And The Good News Is: Greetings and Salutations

Silver Johnson and Spinner
Silver Johnson and Spinner

“Hello’ is an important word in our lives.

While I was reflecting on the importance of greetings and salutations, especially during the holiday season, I thought about how I greeted my horses, family, and friends. I also thought about how they greeted me?

A horse’s nicker or a neigh is just the best greeting we can get. That soft muffle or a big whinny from the barn fills us with glee and warms our hearts in the coldest weather. From a horse’s perspective, how we greet our faithful steeds sets the tone for how our horse/human conversation will go. The same holds true for our word-filled communication with humans.

How we say ‘hello’ either has us from the get go or alerts us otherwise.

Several memories from horse farm hello’s, holidays gone by, and one very special salutation, came to mind. I hope they warm your heart with laughter and love as much as they do mine.

Thanksgiving Farm…around 1996

‘Hello?…Thanksgiving Farm.’

I’d asked my kids to answer our phone this way. I thought it would be an inspiring salutation to say our farm’s name. Thankful every day for our little bit of rural Tennessee heaven, naming our three acre, three horse, three dog, four-kid-and-a-mom Thanksgiving Farm, I thought was a brilliant idea.

Six months in, it seemed like things were going pretty well. No complaints so far. Or so I thought. Shortly thereafter, I heard my youngest son, Sam, answer the phone.

‘Thanksgiving F.a.r.mmmm…’ Through gritted teeth, he had lost whoever was on the other line at hello, and the word farm was over the top emphatic.

What in the world was he thinking?

‘OH MY GOSH, FOR THE LAST TIME, WE. DO. NOT. SELL. TURKEYS!’
The phone almost flew out of Sam’s hand as it hit the receiver.

‘SAM!! What in the world??’

‘MOM! Please don’t make us answer the phone Thanksgiving Farm ever again!!! My friends call me ‘Turkey boy’ and everyone but your friends think we sell turkeys and I think they are telling other people we do!!!’

Turkey Boy? Really??’ I was trying hard not to laugh.

‘YES, REALLY!’ He was almost crying. I could see the possibility of a misunderstanding.

Apparently, all the eye rolls I’d received over the past few months from each one of my fantastic four were code for ‘this idea sucks, Mom.’ They didn’t tell me outright that people thought we were a turkey farm. They didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Now I knew.

‘From now on ‘Hello’ will be just fine, Sam.’

A solemn ‘thank you’ found its way out of Sam.

And The Good News Is…

That Thanksgiving, when we said the blessing, Sam delivered what he was thankful for.

Dear God, thank You, and Mom, so much for not making us answer the phone Thanksgiving Farm ever again! This was followed by a resounding ‘AMEN TO THAT!!’ from the other three.

Christmas Day Windcliff Farm 1964

‘Hello? Windcliff.’

(Apparently, this is where I got the brilliant idea…)

My mother made us answer the phone ‘Hello? Windcliff.’ She thought it sounded ‘romantic.’ Mom was a hopeless romantic and spoke 8 romance languages fluently. So it made perfect sense she would carry this romance notion into everyone else’s lives. Of course, besides my mother, I was the only one who actually answered the phone like this on a regular basis. My brother flatly refused. On the other hand, my father had spent so much time in England and continued to travel there often, he didn’t mind using the salutation.

After a while, though, Dad just said ‘hello’ or used our number to answer saying each number individually, Hello…Stanley 1.3.6.0?

On what mom liked to call a cliff, which really was a craggy sandstone rise above the long stretch of two lane highway below, sat ‘Windcliff.’ Our big old white farmhouse was surrounded by Dad’s well manicured, 2 acre lawn at the front of our 2000 acre Kansas farm.

One very frosty Christmas morning,we were due to make the 1 hour drive into town for mid-day Christmas dinner at Patsy and Gene’s house. Patsy was Joe’s daughter, Bev Chester’s cousin and one of our instructors. A big freeze and two feet of snow the night before meant getting up earlier than usual to break ice in the trough, muck stalls and shower before we left.

Six a.m.

I opened my eyes and thought of the delicious feast we were soon going to enjoy. Then I noticed my nose felt unusually cold. Seeing my breath freeze on its way out of a yawn wasn’t a good sign either.

Bundling up before running downstairs, not laughing all the way, I headed straight for the thermostat. Twenty degrees. That two-zero was the inside temperature.

“MOM!!! DAD!!! Who forgot to order heating oil??!!!” I screamed this like it was important to note the obvious.

Mom and Dad were still in the bed, covers pulled up to their noses. Hands on my hips, I was in the ‘parent’ stance. ‘Oh my gosh, it’s freezing in here!!!” Both of them thought each other had ordered the oil that fueled our farmhouse furnace. Both of them were staring at each other. Faces went from sheepish to seething to dad jumping out of bed. Grabbing his wool plaid robe (like it was going to make a difference) he made a dash to the kitchen phone.Rustling up some fuel on Christmas morning was going to be a Christmas miracle for sure.

He called the emergency number for Standard Oil. No answer. His hopes were dashed.

Well, duh!

My brother and I got dressed under our bed covers, headed down to break ice, feed, water, and then make our way back up to the freezing cold house for a thawing out shower and a toasty warm breakfast.

