The Heartbeat of America Archive

Presumption of Innocence, Part One

Posted October 2, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

It was just supposed to be enchiladas. A nice, quiet lunch in a sleepy little backwoods town with a friend. And as I drove the sixty miles to Parsons, Tennessee, thoughts of chips and salsa wet my pallet. Little did I know that in a few precious moments, the story of a lifetime would begin to unfold.

When I arrived at the Mexican restaurant, my friend greeted me with an embarrassed smile and immediately blurted out the reason, “Would you mind terribly that I overbooked? I’d forgotten I made plans with two other friends. I thought we could all have lunch together.”

Knowing it would be the chance to meet new people, I simply replied, “the more, the merrier.”

Moments later the two women arrived and after ordering, we began to chat. One is retired and the other is a financial planner. Innocent, ordinary ladies who would never be involved in anything illegal… until Virginia.

It appears the saying, “Virginia is for lovers” does not apply to a former resident of this town so tiny, it’s not even on the map. If Virginia Volner was ever suspected of a crime,

she would be presumed innocent just by her looks. Well into her sixties, she was America’s grandma, even down to the neat Pentecostal bun she wore her hair in. Once married to a preacher, she gave all appearances of a dutiful Christian wife and role model. But things are never quite as they seem. And when she solicited the help of Penny’s friend, Ruth, things went from friendly to dangerous.

Since Ruth was a financial planner, she was just the professional Virginia desperately needed, particularly since she was inheriting billions of dollars. There was lots of fees to pay, red tape to cut through and it was imperative it be done the right way. She would not be able to navigate the maze alone and needed many people to get through it.

Or so she said.

Virginia had already talked several people into giving up their hard earned money to pay the inheritance fees in exchange for a million dollars once the inheritance came through.

She regularly traveled to Kentucky and Illinois, rented adjoining hotel rooms and set up shop. Someone would preset appointments then Virginia would come in, posing either as a counselor or a psychic. Victims waited in one room and met with her in the adjoining room. She convinced them their lives would be better if they would just cough up their life savings to her, in this risk-free loan of sorts. In return, would be paid millions for their trouble. She just needed their money immediately and in cash.

Perhaps she got tired of traveling. Or maybe working out of hotel rooms became a drag but one day Virginia decided to work from home in rural Tennessee and solicited Ruth’s help. She needed someone with presumed authority and savvy to contact her victims and convince them that all was on the up and up. There was just one problem. Ruth was no ordinary professional and was not to be duped.

Ruth knows the laws, knows the ins and outs of inheritances and became suspicious from the start, so much so she approached her friend with her concerns. Virginia was renting a room in Penny’s home. Surely, she would have noticed if something strange or illegal was going on under her own roof.

But it wasn’t.

Still, Ruth convinced Penny that something wasn’t right. Her story did not ring true. Though she could not put her finger on it, improprieties were occurring and they should do something about it. They put on disguises and decided to sleuth it out.

Two ordinary women in a one-horse town in rural Tennessee set out to crack one of the biggest scams our nation has ever known, armed with nothing but wigs, determination and guts.

Come back tomorrow to read part two of Presumed Innocent.

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If I Can Just Make Cheyenne

Posted June 12, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

On Wednesday I will turn 60. To celebrate, over the next few days, I’ll have a series of posts that will give you a rare look into the private life and heart of Reba. I hope you’ll stop by and celebrate with me.

I rounded the corner and ran north, excitement bubbling in my soul. Today I would see downtown Cheyenne. I passed underneath one of the two major interstate highways that intersect here and wasn’t surprised that it looked like most any interstate exit. Restaurants and hotels lined the road, begging for customers to drop some cash.

Within a mile I was taken back in time, although NOT to the days of the old west. Instead, I found myself squarely in the middle of the 1950’s. It looked as though someone discarded an entire town from decades ago and Cheyenne bought it. Old diners with spinning stools and red/white checkered table cloths. Cheap strip motels from a time when people stayed in them just to sleep, not to be pampered. Old “filling” stations that offered fuel and little else.

I continued running, hoping against hope that this was not all there is. I passed a biker bar and gazed in wonder as hundreds of grizzly characters showed off their black leather, drank beer and ate greasy hamburgers. But they did seem like a happy lot.

