I call them Vail days. They never occur in Houston, where once, after warming up for an 8:00 am softball game, I had to remove my drenched uniform, don a backless hospital gown, and have three IVs administered to restore fluid loss. It was like inflating a shriveled brown mummy.
In Southern California—at least when I worked my way through adolescence there—there was no humidity. Living in East Texas for almost four decades has not acclimated me. “You’ll get used to it,” they said. I’m sure I will - about the time they slide me and my gurney into cold storage.
So a Vail day here is a treasured rarity when the air is clear, the sun is bright, the cloudless sky is powered blue, the trees are still, and the atmosphere does not feel like a Roman sauna.
This Vail day was in the springtime when the fresh leaves were bright and green, the Azaleas robed with purple, scarlet, mauve, pink, and white blooms, the Day Lilies belching golden flames, and the smell of freshly mowed grass everywhere.
I looked up from repeatedly plunging my Phillips-head screwdriver into the terra firma like Jack the Ripper—it takes a certain mental imbalance to get the last bit of a crabgrass root—and spotted Minnie shuffling down from her home next door.
“Good morning, Minnie,” I said. “And how are you today?”
I knew the answer. It was always the same.
“How would you be?” she snapped. “I was let out to go potty at the usual time, had the same hard, cold breakfast, was dragged about on the same old walk around the block, and turned loose to wander this woebegone neighborhood.”
I mouthed the words while she talked.
“That’s lovely,” I replied, as usual. I decided this rare, beautiful morning didn’t deserve that a cloud-like Minnie should have a free pass.
“It’s such a glorious morning that I find it hard to believe the forecast for heavy rain,” I said.
Minnie stopped suddenly, raised her drooping head, and when she looked at me, her eyes grew wide. “Thunderstorms?” she asked. “Thunderstorms!”
Minnie was usually fearless. She would saunter to the middle of our narrow, quiet street and stand sidewise, staring intently at nothing while huge delivery trucks filled with, say, furniture made by tiny hands in foreign lands raced to deposit an attempted upgrade to an old house nearby.
Minnie would remain immovable, ignoring the honks, yells, whistles, and entreaties as if stone deaf. Sometimes she would look around as if to notice, “I say, what, what! A huge truck has pulled up. How novel.” And she would lift her head and slowly step aside. Mostly, she had to be picked up like a stiff souvenir and deposited on someone’s lawn.
But the bravest among us have an Achilles heel, and Minnie’s was thunderstorms. Lightening and the ensuing CLAP petrified her.
I couldn’t bear the terror shooting from her bright eyes. “Oh,” I said, glancing at my Apple Watch. “False alarm. It will be beautiful all day, so you can rejoice.”
“Rejoice?” said Minnie. “Harumph. You know I don’t believe in rejoicing.” And with a flick of her long, white tail, which moments before had been drooping like a soggy cleaning rag, she turned and walked away.
The next morning I decided to allow myself a late start at the office, easy to do when one is self-unemployed, so I could finish whipping the front yard in shape. The chosen task was to engage in a winner-take-all cage fighting event with a heavy-weight Pampus grass tag team. My trainer taped my hands, fitted my gloves, handed me a kayak-sized trimming shear, and whispered in my ear, “Remember to dance and weave. They like to go low.”
We were well into the second round when Minnie dropped by. I had a freshly ripped clump of straw-colored strands in one hand and was trying to lever the shears with the other while the Pampus brothers were sawing back and forth trying to sever my left leg at the knee.
“Nice work,” said Minnie. “I admire the ‘toddler finds the scissors and gives herself a haircut’ look.”
The bell rang, and we went to our corners.
“Good morning, Minnie,” I said. “And how are you today?” My mouth opened to form the letter “H” when she shocked me with, “Off on an adventure.”
“One of my 4,000 Twitter followers…”
“You have 4,000 Twitter followers?”
“One of my FOUR THOUSAND Twitter followers posted a meme that read:
Today it may be sunny
Tomorrow it may be blue
Better to have an adventure
Than spend the day with you”
“That’s terrible,” I replied.
