Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Faces of Fear

Last Saturday, a rare lovely January day here in rural Skagit County:  50 degrees, sunny, blue sky, whispering breeze.  The perfect day to walk 2 miles with my new cane, which I carried until it was needed.

After stopping to chat with a cute little girl who lives with her dad, I walked on ... only to hear an awful racket.  Stopping in my tracks and listening, it sounded like a cow giving birth to twins or a bull losing the family jewels.  I felt so badly for the poor animal.

Just then, the biggest brown bull I've ever seen in my 12 years of walking these country roads, came charging out from behind a thicket of tall shrubs, around the corner of a fenced pasture for sheep, and headed right towards me.  We were separated by a 3-wire fence (thin wires) and I had my cane.  But I couldn't do anything but stare at him, because my feet were so paralyzed with fear that they would not budge.

 His cries of agony got louder as he approached ... close enough so I could see he was "intact."  In fact, he had the biggest pair of family jewels I'd ever seen on any animal.  And right in front of those ... was ... well ... it was so long and distended it almost dragged on the ground.
He stopped just short of the fence and began pawing the ground as he cranked up the volume of that terrifying sound he made.
I was scared sh**less!  Or, more seemly ... scared to death.  A beautiful day, trying to walk 2 miles for the first time this year, and about to be trampled by a big bull.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that being trampled by a mad bull would be the cause of the end of my life.  Especially now when I'm so healthy and happy, and have the next segment of my life all planned.
After keeping my eye on that monster pawing the ground, I sidled my feet to the left -- out of his line of vision -- and spotted a Latino man in a knit hat and a sheepskin jacket. 
"Help!" I called to him.  "The bull is after me!"
It's another long one, folks.  But the perfect thing to read while waiting for the Super Bowl to start.  If you're up to it ... take a chance and click on "Read More" and see what happens next.