I climbed a small hill and downtown came into view. I passed homeless people who seemed devoid of any ambition. One of them sat on a bench reaching into a bag of edible goodies, no doubt deposited there by some do-gooder. I ran past dozens smelly young drifters with backpacks. I figured they’d come to Cheyenne for the same reason I had.

I finally reached the center of the town and down one street, I saw the gold dome of the state capitol. What I didn’t see was anything western. There were no gun slinging cowboys. No hitching posts or horses. No wagons or saloons. No old timey hotels. There were old buildings for sure but nothing resembling the wild, wild west. Some buildings had been refurbished into bars and restaurants, some into parking garages. Many stood empty, a memory of a time long ago, although not distant enough into the past to satisfy my craving for cowboys and Indians.

I turned around and began my trek back. Already I’d seen African American young ladies walking to work at the local steakhouse. I’d seen Chinese women making large wok-full’s of fried rice for the busy take-out dinner hours. I’d seen Mexican men riding bicycles, presumably to or from work. But no cowboys.

I gazed toward the intersection and saw a young woman in a very fancy dinner dress being escorted by a man in an expensive monochrome suit. They walked across the street and he opened the passenger door of the $70,000 SUV for her. She entered but not before casting me a wary look, as if this penguin of a grandma runner wanted to steal anything she had.

I ran back past the homeless man sitting on the bench. He’d been eating some of the things in his bag and had thrown the wrappers onto the sidewalk. I bent down, picked them up and ran to the trash can to toss them in.

As I ran back toward the truck stop on the outskirts of town, I marveled that Cheyenne is as diverse as Times Square. Rich, poor, multi-ethnic, those just passing through all came to this place. Some searching. I wondered if they found what they were looking for. I fought a twinge of disappointment that I did not find my western town. I’d painted a much more appealing one onto the canvas of my mind.

The anticipation long since faded, I forced myself through the last mile back to the truck stop. As I rounded the corner and Dillon came into view, I was grateful that I’d named my truck (and all my trucks) a name from the old west. Cheyenne may have not been what I expected, but it was quite an adventure and well worth the three-hour run.

I know that in the days and weeks to come and I remember Cheyenne, I’ll choose to remember the one I built, not the one I saw on my run. In my town, horses and wagons still clop up and down the streets. Long-legged cowboys wear guns on their hips and aren’t afraid of anything.

My journey started with me thinking with great anticipation, “If I can just make Cheyenne”. It ended with gratitude that I created a town in my mind that no one can take away. I thanked God for my wonderful imaginary town created by the amazing imagination He saw fit to give me. I DID make Cheyenne… just the way I wanted to remember it!

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Moment of Terror

Posted May 1, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

The darkness engulfed me as I climbed the steps into Dillon. I’d just completed my pretrip inspection by flashlight and needed to drive four hours into Mississippi to pick up my next load. This one would take me into our terminal in Missouri. My trailer was having problems with the refrigerated unit and the mechanics wanted to make sure they got it inhouse to repair it.

I wheeled off the farm onto a major US highway. Suddenly, the second my automated transmission tried to shift, my truck stopped! Right in the MIDDLE of a major highway! I was completely blocking both southbound lanes and the shoulder.

Terror gripped my heart. In the darkness, a southbound vehicle may not see me. I flipped on my emergency flashers and switched into neutral then back to drive. My truck started up again. My overwhelming sense of relief only lasted until my truck began to shift. Then it stopped. Again.

It took ten long, horrifying minutes to coax my 73 foot vehicle to the nearest place out of traffic: the center turn lane. I sat for a few moments until my heart stopped pounding and the blood stopped swishing in my ears. Two trucks roared by southbound and I knew I desperately needed to somehow get to the shoulder.

Surely I could make it.

I switched into drive again and tried to let the truck roll at idle speed across the two southbound lanes. Shifting seemed to be the issue. If I could keep the truck rolling slow enough that it stayed in first gear, maybe I could get it safely to the other shoulder before the next trucks barreled in my direction.

Despite my best efforts, the truck gained speed, tried to shift and stopped. Again I was blocking both southbound lanes. I repeated the switch to neutral-switch back to drive scenario ten times before I finally getting the truck safely out of harm’s way. The shoulder isn’t the safest place but it would have to do.

I immediately put out my emergency triangles, trying desperately to stop shaking as I walked. I needed to determine if the problem was coming from the truck or trailer so I disconnected. I pulled up with my truck and it shifted fine. The process of elimination told the story. The refrigeration unit was not the only malfunctioning piece of equipment on my trailer.

