Miss Martha kicks into gear for a memorable experience
“Are you all right?” my photographer, Kelley, asked after we just finished doing a newspaper assignment on horseback at a very large working horse and cattle ranch.Kelley knew I had been nervous about the ride as I am not a very experienced equestrian.”Yeah, my butt hurts a lot from sitting in the saddle, but I think I’ll be OK,” I admitted, wondering silently which were more painful – saddle sores or hemorrhoids.Following our horseback ride, we were then scheduled to take a driving tour of the 3,700-acre ranch with Martha, the matriarch of the ranching family, who had graciously offered to take us on a driving ride.Martha is a sweet, 80-year-old woman with a great sense of humor, a winning smile and a warm personality. But she is also full of piss and vinegar and has the energy of a 20-year-old.”Are you ready for an adventure?” she asked with a gleam in her eye, as we climbed into her Suburu Forester – Kelley in the back and I in the front passenger seat.”Sure Martha,” I said confidently. “Show us around.”Martha has lived on the ranch for nearly 60 years, so it was no surprise when she said she knew her way around.”I know this ranch like the back of my hand,” she assured us, as we set off.Naturally, some of the roads were dirt and gravel, but that wasn’t unusual and did not alarm us as we headed out on our journey.What we hadn’t expected was that Martha was the equivalent of Evel Kneivel behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle.Forget the roads – dirt or paved. When Martha decided she wanted to show us something, she simply drove there – over hill and dale.”Is this thing, like, four-wheel drive?” I asked Martha as we bounced over some really bumpy terrain as we cruised unabashedly through a hay field.”Nah,” Martha said. “But it’s a good car – I’ve had it for years.”I looked at Kelley in the back seat and raised a questioning eyebrow.The scenery on the ranch was, of course, beautiful, but after about an hour I began to look at my watch as I still needed to get back and write my story.And we started to smell something burning.”Oh LOOK!” Martha exclaimed. “I’ve been driving with my emergency brake on! That’s never happened in this car before!”We all laughed and agreed that everyone had done that in the past at some point.But the laughter was short lived as we approached a hillside that looked to be at a 90-degree angle with a deep ditch in front of it.Martha gunned the gas pedal and we flew through the ditch and straight up the hill, coming to rest at the top of a mountain on a precipice overlooking a rocky ledge.”Ummm … Martha dear, ” I said, in a calm and controlled voice through my teeth while I clutched the edge of my seat with white knuckles.” Put the gear shift in ‘R’ – because if you set it in ‘D’ none of us will be around to tell this story.”Martha laughed and rammed it in reverse.Down the hill we bombed backwards and I turned to look at Kelley in terror.Hail Mary, Mother of God, I silently prayed to myself – even though I am not Catholic.”Where are we, Martha?” I asked when we finally stopped and I was trying to gauge when we might get back to some semblance of safety.”I don’t know,” she shrugged. “But the car hasn’t overheated yet, so let’s keep going!”I started to panic, but off we went.”Do you do this often by yourself?” I asked with genuine concern, not only for my safety, but for hers.”Yeah, ’bout every evening,” Martha said.”In the DARK?” I asked incredulously.”Well, sometimes I end up in the dark,” she admitted. “But I sleep in my own bed most of the time.”That did not make me feel better.We finally found our way onto a paved road in the midst of hundreds of cattle and Martha managed to only nick two of them on the rear as she sped down the road.When we got back, Kelley and I profusely thanked Martha for the tour as we climbed back into our own car.”Dear God, that made the horseback ride look TAME!” I confessed to Kelley.Nevertheless, I hope I have Martha’s piss and vinegar when I’m her age.Heidi Rice is a staff reporter for the Post Independent. Her column runs every Friday. Visit her Web site at http://www.heidirice.com.
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