Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Charming Chap

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About a week ago, I was driving up through nearby Salzburg on a rainy evening to get some gas at the edge of town. I choose to get my gas at BP stations, since the last I heard, they still carried American-made gasoline. The rain was fairly heavy, but still being just before Christmas, drivers were hurried, harried and careless. As a result, I ended up doing 25mph through the residential area, instead of the posted 35mph allowed, since people kept pulling out in front of me.

I’d no more than eased down to that speed when I thought that I heard a horn behind me. Looking in the mirror, I noticed the fellow behind me blinking his lights every few seconds. I figured it was just some impatient kid and thought no more of it. A half-mile or so up the road, I came to the edge of town and pulled as close the center-line as I dared to wait on the oncoming traffic so I could make my turn. I expected the impatient driver to go whizzing around on my right side, but he seemed to have disappeared. A couple cars that had been behind him did take the chance to pass.

As I walked toward the back of the truck to the gas pump, a little silver car with a grey-haired driver about my own age pulled in not far behind me, though not exactly by the pump. He was turning the air blue with comments about my pedigree and my driving, and when I looked at the headlights, I recognized the pattern as being the car that had been behind me blinking his lights. At first, I tried responding logically to his comments, but he wanted none of that. Finally, I got so disgusted that I did something I hadn’t done in nearly 40 years. I called him out! Now he looked to be in better shape than I, and I never could fight worth a hoot, so had he accepted my challenge, I may well have gotten my clock cleaned. Interestingly enough, he chose to stay in his car and cuss.

As I turned and picked up the pump handle, my wife realized that something was up and stepped out of the truck, only to be verbally abused by the fellow. That really torqued me. As tempting as it was to walk over and punch the guy through his open car window, I realized that I’d probably go to jail for “defending my wife’s honor.” So, I told my wife that he was just trash and not to waste her time worrying about him. At that point, he flew her the bird. The other folks pumping gas were already watching the situation and laughing. They laughed even louder at what followed.

My wife got the stern look on her face of the sister who basically raised her six younger brothers and sisters and did the sliding of crossed forefingers that that meant “shame, shame” in the old school-yard of years ago. The guy got a funny look on his face and drove off without saying another word. The surrounding customers saw it all and laughed even harder.

As we discussed him later, we figured that he’d probably been drinking. We also figured that many years ago, he had a grandmother, mother or older sister who sometimes kept him in line by using the old reminder of his brattish behavior. Or maybe it was just the laughter that did it. © 2012
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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Denominations

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Over the years, folks have often asked why there are so many different denominations. The simple answer is: sin. Those who read the Bible know that there was sin within the church itself from its very earliest days. The overwhelming sin of the 16th century Catholic Church brought on the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants, being just as human as the Catholics (and therefore just as sinful), soon started pointing fingers at one another, finding sin in everyone but the guy in the mirror. Today, division has gone so far that not only is there a large handful of differing sects among Catholics themselves, but over 30,000 Protestant denominations as well.

It’s an interesting quirk of human nature that Jesus speaks of the church, yet we turn it into many. Most Bible scholars understand that in reality there is still only one church; unfortunately, many Christians still want to insist that only their branch is the real McCoy. As a result, a ridiculous number of sermons on Sunday mornings are concerned with defending the “rightness” of the denomination rather than proclaiming the righteousness of God. Still, some strange beliefs by certain sects, or their political or financial arrangements, guarantee that ecumenicalism will never work without accepting the attitude that “anything goes.” Few serious churches can swallow that, either.

And so, the followers of Jesus struggle onward, well intentioned, but unnecessarily divided due to their belief that everyone must think alike. Few realize that by requiring perfect understanding of the scriptures (which they think they have), they turn their religion into a works doctrine, the antithesis of what the scriptures teach us. Still, in spite of self-righteousness, Christianity has found enough true righteousness along the way that it has changed the face of the globe over the centuries, and more importantly, has changed the hearts and minds of millions of people. © 2012
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OSHA Strikes Again!

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My wife has some oil lamps for use during power outages. She insists on burning the type of lamp oil in them that comes in little bottles at the local Chinese Emporium. I recently got a kerosene lantern for outside use, planning to use regular kerosene (and I will). However, I also need something to buy and store the fuel in—preferably something from which I can fill the lantern. They used to make little one and two gallon metal cans with large fill holes, but small spouts, made specifically for use with kerosene lamps and lanterns. They were very convenient.

Enter OSHA. Seeking to eliminate the “danger” of the simple, efficient, old-fashioned cans, they have come up with a new, improved “safety can” for use with kerosene. Now there’s nothing wrong with the mandated blue color. In fact, that’s a good idea, along with red cans for gas and yellow ones for diesel. The problem is that the kerosene must come out of the same hole of the can where it is filled. That hole is huge compared to the fill holes in lamps and lanterns. Some will say to use funnels, but that joke is fully understood only by those of us old enough to have used the old-time cans with their properly-sized spouts.

OSHA’s answer was to put a long, narrow, side-mounted funnel right on the can that looks a lot like the nose-cone (aka “dog p_cker”) on a jet airplane. In doing so, they have created an expensive piece of equipment that’s about as useless as certain female appendages on a boar hog. I WILL find a practical solution, but I’m sure it will be considered unsafe and will probably even be illegal. Leave it to the bureaucrats to completely mess up something simple. © 2012
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The House Where I Was Raised

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This was taken the year before I was born. I believe it's my aunt seated to the right and my sister on the stoop.
 
 

The old Federal Revival farmhouse was apparently begun after the first autumn frost of 1865 (no borers under the bark on the pine framing) and finished sometime in 1866, or so the story goes. A crumpled piece of newspaper placed in the wall between the lower left front window and the corner of the house (to allow plastering over a broken lathe) contained an interview with a certain Mr. Grant. He stated that his son was considering running for president in the next general election. I guess that dates it before 1868, at least. Since the story went that the farm was once covered with huge pine trees, the lumber for the house was probably sawn from logs cut there on the farm. There was a water-powered sawmill along Waddington Creek in the valley below, so the lumber was probably sawn there.

The two windows on the lower left of the front of the house were in the former sitting room. We used it as a living/family room. The two windows on the lower right were in my parent’s bedroom. It had been the bedroom of Dad’s folks from about 1915 to 1929. Dad was born there one horribly miserable January day in 1925. My great-grandfather worked all that day keeping the fire going in the three downstairs fireplaces. The mantle on the old fireplace in that room was a little fancier than the others in the house, for it had been built to be the home’s parlor.

The front door opened into the tiniest of foyers, with a door both to the right and left, a flight of stairs on the left leading upstairs (eleven steps, 180 degree right turn, then four more steps) and a hallway on the right passing through to the back porch. The latter was a good arrangement for hot weather, for the front door faced west and caught the prevailing breeze, thus allowing the air to flow out the back door onto the back porch. A window on the stair landing allowed air to travel up there and vent the upstairs to some degree, as well.

The two windows on the upper right were in my sister’s room. It had originally been two little rooms, but Dad had torn out the wall between them and that made her a nice big bedroom. That also gave her a window on the back side of the house meaning that she had cross-ventilation. I used to envy her a bit on that matter until I rushed upstairs one day to put down the windows during a thunderstorm and saw a large blue ball of static electricity travel from a screen in one of the front windows, across her bed and out the screen in the back window. After that, I decided that she was welcome to keep her cross ventilation.

The window in the upstairs center was in the hall and, in warm weather, was usually open so air could travel to the window on the stair landing at the back of the house and vent the upstairs. The two windows on the upper left were in my room, though I can still remember when I slept in the folks’ bedroom. (THAT must have been cozy for them, since I was a light sleeper as a child!) It had a closet on each side of the blocked-off fireplace on the left wall. If you looked upward in the front one, you could see through a crack in the closet ceiling and see daylight through a crack in a piece of siding in the gable. The room was heated with an old gas space heater, but many a time in my youth, I could see my breath in my bedroom. Thank goodness for quits, comforters and army blankets!

One neat thing about my room was that it had a door into the attic of the back ell of the house. If the folks were in bed, and I couldn’t sleep, I could take the flashlight from my nightstand and sneak into the attic to snoop through the old things stored there. If I felt especially daring, I could go down the tiny spiral stairway into the dining room below. The stairs were so steep that they seemed more like a twisted ladder, and the turn was so quick that I’m certain that I spotted the back of my own head in front of me a few times. Once downstairs, I could sneak a snack out of the fridge, or answer nature’s call in the thunder mug in the one-time pantry (by then a bathroom) off the right side of the kitchen. Sometimes though, boredom was no problem and if I opened the attic door, it was just to better hear the rain on the tin roof.

The old house still stands after nearly a century and a half, though I don’t own it anymore. The attic has been removed in a remodel, and the tin roof has been replaced with modern shingles, but the memories still linger on. © 2012
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Home

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My long-time readers will notice some themes here that have surfaced in previous posts. I was once again brought to this subject after reading a chapter called “The Old Homeplace,” in the eleventh edition of the Foxfire Book.