I reattached to my trailer and tried to pull up. Just like before, the moment I my automated transmission pushed in its clutch to shift, the truck and trailer stopped. It had to be the trailer brakes sticking.

I pushed and pulled, knocked on things with a hammer. I inspected everything I possibly could. I yanked. I cursed. Ok, I didn’t curse but only because those words just aren’t in my vocabulary. But I did pray.

Somehow, something that I did released the brakes and I continued on my way. Each time I stopped or turned into an intersection, I held my breath, praying the brakes would not jam.

I made it to my shipper and to our terminal without any further incident. My best pretrip inspection failed to reveal any problems with the brakes and yet, I was placed in a precarious situation.

My company’s equipment is the best in the business. My truck has dozens of safety devices and our trailers cannot be beat. But the fact remains they are mechanical devices and as such, can break down without notice despite our best efforts.

I have hundreds of friends who cover my travels with prayer. For that I am grateful. I have been spared many disasters because of them. It had just never occurred to me that I’d need those prayers pulling out of my own driveway in the middle of a very dark night.

Thank you all for following me on this incredible journey that sometimes produces a moment of terror. Fortunately, those are few and far between.

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Sweet Vidalia

Posted April 28, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Deep in the heart of rural Georgia, a forty year old woman is about to graduate college. That’s truly an amazing accomplishment at any age. But if you peal back the layers of Sweet Vidalia, you’ll learn this is no ordinary woman.

Born on a farm to alcoholic parents, Vidalia was raised in a tumultuous environment. At the age of fifteen, the courts granted her petition to become an emancipated minor. She worked several jobs and rented a home from the parents of a friend.

Vidalia stayed in school and despite her very challenging life, she managed to graduate at the top of her class, earning her an academic scholarship to a major university. Life was really turning around for her.

Two weeks before she was to leave for college, her parents died in an alcohol caused car crash, leaving her younger brother and sister orphaned. Vidalia rode the bus to the college she was to attend and explained what happened. She told them she wanted to attend college more than anything but she could not leave them.

Vidalia once again went to court, this time on behalf of her siblings. And despite overwhelming odds, because she was so self-reliant, This now eighteen year old was granted custody of her two younger siblings.

Working tirelessly, Vidalia not only cared for them, she saved everything she could and sent both of them to college. Her brother is a computer programmer and her sister is in her residency as a physician.

Vidalia unselfishly gave up her plans, her hopes and dreams to provide a home for children. She did not stop until they graduated college. Once that happened, they insisted she go back to get her own degree. So she did.

In Sweet Vidalia fashion, she continued to work several jobs and took courses online. She’s finally completed all the requirements to matriculate and will graduate Magna Cum Laude. With degree in Social Work in hand, she intends to open a home for troubled children. It’s the same home she eventually bought from the parents of a friend when she left home. The same place that provided a roof over her orphaned siblings.

I am honored to have met such an amazing woman. Had she not told me her story, I would never have known. She so completely recovered, and excelled in life, despite a very rough start.

Sweet Vidalia is an example of the many layers we all possess. Sometimes the surface looks rough, dirty. Other times it shines but it’s always what’s underneath that tastes the sweetest.

Thank you, Vidalia, for your unselfish sacrifice to save two lives. May God grant you the wisdom to continue to carry the torch and fight the good fight. Because of you, the heartbeat of America is alive and well.

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A Blast From Two Pasts

Posted April 24, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I drove Dillon across the bridge on US 41 south into Henderson, Kentucky as memories played in my mind. Four short years ago I’d ridden into the town on the Ohio River during the Road to Freedom Tour. It had been a place like no other.

But I was headed to a nearby town to the south to pick up chicken so I could not stay. I finally found my shipper in the middle of nowhere. I parked and headed in to the shipping office. No one was sitting at the desk behind the window. As instructed by the handwritten sign on the wall, I rang the bell.

A man came out of the back office and told me to back into door 7. A few moments later, a young lady with a pink high visibility vest came out and approached my truck. I climbed down as she asked me to unhook one of my air lines (they place a lock on it to ensure the trailer cannot move while workers are inside).

She looked at me for an awkward moment and finally said, “I know you.”

“Really? I’m not from around here.”

Her eyes widened, “You’re the Bicycle Lady!!”

I took my first good look at her. “Oh my goodness. You’re Charlotte! But how did you recognize me?”

