Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Duty Calls, The Posse Answers

Calling all available Posse members! Starr Ann and I feel obligated to get together a search party for the woman who left this little podnah, not to mention her very nicely broken-in chaps, out in the field beyond our pasture. Most likely she walked off to take one of those cowgirl-out-in-the-open baths or somethin'. Least, that's what we're hopin'.

Monday, April 28, 2008

YeeHaa and Namaste

My best friend Starr Ann (hi, Starr Ann) found this on the Internet. Yep, Starr Ann does surf. Only thing is, she's so...shall we say...'security conscious,' it's a wonder she actually navigates anywhere beyond here and The Onion. Starr Ann's addicted to The Onion. If I told you how many times she's had me read this one again, you'd think I was lying. But I wouldn't be.

Anyway, Starr Ann found this site, and just about lost it. I mean, sometimes all that California, love/acceptance/sushi stuff gets us to laughing real hard. So, she called me over to look at the screen, and since we were in irreverence mode from reading The Onion, we started right in with how the horses look a little alpha-wavy and how exactly would one achieve downward dog from a saddle anyway?

Starr Ann said, "Okay, let's read the propaganda here. Let's see, it says prices are based on double occupancy, and they'll place you with a roommate if you don't have a travel companion." Both of Starr Ann's eyebrows went up (she can't do that lesbian one-eyebrow thing) and she whistled real soft.

I pushed her hand away from the mouse and scrolled down. I quoted, "Come join a couple of Bozeman cowgirls for yoga and fun in and out of the saddle. We'll explore the link between yoga and riding to improve not only your saddle skills, but also your overall well-being."

"In and out of the saddle? You're making that up, Margo."

"Am not! Read it for yourself."

She did, and after verifying the part I'd said, Starr Ann started reading, "The indescribable experience of connecting with such an awe-inspiring animal is the memory we want you to return home with."

Somehow, we didn't feel like poking fun anymore. "Please tell me they're not talking about the horses."

"Margo, I'm suddenly thinking we really could benefit from more body awareness." She scrolled down to the instructor pictures. "And I very much want to learn to relinquish accepted concepts. And from the bottom of my soul, I feel the need to, to..." she glanced back at the screen, "...to respond authentically to the moment. I feel that so strongly."

So, Jodie, Starr Ann, and I are going to be out of town for a while in late June. When we get back, we hope to be noticeably more calm and bendy. Heh.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stimulation for Starr Ann

Celia Susan always drops in unexpected. Well, at least I never expect her. Starr Ann usually knows she's on the way, but doesn't bother to clue me in. Anyway, Celia Susan galloping up on Sugar's a vision that never fails to make me smile. Two reasons for that smile. One, you can bet Starr Ann and Celia Susan are up to something subversive. And two, I can depend on company, the good kind, in my room that night. And most of the next day, etc, etc.

Except for the last time Celia Susan visited, late this February. That time, she and Starr Ann were so involved in whatever they were cooking up, they didn't get home from the bunkers until way after daybreak the next morning. And then Celia Susan had to leave right away. That should have gotten my curiosity up, but I just don't tend toward suspicion. Nobody with a lot of doubt DNA could really be Starr Ann's best friend. It just wouldn't work out.

Anyway, yesterday, here comes Sugar trotting up to the barn carrying Celia Susan looking all flushed and everything from the ride. Just the sight of her made me feel extra friendly.

"Here, Celia, let me get Sugar comfortable while you go up to the house. Starr Ann baked a batch of those cookies you like so much." Right then I made a mental note to ask if Celia Susan's on the way next time Starr Ann makes those cookies.

After I got Sugar all settled in with hay and water, I trotted on up to the house. Goddess, I was glad to see Celia, so when I say I trotted, I mean I just about ran.

Well, to make a long story short, Starr Ann and Celia Susan had a little news for me. Seems the February trip had been to lay the groundwork for their most ambitious joint undertaking ever. They said they'd been meaning to tell me, but knew I wasn't exactly going to like what I heard. But now, something had happened that was forcing their hand, and I had to be told before tomorrow.

Yep. You guessed it. Here's how the whole conversation went.

Starr Ann put two cookies and a glass of milk in front of me. "Did you hear the news, Margo? About how the Washington Brain Trust has decided to start sending out its Stimulus Package payments early?"

Celia Susan was looking at me that one way. Or at least I thought it was that one way, so I was kinda off my guard. "Good cookies. No, I hadn't heard that. But neither of you even exists as far as the IRS is concerned, so why should you care about that?"

