Unexplainable! (A Haunting?)

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Having grown up (and spent most of my life) in the south, stories of hants, witches, and things that go bump in the night are part of the fabric of our beings. We’ve heard the stories, the “hear-tells,” since we were just wee little things. I don’t know that the south is any more prone to holding on to its spirits, or if it’s a result of the English/Irish/Scots long history of story-telling that keeps these tales going. Since most of the original settlers in the southern mountains were English, Irish, or Scottish, story-telling and acceptance of the unseen was as much a part of their DNA as hair- and eye-color. Thank goodness this has been passed down to today. I think acceptance of the unexplained is part of the reason so many have current-day tales of seeing, hearing, or experiencing things that give us the all-overs.

I also think that there are some folk who are just more (shall we call it) “open” to experiencing things that are perhaps from another dimension or time. I’ve heard it called “sensitive.” Whatever it is. Some of us see or hear things others do not (and, no, I’m not talkin’ about after a few snorts). Perhaps it comes from an active imagination fueled by stories from the past; but just maybe those things really are there – just out of the seeing and hearing of most folk.

I must be one of those people who is sensitive. I’ve had many occurrences of things that just can’t be explained. One of those I will recount in this post. It was something seen (and unseen until recently) on my wedding day.

Let’s go back to late July in 1986. It was hot as the blue-blazes in Georgia. We lived in Marietta (which has many a ghost story associated with it due to the War Between the States). Temperatures were well over 100 degrees and the humidity was sky-high. Frankly, it was miserable, and our wedding was planned for August 2nd.

The Thursday before we were due to be married on Saturday, as all the relatives were arriving in town, a storm hit. It was a storm like none other we’d experienced before (or after). There was virtually constant lightning followed by enormous cracks of thunder that continued to roll for what seemed to be an eternity. Rain came down in sheets and the wind blew to the point we worried about the 40- and 50-foot tall pine trees in the yard. Quite frankly, it was terrifying! The storm raged for almost an hour, then – as suddenly as it came up – it was gone.

Friday, dawned clear and cooler. By Saturday, the temperatures were very comfortable and the humidity was gone. It was a beautiful day – especially by summer in Georgia standards.

 

 

Bushy-Park-Plantation-1848-House-350

The Planters Restaurant

We had chosen to be married at the Planters Restaurant in Marietta, GA. This was a pre-War plantation home (previously called Bushy Park) that had survived the war and Sherman due to a pre-existing relationship between the owner and important people in the north. The owner allowed his home to be used as a hospital for Union forces. Still there were skirmishes around the home as evidenced by still-existing bullets in the framework around windows and doors.

We figured that a home that had withstood the onslaught of hundreds of troops and survived through war would be a good place to begin a marriage. We planned to get married outside under a huge, old oak which had seen the worst and was still standing proud and strong. We liked that as a good omen for a strong marriage.

Now for the “strange but true” part. During previous trips to the Planters (which was our favorite restaurant), we had seen some things that were a little “odd.” For example, one cool, early evening, we were walking up the steps to the front door when two of the rockers on the front porch started rocking ever so slowly. Now, there wasn’t a breath of air moving, so that didn’t cause the motion. We kinda looked at each other and went inside. It’s funny to me now that neither of us got the willies over that at all. There was no maleficent feeling or anything even remotely scary. It just seemed “natural.” I can’t explain why, it just didn’t seem at all frightening.

On the day of our wedding, my mother, sister, good friend and I were getting ready in one of the upstairs rooms which had been a “lady’s” bedroom. What a beautiful, sweet room it was. I felt completely at ease there. I should have had butterflies in my stomach – I was, after all, getting ready to vow to spend the rest of my life with the man of my dreams. Instead, I felt intense calm. I will say that all three of the other ladies were a little “jumpy,” but I put that down to excitement.

When the staff member in full, long, war-era dress brushed by the door and just peered in for a moment with a sweet, but almost-sad smile, I thought it was nice. Then I realized, they don’t have staff wearing period costume. My friend went to go look out the door to see what I saw and there was no motion anywhere. She did remark that the hallway felt “cool,” but nothing beyond that.

Still, I didn’t feel anything but calm. I honestly felt as though I was being watched over. There was such a strong feeling of comfort, strength and happiness that pervaded the entire ceremony and gathering afterward. I honestly felt as though the “house” was wishing us well.

Flash forward to just this year. As Jim and I were preparing to celebrate our 31st anniversary, some friends were asking if I could share any of my wedding photos. I also put one up on Facebook. I really didn’t think anything of it – that way, until I saw it. There in the photo, looking back at the camera in the window was the unmistakable outline of the head of a German Shepherd Dog. Both Jim and I have always had affinities for that breed (as most of y’all know and can tell from my previous posts). By the way, this room was on the second floor. Was this my spirit animal watching over me? Was it a trick of light? What do you think?