“Your voice. I’d know it anywhere!”

For the next fifteen minutes Charlotte told me how she’d left her abusive husband, moved and started a new life. She thanked me a dozen times for wheeling into her neighborhood on a bicycle in 2013. That had given her the courage to take back control of her life and get out of a bad situation.

They loaded me in no time and after hugging goodbye, I was back on the road and headed toward coastal Georgia. I’d been on the road since early morning and wasn’t able to make it too far before having to shut down for the night only sixty miles away.

The mom and pop truck stop was empty so I opted to go there rather than the two crowded national brand truck stops. I meandered inside hoping I could talk them into making me a vegetarian pizza. The lady behind the counter eyed me strangely as she waited on other customers.

One man kept getting in my face. No matter where I moved or turned, he followed me and continued to get in my face. I returned to my truck until I saw him leave the parking lot. As soon as I walked back in, the lady behind the counter asked if she could help me.

I told her my request and her eyes opened wide.

“I know you! You’re the Bicycle Lady! I’d know that voice anywhere!”

“I know you, too Joanne!”

Joanne was yet another woman I’d met along the Road to Freedom Tour. She’d been working at a restaurant at the time. We’d met the one night I spent in her town. Joanne had bruises on her face and a broken hand. Today she looked radiant.

“That man I was with is in jail. I realized that if you could ride your bike all over America to tell your story, I could tell mine too. I filed charges against him and he’s been in jail ever since. My kids and I are safe. I’m the manager of this place and my life is back on track.”

She gave me my vegetarian pizza on the house and we spent the next hour talking like old friends. I finally said goodnight and as I climbed back in Dillon, I realized that God was orchestrating things for quite some time.

In 1993 I battled cancer that left me with partial vocal paralysis. My scruffily voice is quite unique. Because I used to sing, I HATED when my voice was compromised. But at that moment sitting in my truck thinking about Charlotte, Joanne and the thousands of women I’d met on my bike trip, I was grateful for it. Years after we’d met and I pedaled away, these women recognized me again because of my weird, gravelly voice.

God knew. He knew each of those women needed help and that I would answer the call. He knew I’d run into them again the other day and would be blessed to see how far they’d come. And He knew we would have to have some form of identification. After all, we were all on new adventures.

As I settled in for a peaceful night’s sleep, I thanked God for my strange voice. I thanked Him that out of all the millions of women on earth, He chose me to take the Road to Freedom Tour. I thanked Him for my weird, unique voice that suddenly sounded angelic.

Somewhere in the night my memories turned into dreams in the hills of Kentucky, two pasts having converged into an amazing present.

 

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Don’t Judge a Book By its Cover

Posted April 1, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I got up from my nap, slipped on a jacket and walked to the other truck stop across the road to Denny’s. I was greeted and placed in a corner booth by a young lady. As she placed the menu on the table in front of me, I tried not to stare at the numerous tattoos covering both arms, neck and chest.

Lisa took my order and after bringing my grilled cheese sandwich—perfect cuisine on a blustery day—she returned to my table many times to check on me. On one trip, she sat down across the booth from me and explained she found a way to ring up my meal to save me a “ton of money.” I suppose that to a young waitress two bucks was a lot and I expressed my gratitude to her for her efforts.

Then without my asking—I promise I did NOT ask this time—she began to tell me her life story. Over twenty years ago, a woman trucker picked up a young female hitchhiker who was traveling to nowhere in particular with two baby girls in tow.  They rode together halfway across the country. The trucker stopped for fuel and while she was in the truck stop, the woman disappeared. She left only a note giving the trucker “temporary” custody of the girls until she could get back on her feet.

She was never seen again.

The trucker could have called the authorities. She could have given the two beautiful little girls over to the police, social workers or foster care. Instead, she kept them with her on her truck. Days turned into weeks and months turned into years. She raised them as her own. She shattered her knee and while having it surgically replaced, developed such a bad infection, they wound up having to amputate her leg. She was forced to come off the road.

Life got very difficult with no income. They became homeless and were forced into the streets. Lisa’s trucker mom never officially adopted her or her sister but was every bit a mom to them as anyone could ever be.

“Things have been hard, especially financially,” Lisa offered with a shrug. “But I’m really proud that I’ve never been on drugs and I don’t have a criminal record. I could have, you know.”

“Statistically, you’re a rarity. It speaks very highly of your character. You’re quite an incredible young lady.”

