Friday, April 30, 2010

Selena Mania!

In March I chanced to read an article in the Texas Monthly commemorating the 15th anniversary of  the death of Mexican-American singer Selena.  I did remember when she was killed, but had seen her at the time as a minor pop singer in whom mostly young people would be interested.

Needless to say, the article was heartbreaking, but more than that, it piqued my interest anew.

A few days later I took Sterling and Kelly to Wal-Mart, and chanced to pass by the rack featuring Spanish music.  There was a double album of Selena's hits and it wasn't expensive, so I bought it.

Wow!  I fell in love on the first song.  What a voice! What presence! What sureness! What musicianship!  I was hooked.  Soon Selena was booming on my car speakers wherever I went, and the joy of listening to her irrepresible renditions filled my days.

Kelly and Sterling liked it, too.  I told them about Selena and reminded them we had a movie about her in the library, but warned that it ended very sadly.

Kelly watched the movie that night, and asked me lots of questions the next day.  We've played the songs and talked a lot more about things I imagine a lot of people would really like to know: Why did that woman shoot Selena?  Is Selena in heaven now?  How old would she be now?  Is her husband still sad?

The answers I gave her?  "We'll never really know."  "I'm certain she is."  "38 years old."  "Yes, I'm sure he is, but he got married again, and guess what--he has a little boy with Down syndrome just like you!"

Then about two weeks ago I came out of my office and what do I hear but "...'Amor prohibido murmuran por las calles'..."  Selena!

"Who's playing Selena?" I ask.

"Me," says Natalie, "I love her."

Now all the Ranchers can talk about is Selena.  DVD sales are booming, Ranchers are clamoring for me to teach them her songs in Spanish.  We sing, we dance, we boogie to Selena.

Often the Ranchers want to talk about the unbelievable tragedy of her death and our hearts break anew.  How is it even possible that so much aliveness could be taken away? 

But I remind them that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.

And we best honor Selena by holding onto that, and by joyfully letting the gifts she left behind fill our lives.

Photo:  Selena, pictured in April 1994, for her Amor Prohibido Tour

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fields of Dreams

What an amazing April—the best Texas has to offer. Cool nights, warm days, a real spring as opposed to our usual “wham bam thank you m’am” transition from winter to summer.

Don, Phil, Jerry and I went for lunch Friday at the East Side CafĂ© in Austin to look at Dorsey’s gardens in the back where she grows herbs and vegetables, all of which are consumed by happy diners in the restaurant. We were on a field trip (no pun intended) to get ideas for our own gardens.

After we got back to the Ranch we walked the fields behind the Learning Center, plotting out where to put the Chicken Hilton, and our own herb and vegetable gardens.

Talk about inspiration! I hectored Jerry into working Saturday morning to clear the spot for the Benedict House garden, replacing the Giant House-Eating Double Palm Plant that had grown to monstrous proportions and ousted to a different location.

Both of us weeded and dug and moved rock on Saturday. We planted Sunday and by evening had 16 squares planted of the “Front 40” (square feet, that is). (Being as we’re officially elderly now we thought we’d jettison the Jeavons double-dug beds and try out Square Foot Gardening for a change.)

It was great fun and we were proud and happy, if tired and sore.

Then coming to work this morning first thing I noticed was that the Chicken Hilton had been transferred from the warehouse, where it was built, to the field where our gardens, the chickens, the berries (uh oh…do chickens like berries?)…anyway, where it all will shortly be.

I took some pics of Mike putting the finishing touches on the Hilton. A few minutes later Don went charging one way on a red tractor while Pat charged in the opposite direction on another red tractor.

Don hailed me as I headed for the barn and suggested we go to the horse pasture and get some pictures of Cheena and Austin cavorting amongst the wildflowers “without the other horses around to make them squirrely.”

Alas, they were pretty determined to be squirrely anyway, but it was fun. (That's Austin taking off.)

Later Don let me know that the barn and garden crews were clearing the first space in the garden area so I shot out with the camera to record this momentous event.

This is truly the start of something big. If you came to the Gala, you heard us talk about Operation Independence, and we’re serious about this. Eggs, beef, veggies, fruit trees—we’ve got room to produce it all.

Come, and see.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Little Church That Could II

Sunday Kelly, Sterling, Jerry and I went to Fr. David Hoster’s last sermon at St. George’s Episcopal in Austin. There was a reception afterwards, and we hoped to see lots of friends from the old days.

We were not disappointed. There were beloved faces not seen for years, and a slide show of the fall retreat at Camp Allen, where we shared with the congregation our hopes to build Down Home Ranch and received their blessing. Kelly was a little peanut on the playground.

Some familiar faces who looked pretty much like they did 20 years ago proved to be the adult children of old friends! That was sobering.

