Horse Show Mornings

A friend on Facebook posted a picture of the laneway down to the paddocks at the facility I ride at.

It was a Saturday morning, she had just arrived to start her day showing one of the horses, and it was such a beautiful shot of the mist still lingering around the trees and fenceposts. Silent and peaceful ahead of the cacophony of a show barn on show day.

I sat and stared at that picture for awhile. The ache was not full force, but right then, I wanted to be there, experiencing the bustle of the morning. So many sensations worked their way through my memory, weaving in and out as I fell into the rabbit hole of the past, especially of the farm, and my horses.

I loved the walk up to the barn in the morning, seeing my horses gallop up through the mist when I called them for their early breakfast. They would careen through the loafing-shed pen, freshly coated in a healthy layer of dew. They would nicker and revel in post-gallop full body shakes, sending droplets of water in all directions, eyes bright in anticipation of their grain.

I used to stand at the gate, coffee in my hands, my own eyes heavy from a short night’s sleep, and let them blow their grassy breath on my face, jostling for position until we brought them all in. Happy snorts would fill the air in the barn. My herd knew when it was a horse show morning, because they were all in the barn late while the lucky candidate was braided (after dark) the night before. Horse show mornings meant early grain, and excitement as one of them got to leave for the day.

Those first few moments of quiet and peace, seeing the mist rising in tendrils off the pasture, hearing the early songs of birds from the big Oak trees, and feeling the first frisson of anticipation for the day was one of my absolute favourite things. Sometimes I would stand in the big rolling doorway once we opened it, leaning on the doorframe, just breathing in the moisture from the air, centring my mind before I had to get moving.

So that picture, in a heartbeat, brought memory into sharp focus, in contrast to the gossamer edges of the foggy fence lines and sand ring it captured.  It brought a wish for one of those “this is why I do it” validations that scatter through the effort and craziness that is showing horses.

Maybe someday I’ll be standing in the doorway again, having a Horse Show Morning moment. It won’t be exactly the same, of course, I don’t own my own horses or take care of my own barn anymore.

But I have a hunch it will feel very familiar. 

Heels Down and Don’t Forget the Pads!

There is an art to breaking in new boots. I am reminded of this as I break in a pair of tall Doc Marten’s today, their first walk from the bus. I forgot my blister pads. Dammit. I should know better.

You see, this art is equal parts patience and tolerance to pain. Both are necessary to walk through the first few weeks of pinches, blisters and stiffness new boots require. I’ve done my fair share of breaking in leather riding boots, and I have a distinct challenge.

I’m short.

Like, midget short. Tall boots have, historically, not come in my leg length, unless I go full custom. Which I have, and since having kids, do not fit into anymore. *cue sobbing and incalculable woe*

Every pair of tall leather riding boots I have ever owned have required me to be creative in my endeavours not to grind my heels and calves to a pulp, or lace the back and inside of my knees with criss-crossed ribbons of blood. I have used gauze padding, gaffer tape, Vaseline, hot water soaks, and the almighty panty liner.

Yes, really. Panty liners.

My very first pair of tall leather boots were on sale at Horse World for $100. A steal! My feet had stopped growing, so my father relented and I practically danced out of the store, jubilant to finally be joining the “grown up” ranks of riders sporting classy, professional looking boots. No more rubber Aigle’s for me! Clanking in the box beside them were my new boot pulls too, because back in the day, we didn’t have fancy zippers and spandex gussets. You pulled those suckers on, and yes, pulled them off too, sometimes getting sweatier doing that than when you were riding.

We worked for our sleek calf-line and tailored ankle, dammit. This was why, if a rider was in the ER for a suspected broken ankle, you would hear them say (paraphrased) “you will cut those boots off over my cold, dead body. Give me a biting stick and pull it off, dammit, I don’t want to break in a new pair mid-season”.

Yup. The struggle was real, yo.

The first ride in my new grown up boots, I was so excited, I don’t think I even noticed the river of blood running into my breeches as I rode. It wasn’t until I pulled them off that I saw the back and side of my knees, completely red. Upon peeling my breeches off, the horror hit, and then the pain as air met wound. Blood blisters the size of Manhattan (not really, but picture it, for dramatic effect) were oozing, pulsating, and generally looking like someone decided to take a cheese shredder and run it over my skin a few times.