Wedding Photo Dog

I’m sad to say that The Planters is no longer a restaurant; however, the building still stands. I hope it will continue to do so for another 150 years. For those who watch over it (whether from this world or the next), I am forever grateful.

Remember, I really love to hear your comments. Just click on the “Leave a Reply” link and let me know what you think. Also, let me know if there’s something you’d like to hear more about.

Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

THAT Time of Year

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The Great Zenyatta and her 2013 Colt Photo by Alys Emson/Lane’s End

The Great Zenyatta and her 2013 Colt
Photo by Alys Emson/Lane’s End

This is the time of year that I have always loved the most. Sure, I love seeing the world start to turn green again (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) after a long winter. This was a particularly cold and snowy winter. That’s not what I’m referring to, however. What really gets my juices going is that this is the time of year that the new baby thoroughbreds start arriving. It’s also the time of year when those lucky, very few who own superiorly-talented, 3-year-old thoroughbreds can almost see themselves holding the Kentucky Derby trophy. It is a season of hope. As the first Saturday in May gets closer and closer, dreams get bigger and bigger.

Churchill Downs Photo from kentuckytourism.com

Churchill Downs
Photo from kentuckytourism.com

I’ve been there. No, we certainly never owned a Kentucky Derby winner, but we have owned and bred thoroughbreds. I know the anticipation of every new baby. With every glance, you wonder, “Are you the one?” Numbers are certainly not in your favor – you realize this – as there are approximately 30,000 new thoroughbred foals born in the United States every year. The likelihood that one in your pasture will be the next Derby winner is even lessened in that excellent candidates are also born all around the world. With transportation today (something I also know a little about), a thoroughbred foaled anywhere can be entered in the Kentucky Derby as long as they are a bona-fide three-year-old. It doesn’t stop you from dreaming, though. The next “big” horse has to come from somewhere. Why not yours? Sure, the lions’ share of the eventual Derby winners come from older-line, established farms and families, but not all. If there’s one thing I learned in the horse business, it’s that there are no guarantees; well, other than that you will spend quite a lot of money and that it will bring you the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

 

Let me tell you a little about our foray into the world of thoroughbreds.

Nashua - The Kentucky Horse

Nashua – The Kentucky Horse

Swaps - The California "Invader"

Of course, I was one of those horse-crazy little girls who never outgrew that “stage.” There are members of my family who will swear that I was vaccinated with the horse-racing bug when I was born in Kentucky. That may be true. Some of my earliest memories involve horses. When I was just a little baby, my parents put me into a basket on the back of a big, black horse. They’ve always said I couldn’t possibly remember that, but I do. I also remember trying to come up with names for contests run by a tobacco company in the 1950s to “name the thoroughbred and win it”. My dad dutifully wrote down the names I liked and sent them in. The first Derby winner that I have a memory of was Swaps. I was very, very little (almost 2), but my parents always watched the Derby. It seems surreal to me that I have any memory of that other than my parents being astounded that a “California horse” could beat the best from the Bluegrass. Years later, I actually got to “meet” Nashua, the horse that everyone expected to win. The next year was a big one for Florida (where I grew up)! Needles from Ocala won. Our first broodmare was actually purchased from one of Needles’ owners. I’m getting ahead of myself!

Needles - Winner of the 1956 Kentucky Derby Photo from: thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com

Needles – Winner of the 1956 Kentucky Derby
Photo from: thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com

All my childhood, I asked for horses for Christmas and birthdays. My dad wouldn’t relent because he said that the upkeep would be too expensive. I never understood, but bided my time and took riding lessons every week. Later in life, I owned an off-the-track thoroughbred many years after his racing career. That didn’t end well (he was badly injured in a freak pasture accident and had to be euthanized.) Perhaps I should have taken that as an omen, but I never stopped loving horses – especially the thoroughbred.

 

Our breeding and racing business started innocently enough. We had been to Kentucky on a vacation. During that time, we had visited Claiborne farm and I actually got to meet, rub, and generally fawn all over Secretariat. I’m going to have a post coming up solely about the great, big, red horse.

Secretariat at Claiborne Farm

Secretariat at Claiborne Farm

Not long after that, Jim had a coworker who owned thoroughbreds out west. He “said” he’d done okay breeding and racing them and that it was a lot of fun. In hindsight, it is almost funny to remember that he had a mare he wanted to sell. We lived in Georgia at the time. Georgia did not then, and still does not, have pari-mutuel racing. There are, however, some very beautiful horse farms there, and there was racing right over the border in Alabama.