“Really,” said Minnie. “I rather liked it. Anyway, I decided it was good advice, so off I go.”
I noticed she was wearing a Wonder Woman backpack, slung low from the weight it carried. “What will your Master and Mistress do?” I asked. “They will be worried sick.” I felt the need to intervene, more for Bill and Suzy than for Minnie. They were fine people and treated Minnie very well. Her white coat was always brushed and clean, her eyebrows shaped, her whiskers trimmed, her munchers flossed, and her figure ample, but not too much so.
“Oh, I doubt they’ll miss me. It seems another tiny menace to proper society is about to enter the world. All we need is another tongue pulling, ear poking, eye gouging, collar dragging, tail lifting, toy stealing human.”
“The new grandbaby. Wonderful!”
“Then you entertain it. Me, I am out of here.”
And with a swish and wriggle, as if to shake off the remnants of a bath, Minnie slowly walked down the long hill which was the street in front of my house.
The trainer splashed my face and said, “You’ll have a hard time winning with one leg. I told you to dance.” And he shoved the guard in my mouth. I glanced down the street, and Minnie was gone. “Strange,” I thought. “She never moved that fast before.”
Minnie was just past the stout brick mailbox, the nicest one in the neighborhood and so full of wonderful smells that seeped deep into the mortar when suddenly she felt pulled into a long, black tunnel. It was as if forces squeezed her little body into a thin straw and then shot it out the other end like a juicy spitball.
Spleeeet! She crashed snout first and slid on boards, shiny from use and wet brushing until her head crashed into a wall and her hind legs flew up over her body. “Sesame Street is brought to you by the inverted letter ‘C.’” Adding insult to injury, her tail plopped into her eyes as she collapsed under the weight of her backpack.
“Ouch,” said Minnie.
“Aargh!, she heard. “Another blasted stowaway. Seize it!.”
She unfurled herself, stood up, and turned around just in time to see three huge, yelling pirates—well, they must be pirates having the uniforms and all: three-cornered black hat with a bullet hole in the crown: check; soiled red scarf tied over the head: check; filthy once-white-now-grey britches ragged at the knees: check; five down-at-the-heel, poorly fitting black shoes with big brass buckles and one stumpy wooden peg leg: check; one eye patch, seven scars, twelve cracked, yellow teeth among them, snarling dispositions, facial hair growing in all different directions, gleaming with the grease from last night’s supper—need I continue? Oh, and that rank smell of decaying sweat and dried vomit. Pirates.
“Be still, little Matey,” yelled the biggest pirate with the black hat as he swung a giant cutlass over his head. “What have we here, me boyos?”
“Dunno, Cap’n,” said the red scarf, “Is it eatable?”
“Yeah, is it eatable?” said the peg leg.
“Gentlemen,” said Minnie. “May I present myself? I am Minnie from Texas. I assure you that to eat me would turn your gizzards into mush and give you scurvy. Besides, see how thin I am—hardly worth the trouble of preparation.”
“Who, may I ask, are you, and where are we?”
“Aaaaarrrrrgh!” yelled the three in unison. “We are the scourge of two of the seven seas, we are the roughest, toughest, hairiest pirates what stole doubloons, and we are sailing the Crimson Wolfe to the gates of hades!”
“And our Cap’n is uglier than Blackbeard and meaner than Princess Soojah,” crowed the peg-leg pirate.
“Jacques!” interrupted the Cap’n.
“I mean, our Cap’n is meaner than Blackbeard and uglier than..”
“Smugger than Princess Soojah,” said Jacques as he stamped his peg leg. Thump. “Ye knows my memory ain’t what it used to be after that clump on the head in Barbary.”
“Now, little Matey,” hissed the Cap’n. “Here’s wot the fate of stowaways is. We give’s ‘em three choices,” then sotto voce, “in that we like to preserve the outward notion that this is a democratic society when, in reality, it is a strict autocracy.”
“One, they can walk the plank and plunge into the black depths of the sea to be eaten by sea monsters; two, they can be hung like a sack of potatoes from the highest yardarm to be eaten by crows; or, three: they can join us and partake in our jolly, rollicking adventures and buy into the illusion of gaining untold riches.”