She smiled and said, “I have two girls of my own now. No way I’m going to leave them.” She paused and looked off to someplace in a past life for a long moment. “I know my mom loved us. But she was desperate. Things are tough for me, too, but we’re making it. She didn’t have to leave us at a truck stop but we were in good hands. I’ve had a good life.”

She is grateful that she has a good job waiting tables at Denny’s and her boyfriend has a job at the convenience store. He has a daughter as well so now there are three. One more mouth to feed but they are finding a way to make it work on their meager wages.

Lisa is not the rough and tumble grizzly girl her tattoos would suggest. She’s an old soul encased in a young woman’s body. She is kind, considerate, helpful. She’s also tenacious with a grip on life more solid than super glue.

I’ve heard it said we should never judge a book by its cover. I’ve tried to live my life not judging others by their appearance. Today I’m glad I took my own advice or I would have completely missed the priceless treasure hidden in the grassy plains of Nowhere, Nebraska.

One mother couldn’t make it. One took up where she left off and raised a stranger’s daughters into mighty women. Strong and courageous, these soldiers of circumstance decided to write their own book on their lives, complete with their own happily ever after. It proves you should NEVER just a book by its cover.

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In His Steps

Posted March 31, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Jeffrey rolled down the road into the evening sunset in his Peterbilt. He’d been a trucker for twenty years and loved the open road. With country music playing in the background, his thoughts went to his mother. She died when he was sixteen and after bouncing around for a couple of years, he began driving a truck. The road was now his home.

He missed her more than he could imagine, especially since his father was absent. When Jeffrey was a young boy, Dad put on a uniform, picked up a gun and went off to fight the Vietnam War. He never came home. Whether he died a hero or abandoned his family, they would never know.

The lonely trucker wheeled into a favorite truck stop for some home cooking before finishing his run. He selected a seat at the counter amongst other truckers doing the same thing and struck up a conversation with the older fellow next to him.

Between sips of coffee and bites of greasy food, the two men traded stories. Midway through the elder man’s historical account, he looked up at his younger counterpart and stopped talking mid-sentence. Tears filled his widened eyes as he realized he’d happened upon someone very, very special. More slowly, it became apparent to Jeffrey that the stranger sitting next to him was his father and he’d followed in his steps.

Through tears, Jonathan explained to his son that he’d come back home from the war but he and his mother were no longer at their old homestead.

“Mom couldn’t make ends meet. She couldn’t pay for the house. I wanted to work but was too young. We lost the house and had to move away.” Jeffrey wiped a tear from his eye with rough hands of the strong man he’d become.

“I looked for you for so long,” the old man offered. “I asked everyone but no one knew where you went. When I knew I wouldn’t find you, I went on the road and have been out here ever since.”

They forgot about the time, their loads and the need to deliver them. They made up for lost time. Jonathan gazed at his son with pride and complete acceptance that without even knowing his son was walking in his steps. Jeffrey felt the hole in his heart seal up with every passing moment.

A chance meeting in a truck stop with two strangers chatting over a late-night meal changed the lives of two people forever. The ocean between father and son was eliminated and the joyful reunion was more than either could hope or dream.  That chance meeting—or was it fate—ignited a fire and bond that only happens between a father and his boy.

Five years have passed since Jonathan and Jeffrey were reunited. Today they mostly drive together, one truck behind the other. Father and son. Owner and partner. They recently visited a grave where a wife and mother was laid to rest. After more than four decades, a husband soldier was finally able to say goodbye to his bride. He looked toward Heaven and thanked God that He’d looked after his boy who despite his absence, had grown into a fine man. He marveled that even though they’d been miles apart and separated by tragic circumstance, a son had followed in his father’s steps.

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Pride of the Ozarks

Posted March 30, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Nestled in a hollow in the deep Ozark Mountains, there is a place you’d miss if you weren’t looking. It’s not a fancy place by any means but the Hillbilly Hideout is one of my favorite places in America.

The Hideout is an all-night diner in a truck stop off Interstate 40. Most national chain truck stops give you a choice of fast food or go hungry. Not so with this place. When I eat there, I feel as though I’ve gone back in time when mama stayed home and cooked dinner every day.

At the Hillbilly Hideout, you can talk like ya wanna and ain’t nobody gonna judge ya. They are just plain down home country folk from the mountains in Arkansas and they treat a total stranger like a long lost best friend. They will give you the shirt off their backs and a free shower if you really need one.