Starr Ann and Celia exchanged a glance. Celia Susan said, "Well, we exist this year."

Starr Ann added, "In fact, we extra-exist."

"Extra-exist? What'n the world is that?"

"Here, have another." Dang, but Starr Ann was really pushing those cookies.

Celia Susan stood up and started pacing around the room. "Well, Margo, and I want you to keep an open mind about this, Honey, but you see, Starr Ann and I made use of a few-"

Starr Ann cut her off with, "Several."

Celia went on, "Okay, we made use of several social security numbers that weren't going to be busy this year. So guess what?"

Dang. Sweets usually hype me up, but I was getting positively sluggish eating those cookies. "What?"

Starr Ann started rubbing my shoulders, saying, "We'll be getting overstimulated by the stimulus package. Starting tomorrow."

The rest of the night is kinda blurry, even the excellent parts Celia Susan told me about this morning. Sounds like Celia and I crossed over into some new territory. Heh. Really do regret not remembering all that.

Anyway, it's too late to talk them out of it, so I'm just going to help Starr Ann and Celia figure out what to do with all those direct deposits that'll be rolling in from the IRS starting tomorrow. We're sending a bunch of the funds to anti-war groups, some to our favorite local sustainability initiative, and the rest will go into a dummy account Starr Ann set up years ago. We'll eventually funnel that out to nearby people who get hardest hit once this recession starts to bubble full force.

Wish us luck! And even if you're just getting the normal amount of stimulation from the Bushies (blech!), remember to hold onto it until after the Democrats get in office.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Keep Talking, Frances Hellen

So, if you read yesterday's reminder about Fannie, you know how moved Starr Ann was about finding her stone the way we did. In the six months since then, Starr Ann teamed up with Cap'n Dyke to coax some details of Fannie's life from the available records.

They went for the longest time without coming up with anything. Then one evening, Jodie and I were just finishing up supper when Starr Ann came home. She stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, shaking so bad she could barely talk.

"We have her name. We have her real name," was what she finally got out.

Jodie said, "Whose name, Sweetheart?"

"Fannie's. Th'Cap'n and I found her. We found her. Her names, first and middle, are Frances Hellen. Isn't that amazing?"

That's when Jodie and I filled up with so much emotion, we started shaking too.

I said, "Frances Hellen."

Jodie said, "Frances Hellen."

Then Starr Ann spelled it out, told us about the unusual two l's in Hellen. Jodie asked how they could be so sure, and Starr Ann showed us the copy of Fannie's birth record Cap'n Dyke had found. It's actually a listing of births. But Frances Hellen is on it alright, with the correct last name - and same birthdate as is on the tombstone. It's really her. Here's a closeup of the whole document:

The name "Hellen" is interesting.
Hellen (Ancient Greek: Ἕλλην, Héllēn) was the mythological patriarch of the Hellenes, the son of Deucalion (or sometimes Zeus) and Pyrrha, brother of Amphictyon and father of Aeolus, Xuthus, and Dorus. His name is also another name for Greek, meaning a person of Greek descent or pertaining to Greek culture, and the source of the adjective "Hellenic".

And here's a zoom on Fannie's line, which is real clear when it's not digitized like this:

Exciting as it was to finally know Fannie's full name, Starr Ann and Cap'n Dyke said it was knowing Fannie's daddy's name that really got them some traction. If you look real hard at the actual record, you can see that her father was Silas and her mother was Rebecca. Silas, being the father of many children, and being a man, left a few tracks.

Fannie's daddy was a young preacher and stone mason when he came to Kentucky. He fought in the Civil War with the Confederates, and one of Fannie's brothers was also old enough to join up. Her brother was captured by Yankees and held prisoner for a while, but eventually traded back for a Union soldier.

Just think, using the dates 1860 to 1865 for our American Civil War, little Frances Hellen was 8 years old when all that hostility and turmoil came crashing into her life. She'd be 13, with just 8 more years to live, before the war ended.

Fannie shows up on the 1860 Census as 8-year-old Frances, daughter of Silas.

But then something real weird happens with the 1870 Census. There's no Fannie, although we know she didn't die until 1873. Starr Ann and Cap'n Dyke had to do some real detective work to figure that part out, but they did it. After going over and over and over the records, Cap'n Dyke noticed a new name in the family. All of a sudden there was an eighteen-year-old named Harry among all of Fannie's brothers and sisters. That was wrong. There'd been no mention of a Harry before. Checking further, they discovered that Harry was not only the same age as Fannie, Harry was also female, and had the reported occupation of "keeping house for her father Silas and brother Charles." That Harry on the 1870 Census was really our Fannie.

