7/31/08

Memories

Last evening as I was winding down from the chores and watching the news, I heard what I thought was a large clap of thunder. I put the television on mute and listened intently for a few minutes. I got up and looked out the front only to see that the clouds that had appeared to be threatening earlier were doing their usual dusk disappearing act. I walked to the back to see my husband sprawled on the deck still in the sitting position of with his favorite lawn chair still underneath him - only sideways. This is a cast iron chair and turned out to have been the source of the noise. He had not yet gotten up for two reasons: First, the dogs were trying to lick him and climb onto him and second, it really hurt and he's getting older. This brought back many memories for me.

Roll that tape:

It was 1990. We bought our first house or I should say he bought our first house for me. It was a little doll house that I once remarked made me feel like I was staying in a hotel - yes, America - I did not get out much back then! We moved into this house over the weekend and finally got all our guests and housewarmers out of the way. We went outside to walk around and look at our new homestead and he wisked me off my feet in a romantic gesture and spun me around so I could get a complete view of our new estate. Just as he was describing to me his intense love and adoration, he stepped into a hole. I heard the crunch as we were going down. I heard his breath leave as I landed on top of him. Then....I heard the screams. "OWwww owwww owwww - is the bone sticking out! It hurts so bad, call an ambulance." The neighbors began coming out and looking and I was trying desperately to first look at the wound and second shut him up. I did note to him that there was no protruding bone and began taking his shoe off. This was a mistake as his foot instantly blew up three times the normal size as soon as I got it off. The romance vanished and I ran for the car keys. The evening ended with the determination that there was ligament damage, a need for crutches for at least six weeks and plenty of pain killers. If you can't have romance, at least you can have pain killers!

In 1991 we still lived on our estate. We enjoyed our home and our promise of a future together. He had learned what my weaknesses were by this time and learned how to tease without completely blowing the chances for future romance. One evening as I was standing in the kitchen cooking something he apparently was not in love with, he made a sarcastic remark but quickly turned it into a joke as he saw the expression on my face. In return, I grabbed a glass of water and headed toward him. He took off running and we both cleared the couch and coffee table on our way out the front door. We were younger then and were laughing by the time we made it to the porch. Just as he began to clear the railing on the porch, I released the water. It hit him the same time his foot hung on the inside of the railing and jerked him back and down onto the porch outside wall - splat! The injuries were not life threatening but there was the need for crutches again for a while as he hurt the weak ankle. The pants however -split seam to seam did not recover. It was difficult changing his clothes before heading to the emergency room and I still chuckle at the sound of the ripping pants before the actual injury occurred. Fortunately, we both laugh about this.

We did very well until 1994 when he decided to play volleyball with some younger people. Another trip to the emergency room but fortunately, we still had the crutches.

In 1997, he jumped off the back of a truck and landed wrong - again on the same ankle. This time I got the call at work and missed the actually hysteria that always follows an injury with him. Same ole crutches - this time a cast.

In 1999, we stopped along a country road for him to retrieve a kitten we saw in the ditch but he didn't realize the ditch dropped off the road sharply. When he stepped out of the car, he disappeared into a four foot ravine - he simply vanished short of hanging on to the door handle screaming "ROOOBBBIIIIIII!" He fell directly into a patch of poison ivy and never did get that kitten. No crutches this time but another visit to the emergency room when his severe allergy to poison ivy surfaced and he had to get some shots.

I believe there were several more injuries but they don't stand out until this year. He built me a porch swing. As I was coming down the driveway one evening, I noticed him standing beside the porch, the swing askew with a broken chain. Unfortunately, what I had missed was the actually BREAKING of that chain and him tumbling with the end of the swing some three feet to the ground as he was on the back swing. The dogs hadn't missed it. They were attempting to make him feel better by licking and climbing all over him. I wonder if that one sounded like thunder.

Time passes in our lives, we get older, we get more easily injured. The glorious thing about Dave is he can still laugh when he does something that is silly or somewhat questionable and the worse case happens. I love that about him because I am a mean person and I always laugh when I see him tumble. One day I will write about all the broken corners, countertops, door facings and all the bruises where I have never been able to navigate my way around. He gets his share of chuckles from that.

7/30/08

Today at the Farm

Today is an interesting day. It's Wednesday. Work is the same - crunching numbers, reporting the results, crunching some more. It's hot outside as is typical for this time of year. There's not a lot to report and my next story isn't quite how I want it to read. So here's an update on the farm.

There are tracks on the road and tell-tale signs of a recent horse escape - poop. I have been walking the fences, convinced this is Minnie but so far evening storms have prevented me from traversing the entire huge estate (added the huge part so everyone would envy the massive lay of land I live on - I'm not admitting it's up and down hill and mostly covered in brush). Hopefully tonight I can avoid the storms and the heat and make sure the breach is not ours and that Minnie isn't taking late night strolls. Instinct tells me to carry a set of fence cutters and extra barbed wire on the next walk. I think I know where the breach may be.

I have a hen "setting". We have been enjoying our fresh country eggs but I was negligent in the last week to collect them daily. Then, the fear comes that they may be "rotting" and there is nothing worse than picking up a rotten egg to have it explode in your hand. That is followed by the dogs and cats following me around the yard beggging and assuming I have some delicious goody for them. She has maybe six or seven eggs but I haven't reached too far to do a final count. Setting hens become aggressive and when they peck you, they don't just tap, they grab onto flesh and twist and don't let go. Tonight, after I figure out the status with the fence, I intend to clean out the laying boxes short of her little group of eggs and get the chickens back on the right track. I have enjoyed my love/hate relationship with the dominant rooster and crow everytime I walk by. He now hears me coming and gets on the highest perch and begins flapping his wings. As soon as he can see me he tries to beat me to crowing. I interrupt him which annoys him and causes him to shiver.

Our garden is producing quite well. Brutus finally discovered that the electric fence was INDEED off and he is now on guard. I haven't seen any signs that the evil armadillo has been captured, but at least it's at bay. We still have the occasional tomato sacrifice but we are also getting a few for ourselves. We are getting okra by the bushel now. I love okra and am freezing it daily. I have tried many different ways to "can" okra but have never been pleased with the outcome. Frozen okra, put in the freezer as soon as it is picked and cut and battered yields the best meal in the winter. I love serving it to Thanksgiving guests.

The boys - Spin and Slow Joe - are growing their hair back. They get bi-weekly dippings for the failed immunity they inherited from their mother and it's beginning to work. Joe has watched as Rocky leaps into my arms and has decided that he can do that as well. He's over 50 pounds now so he leaps, throwing his feet into the air and falling over. I have finally learned to at least catch is front feet and try to lift him like a child. Of course, I can't lift him but I meet him halfway and hug him just the same. This doesn't work on days I am dressed for work and he's learning the difference in "it's o.k." and "stay away".

The hawks have their hatchlings now in the woods and I hear them occasionally. Unfortunately for them, there is a crows nest and crows do not like hawks. This is good news for the chickens who the hawks were spying on for a while as the crows have kept them in the distance. Who says crows are not good?

