Dude the Dog

I was right about Seth’s chihuahua, Louise, not being able to keep a secret. My printer was still humming when she trotted to the back door and asked to go out. She ran straight to Dude and told him I wrote a story about her. Thankfully, I could honestly assure Dude he would be featured the following week.

Dude is a big affable fellow who loves attention.  At 67 pounds he’s too heavy to sit in our laps, but he keeps hoping. Lately he’s been singing some lyrics from a song by Little Anthony and the Imperials, “I’m on the outside looking in. I don’t wanna be, I don’t wanna be left on the outside.” Even with two towering shade trees the hot Georgia weather has taken a toll, plus Dude is bothered considerably by the gnats.  We gave him a high velocity fan which he lies in front of much of the day.

I’ve lost track of how many times Dude has climbed our fence.  When he lived in Los Angeles, he barked too much to stay outside. He relished alerting sleeping neighbors to passing pedestrians and was especially enthusiastic about skateboarders.  Living indoors spoiled him a tad, plus he still hasn’t figured out why Louise is the only one who made it inside.  Dude is too big to join Louise, but I’m not sure we should tell him the truth.  Telling him he can’t come in because of his size might hurt his feelings.  

It took us a while to figure out Dude was climbing, not jumping, our four-foot chain link fence. He was cunning enough to stage his escapes when we weren’t looking, so we launched an undercover operation.  After discreetly observing his technique, I addressed the problem by simply running two strands of orange baler twine across the top of the fence. But Dude got out before I finished tying the last knot.

My next strategy was to zip-tie six-foot sections of white PVC pipe to our black metal posts, then stretch two feet of orange plastic fencing above the chain link, creating an impenetrable six-foot barrier.  I chose orange for the aesthetics, not because a giant roll was less than thirty dollars.  

I also ran PVC pipes parallel through the fence corners to obstruct his favored escape routes, then I placed four ice chests on our open back porch to block his access there.  Shortly after implementing these security measures that big dog was under our carport ringing the doorbell. He doesn’t run away from home; he just comes to the door and gives us a sad look.

There are plenty of online tips on how to keep a dog from climbing, but we didn’t want to shock him, crate him, or tie him to a cable.  I believe we should avoid doing things to a dog we wouldn’t want done to ourselves. Fortunately, I found some advice suggesting the first step to stop a dog from climbing is to determine why the dog wants to get out. So, Dude and I have been having some honest conversations. 

We had a backyard chat on July 4th and I gently explained why we feel it’s preferable not to have a giant dog living inside. I reminded Dude he has a lot to be thankful for, and I told him in confidence that Louise sometimes wishes she were a big dog like him. Then I told him what the Apostle Paul said about learning to be content in all circumstances. (Philippians 4:11)

Dude listened intently and seemed grateful for our efforts to make him comfortable in his outside quarters.  When I was about to leave and go back inside the thermometer was showing 95 degrees.  “I’m sorry it’s so hot Dude, but we don’t control the weather,” I said. 

As I was walking toward the gate, he began crooning an especially soulful rendition of Little Anthony’s song.  I turned to him, wondering silently if our talk had been for naught.  That’s when he shared what’s bothering him the most.  He said, “It’s not really the heat that’s so bad. It’s the humidity.”

Jane says the orange plastic has to come down. That’s why we’re ordering a cooling fan, whatever that is, hoping Dude will be content and stop climbing the fence.  If the cooling fan doesn’t work, I guess a window unit is our next step, or maybe a dehumidifier and cherry snow cones for snacks.

The things we do for our dogs sometimes seem a bit crazy. But the things we do for love, well that’s a whole different matter. That’s all I can write for now.  Dude is ringing the doorbell again.  

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments

The Things We Do for Dogs

If you read a previous column titled “Two Dogs and a Boy”, you already know part of this story. Our 41-year-old son, Seth, moved from Los Angeles back to Georgia in May.  He brought two rescue pets with him, a teeny-weeny vivacious lady named Louise and a gentle laid-back mongrel named Dude.

Louise is the world’s fastest and friendliest chihuahua and has an incurable addiction to laps. It’s impossible to ignore her big brown eyes as she begs to be held. If the eye trick doesn’t work, she resorts to her irresistible spin move.  She prances in a tight circle until we relent, usually after her third rotation.   

Louise is fluent in Spanish, but her English is rather sketchy.  Some things she understands like, “Come here – Good girl – and Suppertime,” yet she doesn’t grasp a simple “No.” If, however, we say “No! No! No! Louise!” her comprehension improves. Exclamation points apparently help overcome language barriers. 