Well, we got all excited, thinking that at some point Fannie, with whom we feel such connection, and whom we suspect could have been lesbian, somehow started getting herself called Harry. But then Th'Cap'n uncovered something else that kinda conflicts with that hope, and is prolly more likely. On the original census document, the one that got copied into the general list, the handwriting isn't very clear. It's easy to see "Fannie," as "Harry." So our Harry may have only been a transcription error. But even if it happened that way, the family may have noticed it and started calling her that. A later child is actually named Harry. Lots of mystery still surrounding the whole Harry part, but Starr Ann and Th'Cap'n are working on it.

April 4th was Frances Hellen's 156th birthday. We all visited the quiet woods where her stone lies, broken off at the base and probably not exactly above her remains anymore. We stood there for the longest moment, each of us lost in private communion with a woman we'll not meet in this life.

Finally, Starr Ann looked up through the trees and said, "Keep talking, Frances Hellen, I swear we're listening."

Cap'n Dyke said, "And you, too, Silas." She figures since Fannie's stone is by far the most elaborate of any around, and since her daddy was a stone mason, it stands to reason that Silas, crushed by what was probably the sudden death of his daughter (the broken rose bud surely symbolizes a life quickly cut short), put all his love and craftsmanship into making her stone. There he was, this grieving father, pouring his heart out onto a slab of rock, declaring to those who would pass this way in the future, that his daughter had once been the joy of someone's life. And there we were, receiving his message well over a century later.

Fannie's stone rests upside down these days, as we attempt to stave off weather damage until we find the proper methods and channels for preserving it. So we laid the rose on its smooth back.

Although there are death certificates for all her siblings, even those who lived just a day or two, there's no record of Fannie's passing. Starr Ann and Th'Cap'n are now on a mission to figure out how Fannie died.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Old Posts

Sometimes, like now, there's a reason to rerun posts from the past. Starr Ann wanted me to remind everybody of this one before tomorrow, when she's going to help me report, six months on, all the new things we've uncovered about Fannie, including, at the bottom of this post, some photos of her actual stone and of the area where it lies.

Anyway, from October 2007:

Starr Ann was the one who found the tombstone.

She had eased Oatmeal off the trail and over to a big hickory tree that must have just fallen in last week's storms. She said she wanted to harvest some of the bark for cooking out next summer.

From the trail, Jodie and I saw Starr Ann pull up short and dismount before she ever go to the hickory. She knelt down to examine something. It turned out to be a stone tablet, somebody's gravestone. It was so old and the carving so worn, we couldn't read the dates, or read the name properly. What we could make out was the first three letters of the name. They were F A N.

Wish you could have seen the expression on Starr Ann's face, because then I wouldn't be pressed to describe it in words. Only way to say it is she looked like her soul was holding its breath. She bent down and skimmed the flat of her hand across the stone once, then looked around at the forest floor.

Starr Ann said, "This hasn't been laying here long, or else it would be covered with leaves."

Jodie and I agreed.

Then Starr Ann removed Oatmeal's saddle and pad. She put the saddle back and used his saddle pad to insulate the headstone as she lifted it with utmost care and cradled it in her arms. She handed the stone to Jodie and mounted Oatmeal then reached out for the tablet again. We brought it to our house.

Being a history professor and all, Jodie had no trouble finding out that there's an old cemetery near where we found the tombstone. It's on the wildlife sanctuary. We knew about the wildlife preserve, but never heard about the cemetery. Jodie worked some magic and got us permission to go onto the property. The man who looks after things over there told her vandals hit the place every year around Halloween, and there's no money available to pay for security. Hard enough to keep the poachers out.

The cemetery was a holy mess! A four-foot-tall rock wall enclosed a squarish area about as big as a tennis court. But it was empty. No stones in there. Just ground cover and a single tree. All the graves were outside the rock fence. They were arranged, real haphazard, in an ill-defined area about fifty yards from the enclosure.

Again, Jodie's professional knowledge cleared things up. She found a few markers that had been protected from the elements, in one way or another, enough that you could still read the names and dates. They ranged from the early to the late 1800s. Jodie checked around some more and said, "During the Civil War, when the Yankees were on their way, a lot of families moved their cemeteries, or at least the markers, to prevent desecration of the actual graves. Looks like maybe this family only had time to move the stones, but not enough to dismantle the cemetary boundary wall."