The snake is still incognito. I know he's there and expect to see him again but I have warned Dave he's there. So if Dave sees him, hopefully he won't damage any buildings or equipment. I haven't seen the bunnies so I am not sure who survived and who did not. Next year, the garden will show me the truth there.

The deer are roaming with their babies and I saw the Momma Turkey and six young just two days ago. When I passed by, the babies layed down but the mother poked her head up. I waited until they realized I was not leaving and watched as they high tailed it into the woods. Turkeys are great at avoiding hunters but they are not good parents. They tend to hatch very large groups of babies and then drag them through the damp grass and various other places. The six will probably not last as I usually see them successfully raise two or three.

So, boring as it may sound, farmlife goes on. I thank God everyday for the breath He gives me and for the peace he wakes me up to. He's loaned this to me for a brief while and I intend to do my best to enjoy it and care for it while I'm here. Hopefully, the next person he loans it will will appreciate it as much as I do.

7/29/08

Snakes in the....

Many have heard the stories of my husband's incredible phobia of reptiles. Snakes of any sort will send him into a race for life. His "fight or flight" instinct immediately turns to flight and he could probably win an Olympic medal were a snake behind him. I have had many hours of complete joy and pleasure from knowledge of this phobia.

It all began on the second date. We stopped at a convenience store and I waited in the truck while he went in. He came back out, opened the door and tossed a rubber snake at me. It looked real enough but I am not really that afraid of snakes. He thought it would be funny and make him appear manly. It actually was entertaining and cute and I took that snake and deposited it into my purse. At this point in the relationship, I did not realize he was deathly afraid of the creatures and that it probably took all his courage to even touch the rubber one as it looked incredibly real.

I completely forgot about the snake having switched purses at some point until after we were married. Our first house was a "shack". It was a 1950's airstream trailer put into the back of a concrete block building. It was home to us and we were quite content. We decorated it, cleaned it up a good bit and enjoyed our time there. This shack was heated by a wood stove. Dave quickly learned to stack enough wood in the house, next to the stove to get us through the night and morning and then to re-do it all again the next evening when he had time. He never once asked me to participate in the stove/heat maintenance. He truly was the man of the house.

One Saturday as I was straightening out the spare room/closet, I found the snake in my old purse. I had completely forgotten about it and chuckled at the memory of his discovery that I was not terrified. Then, I had an idea. I took that snake and carefully placed it under a piece of wood in the pile. It took me a while because I coiled it up to where it would spring when he picked up that piece of wood. I was still unfamiliar with his morbid fear and thought he would find the scare funny and entertaining.

I actually forgot about the creature until later on that evening when he decided to fill up the stove. He took great pride in his responsible manner in keeping us warm and it was quite the back patting ritual when he began. He would tell me how his manly duty was to keep his young wife warm and comfy and he would go about "stoking" the stove and explaining to me - every time - how he was accomplishing the best fire in the universe. This evening was no different.

He cleaned out the ash pan, poked the ashes on down and got the embers burning to the appropriate level. Then he began taking the wood out of the pile to put into the stove. I had still forgotten my evil deed as he made his way through the holding pile. Then it happened, he got to the right spot and that snake popped up and OH BOY - flight - he ran tossing the piece of wood in his hand at the pile as hard as he could and nearly tearing the front door off the hinges as he got outside. This was better than I had imagined! I remembered the snake just as he was screaming from about 100 yards away "we are moving, this house is full of snakes and we are no longer staying - we will have to leave the furniture as I am sure it's infested". Those probably are not his exact words as his exact words are unrepeatable, but it was soooo funny.

Of course, I began laughing. Not only had I gotten him back for his attempt to scare me but I had learned his weakness. This is knowledge I carry with me to this very day. This knowledge gives me a power over him that no other physical threat can. I could send an entire militia to the house after him and, were they to carry ONE SNAKE, he would surrender without struggle. This was just too much power for one little country girl.

He finally calmed down and sort of laughed at the joke trying to re-establish his dominance and realizing that he alone had created this game by the purchase of the rubbery terror. He came back in and lectured me a bit on how I had caused his fire maintenance process to wane and how we may actually get cold as a result and he threw the rubbery villain back at me. Things settled down, I tried to contain my humor and the evening progressed. I put the little guy in a drawer or something and again, forgot about him.

A few weeks later, I came across the snake again. This time, I understood the terror but not the ability to take flight through any situation. I determined to "play" with him once again only assuming he would recognize the snake and laugh after his initial panic. This would be "our game" I thought - me putting the snake in different places, him laughing that I kept it up. I put the snake in the bottom of the tub, coiled and looking up. I was a little annoyed this particular day that he would not get up as I was preparing breakfast. I waited.

His routine was to get up and hit the shower first. I made sure he knew I was making his favorite biscuits and gravy and that he would want to get up soon. I was just too excited to let him rest for long. I also assumed the prize breakfast would make up for the shock in the shower and he would laugh that I once again surpassed his tease.

He got up and immediately headed for the shower - SCORE - it was working! I heard him turn on the water so he could wait the required several minutes for it to warm up. I heard him shaving in the sink and I lurked as much as possible outside the doorway while I was waiting on breakfast to finish. Then I heard him sliding the shower curtain open - but -I heard it sliding shut. It had not worked, he found it and caught onto the trick. As I was giving up on the chuckles of anticipation, I realized the bathroom door was being thrown open and he was emerging with the shower curtain tangled around himself - flight! He made it a few more steps, trying desperately to mouth the word "S N A K E" when the curtain rod caught in the door and snapped him back. Yes, he had not only taken flight, but he had taken the shower curtain, rod and door with him! How could this be? My luck was unbelievable. I laughed so hard, I regretted the damage to the bathroom since I couldn't get in there.

Unfortunately, he didn't find it funny at all. He seldom does find it funny when I master a scare over him which inspires me to improve my plans each time. This particular plan worked profoundly but he beat me to the snake as he was the one who had to repair the damage to our bathroom. He quietly walked into the kitchen, found a pair of scissors and sliced it into little tiny pieces over the garbage can as he glared in an attempt to convince me that spousal abuse is a crime. Still, it was funny to see my naked, dripping husband angrily slicing a toy snake. Oh the memories. Besides, toy snakes are cheap!

7/28/08

The Beetle Hounds

Two years before moving to the farm (it's amazing how my life is in segments and "moving to the farm" is a major segment), my brothers got beagles for Christmas. My oldest brother got Fella. He was a beautiful specimen! His ears were perky, his markings were even and his body was square and balanced. He was also the wimpiest hunting dog on the planet but the most loveable dog in the house.

Rick got Daisy. She was the exact opposite of Fella. She lived to hunt. She had long floppy ears, an elongated body and big massive feet. Her bark was one of the most loud and annoying sounds a person could ever hear. And...Daisy was basically "untrainable". Daisy did what Daisy wanted to and in a pen in the suburbs, that meant she barked...all the time!