“Fourthly, we cans dip ‘em in a pot and eats them,” said Jacques.
“You seem to have a preoccupation with eating,” said Minnie as she unzipped her backpack. “Perhaps we could discuss it over lunch.” And reaching in, she pulled out the most tantalizing and plump roast turkey.
Over lunch, which Minnie found to be surprisingly civilized—it is amazing how food lubricates human interactions—the deal was struck. Minnie agreed to a four-year, 160 million-dollar contract with a no-trade clause; wait, this is not the NBA. Minnie agreed to become a pirate in exchange for not ending up in a dinner pot.
To save wear and tear on you, gentle reader, let’s fast forward three months or three hours, depending on which alternate universe you live in. Minnie had won the respect of every crewman on the ship—from the brash Cap’n to the lowly chamber steward, all recognized her biting wit and courage. With a few short lessons from Jacques, she began to brandish her shiny cutlass with a flourish until it became stained red.
In June, after a rough boarding of a French merchant ship, where the advent of a blow-in storm altered the gunners’ aim and made boarding difficult after the grappling hooks dislodged at just the wrong moment, Minnie lay panting by the Franco Captain, who was reconsidering his decision to fight to the death.
“Maybe we should fight to the winded,” he whispered, gasping for air.
“The winded?” asked Minnie.
“Yes, you know. We’ve given it the old heave-ho, 110%, left it all on the court and all that rot,” he said in a charming accent.
“I see,” said Minnie. “Yes, I believe that is more sensible than me splitting your head open like a ripe melon.” She cocked her head and applied a few rapid scratches behind her left ear, dislodging a boarder—it wasn’t for nothing that the Crimson Wolfe was derided as a flea-bitten old hag.
“You recognize my honor?
“I do, sir.”
“You will treat my vanquished crew with respect?”
“We will, sir.”
“Okay, then. I yield.” His blade toppled from his hand.
Minnie let out a long breath and shakily got to her feet. “I’ll notify the Cap’n, Sir, and hostilities will cease.”
Later, sitting at the feast with Cap’n and his officers, Minnie had a flash of insight. “Am I being all I can be,” she asked herself. “Is piracy my life’s calling, my raison de etre?”
“Hey, we got no Raisin Bran on this ship,” said Jacques.
“Jacques,” said Minnie, “Kindly remove yourself from my inner dialogue. How rude!”
She continued, “Am I happy? Surely I love the thrill of the chase, the blood, the screams of the vanquished, the smell of cannon powder, the heft of golden doubloons in my backpack, and the ‘Yo Ho Yo Ho’ song. But something’s amiss.”
This was the first time Minnie felt any doubt about her decision, well, she really hadn’t had a choice, had she?—to become a rollicking pirate. But doubt—especially self-doubt—is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. And the second Minnie allowed self-doubt to creep up from her unconscious brain to become big, drive-in movie, center-stage thoughts, the gears in a giant machine began to turn. Slowly, oh so painfully slowly at first, then a little faster and a little faster until they were spinning like the wheels on a racing motorcycle.
And, Phhhhht. Minnie was sucked out of Cap’n’s gaudy red dining room into the tubular, dark reed.
I enjoy mowing my front yard. Mowing provides instant gratification, and an immediate sense of accomplishment. See, look where I’ve been—the blades of grass all sport a neat crew cut providing order, teamwork, and unity; and look where I am going—to battle confusion, chaos, and grandstanding one-on-one play that only belongs in a flowerbed. It wasn’t always so. I used to trace ruts in the sand to find my way. But with a bit of sun, lots of water, and a truckload of topsoil, St. Augustine grass will patiently prevail.
I rounded the oak when out of the corner of my eye, I caught what looked like sun glinting off chrome. Then Minnie was trotting up. I let go of the handle, and the mower engine died. “Good evening, Minnie,” I said. “Where did you come from? Haven’t seen you in a few hours, or is it a few months? Is your backpack jingling?”
“Aaargh!” she said.
“Beg your pardon? Don’t you mean Aaarf?”