It was like an electric shock to hear the words that Mr. O’Hara spoke to Scarlett concerning land in Gone With the Wind: “Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for—because it's the only thing that lasts." (Or something close to that.)

I was fifteen years old and sitting in the last remaining art deco movie theater in town (later torn down to make a parking lot) when those words were burned into my memory. “Here’s someone who understands” I thought, knowing it probably would have been the author of the original book, Margaret Mitchell. I was at that age where the little thoughts of childhood were expanding into larger thoughts, beliefs and passions of adulthood, and I knew that my heart would always be drawn to the land. Some things are just meant to be.

I never gave such things a thought when I was younger. The family farm where I was raised was only a couple miles from town. Including the part that my absentee aunt owned, there were 135 acres there. Across the road lived Dad’s sister and her husband with probably another 60-80 acres. Walking across one neighbor’s place took me to a 15 acre strip of hillside that ended against my maternal grandfather’s place of 60-80 acres and across the road, the farm of Dad’s sister and her husband, again probably 60-80 acres. It was about a mile from our driveway to my grandfather’s driveway and I often walked it or rode it on my bike, usually with a fishing rod or gun in hand. A mile’s hike further through the hills would have put me on the 180 acres we had on Tick Ridge, though I never hiked it. I did ride it a few times on horseback, but usually I drove there (once I was 16). Waddington Creek, with its twists, turns, pools and riffles marked the center of my “stomping grounds.”

We had gentlemen’s agreements that we could hunt, fish, hike and ride horses on the properties of our relatives and a few neighbors, and they could do the same with us, so I never lacked for access to the outdoors. In my youth, I remember foolishly thinking that it would always be so, with the land passed down to me, my cousins and amicable neighbor’s kids. I also remember thinking how grand it would be if I were a millionaire and could buy them all out. Lust for “things” starts early, I guess.

When young, most of the vitamins, minerals and protein that made my body grow came from that land. We raised beef cattle and grew large gardens. My aunt, who lived on the other edge of the farm with my paternal grandparents still milked two cows, so we had all the fresh milk, cream and butter that we needed. My maternal grandparents, up the road, raised chickens and two hogs a year, so we had fresh eggs, chicken and pork. Everybody raised gardens, and everybody canned and shared their bounty with one another. My dad and I farmed, cut timber and sawed logs, like he and his father before him. Later, Dad and I grew Christmas trees. I felt that I was part of the land and that it was part of me. I was the fourth generation to work that land, for even my great-grandfather had spent his last few years helping Granddad on the farm.

Alas, things don’t always go the way they were “meant to be.” All but a few acres of my relatives’ land is now out of the family. I foolishly didn’t see that the girl that I dated at 15 was the one that I should marry. So, many girlfriends and two wives later, I live on the farthest 98 acres of property up on Tick Ridge.

A part of me died the day I left the woods and went to work at the factory. Bitterness took hold of me, due to it not being myself that caused most of the need to leave the woods. Chronic depression joined that bitterness and, for many years, I really didn’t care whether I lived or died. The Lord at last pulled me out of that, but it was a new battle when I saw the handwriting on the wall and realized that the factory where I worked was eventually going to close down, no matter what they said otherwise. I was in a worse financial situation than when I was making half as much, and selling my old homeplace was the only solution other than divorce. THAT nearly killed me. I felt like I’d disgraced both myself and the ancestors who’d worked the land before me. There are worse things than divorce.

Of course, it wasn’t like I had anyone to pass it onto that wouldn’t have seen it as just a financial asset, rather than as a sacred trust. These days, though, having spent so much of my time in the valley at large, I pretty much feel like I’m home as I leave the city limits and start driving out the Waddington Valley. Even after all these years, the feelings are still strong.

It’s ten years since the sale of the farm, and I’m about to lose the job I’ve held for the last four years. It didn’t pay enough to even cover the bills, but luckily, I had some outside income that made up the difference. That, too, is dwindling. At least I have no debt at this point in my life; maybe I can hold onto the property that I have left. If not, I’ll survive that, too. I put a lot more faith in the Lord than I used to. Besides, I don’t have that many more years on this old earth. Soon enough, I’ll REALLY be home, and with some of the friends and family of my youth. © 2011
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Need A Light?

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For a while now, I’ve wanted to buy an American-made kerosene lantern for power outages, but the last company to make them recently got greedy and started outsourcing them. Since they were made in the same country (I suspect), I got a Dietz at the local hardware store so as to keep what money I could in the area. I’ve got a couple old ones in the basement that I plan on refurbishing and getting some extra globes and wicks for also.

Having my lantern, I wanted to stock up on wooden matches, so I got a couple boxes of 300-count “Diamond” brand “strike anywhere” matches at the same store. They were made in America, but they were absolutely pathetic compared to the old “Ohio Blue-Tips” that I used to get. The latter are no longer available, and Diamond appears to be the last company in the country selling wooden matches in anything over 32-count boxes. I guess I have no choice but to buy the worthless things. They may do for a lantern, but I know they’re going to fall short on wood stoves and campfires. I might as well use a little more care in tinder selection and use a flint and steel on fires. At least they’re “green,” according to their propaganda on the box.

I may have figured out the problem, though. Despite being green, on the cellophane that covers the match boxes was this warning: “CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 65 WARNING: Combustion of this manufactured product results in the emissions of carbon monoxide, soot and other combustion by-products which are known by the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm.” I bet those morons in La-La Land have been smokin’ ‘em! I reckon we better get ready for match control! © 2012
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Little About Roy

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I first met Roy in junior high; “middle school,” they call it other places. He was obviously retarded, but not so bad that he couldn’t get through school with extra help and understanding from his teachers. Unfortunately, his disability caused him to be the victim of a certain amount of harassment from those boys who wrongly thought that they were somehow smarter, more manly or funnier. Even then, they knew better than to go too far, since Roy was well muscled and strong as an ox. He couldn’t box, but he COULD nearly tie them in a knot and bounce then their heads off the floor a few times. I always tried to treat him well, since I figured his disability and apparent poverty gave enough him trouble to bear.

It turned out that my mom knew him, too. We stopped by the backyard shop of a local luthier one evening to get some strings for my sister’s cello, and he was in the yard when we got there. He ran inside on seeing my mom. Inside the shop, the walls were covered with violins, guitars, mandolins, balalaikas and other stringed instruments in various stages of construction and repair. Though not a musician, I was a lover of music, and felt like I was on holy ground and privileged to be in the presence of the old man. I was even more amazed as I came to realize that the old man was blind. As we walked back to the car, we noticed Roy peeking around the corner of the house from behind a bush. Neither of us said anything, since we thought it was obvious that he didn’t want to make contact.

In the car, Mom explained that Roy probably avoided us because he might have thought that he was going to get in trouble. You see, Mom worked at a grocery store in that neighborhood, and the old man (his grandfather) and his wife shopped there. Sometimes, they’d send Roy by himself to get an item or two. At those times, the store owner often had to shoo him away from the trashy magazines that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Once or twice, they were sure that he’d stolen one and tried to catch him with the evidence, but he was too fast for the owner. I suppose the curiosity and urges of a retarded boy going through puberty are little different than those of any other boy that age.

I don’t know why he was being raised by his grandparents. I know that a few parents of retarded children aren’t up to the task of raising them, and let the stress cause them to get divorced and/or abandon the children with the grandparents. Maybe that was the case with Roy, or maybe his mother was dead; I don’t know. I DO know that Roy struggled, but made it through high school with low but honest grades, not the phony, feel-good ratings they too often give kids these days. Not long afterward, I noticed that the little luthier shop had completely disappeared. I don’t know if the old man had died, or had simply retired.

Roy has spent his life working in the back rooms of fast-food joints, doing whatever he has to do to get a paycheck. He’s never been in trouble with the law, as far as I know. He’s never gotten any tattoos, or tried drugs as far as I’ve heard, either. I suspect his grandfather would be proud of him. I sometimes see him standing on a sidewalk, waiting for a bus. He always looks a little disheveled, but clean. It’s tempting to feel sorry for him, and sometimes I do, but frankly, he’s a better man than most men that I know. © 2012
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Uncle Chuck’s House – 1959

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It was one of those vague childhood memories. We seem to have crossed a low spot or a run in getting there. There was a porch on the front of the house and the dining room and kitchen were inside the door. Across the room, a door went out to a back porch, and almost at the edge of the porch was a grape arbor, hanging full of ripe grapes. My folks and my maternal grandparents were there, along with my grandma’s sister, Dovie, and her son, Jack, probably about 10-12 years old. For some reason, though, I couldn’t remember whose house it was.

I do remember that Jack had a BB gun and was shooting grapes for practice, unknown to the adults sitting on the front porch. He let me take a few shots, too. I accidentally spilled the beans when I told my dad that I’d hit one. Aunt Dovie overheard me and made Jack stop his “target shooting.” That’s all I really remember about the day.