Ronnie and Rick both enrolled into "Obedience School" with their new pups. Fella did wonderfully. He lived to please and perform and he was soon winning trophies at shows and trials. Daisy however ended up being "expelled". Yes, she was expelled from obedience school. It was decided by the Board of Directors of the Huntsville Obedience Training Club that not only was Daisy untrainable but she was such a disturbance in class with her incessant barking and dragging of Rick all over the place it was decided that she was not allowed back into class. As I understand it there were few dogs ever expelled and they were normally the aggressive Spitz or chihauhaus. Daisy was the exception to the rule. She was loveable enough, but she was simply hard headed and laughingly disobeyed even the most disciplined trainers. They even instructed my brother regarding stringing empty tin cans on a stringer and throwing it into the pen when telling Daisy to shut up. That worked well with Fella - he was terrified of those cans which inspired Daisy to pick them up and chase him around the pen with them.

When we moved to the country, our purebred beagles soon became knows as the "champeen beetle hounds" by the locals. We tried correcting them a few times which was met with aggressive references to yankees, so we soon just answered "yes" when they would ask "are you the ones with them purtee beetle hounds?". It didn't take my Dad and Ronnie and Rick long to decide to test out the hunting skills of these dogs. Seeing as how Daisy managed to always dig out of her pen either way, they decided to try to make something productive out of it and it worked. Those long ears and that annoying bark served Daisy and the guys well on hunting trips. She would snuff out a rabbit and quickly run around it and bring it right back to the guys. Fella on the other hand spent most of his time leaping in the air to see over the tall grass and figure out which way was home. He would quietly paw at the back door in hopes one of the ladies would let him in before he was expected to hunt any longer.

The only problem with hunting rabbits was that our property wasn't large enough and Daisy would soon disappear into the distance still barking and attempting to round up all the rabbits. She would usually show up sometime the next day with her eyes swollen shut and pass out on the steps until the next hunt. My brother would pen her back up and that lasted until she got anxious again. He learned to take her hunting more frequently to keep her energy somewhat contained.

It was during my Dad's ambition to become a world champion rabbit hunter that he ordered Dan. Dan was a guaranteed professionally trained, professionally raised rabbit dog- beetle hound. He was from Arkansas and had to be shipped to Huntsville where Daddy picked him up and discovered the flight home had given him pneumonia. Daddy quickly got him medicated and well and proceeded to hunt with him. There was one problem with this. Dan was used to hunting in controlled situations and "free hunting" left him confused. Adding to that problem was the fact that Daisy would tend to beat the daylights out of him for slowing her down or getting after her prey. Daddy was still thrilled at the combination of bloodlines he was building into his pack of beetle hounds and began setting up our breeding/kennel operation. This too became calamity as Fella and Dan would begin fighting feverishly over whatever female was around and ever which one you picked up, Daisy latched on to. She was forever waiting to see who ended up on bottom and then jumping them as well - she knew no loyalty. Separating the losing male only lead to hours on end of horrific crying and barking.

Many people would come with their females and see Fella in all his glory and insist on him being the father of their puppies, despite his terrible hunting record. His show record was as easily marketable combined with his looks as Dan's hunting record considering that Dan was not a very pretty dog. Daisy decided she really didn't like Dan- even when she was "in" and beat him up relentlessly. Dan sort of liked to hunt, but he wasn't overly ambitious in that arena either. This was the beginning of the end for the great McLeroy Beetle Hound Kennel dream.

As time passed, Daddy decided that Dan was indeed a very expensive useless mess. So, he decided to sell him. It was pretty easy as Beagles were popular in suburban areas and beetle hounds were popular in the country. He advertised the beagle and quickly had a buyer from New Market - some 40 miles away. He sold Dan, signed over the papers and helped them get him loaded. Dan didn't seem to care - off they went.

Two days later, he got a call from the new owner. Dan had dug out from under his fence and was missing - surprise! Daddy instructed him not to worry that it was routine for beagles to dig, hunt and come back half dead and they decided they would wait. Three days later Dan did show up - at our house! We called the new owners and advised them he was there. They came once again and got him - two days later - he was back. He managed to beat his previous record.

Daddy gave them back their money and set about selling Dan to someone further away or at least in another part of the county. He quickly found a buyer as Dan was at bargain basement price by now and they were proud to get him. This owner outlined the quality of fencing with concrete footing and their necessity for a good hunting dog. It was a perfect combination. We did not hear from this owner for nearly three weeks. Daddy was relieved and thrilled that Dan had accepted his surroundings. Then, Dan showed up again. He patiently waited until the first hunting trip this time and proceeded to somehow find his way home. The man's money was refunded and Dan was never sold again. This was also the end of the huge kennel operation - at least for beagles - as Fella managed to "throw his back out" entertaining one of the ladies who visited, Daisy proceeded to beat them both up, and Dan became just another dog.

From this point forward, Daisy and Dan learned to hunt together without fighting too much and Fella became a popular show dog in the Obedience Trial circuit. There was the occasional litter of puppies from the two but news had spread about Daisy's "untrainability" or someone had met her while she was on one of her hunting sprees so they were simply another litter of beetle hounds/hunting dogs. In her latter years, Daisy found her way to the wrong end of a chain as she developed a taste for chickens and encroached on my beloved responsibilities a little too often. My evil game rooster ended her chicken fettish quickly for her one day when Fred the duck got too close to her and she decided to try to munch. Who knew a game rooster could do what no man could do before. When he finished she was one bloody mess and no longer interested in the taste of fresh chicken. Perhaps it was age, but after meeting up with that rooster, Daisy gave up hunting and just became a family pet.

I still remember these dogs fondly. In the height of it's rule, the McLeroy Beagle Farm had probably 30 or 40 hunting dogs. It was rather successful, but like most ventures begun by Daddy, it eventually lost to some other passion. Is it any wonder however, that I stop at night and sit on the porch to hear the distant coon hounds as they hunt and bellow out their whereabouts? Once you've been around hounds, you always love their sound. City slickers hate a dog to bark. An old country gal like me lives for the sound!

Monday Thoughts.

Good Monday World! I write that as if the entire world hinges on my greetings. That's because MY entire world does hinge on my greetings.

Friday evening I went home to find that the snake in the grass was gone. He lives to fight another day. The best thing about that is that I described the serpent to my husband who has a deathly fear of them. In my telling, it was nine feet long with fangs the size of steak knives. Yesterday, Dave had to go to the back barn for some lumber - I managed to sneak a peak at him as he DROVE THE TRUCK back there, making sure to avoid the dreaded attack site and tip toed through the grass into the barn only AFTER having the dogs do a complete check. Suddenly my useless bulldogs who he has proclaimed forever were not worth the money to get their shots were critical elements in his barn approach. Of course, this is a snake that can emit an odor familiar to a dead animal so unless they squash it while rolling on it, they are not going to be much use. He doesn't know that and what he doesn't know will make the situation even more entertaining in the event I do manage to get him to run into the snake. Oh- if only it would happen! Yes, America, I am evil.

Today, I am going to try to find a plastic snake that will look like a real one and I am going to gently interweave it into his lumber pile. It's a glorioulsy evil plan that only a truly evil wife could come up with - and it's been done before which will make watching him either destroy the woodpile or himself even more fun because I KNOW how fast he can run. I have built the fear in his mind now based largely on exaggerated truth. Bwahahahahahahaha.