“Oh, quite right. Aaarf, aaarf and so forth. I’ve just come from a most excellent adventure gaining insight into my raison de etre.”
“You want some Raisin Bran?”
“No, you’re as mental as Jacques.”
“Who? Is that the new grandbaby’s name?”
“No, it’s…never mind. See you later.” And she trotted up the hill, turned into her driveway, and disappeared into her garage.
After making the rounds and getting affection from all in the house, Minnie buried her backpack under a tall pine and plopped down in the middle of the garage. She crossed her forepaws and thought, “I actually do love the smell of oil, gas, and grease. So much better than gunpowder, blood, and bile.” Minnie’s owner, Bill, was a master mechanic, retired from his commercial garage, but was active for his friends under a shade tree.
The garage was attached to the house but never had a car in it. It was a tool shed, parts barn, and workspace. To Minnie, however, it was Fort Knox and, when the door was up, required vigilant guarding. I learned the hard way when once, after petting Minnie behind the ears on our road, I had the temerity to make a move down the driveway toward her post. She suddenly sprung like a leopard and bit off two of my toes. This was remarkable in that I was wearing steel-toed work boots.
“Hey! Ouch! Gimme those toes back!” I yelled. “I thought we were friends.”
“Oh, sorry,” mumbled Minnie.
“And don’t talk with your mouth full.”
She spat out my toes. “I said I was sorry. Just went on auto-pilot. When anyone threatens Bill’s garage, I…just…go…berserk - like Billy Jack.”(70’s cult movie cliche warning.)
“He said I could borrow a ratchet, you Rambo-head. Now I need to borrow some superglue, too.”
I limped home to re-attach my toes and order new work boots from Amazon. Luckily I found some that were 4 1/2 stars, guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes by drone, 36 years to pay with no interest using the Prime card. I also had to order the recommended green John Deere yard tractor that other responsible buyers paired with the boots. It wasn’t on sale but came with a free room ionizer—a $129.95 value guaranteed to please the lady of the house and deflect attention from a $12,000 impulse buy.
Minnie circled the garage interior three times, satisfied herself the coast was clear, and resumed her post near the opening. Feeling secure that no intruders could pass without stepping on an oil can or slipping on a grease spot, she yawned—a giant, slow, lazy yawn—and floated into peaceful slumbers.
No sooner than her eyes rolled back under her lids, and she hit REM sleep, Minnie was once again sucked into the vortex of the long, thin tube. She twisted and turned and dropped and spun like the most thrilling water park ride until she was spit out the end of the tube. Ptueeey!
“WHOA - HO - Ho - ho,” came her attenuating yell, al a Goofy, until she splashed down in a shimmering deep blue lake. Only, it had no water. Just a sandy bottom that sanded off part of her bottom as she slid in for the landing. “Ouch!” She exclaimed. She shielded her eyes with a paw and glanced all around. Nothing but water and dancing heat waves. She dipped her other paw in the blue and pulled it out—covered with sugary sand. “A mirage,” she thought.
Suddenly Minnie felt very thirsty. “Strange,” she thought. “I remember taking a deep draught from the guest toilet just a minute ago. It must be this heat. I’ve got to find water.”
So Minnie started walking. She didn’t know where she was or where she was going, but instinctively knew it would be fatal to sit still. After she trudged along for what seemed like hours and hours, Minnie heard the sound of muffled hoofbeats. Three riders pulled up and gazed down at her.
“Hey, Podner,” said the lead rider, pulling down the red bandana that covered his nose and mouth. “You look like a little lost tenderfoot. Did you fall off a wagon, or did a buzzard drop you?”
“I suspect something like the latter,” Minnie replied. “I seem to be having some space/time continuum issues…”
“Hold off, gally gal,” said the second rider, slouching forward with an elbow on his bay stallion’s neck and tipping his hat back. “You’re with Texicans, and we only speak English. Wall, and I ‘spect some Spanish here and thar and, Billy here, he knows a little Crow talk. But I’d say a watch not keepin’ time might be the least of your troubles. How’d ya’ll get in the middle of this here desert?”