My very first experience breaking in leather boots. How cool! How awesome! Why had no one warned me of the Defcon-4 level of pain I was now enduring?

Since Google did not exist yet, I looked to my books and fellow crazy horse people for advice. “Ride through the pain”, “Bandage and tape felt to the tops until they relax”, “Hot water soak them to relax quicker” was all sound advice. My Pony Club commissioner, Kim, gave me advice that I took to heart. She simply said “Tampax pads on the knee, pull on the breeches, and you’re good to go.”.

In absence of felt, and because I needed something to absorb grossness from the back of my knees, I dutifully taped some hastily bought panty liners to my open wounds, gauzed them in place, and pulled the boots back on the next day, wincing, maybe crying a little, and walking like a stiff-legged marionette. I’ll admit my horse’s feet didn’t get picked that day. I couldn’t bend my leg!

But, I was badass. I was going to ride through the pain! Grr! Argh! Also? I refused to ever wear my rubber riding boots ever again. They were so childish. I was an accomplished teen rider, yo! I was also stubborn as a mule… Even with the tears and the days on end of not being able to sit properly in chairs. (edit: I did so wear them again, for a couple of days to let the blisters heal)

Those first leather boots did eventually relax, and became absolutely wonderful. The scars healed, with only a tiny remnant on the inside of my left knee. It gets opened back up each time I break in a new pair. Battle scars. Stories.

Once, using this method to break in boots, I rode a dressage test with Always taped to my legs inside my breeches, and white no-stick gauze with white electrical tape pasted to the outside. No blood seeped through, and I even remember I scored a 7 on my free walk (our first mark above 5 that didn’t have a remark of “stiff/above bit”!). This was a small miracle, because I was riding my anti-dressage Appaloosa who decided to impersonate a vertically challenged giraffe as soon as she saw a white-fenced rectangle. Even in the free walk. She would periscope, looking around as if lions were everywhere.

Once, in lieu of a pantyliner, I grabbed some Animalintex to pad out the backs (overtop of my breeches), because I needed something quickly and had forgotten to pad the outside of the knee. White fluff floated out from behind my legs for the entire lesson, baffling my instructor.

I’ve soaked in the bathtub with my boots on (reading Horse Sport for classical dramatic flair, whilst sipping wine) to get the leather to relax quickly. I have used heated “magic bags” to warm the leather and stretch the toe box out, and I have worn riding boots around the house for days on end to break them in before ever swinging a leg over. (my boyfriend at the time, he didn’t mind so much *wink*).

I bought my first pair of tall boots in a long time, this summer. I had been using paddock boots and half chaps, but missing the stability a tall boot gave the leg. I was not looking forward to the breaking in process, envisioning hobbling into work, bandages on the back of my knees, blisters taped up, gaffer tape, and weird looks.

So when the saleswoman looked at me and said “what length do you want? I assume a short?” I nearly kissed her. I tried them on, and yes, even the “short” was tall on me, but I wasn’t immobile. They were stiff, but not so stiff I couldn’t immediately zip them up and do some air squats. Wild. The first couple of rides were stiff, and I was sure I waddled a bit. But there is one difference with these as compared to all the other boots I have ever broken in (even my customs)…

Not one panty liner was needed.

First Night

Five years ago right now, I was in a hospital bed, groggy, tired, and a little bit foggy from the masses of drugs I had been administered in the past 24 hours. I was with my friend Sue, we were talking (about pretty much everything), I was hoping for some food, and could not get enough water to drink. My husband had gone home with his parents to have a shower.

Oh, and I was a brand new mom.

Specifically, to my son, who was greedily nursing away, bundled like a blue and white burrito against my side. A most precious football that, of course, with the most obvious of statements, changed our world, on that, the first night of parenthood.

It seems like yesterday, but in that space of time, we have added my daughter, gone through job changes, vehicle changes, ups and downs, and journeys. I started this blog not long after my son was born. Wow.