We had another front move through our area on Saturday evening. There was thunder, lightning, wind and...not much else. We didn't get a lot of rain but as the storm made its exit, it delivered one last powerful lightning bolt that went down a tree right next to the barn. The chickens cackled for about 30 minutes and jumped everytime something passed their doorway. The cats clung to the porch and the dogs attempted to rip the back door off its hinges. What amazes me is that the horses were not the least bit concerned. They seldom get in the barn during a storm, preferring some spot in the lower acreage to graze and keep their backs to the wind. My Dad used to tell us the story of his father's herd of cattle who were hit while all standing under the same tree during a storm. I believe they lost close to 30 head that one time. For all the human traits we give our animals, they still are not that bright during a storm.

When Hurricane Ivan pummeled us a few years ago, I watched the horses. I expected panic and distress, but they stayed primarily in the center of the hayfield. I turned them loose on the place assuming natural instinct would be superior to my locking them in a barn that would potentially be destroyed. They stood with their backs to the driven wind and rain and grazed through the majority of the storm. As one wave after another of gusts, tornadoes and storms would come through, they simply stood their ground. At one point, just as the eyewall was reaching land, my daughter and I went out with our flashlights during a lull in the storm. We did a headcount with each passing lull. We counted five horses and ....lots and lots of eyes! Upon closer examination, we discovered an excess of 30 coyotes standing underneath the horses - just standing there. The calm mannerisms of the horses assured us that there was no danger to them. They simply were enduring the storm as neighbors to the coyotes. The coyotes were not indulging in their usual banter and conversation that we so often hear but quietly sitting, laying and standing underneath the horses. Our dogs did not go into attack mode either. It's one of the few times I have witnessed nature in complete peace with itself. The hurricane itself had become the enemy and apparently, it took the unity of the beasts to survive such a storm. As the next lull came through, we went back out and all the tiny eyes were gone?

The storm this weekend reminded me of that evening so long ago. I have lost two horses since that night, one to old age (Trusty died at 34) and one to colic (Little Bit died at 4). I have gained a new one who we now call "Minnie Oops" changing her name from "One Eyed Sally" which her former owners had cruelly dubbed her with. She was a gift and slowly proving herself to be a gift - a most frustrating, fence destroying, dog kicking, rear view mirror destroying - gift? Sometimes I hear my Daddy's voice ringing in my head "horses are useless and dangerous" but I usually hear my own response that I gave from the time I could talk "but they are WONDERFUL and smell so good and feel so good to ride". I like my own voice better in this situation though the rest of my family is prone to listen to my now deceased Daddy.

I have still also been reflecting on that snake in the grass. I am pleased with myself that I did not kill it as I originally intended to do. The entire day had me thinking of the good it does in controlling the vermin population and the fact that a non-poisonous snake usually means the poisonous variety may be further away. I reflected on the value of good and evil in our world and how we often misinterpret each to find ourselves suffering from trusting the wrong persons and convicting the good ones. We all make our share of mistakes, including those in judgment. If we are lucky, we learn something which ads value to our lives. Perhaps a snake in the grass ads no value to my life, but a rubber snake in the woodpile - OH BOY - that's going to ad one great scene some day down the road.

7/25/08

Snake in the Grass

This morning I decided to take a long walk. I managed to drag myself out of bed early and thought a walk around the farm would do me good. I usually walk in the evenings and I noticed that the world is quite different in the mornings.

In the evenings when I walk, the locusts are singing to a rhythm all their own. The dove are usually on the ground somewhere and cooing to one another. The frogs are winding up for their evening chants. I usually see a turkey with some of her new hatchlings and there is a certain spider whose web always looks the worse for the wear by the time I see it. He's a fascinating creature. He looks like he's wearing an armor. His web is always in the shape of the Star of David and I have to stop everyday and thank God for the reminder that He does exist in everything - including a tiny spider's web. Those who know me know I abhor spiders but this guy has won my heart. When the light reflects from his awesome creation, it sparkles and glistens. He sits at the top of the star as if to proclaim his power over his domain.

This morning met me with an entirely new experience. The locusts must not have gotten up yet. The grasshoppers who normally hop all around me were nowhere to be seen and my spider was busily repairing his web apparently from some late night invasion. There were deer coming out of the woods who jumped at the site of me and the dogs.

This morning the mocking birds' chattering and mimicking of every sound they could come up with replaced the cooing of the doves and the bobwhite. The ground was damp and glistened with the sunrise. There was a hum coming from the tall grass that, upon closer examination, proved to be tiny little bumble bees. Our particular area seems to have been impacted by the honey bee disorder as I haven't seen them. They have been replaced by tiny little black and yellow bumble bees who work just as hard in the garden and grass. I was amazed by the difference the time of day made in the atmosphere.

My walk was close to ending after about thirty minutes when I heard the crying. Anyone who has been around woods or farms learns the sounds of the wildlife and this sound was definitely the sound of a small rabbit in trouble. The dogs had returned to the house so it was safe for me to dig around a bit and see what was going on. I expected to see a little den of baby rabbits, unhappy with their mother leaving them. So, I began digging and the crying got louder. I wondered if I should back away but I just HAD to see. As I reached in and cleared the final clump I saw fur - bingo! But I also saw something else - at first I thought the mother rabbit had deposited her young into a rubber tire or something so I reached for it. I touched it - and EWWWWW - and then I said something that started with an "s" and recoiled at the realization that this was indeed a very large rat snake encompassing the entire nest and offspring!

First I called for Brutus - "I need your help!" His ears peaked and then I realized - rabbits - vermin to Brutus - this was not going to help them. So as he approached ever willing to help, I shooed him away. He probably is still angry with me for turning on him so quickly but he was hot and tired from the walk so he didn't insist on seeing what the situation was. I ran to the shed nearby and found only a shovel. This would have to be sufficient. Any other time, I would have simply retrieved the snake but when I said it was a rat snake, that is upon reflection - at the time, I wasn't sure if it was poisonous or just annoying.

I banged on the mass for a few seconds and I finally saw baby rabbits scattering about the grass. Then I set about to get rid of the snake. He managed to stay in one big ball of slithering, disgusting mess and I could not seem to figure out which end was which. I wasn't sure where that head or mouth was so I was unwilling to reach into the mass to try to dislodge the knot. That's a first for me! I normally grab and toss first, think second - old age is good for something!

I finally gave up realizing that nature is nature and the whole "circle of life" is God's plan. Of course, on this day, there are a few baby bunnies who have a little longer to run in that circle. Note I call them bunnies. This time next year I will call them "doity wabbits" as they loose their destruction upon my garden. Sometimes it's hard to know who your friends and enemies are. Further reflection leaves me wondering if perhaps that snake was working for me and not against me! Isn't that how life is sometimes.

7/24/08

The Tooth Fairy

About a year ago, my husband completed the long promised "chicken coop". We bought nine baby chics and we were in the chicken farming business. One of those chics was a "Silky" breed. They are Japanese with long furry feathers, big top knots on top of their heads and black skin and meat. They lay small eggs. But my daughter loved her so she became a member of the family.

Leiren spends hours in the chicken coop sitting on an upside down bucket and watching the chickens, petting them and talking to them. They have formed a mutually loving relationship with one another. She reminds me often of my younger days as a daughter on the farm.

