Rain, Reins, and Reigning – some ‘harrowing’ experiences!

When I was 21 I had several bad shocks in a row and a friend in Pittsburgh offered to let me come stay for a few weeks to try and come to grips.  But on the Greyhound bus on the way down, an incident took place at the border which has consistently made me get my back up with border officials and any type of what I call ‘jumped-up power-mongers’.  So often, border security (and this is long before 9/11, of course) have for some reason, seen little old  innocent me who has never broken the law or even had one full drink of an alcoholic beverage and promptly decide I look ‘suspicious’ . ( Why? Am I so plain Jane that I’m always resembling someone on the current WANTED lists ?  Or is it because of my NAME – there ARE an awful lot of Julie Ann Johnsons —all named after the hill-billy blues song? —and a number of those I’ve googled in the past DO have criminal records!)  Anyway, I was chosen out of the busload of at least 50 people to be dragged into the border office.  After being nearly suicidal for some weeks, and being a young and naive 21, this was more than my nerves could bear and I remember standing there, shaking and teary-eyed while the officious officials went through my pockets, my suitcase and my handbag.  In said bag they found a letter from my younger teen-age cousins who thought it would be funny to slip in a 3-page note ‘from my horse’ at the time: “Cupid” .  (I didn’t name him,  (she says defensively!) —they did.  He was born on Valentine’s Day and had an upside down heart for a star on his forehead).  This note was a straightforward well-wishing bon voyage kind of thing, and I expect they were trying to cheer me up at the time.  But they wrote it in a funny childish slanted style, emulating, I suppose, what they thought a young colt might ‘write’ like?

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But the border guards thought this worthy of an HOUR of their attention, trying to ‘translate’ what they thought were double-meaning, cryptic messages, and asking me countless questions over and over.  Finally, after holding up the bus for this long, the bus driver came in and said I’d either have to be allowed to leave, or he’d have to drive on without me.  They let me go, (but kept the letter,) and oh! the embarrassment of getting back on that bus!

So traumatized was I by this experience that my kind mother and father (he was still alive in the beginning of 1985, but he died that November, making it one of the worst years of my life, all told!) sent money for me to FLY home, thinking this would be less complicated.  But the same thing happened!  As I disembarked from the plane in Toronto, I was taken into a small room, made to strip down to my underwear while they ‘patted me down’, and each and every embarrassing item from my suitcase was removed and examined.

I will never know what/who they were searching for, but this has always remained with me every time I travel, probably making me seem more nervous and suspicious than I normally would do!  The border patrol people, in my experience up until last year, are uneducated, power-hungry control freaks who LOOK for something to do when they are a bit bored – and I’m sorry if some nice person reading this is related to some equally nice person who HAPPENS to be a border official… They make it clear they are the ROYALTY of the borders, the King or Queen of their Land, and they see me coming and put out the DO NOT ENTER sign.

That is, at least, until recently.  Since moving here to N.B., and this quiet back-water rural area, we have had occasion to travel back and forth to Maine many times.  Both the Canadians and Americans have always been perfectly pleasant, and some even chatty!  They live right there, too, so they come to know everyone personally – and many are just youngsters, fresh out of college – all of which has given me a whole other outlook.  Yesterday we went to visit Harvey Miller, a Mennonite gentleman who has his own harness shop. We were told to go to him for a harness for Chevy, rather than bidding for one at auction, or trying to buy new or online.  Mr. Miller has been MOST helpful (more on this below) and the border people didn’t even mind our purchasing a brand new harrow, collar, pitchfork, whippletree, AND REINS as well as a used harness with matching bridle and bit.  ALL for under 1,000.00 ! Try to do that online or in a Co-op/Tack store!  The border folk just smiled and waved us through…

Here are the two ‘dolls-house’, river-front borders at which we regularly cross – Limestone and Bridgewater:

And the very mottoes used on the signs affirm our reasons for wanting to move here to ‘live the simpler life’…. Love them!   So life near a border is no longer like this:

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But rather more like this:

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The only other time in my LIFE where I felt this unencumbered at a border was the first time I went to live in England in 1997.  Having made sure ALL my paper work was in order and then in triplicate!, and already having a teaching job to go to, I was fairly confident.  It was late at night u.k. time and after I told him I was coming to LIVE and WORK there, the border guard glanced at my passport and paperwork and waved me on through.  I couldn’t believe it. I said “Is that ALL?”  (and thinking – “What, no handcuffs? Not even a blood test?”)   He shrugged tiredly and said “Ma’m – you’re coming here to live and if you choose to run amok with a meat cleaver there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it!”  So he wasn’t really King of the Castle in this instance, I guess – more like a world-weary Cinderella whose glass slipper didn’t fit quite right.