Over the years, I‘ve told my mom about the memory a few times and she always said that it would have  been Uncle Chuck’s place. He was Grandma’s brother, and I always remember him living in a little village a few miles away from where the country home was located. He and his wife apparently moved to town when they got older. Mom didn’t have any pictures of the place, but she did have a picture of us all in front of Uncle Chuck’s new barn, clear up on the hilltop. It was dated “1959,” when I would have been four years old.

When I was visiting Mom recently, I was looking through some pictures that she had borrowed from her sister. One showed a farmhouse that looked strangely familiar. Even the country-style “garage” down near the road seemed to be buried somewhere in my memory. When I showed it to Mom, she said “That’s Uncle Chuck’s place.” It wasn’t exactly like I remembered it, but it was the place. The photo is below. © 2012


Click to enlarge.
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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Soak The Rich, Kill The Babies, Grab The Guns And Save The Whales

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I’d actually planned to do a piece on the insanity plea before the tragedy in Connecticut. Guess I still am partly. Unfortunately, I got peeved at some liberal idiots, so this all may be a bit rambling and raucous.

First off, I’m a firm believer in the death penalty, but NEVER when the conviction depends on circumstantial evidence. That said, the latest mass murderer did us all a favor by offing himself. It saved millions in legal expenses for the government and what remains of his family, not to mention renewed public arguments over death penalties and insanity defenses. Not so, gun control, unfortunately. The guy broke about a half-dozen laws to do what he did, yet gun control advocates immediately started raising a fuss for stronger laws. I wonder just what additional law they think would have stopped him? Nation-wide, we have well over 40,000 gun laws on the books already; just how many more do we need?

Had the shooter lived, we WOULD have heard about insanity pleas. Does it really matter if a guy’s nuts? If he’s that out of it, should we really spend millions of dollars over the course of his life to keep him in a zoo for crazies and perverts? Even if he “regains his sanity,” we don’t dare turn him loose again. It was when reading The Minds of Billy Millikan that I learned you can be found innocent by reason of insanity in Ohio (or maybe it’s unfit to try). Then, if you are determined by the proper folks to have regained your sanity at some point in the future, you can be retried and convicted for something you did while you were supposedly insane. (Whatever happened to double jeopardy?) Those kinds of laws prove that law-makers are insane in their own right. You’re either innocent or you’re not. If you aren’t, then insanity doesn’t matter. Dispose of the problem and let the Lord sort their souls.

A couple days ago, a local hippie white chick (who professes to be Christian and plays the bongos semi-professionally around here) spouted off on Facebook about those evil Republicans and needing to tax the rich more. (My own complaint with the evil Republicans is that they act too much like the evil Democrats anymore; that’s why I left them.) I mentioned to the woman that taking away the incentive for rich folks to manage their money does away with the likelihood of them continuing to invest money in jobs. Her sage reply was “that dog don’t hunt.” Not knowing how to respond to such deep, well-reasoned thoughts as that, I didn’t reply further.

Of course, when the shootings occurred in Connecticut, she immediately blamed guns and the NRA. Some supposedly adult fellow who professes to be a veteran and uses Spiderman as his identifying icon joined in until I spelled out a few simple truths. Things got a little quieter then, but I’m sure their minds were unchanged.

It’s obvious that the woman and her friends are liberal do-gooders. I can’t vouch for all of HER personal views, but I’ve noticed that many of the folks who want to tax the rich and grab the guns, also want to further abortion, but save the whales. Except for saving the whales, none of those causes can “stand on their own two feet.” When combined with killing babies, even saving the whales is suspect due to the company that the movement keeps. All together, they show the irony and hypocrisy of liberal thinking.

Perhaps, they may someday find themselves living in a perfect world where there is no violence (since all the guns have been taken), there are no more poor people (because the rich were forced to give up all their money), there are no children (since they’ve all been aborted), but whales are plentiful (because Greenpeace managed to sabotage all the whaling ships). Of course, they won’t find themselves living in that world for long, since they will all be dying off from the “managed medicine” of Obamacare. Oh well, I guess they can dream.

Intolerant devil’s spawn that I am, I unfriended the bongo player. © 2012
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Stockyard Memories

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Better take a bathroom break before you start this one; I was a bit of a windbag today!

I wasn’t very old the first time I went to the stockyards, maybe not even school-age yet. The old wooden building was tucked there between the river and the side street that paralleled it and the double railroad track. Just a few yards away, a major street (still narrow by today’s standards) went under the tracks and over the river. Neither the narrow streets, nor the narrow old bridge built in 1907 were designed to handle the traffic that arrived every Saturday. The stop light at that end of the bridge, placed to let folks out of the side street, was often as much a hindrance as a help on those days. The smell of truck exhaust and cow manure permeated the air, as did the sound of bawling cattle and men’s voices, venting the nervousness of the cattle, the frustrations of the farmers unloading their stock, and the wheeling and dealing of the pinhookers on the docks, as they sometimes tried to buy the cattle before they were even unloaded.
After the sale started, the cattle would be brought into the ring by lot, sometimes a single animal, and sometimes several at a time. The auctioneer would usually be making favorable comments on the animals, pointing out good traits and conveniently ignoring bad ones. His chant would get the bidding started as his voice became a loud, hard-to-follow string of blather to those not accustomed to the sound. Those familiar with it had no trouble following the proceedings, of course, as men raised their hands, nodded their heads or just raised a finger to the auctioneer as a sign that they were placing a bid at the level the auctioneer had mentioned. The increases got smaller as the resistance to price got more obvious, until at last you heard the “Going once, going twice, SOLD!” that ended each transaction. Sometimes, bidding could last a couple minutes; other times, it might last only thirty seconds or never even get off the ground. The latter rarely happened as long as the animal was healthy enough to stand on its feet, though.

The arena seating was built a bit steep, so as provide the best view of stock to the bidders. It was a strange and wonderful place to a country kid, watching both the action in the ring and the interaction of the people in the stands. However, I remember the board seats of those old wooden stands getting a little hard on my tender parts after a while. Therefore, I was sort of glad to hit the road after my dad had watched Harry (his former brother-in-law) call the sale for a while. (Harry had been married to my floozy aunt years earlier and he and Dad were still on good terms, but that’s a story in my yet unpublished book.)
We did okay on selling at the yards as long as the old wooden stockyards were there. The old place was a fire-trap, though, and burned to the ground during my teens. The story was that a couple kids had been seen playing with fireworks in the area, and of course, the old wooden building also contained sawdust and hay. A new concrete and steel building was built suspiciously soon across town by the interstate on land owned by one of the partners, and the sale went on with a new auctioneer. We took a few head there, but got about a hundred dollars less per head than we would have expected at the old yard. When we took a few to the old stockyards upriver at Maryville, Ohio, we got as good or better than we expected. Harry called the sale up there by then, so Dad felt he would look out for our interests, so we started selling in Ohio after that.

A few years later, Harry quit calling at Marysville and we thought we’d try the new yards again. This time we stayed and watched the action. At weigh-in, the guy running the scale was one of the partners, and a fellow farmer from one of the early families in the area that Dad knew well. He commented that he liked my steer and would bid one him. We thought that was nice of him. When the time came, the bidding was moving right along on my steer until the partner bid. That was the last bid, and it was at least a hundred dollars less than the animal should have brought. The scenario was repeated on the animals that Dad brought, but it was a couple other fellows that made the closing bid. We were a bit suspicious.
After talking to a couple neighbors who always made a day of it when they went to sale, we got the story. The partners and a few buyers who counted on filling their semi’s with cattle for the Midwest feedlots were in cahoots. They’d let the locals start the bidding, but would then come in with a bid themselves. The locals, used to being outbid by these buyers, would often stop bidding. The other “big boys” would also refrain from bidding and let that guy get the animal. They took turn about, though, so each could get his truck full. Needless to say, we never went back to that sale, and we lost our respect for the partner. Dad thought it was especially ratty to do that to a young fellow like I was at the time. I guess I’d feel the same way if someone I knew did something similar to one of my granddaughters.

By coincidence, we didn’t stay in the cattle business much longer, but when we had to sell at auction, we went back to Marysville, since the cramped loading area and the distance from the interstate made it inconvenient for the semi guys.
I was thinking about the yards and talking with my mom and one of my cousins recently, and we counted at least eight stockyards that used to be within a couple hours’ drive of here. The local one, the last one open, is now closed. However, I hear that one did reopen about an hour south of here. Still, some local folks travel as far as Sugar Creek, Ohio, a good two-hours away, to sell their animals. Most folks now try to make person-to-person sales to save the trouble. I guess that’s better in many ways, except when it’s done because of a lack of other options.