Our childhood move from suburbia was not forced upon the children in the house or at least we did not believe it was. It was preceded with negotiations regarding each of our fancies for farm responsibilities and promises of fulfillment of those dreams. My brother chose pigs and to this day loves the smelly creatures. They are intelligent enough but their propensity for nastiness left me not wanting a lot to do with them. They would eagerly await him in the mornings though, sometimes half hanging over the short wooden gate and gladly snort and grunt when he talked to them.

My choice was chickens. Daddy built us a large chicken pen and converted an old shed into a makeshift chicken house. That shed leaned a bit and had a lot of holes in the walls, but the laying boxes he designed and the door he constructed made it appear to me a work of perfection. My mother ordered our first chickens from a mail order catalog. We got fifty baby chicks delivered by the mailman on what was possibly the hottest day of the year. They had been in his car a while and when we opened that box, we thought they were all dead. After a lot of water and cooling them off with the fan, they seemed to recover.

We began raising those babies in a box in the utility room. I didn't know you couldn't put baby chicks in the pen but they were so small they could have walked right through the wire. We spent hours on end changing papers, refilling feed bowls and waterers. My mom found some waterers that screwed to the tops of Mason Jars and they were ideal for our situation. I was so thrilled to have these little creatures and was willing to spend all day taking care of them. I soon learned that if you turn the lights off and cover them up, chickens fall fast asleep. Yes America those tiny brains really only work on a tiny scale. Dark is dark and they go to sleep. My brother and I occasionally would cover them up and then quickly uncover them just to see their heads pop back up in surprise. It was funny until Mother caught us.

The babies soon grew big enough to be put into their pen. I sat with them for the first three days to make sure they were "adjusting" assuming that all creatures have human characteristics and could not adjust without the aid of their "parent". They did fine of course. It wasn't long until my brother assisted me with discovering another instinct. If something flew over them making a shadow, they would scatter into the house and scream assuming it was a hawk or dangerous predator. It was divine....we made paper planes, used big dead leaves or sometimes managed to hand mime a shadow across the pen with the sun at our backs! Then we could go into the pen and they would converge upon us as if we had saved them. As per every venture, Mother caught us and there was punishment. For me, the punishment was being forced to stay away from them a few days. My brother probably had to mow the grass or something- I don't remember.

In our household, it was very seldom that we were given any sorts of candy. I was big enough to ride my bicycle to the store and Sybil, my neighbor had her pony, so we had our adventures back and forth several times a week. We would pick up bottles and trade them in for whatever the take on the bottle fees would get us. Sometimes I had enough candy left over to take home and hide somewhere in my room. My favorite during those days was Charms Blowpops. They were new and delicious. They had candy on the outside and a huge sticky piece of bubble gum on the inside. However, if I ate my candy in front of my siblings, I was forced to either throw it away if I didn't have enough to share or share it with them. So...I would take my candy outside somewhere and hide and eat it.

On one particular occasion, I had an extra Blowpop. It was cherry flavored. This particular day was not too hot and muggy and I desperately sought a hiding place outside where I could devour this wonderful treat. The safest spot for me was in that chicken pen on an upside bucket. I had convinced both my sisters that chickens were dangerous to everyone but the "chicken handlers" and that they did not yet have the skills it took to subdue them. So they were terrified to open the gate. So, I grabbed a bucket and headed for the chicken pen with the booty hidden in my pockets. I turned that bucket upside down, turned my back to the house and began enjoying and savoring the delicious sweet treat. It was awesome. I am quite sure Mother knew what I was up to but as long as the sisters were not crying, she wouldn't force me to toss the candy. They didn't know - I had pulled it off with masterful precision.

I was ten years old at this time and losing and cutting various molars in my mouth. It seemed I forever had a loose tooth just begging to come out and I was not a person who willingly gave up anything - including loose teeth. Sure, the Tooth Fairy would pay me for the loss, but it was the act of losing, the blood, the empty spot, the fact that it came from my mouth....that made me fight to the last second the loss of the tooth. The only gain in this would be the quarter under the pillow that would serve to fund my next store adventure with Sybil. On this particular day I believe it was a molar on the right that was loose. I had forgotten the tooth in all the excitement of actually tricking my sisters. I reached the chewy bubble gum center but I couldn't seem to get it off that stick. I chomped and peeled the remaining candy off, enjoyed it and then set about getting the delicious gum treat into my mouth. It was sometime during this effort that I forgot about the right side and grabbed that gum with all my might. I was pulling the stick with my hand, holding the gum with my teeth, refusing to release the gum and believing the stick would eventually release it first.

Suddenly there was a release of the pressure. My hand flung out as the pressure was released unexpectedly. But something was wrong. There was no gum in my mouth and I didn't realize in time that the object I saw sailing over the gum (still on the stick, still in my hand) as it was recoiling, was my loose tooth. It sailed, ever so slowly, ever so gracefully over my hand. I watched it, unable to move, distraught at the calamity of yet another useless gap in my mouth. And then....the chickens saw it. They raced across the pen like well trained catchers in a World Series game. They bumped into each other, fell over each other until finally the tooth landed. It was the rooster that got there first. He clucked his victory cluck and grabbed it, teasing the rest of the flock with his new prize.

I then realized that all profit from this loss could be gone and raced the hens to this rooster. This was the meanest barnyard creature on the farm and he quickly flared his wings and feathers at me challenging me for the prize. For the first time in my career as a chicken handler, I stood my ground - that tooth was mine and when he jumped up to bare his claws and spurs into me, I caught him by the feet. He started pecking and screaming and I shook him until he stopped. I won! I beat the old jerk and he would never bully again! But I forgot what the fight was about and just as I remembered, I saw one of the hens eat my tooth!

When a girl is ten, there are just some victories that prove not worth it. I stood there for a minute feeling the overwhelming shudder rising from deep inside. As the sobs began, I turned to run to the house. All my hens favored one another and there was no guessing which one had managed to eat the tooth. My only hope was a mother who was smarter than me. As I ran into the house, fully sobbing with tears making the floors slippery, I blitheringly tried to describe the entire scenario to Mother. I remember saying something about the rooster and how I fought him off and then I realized...I would have to lie to her regarding the reason the tooth was lost to achieve any sympathy from her. Even worse, I loved my chickens and to turn in the wrong one would mean certain death to an innocent fowl. Oh the horrors of deceipt! This only served to increase my sobbing and complete inability to communicate.

My mother finally calmed me down to the point that I could talk. One would have to know that Mother wasn't the most sympathic person. If one cried, she normally sent one to one's room until they quit crying and then asked again what the problem was. If one began crying again, one was sent back to the room. This of course did not apply if there was blood or protruding bones. But, on this particular day, she realized the drama was real and she patiently wiped my face and calmly asked me the problem. As I calmed down I could only blurt out that a chicken ate my tooth and show her the horrific blank spot in my mouth. Amazingly, she didn't ask me for details and I wonder if she imagined this ferocious hen pecking my teeth until one came out. I still remember the twitching in the corners of her mouth. I still remember her expression of amusement and her final "well, the chicken didn't know it was a tooth" as she responded. She didn't get it! This would cost me a whole quarter! We were not allowed to use curse words even in the most dire situations so I could not even respond to her because all I could come up with started with "d" or "s", so I just sat there peering at her through my tears and hoping no additional details were required.