Although Jane and I strongly prefer yard dogs, we have adjusted to having our first little one in the house. We’re not setting Louise a place at the table, but I can’t say with certainty it will never happen. The things we do for our dogs sometimes seem a bit crazy. And I admit this hasn’t just started.

We had two cocker spaniels, Libby and Freckles, who were part of our family a long time ago. Our youngest child, Carrie, decided to raise purebred puppies as a business when she was twelve. I loaned her the startup money at a favorable rate of interest and took the dogs as collateral. And I quickly learned it’s best not to rely on collateral that eats or wags its tail.

The cocker spaniel market took a nosedive as soon as we got aboard.  We bought high and sold low.  Jane and I could hardly stop hugging the nice lady who purchased the last puppy of our second and final litter. Another week and we would have been a three-dog family.  “Let’s don’t name him,” we kept reminding each other that last month we spent together. 

Freckles, the proud father of the puppies, didn’t have much ambition, but he was a good-hearted fellow. I felt guilty when I dropped him off for an overnight stay at Cordele Animal Hospital. On the drive down I wondered if I should tell him about one of my favorite Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson.

Larson depicted a grinning canine with his head stuck out a car window.  As his owner is pulling out of the driveway, the dog haughtily addresses his wistful next-door neighbor. “Hah, hah, hah, Biff” he says.  “I’m going to the vet to get tutored.”

I told Freckles I was sorry, and I meant it.  Whether he forgave me I don’t know.  He shunned me for several weeks and it was months before I could get him to ride in the car again.

Libby was more animated than Freckles, loaded with energy and a bubbly personality.  Although the puppy business was not a financial success, she and Freckles made wonderful pets for our children and us.  Then somewhere in Libby’s senior years she began having neck issues. Rather than running to greet us, she walked slowly and kept her head close to the ground, obviously in pain.

Our local veterinarian, Dr. Cindy Greene, examined Libby and said she couldn’t help her. That sad news weighed heavily on our hearts, then things got even worse. Dr. Greene said, “But the University of Georgia or Auburn’s vet school would probably accept Libby as a patient.” I cried all the way to the bank.

Auburn had an open bed in their ICU and could guarantee Libby a luxury suite in their rehab spa. That’s how a cocker spaniel from Middle Georgia became a War Eagle. After two surgeries she was as good as new plus had an honorary degree and a student loan. The things we do for our dogs sometimes seem a bit crazy.

I’m almost out of column space and haven’t begun to share Dude’s story.  Maybe we can cover him next week.  He’ll be hurt if I leave him out, and Louise is likely to brag that she’s already been featured.  It won’t do any good to hide the newspaper from her. She knows about the column because she sat in my lap and helped me type. The things we do for our dogs sometimes seem a bit crazy.

Posted in 2018 | 6 Comments

U. S. 41 North – Part II

April 20, 1997.  On a corner lot was a Handy Andy, a convenience store brand I didn’t know was still around.  It reminded me of the first time I saw a Handy Andy in Hawkinsville during my childhood. Mama said she had gone to high school with the man who started it. She was glad he had been successful, but she wished he would close on Sundays and stop selling beer. I figured the seven-day schedule wouldn’t last, thinking not many people would go shopping on the Sabbath.  

A man with a cane fishing pole was walking along the road, headed to a pond I assumed was just over the hill.  I wondered if he used Red Wigglers or Louisiana Pinks, if he dug them in the wet area from his kitchen drain or bought them a mile or so back at Sunsweet Grocery and Bait Barn.

Tragedy comes even to country roads.  The small wooden cross had an arrangement of artificial flowers neatly tied in the middle with pink ribbon.  A faded banner read, “In Memory Of,” and had a name I couldn’t read.  She was somebody’s daughter, sister, wife, or mother, or maybe all those things.  I wished I had a rose to leave.  It’s odd that we can care about folks we don’t know, sometimes caring more than for the ones we do.

Wildflowers grew in several spots.  A grandfather had stopped on the way home from church to let a young princess pick a bouquet for her mother.  Black-eyed Susans seemed her favorite.

A 1959 black Ford Thunderbird was pleasantly entangled by wild pink roses in a pasture long absent of cows.  The junk man would probably pay thirty-five dollars and take it to the crusher, but good memories are often worth more than money.

Hobbs Station Grocery had a gas pump out front that hadn’t worked in decades, and a nearby tenant house looked to have been vacant for about the same time.  I figured the folks who had lived there moved to town and bought their gas from Handy Andy on Sundays.