But, the journey that started that night, five years ago, is the most important one. My children are the real reason I get my ass in gear and run. Yeah, I want to be healthy, I want to be bad@%$, and I want to lose weight. But…

It all revolves back to them. Because I want to be with them on their first night, to celebrate the unbelievable gift that a new life can be, and watch their worlds change too. ❤

Calmness

My desktop at work is this picture, posted to the Friends of Windfields Farm Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/WindfieldsFarm?ref=ts&fref=ts):

20130219-112744.jpg

This is a recent picture of Barn 2 at the famous Windfields Farm, which is currently, finally, and belatedly being taken care of with new roofs, lighting, security systems and hopefully a cleaning crew. I missed going to the auction, part of me thankful because I would have been a blubbery mess, but also sad, as I could have brought home a memento of this beautiful farm, and touchstone of my past.

This barn in the picture was, for the most part, the training barn. I was based out of barn 3 (further down the road), but loved this barn, and spent many, many hours in here. Riding through on cold days to reach the arena, backing babies in the stalls, sweeping the floor again and again, cleaning tack, sitting on an upturned bucket just outside the barn office, warming my aching muscles and bones with the summer sun.

The one feeling I get when I think of this barn is calmness. When the dust motes were lazily floating through the sunbeams that filtered in past the windows, when the stalls were clean and the hay stacks neat as a pin, I remember the quiet. I can recall the solitude of the tall ceilings, the solidness of the walls and doors, the reverence of the building itself.

I may have only worked there a short time, but even today, when I see pictures of the inside of this barn, I am immediately transported back to hearing the clip-clop of hooves, the metal slam of door latches, the squeaky trundle of the feed cart. I feel calmness steal into my nerves, and I can breathe just a bit deeper.

A picture of other aisle of the barn: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cat_starr/4411480436/in/set-72157629141010680/lightbox/ – Can’t you hear the echo, don’t you want to step through the sunspots?

A full set can be seen here, with pictures of the other barns, some of the grounds: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cat_starr/sets/72157623574374262/with/4411480436/

Work/Life Lessons

This morning, with all the snow, I was late for work. As I rushed into my cubicle, I slowed down, reminding myself that it was ok. My boss was fine with it. It was ok if I took work home tonight. It was ok, as long as my work gets done.

Then, as I sit here doing my morning writing exercises (prompt: Write about a time you were hated and you didn’t know why), I was reminded of a job where my stress level was not what it should have been, and was, in retrospect, damaging me without me realizing it. I have permanent health issues today that can be squarely related to the stress I experienced there.

Before I go further, let me state: I don’t regret working there at all and overall loved what I did. I had good friends there, some of whom I still keep in touch with. I don’t want anyone to think “X was a horrible company!”. Not at all. Awesome place to work, yo. Awesome. But, for me, not all was rosy for some time. Not because of the company, but because of one person.

I feel I am being brave posting this. I’ve never really detailed this story before (even to co-workers while I was there), and I do not intend to make anyone upset or point any fingers. It was a long time ago now, before I was married or had kids. I am making no direct references to the company or the people. So those of you, who know my history, please refrain from making direct references if you wish to comment.

I had a co-worker at a job hate me from the moment I started working there (for reasons I never found out, or no one would tell me…). She went out of her way to lie to my boss about my work habits, which was detailed to me after the fact, once she was gone. I was snubbed when I brought her a Christmas gift (I brought gifts for the whole team) and she refused to work directly with me. I would sit in my car at lunch and cry after she would ignore my “Good morning!” or brush past me in the hall, knocking my shoulder, spilling my coffee. Once, she saw me come into the break room, picked up the coffee pot, and dumped the fresh-made coffee into the sink, glaring right at me, the steam curling up over her hands as she poured. I just made a new pot, not even reacting as she stormed off with the used filter in her hands. When I got back to my desk, I found wet coffee grounds all over my chair.

Mature, right?

I tried very hard never to react to her escalating behaviour in public. I would only ever lose it in private, in the bathrooms, or in my car, at home. But it was hard. I had no idea why she didn’t like me. I went out of my way to be nice to her, be cheerful, helpful and professional. I once asked her, point blank, what I had done to upset her, and she just stared at me and then turned her back. Privately quizzing co-workers got me nowhere either. It was like no one saw it but me. At one point I thought I was imagining the whole thing, my super-sensitivity to being not liked coming into play. But then I heard her talking in the bathroom on her cell phone one day, and she said “That short %&$#* who just started, I ‘m going to make her quit if its the last thing I do.” . I froze in the washroom, afraid to even breathe, and afterwards sat there, feet drawn up on the toilet seat, hugging my knees, crying and contemplating doing just that. Quitting.