I don't recall how long this drama continued, but I do remember Mother starting supper as I still sat there trying to reconcile to the loss and betrayal of my subjects. I did begin to recognize my ultimate victory over the evil rooster and my Mother even pointed out that perhaps now my baby sister could venture into the pen and play with the chickens as well since he would probably remain subdued in my presence - oh joy- now I got to share my treasures with HER! That was even o.k. Baby sister was a sweetie and I could manage that. Then, the most amazing thing happened. My mother handed me some beans to snap and as we sat there snapping them into the pan, she told me the story of a little girl, a farm and a wayward duck. On this farm, this little girl treasured this duck and one day this duck ate - yes - ate a lost tooth. She couldn't remember the details of how the tooth came out and it wasn't even important to her (Oh say it isn't so!) but she sure did remember how horrified she was that her duck betrayed her. That story was worth far more than any monies the Tooth Fairy could have left and I ended the day fully victorious. I had a bond with my Mother that I already knew was there but this story served to convince me that my Mother saw something of herself in me and that she maybe liked what she saw.

I went to bed that night still wondering which chicken ate that tooth and wondering would it die. I recounted to myself the fearless manner in which I addressed the rooster and visualized the experience one last time before drifting off to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, miraculously, there was a quarter under my pillow. Somehow my mother had reached the Fairy and told her about my tooth. She even left me a little box for the next tooth and a note describing how it better be a very important tooth -worth the price of two teeth! My Mother I realized, was awesome!

7/23/08

The Conspiracy Continues.

The conspiracy continues! The terrorists have now hi-jacked the jalepeno pepper market. I read somewhere that they found one- ONE - pepper with the evil bacteria in it. Well...I'm here to tell you, I think last week I found another one but my body did not completely give in to the evil doers workings until yesterday. Enough said about that one though.



I wonder how often we go into a complete panic regarding these stories and how much damage we do to the livelihoods of others. I still want to know - and if you know please tell me. IF I wash my veggies in antibacterial soap product, will it kill an errant bacteria that may have found it?



Fortunately for me, I grow my own peppers. Unfortunately for me, this year's crop is the "hottest" so far and the last time I tried one, my lips were numb for hours. I didn't get blessed with those luscious full lips such as we see with all the movie stars and I am unwilling to walk around with my lips appearing to be wrong side out, so it's not a big deal if they get numb short of the fact that it prohibits me from talking. My husband says that's actually a bonus.



I'm a rebel though and I don't keep up with the news, so I bought some product recently that may or may not have had either the evil terrorist attacked tomatoes or the evil terrorist attacked peppers. Either way, I can testify -it's an evil plot! There is still debate regarding my "condition" as it now seems to be leaving me after about a week. Some say nerves but rebels have nerves of steel. Some say imagination but we won't go there except to say it's not. You can't imagine this stuff. Some say "just quit whining and be a big girl!" I have an response to that too but I can't put it in print and it would completely destroy what little testimony I may have left.



I am grateful that I am safe, fed and blessed with shelter. So many these days worry about just those minor essentials. When I look at the bigger picture compared to my last 24 hours, I realize that my last 24 hours are a cake walk. How many times do I whine and complain when I really have nothing to rightfully complain about? If we look around, do we see suffering in our lives or do we see a chance to learn a new lesson? Do we see the suffering of others through our own or do we only see what we need in this world?



I suppose in times of immediate grief or pain, we are incapable of seeing past that or through it, but what about those other times?My needs may come first but once I eat and am warm, should I concentrate on the next big "thing" I want or should I first check to see if my neighbor is going to make it?



Today for me is a wash. I was sick yesterday and I am simply relieved I am not sick today. So, it's a small opportunity for me to think about life and all these little things that I seem to miss when I concentrate on the big things. I hope this day is a blessing for everyone else. Waking up this morning was a blessing for me.

7/21/08

I'm Getting Old!

You know you are getting old when...

I think I say this on a daily basis now. I could finish it SO many different ways, but today I am going to finish it with ...when it hurts to move!

I have always been an active person. Even now, I consider myself exercising with my evening walks and I don't sit still for long unless I am caught up in some project here at my desk. Sure...I used to swim, scuba, stay on the go, travel and these days I have definitely curbed many of those activities. But I still work the garden, walk, do stuff around the farm and so on. I did not think I had slowed down that much.

This weekend, I assisted with the painting of a young couple's living room. She picked out the most incredible "apple red" that took courage and an eye for decorating I do not have. It made her living room look awesome with the muted tones of her furniture and decorations. Getting it on the walls was not that much trouble either. I only had to step up a couple of steps on the ladder designed for ease of use and then roll the walls. Cutting in around the baseboards was as easy as sitting on the floor with the paint can and scooting along the walls. It just was NOT that much trouble.

It did take us several hours as this room was rather large, but the end result was awesome. We went home Saturday with a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for a job well done. Sunday morning I awoke to pain! Yes people- pain - from the bottoms of my feet to the top of my neck. When I raised up out of the bed, my muscles (or apparently what little is left of them) screamed at me. When I stood up, my knees and other muscles tried to force me back on to the bed. I am a stubborn old gal and I insisted they get me into a hot shower! So, we waddled - me and my aching body - to the bathroom. I immediately became angry with my husband since he can stand and take care of business and I was required to...sit...and then...get back up - OUCH!

The warm shower was very helpful until it was over and then the old body immediately began its second round of protests! I finally got enough anti-inflammatory painkillers (over the counter of course) into my system that I could at least shuffle around the kitchen and get breakfast and feed the animals. Of course, the puppies tried to jump up on me insisting on hugs and kisses and not understanding how difficult it was for me to reach for them.

After breakfast I had a chance to do the one thing any old person should do - sit in the recliner with the remote control in hand. This was a great relief until the genuis I married decided that yesterday was an outstanding opportunity to replace the hardwood flooring in the entranceway. This flooring has needed replacing since Hurricane Ivan flooded the front of the building but for some reason, yesterday was the magic date for the effort. We had gotten a real bargain on some replacement tongue and groove flooring - a contractor had it left over and it had been sitting in his shop for something like - twelve years - so he gave it to us. After putting together the first section which took a good hour or so, we realized that you should not let this flooring sit for twelve years since it then become warped and uncooperative.

We/HE finished the flooring around 8:00 last night. I gave up around 2:00 after I could no longer get up and down off the floor - the old body just refused to allow anymore abuse. I believe it took some hammering, some screws and some special secret glue to make it all come together but this morning it was awesome to see instead of the rough flooring that had been there. I saw it about 30 minutes after I managed to once again roll myself off the bed and somehow straighten myself out to full height.