“A buzzard dropped me.”
The third rider lifted his stained black bandana, leaned over his horse, and spit out part of his chaw—a sold brown stream. “Boys,” he said. “I reckon we’d better help this here tenderfoot. Ma always told us the good Lord takes care of the ignoramuses and handicapped, so we should, too. This here’n appears a little of both.”
The lead rider shifted in his saddle, unslung his canteen, and tossed it down to Minnie. “Alright, Billy,” he said. But this’n—what’s your handle, gal?”
“This Minnie gal rides with you, and try not to spit on her. It’s a disgusting, nasty habit, boy. Ma would hate it, and the surgeon general warns…”
“Joshua Benjamin Smith, Ah know all about the health hazards of tobaccy and accept responsibility as a full-growd man.”
“Don’t come cryin’ to me when your black tongue falls outta your pointy head and them brown teeth start littering our back trail,” snorted Josh. “Mount up, Minnie. Let’s ride.”
After she had taken a couple of grateful swigs from Joshua’s canteen, Billy reached down, snagged Minnie by the collar, swung her up behind him, and said, “Grab ahold a my waist and hang on, Miss Minnie. Oh, and I’m a port-side spitter, so you may want to list to starboard from time to time.”
It only took once for Minnie to learn that port meant left, and other than the great splattering incident, the afternoon ride was uneventful. Minnie, drowsy from the stifling heat and rocking motion of the horse, perked up when they reached the lip of the desert and began to climb. Soon they crested a hill and stopped to gaze at the panorama.
“Ah never tire of this here view,” drawled Billy.
“Yep,” said the second rider whom Millie learned was called Hoss for his diminutive stature and love for fine horses. Hoss took a great deal of teasing from his brothers after trading for his latest mount that turned out to be of a most disagreeable nature, having recently nipped Hoss in the buttocks when he bent over to tuck his pant leg in his boot. “That explains the constant, restless shifting in the saddle,” thought Minnie. “It must be hard to ride with one good cheek.”
The scene that unfolded before them was beautiful. The hilltop gently rolled down to a wide verdant plain dotted with brown cattle. A blue river framed with light brown earth meandered through the valley, carving its way to deposit melted winter snows far downstream. Minnie thought of home and the sturdy giant oaks and stately pines that formed a canopy over her street and marveled that there could be so much green and not a tree in sight. She noticed a couple of figures that looked like toys circling the cattle, working to bunch them.
“Wall,” said Josh. “I reckon it’s time to mosey down and do what we came to do.”
“Yep,” said Billy. “Vacation’s over.”
With nudging, the horses broke into a canter as the brothers rode three abreast. Minnie feared the worst. “Great,” she thought. “I’ve traded my career as a marauding pirate to be thrown in among lowly cattle thieves. Rustlers.”
“Gen-tle-men,” she said in a bouncing voice. “I am so grateful for you rescuing me from the de-ser-er-ert—I really am, but I believe if you drop me off here, I can make my way just fine. Just da-aa-aa-andy.”
“Miss Minnie, I’d sure hate for you to miss all the fun,” said Hoss. And with a whoop he prodded his horse into a gallop. That bay might be a touch cantankerous, but could he run. “Yeehaw,” yelled Billy, and the race was on. Minnie screwed her eyes shut and clung to Billy like nettles to a stocking.
As the brothers thundered down the hill, the cowboys looked up and spurred their mounts to intercept. Minnie scrunched down behind Billy expecting gunfire and the whiz of passing bullets. She hoped they passed but feared hearing a thwack if one made its mark. Imagine her surprise when all the riders yanked the reins, the horses skidded to a stop, and all five sprung from their saddles and rushed together in a giant group hug.
“Son, son,” yelled one of the cowboys, grabbing Josh in a huge bear hug. “I thought you’d never get here.”
“Wall, boys. We’d a been here a mite sooner if Hoss didn’t have to trade for this bay, and it bit off haff his butt,” said Josh.
“Yeah, that that horseflesh got a taste for Hoss-flesh, said Billy chortling.