Two graves in a field looked serene but lonesome.  A husband and wife, I imagined, whose children moved away.  I wondered if their grandkids knew they were buried there, and if anyone ever pulled weeds from around their markers or left a vase of flowers.

A mobile home seemed like a bargain and made me wish I was in the market.  “FOR SALE – $6000,” read the bold print.  Smaller letters added, “$5500 with wife and 3 kids.”

A redbird flew across the road and perched in a pecan tree.  The tree looked past the age of bearing nuts, but it still provided a welcoming shade.  Old things are sometimes too soon discarded when their value is not as easy to see.

A black runner quickly slithered over the hot pavement.  I could have decorated his back with steel belted bands, but I had no reason to.  I was once chased a few feet by his kind in the woods at Grandmama Hill’s, but that was a long time ago and the snake had as much right to be there as I did.

Four different colors, none of them recent, blended in tentative harmony on an old Chevy pickup.  After the wreck it had been repaired with used parts from at least three other trucks.  The owner probably fixed it himself for under $200.  Ingenuity thrives on two lane roads, and I knew If the truck were ever stolen it would be easy to identify.

The train tracks ran beside the road for five miles or more.  When I met the two o’clock special, the engineer blew the whistle without my even giving the sign.

I slowed to an almost stop at Van Gundy’s Motor Court in Tifton.  It was the same shade of pink as the wild roses in the pasture and seemed unchanged from my mother’s description long ago.  She and my father spent their one-night honeymoon there in 1947.  The grass was green and neatly edged and the azaleas were in full bloom.  The windows were so clean I saw my reflection while driving past.

You don’t see your reflection in chain motels on four-lane roads.  No one waves and trains don’t greet you with friendly whistles.  You don’t see redbirds in old pecan trees, homes with tin shingles, or barbeque places that advertise prayer.  You don’t see old ladies in cowboy boots or grandfathers watching young princesses pick wildflowers.  Even the snakes don’t bother trying to get across.

There was much to see along the road.  There was a lot to think about.

Posted in 2018 | 6 Comments

U. S. 41 North – Part I

April 20, 1997.  I have nothing against highways with four or more lanes.  When my wife was in labor, I was glad to be near one.  But the roads I like best are those which are less efficient.  They visit country places and meander through forgotten towns. I put my watch in the glove box as I left Valdosta and headed north toward Vienna on U.S. Highway 41. 

He was a timber rattler, maybe four feet long.  His skin had too many tire tracks to make a guitar strap, so I ran right over him again.  You can never run over a rattlesnake too many times. 

A rather ancient lady with a German Shepherd was walking where grass and wild oats were well above her ankles.  I wanted to warn her about rattlesnakes, but decided it was unnecessary.  Her hair wasn’t in a bun or colored beauty parlor blue.  It was long and gray and fell freely from beneath a weathered felt hat.  Her faded Levi’s were tucked snugly into high-top cowboy boots that used to be brown.  I figured she knew more than I did about snakes.

The marquee at Yancey’s Barbeque said, “Prayers can only be answered if you pray.”  I wanted to thank them for such good use of their ad space, but it was Sunday and they were closed.

An abandoned motor court was covered with ivy.  It was only a few rooms, but no doubt was well used when 41 had more than local traffic.  I’ve never stayed in a motor court and I made a mental note to look for a nice one before they become extinct.  The few that I know of rent rooms by the week or the month.  I would only want to stay for one night.

Eldorado Baptist Church was on the left of the road.  It seemed odd for a southern town to have a western name.  It’s the kind of place where farmers in overalls once followed plodding mules down rows of cotton.  Maybe the settlement was started a long time ago by a displaced cowboy, brought here by reasons I would love to know but never will.  I wondered if the lady wearing the cowboy boots worshipped at Eldorado and if she checked her pistol at the door.

A massive billboard portrayed Jesus hanging on the cross.  His arms were fully extended and pinned against the roughly hewn wood.  Blood trickled down his face and around the piercing iron spikes.  The caption read, “Jesus loves you this much.”  I thanked Him and wished I had a camera.

There was a junkyard down the road with an impressive collection of antiquated log trucks.  A lot of old rigs have probably been kept running with spare parts salvaged from there.  It’s nice when something broken becomes a part of something that still works, helping them both stay useful.

Beautiful green foliage and multicolored blooms at a plant nursery closely nestled the right-of-way.  There wasn’t a chain link fence or even a “No Trespassing” sign.  They must have honest neighbors I thought.  And I wondered if the people around there still slept with their windows open.          