I didn’t, and I have never told ANYONE about what I heard that day No one. Not even the company’s HR, my manager at the time, or my co-workers.

I would get so tense at work that I was losing my appetite, the beginnings of stress-induced depression setting in. I couldn’t concentrate, was shaking all the time, and dreaded being even a minute late – for fear it would get me in trouble – because she would assuredly report it. I was more upset that she didn’t like me, than the fact I was being overtly and aggressively bullied at work. I took to locking my computer at all times if I stepped away from my desk (even to the printer a cubicle over), once catching her on my network folder deleting important files (She said she needed a pen and knew I would have one in my desk). Worse, it was being allowed by my manager. (Even though I reported the bullying, it was never addressed, and I was indirectly told I was the problem. I went to HR, they contacted my manager, he again told me to stop stirring the pot.) When she left for greener pastures, it was immediate and immense relief, the physical effects of her departure noticeable by others, some even commenting on it. Immediately my work-life improved, and folks who were afraid to be my friend at work came forward and said it was because of her they stayed away, or were told I was a raving &*$#^.

Good times, good times.

I used to ask myself why I stayed, why I put up with it. But, I needed that job, and had to make the best of it. I look back on that now and will never, ever forget what I told my (now) husband as I sat in his bedroom that afternoon, after my last day there.

“I will never, ever let a job ruin my health again, no matter how much I get paid, how many good friends I have, or how much I love the company.”

And I have stuck to that.

I will never know why she didn’t like me, or chose me as a target for her seemingly ridiculous and immature actions. I don’t do bullying; I was bullied in school, and abhor it. I would never outright be mean to someone. Not my style. Never has been. So if I did do something to upset her… *shrug* completely unaware of it.

But… It doesn’t really matter now. I learned a lot from it about myself, and about being productive and professional in a workplace with someone like that. It has changed how I interact with people I work with, for the better, I think. It has changed how I view work/life balance, and I treat that part of my career with a higher priority now. I also stand up for myself now, and do not let workplace bullying happen. I push back.

So to that co-worker who hated me for some unknown reason? Thank you for the Hell, and the life lessons. It made me better.

Saying Goodbye to Mustang Sabby

It was time.

We handed the keys over, and I held back the hitch in my breath as my beautiful, sporty, Vista Blue Mustang went from mine, to not mine.

In it’s place, was a lovely dark grey mom-mobile with luxurious tan leather interior and all the bells and whistles a parent in need of more space could dream of. The seven seats, moon roof and power pedals beckoned. The room for groceries and a stroller was sumptuous, and the lack of back spasms when hefting my child in and out of his car seat pure bliss. The massive amount of cup holders made me want to go get coffee, just to put something in all of them at once.

But my Mustang was important to me. That wonderful growl and powerful engine were a part of how I identified myself for a long time. But, that person has changed; and with it, comes the time to say goodbye. We had thought to keep it, put money into it, and hand it down to my son when he was of age to drive. Economics and practicality won.

That car became ours over the years, but in truth, it was always mine. It was always the car I bought way back then. My own gift to myself.

That car was the last link to my old life, the one before husband, child, and married existence. It was the last link to the time when I felt free, mildly rebellious, and bold enough to wear four inch heels and jeans in the winter because it looked good. It was a time when I had more money than month, liked my music loud, and imagined my alter ego straight out of a Candace Bushnell novel.

Babies? Houses? Finances? Who had time for those thoughts? I was too busy flirting in traffic, driving up winding roads with the window down, or revving the engine at a light beside some poor sod who thought his souped-up Honda could best me. It was getting out at a store, leather biker jacket and sunglasses on, feeling like I was ten feet tall, a size eight, and invincible.

It was also the last link to a time when I was grieving, so terribly, at the gaping hole in my life, where my beautiful Skye should have been, but was not. In some ways, I think I tried to smother the daily reminders with that car, as a distraction, as a way to keep moving, to reinvent myself further away from the reminders of him and my lifelong love of horses.

But that car was also how I moved from that life to the one I had now. The day I bought my Mustang, I met the man who would eventually hold my hand as I got to touch our first son, while strapped to the operating table. When he walked up to me and shook my hand those four-and-a-bit years before, and I asked him to test drive a Mustang in a snow storm, it was the pin-pointed moment when life would change, yet no one, least of all me, knew it.