Mark Yother - Dear Friend and Mentor

Mark Yother – Dear Friend and Mentor

We met a wonderful man who had a horse farm (thoroughbreds and appendix quarter horses). He had been around racing (both flat and steeplechase) for many years. We had determined that, if we were to own a mare, we would like to keep her with him. We trusted him to give us good care and, mostly, great advice. Mark Yother was the consummate gentleman and horseman. I’ve talked about Mark, at length, in a post I published this time last year.

 

Mark went with us to take a look at the mare that Jim’s coworker had for sale. We had already enlisted the services of a local equine veterinarian who told us that the mare was “clean,” and that she should be able to get in-foal (pregnant). He never mentioned anything out of the norm as far as the mare was concerned. Mark took a good look at her, walked her around a little, and came back to our truck. He told us she was dead lame. No wonder the fella wanted to sell her. She probably could have been able to carry a foal, but why buy a lame horse when there were horses to be purchased that had better bloodlines, already in-foal, and perfectly sound.

Keeneland Sales - Lexington, Kentucky Photo from Keeneland.com

Keeneland Sales – Lexington, Kentucky
Photo from Keeneland.com

That was the first, but certainly not the last, bit of great advice we got. In retrospect, it’s a wonder we continued on with the idea of getting into the thoroughbred business. We were thoroughly bitten by the bug. We immediately ordered catalogs for upcoming sales in Lexington. We really didn’t think our pocketbook would purchase a mare from those catalogs, but we wanted to start educating ourselves on the bloodlines we liked and learn how the sales work. In the late 1980s, many top farms were dispersing their breeding stock. We saw some of the most famous mares of the day go through the sales ring. It was at the breeding stock sales in Lexington that we saw the great Lady’s Secret (Secretariat’s gorgeous, amazing, gray daughter) and Sacahuista. We also determined that Kentucky was not going to be the place where we would be able to purchase an in-foal mare that fit the pedigree profile we had determined we were looking for in a price range that we could afford.

Lady's Secret Photo by the incomparable Barbara Livingston

Lady’s Secret
Photo by the incomparable Barbara Livingston

Up Next: Going to the Ocala Sales

 

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Looking forward to “seeing” you here on Colmel’s Blog!

Remembering a Friend and Gentleman

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It’s Triple Crown time. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont have always been part of my year – even before I was in the thoroughbred business. I can remember, from the time I was a small child, picking my favorites then “riding” them home, whooping and hollering the entire way. Funny, I still do that. Some time down the road, I’ll scan my photos of me with the best racehorse to look through a bridle (in my humble opinion) and tell of my visits with Secretariat. That will probably have to wait until next year – the 40th anniversary of his amazing triple crown.

However this post is a tribute to a gentleman who taught me almost everything I know about thoroughbred horses and the thoroughbred industry – D. Mark Yother!

I loved Mark. He saw the horse-lover, breeder, owner in me that I wanted to be. It’s through his mentorship that I became twice president of Georgia TOBA (Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association). He helped us buy our very first mare (and, incidentally, NOT to buy the first one we came across). He allowed me to help him foal our very first thoroughbred homebred (foaled and raised at Mark’s Farm – M&A Acres – in Cherokee County, Georgia in 1989). As a matter of fact, he saved Untarnished’s life as she got stuck part of the way in the foaling process. He cut through the sack and gave her mouth to snout respiration. It saved her life. Later in Untarnished’s life, Mark’s wife, Adelaide, saved her life by getting a vet out to the farm when she colicked badly. She was only 6 weeks old. Believe it or not, Untarnished lived to race, win, and foal a beautiful, race-winning, and award-winning, conformation filly.

Sadly, Untarnished colicked again at age 5 while carrying another foal. She couldn’t be saved that time. There will be more on my own horses in a later blog, too.

Mark taught me so very much. We spent so many hours pouring over stallion directories and discussing bloodlines. I actually saw one of his all-time favorite thoroughbred stallions – Sunshine Forever – at Old Friends Equine Retirement Home inGeorgetown, Kentucky. I said hello just for Mark.

Sunshine Forever at Old Friends Equine Retirement

The pond at M&A (GIGANTIC Bluegill)

Although I now live in Michigan, my heart still goes back to M&A often. We fished on Mark’s pond, rode Rocko (one of Mark’s wonderful quarter horses) on the trails, and spent endless hours walking and rounding up horses in his pastures. I bathed so many horses and put them on the hot-walker… In other words,  a large part of my soul is still there.