A man in a blue pickup waved cordially with a distinctive twist of his right hand.  He didn’t know me or where I was headed, but I knew that if I had a flat tire he would have stopped to help.  You can tell a lot about a man by his wave, but that’s just my opinion and nothing I can say for sure.

The dingy plate glass on Fletcher’s Hardware was mostly intact.  Some unsold items were collecting dust on homemade wooden shelves.  With white liquid shoe polish someone had neatly printed, “THANK YOU WALMART.”

“ROOMS/APARTMENTS” was barely visible in faded black letters on an arrow shaped sign that was nailed to a utility pole.  I wanted to follow the arrow down the deserted side street, but I had no doubt the sign had outlived the rooms.

A two-story frame home, built many decades earlier, was freshly painted in white.  Its shrubbery was neatly pruned, and its long inviting porch filled with rocking chairs.  The tin shingle top had outlasted several changes of the neighbor’s asphalt roof with the 20-year warranty.  I figured those tin shingles had come from Fletcher’s Hardware.  And I was sorry it was too late to thank them.

There was much to see along the road.  There was a lot to think about.

Posted in 2018 | 8 Comments

Things I Don’t Understand – Part II

I had a feeling in March of 2019 that one column might not cover everything I don’t understand.  It’s looking now as if two columns won’t be enough.  I’ve been making notes and the list is steadily growing.  I used to think that kind of list would get shorter as I matured, but it hasn’t worked that way.  Age has unexpectedly brought an increased awareness of how little I know.

Defining what we know can be a nebulous thing.  My father told me a story about a man who drove to an unfamiliar town to attend a meeting.  As he neared downtown, he pulled his car over and asked a young boy on the sidewalk if he could tell him how to get to the courthouse.  The little fellow shook his head and said, “No sir.  I don’t know where it is.”

The man had been given directions that referenced a couple of landmarks.  He asked the youngster if he knew how to get to the Baptist church or the local drugstore.  Each time the boy said, “No sir.  I don’t know.”  The man was befuddled at such a lack of knowledge and asked, “Son, is there anything that you do know?”  The little boy didn’t hesitate.  “Yes sir!” he said. “I know I ain’t lost.”

There’s a lot about grammar and language that makes me feel lost.  I get confused on who and whom. A good example is on page 42 of my Third Edition (1971 Copyright) Practical English Handbook purchased from Valdosta State College.  It notes that for speech it’s proper to say, “Who were you talking to over there?”  But for writing it should be, “Whom were you talking to over there?”

What if you write out your speech?  Do you write whom on your paper but then try to remember when standing at the podium to say who?  When Ernest Hemingway wrote “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” there’s no doubt he used the right word.  But most of the time who sounds better than whom and seems less pretentious to me.  It’s generally desirable to be named in a “Who’s Who” publication, but it would be embarrassing to be named in “Whom’s Whom.”  It’s just not right.

There has probably been an update to that Practical English Handbook, but according to the sticker I paid $4.45 so I plan to keep using it.  The bookstore won’t give me a refund without a receipt.

Commas have always confused me, but there was a time long ago in a faraway land when I thought I almost knew what I was doing.  I’ve looked online at several sources and finally found one whose guidance I heartily embrace.  It gave concise rules for appropriate comma usage, then summarized by saying if you feel like you need a comma just put one there.  So, if you notice some extra commas or you think a comma is missing you may be correct.  Try reading the passage aloud.  If not completely satisfied, please feel free to insert or delete commas to suit your preference.

Homonyms and all their relatives should be prohibited by law.  There’s a feature on my word processor called “Read Aloud” where a fellow with a very pleasant voice will recite exactly what I’ve typed.  I call him Ragman, for Read Aloud Guy. He does a great job and apparently doesn’t require much sleep.  I’ve clicked on his icon at all hours and he responds immediately without complaint. 

One thing Ragman has trouble with though are words like “read.”  He sometimes gets the pronunciation of the future tense and the past tense mixed up.  I believe we need a distinctive spelling for every word, such as, “I have rhed the book.”  We have enough letters and potential combinations to resolve this troubling issue.

The Society of American Phonetic Spellers, SOAPS, has identified homonym issues as the focus of their 2020 legislative agenda.  It’s an election year, so I have no doubt plenty of candidates will pledge their support.  My unbridled optimism for political solutions is tempered only by reality.      

There’s a lot more about grammar and language that I don’t understand.  I’m just thankful to be like that little boy who knew he wasn’t lost.  But if I were lost, to who or whom would I go for directions?  I think it depends on whether I ask orally or in writing.  It’s probably easier to just circle the block and pray like I’ve always done.