I’m sure economic factors played a role in the disappearance of the local stockyards, but I heard that it was government regulations and the high cost of liability insurance that drove most of them out. Why doesn’t that surprise me? © 2012
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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Five-Buckle-Arctics

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In my country grade school, five-buckle-arctics were sort of a rite-of-passage for those whose families could afford them. Really poor kids had no boots at all for mud and snow and trudged around in thin worn-out shoes. Those slightly better off had green “gum boots.” The rest of us had five-buckle-arctics.

For those who don’t know, they were made of a black rubber with a sort of quasi-fabric lining, and slipped over your regular footwear, usually assumed to be work boots, and came up to about three inches below the bottom of your knee. Instead of zippers or laces, they were fastened in the front with a set of adjustable metal buckles. There were two-buckle-artics to go over low shoes, usually purchased by city-slickers with farm roots and by some practical women. There were also four-buckle-artics for kids, city-slickers and some women and girls. The goal of every country boy of my day, though, was to get his own pair of five-buckles. That was the equivalent of moving from short pants to long pants in their grandfather’s day.

You see, MEN wore five-buckles! Farmers, construction workers, utility workers, mailmen and anyone else who spent the day outdoors in cold weather probably did it in five-buckles. Back then, they were made in America and the rubber would last for five years if you didn’t wear them out first. Most outdoor folks were lucky to get more than one winter from them, though, since they wore them nearly every day in bad weather. My farmer/logger father lived in his for about five months a year, plus during rainy weather anytime.

Like everything else, good arctics seem to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. They got more plastic-like and less rubbery, and now start cracking before the first winter is over. They aren’t as tall either, when you can even find them. I don’t know if guys wear pacs these days because they can’t find good arctics, or if arctics have simply been replaced by pacs. Either way, the effect is the same. I like pacs, myself, but they aren’t as tall as the old five-buckles, and you can’t tuck your pants-legs inside them and cinch the top buckle to keep snow out. Plus, if you were going somewhere more formal, you could put arctics on over your dress shoes and just take them off when you arrived, already dressed for whatever the occasion might be. I’ve seen a row of five-buckles sitting in the entry of a country church or a funeral home many a time.

I think I’ll see if I can still find a good AMERICAN MADE pair. I’m sure they’ll be online if I find any. I’ll let you know if I have any luck. © 2012
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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ya Can’t Prevent “STUPID,”

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but you can deal with it after the fact. While trying to do four different things at the same time last night, I managed to leave my keys in my truck and the ignition in the “on” position for the night. I’ve done stupider things, but not many. For some strange reason, my truck wouldn’t start this morning when I wanted to leave for work. My jumper cables are lost somewhere in the basement. Besides, my wife would never let me jump from her car anyway. The portable battery jumper I bought years ago is dead, and I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for a week or more to find a charger cord for it. I was stuck! Now, my wife could have taken me to work in her tin can, but I’d just have the same problem to deal with when I came home, so I decided to take the bull by the horns and get it over with.

First, I called off; with only two months of work left, who cares if they get peeved at me? Then I asked my wife to take me to town (in her tin can) to get a battery. The battery in the truck is less than a year old and perfectly fine (or would be if it had a charge), but there was a method to my madness. First, I had her take me to the closest repair garage that sells Interstate batteries and got the one that had the most cranking amps. Then, I went to the auto parts place across the street and got the best jumper cables that they had, a portable battery jumper for my wife’s little car, and a bigger one for my truck. They didn’t have charger cord for my old jumper, or a carry strap for batteries, so I went to our town’s NAPA store. They had a carry strap, but no charger cord. Despite being at Radio Shack twice and not being able to get waited on, plus going online to look AND calling them to ask, the guy at NAPA said that R.S. DID have the cord that I needed, even if they weren’t bright enough to know it. He then told me where to look in the store to find it myself. I didn’t want to take the time to go back, though, so I’ll hit Radio Shack again some other day.

After I went home, I used the new battery to jump my truck and get it running. Then I put the cables back in the box and put the box behind the rear seat. I then put the battery in the covered and locked truckbed until I could top off the charge. (Yes, I know where my regular battery charger is.) I put the carry strap for the battery beside the extra battery in the back of the truck. I put the two portable jumpers in the house until later in the week when I can top off THEIR charge, since the guy said they don’t come fully charged.

SO, hopefully, I won’t pull that stupid trick again. HOWEVER, if I or anyone else should need a jump, I will now have two ways to do it. Also, if my wife is out and gets a dead battery, she’ll be able to deal with it. PLUS, I now have an extra battery that can be used to power a twelve volt fan during the next power-outage in hot weather (like we had last summer). If it turns out that Radio Shack really DOESN’T have the charger cable for the old jumper, I’ll see if the one for my NEW jumper will handle the job. Plus, I asked the guru to help me look online. I may do some really dumb things at times, but at least I try to learn from my experience! © 2012
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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sold The Weed-Whacker

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Civilized folks call them string-trimmers; rednecks like me call them “weed-whackers.” Since I’ve used both terms now, you have no excuse for not knowing what I’m talking about. The machine was the smallest handle-bar style trimmer made by one of the major brands. I originally bought it to use in the Christmas tree fields, so it would have been at least fifteen years old.

Since I sold the farm, though, it just stood under my deck most of the year. By the time I’d decide to use it, it would be so difficult to start that sometimes it was easier to use a scythe and be done with it. Still, once I or the equipment dealer got it running, it was a real dynamo. That’s why I sold it to the neighbor boy. Actually, the “boy” is probably over 40, but that’s still a kid to me, these days. He’s an industrious soul and is always cleaning around his place, so figured it would do him more good than it was doing me. Besides, I doubt if he even owns a scythe. He seemed tickled at the $50 price.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that many smaller jobs are quicker done by hand, if you have the skill and the right tools. I’ve also learned the wisdom of breaking big jobs into smaller ones. These days, if I can’t run over it with my mower, or get to it with a scythe, I’m just going to let it grow. I’m not sure if I’m getting wiser in my old age, or just getting lazy.

Basically, I believe that power tools are for those lacking skill, or for jobs just a little bigger than you want to tackle by hand. I’ve got both types of tools, so I’m not trying to sound elitist. Not so the old Scandinavians; they used to say that any sort of saw was for those who didn’t know how to use an axe! © 2012
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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Long Island Medium

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I’ve seen several shows of the above named “reality show.” The woman seems to be a likeable blabber-mouth of a character. I’ve noticed, though, that she never mentions a “spirit’s” name, she lets the people present “fill in the blank.” Also, despite what the people believe, most of her information can be gathered through research or careful listening. She seems to think her “talent” is a gift—from God! The Bible doesn’t say such things can’t be real, but it clearly warns AGAINST such super-natural dabbling, so it seems unlikely that God is involved in it. Just who does that leave as the source if the situations presented are legit?

Still, I have to wonder how legitimate her game is. I’m sure that she’s making money from the whole thing (another sign that God isn’t in it). For obvious reasons then, the news from the other side is always good. After all, who wants to pay for BAD news? Now, she doesn’t SAY that the dead folks who she professes to speak to are in Heaven. She DOES say that they are “at peace.” BUT, if we believe scripture (as she seems to insinuate that she does), not EVERYONE can go to Heaven. I have to wonder then that she never turns white and says, “Your Uncle Fred is coming forward. He says that he’s burning in Hell and that you will, too, if you don’t change your evil ways!” Could it be that money factor kicking in? Reality TV, eh? © 2012
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Sunday, October 28, 2012

It’s My Right!

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Even as adults, we don’t like admitting when we’re mistaken, unwise, or have been caught in some misdeed. Too often, when we’re caught red-handed, our response is anger. I suppose it’s part of the old “fight or flight” reaction that we were taught about in school. Often times we cling to flimsy excuses that are barely related to the subject, or have no proof or logic to them. Sometimes, if no other option seems to be excusing our actions adequately, we use the old clich√©, “It’s my right to do as I please!” That phrase is often tied to “You don’t have any right to tell me what to do!”

Of course both of those statements can be true. If doing as you please breaks no law, then we could say that we have the “right” to do whatever we want. And, if the person being answered back isn’t in a position of authority over the first person, and the first person’s actions are such that they will have no affect on anyone else, the second person doesn’t have any right to be trying to bully others to do his bidding.

What, though, if the first person’s actions can affect vast numbers of others to their detriment? What if their actions will negatively affect future generations? What if the thing they were being “told to do” was in reality, just a statement of fact that the first person doesn’t want to accept? Then, we are faced with the sometimes unpopular fact that our freedom comes with a responsibility to others. As Americans, we are supposed to protect the rights of the individual while still considering the common good. It can be a difficult proposition, but it’s not an impossible one.

The “it’s my right” argument meets further difficulties when the adherent professes to be a Christian, for then he’s supposed to consider God’s opinions ahead of his own. We are taught that God doesn’t appreciate it when we put our opinions ahead of His. Mind you, I’m not talking about what some other Christian says, but about the about the words given by God in the Holy Bible. “It’s my right” might float a lot of people’s boats in a strictly legal sense, not so much in a moral sense. God will be the ultimate judge.
We should all be thankful that true followers of Jesus are forgiven. Otherwise, we’d ALL be in a heap of trouble. © 2012
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Saturday, October 27, 2012

I’ll Miss Her.