When he sold me that car, I felt amazing. It was shiny, blue, could go very fast, and was the most expensive thing I had ever bought in my life. It was a statement that I had arrived, that I was confident, fantastic, fabulous, and ready for what was to come.

Was I? Not really. Two years after I bought it, I married the man who sold it to me, and a few months after that, rode home in the back seat beside a brand new baby, amazed that we had found both a car seat and a stroller which could fit within the confines of back seat and trunk.

That car has been to New York City, it has been to Pittsburgh. It has been to Algonquin Park wit ha canoe strapped to its roof. It was the best commuter vehicle I ever drove, and went to drive-ins, horse shows, wine tasting, and off-track beaches. It has brought home renovation materials, an entire armoire from IKEA, and seven foot Christmas trees stuffed in the trunk. It travelled 171,000 kilometres before we traded it in. I have some amazing memories, some scary ones, and lots and lots of memories of how the wheel felt under my hand, how the gas felt under my foot, and how I would get up in the morning and look out the front door, smiling when the broad, hulking form shon in the morning sun.

When we walked back out of the dealership, and my car was gone, in its place my new practical and wonderful vehicle, my heart seized. Where was my car? Where was that symbol of me?

I’ll admit, that night I waited until my husband and son where fast asleep. I sat and looked at pictures, and folded and unfolded the original window sticker, reading the list of options, remembering how exciting it was to have cruise control.

I cried.

Then I resolved to straighten my shoulders, look forward, and allow myself to enjoy my new mom-mobile. Its just a car, just a bunch of metal and oil and gas and rubber, right? I have memories, and pictures. I have that time in my life to cherish and look back on with a smile.

It was time.

Meadow Season Locust Trust – Writing Exercise

I did a freewrite late last night when I could not sleep. My words were rather serendipitous, and I was feeling entirely melancholy it came out all sad. Since I don’t want to take out the sadness I always feel this time of year on my son or my husband, I’ll post it up here and release it. I have too many other things to be happy about.

My writing exercise was this:

Open a dictionary four times to a random page. Write down the word that is on the top right-hand corner of teh facing page. These words must all be used in some way to create a micro short-story or a vignette where names and exact locations cannot be used. They can be repeated as many times as needed.
Go.

Continue reading

Technicolor Tin Foil Confetti Memories

There is a big blue bin in the corner by the photocopier, filled with multi-coloured pieces of shredded plastic. It is mostly CDs, DVDs, and other assorted plasticy office paraphenelia that can be run through a cross-hatched shredder. Normal stuff for a government office.

It isn’t office supply detritus to me though. My Friday-addled mind has immediately latched onto the description of Technicolor Confetti, and it is sparkling enticingly under flourescent lamps.  If not for the sharp edges that would cut my hands, and the strange looks from co-workers (and massive clean up afterwards), I would dig in with my hands and throw it everywhere with abandon, perhaps playing fancy disco music at the same time.

*hums “I like the Night Life” off-key for a  few bars*

The shiny sparkles that I want to play in brings a childhood memory alive. I went to a friend’s birthday party, I think we were both turning ten that year.  Balloons were everywhere, streamers, and lots of wrapped gifts. But most importantly, tin foil confetti covered the formica kitchen table where the day-glo orange Dukes of Hazzard birthday cake with the General Lee topper was displayed. I was fascinated. But not by the cake.

I remember picking up each tiny metal square of confetti by wetting my finger and pressing down, one by one, and putting them into my pocket when no one was looking. I brought them home, and turned my pocket inside-out onto my bedside table excitedly, like a thief admiring her take. I watched them sparkle when the sunset came through my window when I was going to bed. They were so beautiful, like faceted jewels, or moonstones. I would rearrange them every day, putting the red ones together, the blues around them in a circle, or mixing them all up. I would count them every day. Such a valuable possession for a young girl was found in a handful of tin foil confetti.

Eventually, as with most things, I lost interest and moved on to other toys and interests. At one point, they disappeared off my bedside table. I thought nothing of it, until one day when my father emptied the litter box, he mumbled:

“What in God’s name did the cats eat?”