I usually manage to find where I want to go, and I try not to lose sight of the road that will take me back home.  At times I may be a little confused, but like that young lad, “I know I ain’t lost.”

Posted in 2018 | 8 Comments

Two Dogs and a Boy

Seth is our middle child.  He was born between his sisters, Erin and Carrie, during a three-for-one delivery special that ran for six minutes. That was December 22, 1978, so it’s a stretch to refer to him now as a boy.  The use of childhood monikers, however, is a perpetual right of parenthood.

Boy was not a pet name, but sometimes I employed it during conversations with his mother.  When thunder rattled our windows or winds fiercely howled, I could not resist quoting from old westerns.  “There’s a storm brewing Ma.  You and the boy best get in the cellar.” So, boy was never a nickname for Seth, but “Two Dogs and a Son” sounded odd for a title. 

When he was growing up, I rotated between Seth, Bubba, and Son.  Son was what I called him when I wanted to emphasize a point, as in what type of screwdriver I needed.  He was probably seven or eight when I sent him on a mission from our den to the laundry room, where our toolbox was kept.

I was trying to connect a home-movie video player to our television one day.  TVs in the 1980s weighed more than today’s subcompact cars.  I had the heavy TV awkwardly balanced as I reached around back to connect the cables.  That’s when I realized I was holding the wrong screwdriver.

Seth was nearby, so I sent him to the laundry room with detailed instructions.  I told him to look in the red toolbox and find a small Phillips head screwdriver.  “I need a Phillips head,” I emphasized, “not a flathead like this one – a Phillips head.  It’s the one with the star shaped end.” 

He said he understood, left the room, then quickly returned. In his extended hand was a huge flathead screwdriver. “Son!” I said with exasperation, pausing for a moment to gather my thoughts.  Before I said more, he grinned and handed me a perfectly sized Phillips from behind his back.

As we laughed together at his prank the TV didn’t seem nearly as heavy.  He had ended the ruse quickly, explaining he didn’t want to hear the lecture he knew was coming.  It was not one of life’s defining moments, but little memories can accumulate into bigger stories.

Seth moved to Los Angeles in January 2008.  Twelve years later, in April of 2020, he let us know he was thinking about coming back to Georgia.  We were delighted and invited him to live with us for a while.  Jane and I were overwhelmed with joy when he said he would. Then we heard the faint bark of a small dog in the background, and I remembered the screwdriver he once held behind his back.

My wife and I have loved several yard dogs, but our wedding vows stated that no canine would ever live in our house.  Louise, however, scampered through the loophole of love. She’s a deerhead chihuahua with a sweet disposition who is content in the lap of anyone who will hold her.  She was wandering the streets of LA when Seth took her in.  Jane and I are both glad that he did.

A few days before Seth left California in a rental van, he texted and asked if we still had the fenced area in the backyard.  That’s when we learned about Dude, a 67-pound mongrel.  His DNA shows markers of seven known breeds, 12 of indeterminate origin, and traces of brown bear or wolverine.  UPS brings dog food every morning.  FedEx comes in the afternoon.

Dude was homeless before serving time in the pound.  He was released twice on probation but quickly returned to the slammer.  The jailer told Seth that Dude was running out of options, so that’s how a monstrous dog ended up living with the boy in California before migrating to Georgia.

Dude has climbed our fence nine times but hasn’t run away.  He’s doesn’t try to escape. He just stares through the glass door as he wonders how Louise managed to get inside.  Dude only scales the fence when he thinks we can’t see him, then he pretends he doesn’t know what happened.  Yet even with his incorrigible ways, he’s already found the soft spot for canines in our hearts. 

Two dogs and a boy left California.  Two pets and a son came home.  Despite all the problems our world is facing, life now seems a little sweeter to Jane and me.  There’s one thing the boy’s mother and I hope he understands and will always know with certainty.  If he sees a stray dog in need of a good family, we want him to take that dog straight to the Flint Humane Society.      

Posted in 2018 | 9 Comments

Plums at Johnny Lane’s

New leaves on clusters of roadside bushes tell me each spring that plums will soon appear.  I know to check them often as plums quickly reach the perfect stage. They are best before fully ripened into solid reds. Their flavor is delightfully pungent when the light green fruit has partially transitioned to pale shades of pink and yellow.

During my childhood, my father and I always looked forward to plum season. There were several groups of volunteer orchards scattered around our farming community. The overlapping bushes were tightly bunched between dirt road ditches and fields of cotton, peanuts, or corn. 