Fr. David’s sermon dwelt on hearing the words of the gospel. We’ve all experienced the “I know you believe you understood what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” phenomenon.

Happens in church, too. Words…logos… a brain sends a signal to a mouth and sounds travel from it to an ear which transmits something to another brain.

What I hear depends a lot on who I am.

Jerry says that soon after we started going to St. George’s he became haunted by the words, “Do this,” which are chanted each Sunday during the Eucharist. “Do this in memory of me.”

For him, it became a command to build the Ranch for Kelly and others like her.

I was astonished to realize that our time at St. George’s spanned little more than a year and a half. The period looms so large in our lives! During it Kelly was baptized, as was Jerry’s mom Estelle, at the age of 85.

Uncle Carroll, who met us in the park and urged us to come to St. George’s became Kelly’s godfather. He also became the first president of the Board of Directors of Down Home Ranch and remained so for the next decade.

When we demurred that we could not possibly go to Cursillo, what with having to care for Grandma and Kelly at home, friends and resources materialized as if magic and moved in to take over.

And once we closed on the land that would become Down Home Ranch, we bought its first resident, a large jenny we named Blossom. She traveled to her new home in a trailer borrowed from a friend at church, as Mark, another friend from church rode next to her for 65 miles, singing softly into her enormous ear to keep her calm.

Ray and Elizabeth, friends from church, moved to the Ranch for several months, clearing land and planting gardens.

We held an All Hallow’s Eve celebration in the old barn for the little kids, who sat bug-eyed in the lantern light as we acted out a dramatization of the story of the witch of Endor. As Samuel rose up out of the casket Blossom picked the moment to deliver herself of a rousing bray, which raised the hair on the assembled adults as the kids flocked to them in terror.

We held on at St. George’s as long as we could, but after about a year of commuting it was time to face up to the fact that we could no longer play a meaningful role there from such a distance, and transferred our letter to St. James, Taylor.

Fr. David wrapped up his 20 years at St. George’s just as we are beginning to wrap up our first 20 at the Ranch. Few now at the church know much about Down Home Ranch. Few at the Ranch know anything at all about St. George’s.

But the old folks living in Benedict House do, and we’re forever grateful to our little church that could, and to the man who, week after week, gave us spiritual food for thought, who told us, “Don’t let money make the decision” and then helped equip us with the faith needed to move into a tiny mobile home one 215 raw acres and name it “Mustard Seed.”

“See what manner of love the Father has given unto us.”


Friday, April 23, 2010

Still Life

Waiting for the carpet cleaners to arrive, I was shuffling through boxes of photos and albums in our home office in Benedict House.

Naturally, I got distracted and soon was flipping through mementos of our former lives.

Dang! We were a pretty darned good-looking pair back in the day, despite eyeglasses the size of pie pans and clothing styles just recovering from the 70s.

Still, as Kelly always asks when she sees pictures of the younger me, “What happened?”

Well, life is what happened. We are old now, and—to quote the poet—covered with our lives.

But appearances are deceiving, as we know. We didn’t feel especially beautiful or handsome when those pictures were snapped, and we don’t feel especially old now that we are.

The reality of any stage of life is what’s going on inside, not what the camera catches. Shortly after those pictures were taken, Kelly was born and we learned that lesson big time.

Right after getting home from the hospital, our new friends Don and Jo Rettberg, parents of an eight-year-old boy with Down syndrome, advised us not to check out books on the subject from the library.

“They’re all depressing, and most of what they say isn’t even true,” said Jo.

But of course we checked the books out anyway, including one on “mental defects” that featured a young woman with Down syndrome, stripped naked, standing bewildered and alone under the harsh flash of the camera, glancing sideways down at the floor.

Welcome to the world, baby girl.

It could be that Down Home Ranch was conceived the moment we opened that book to that dreadful page.

Because Jerry and I had learned in the three short days of our baby’s new life that a diagnosis does not and never will describe a human being, and that the love burning in our hearts would be the true measure of Kelly’s life, and of ours.

That one photo kindled in us the fierce resolve to go anywhere and do anything to protect our girl and give her the life and the dignity she deserved.

And the young woman in the photo?

She has almost certainly passed on by now, but my heart still grieves for her.

How I wish I could let her know that we remember her, that we know how much more there was to her and to her life than that wretched photo, and how much she came to mean to us.

And that in part because of her, we built a place of beauty, and love, and dignity for those who followed.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wild Times at the Ranch

I went over to Teresa House the other day to fetch Abi home.

Abi the maltipoo (named after Austin Bergstrom International, where Denise found her shivering in the rain two years ago) stays there most days with Miss Sandy for “doggy day-care.”