August Tack Rooms

The smell of glycerin soap and leather off someone’s leather jacket, and summer thunderstorms threatening from the East are somehow reminding me of the tiny tack room in Barn #2 at Windfield’s Farm.

Yes, so specific a memory has crept into my mind this morning and not left me.

I am picturing the row upon row of exercise saddles, and the tangle of training bridles all hung on pegs behind, their bits jingling softly as backs leaned up against them during coffee break.  The racks, shelves, benches, doors, and desk smoothly worn from years of use, and slathered with several coats of forest green, giving off a dullish, pebbled gleam in the light that would filter through the high window, highlighting the dust, leaving a small square patch that the barn cat would curl into when the weather was too warm to be outside.

I vividly remember the dark green squares of cloth that went underneath the numnahs for the saddles, and the mesh bag we would cram them into for washing every day. The training vests, a splash of aquamarine and yellow hung on the back of the door, laced up the sides and zippered, uncomfortable and essential. The silks for the hats all different colours, muted hues of reds, blues, and even black against the dark green paint of the shelving they were perched upon. I can even picture the ream of goggles dangling from a peg by the rotary dial phone, dusty, yellowed, and unusable, but never moved. Perhaps out of respect, or superstition, or forgetfulness. They accompanied an old, dusty calendar from 1992, a picture of a horse from the farm gracing the page.

With my remembering of the tack room itself , I summon up other memories, like drying my Winter work mittens on the electric heater, the smell of wet wool so atrocious that for weeks it was the prevalent scent, above the leather and the glycerin. Sodden, muddy boots trapsed in snow and puddles of wet, and the small tack room would feel even smaller. We would all cram our hands down in behind the bench, warming them on the heater, our heads together in cameraderie, or mittens warming, our feet out of boots and flexing in the warming air around us.

I remember solemnly being given Skye’s yearling tags in that room, by an understanding co-worker who had saved them for me, my heart breaking, wondering if I would ever see him again. I sat in that room for what seemed like forever, holding them, looking at them, turning them over and over in my hands, crystallizing the moment I realized I had befallen a cruel fate, letting a racehorse into my heart.

Of all the pictures I took from my time there, sometimes I wish I had captured places like the tack room in Barn #2. Now all I can do is remember them and write them down as best I can to conjure the smallest details, to recreate the picture in my Mind’s Eye, to summon the feeling of meaningful simplicity in every day things.

My time there was short, but such an integral part of who I am, that I often realize I shape myself on the memories I created there. I hold onto them to remember a time in my life that was so different, and so promising, and so very real. I hold onto them in a sense to keep Skye in my heart. Because if I forget them, I might forget him too, in some way.

And here, as I jot this down, I realize that the reason I was thinking about the tack room in Barn #2  isn’t some scent from a jacket, or a thunderstorm. It is because it is August.

August was the last time I ever rode Skye. We galloped through a forest, up a mountain, and stood on a cliff together, watching an Eagle fly in the winds, while birch trees swayed and creaked around us in perfect harmony.

That, I will never, ever forget.

Santas in Insulated Plaid Shirts

Whenever the winter weather hits, I sit inside my cozy place, and listen to the wind whip across the edge of the building. I am glad not to be out in the cold, and the snow. It is weather that allows bulky cable-knit sweaters and fuzzy slippers that have been washed one too many times to be worn with a soft sigh of familiarity, anticipating the long hibernation ahead.

I really must replace those slippers.

The weather also provides me with a new set of winter memories to come to the top of my story list, just as the reminder to put on the snow tires does in my ever growing to do list. I can close my eyes and look back at the memories, without having to feel the stinging needles of sleet on my face, or the cold crunch of newly-frosted snow under my boots. It is warmth to remember them, the memories when made chilly. It is strangely warming on a cold night, to remember cold memories of days gone by.

Usually, the first trip on the highway reminds me of a memory I fondly embrace with a smile tugged onto my face.

I close my eyes and hear the crackled ” Breaker-one-niner”, and the drawl of rural roots muffled from thickly falling snow sent sideways from the wind. I hear the smoker’s coughs, the banging of boots on treadsteps, the diesel rumbles as masses of steel and rubber shake awake from their snowy slumber. The clink of ice as leather gloves clean off mirrors, lights, wiring harnesses. The shouts and laughter as driver takes to truck, and I pretend that it was very similar in times of cowboy to saddle.