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Most of you probably read here, not long ago, that I deleted three people from my friends list on Facebook due to their incessant rooting for Obama and hate-filled diatribes against Republicans. Understand, I am no longer a Republican myself, having found the leadership near carbon copies of Democrats. However, hate-filled rants against ANYONE grow very tiring very quickly and are troubling to the soul. Rooting for Obama, after four years of treason, strikes me as either a sign of complete immorality, or complete foolishness. More than one verse in the Bible warns us not to waste our time trying to reason with fools. Still, I truly liked one of the guys who I deleted, and it caused me no small amount of sadness to severe the connection.

And so, today, it was with sadness that I read that one of my fellow bloggers and Facebook friends had voted early for Obama, and was doing the same thing I’d done recently, but in the other direction. Knowing that I was probably in her sights already, I deleted her from my friends list. Later, she sent a message “inviting” me to quit following her blog. Strangely enough, I didn’t find myself there to delete, so maybe she found a way to do it herself.

I’ll miss the lady’s down-home poems and prose. I’ll miss her open-hearted concern for others. I’ll miss having a fellow Christian to pray for my concerns and to ask me to pray for her concerns in return. Most of all, though, I am amazed. I’m amazed that anyone can completely separate their Christianity from their business, or their politics.

There is a vast multitude of political and constitutional reasons for not supporting Obama, but how any Christian can support him is especially beyond me. The man has been caught in lie after lie. He’s decided to tow the party line and support sodomy. And, of course, he believes it’s perfectly okay to murder unborn babies so their mothers won’t be inconvenienced.

I can understand anyone’s lack of happiness with the current crop of candidates. However, the lady’s ability to completely ignore common sense and toss Christian values to the wind disappoints me. Though I’ll miss the lady, I guess what I feel most is that disappointment. © 2012
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Francis Marion Dixson 1841-1862

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You wouldn’t have heard about the fellow whose name is in this post’s title if I hadn’t learned about the cousin at work. Francis’s brother, Charles, and Charles’ wife are the great-great grandparents that I share with my new-found family member. In looking up some information on Charles, I was reminded of the story of Francis.

At the top of one sheet of photo-copied paper from the early days of that technology, the copier-smeared words “Father’s Family Record” appear in my great grandmother’s handwriting. Below, in chronological order, are the birth dates of 11 siblings, including my great-great grandfather and Francis. Francis is the only one whose death date is also listed. The entry reads, “Francis Marion Dixson born 19 Aug 1841 Died 12 of March 1862 age 20yr 6mo & 21days”. That was the sum total mention of him on paper. The rest, I had to get verbally from my grandfather (Charles’ grandson), born 38 years after the death of Francis.

I wish I’d thought to ask if Francis was named after “The Swamp Fox” of Revolutionary War fame; I suspect he was. The only remembered trait of Francis was that he was fleet of foot. So much so, in fact, that he would race other men, while gamblers bet on the outcome. He had an unusual style of running with his head down, looking at the ground just before his feet, rather than looking ahead like most runners do. (One of his great nephews has that same style.) Sadly, that style would be his undoing.

Family tradition has it that, for whatever the reason, while the rest of the country was embroiled in Civil War, Francis went to California, perhaps to escape that war. Whether he had gainful employment there, I never thought to ask. He DID, however, keep running footraces. In his final race, he may never have seen the thin wire that some competitor or gambler had stretched across the track, probably just for him. If he did, he saw it too late. The unknown scoundrel who strung the wire probably never dreamed that Francis would fall so hard that he would break his neck and die, but he did. And so ends the sad, and all too short, story of Francis Marion Dixson. © 2012
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Small World Indeed!

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Most of us have probably heard of the “six degrees of separation.” The basic idea is that you know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, et cetera, who knows any other person in the world, all within six steps. Attempts to prove the idea seem to lean toward an even smaller number. That’s why I’m never surprised that, when I travel, I either run into people from my home town, or someone who knows someone in my hometown, sometimes even someone that I know. It helps, of course, that I’m the kind of guy who can start a conversation with nearly anyone but a complete and total snob.

Sometimes, though, things lay undiscovered for years. Several years ago, I was looking through some wedding and funeral announcements that my paternal grandmother had saved form decades ago and recognized a couple names. The next Sunday at church, I asked the young man who was raised next door if he was descended from those folks and he said “yes.” After a little figuring, it turned out that the guy who’d grown up next door was a fourth cousin on his mother’s and my father’s side of our families. I didn’t tell him, but my family and his in-laws are connected at six different points, though we aren’t actually related by blood.

The other day at work, I was talking to a woman who I’ve worked with ever since I’ve been there and discovered that we were related on our mother’s side of our families. A couple questions to my mother that evening and it became apparent that the lady and I are third cousins. I’ve always wondered why I saved so much family history when I have no-one to pass it on to. It turns out that she knows almost nothing about her ancestors, so I’ve got a ton of information for her. She may find it neat to know that we’re descended from scores of average Joes and a couple more interesting folks like Samuel Stalnaker and Henry William Stiegel. I’ll hate to part with it, but since she has kids and grandkids, she should have the big old cast-iron “spider” of our great-great grandmother’s that came here from Staunton, Virginia in some sort of covered wagon just after the Civil War. Like the song says, “It’s a small world after all!” © 2012
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Ya Just Don’t SEE That Around Here!

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I drive a bit slower than most folks, so it was no surprise when the quarter-ton with the Illinois plates shot around me. The driver certainly got my attention, though. It wasn’t because of his goatee, his youth, or his handsome (yet almost delicate) good looks. It was because he was black. Ya just don’t see black guys driving pickup trucks in my neck of the woods!

I think that’s because, in my area, pickup trucks are equated with the farmer/country-boy/red-neck/hillbilly side of our local culture. For whatever the reason, we have no black farmers to speak of in all of West Virginia. Maybe they just have more sense than the rest of us, or maybe, when their ancestors were finally freed from forced farm work, they left the countryside as fast as their legs could carry them. You couldn’t blame them if that was the case.

Regardless, as I was growing up, vehicles belonging to blacks fell into three categories. First was the same-as-everybody-else-has working-class car. Second was the Mercedes and such that were preferred by those blacks who had “arrived” and wanted everyone to know it. Us white folks have plenty of the same type of folks; for a long time, we called them yuppies. Third was the furry-dashed, fuzzy-diced pimp-mobile. Being a small town, we probably only had about three of those in the whole town. One thing we didn’t have, though, was blacks in pickup trucks.

I was 28 years old the December that my dad and I went to D.C. to clean out the apartment of my deceased aunt. Driving through Virginia, for the absolute first time in my life, I saw black folks driving pickup trucks! My dad, who was a little better travelled than me, found my amazement amusing. “We’re in farm country,” he said. “What would you expect a black farmer to drive?” I pointed out that I’d never seen but one black farmer before, and HE drove a white Cadillac!

It’s been nigh 30 years since that time, and I’m not sure that I’ve seen a single pickup in my area driven by a black person in all that time. Yes, I’ve travelled a little since back then, and I HAVE seen such things in other areas, but not locally. I don’t know if the young man was a farm-boy or not, but he DID have Illinois plates, and he WAS heading west. I guess I live a rather narrow existence here, so maybe it’s good that I get rare reminders that my area doesn’t necessarily represent the rest of the world. © 2012
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

More Random Thoughts

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Ever notice that cops rarely stop luxury cars, but seem to concentrate on poor folks instead?

How is it that each day at work drags by, yet the week seems to fly and the weekend ROCKETS past?

If you can judge by TV reality shows, Alaskan cops average much, much nicer than cops in other states, and especially nicer than those in large cities.

They’re spending mega-millions to move and display the space shuttles. I wonder how many hungry children could have been fed with that money.

I get a mite curious when waiters and waitresses try to pretend like they’re so much better than the people they’re serving. Just who is working for $2.35 an hour? Furthermore, considering that they depend on tips to make decent money, why would they want to insult the customers in the first place?

I wonder why it is that the more people that read my blog, the fewer comments I get.

Since our money is so worthless that a penny made before 1982 is worth two cents in junk price, maybe we should go on a copper standard. Oops, no, the government would make it illegal to own copper then; wouldn’t they?

Did you ever notice that half the policemen out there are so psycho that they shouldn’t even be allowed to own guns, let alone carry them. That sure makes things bad for the other half.

My great-aunt used to always quote HER aunt who said, “The time to be savin’ is when you have plenty.” My grandmother, on the other hand, was always telling me how the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I remember that whenever I see some bleeding heart liberal trying to force the world to do things HIS way.

Why is it that the least qualified person always wants to be the leader?

Aren’t you glad we don’t get all the government that we pay for?