Daddy kept a saltshaker on the dash of his pickup truck when plum season came. We’d make a couple of intentional trips to bushes we’d been to before. At other times we’d just stop wherever we happened to notice plums by the road.

We’d shake salt into one hand, pick plums with the other, and eat until we were too full to hold any more. Daddy called it having a “bate of plums.”  Bate may have been a colloquialism or perhaps a Dooly County word.  I haven’t heard it in a long time and I’m not sure if anyone besides Daddy ever used it. A bate of plums meant that you ate all you wanted then had a few more for good measure.

Occasionally we picked a small paper bag of plums for later, but mostly we enjoyed them fresh off the bushes. We froze a bag of plums once, but when we later thawed them, they were mushy. Some things are meant to be saved, while others should be savored in the moment. 

Sometimes we’d be disappointed to learn we had stopped at hog plum bushes. I don’t know if that’s the real name, but it’s what we called the slightly smaller plums that were rather bitter. I guess they were only fit for hogs and probably weren’t their first choice. They looked inviting through the open windows of Daddy’s truck, but a close-up view could show us what distance had hidden.  

Our favorite wild plums were near Johnny Lane’s home. Mr. Johnny was an elderly black man who lived alone in an ancient unpainted frame house with an open well. He was a small framed man with a slightly stooped body and a perpetual smile. His home had electricity, but he hardly needed a meter. Low watt light bulbs dangled on single cords in three sparsely furnished rooms.

I don’t know what Johnny Lane did for a living. He was well past retirement age when I was a young child. Farm work would be my guess because he lived in the country.      

Mr. Johnny would occasionally join us at the plum bushes.  At other times we’d visit on his front porch.  And once we went inside and stayed for a while.  Daddy asked him politely if he minded showing me his home, already knowing we would be welcome.

Daddy sometimes did things without explaining why. I guess he knew that somewhere down the road it would mean more to me when I figured it out. I think that’s why we spent time one day seated on wooden straight chairs in Johnny Lane’s sparsely furnished home.

Mr. Johnny didn’t have much in the way of material goods. I don’t remember ever seeing a vehicle in his yard, and the shotgun house he lived in was more weathered than he was. But the bare wood floors were as clean as a whistle. And Mr. Johnny was, as always, a gracious host.

I can’t recall anything Mr. Johnny ever said to me, and I don’t know that it matters. His life was unremarkable by many standards. There aren’t many people left who remember him or have much reason to. But when I travel the dirt road by the place where he lived, I’m warmly reminded of a man with a gentle spirit, a kind-hearted soul who had almost nothing yet seemed content with what he had.  

Johnny Lane died years ago. His house is long gone and there’s not a plum bush on the place. I doubt there’s a photograph of him on anyone’s mantle, but it’s easy to picture him standing on his front porch smiling as we ate a bate of plums. 

It may seem odd and perhaps it is, but I love recalling those times of having plums with Daddy at Johnny Lane’s. And I’m thankful for that day we went inside.  Lessons don’t always need explanations.      

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

Gravity and Apples

Gravity has begun taking a noticeable toll on my body.  My chest is sliding southward toward a gradually expanding support system.  Taking a deep breath can disguise the situation, but I can only hold that pose for 43 seconds.  That’s not a guess.  I timed it.  

I’m having a recurring nightmare where I’ve transitioned into an old man from Michigan walking on the beach in Jacksonville, Florida.  Their distinct look during my childhood vacations was perhaps not unique to that fine state, but the car tags at The Seahorse Motel showed Michigan had a clear lead.

It was easy to spot the aged men as they ambled along the Atlantic Ocean with their wives.  They wore baggy plaid Bermuda shorts well above their rounded stomachs.  Wide leather belts were just for looks, as there was no way the shorts could slip down.  Skinny stark-white legs poked out from loosely fitted openings but were only exposed for a few inches.  Black high-top dress socks covered everything between their upper shins down to their wingtip shoes.

I could distinguish them from a distance with their unbuttoned collared shirts.  Their hairy gray chests jiggled with every step.  I tried to look away but sometimes couldn’t.  Now in my dreams I frantically check the license plate on my truck to make sure I’m still living in Georgia.  

We sometimes see things we can’t forget, but there’s often a lesson if we want one.  It’s those haunting memories of sagging bodies of Michigan’s old men which has inspired me to substitute apples for ice cream this summer.  My plan has not worked as well as I expected.  Making that switch twice a week has been rather ineffective so far.   A friend of mine says a change in diet works best when supplemented with exercise, but I’m getting a second opinion.      