I can smell the exhaust, the thickening fog of it as the trucks break formation in the parking lot, and one by one, with the precision of a lumbering ballet, manoeuvre out between parked lumps of snow resembling guard rails and onto the on-ramp, tail lights fading into the swirl of snow kicked up and around them in a furious dance.

I can see the men, grouped around a table at a deserted service station. Bellies spill out between suspenders, shirts stretch thin and worn where the wheel turns on the fabric for long hours. Plaid covered shoulders move like hulking mounds as they reach for coffees, lids off and steaming in the air to mix with the lazy cigarette smoke from the communal ashtray. Grey-speckled beards, boots worn on the right heel and left sole, roughneck coats slung over chairs with cigarette packs peeking out chest pockets…

It is a familiar place for them, and somehow comfort to me on this lonely night.

I imagine they are all Santas-in-waiting are converging on a snowy night, to ride out the storm before returning to their sleighs. They are trading reindeer feeding tips, and the latest in sleigh runner technology.

I am in this service station, getting a coffee, and waiting to see if the storm will blow in and out of the area soon enough to continue my late night journey home. The men watch me, snow on the shoulders of my long London Fog slowly melting, heels clicking on the wet, tiled floor. Keys jingle in my hand as I reach for change in my purse.

With my seat taken, I train a watchful eye to the road, waiting for the tell-tale blue and yellow strobe of a plow team to go through. In friendliness, and out of need for human contact in the not-so-human weather, I strike up a conversation with this well-worn group, eventually joining them at their table.

One is from Toronto. One from Ohio. Two are from Michigan. The rest from “everywhere”, they say with a grin and a twinkle in the eye. My idea of Santas seems not so ludicrous as I laugh at their cleverness. Truly, a pretty girl on a lonely night in a service station talking to a band of grizzled road warriors is a novelty for them, and my presence is the centre of their newly trained focus and humour.

I feel at home, I did not have any fear. I am very young, impulsive, and incapable of fearing a large band of strange men such as these.

We swap winter driving stories like children’s pictures in our wallets. I learn that antifreeze does not remove ice on mirrors all that well, and that our government is slowly putting the independent trucker out of business.

I sense the dread at that thought, in all of them. These men loved to drive, and loved the road. To lose this way of life would hurt. The socio-economic drama hangs in the air as they all nod and add their tirade to the ebb and flow of conversation, helping me understand their dieing world in a very painful and real way.

I also discover the best place to buy work boots, leather gloves, and insulated plaid shirts is the Co-op.

After several hours, and a phone call to my destination to soothe worries and update on weather, the conversation was winding down. Knowledge that roads would not magically clear, no plows had come through, and loads were cooling their heels came through. Delivery meant money, and with that was the urge to keep moving, however slow the pace. I was faced with loneliness once more, my newly found friends leaving, replacing the laughter around a scratched and dented coffee-shop table with the empty sounds of wind and sleet against a plate glass window.

One of the group sees my sadness, I suppose, and he winks at me as he hefts coat over shoulder.

“See that first hauler in the line? That’d be me. Foller me out, stay back so’s you can see my mirrors, and I’ll clear the way fer you.”

I nod, gathered my things, and out into the cold we all go en masse, me in my long London Fog and heels, them in their plaid and beards and rough hands and kind, jovial spirits. We part ways with waves and smiles and good lucks all around.

As I stand and watch the drivers prepare their rigs to move out, back onto the white ribbon of road in front of us, I smile and think that there are no kinder souls on this planet than truckers on a snowy night on the highway. I wanted to use terms such as “salt of the earth”, and “gentle giants”, and I was reminded so much of my roots, and the hard working men there.

I followed that truck all the way to my exit, and as I flipped my right blinker on, the trucker flashed his tail lights at me, tooted his horn, and then, as I turned right, and he continued straight, faded slowly into the white, and out view.

This memory is thirteen years old now. Every year since, when I am at a truck stop or service station, if there is an older bearded trucker wearing an insulated plaid shirt in line behind me at the coffee shop, I pay for his coffee, and ask the teller to keep the change as a tip.

I like to think it is paying forward the kindness of My Santas in insulted plaid shirts.