The horses greeted us with happy eyes and welcoming nickers and neighs. Steam was bellowing from their nostrils. My brother and I could relate. Yet, no matter what was wrong, this greeting made every care we had disappear.

We didn’t feel cold feeding Drummer, Squire, Yankee, Windcliff’s Highland Lady and her foal, Lochie Tosh. We didn’t mind breaking the ice in their buckets. Their greeting of gratitude warmed us up right away…put smiles on our faces and a jingle all the way to the hay manger in our bundled up to the max three bulky layers of clothing cumbersome steps.

It was Christmas Day at our farm. All was well in the humble barn structure as we watched our herd eat, drink and be merry. Chores done, we made sure blankets were buckled, topped off water buckets and gave them all a little extra hay.

Already warmed up from barn chores, we weren’t looking forward to removing our sweaty layers in a 20 degree house. Yet, the thought of a steaming hot shower was the comfort and inspiration we needed.

While we were down at the barn…

My parents discovered that, in addition to no heat, there was no electricity. The lines were heavy with ice. Transformers glowed the tell tale green which meant Kansas linemen would most likely be out ’til the wee hours restoring power to the wide open rural area. No way to cook, no hot breakfast. No electric,meant no hot shower.

No one was talking.

We moved through our morning slowly, in hungry, frosty, silence.

All dressed and ready to head out to for Christmas dinner, at least the car would be warm. My dad made sure it was running and ready. Just as we were heading out…

‘Ray, was that a knock at the front door?’

Mom was sure she heard a faint knock.

No one ever came to the front door. Except maybe, Fred Kahn did, once. Our driveway stopped in front of the garages at the back of the house and everyone came in the screened-in porch next to it. There was no sidewalk to the front door. Back then, though, it was a front-door-world for most people.

Dad opened the front door ever so slightly. Then he opened it wide with surprise ‘Hello!’ A family of four was standing on the frigid stoop. Giant puffs of frosty air bellowed from the husband’s lips. He gulped in the middle of his sentence I think just to warm up between words.

‘Our car broke down on the highway. Can we come in and warm up and call a tow truck?’

Call a tow truck? No problem. Warm up? We all couldn’t fit in our car.

Now Mom, the hopeless romantic, our oh so proper, polite Mom, wasn’t in the best of moods. Dad took over with a ‘let’s chuckle our way through this,’ attitude, kindly invited the four frozen, stranded Christmas day visitors in to ‘warm up’…lols, and directed the man to the phone. While he was calling every service station in the Olathe phone book, Dad went outside, turned off our car and we all sat down and waited for the tow truck.

That took an hour. Which meant we were going to be two hours late for Christmas Dinner.

Mom was oh so silent all the way. Dad did his best to keep us in a jolly holly Christmas mood.

When we got to Patsy’s we were greeted with a very warm welcome. And everyone had waited for us before digging into the giant spread. Mom was supposed to bring sweet potatoes.

‘Oh, well,’ Patsy said.

I remember Patsy saying ‘Well, I never?!’ after she heard my dad tell the story. She sounded just like her mom, Gladys. Joe returned thanks, declared ‘Lets Eat!’ and Christmas day turned around in two blessed words.

And The Good News Is…

The stranded family actually found a tow truck at the always-open-never-ever-closed-Winnie’s Truck Stop just up the road from Somerset Stables. My family was very thankful and felt blessed that day to be warm inside and out, and together with our beloved Somerset Stables ‘barn family.’

Somerset Stables

‘Hello, little lady!’

Ted Chester always greeted me this way..the boys with ‘Hello, young man’ or ‘young sir.’ With a tip of his hat in the most cheerful tone, as respectful and sincere a salutation you would never hear from anyone else. From the first day I set foot at Somerset Stables, from the first day I met Ted and Beverly Chester, respect wasn’t just expected, it was given first. Leading by example, this duo of a couple showed us the way to communicate with horses, as well as humans. They were our barn parents, our coaches, our friends, our mentors. They whispered words of wisdom and taught us their intrinsic ability of how to listen to a horse first.

As I write this, Ted has just tipped his hat for the last time. We shall all remember him as a gentleman, avid polo player, kind father, loyal husband and one of the gentlest souls God ever put on this planet.

And The Goodest News Is…

All these ‘hello’s’ have in one way or another, shaped my life for the better. I am eternally grateful for their lessons, leadership, love and yes, laughter.

The newest hello in my world found me this past November. Once again, I am answering the phone or answering the door, with yet another lively and warm ‘Hello.’

At ‘hello…The House,’ in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, there are many beautiful paintings of horses, along with other lovely items. The Goodest News Is…we do not sell turkeys,at least not real ones.The inside thermostat is always set to ‘warm and friendly,’ and you will be greeted and welcomed with a cheerful ‘Hello!’

Silver Johnson …

A Special Hello Greeting to Mason Phelps, Barre Dukes, Rebecca Walton, and everyone at Phelpssports.com, Phelps Media Group and to all the READERS of this column. Thank You for your support. May you all enjoy many warm ‘hello’s’ in your future. See you in 2019!!!

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