Pond Water and City Folks

"Hi! Whatcha' doin' next Friday?" My friend Peggy's voice chirped over the phone. "I'm coming to visit Mama and thought maybe we could spend Friday morning together!"

I was ecstatic. In the last two years, our busy lives have kept us from getting together like we did in the "old times," so I was thrilled to know that Peggy was coming to visit. She is one of those friends whose house always feels like home, who is always available when I need sage advice, and who has been a faithful friend through the years since that night we met on blind dates with two Louisiana boys. Now she lives in the big city of Atlanta, and I live on a quiet farm in South Georgia; she has three rambunctious sons and rarely has time to visit old friends.

We have garage sale shopped together, connived together, cried together, argued with each other, and have stood steadfastly by one another through thick and thin. We have done just about everything together, including setting off the smoke alarm by burning dinner rolls just as guests arrived. (Martha Stewart wannabes we were not.) Once, to impress our boyfriends, we opened our Betty Crocker cookbooks and created ghastly Star Trek- looking casseroles, proud that we had actually cooked something edible, ignoring the fact that in order to eat what we had cooked we could not look at it. For two days one October, we lay deathly ill with heaving stomachs, pounding headaches, and scrambled equilibriums after our dates talked us into riding some whirling monstrosity at the county fair. On the night before college graduation, we stayed up until dawn playing cards and a few years later held each other's bouquets at our weddings. Through marriages and moves, our friendship has survived.

But not without rocky cliffs and dangerous whitewaters.

Our last visit, at her house, had not ended happily. While we were away enjoying lunch at a fancy restaurant, her thirteen-year-old son and his friend rode their skateboards to the grocery store, bought two cans of whipping cream, and, as a joke, filled my shoes, suitcase, clothes, make-up, and shampoo with sugary fluff (which soon turned to gooey brown algae). Peggy brushed off the behavior with "Boys will be boys!" and could not fathom my anger.

But last weekend, she called to say that she was coming, and all ills of the past were quickly forgotten. I was so excited! Just like old times; I couldn't wait for Friday!

Around 9:30 Friday morning, her new van pulled up to my house . . . and out climbed not only Peggy, but also her youngest son, her sister, her sister's two kids and one of their young friends. Two women and four excited children nine, ten, eleven and twelve years old! Trying not to show my disappointment and feigning delight about having so much surprise company, I smiled warmly and hugged everyone's necks. The kids immediately tore out for the horse pasture. We women went into the house, and I thought, Well, we'll sit here and talk a little bit. Suddenly, without permission, those city kids who had only SEEN cowboys ride horses in movies were leading our 1,500-pound animals out of the pasture to saddle and ride, yelling and banging gates and sounding like a cavalry charge! From that moment on, adult communication ceased, and the visit rapidly went downhill.

Both Peggy's and her sister's behavior at that point made it evident they expected me to take the kids riding, although thinking back I cannot remember exactly what they said because I was reminding myself to breathe slowly and evenly in order to remain calm. It seemed the kids had been promised horseback riding and that I was seen as convenient baby-sitter. And the women, tired of traveling with four children, obviously wanted to be rid of the kids for a while. With teeth clenched, I saddled four horses, more to keep the peace and salvage the morning than to satisfy my guests. Each horse took about six minutes to saddle, and then I spent another three minutes trying to instruct each rider how to handle his mount (Yeah, like the kids were listening). Once we began riding, I heard nonstop whining and complaining: The saddle is too hard. The horse is stupid. The horse is too slow. The horse is too fast. The sun is hot. Why can't we gallop? I want to go faster. I want to ride that horse not this one . . .

Thirty minutes later, temper boiling, I had used up all of my genteel Southern hospitality. As I rode and listened to the children whine, I thought about my friend and her sister sitting under the ceiling fan on my front porch, sipping iced tea and enjoying the quiet of the country and how there I was swatting gnats, melting in the hot July sun with sweat trickling down my spine, trying to entertain little ingrates for the sake of my old friend. When the kids began another round of complaining, I snarled, "Go home and ride your own horse," which they don't have, of course. I was immediately sorry; the eyes of all four children told me that my white-hot pity party splashing onto them had hurt. It was not totally their fault that my day was so disappointing. I reined in my temper as I would have reined in a misbehaving horse, and we continued the ride in silence, with my cloud of attitude floating above us.