 The man glanced my way and then disappeared behind the house, presumably because he was afraid.  Latinos in our country have a long-standing, genetic cultural fear of "white" folk.  (I could not find the "right" picture of a man in a knit cap and sheepskin jacket ... so I'm using the one below.  It works; Latinos are not revered in our country, regardless of their dress or their citizenship status.)
I went to the next house.  I knew the Hispanics who lived there were home because their big Taco Truck and their cars were parked in the driveway.  We always wave to each other when I walk by.  But after knocking on that door ... nada.
Carefully making my way through the grass lawn and through the gate, I went to the front door of the last house.  It belonged to some nice people I've met on my walks; the oldest daughter babysat my sweet boy down the street; they had beautiful, well cared for horses.  The red drapes are always pulled, which seems odd to me, but whatever ... it's a free country.
After knocking on this last door, a man with an unfriendly, wary voice yelled, "What do you want?"
"I need help!  That big bull is going to come after me when I head home."
A young man cracked the door just enough to talk to me.  It was dark inside.  He was obviously afraid of something.  I knew what fear looked like even without a mirror.
When he realized I was not from the DEA, he smiled and tried to placate my fear.  "It's our bull," the young man said."  "He won't hurt you; he's just riling up the herd."
"Well, he surely riled me up.  Why don't you call him back to the pasture behind your place, so I can go home?"  I was thinking:  Forget the 2 miles.  I just want to get home without being trampled to death by some crazy bull.  And if I do indeed survive, this justifies a celebration of life:  icy cold, straight up, with extra olives on the side.
"He won't hurt you, I promise."  Now he smiled and was actually very sweet.  I was still thinking:  easy for him to say.  But, since I knew other members of his family, I decided to believe him and headed home, with cane poised (just in case), and walked on the far side of the road.
When I reached the first house, right before the pasture where the bull was still standing, but quietly now, I spotted the man with the knit hat.  So I called out, "Hablo Englese?"
"No," he answered, "Wait."  My Spanish is meager, but I know a few words from a class I took from a wonderful teacher.  For example, I knew the difference in "Cojones" and "Conehos" because of my faux paux when I first introduced myself in Spanish.  Anyway ... we were clearly not dealing with Conejos in this situation.  The man ran up the outside steps to the apartment upstairs, and within moments an older man I recognized as the owner of the home came walking down, dressed in "unusual" attire.
We met half-way on his lawn, shook hands and re-introduced ourselves ... because we had each forgotten the other's name.  It's a wonder I remembered my own name, let alone his.  I'm a gentle rabbit (Conejo) person.  I don't "do" bulls ... with or without their Cojones.
He offered to walk with me until I was safely past the bull, while assuring me that bull was not after me at all, but rather the bull on the other side of the road that I didn't even see.
I still had my cane ready; made sure the man in his interesting outfit was between me and the nasty mean bull, and casually mentioned that he was wearing one shoe and one slipper.  He smiled and explained, "Oh, half the day's gone, so it's ok."
Again ... a free country.  I was wearing my plaid flannel pajamas (which my Fashionista Granddaughter told me look just like the pants "cool people" wear ... "Knucks ... Gram!" ... with my blue Obama sweatshirt over the top.  Therefore, if he wanted to wear one slipper, I was the last person who would even think of infringing on his right to do so.
What a lovely walk we had; past the bull (safely) heading towards my road where I park my car.  He entertained me with explanations and stories.
It turns out the Hispanic man does speak English; in fact he's an educated teacher of some kind ... somewhere.
This gallant gentleman explained that his wife died last year and he was alone, but needed a bit of care.  So a nice family of Hispanics / Latinos lives below in his house, and he lives in the upstairs apartment with the nice man and his wife, who takes care of him. 
Then he told me what a wonderful cook the wife was, and invited me to lunch the next time we walked together ... which he was anxious to do.  We agreed I would call him when I leave home, walk to his house, and we'd walk together to the 1-mile mark for me, turn around and walk back to his house ... and have the best tacos and enchiladas on the planet.  Then I'd walk home.
How great was that?!  My paralyzing fear of the damn bull turned into not only gaining a new walking partner whom I already liked, but also having some homemade Mexican food.  I mean ... tacos and enchiladas, not too spicy, smothered in a thick layer of cheese ... and even gluten free because she uses corn tortillas.  How lucky was I ... again?!
My friend is well educated and told entertaining stories.  Especially the one about his first encounter with a bull in Montana when he was a kid.  Then I told him my story about being born on a dairy farm in Turlock, and how my dad would stroke the cows' udders to get the last drop.  (My friend confirmed this was a genuine technique used before milking machines.)
Of course our cows were smarter than my dad, so they'd hold out more and more milk until he had sufficiently "pleasured them" (I presume) with his gentle stroking.  I never saw this, but the story is part of the Hajek Family Lore.  It took him two hours longer to milk his cows than any other farmer in the area.
This was the same man who ogled the pictures of the half-clad Asian women at Minnie's in Modesto, so I believed every word.  He probably pleasured the cows (udder-wise) more than he ever did my mother.  But that's pure speculation on my part.  I was just a baby at the time.
Right after my story, my friend told me HIS story again.  Ah ha, I thought, he might have Dementia ... not too bad yet, but I recognized the signs.  So I listened again and made the same comments and laughed in the same places.
And I guessed that he is afraid to live alone  Based on my limited, yet very personal, experience, I know that people who have Dementia can be very sweet and gentle, but can't remember things.  And, worse yet, may slip out the door undetected and wander away from home and get lost or hurt.  They need 24-hour care ... just to keep them safe.  How I know this is another story for another day.
My new friend headed back home, fearlessly walking past the bull alone, while I walked to my car ... pondering all that had just happened on that warm, sunny January afternoon in the country.
I was afraid of the bull, who wasn't the least bit interested in me.  He was posturing for the benefit of the bull across the street.  Must be another "guy thing."  I'm ever so glad I'm a female!
The Hispanics, who saw me and heard me knocking on the door, hid and were quiet, because they were afraid of me.  I have no idea what their immigration status is, nor do I care one whit.  But they didn't know that.  Some other "white" person might turn them in, and if they're illegal, they could be deported.
My new friend was afraid of being alone, so he found a way to get help from a caring couple by opening the whole downstairs of his home to their relatives so they could live in peace and safety.
And the young man in the darkened room, behind the always-pulled drapes may possibly have been enjoying a bit of something he smoked or sniffed or injected ... for whatever reason people do that.  So he was afraid of me, too.  What if I called the sheriff?  Especially after I saw him drive away in his pick-up ... hopefully not impaired by "whatever" ... so he would drive safely.
Privacy and freedom are two of the most important things in my life.  I value mine, and would never ever infringe on the privacy and freedom of someone else.  I don't care what their immigration status is; nor do I care what people do for pleasure.  I am sorry my friend has dementia, but it seems as if he is being well cared for and has found the acceptance that has so far eluded me with family, some friends, and even people I pay to know better.
But those who don't believe in me and love me are Not My Problem.  And, in the meantime, while they conspire behind my back, I have a wonderful new friend and walking partner, so I don't have to walk alone anymore as I've done for 12 years.  And ... I'm going to have some fantastically delicious lunches over the next six months. 
(Note to women readers only:  Thankfully I've saved some of my "fat" pants after all that cheese.)
The Faces of Fear.  All for different reasons.  All of them conjured up "in our minds" since not a single one of us had any reason to be afraid.
The bull couldn't have cared less about me except I was in his way.  Although he was the only one of us who "knew" how secure those 3 slender strands of wire would have been if he made up his mind to challenge the bull across the street.  (Not so different from the players in tomorrow's Super Bowl, in my humble opinion.  Testosterone comes in many living forms, but Estrogen it is not!)
I'm the least likely person to care about the status of any Latino I encounter anywhere at any time.
And I would never turn anyone in for doing something in the privacy of his/her home.
It just makes me wonder how many other people are fearful over something that is simply not understood, and provides absolutely no threat to them at all?  We've all seen examples in the news how fear leads to actions that are often senseless, disrespectful, and sometime even deadly.
Maybe that's why FDR proclaimed in absolute sincerity that, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

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