Speaking of royalty – and high-heeled shoes – this past week has been the New Denmark Queen’s Pageant, on which committee I’ve been heavily involved the last 3 months (see previous blog ” ….Hootenanny”).  This is the main reason I didn’t post a blog last week! … But, meanwhile,  exhausted and stressed, I stupidly went in this condition to a court in Edmunston on Thursday (the day of the final dress rehearsal for the pageant!) to support one of our neighbours in an ongoing trial that started more than 12 years ago!  Her supporters have gradually been dwindling away and she needed some ‘new blood’! Although it’s not really at a court-house, just a couple of rooms above a shopping mall which is adjoined to the Sheraton, we (Mom, Richard and two other neighbours) were still expected to go through all the security.  Richard and I started to put our bags (his full of books, mine both books and sewing materials as well as my regular patchworked fabric hand-bag) onto the conveyor belt at the same time. One woman screamed at me – “Stand Back, you – get away from the belt! Only one at a time, haven’t you been here before?”  Well, NO.  What about my personage makes you think I HAVE been here before?  So Richard went through with little disruption to his body or character.  Of course.

Then I start.  And a man gets really rough and obnoxious, snapping “Behind the line – not until I tell you!”  (Now keep in mind, this is a couple of rooms above the shopping mall for a little civil suit, folks…)  I step through and all the bells go off.   Yes, Your Royal Highness, I do have pins in my back, but they aren’t supposed to set those things off anymore.  Yes, mister, I AM wearing a knee brace, but it’s just made of plastic.  But still, he wants me to take it all off, and this is a painful process when I’ve already been made to stand for any length of time, and then it’s even more difficult to put it back on OVER my pant length (it is a tube with a lot of velcro and then plastic hinges).  So I said “PLEASE don’t make me take it off” (I promise you, I said “please!”)  And just as he’s debating this, the woman who is going through BOTH my bags (even though they’ve already been X-rayed!)  pulls out my container of mint tooth-picks and says “Oh-oh, what about this?” to her superior, yet ANOTHER guy (there were 4 security people in total, and only 5 of us going in to court at this time, so again, my proof that they have ‘nothing better to do”…)  The ‘chief’ J-U P-M (refer to first paragraph above) starts tut-tutting over this and I just LOST it. They hadn’t even got to my little sewing kit and nail scissors for snipping thread yet!.  Here was the only culprit:

I said “You have GOT to be kidding me!  I don’t need to be here, you know – I just came to support a friend” and I gesticulate to the other ladies, incl. my mother, behind me who’ve just come out of the rest-room.   Then I grabbed my bags, AND my toothpicks from the woman J-U P-M’s hand and marched myself RIGHT out of that ‘holding area’, calling ‘good-luck’ to my friend as I went.   I’m not a naive little 21 year old anymore, and I’ve been stepped on TOO many times, (incl. just in the last few months by some bullying stage moms!)   So,  who reigned supreme in this instance?  ME!  ‘Cause I got to sit in this splendorous lobby of the Sheraton, with its cozy Rustic Revivals’ type decor of barnboard, stone and rusty steampunk cogs, and read, and sip a beverage and do my sewing while the others were harassed and hassled through into a court room of stressful French repartee for over an hour:

 

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Have I shared with you about the similar on-going tug-of-war struggle between Smitty the dog and Cammie the goat?  They are both co-dependent little things, from neglectful backgrounds, and both are constantly vying for their ‘parents’ attention’ whenever we’re outdoors.  Smitty chases Cammie away when he’s not tied up and she runs to the barn or over to Chevy for protection.  But when Smitty is tied up, Cammie comes up on ‘his’ porch and REIGNS supreme over him. It’s hilarious. She ‘stomps’ him, stamping her foot and gurgling ferociously at him, and he does usually jump or slink away. She’s even been known to stand on his sleeping bag bed and do this, so that he can’t lie down!  I love how she looks all innocent and doe-eyed until she thinks I’ve turned my back. Then, WHAMMY CAMMIE!!!!

So, Princesses, Patrols, and Porch Pooches aside, let’s talk about Aroostook County, Maine and its delightful charms, including the Mennonites from whom we made our over-the-border purchases so necessary for self-sufficient living.

