My car’s rear view mirror displays the compass direction, so I exited the perpetually-under-construction toll road and headed out to two-lane county roads. We zig-zagged our way north and west, past red barns with stone silos, cows, horses, pumpkins and sheep, and fields plowed under, sleeping until spring. There were hay rolls, waiting to feed the livestock through the winter. Not enough color in the foliage yet, but there will be at least one more fall excursion for that.
We arrived at our destination town with a little over an hour to spare before we were due at the stables, and we needed lunch. Lunch has not been a success on fall excursions past.
The available options were:
- the biker bar on the corner, or
- the biker bar next door to the biker bar on the corner.
We chose the biker bar on the corner on the assumption that a full parking lot (full of cars, oddly, not motorcycles – a bit of a relief) – indicated decent food.
About half the barstools were occupied, obviously by locals, all men, each one of whom turned to look at the two women walking in.
The lady bartender, fully embellished with tattoos from wrists to elbows, presumably extending to shoulders under the sleeves, invited us to find a table.
“That doesn’t look cheap,” remarked one of the locals, referring to the tattoos. I think he intended that as a compliment. Lady bartender took it in stride.
It wasn’t as crowded as the number of cars predicted. And the food was pretty good, a welcome change for a fall excursion. And the Harley-Davidson-Green-Bay-Packer logoed patrons were non-threatening. Just people having lunch. Or a beer. Or a beer with their lunch.
On to the stables, at a cute little pretend Western town in the middle of a state forest. Utterly deserted, and a little forlorn. But it was a Tuesday afternoon in October, not a summer Saturday. We found the guide prepping the horses and took a look around while she got them ready.
There was a mock sheriff’s office, a barber shop, and a closed-but-clearly-capable-of hosting-a-function saloon.
There was a little chapel on a hill, named after the owner’s mother and guarding a memorial to his son. The name on the chapel is my daughter’s middle name.
The hill reminded me that Mike always climbed to the top of whatever was tallest where ever we stopped on any fall excursion. He did it on the last one.
He would have marched right up the hill to that chapel. I did it for him. It was lovely, both outside and in, and the memorial to the son who died young was touching. I choked up as I came back down, and turned away to collect myself before rejoining my daughter, waiting below.
We were introduced to the horses.
The biggest one we were introduced to, though not scheduled to ride, was named “Bear.”
My pet name for Mike.
We had a lovely ride through the forest, looped around and back. The guide took a picture. Time to head home, down a few more country roads. Along one of them, I glanced to my left and noticed stones arranged in the shape of a huge dragonfly on the side of a little hill and above a farm pond – creative drainage, I guess.
Dragonflies, along with butterflies and hummingbirds, are a symbol of Mike to me.
On our way back to a town where I planned to get our daughter a post-trail-ride treat, we drove right by a little park that I instantly recognized as one we had stopped at during a previous fall excursion, where Mike and our daughter took a break and on the swings and drank their convenience-store lemonade.
I don’t believe these things – the name of the chapel, the horse named Bear (another horse named Bear – there was one on a trail ride last year, too, along with lots of butterflies) and passing the park where we had played before – were coincidences.
I believe Mike helped me find this place, that he was with us, and that he was enjoying himself. Maybe making up for the last time, when he didn’t.
I went to bed regretting the excessive carbs from the OK biker bar lunch, and really regretting the two bites of “fresh apple cider donut” I got at the post-trail-ride-treat place, and worrying about my weight.
I dreamt that Mike came and hugged me, outside, at a place that looked like the gravel drive of the stables we had visited that day, and said that I was beautiful just the way I am, and the way I am is the way I was made, and I should accept myself and quit worrying about it. I felt his hug physically.
Just as physically as I felt him blowing in my ear a few days ago, during a mid-afternoon nap attack. Half asleep, I called his name and asked him to stick around, stick with us. I heard his voice, plain and clear, say the word, “haunting.” Not in a scary way – just jokingly, the way he would have said it, with a grin, if he had been right there on the bed with me.
The last thing Mike said to our daughter was, “Dad’s love never ends.”
I know now that his love for me hasn’t ended, either, and never will.
May you know that you are loved, exactly as you are, exactly as you were made, and stop worrying.
Enjoying deep October-blue skies, I remain,
Your reassured, trying-to-keep-things-in-perspective and trying-not-to-let-the-coffee-shop staff-see-my-eyes-tearing-up,