When Jodie said that, Starr Ann, who had been standing there with us, but being real quiet, tightened her embrace of the stone she was still carrying. She said, "I need to know who this one belongs to. We need to figure out where the vandals stole it from and put it back."

Well, finding the spot wasn't difficult. This was one of the larger tablets and we soon discovered a base, firmly secured in the ground, that exactly matched up with the broken bottom part of the stone. It was a perfect fit.

So lovingly, Starr Ann laid the stone next to its broken base and began to clear away the few leaves around it. She said, "I need to know what her name is."

Jodie said, "How do you know it's a woman's."

Starr Ann never shrugs. She shrugged then, though, and said, "It just is."

Jodie put her arm around Starr Ann's shoulder and said, "One technique is to place fine paper over the stone and rub gently with a soft, fat charcoal pencil. Sometimes, you can lift the figures by doing that."

The sun was getting low, and the shadows were getting long in the woods. Starr Ann picked up the marker and stood it upright, supporting it carefully. She angled it so that the setting sun hit it edgewise, causing the shadows across the face of the stone to deepen dramatically. We saw the whole thing. Here's what was on the stone.

Her name was Fannie. I won't say the last name, because family descendents still live around here. Fannie was born in 1852. She died in 1873. She was 21 when she died, and still bore the surname she was born to. She was 21, and not married, in a time and place where females nearly always married in their mid to late teens. The other tombstones, the ones we could read, bore this out. Jodie agreed it was rare to reach Fannie's age and not be a mother yet. In fact, the other stones we found for women Fannie's age gave testament that they'd died giving birth.

Fannie's stone had something unique carved into it. At least, unique among all the markers we could find in this graveyard. Someone had quite artfully engraved a single perfect rosebud, snapped and broken in the middle of the stem, on Fannie's gravestone. Someone loved her. Someone felt her loss sharply. Someone felt that her death was the loss of something perfect and beautiful in this world.

Starr Ann stared at that image for the longest time. Finally, she said, "Neither of you would ever think I'm crazy, so I'm going to just tell you. This is no coincidence. Fannie and I, maybe Fannie and all of us, are connected. We've been connected for the longest, longest time. We have loved each other in lots of ways. And I have the strongest feeling Fannie was lesbian." Starr Ann took her eyes off the broken rose for the first time and looked up at us. "I want to put this graveyard back together and come here to protect it at night until Halloween is over."

Fannie's stone rests just beside the broken base now. We have no way of knowing whether that's the actual site above her remains. But it is all we have. And we intend to protect and honor that spot from now on.

A Glimpse of Fannie's Stone

...And a View of Where She Lies

Thursday, April 24, 2008

In Today's Post

My best friend Starr Ann and I are just pulling off our muddy boots after tramping around in the pasture all morning picking up stones. Always does amaze me how so many of those big, flat chunks of sandstone can work their way to the surface during a wet winter like we've had this year. Anyway, Starr Ann has one boot off, and I'm completely in sock feet when somebody knocks on the door. Laverne, our postal delivery lady.

Starr Ann hobbles to the door real fast to accept the letter. We know it has to be from Lane, because those are the only ones Laverne brings all the way to the door. She started doing that after Lane accidentally messed up the address when she first went into Basic Training. Crazy kid. Anyway, we don't even take time to get our feet situated right before tearing in. I know everybody else feels the same way, so I'll just get out of the way and show it to you.

Hi Starr Ann! Hi Margo!

I really miss you guys. I finished 21 S school and decided to join my new friend Jamila (which is African for “beautiful”) at her family’s house outside of Dallas for the week before we head to our next stop, which they’ve declined to inform us of the exact wheres of so far.

I did real good in school. Seems I paid a bit more attention in math class than I thought I did. Jamila and me were real tight from day one. There were only four women in the class. Jamila, it turns out, is into dressage. Now, her family doesn’t have any money, but a classmate’s mom once took her on a weekend event to keep her daughter company so let her try it out. Well, seems like she was a natural so she was given lessons by the nice white lady and got sponsors for the next few years. So, listening to her talk about horses was ALMOST as bad as listening to you two carry on. She looks totally hot in that funny English riding gear.

Anyway, I think I’m in love. Jamila is super smart and could have gone to college, but she wanted to get away from home and do something of her very own. She jokes that her recruiter told her she could be in the cavalry, but here she is, a land surveyor. Amanda writes a lot, but I hear they are sending her to Germany for two years.