Sometimes, the difference between quality and junk is only a few cents, or a few dollars. Buying junk NEVER saves you money. © 2012
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Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Resting Place

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This was written several years ago, obviously, before the post about burying my old friend. It was the second in a trilogy. The first seems to have disappeared over the years. It's a lot longer than most things I post, so I'll understand if many of you don't read it. I'd been saving it (and the other post) for a book, but decided to share them with you, in case I croak without them being published.

Dream as we may, our lives seldom follow the trails that we plot in our youth. That's especially true for those of us who grew up on the farm, and had hoped to spend our lives there. Yet, we who are lucky enough to still have access to the old home place, can often restore our sanity by taking a hunt up the hollow, and a walk down memory lane. Those bittersweet pilgrimages are made all the more enjoyable if an old friend is there to welcome us home.

As my little flatbed growls up the steep gravel driveway, my old friend waits impatiently at the top of the hill, prancing and wagging her welcome. Pulling beside the Civil War era farmhouse where I was raised, I open the door slowly so as not to hit her. As soon as the crack is wide enough, her head is against my left leg and nuzzling my hand. I then scratch behind her ears and we exchange a few pleasantries.

Asked if she’s “ready to roll,” she jumps backward and clear of the truck, her answer obvious. Driving slowly out the hilltop, I watch her loping happily alongside. We pass the big white barn where our Polled Hereford cattle used to spend their winters, and then cruise by the rusting sawmill where my father and I used to make a large part of our living. Finally, we stop at the edge of the Christmas tree field, abandoned only a couple years earlier, but already starting to revert to native fauna. After climbing from the cab, I pull the old Iver Johnson from behind the seat and uncase it. She gets excited at the sight and prances and jumps for joy. She’s learned that the appearance of a tool or gun means I’m going to stay a while.

She gets lonesome since I left the farm and went to the factory. My mother works through the day and feeds her morning and evening, but she doesn’t pay much attention to her. Her life was better back when I still worked here nearly every day. My presence gave her something to do besides lay around and wait for supper. My work here ended when the state’s out-of-control deer herd put me out of the Christmas tree business, since my one-man sawmill operation wasn’t enough to pay all the bills. Now that I punch another man’s time-clock, my old friend and I are lucky to see each other a couple times a week.

After slipping a low-brass #6 in the chamber of the 12 gauge, I start walking methodically through the tree field while she runs everywhere at once, nose in the air, as she seeks any scent. After a few minutes, a rabbit explodes from under my feet, but my old friend hears it and is on its heels before I can get a shot. She promptly chases it onto the neighbor’s property, only 75 yards away. She soon trots back, proud to have driven off the “wascally” trespasser.

Having passed to the far side of the field, we slow the pace as we slip into the small wooded hollow. Having burned off her excess energy, she now seems content to just poke along with me, rather than range ahead. She busies herself sniffing the forest floor as I scan the tree-tops for squirrels.

Reaching the sycamore den tree, we turn up the main hollow. In years past, I’ve taken many a mess of squirrels from the oaks and beeches ahead, as did my father before me. I notice that the small rock dam that I made twenty-odd years ago is still in place, though its pool long ago silted in. At the ginseng patch, a few wilted stems still show among the fallen tree leaves. A few more paces, and we’re surrounded by coon sign, left by the occupants of the rocky out-croppings of the steep banks above us.

High overhead, two grey squirrels zip from limb to limb in a huge beech. The shotgun is nearly to my shoulder when I realize that I may be too close to the unseen house of a relative to be legal. This was always my most dependable squirrel hunting spot before the black-sheep cousin of the family built his home just out of sight over the far rim of the hollow. Since his wife is a dedicated bunny-hugger, I hold my fire rather than embroil some hapless conservation officer in a family feud. After mumbling a few unkind words about possum-brained relatives and bureaucrats, I continue up the hollow.

My old friend and I part company when we come to the gorge of solid rock. She wisely takes the high ground while I choose the more difficult path up the stream-bed. As I struggle along, she watches smugly from the bank, as if to remind me that she's the smart one of this pair. Our paths rejoin where the gorge runs out and the old logging road crosses the hollow. We still-hunt the overgrown road as it winds its way upward through the oak woods, but, there are no more squirrels to be seen. Perhaps the cry of an unseen hawk gives a clue as to why none are moving.

We're almost to the top of the hill when we enter the pear orchard with its lone, century-old pear tree and its thick crop of broom sedge. From here, we follow the farm road out the ridge top, as it curves to the left around the head of the hollow. To the right, I see the spot where my first buck fell. Deer were scarce back then and I was the first in the family to take one. I don't know who was more proud, I or my father.

Next, we come to the peach orchard. There hasn't been a peach tree here since my father was a lad, but, I've pitched many a bale of hay in this field. It was here that I got my first good look at a fox, thirty-some years ago. As my late father and I each sat on a hay bale, catching our breath in the long evening shadow of the half-loaded truck, a red fox entered the field, searching for meadow voles. Moving from bale to bale, he gradually came to within thirty feet of us. He might have come closer, had we not loudly voiced our displeasure when he hiked his leg on a bale.

In my youth, a row of ancient York Imperial apple trees marked the far edge of the peach orchard. We follow that now non-existent row to the old horse road over the hill. It, in turn, leads us to a bench which overlooks the spot where we first entered the hollow. My old friend looks tired, and since this is a pleasant spot, I sit down, my back against a white oak. Her gait betrays her age, as she comes from behind and sits beside me. Leaning the shotgun in the fork of a small maple, I begin to massage her back. She sits quietly for a few minutes, giving me an occasional appreciative glance over her shoulder.

Her tongue no longer lolls and her breathing has slowed, as she slowly sags to her side, head resting on my knee. Recognizing her request for a belly-rub, I gladly oblige. Looking at her face, her collie/golden retriever parentage is obvious, and I wonder if that sensitive nose tells her that other old friends are resting here with us. Within a few yards lie the remains of other generations of farm dogs. No stones mark their graves as in some pet cemeteries. Here, only second-growth timber and a soft carpet of fallen leaves can be seen. Chipmunks and birds scamper and chatter as they go about their daily business of survival. Yet, since each dog here trod this peaceful ground many times, it seemed a good place to lay them to rest.

As my old friend further relaxes, her head slips to the ground. Continuing to rub her stomach, the thought comes to me that very few years will pass before I lay her, too, beneath this leafy carpet. My eyes mist with the thought, and I know it's time to be moving along. We've been here over half-an-hour, soaking up the sights, sounds, and scents this sunny autumn day. When I ask if she's ready to go, she rouses; the rest has restored her, at least in part. Her eyes, full of fawning adoration only a moment ago, now show a spark of excitement. Stroking her head a couple times as she rises, I wonder whether that excitement is for the thrill of the chase or the idea of heading back to the house. Glancing once more at the scene around me, I'm reminded of the little churchyard a mile down the road. There, lie three generations of family who've worked, and loved, this land before me. With no-one left to follow in our footsteps, I ponder the fate of this place when I fill the empty space beside them.

I pick up the shotgun and start out the trail that leads back to the truck. As we both saunter stiffly along, the sparkle in my old friend's eyes lifts me from my melancholy. Looking around me, I silently thank the Lord for this chance to take my gun and walk the farm, for the beautiful autumn weather and, especially, for a beloved old friend with whom to share the day. © 2012
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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Getting Old And Cranky

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Several years ago, I gave Kroger’s entirely too much information and got one of their “Kroger Cards.” Otherwise, I would’ve no longer gotten sale prices on anything in the store. It also saved me five cents a gallon at their gas pumps. Within a year or so, the savings at the pump had dwindled to only three cents and I realized that most of the things on sale inside weren’t things that we should have been eating anyway. They still have the highest quality meats and vegetables in our town, but at the highest prices as well. And so, we’ve been doing most of our grocery shopping at Walmart (I’m sorry to say) and I’ve been buying my gas at BP, since it’s the only place, locally, that sells American-made gasoline.

This evening, I was going by Kroger’s on my way home, when I realized that I needed gas. I swung by a West Virginia-owned station first, but it was full-up. So, I went back to Kroger’s and scanned my card at the pump to get my three cents off, only for the pump to tell me that I needed to pay in advance or swipe my credit card. Now, they already had my name, address, telephone number, checking account number, probably my driver’s license number and maybe even my yearly gross income. Still, they wanted me to give them the $50 bill in my hand before they’d turn on the pump.

When I went to the window, I asked the young fellow running the booth if, indeed, I had to pay in advance, even though I had a Kroger Card. He assured me that was the case. I handed him my Kroger Card WITH the $50 and told him that if that was the case, I didn’t feel the card was worth carrying. I then asked him if he would be kind enough give his boss the card, explain my feelings and tell him that he (the boss) could put the card “where the sun don’t shine.” He grinned and told me that he would be very happy to pass on my message to his boss. Now, I realize the situation isn’t the boss'es fault either, but SOMEBODY has to be the channel for such information.