Idyllic M&A

Mark passed away a few years ago, but I am so very pleased to know the farm lives on. It’ is now called UCF Stables, and it’s a boarding/training facility for horses and their people. Mark would have wanted that. I hope some day to go back for a visit. I’m older, much grayer, and much sadder, but a visit there would bring me a whole lot of joy – as well as more than a few tears for all that have gone home and for those long-ago days.

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Atlanta in the Spring

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Ah…… Atlanta in the Spring!

You probably remember that I’m a “southern” girl. I lived my whole life (well, except for a 6-month period of college study in London – which is another story, all together) in the south. From January 1981 until August 2003, I lived in the Atlanta area. I always loved Atlanta in the Spring. There are SO many flowers! It’s one of those areas that gets the best of it all.


Yes, you have to replant tulips annually because it really doesn’t get cold enough – long enough for them, but the daffodils seem to get enough winter to thrive.


Then there are the azaleas!!!

 
 


Add to that white and pink dogwoods, Bradford pears, redbuds, peaches, weeping cherry, rhododendrons, camellias, and assorted flowering shrubs, vines and ground covers.

Atlanta reminds me of a southern belle who puts on her best frilly dress every spring. While we get a beautiful Spring in Michigan, it’s spread out over a much more protracted period. It’s more sedate and subdued (although more anticipated due to the normal winters). Atlanta jumps right in your face and says, “Here I am! Aren’t I gorgeous?”

I miss Atlanta’s Springs.

Up Next: Hail to the Chief

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Cider Mills! Never Knew What I was Missin’

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Ahhhhhh, Autumn! What is it about the first leaf turning that sends me into a frenzy? Maybe it’s because I had such a deprived childhood. Okay, by deprived I mean that, while growing up in Florida sounds like heaven to so many, the only colored leaves we ever saw were in photographs or cut from construction paper. So the change in the air, the change in the sound and the vision of a colored leaf just sets off all my happiness whistles.

 

Apple time! The other bell that starts ringing when fall approaches is the Pavlovian desire to eat apples and all manner of apple products. It’s a darned good thing I live in Michigan!

 

I must admit that, for all those years I lived in Georgia, a trip to Elijay for apples was definitely on my list. Now that I live in Michigan (one of the premier apple-producing states) it’s really easy to appease my apple “jones.” There are several, wonderful cider mills within a few minutes of my house.

 

Two of my favorites are in Parshallville and Dexter.

 

Parshallville’s cider mill is in a wonderful, old, former grist mill. It has a waterwheel and sits beside a rushing creek. It just looks like something out of a Frost poem. Inside is dark and crowded with any number of different varieties of apples that are coming off the trees at the time. (An aside here…Did you know that different varieties of apples mature at differing times?) There are also bags of apple crisp fixin’s, apple pies (the traditional type), apple bread, caramel apples, apple butter, apple… well, you get the picture. If it has to do with apples, it’s stuffed into the tiny store space. Then there’s the counter where they sell the cider and the DOUGHNUTS!!!!

 

Here are a few more photos I took at the Parshallville cider mill.

 

Cider comes in all forms in Michigan. In virtually every cider mill I’ve ever been in here in Michigan, you can get cider in it’s cold, straight from the jug form, as a slushy, or hot. There are some mills where you can get apple cider mixed with cherry cider, but I opt for the straight, unadulterated apple.

 

The Dexter cider mills is the closest to our home. It’s also the oldest continuously operating cider mill in Michigan.

 

Cider is made the same way it was 120 years ago. They use an oak rack press that is over 100 years old. Each cider pressing utilizes three to five different varieties of apples which makes each press distinctive. As in wine and olive oil, each batch has it’s own character and flavor.

 

The Dexter Cider Mill (as with most cider mills) uses only locally grown, hand-picked apples. I especially appreciate that because that’s money staying in our county and, more importantly, I  know those apples are safe. It just feels right that something as all-American as apple pie truly is ALL AMERICAN.

Now for the part that makes my mouth water just thinking about them – DOUGHNUTS!!!! While I truly miss my fried pies (haven’t had a decent one in 8 years – since I moved from Georgia), the doughnuts at cider mills are the best I’ve ever had – anywhere. They usually come in two or three varieties (all cake) – plain, cinnamon-sugared, and powder-sugared. I’ve seen cider-flavored doughnuts, pumpkin doughnuts, and pumpkin-glazed doughnuts in a few places; however, the gold standard are plain and cinnamon-sugared. When they are hot out of the fryer, ohhhhh, there’s just nothin’ like ‘em. They get a crispy crust, but the inside is soft, warm, and not too sweet. A doughnut and cider is quintessentially Michigan in the fall.

 

What says “FALL” to you? I hope you’ll share!

 

Up Next: Old Friends @the Beach!

 

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