I hear you’ve lost your voice, Margo, and I’m hoping that’s not true. Sometimes, we have to keep at it even when we don’t think we can just to prove ‘em wrong. Least ways, that’s what Sgt. Cooper says all the time. Dallas is real nice, but we have to report back and receive our orders on Friday. Hope to call before then.

I was kind of hoping that this danged war would be over by now, but, I guess with months and months left of our own terrorist regime in office, there ain’t a rat’s chance that I will not end up in the desert sand. I was kind of hoping for Hawaii. With Jamila.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Today's Posts

When my best friend Starr Ann (hi, Starr Ann) and I were little, and I mean she was real little, we found these two fence posts laying beside the road not far from our orphanage. They must have fallen off a lumber truck or something, because they looked brand new. Well, I saw Starr Ann stoop down (she was so tiny, it wasn't much of a stoop) and take a good look at one of the posts. I couldn't help myself. I told her they were baby telephone poles and we should plant them in the little field behind the woods on the backside of the orphanage. She got all excited and we made these huge plans for how rich we were going to get off our telephone pole farm. Heh.

To this day, I'm not sure who was fooling whom, though, because although Starr Ann seemed to be falling for it, she also took the whole production way further than I'd dreamed of. At night, she'd lie there beside me with her hands dangling up in the air to get herself sleepy, and she'd spin all this yarn about our posts and say about a million times how tomorrow was watering day. Right away, she named them. So, what started out being a little trick I tried to play on Starr Ann turned into a major attachment to these two real pretty posts - Angela and Connie. When it stormed, Starr Ann demanded we go all the way back there and cover them up, because they looked like something that would attract lightning, what with sticking up in the air like they did.

Years later, when we bought Happy Hands Ranch, Starr Ann took off for a few days. That was back when she was just getting her bunkers dug, and I thought that was where she'd gone off to. But nope. When she got back, guess who she had with her? Yep. Angela and Connie. Neither of us has ever actually cracked concerning our plans to be utility supplier moguls. We transplanted Angela and Connie in a small clearing behind the barn, and to this day we still call that area the telephone pole farm.

So, there they are up there. My posts for today. And every day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Starr Ann Eloped Last Night - And It Wasn't With Jodie

My best friend Starr Ann (bye, Starr Ann) did not come quietly into my room last night. No, but I did hear an odd noise and went to her room to check it out. There she was, about to climb out her window, which, unlike mine, is on the second floor.

I said, "What on Earth do you think you're doing, Starr Ann?"

She didn't even bother to look guilty. "I'm about to climb down the ladder of desire, Margo."

Right then is when I realized there was somebody else in the room. Well, not in the room yet. She was outside on the ladder, and when she heard us talking, here she comes tumbling through Starr Ann's window and then she was in the room. It was Lori, Lori Hahn.

Apparently, Lori's new job has gifted her with way too much spare time, and she's been using it to woo Starr Ann. Or brainwash her. Or something.

Anyway, when the situation got all clear for me, I guess they could tell I was a little aggravated. At least Hahn (I'm not calling her Lori anymore. From now on, it's gonna be Hahn - or maybe just Hah - yeah, stripping letters away from her name is kinda satisfying) could tell I was aggravated. Poor Starr Ann was just standing there with a lovesick look on her face and a head full of dreams about Hah's fancy new job where she barely has to work, yet makes about a half a million dollars a week. All Starr Ann could see was spending long lazy days wearing fuzzy slippers and doing Goddess knows what while the kids were at school.

So, Hah says, "Don't try to stop us, Margo."

I said, "I'm gonna tell your girlfriend."

"Already talked to her. She's supportive."

"I'm gonna tell your mom."

"Would you, please? I haven't had the time to call her yet."

Couldn't help it, I said, "I hate you, H." Dropping another letter felt real good.

Lori reached down and tenderly touched the top of my head (that Starr Ann stealer is real tall) and said, "I embrace your hatred, Margo. And I'm anxious to explore it further when Starr Ann and I return from our honeymoon."

I really do detest all that California fake acceptance crap.

I turned to Starr Ann. "What does this mean for The Starr Ann Chronicles, Starr Ann?" My poor girl was just about spewing little heart-shaped things from her eyes, and H had to answer for her.

H said, "The blogging public won't miss out on a thing, Margo. I'll keep everybody informed with my new blog - Starr Ann At Home."

Custom has it that Starr Ann and I talk these things out.

Custom has it that Starr Ann behaves with more sense than this.

Custom also has it that I say April Fools right about now.

Be careful today! Lots of tricks out there.