I’ve heard that apple peelings have vitamins but that’s not how I prefer to eat them.  That’s partly due to watching Sheriff Andy Taylor peeling apples on his front porch as Barney admired his technique.  Andy kept the peeling in one long piece and Barney was delighted when offered a turn.  Sometimes I peel them that same way just to give a nod to my long-ago friends from Mayberry.   

We had a couple of apple trees in the yard of our rural Dooly County home.  They didn’t produce much fruit, but there were always a few apples to eat.  We would pick one or two each day during the season, plucking them a little green before the worms beat us to them.  

I guess the threat of worms is why even today I prefer apples and other fruit to be a little on the green side.  We like what we get used to or maybe we get used to what we like.  Either way I only want fruit while it’s firm, well before any suspicious softness.

My father told me something about apples one day that I think about on occasion.  It was a Mayberry kind of scene that you won’t find on TV shows made today.

Daddy and I picked a couple of apples from the tree one afternoon for a snack.  We wiped them on our dirty shirts, which accomplished very little but was standard protocol.  He took a big bite, which I tried to match, then he stared rather curiously at the apple in his hand.  That’s when he posed a question I won’t ever forget.  

“Do you know what’s worse than finding a worm in an apple?” he asked.

“No sir,” I responded.  “What is it?”

“Finding half a worm,” he said.

We laughed as Daddy took another bite.  I borrowed his Barlow and peeled the rest of my apple in one long piece.

It’s too late to apologize to the rotund men who strolled the beaches of my childhood.  But if I could, I would tell them I now understand they were fighting a battle against gravity that’s almost impossible to win.  And with all my heart I wish they could know, I’m sorry I ever snickered. 

Happy Father’s Day to all, and God bless.   

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

Driftwood

Jane and I enjoy looking for driftwood, especially the seasoned pieces we occasionally find in the shallows of a spring fed stream.  The searches of many years have only resulted in a few items I consider exceptional.  Each of them was intricately honed and well preserved by the constant flow of clear water.

My favorite piece is just over a foot long and sits on a shelf above my desk.  It’s open on one end, gently hollowed over a long period of time.  The opening is about four inches wide and gradually narrows into a small solid point, a perfect vase for the three hawk feathers it holds.

That driftwood is in good company.  Squeezed between family photos on three shelves are a couple dozen assorted bottles.  None of them have significant value.  I doubt a collector would pay fifty dollars for the whole bunch, but it doesn’t matter because they’re not for sale.

Some came from our family farm, rescued mostly by my mother.  Others were found during my walks with Jane while exploring in the woods.  In the days before county landfills were established, bottles and cans were left beside forested trails.  Maybe that wasn’t the best choice, but none of the options were ideal.

Most of the bottles we find now are broken, common, or generally unremarkable.  Once in a blue moon, however, there’s something that rewards us enough we are inspired to keep looking.

I found a small ceramic vase last year when my brother, Jimmy, and I were cleaning up an old trash pile in the woods.  We hauled out a pickup load of discarded jars and cans.  Hidden in layers of mostly useless junk was a small ceramic vase my wife was delighted for me to bring home.

It’s not spectacular by any means, and a tiny chip renders it imperfect.   But what it lacks in perfection it makes up for in character.  I don’t understand why it was thrown away.  I only know that once it was lost but now it’s found.

The shelves above my desk hold a dozen brown jars of various shapes.  Some were originally bought empty, then repeatedly filled during long ago summers with vegetables from country gardens.  Others came with snuff, vanilla extract, or assorted medicines.

One bottle, I believe, contained Merthiolate.  That dreaded orange liquid, widely scorned by children, was liberally applied by mothers of old to burn away infections from serious wounds.  Smaller lesions were treated with Mercurochrome, which had the same orange color without the scorching pain.

If a cut was too deep to hide, the only sane solution was to slip into the house and coat the wound heavily with Mercurochrome, while leaving the Merthiolate bottle by the sink.  That plan works best if you blow on the wound and make grimacing sounds as you beg, “Please let me wash it off!  It’s burning me up!”

I have some clear bottles of various description, plus three tiny green ones I heavily favor.  They came from Joiner’s Store, a small country store that my grandfather opened in 1902.  One has a label showing it’s “GENUINE HAARLEM OIL.”  They each hold two fluid ounces of a turpentine-linseed oil mixture.  A little bit apparently goes a long way, but I’ll never know for sure.  Some bottles are best left unopened.