On this side of the border we have a village called Aroostook as the river of that name flows through it. But on the American side, the whole COUNTY is Aroostook (named for a tribe of Micmacs primarily in Maine).   In fact, I was reading for the 2nd time a favourite suspense/thriller book of mine called Winter’s End when I moved here from Ontario.  It jolted me right out of the U-Haul seat when I read the author, John Rickard’s mention of Houlton, Presqu’ile (our nearest university town) and Aroostook County, seeing as that was all a 1/2 hour from our new home in New Brunswick!  What I DIDN’T realize until I wrote to him to tell him of this happy coincidence was that he lives in ENGLAND and has never set foot in North America, never mind seeing Aroostook County for himself.  Because he got it exactly right!  (Read it – it’s a highly entertaining story!)

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This beautiful county also has many Mennonites, both old order and new, much like Waterloo/Elmira environs in Ontario.  Chevy’s farrier mentioned that Harvey Miller’s harness shop was a great place to find some cheap nylon or Biothane (plastic over nylon webbing) harness, rather than buying all leather, so we went and were not disappointed!  Two Belgians were helping plough the field for spring planting and two more were tied to a hitching post outside the harness shop.

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Inside the shop there was a wonderful array of used and new harness, as well as some beautiful draft horse collars that Harvey makes himself:

With the measurements we had for Chevy, we purchased a used harness, including bit and bridle (I’ll likely use a much simpler, gentler bit as the one it came with is pretty heavy-duty and unnecessary!) .  However, no reins were with this harness, and Richard, green-horn that he is, was the first to notice this. Even Harvey hadn’t caught that yet!  So he went and cut us some reins immediately on his machine and threw that in for the original price he’d quoted us on the harness – 375.00!  Amazing price!  We then picked out a collar and a pitchfork that was brand new but about half the price of what they are in the Co-op.  And then we went around the corner of his shop and there to our delight was a harrow, brand new, which we’d just been discussing needing for both the garden AND the pasture where we hope to take off hay.  It’s had years of cutting, but no baling, so all the old dead stuff is lying there preventing the ‘good’ from coming up! We may have to spread some timothy seed…

Thus, we came home pretty happy with our purchases (and again, only a few questions at the border, then a smile and a “have a good day”!  Miraculous!) .

Richard is posed here to show he doesn’t care to be ‘harnessed’ or ‘shackled’ (actually, he LOVES it!)   Note the “Chevy” on his cap…

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We’ll have to wait to see how Chevy looks in his new gear, but Richard got RIGHT on with  trying out the new harrow in our garden, which he’s already rototilled (incl. the 6 black currant bushes I planted last fall, thank you, dear! ) .   I did manage to convince him to leave the two “Y” strips of wildflowers that go diagonally through our garden – gotta have something to convince the bees to pollinate for us!   Smitty felt the need to help out so we’re going to have to remind him constantly (as I did all LAST spring!) that he isn’t allowed in there.   How we’ll ‘remind’ Cammie the Goat, I’m not sure!

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After finishing the garden, just like all men with new toys, Richard immediately then went to the mowing and harrowing of the pastures, both upper and lower:

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On top of all the brouhaha of the hill-billy hootenanny (I’ll post a few photos below for you to have a smile over – remember,  Queen’s Pageants are BIG in this rural area, and the girls even wore their sashes and tiaras to school this past Monday!) I’ve been trying to transplant a lot of our plants from the seeding tables downstairs out into planters to ‘harden them off’, prior to then planting them in the garden.  However, the weather has been VERY cold (back in the one-digits!) and very rainy, and it’s been tough to find the right time to get this moving. It does remind me, though, of why I wanted to plant indoors this winter – when I planted started May 24th here last year, I lost the first 5 rows of veg. due to the extreme cold, rain and wind.  So hopefully this will work better.  If not, I’m just going to wait longer to plant, and we’ll just have to plant that much more each year for back-breaking harvests and loads of canning and freezing all at once!  RAIN, RAIN go away – can’t wait to plant e’en ONE MORE DAY!

Here are the REIGNING QUEEN AND PRINCESS with official photographer, Tiffany Christensen:

Those are Rustic Revivals’ burlap bags hanging on all the windows in the hall, too~!

Here’s all 5 girls just before the – ugh – Royal Crowning and handing out of all the TITLES! (Rustic Revivals managed to get some burlap bows in there, too, above the audience!)

stage, 145 b.page.

But the shot I really love the best, by Tiffany, is from their photo-day, when they are wearing what REAL Appalachian Royalty should be proud to wear:

flannel girls

Rain, reign, rein,
 English is a pain.
 Although the words
 Sound just alike,
 The spelling's not the same!
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