When I was done pumping gas and climbed back into the truck, I told my wife what had transpired. She laughed and told me that I was getting old and cranky. I must be doing SOMETHING right, I reckon, I used to be merely middle-aged and cranky! © 2012
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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Random Thoughts

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Every day, I try speaking to folks who came here from Mexico and opened businesses without ever bothering to learn our language. I realize that most seek only to do business with their fellow Hispanics, but I’d never dream of going to another country and opening a business without at least having enough knowledge of their language to carry on a simple conversation!

On a related note, there’s a house along the river road between Billsburg and Marysville that proudly flies the German flag. I wouldn’t go to Germany and fly the American flag every day (maybe on the Fourth, though). If your heritage is that important to you, it seems that going home would be in order. People USED to come to this country because they wanted to be Americans. If that’s not what they want these days, maybe they should stay home.

The Lord makes salvation so simple. Why do we insist on making it so difficult?

Why do some folks insist that they believe in God, yet refuse to believe a word He says?

With all the new handling options these days, it’s aggravating that bananas go from too green to half-rotten even faster than they did in the old banana-boat days.

Diesel requires less processing than gasoline, explaining why it used to be about half the price of gas. Now that it’s more popular, it usually costs MORE than gasoline. I just wonder why that is?

The best-tasting food tends to be that which you get the least. If you never dine out, restaurant food probably tastes wonderful. On the other hand, if you HAVE to eat out all the time, even a simple boiled potato is fantastic.

Have you noticed that when they bring out a simple, affordable automobile, it’s only a few years before they add so many bells and whistles that the cars are no longer simple OR affordable?

I don’t know if you’ve compared modern merit badges for Boy Scouts and “ribbons” (or whatever they call them) that the Girl Scouts give compared to the old days, but the times have certainly changed. They no longer seem to value the old idea of roughing it and being prepared. Most things are mostly modern stuff and social-agenda city subjects.

My great aunt used to quote an old saying, “A whistling girl and a crowing hen come to a bad end.” (She was a whistling old maid by that time.) I wonder how many people would even understand the meaning these days?

Most bullies really ARE cowards at heart, but not ALL of them.

Nearly four years of sitting on my backside, talking on the telephone has given me bursitis in my right hip. That reminds me of the old fellow who used to live across the road telling about the old men who used to sit in the neighborhood country store so much that they “had corns on their arse.” © 2012
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Saturday, October 6, 2012

I Embarrassed My Wife…..Again

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Feeling like there might be a few dollars to spare this pay period, I took my wife out for breakfast at a mid-price restaurant this morning. About mid-way through our breakfast, over some people talking way too loud and an over-amped popular tune on the PA system, I heard what I thought was a rather boisterous ring-tone behind me. Then I realized that it was mostly talk and non-rhythmic. Turning around, I saw that the lone young man (20 or so) behind me was watching a video on his phone. I said, “Son, do you think this is the place for that sort of thing?”

“Watching a movie trailer?” was his smiling, seemingly completely-in-the-dark reply when he turned around to face me.

“YOU figure it out!” I replied more gruffly than I probably should have, and turned back to my breakfast.

A sort of blackness came from under my wife’s eyebrows. “Did you HAVE to say something to him?” she hissed.

“No,” I replied, “but it’s obvious that the poor kid’s parents never taught him anything about manners; so I was just hoping that he could take a hint from a stranger.” I tried to keep my voice low enough that the kid couldn’t hear me.

My wife hardly spoke to me for a few minutes, but I noticed that the volume went down on the videos. She eventually got over it, I think in the midst of complaining to me about the watery coffee. © 2012
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Farewell, My Friend

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This was written several years ago as the last part of a short trilogy. I just got it typed today.

Mom told me that my dear friend was too weak to eat her supper that night. Still, she wasn’t too weak to show her love for me the next morning. At the sight of my truck at the barn door, she arose from her resting spot on the cool, yellow clay inside and eased out into the steamy, summer sunshine to greet me. The legs that had once driven her high into the air in excited leaps and spins at my arrival were so weak and wobbly that she could only take a step or two at a time, tail barely wagging. Still, she came. I sat down on a chunk of firewood and stroked her head and neck for a few minutes, with an occasional hug thrown in. She seemed to be in a sort of quiet ecstasy—sitting there with her eyes closed most of the time, opening them only on occasion to turn and gaze into my own.

I took my penknife and cut the hotdog I’d brought into chunks, putting a pain pill in one piece for her arthritis, and antibiotic pills in two others for the sores from where she’d chewed at places on her legs due to pinched nerves. It was no use. She took a piece from my hand repeatedly, only to mouth it and let it fall to the ground uneaten. It was a horrible feeling to see my best friend in such obvious misery and know that there was nothing that I could do to help her. Well, almost nothing. My heart sunk even lower as I realized what I had to do. She saddened when I told her that I had to leave for a few minutes. She always did look downcast when I gave her a farewell, despite the fact that Mom is the one that fed her.

As I pulled out of the driveway to head to my house for a pistol and a shovel, the first predicted rain cloud of the day covered the sun. Arriving back at the farm, my friend once again hobbled out the barn door to greet me. Once again, the tail wagged weakly. When I dropped the tailgate and gently lifted her and placed her on the truckbed, she was happy. She always did like a ride.

The family who’d owned her for the first year of her life had three kids and two other dogs and went everywhere together. So, her first fall in the Christmas tree fields, she was ready to go home with every carload of kids. She never met a stranger, though she would bark happily and wag her tail to announce their arrival. I started referring to her as my “public relations committee.” From then on, nearly everyone’s first question on arrival was “How’s your dog?” My answer was usually made irrelevant by her own arrival on the scene.

After gently closing the tailgate, I drove slowly out the farm road, hoping she wouldn’t fall. Surprisingly, she stayed on her feet, sniffing the air and enjoying the ride. In the saddle-back of the ridge, I turned right, across the swale that formed the head of a small hollow and arrived at the edge of a wooded, half-acre flat on the left side of the main hollow of the farm. Previous generations of farm dogs, both ours and those of a couple neighbors, lay in the little flat that overlooks both the main hollow and the tree fields. It was always at this spot that we entered the woods when we “hunted” together.

After dropping the tailgate, I gently lifted her again and set her on the ground. I then sat down beside her, silently stroking her head and body as she sat there, eyes closed, enjoying the attention and sniffing the air. After a few minutes, I hugged her a couple times and told her what a good girl she was and stroked her head a few times. Her eyes were closed again as the little .22 slug made a small hole in the back of her skull and one the size of all hell in my heart.

She died as gently as she lived, body stiffening as she dropped to her side, the only other spasming being a slow wag of her tail. Had a sort of numbness not have come on me by then, that spasm would probably have made an emotional wreck of me. Textbooks would tell me that that it was just the spasming of muscles caused by trauma to the brain, like a headless chicken going for a run in the barnyard. But I wondered; could it have been a thank you for ending her misery, a good-bye from the other side, or an accusation for the one she loved and trusted most? Maybe it’s best that I don’t know.

I dug her grave as an oval, so she could curl up in her death-sleep as she had in life. I lined it with leaves for a bed and laid her in. Then I covered her with another layer of leaves as a blanket of sorts. After filling her grave, I covered it with small logs and brush to discourage coyotes from digging, a concern I’d never had to deal with until the last few years. I then took off my cotton gloves and laid them atop the pile, partly in hopes that my scent would further discourage coyotes, and partly as a symbol that a part of me stayed there with my friend. Then, I knelt there in the quiet woods and thanked the Lord for 13 years of friendship from the truest friend a man could have.

After getting back to the farmhouse, I loaded the decrepit doghouse onto the truck and hauled it out to the burn pile beyond the sawmill. As I drove down the rough gravel driveway to the county road, the first raindrops of the day began to fall. I remembered once overhearing a mother tell her little girl that a gentle rain is caused by tears from the angels in Heaven weeping over the sad things that they see on earth. As I pulled onto the county road to go home, I quietly imitated their actions. © 2012
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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Some Will Call Me Un-Christian

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I finally learned how to “unfriend” folks on Facebook using their new format. I immediately did so to three individuals. Two fellows, I had unsubscribed from (hid their posts) quite some time ago, despite their supposed Christianity, because of their hate-filled diatribes about those evil Republicans. The other was a supposedly Christian woman who just recently started taking a different tack on the same subject. The one fellow I once worked with, and I consider him a very likeable fellow (though a bit of a sad-sack), as long as you can stay off politics. The other guy projected himself as a conservative Christian, until he purposely got himself “friended” by several obviously conservative Christians on Facebook, then he turned 180 degrees and started spewing anti-conservative, anti-Republican crap on a daily basis. This just so happened to be during a transitional time when most folks didn't know how to get rid of him. I think he realized that and took advantage of it. I finally just lost patience.