I always thought mid-40s was a time to re-establish your youth and insist you were not old. I have decided that this is a myth started by those who have made it to the 50s and love to see the rest of us suffer! Today I am going to buy a cane. Then, I am going to gracefully sit down and never do a bit of work again. Maybe I will sit down and eat all the pasta I can find - but then I would have to go to the kitchen to clean up the mess. It's a no win situation for me I can tell. I may insist on a remote control wheelchair and a handicapped parking permit. Perhaps I can get a home health nurse to come and take care of me. I am quite certain that any more physical effort on my part will cause my muscles to completely give up and shut down.

Listen up all you people in your late 30s- it's over! Once you make it through those prime years, you are done! You have nothing to look forward too. The least amount of physical effort will put you into pain you never knew even when you were young and trying out new athletic efforts! You can't claim wisdom either as I have it on good authority that I'm dumb - my 15 year old has realized that she now far surpasses my intellectual ability.

7/17/08

Mistakes

This morning I knocked the air freshener in our bathroom off the shelf and broke the nozzle rendering it completely useless. While this was a mistake, it was the third time I have done this. There is something wrong with a person who repeats the same mistakes!

As I was walking into the house for lunch, I managed to stub my toe and tear the end out of my shoe on my right foot. The toe is o.k. It's been stubbed so many times there is little left to break and the skin is like elephant leather. Again, there is something wrong with a person who repeats the same mistakes. There are many x-rays out there in many towns of my feet and toes. Sadly, the porch has not been moved since we lived on this property - so I can blame no one.

Someone brought us a delicious fresh watermelon to snack on here in the office. I am smarter than most people and realized that I could cut the pieces directly from the melon into a cup which is neater than eating with a paper towel. I cut my hand on the dull knife. There is something wrong with a person who repeats the same mistakes! I should not be allowed to handle knives of any kind.

As I was heading TO the kitchen from my desk, I once again clipped the corner of my desk. This desk has not been moved ...ever...and I now have a matching set of bruises where I hit it the other day on the way BACK to my desk. At least they match but...there is something wrong with a person who repeats the same mistakes.

As a result of this day and the repeated offenses I have made, I have decided that some evil force IS actually moving furniture, porches, cans of air fresheners and knives to the point that I am unable to handle them. They are so powerful and intelligent, I can't even SEE the slight changes in lattitude or longitude until I manage to damage something as a result of my misjudgment of their position. I am trying to figure out who is responsible for this evil conspiracy. At first I thought husband but he loves me and needs me. Then, I thought the dogs- but I buy their feed. Then, I thought - the cats - but they only slightly resent me in their world. Then, I thought- my co-workers but I mess up enough on my own that they don't need to worry about things.

Ever who you are - it's not funny. Quit moving my stuff to where I get hurt or break things and quit putting breakable things in my way! My family is really used to the disaster that I leave in my wake, but this town is too small for me to be turned loose in with all the potential disaster I can bring about. It's going to take me a while to figure it all out, but when I find out who you are, you better watch out!

7/16/08

The Dark Night

Timer Nugent's cousin lived about ten miles from us in the Vann Town Community. If you wonder who Timer was, read previous entry. I went to school with his granddaughter Tanya. She was a few years younger than me. Like Timer, his cousin had become a preacherman for the local "Jesus Holy Church" congregation. They too had the charismatic services and lively worship ceremonies.

In our area, it seemed the focal point of every community was a church. There was usually some small country store as well, perhaps started in a shed in someone's yard or an old building along the main road. And, during those times, small community schools were everywhere. There was no greater rivalry than basketball season when we played our near/distant neighbors to prove which community had the better athletes.

In the Spring of 1974, the landscape of our community was forever changed as was our view of the world around us. On April 4, the southern part of the country experienced a severe weather outbreak of historical proportions. Our communities were not spared from this calamity.

That afternoon, my brother and I were playing outside. It was obvious something was different about the air around us. The breezes were becoming strong winds with strange lifting qualities. My brother kicked our lightweight kickball into the air and it was carried over our heads for nearly 1/4 of a mile. We laughed after staring at one another in surprise and I retrieved the ball. He repeated this for nearly an hour as I continued to retrieve the ball. I was so in awe of his ability, I didn't mind chasing the ball at all.

As dusk settled, the sky, actually the air, took on a eerie yellow glow. It was as if someone held a piece of yellow stained transparent paper in front of our eyes and everything had this hue to it - trees, grass...everything. The winds were still blowing and the television stations were beginning to broadcast ominous forecasts. There was no doppler radar and all weather tracking would now be considered third world.

This particular April 4 was a Wednesday night. Many a church in our area was scheduled to meet for their Wednesday night prayer/planning meetings. Some had managed to call the congregants and cancel. Others decided that the Lord's will was to be in church and the Lord's will be done. There is something to be said about the Lord's will isn't there?

As the sun settled, the storms began approaching for the western and southern regions. News travelled slowly those days so we didn't immediately know of the death and destruction already left in the wake of these storms. We didn't know of the massive size of the line headed our direction. We didn't know what a long night was in store for us.

As the storms raced across Northwest Alabama, they developed on into the night. Our family had the luxury of a then expensive weather radio. After the Huntsville television stations lost power due to getting hit, our electricity was soon knocked out as well. The winds continued to pick up even though we could not have imagined them any stronger and the thunder and lightning began it's game.

My father was working in Huntsville, AL during that time which was 30 miles from our home in Tennessee. He had stayed late for a meeting and began his trek home. We sat around the kitchen table with the weather radio and police scanner on since these were our only sources of information at this point to the outside world. I believe many systems were deemed necessary as a direct result of the storms of this particular evening.

Severe storms and tornados do not approach silently in the night. They come with a roar and a violence only understood through experience. The first such storm approached our little community and lifted. We all looked at the ceiling as it passed over the house. The roar was a new sound to us - a new and terrifying sound. Mother was the first to speak and very calmly commented that she was unsure as to what that sound truly was. Vann Town was the next community.

Preacherman was just getting wound up when he looked out the small church window. He saw the funnel canvassed in lightning and clearly outlined when the sky lit. He ordered his congregation under the pews and covered. Then, he did what we had always been told to do - he ran to open a window and stabilize the air within the building as the pressure outside continued to drop. Preacherman was sucked out the window as it opened. We are now told not to do such things. He did not survive the experience but, the Lord's will did. Not another soul in that church which was full to the walls was injured short of scratches and bruises. This sounds minor until I tell you that there was nothing left of that building short of a foundation and pews with bodies hovering underneath them. Losing Preacherman was a horrific experience for the entire community. He was loved by all. However, his act and demands to those who followed him saved the rest of those in the building - that and the Lord's will.

The Gwatneys across the road from the church raced from the house towards the ditch as the funnel approached. The father watched as the funnel lifted the water from the area pond and spread fish and turtles and water all over the land. He watched as his wife and daughter did not make it to the ditch and as his son was seriously harmed by the winds and debris. Many such stories are still told to this day by witnesses and survivors.

Meanwhile, we listenend for Daddy to come home and we listened as more storms came over the house. Finally, an hour or so later Daddy walked into the door and into our open arms. He was pale and mournful. He described his trip up Highway 231 - one funnel decimating the ground to his right in front of him, one storm plowing the trees to his left behind him. He could see this as the lightning lit the way. We are told not to stay in the vehicles, but what options are there when you see death in front and death behind. Again, the Lord's will that night was for Daddy to make it to the little turn off and to the house where his frightened family was waiting. No cell phones - no news. I can still feel the relief I felt then when he walked through the door. It's the first and last time I ever saw my Dad break down. Even a strong father feels fear and horrors when exposed to drama unimaginable.