“Ha ha,” said Hoss. “Who was it run you two into the ground just now? Me and bay here kicking your butts is worth a little nip outta mine.” The bay, brown body glistening, tossed its black mane and swished its black tail. “This’n’s a keeper. I’m calling you Lightning,” said Hoss.
“I see you brought a new hand, said the second cowboy. “Howdy, Ma’am. You lose your horse?”
“No, a buzzard dropped her,” said Billy.
“Well, that buzzard’s loss is our gain. We can use all the help we can get. It’s shaping up to be a very good calving season, but we lost two hands who got infected with gold fever and headed for Virginia City.”
The good-hearted banter continued as the five riders walked down to survey the herd. That night at the campfire, Minnie learned the two cowboys were brothers from back East named Will and Cliff, and they were cousins to the Smith boys. Minnie also found out that if she wanted any more of Cookie’s grub, which was hearty and surprisingly tasty, she would have to work for it.
After supper, Hoss took her to the makeshift corral and, with a shrewd eye, carefully picked three horses from the remuda. “These here’ll be your remounts each day during roundup,” he said.
“Are these cattle yours?” asked Minnie.
“They are. The five of us spent two seasons gathering unbranded strays and wild stock. We herded ‘em here and hired some hands to help whilst me and my brothers headed home to Tennessee. We were hopin’ to check on Ma—we came west to build her a proper home—but were too late. Seems she got the fever and passed over the winter. I sure miss her. She was the wisest, most no-nonsense woman ever lived.”
“I am very sorry for your loss.”
Over the next weeks, Minnie realized she never before knew what it meant to be tired. Up early enough that is was cool, still, and dark, and working until long after the last embers of fiery yellow and pink dissolved into deep grays and blues that soon faded to black—from can barely see to can’t see, she thought. Minnie began to love the cowboy life, becoming more skilled at riding, cutting, and roping.
When at last the cattle bedded down for the night and the lowing stopped, Minnie would sit back from the fire, stretch out with the last cup of strong, black coffee, and gaze at the vast sky—dark as velvet, but glistening with a million twinkling, faraway stars. “What an amazing creation, what an amazing Creator,” she thought.
Each night before she dropped off to a deep slumber, Minnie would reflect on the day and the one thing that continued to amaze her. No matter how tough the job, no matter how great the strain, no matter how bone-tired they looked, the Smith boys and their cousins seldom changed their demeanor. Oh, they teased each other unmercifully, and every now and again would have a difference of opinion about some calf or a memory from a cowtown. But it would always end when Josh would say something like, “Wall, I s’pose we’re all entitled to our ig-no-rant opinions until the good Lord sets us down and straightens it out,” or “This here won’t be solved until the good Lord reappears with His saints.”
In short, Josh, Hoss, Billy, Will, and Cliff always seemed like they were having the best time and filled with a zest for living. “They’re, what’s the word?” puzzled Minnie, “Imbalanced, unhinged, delusional, unwashed—well, yes, they’re unwashed, but something else. Happy. That’s it. They are happy.”
Minnie looked back on her own life before she began being sucked into tiny dark tubes. “What word would I use to describe myself,” she wondered. “Grumpy, cross, short, irritable, gloomy. Certainly not ‘happy.’ Unhappy, that’s the word. Why was I like that? I’m not unhappy now; at least, I don’t think I come across that way.” The more she brooded about her frame of mind, the more she determined to figure it out.
The next morning, after Josh shook his boots to check out any free lodgers that might have wandered in during the night and stomped into them, Minnie took a deep breath and said, “Mr. Josh, can I talk to you a minute?”
“Sure, Miss Minnie. What’s in that pretty little head of yours?” he asked.
“Well, I’ve been wondering. Do you think I’m a happy creature?”
“Hmm. Wall, that’s hard to tell. I mean, you’re pulling your freight—which we all notice and appreciate, and it's understandable you being a might on the quiet side when no one can get a word in edgewise if Billy, Will, and Cliff are within shootin’ range. And shootin’ their mouths off is what they’re good at.”
“Hey, I heard that,” came a muffled retort from under a blanket. “At least I can shoot something, which is more than I can say for you and that bent-barrel Colt you haul around for a decoration.”