The diner has wooden chairs from the 60’s. I’m sure the vinyl booths are as well. You won’t be greeted by a fancy hostess forcing you to sit where it flows best for them. You sit wherever you want. Don’t expect a waitress because one will not be assigned to you. Instead THEY ALL will be assigned to you. Every waitress on duty is responsible to make sure you have a pleasurable dining experience. Need something? Flag any of them down and they get it for you. They share the tips at the end of the shift so they all have a vested interest in making sure you’re satisfied. I have a feeling they’d do it anyway, because they are just good folks.

A typical country meal is too much for you to eat. Pork chops, fried okra, potatoes, cabbage, beans and cornbread are a typical menu choice. You’ll have to leave some on the plate—don’t worry, they won’t hold it against you—and it will only set you back $6.99. Every bit of it is cooked up fresh right when you order it. Nothing came in precooked plastic bags like the national chain eateries. One taste and you’ll feel like you died and went to Heaven.

The Hillbilly Hideout is as old as restaurants are in America. They haven’t upgraded the décor or their menu in all those decades. But once you discover it, you’ll adjust your travel plans to go back. At any time, you’ll find soldiers and locals, tourists and truckers. On game day in ANY sport, the local team bus stops here on the way to or from the game. It’s tradition. Young and old, rich or poor, EVERYBODY goes to Hillbilly Hideout. And they know all the waitresses. Though there is a younger generation of servers, most of the matriarchs have been right there every day for more than thirty years. They are part of the fixtures at this hole in the wall.

I am an adventurer and become easily bored and disillusioned when every brand restaurant looks exactly the same and has exactly the same menu. National branded truck stops are all laid out the same, so much so, sometimes I have to ask myself where I am. In one place in Arkansas, all I have to do is look around and I know I’m in the greatest place in the Pride of the Ozarks: The Hillbilly Hideout. No place like it on earth and one of the few places I can still get real fresh cooked food for a reasonable price, get treated like a queen by the nicest folks you’d ever meet.

The heartbeat of America is alive and well at exit 35 on Interstate 40 in Arkansas. Stop in. You’ll be glad you did. And when you finally force yourself to leave, you’ll hear, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?”

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Die Like You Were Living

Posted March 29, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Last week, ten-year-old barrel racer Piper Faust died tragically at a rodeo in Caldwell, Texas. She was getting ready to race when her horse spooked, fell backwards onto her. Truly heartbreaking for the world to have lost such a wonderfully spirited young girl.

I did not know Piper but those who did speak only of her infectious spirit, her amazing smile and her passion for the rodeo. They say she’d said for years she would die young. Perhaps she somehow knew. One thing’s for sure, Piper spent every moment of everyday living her life to its absolute fullest, doing what she loved.

Her father said, “I think her heart stopped beating in the arena. She left her soul where she loved it.” That’s something that cannot be said of many eighty year olds when they pass from this life to the next.

Piper’s mother said that she did everything with all her heart. She gave it her all. That’s the cowboy way and at the end of the ride, whether a cowboy stays the limit or gets bucked off, they leave it all out on the dirt floor of the rodeo arena, satisfied that they gave it their all.

Not many people understand having that kind of commitment to something. They’ve never experienced a passion so intense, it compels someone to climb back up on the horse after being bucked off. Piper had that drive. Had she been able, she would have climbed right back up and raced when her name was called.

We can learn so much from this tough as nails kid. To embrace life wholly and completely. To number our days and live each one as if it was our last. We would make sure that we are living in such a way that when we draw our last breath, we die doing exactly what we were destined to do on this earth, passionately living our dreams.

There are those who feel Piper should not have been engaging in such a dangerous sport. I could not disagree more. EVERYTHING in life comes with its own set of risks. Because of that truth, we should—no, absolutely MUST—spend our days pursuing what we love.

Her death was tragic and that night when she passed from this life to the next, there was an undeniable hole in the world her presence once filled. But I guarantee you that if she had the opportunity to change that moment in time, she would not. She died like she was living… in the rodeo.

Piper’s death brings to the forefront of our minds the truth we are all faced with every moment of every day. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We must live while life is with us. When you come to the end of your cowboy or cowgirl’s last ride, I hope you will have lived in such a way, that you died living life. May your heart stop beating in the arena and leave your soul where you loved it.