(Sandy adores Abi and takes her to town at least once a day and buys her treats. This is why Abi has developed a pot belly and no longer resembles a hairy road bump, as one of our young staffers observed, but now looks more like a hairy fire plug.)

It was after supper and almost dark when I arrived and the ladies had just finished a fire drill so they were all on the porch.

“Judy,” Terry breathlessly asked when I arrived, “did you hear about the possum?”  I had not.

Lady, the fat black lab who also lives at Teresa House, had started barking like crazy the night before at something on the porch. They let her out and a large possum was enjoying the contents of Lady’s food bowl.

Lady was not amused, and before anybody could stop her had the possum by the neck, shaking it wildly back and forth.

Everyone was yelling and finally Sandy hollered, “STOP, LADY!” and Lady dropped the critter, which curled up sideways, rolled its eyes back in its head and let its pointy little possum teeth show, ever so still.

Which is called “playing possum” because, well, that’s what possums do.

“We were scared it would bite Lady,” said Natalie.

“It was soooo ugly!” remarked Kara, folding her arms and rolling her eyes.

“I don’t want that thing on my porch again,” said Julia, looking personally offended.

Ms. Possum wandered away some time after the commotion died down and has not ventured back, probably a wise decision.

And Abi and I went home, watching for beady little eyes in the dark.

Possum image from West Seattle Blog website

Friday, April 16, 2010

Time to Call it a Day

Okay, the party’s over, and it was a grand success.
Were there glitches? Oh, yes.

However, they were not ones that were apparent to the assembled crowd, which overfilled the Parish Hall at St. William, and that’s a mercy.

Within the hall itself magic happened. The food from Southside was wonderful, as always. The sound system was just right—clear as a bell and loud close to the stage but conversation-friendly away from it.

The audio-visuals—a 365 rotation of beautiful slides assembled by our marketing friend Kyle, and a short clip of our Ranchers produced by UT student Michael David were incredibly touching, especially combined with Jerry’s little talk about the mission of Down Home Ranch and what we’re trying to accomplish here.

And the band—oh my gosh! The three impish angels of the Quebe Sisters Band fiddling and singing, guests shuffling and swinging, Ranchers mixed seamlessly among us all…and people actually drove from San Angelo to be there because of the band!

Magic, sheer magic.

Auctioneer Gayle Stallings gave the evening shape and focus, and ensured that all concerned had a fabulous time.

I was so tired at the start of the evening I thought it was something I’d just have to make it through, but as old friends and new filtered into the hall it had the same effect as the campers arriving for Ranch Camp: with each new arrival, my energy came back.

I danced the night away, with friends, with Ranchers, with Jerry, with nobody at all.

I have often said that the most wonderful thing about building Down Home Ranch has been the constant stream of people coming forth to offer the best of who they are and what they have.

Two of them showed up just before the Gala, in response to my blog of March 25, just a trial run to see if it was a match, and it looks like it is.

And the funny thing was, they hadn’t even read it.

Like I said.  Magic.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Thoughts on a Dark and Stormy Night

It’s come to this…sitting in an office littered and cluttered so beyond belief that I’d burn it if I didn’t share the building with two other humans and six equines.

And if I didn’t love it so much.

The Gala is coming, and this is the week before the Gala, and it is a dark time indeed.

Before the Gala is the Golf Tournament, but that’s easy. Guys (and a few gals) show up. Guys grip funny sticks. Guys chase little white rocks over the countryside.

The Gala, by comparison, is a monster. We must gather great groups of people together and inspire one another to unnatural acts, like asking for sponsorships and donations and goods and services.

We must secure the hall, hire the band, and work far into the nighttime hours logging items, describing items, ferreting out information that got lost in the shuffle, muttering dire imprecations against one another and altogether forgetting that which we learned in Sunday school concerning proper Christian behavior toward one another.

Then we must go to large warehouse stores and buy quantities of consumable beverages and haul them about here and there. We must stuff golf goody bags, and rent table linens, and find someone to get certified to be a bartender for five hours out of his lifetime.

We must proofread programs and bid sheets and signs again, and again, and again—finding ever more tiny little things to change, until the originator of these things is ready to strangle us but we’re lucky and live 40 miles away from him.

We think dark thoughts concerning our true vocation as regards Down Home Ranch and recall that people actually write us things like “We’re wanting to start a Ranch like you have. We dream of taking our coffee out the back door in the morning and gazing into the woods as day breaks…”

And we laugh. Bitterly.

But then we look at the video a young friend put together of our Ranchers and we remember, “Oh yes, this is what it’s all about.”

This is why we do what we do, and God knows that nothing else in the world would be worth it all.

But they are.

See you at the Gala.