While I've always seen the democratic party as the party of the angry and the ignorant (some being one, some the other, some both at once), I now find myself distancing myself from it more and more, and losing patience with its members. I find my life more peaceful if I don’t have to deal with such ignorance so much. I may not be able to avoid it in the public sector, but I see no reason to have to deal with it in my personal life. Even the Bible tells us to avoid foolish people and those given to excessive anger. From my experience, about half of the ignorance in that party is just plain stupidity, the other half is willful. Normal ignorance is sad, but WILLFUL ignorance is downright repulsive. The latter folks know down deep that what the party espouses is immoral, but they’re too stubborn to admit it. Those folks seem to be the angriest of all.

One mistake that the democrat rank and file makes is to paint the Republican rank and file with the same brush that they paint the leadership. They talk about them being rich and greedy. However, the AVERAGE Republican is usually a farmer, an hourly worker, or a SMALL businessman. Percentage-wise, very few are rich. Most are conservative, hard-working and religious, and as generous with charities as is reasonable. The guys in party leadership are often a different breed, though, and that is where the democrats look for their examples. What they don’t understand is that the rank and file isn't too thrilled with those leaders, either. Unfortunately, those leaders have quite a hold on the system and (like the democrat leaders) often manipulate things so that truly conservative candidates don’t stand a chance. That’s why more and more formerly loyal Republicans like me are leaving the party, simply because the leadership is behaving entirely too much like democrats!

There will be some that say that I hate democrats, but that isn't true. Many democrats, like my former co-worker, are very likeable as long as politics isn't the subject up for discussion. I just prefer not to hang out with folks who support a party whose platform supports nearly everything that God is against, and that actually boos the idea of mentioning God. Life is more peaceful to leave them to themselves. There are plenty of them; they won’t get lonely from my absence! © 2012
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Sunday, September 30, 2012

I’d Still Be Doing It…

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…If I could (driving truck that is). I grew up on the farm driving the 2-1/2 ton flatbed that we used to haul logs, cattle, firewood and hay. Thus it wasn’t hard to get a job driving a route truck for Red Rose (Eshelman) a couple years after I was married the first time. They’d been bought out by Carnation by that time, though, and changes were underway in the company. It was interesting to me to deliver cattle and horse feed to farmers as far as two counties away, often up narrow country roads that I would never have seen otherwise. I also delivered feed and pet food and other items to little country stores and a few small-town stores in the surrounding counties. Despite the fact that a few deliveries involved carrying hundred pound sacks of chicken feed uphill to the chicken houses of little old widow ladies, I enjoyed the work. I probably would have stayed there if the company hadn’t demoted the manager with 30 years of experience and brought in some big-city kid with a college degree, no farm experience, and a know-it-all attitude to take his place.

Then, I went to work for a company that sold wood stoves and metal fireplaces, installed chimney caps and gas fireplaces, and cleaned chimneys. The best part, though, was the fact that I often delivered such items as far away as a hundred miles in my home state and over in “enemy territory,” across the big river. I would have stayed there a while, except the owner had promised himself that he’d be a millionaire by the time he was 40, and had hit 39 without making it yet. Therefore, he sold his business and headed to Myrtle Beach to spend that year selling real estate. That was back in ’79. I never heard if he made the deadline or was emotionally crushed by failure.

Learning not to put my trust in the stability of others, I worked on my own and with my dad for a few years. Then, my sister’s husband stumbled onto a job driving a mail truck back and forth to Pittsburgh. The problem was, it was a twelve hour day with a four hour unpaid lay-over in the middle of the day. He really didn’t want to commit to 70 hour weeks straight endwise, so he asked the lady who owned the company that had the contract if he could share the job with me, week on and week off. She agreed, I agreed, he agreed, so that job just sort of fell into my lap. The pay wasn’t high, but it was more than enough for me to make it two weeks on, while still having a week between to work with dad on the farm. My ex-wife would have thought that was dandy, had we still been together, but she’d already bailed out to look for greener bank accounts.

I’d leave town about four in the afternoon, drive a timed route to Pittsburg at about 50 MPH, unload at the airport freight terminal and then wait four hours to load up, go to a bulk mail facility nearby and head back home. Once back in town, I had to unload again, take the truck to the company lot and then repeat the process again in twelve hours. I spent my four hours going to a nearby mall, getting supper and/or napping in the truck. If I went more than a few miles, I’d put a little diesel in the tank with my own money. I sometimes jogged down to the main airport and back for exercise. I learned that I could fall asleep with jets taking off only 300 feet away. It was strange waking up to dead silence and then having my audio senses kick in after a few seconds! I learned that another driver with the same contractor was going down the river at the same time as I, so we started running together to keep one another company on the CB. Three things that I’ll always remember from those days are the look on the face of the woman in thescale-house when I hit the scale at 35 MPH, The big, tall black guy who stood under a huge sign saying not to throw parcels - as he threw parcels, and the look on the face of a guy walking along a straight stretch as my CB buddy and I whizzed by with no lights at two in the morning on a dazzling moonlit night. (It was easier to see the deer (and pedestrians) that way as long as there weren’t any cops around!)

Alas, my brother-in-law drove faster (thus using more fuel), ran around a lot and never put any fuel in the truck. Worse yet, the boss-lady’s father-in-law got laid off and needed a job. So, illegally, she let us go and hired him. That was strictly against the law, and we could have cost her every contract she had, but we didn’t. I went back to work on the farm full-time for a few years, but I’d be hauling mail still, if I had my druthers. © 2012
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Toad And Hoiman

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A small-to-average size toad has made his appearance on our porch a few times lately. We had one around the iris bed a couple years ago; I don’t know if it’s the same one or not. I first saw him a couple weeks ago, sitting hard against the house by the hinge side of the door, when I went to take the dog out after dark. Actually, our little dachshund saw him first since she was ahead. I noticed her straining to look at something on that side without committing herself to stepping down from the doorway. Leaning out, I saw the object of her interest. I think it was her first time to see one.

As we stepped out, I tried to regulate the leash so she could sniff him, but not make a grab for him. Everything is a new toy to her, after all. After a couple initial sniffs, she decided to inform the neighborhood of his existence, so I called to my wife for her to see the dangerous game our fearless guard dog had cornered. After a few barks, I started telling her to hush (the dog, not my wife) and she began to settle down. Finally, she tried to make a grab for it (actually just a feign, I think) and the toad spun to face her like he was saying “bring it on, girl!” After a few more sniffs, I took the pooch off the porch to water the lawn. When we returned, he was still there and she sniffed at him a few more times.

We’ve seen him on the porch in various spots since then. It’s about a 12 inch jump up there, unless he uses our fancy cement-block step to do it in two smaller leaps. I’m surprised that he makes that journey, since he doesn’t know until he’s there whether danger awaits him or not. Being mentally lazy, I guess, we’ve taken to just calling him “Toad.” “He” could actually be a “toadette;” I’ve never bothered to learn if you can tell the difference by looking. Toad must be eating well, as he left a sort of organic calling card by the step.

Having him around has reminded me of another of his species that used to hang around the concrete patio outside the back door of the farm home where I was raised. That patio was originally a garage floor until the garage got to leaning toward Fisher’s. Rather than rebuild the garage, the folks decided to use the old floor for a patio. An old-fashioned green metal outdoor light, salvaged from Dad’s boyhood home, was mounted high on the wall above the back door, and there it remained until the back end of the house was demolished and rebuilt a few years after my father died. That light stayed on each night until the last family member was safe and secure within our country home. While it was on, the light attracted bugs of every description. Those bugs eventually attracted an average size toad, which had learned where life was good.

Once he got to be a regular, my sister and I named him “Hoiman,” faking the accent of one of New York City’s boroughs where “er” sounds are pronounced “oi” more often than not. I think Mom and Dad always called him “Herman,” not giving in to the silliness of their semi-adult children. He lived there on the patio during the night-time hours of several years and grew to be pretty good sized.

He had a fast tongue! Passing bugs, whether flying or pedestrian, seemed to magically disappear if they strayed too close to Hoiman. All you could see was a slight flinch of his head. One memorable exception was the evening that he leaned closer and closer to a huge passing night-crawler. After the flinch, he righted himself with about two inches of the big worm sticking out each side of his mouth. A little working of his jaws and those ends disappeared, too. He provided entertainment for us and our farm dogs, and we all tried to watch out for him.

Hoiman quit showing up during a prolonged drought one summer. We wondered if he might have succumbed to the heat, or maybe just headed to the hollow behind the farmhouse, seeking moisture. The sad answer came one day when I found a dusty, elongated toad-shaped piece of leather in the driveway where the front wheel of the car usually sat. Hoiman had apparently scrunched his heinie under the tire of the car one early morning, looking for shade and coolness. His hide already tight against the tire tread, there was no escape when the tire rolled backwards. I won’t go into details, but what remained would have been an uncut toad skin with nothing inside it. The dust and the hot sun turned his skin into rawhide in a single day and got rid of any remaining evidence.

I certainly hope that Toad doesn’t meet the same fate. © 2012
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