About that time, the ol' devil started poking me with his fork, and I figured out a great way to get a little revenge and get these folks gone before lunch. Half of my plan worked.

Peggy is very particular about her new van, and she surely would hate for the kids to get their clothes wet in the "nasty" old fishing pond and then have to ride in her new van. I suggested to the kids that we take the horses in swimming. The kids, amazed that horses could swim, were all for the idea. Neither kids nor horses needed encouragement--we were all hot and sweaty and eager to cool off. Into our biggest fishing hole we went--horses, kids, saddles, bridles, watches, designer jeans, expensive Nike shoes, new white T-shirts, everything. For one moment and a moment only I considered the consequences: thick felt saddle blankets that would need days of drying, saddles to be dried and cleaned and oiled . . . the satisfaction of payback for Peggy's ruining my day would be worth the work. The kids, shrieking with delight, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, hung on for dear life as the horses plowed ever deeper into the cool water. Laughter, yells, and the sounds of splashing rang through the hollow and echoed off tall silent pines, and I regretted being motivated to go swimming out of revenge and not friendship. Joyful memories like those are not made every day, and we were doing something those city kids had never done before and probably never would have the chance to do again. Laughter and joy, always contagious, drove away the cloud hanging over me and renewed my spirit. I became a kid again during that pond-water baptism. Ten minutes of splashing in the cool water made us all friends, and we rode home soaking wet and laughing.

I was pleased to see that Peggy and her sister were disgusted. But, like I said, only half my plan worked; soon it became obvious that my guests were planning to stay for lunch. Yes, I had told Peg we would eat lunch, but that was before she arrived with a truckload of 4-H flunkies, and I had meant go OUT to eat, just she and I. With sinking heart, I realized I had nothing in the house to feed this bunch of people and was loathe to suggest driving into town to eat with kids in wet clothes and me with no makeup.

And then the ol' devil poked me again with that fork of his. Forty acres of corn for cow feed stretches from the front yard to the horizon. Although the corn is tough and tastes like raw grits even when boiled for four days, those city children just could not get over my having "real" corn right there "in the front yard." I sent the kids racing out to pick a dozen ears to boil for lunch, baked a pan of biscuits, cut up a cantaloupe, sliced some cheese, and fed my friends a lunch of straight starchy foods. (I hope they were constipated for three weeks.)

Things went smoothly until time came for my guests to leave. The kids had made fast friends with Charlie, our big yellow Lab, wallowing with him on the ground and being covered with dog lip kisses and slobbers in return. Charlie is miserable in hot weather, so we had bought him one of those small, blue plastic pools and keep it half-filled with water out under the maple tree. He spends long, contented hours lying in his "puppy pool." When Charlie saw his new friends climbing into the van to leave, he excitedly launched out of his pool, hurled himself through the van's sliding door, and jumped onto the back seat with the girls. There he shook mightily, to their great delight. With as much water as Charlie can carry in his fur, I am sure that van will forever smell like wet dog.

Just before my guests drove away, wet clothing and all, up ran the boys, proudly holding green banana peppers they had picked from my husband's garden-among-the-weeds. By then the devil had my full attention. I said nothing, even though I knew that what they held were jalapenos, not sweet banana peppers. Everyone climbed in the van and I waved good-bye. As they drove down the road I heard the boys suddenly yell--- "BLEECCHHH!! MOM! These are HOT! Mom, stop the car! I want some water! Maa-mmmaaa!" By that time I was back in the house, doors locked.

I have no idea what our next visit holds in store, but surely it cannot be worse. I hope the devil stays at his house and satisfies himself with eating jalapenos because I would hate for him to be on Peggy's side next time.

Anita Meisen