Josh winked at Minnie, grabbed a couple of steaming hot mugs from Cookie, and made his way to the corral. He handed her a cup, hitched up a leg and said, “Minnie, to continue, I can’t see your innards to know if you are truly happy, but you don’t ‘pear to be unhappy on the outside. I don’t know if that helps.”
Minnie screwed up her courage and said, “Until I met you cowboys, I never thought much about how I felt or came across to others. I just lived day to day and acted and said what came to mind. After watching you, your brothers, and your cousins, I’m afraid I have not been a nice Minnie because I was unhappy on the inside, and it bled through. I think I have been a mean Minnie. Does that make sense?”
Josh took a sip and nodded.
“What I mean,” she continued, “is that every day when I watch you all, you all seem so happy—so carefree—so full of life. And I wonder how you do it.”
“Miss Minnie," drawled Josh. “Let me tell you a story. It’s a long one, but I’ll make it short, or Billy’ll beat us to the chuckwagon and we’ll starve to death.”
“It doesn’t seem that long ago and it seems like three lifetimes ago that me, Billy, and Hoss declared to do our duty and joined up with the army of the South. Will and Cliff, they lived up in Baltimore and felt it honorable to join up to the North. Between us, Miss Minnie, we have seen enough killing and being killed to last a thousand lifetimes. We’ve seen more blood…”
“Oh, I saw quite a bit of blood when I was a pirate…”
“Nothing, sorry—go on.”
“We saw brothers killing brothers and youngsters no higher’n a fence post mowed down like straw with a scythe. When you’re caught up in the middle of it, ya get so busy following orders and trying to keep alive that ya don’t think much. I s’pose if we let ourselves think much, we mighta gone plumb loco.”
“Anyway, to cut to the chase, toward the last days of the fighting, me and my brothers were on a raid looking for vittles. We jumped a fence and came face to face with ole Will and Cliff. I barely recognized ‘em they were so gaunt and tattered. I let off a warning shot—high and wide, but they kept a’coming like following a drum beat. At that second, I decided no more. I slowly set down my rifle and stood straight - even gave a salute.”
“Old Will, he recognized me first and set down his weapon, too. Soon we was huggin’ and jumpin’ like a bunch of wild kittens. Next thing you know, we skedaddled for Texas after the war ended. Right then, after seeing so much death, we decided amongst ourselves to live for all the tomorrows we’d seen lost in the field.”
“But, don’t you ever get down, depressed? Down you ever feel, well, unhappy?” asked Minnie.
“A course I do. Miss Minnie, here’s my secret. When the hoss inside my head starts wandering down that trail, I yank up on the reins and send him on a better path. I think of how much fun I have with my brothers and cousins, how the sunshine brightens my face, how a cool drink of water instantly takes the parch outta my throat, how the first thing, good mornin’ buck of a bronc lets me know how many muscles I got, how Cookie’s coffee would jump-start a Jackass, and so many other blessings I got. Finally, I remember that 600,000 of my fellow countrymen would gladly trade for my worst day.”
“Ah know it’s not always that simple, like when we grieved something turrible for Ma. But even then, after I while, I made myself think on how blessed I was to have her for my Ma. I still miss her something awful and sometimes feel so empty it hurts. But, after what I seen and done, I know the one place I always get to choose is between my ears. So, as I said, I yank those reins hard and head up my grateful path.”
At twilight, having drawn evening duty, Minnie slowly circled the herd on her favorite mustang, occasionally singing low and sweet until the last cow settled for the night. As she rode, enjoying the gentle rocking chair motion of the horse, Minnie reflected on everything Josh had said. Suddenly she sat up straight and pulled hard on the reigns. Her horse jolted to a stop, rolled its eyes, and turned to look back as if to say, “’Scuze me. Do you mind? I’m walking here.”
Minnie didn’t notice because she was so preoccupied with her thoughts that had now become as clear as the little brook where they sometimes caught trout for supper. I know what I want, she thought. I really know. I want to be like Josh and the boys. I want to be happy, and I am determined to figure out how to get there.