My plan was to write about collecting driftwood, but I got sidetracked while looking on my shelves.  Finding mantle-worthy pieces of tree remnants brings me great satisfaction.  I find comfort in knowing such artful beauty is created simply by man not interfering with nature.  But old bottles can also be quite charming.  While driftwood is slowly caressed and shaped, bottles are formed by the intentional melting of sand.  One process is subtle while the other is overt.

It’s not so different with people, I suppose.  Sometimes we’re gently polished by the cool flow of a stream.  At other times we’re abruptly refined by a blistering furnace.  One way is far more pleasant, but there’s purpose and value in both.

Hunting for driftwood on leisurely strolls with my wife is delightful, but it’s also rewarding to search for uncommon bottles and small lovely vases by digging through piles of rubbish.  The walks are more pleasant than the digging, but there’s purpose and value in both.     

Posted in 2018 | 6 Comments

Hummingbirds

My neighbor and longtime friend, Dewel Lawrence, sent me an email in early May about hummingbirds.  He had been watching a backyard feeder which his wife, Becky, had filled with sugar water.  The earlier spring menu included nectar filled blooms of red and white azaleas on the banks of a lovely pond.  Their big yard is like a buffet line in hummingbird heaven.     

During this troubling coronavirus pandemic, Dewel found inspiration through the hardiness of those tiny birds.  He said hummingbirds spend the winter in Mexico and Central America, then travel 500 miles north as they return to their hatching sites.  I don’t understand how a thumb-sized bird as light as a penny can do that.  Miraculous is a word that seems appropriate.    

Seeing those hummingbirds reminded Dewel of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-34.  Jesus assured his followers there’s no need to worry.  In verses 26-27 (NIV) he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

It’s funny how the mention of something can uncover almost buried memories.  As I read Dewel’s email it took me back to childhood, to the home where my mother’s parents lived in Pulaski County.  Grandmama Hill loved to host big family dinners and we all loved being there.  We often visited in the gray wooden rocking chairs on their screened porch which had azaleas on three sides.

Grandmama had a lot of azaleas, several crepe myrtles, and a grancy greybeard, the only one I knew of at the time.  Nothing but a dirt driveway separated her porch from an enchanting head of woods with a spring-fed stream.  It was a popular venue for hummingbirds’ summer vacations.

As I would watch those birds from her porch it amazed me how fast they beat their wings, how they darted, hovered, and even flew backwards.  Billions of dollars have been spent developing today’s magnificent assortment of flying machines.  Yet man’s technology is no match for the hummingbird.  Creation in all its glory can never equal the Creator.

As I reflected on the marvels of hummingbirds, another occasion from long ago came to mind.  Jane and I, plus our three children, were living on DeLiesseline Drive in Vienna.  Our backyard swimming pool was enclosed by a fence which was covered in red honeysuckle and Carolina Jasmine.  We were rewarded each spring for planting those flowering vines by the visits of countless hummingbirds.

One family member, however, treated those little birds rather poorly.  Our solid white cat, Sugar, spent hours patiently stalking her prey.  We’d distract her or squirt her with the water hose when possible.  She had minimal success in her hunts for which we were glad.

But there was one memorable day when a hummingbird hovered too low for too long.  When I tried to approach, Sugar scampered away with the bird held firmly in her mouth.  I felt sorry for the helpless creature, but I knew not to blame Sugar.  She was just doing what cats are born to do.  I gave her a light scolding and suggested she might find blue jays more filling.

Cats don’t usually kill their prey humanely.  It’s more about the game than the meal.  They wound their victims enough to slow them down, then release the poor things so they can enjoy capturing them again.  That’s what Sugar did with that hummingbird.  I watched helplessly as she held that bird in her mouth, then dropped its motionless body on the ground between her paws.  She poked it lightly, hoping it would try to escape, but the bird showed no sign of life.  Then in a moment which surprised Sugar as much as me, that tiny hummingbird flitted its wings and soared to safety.

I don’t know if God intervenes in matters of that sort.  I used to think that wasn’t the case, but now I’m not so sure.  What I do know is that a friend’s email reminded me of a hummingbird that survived what seemed a hopeless situation.  The timing of his reminder is a blessing which I consider divine.

Jesus said there’s no need to worry, that our heavenly Father who provides for the birds will surely take care of His children.  I can’t truthfully claim I never worry, but I can say with gratitude that my worries are tempered by faith.  For my faith is in a loving Creator, because I know I am His child.        

Posted in 2018 | 12 Comments