All of life is like Piper’s story. It’s a rodeo with unpredictable horses to race. We can sit out or climb on the horse, calmly accepting the reality it could be our last ride. And since we could get bucked off, we owe it to ourselves and the world to hang on for dear life. To ride the limit and leave it all out there on the dirt floor of the rodeo arena.

Rest in peace, Piper. Thank you for teaching us all how to live.

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Defenders of Freedom

Posted March 28, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I left under the cover of darkness in the vastness of South Dakota. I drove 52 miles without seeing a single light of any kind. It rained the day and night before and the higher I climbed, the lower the temperature dropped. When it reached 29 degrees, I stopped my truck right on the road. There was no place to pull off and since I was the only person for dozens of miles, it didn’t really matter that I was blocking the road.

I tried to slide my feet across the pavement. My boots dug in. Still not convinced there was no ice, I bent down and placed both hands on the pavement. There really was NO ice. I hopped back in Dillon and finished my ride to, well, an undisclosed location.

My instructions were to drive two miles down the last road on my GPS and stop at the gate. Someone would come get me.

“How will they know I’m there?”

“They’ll know.”

I arrived at the locked gate, cut my headlights and turned off my engine. Within thirty seconds, three sets of headlights sped toward me from inside the gate. Armed military police officers stopped, opened the gate and approached my truck. They were ALL business and were very heavily armed.

They instructed me to follow the lead vehicle to a building. As I approached, the door went up and two more guards appeared and motioned for me to drive inside. The second my trailer cleared, the door closed again and the armed guards showed up at my door.

They instructed me to open both doors, my tool compartment and my hood and to get my paperwork. Once completed, they escorted me far into the labyrinth of the building and into an interrogation room. As they closed and locked the door behind me, I gazed around at the room. A wooden bench spread along wall. On the far corner of it sat a telephone. Three walls were cinderblock, the forth a two-way mirror.  They could see me but I could not see them.

After fifteen minutes, a member of the security detail’s voice boomed over an intercom I failed to notice in my jailbird six by six. He asked me if I’d ever been there. Not knowing exactly where “there” was, I said no. They then asked me to slide my ID and paperwork through a tiny slot beside the two-way mirror.

Then I waited. I sat. I stood. I paced five feet, then five feet back. I sat again. I crossed my legs. I tried not to look like I’d committed a crime. I hoped they did not find the bomb I was now absolutely sure had to be in my truck. Otherwise they would not be doing this to me.

Ninety-three agonizing minutes later, the door opened. A very stern looking armed soldier told me I had been cleared but I was to remain in the room until my “sponsor” arrived.

“Would that be a person who is going to escort me where I need to deliver?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Finally, the door unlocked and opened again and an armed female soldier approached. She provided strict instructions that I was to follow immediately behind her vehicle, not change lanes or direction. She would escort me precisely where I was to deliver the plutonium… Uhhh, I mean the frozen beef.

I did as I was told while armed vehicles were on my left and behind me. When my sponsor made a right turn, I wondered if it would be worse to swing out to the left allowing my trailer to clear on the right, or run off the road with the back. I swung out. They didn’t shoot me. Another building came into view. She turned in and I did as well.

She stopped, got out of her vehicle and approached me as she pointed at a dock against the building. “Open your doors now (they’d already broken the seal when they searched the trailer) and back up to that dock. Once you are in the dock, please turn off the engine and exit your truck. Do NOT return to your truck until I tell you to.”

I did just that and within just a couple of minutes, the two pallets and six boxes were offloaded by personnel I never saw and my paperwork was brought to me by a member of my security detail. We then repeated the caravan in reverse order. Within moments I exited the gate in the middle of nowhere, it closed and the armed soldiers disappeared back into the darkness.

As I drove off to my next pick up point, I felt wholly patriotic to deliver beef to hard core soldiers who were standing the line of defense against America’s enemies. It was intimidating. Frightening even for someone who’d done nothing wrong. But it was also inspiring and reassuring to see that men and women are well equipped to care for our nation.

I realized we are in good hands. I’d thanked them for their service to our country. None even cracked a smile but with fingers on their triggers, responded with a quick, “thank you ma’am.”

Soldiers standing at the ready.

I would like to thank the men and women who sacrifice, put on a uniform, take up arms to fight in our military. I do not take that for granted and I know YOU are paying the price for my freedom, someone you’ll most likely never meet.

God bless you, American soldiers, as you stand the line for freedom.

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