Just as self-doubt is powerful, deciding to change—really deciding—not a superficial flavor-of-the-moment, easily broken, weak, half-hearted wish, but a granite-hard self-promise coming from the deepest parts of the soul generates raw energy.
The lightning flash was the widest, longest, and brightest Josh could recollect. And Minnie was gone.
I had just pulled up hauling the classic MasterCraft ski boat, classic meaning old, but what I could afford. It was time to get her spiffed up for the season. She still looked great in the water, and the old engine ran like a top with a throaty roar. No secret, I thought. Just a lot of elbow grease to polish and protect. Keeping her covered from the harsh East Texas elements was also important, and I sighed knowing it was time to spend $700 on a new fitted tarp. B-O-A-T. Break-Out-Another-Thousand as my inboard mechanic friend, Matt, liked to say. He had a habit of making it a self-fulfilling prophecy with his invoices.
Oh well, it is worth it to see the joy on our family and friends’ faces. I loved teaching kids to ski because of the life lessons like you gotta fall 12 times before you get up. But then you’ll always get up. And doctors charge for an enema, but these are free.
As I climbed over the rail with vinyl cleaner in one hand, 12 rags in my other, and a brush in my mouth, I spotted Minnie trotting down the street. “Aargh,” I said through clenched teeth, “Do I look like a pirate?”
“Actually, I can tell you in no uncertain terms as a subject matter expert that no one in the history of the world looked less like a pirate than you do at this moment,” replied Minnie. “Your saggy double-knit shirt, baggy running shorts, black socks, and skinny white legs provide some clues. I would hate to see your tan line.”
“Well, thank you very much, and a good morning to you, too.”
Minnie shocked me. “Oh yes. Isn’t it a glorious morning? Our street is simply stunning this morning,” she said with a smile. I did a double-take like a cartoon character. The sky was grey, and it looked like storms were blowing in. We hadn’t had rain for three weeks, so leaves and flowers were hugging themselves for defense.
“Okay, who are you, and what have you done with Minnie?” I asked.
She gave me a knowing grin. “I am Minnie, the new Minnie. Remember my quest for adventure? I learned two incredible life lessons from the most amazing experiences.”
“Do tell. Pray continue and share thy wisdom.”
“You’ll not get my goat this morning, Mister droopy drawers. I could go on for hours, but since you have a date with mildew, let me summarize. First, I learned what my special purpose is, my reason for being, and that I am happiest when in a state of flow doing it.”
“Gnawing defenseless toes?”
“That’s part of it. My special purpose is to guard my master’s garage. And I love doing it. My second purpose is to run the neighborhood greeting everyone when they get home from school or work.”
“All the neighbors do love seeing you right there when they open their car doors. And you sure seem to be in a state of flow when you snooze on Bill’s garage floor.”
“Very funny. I rest one eye and have the other one open.”
“What else,” I asked while liberally splashing marine cleaner about.
“The most important, earth-shaking secret: I have the power to choose what I think about and when I begin to feel depressed or unhappy, I can command my mind to remember all my blessings and feel gratitude.”
I looked up. “Minnie, that really is deep. In fact, I needed to hear that right now when I am in recovery from tax season. I’m going to take some time today to meditate on what you said, and let’s talk again later.”
Minnie swished her tail and started prancing up the street. “Oh, Minnie,” I yelled. “Does this mean you are no longer weirdly afraid of thunder and lightning?”
“No,” she replied. “Still terrified, but thankful I have friends like you who let me run in from the storm and spring into your lap while you watch ESPN.”
I nodded, smiled at the memory, and started practicing my karate. Rub on, rub off.
Since I am a lay preacher, I cannot help myself. What are the morals of this story? First, do not smoke crack and carry on conversations with canines. Since I do not do either of those, is there something more?
Yes. Happiness is a complicated subject worthy of much study and thought, but clearly, it is intended as a gift from God and Christ, unique to each person, and a learned skill. (John 10:10, Galatians 5:22, Philippians 4:8-11, and much more.)
I wish you loads of happiness today and every tomorrow.