In the Seattle airport I stood in line to get sandwiches behind a lovely older woman. She couldn’t have been even five feet tall, because she didn’t clear the counter. She was dressed up, like everyone used to be when they flew. She wore a plaid scarf and a Christmas pin attached to the lapel of her grey coat. Her white hair was perfectly coifed. And she clutched her pocketbook to her side, like it held the crown jewels.

She Just Wanted a Cookie

She had chosen a pre-packaged bagel sandwich and was interested in the cookies that were lined up in front of the cash register. They all looked the same. “Are there different kinds of cookies?” Her voice was soft, barely audible. The clerk ignored her. She cleared her throat and tried again. “What kinds of cookies are there?”

The clerk finally seemed to wake up. “They’re all different,” she said with a sigh, her voice devoid of any expression. And of course, she didn’t bother to name the various kinds.

The woman stood on tiptoe and peered at the packages of cookies, as if trying to decipher the miniscule writing. Finally, she chose one. As she went to pay for her lunch, she dropped her cane. Then, when she bent to retrieve the cane, she dropped her wallet.

“Oh for Pete’s sake,” someone muttered behind me. “Get a move on.”

I picked up the wallet and returned it to the now rattled woman.

“I’m holding you up,” she said to me.

I smiled. “I’m in no hurry. Take your time.”

She handed the clerk a twenty and then tucked the change into her wallet. She gathered her lunch, her cane and her dignity, and walked to a table.

“Stupid old lady,” the young man behind me said.

Maybe he thought he was going to miss his plane.

Or maybe he was just being rude.

I considered saying something to him, but decided not to. This is where I definitely could have used Mija’s “stink eye.”

Next Day in the Pasture

When I went out to feed my two old sweeties the next day, I found that the horses had been shut out of the two pastures they’d been in all fall. I didn’t realize it until I’d pulled up to the regular gate and called them. Bud heard me right away and tried to come, but of course he couldn’t because the gate was closed.

I had to drive around to the back gate, which was some distance away, and out of sight for the horses. I unloaded the feed pans and set out to retrieve Bud and Pepper. I didn’t mind the long walk, since I’d spent the previous day in the car, the ferry and finally an airplane. It felt good to move.

Everyone from the large herd was clustered in the shed and the surrounding paddock. It was as if they were confused and didn’t know where to go now that their familiar turf was blocked off. They hadn’t yet figured out that they had access to another large pasture.

Our little herd of oldsters was tucked into the back of the shed. When Bud saw me, he nickered and then tried to get through the knot of horses that blocked the exit. He started and then stopped.

He was afraid.

All the big, younger horses that he didn’t like were in his way. I could feel the anxiety coming off him. He and Pepper would take a few steps and then turn back. There was no way they were going to push through.

They’re old and vulnerable and they know it.

I realized I was going to have to help. I hadn’t brought a lead rope, because usually I don’t need one. I headed back to the car. Bud and Pepper returned to their friends in the corner of the shed. I was still glad to be walking, but I berated myself for not bringing the rope in the first place!

Note to self: Always bring a lead rope.

When I got back to the shed, I circled the rope above my head and the whirring sound worked to disperse the horses. Bud saw a hole and ran through.

Right to the gate that was closed.

I called him, but he was absolutely sure this was the way to his lunch.

All the while, Pepper watched.

I put the halter on Bud and began to lead him toward the new pasture.

That’s when Pepper got it.

“Oh that’s where we’re going,” she seemed to say.

She punched her way through the horses and headed down the lane.

Bud eventually quit resisting me and realized I was taking him the right way.

Once we’d cleared the lane, I let him run along with Pepper.

Crisis averted.

There was a time in Bud’s life when he wasn’t afraid of anything. He’s a big boy and was usually the alpha in the herd. Now he avoids conflict because I believe he knows he can’t win.

As Bud and Pepper tried to get to me, and their lunch, I was reminded of the woman in the airport who was simply trying to get her lunch.

It’s hard to grow old and lose your status in society – horse or human. It makes me sad that we so often treat our seniors with disrespect.

As if they don’t even exist.

As if they are invisible.

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