them.” It was getting a bit ridiculous, but my dad refused to let our pet goats go down that way (although it had crossed his mind). Instead, he brought down a lasso from my little brothers room.

11 PM

Dad gave a few pounds of venison to his enthusiastic new friends.

“That’s better than goat, but don’t even look at the horses.”

The goats weren’t having fun anymore. Neither would they throw in the towel. “Stubborn as a mule” is not as stubborn as a goat. Their escape became a bored monotony. They had seen everything in the opposition’s playbook, and defense was effortless. Dad became supervisor and was searching for the right way to postpone the chase and get some sleep.

Just as hope was disappearing, a flurry of Spanish erupted and a new set of head-lights appeared on the seen.

“Papa! Papa! Papa will catch them!” the children translators exclaimed to my dad.

A 5’8” ancient Mexican stepped out of his rusty truck, and picked up the lasso. An inquisitive semi-circle formed behind him, as he approached the goats with slow confidence. Four evil eyes matched his gaze. Silently he called them out, and they faced him. The lasso that hung limply at his hip began to make easy hypnotizing circles and then flashed. Papa yanked furiously, and both goats were roped around the neck. WHAM! They were dog-piled by the spectators and loaded in the car.

That was cause for a celebration.

12 AM

Every car radio cranked the same Spanish tunes. Although Papa was the only person who wasn’t covered in mud and manure, he had the same adolescent grin as the rest. Dad, Mark King, a 48 year old cyclist, sat on one of the lowered tailgates loosely gripping a Tecate. It would soon join the growing collection of empty bottles.

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A Thank You Note

As I share this time with cancer survivors and those celebrating the memory loved ones lost at the Ride for the Roses, it seems appropriate to share a memory of my grandpa.

The fogy greenish water in the sheltered cove offered a reflection of the gentle sun setting over Smith Mountain Lake. I loosely gripped my fishing pole as sounds of the girls preparing dinner floated from my grandparent’s lake house like an aroma. I yawned. My hands were grimy with fish slime and worm dirt, so I meandered up the idyllic wooden stairs to the basement where I put my fishing gear just inside the door on the vinyl floor. Needing only my hands and mouth for the burger waiting upstairs for me, I scrubbed generous amounts of my grandma’s fragrant French vanilla soap between my fingers. In the mirror I could see into the guest room where Grandpa perched on a chair brushing an oil canvas.

I stood beside him watching a barn door appear, one weathered plank and rusty nail at a time. The scene was all in his head; he merely projected it onto the canvas with expert straightforwardness. The rustic door began to take on a course, granular texture. Finally, Grandpa turned to me. The focus in his eyes was almost melancholy. “I have something to show you. On a very special day I will give it to you, but not yet,” he said, walking toward a small wooden cabinet and pulling out a pocket knife. When he put it in my hands, the weight surprised me. It was not a dead weight, but a solid, muscular one waiting for direction. Sharpening had worn down the blade, but it was still as long as my soft childish hand. Although I could see the rippling lake water, countless campfires, where Grandpa had sat carving or slowly stroking a wet stone with long wistful motions, glinted through, as I looked down, not at, but into the stainless steel.

Its handle balanced the blade perfectly in weight and allure. Black masculine coffee flowed through grooves in the rugged brown of Indian skin. It felt as tough as the steel it complimented. “Case” was etched into a metallic oval, which was firmly inlaid in the center of the handle. The wood was from a piece of the barn in my grandpa’s painting, natural, and gnarled. It left an impression in my hand that I would remember until that “special day”. I anticipated the time when owning it would make me more of a man. Only outdoorsmen with class like my grandpa and dad could brandish such a tool. Surely Davy Crockett and Annie Oakley carried one like it.

Over the next few years I saw that knife maybe twice more. My grandpa became very ill, and lung cancer took him soon after. I saw my dad cry.

One year later my fishy hands chucked a fishing pole and tackle box inside the basement door of the lake house. It was dinnertime, but before I could get my hands on a burger my grandma pulled me into her bedroom. Somberly she produced the Case pocketknife. “Your grandpa wanted you to have this;” she choked back a tear. I said, “thank you”, but did not need to say anything, because it was not a gift from her.

The barn door painting hangs in our living room. Tacked to the rustic wood are a map of the lake and a post-it note reading, “gone fishin.”

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