Around 11:00 that evening the children were sent to bed. Kids don't realize the fear of parents. Children don't ever anticipate death or destruction. They just experience the excitement of situations and trust parents to protect them or assume they are protected. Mother and Daddy stayed up the rest of the night listening to the weather and jotting down different communities in the area who already reported being hit. I wonder if that evening could have been compared to those times in WWII when different villages were getting destroyed by the germans. You wait to see who has the greatest need and you pray it won't be you.

That next morning we were not surprised that school was cancelled. We WERE surprised to hear of friends and their families who had either perished or been injured. Most surprising was the news from my friend Tanya who had cut up legs and bruises but who could tell about the events in the church - the thunder, the lightning, watching her grandfather go out that window, the quiet, the calm...the salvation. There was much mourning for that preacher but the obvious miracle of the survivors soon turned the mourning to praise and worship.

Events such as April 4, 1974 hopefully do not happen very often. As technology improves and building codes improve, their ability to completely disrupt or take lives happens less and less. But, they show us the good in all people and the good in strangers. As my father and brothers returned from the area where they went to help, the scene they described still plays in my imagination - cows walking around with fence posts protruding, walls with mirrors standing where nothing else remains, telephone poles injected with utensils that could not be removed - bodies... I am grateful I was a girl and not asked to go to that scene. The media spent days covering it as well. My mother and I spent quite a while pulling the dishes, utensils and appliances lodged into the ground into a central location. Even though the storms lifted over our house, they continued to spread debris and dead creatures where ever they passed. Our yard was covered.

The Minninites/Amish showed up immediately. They provided food, counselling, smiles and quiet reassurance that all would be well. They spent the better part of the year assisting with rebuilding homes and barns and assisting with rebuilding farms. They NEVER asked for anything in return. When all was in order, they silently disappeared to the next location to restore the next area, never leaving names or addresses, never asking for anything.

Today, we know when the storms are coming and we see the damage they left in their wake almost as quickly as they leave. The world is our community and we grieve when we see the world suffering. And then, tomorrow, we move on and expect those suffering have moved on as well. 1974 happened 34 years ago. Those who suffered still carry those memories with them. Just because it has been 34 years since they experienced a night of terror does not mean they should be forgotten. Where does that reality leave us today when tomorrow we are waiting for the next big news item?

7/15/08

An Old Man and A Church

About a half mile down the road from us some people moved onto a spot of land. It had originally belonged to Mrs. and Mr. Norris. They were elderly and in need of being cared for. Their nephew, Timer Nugent, moved to the corner of the property. He moved in an old single wide house trailer. He had a daughter who was close to my age. Her name was Brenda.

Brenda and I became close friends. She was sweet, thoughtful and so fun to ride bikes with. She was the only other kid on the road that I knew who had a bike. Timer was a preacher in the "Jesus Holy Church". This was a sect of faith that involved charismatic worship. Most preachers in this church were not educated but were filled to the brim with the "Holy Ghost".

Timer built a one room church building on this property as well. It was large enough to contain his congregation which was mainly his direct and indirect family. They would gather in that church on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings and just praise and worship in the most charismatic manner they could. They stopped just short of snake handling in this church. We heard them many Sundays as their services carried into the afternoons. They would speak in tongues and holler and stomp in that old building. It was frightening to an outsider. My mother never let me go but my curiousity never ended. There were many of these churches where I grew up. Each community seemed to have one close enough for everyone to attend.

I would ask Brenda many days about that worship and she would tell me how exciting it was to get caught up in the moment. I have since studied some on speaking in tongues and how we are told in the New Testament that it's no good unless there is someone to translate. But, the actual act of speaking in tongues does occur. Speaking in tongues is actually a gift were we to know how to properly utilize that gift, but there are so many gifts we do not completely understand - at least I do not completely understand them. I am not sure we are intended to understand them actually.

What I did find amazing about Timer and his congregation was the fact that they worshipped so freely, without inhibitions and without being judged for their lack of education or formal training. They simply worshipped! Perhaps they didn't know all the exact scripture. Perhaps more formal training would have removed their penchant for charisma. One thing was obvious however, when that church was rocking, there was something powerful going on inside! They were very simple country people who came together in their desire to honor and glorify God. What actually happened is still a mystery in my mind but I knew these people and I knew the purity of their faith.

Timer was a man of flaws as well. He liked to drink and he had other sinful attributes that lead many outsiders to judge him unworthy of leading a congregation. I prefer to believe that those who Timer lead to God through the purity of his worship were saved because he allowed himself to be an instrument despite his human flaws. I prefer to believe that his little church was a big deal in the world of the simple people who filled it to the brim. Perhaps these people would not have walked into the bigger churches fearing judgment from their inability to "dress up so nice" or their inability to comprehend the deeper meanings many try to pull from what is really a simple scripture. Then again, perhaps if someone from a bigger church walked down their little isle, they would not have felt a comfort.

I am not sure where this story has actually taken me short of the point that, in my middle years, I now realize that God leads us all to Him if we are willing to follow that path. He's there waiting for us and He doesn't really care if we walk down the isle of some elaborate, gold laden church or down the isle of a one room building full of the Spirit. Some of us probably walk down either one of these isles and never quite understand what our objective is. For those of us who get there and realize that it's only through His Grace and glory that we are saved, we know that it's not our right to question how anyone else got there. The victory is in getting there.

There's something to be said though for a man who liked to drink but knew that on Sunday, God would cleanse him. This man was humble enough to know he would never reach perfection but he was forgiven daily for his imperfections. This man was humble enough to show others the truth in that revelation. I don't know if Timer ever overcame his weakness. I do know that for years I have reflected on his life and his mission and for years I have felt honored to have experienced what little of his faith I was given.

7/14/08

Rainy Days

Yesterday was a stormy day on and off all day long. This day was a rare day in this area for us. We have learned to expect the afternoon showers and storms that result from the heat of the day, but we don't get many pure rainy days.

I remember growing up in Tennessee. Our house did not have air conditioning but the concrete slab floor and rotating fans in every room helped keep things cool. At that time, I don't remember ceiling fans being such a commonality either. The one ceiling fan we did have was not cheap. During the hot summer days, we kept the windows open and fans blowing about the house. As time passed, we upgraded the fans from those metal finger slashing fans to the new safer plastic fans with covers too small for fingers. Before that, each of us got duty watching our baby sister play about the house and were reminded daily of the trauma and life threatening punishment that would happen were she to get her hand caught in that metal fan blade.

Poor baby sister. As she grew into the ripe old age of 4 or 5, our rooster decided he wasn't too keen on her and our newest duty was to protect her from him. She would walk out that backdoor and we would hear the screaming which gave us just about enough time to get in between her and the rooster before he made the 50 yard dash across the yard. We HAD a chicken pen, but the beagles, foxes and weasles had pretty much figured out how it all worked, so the chickens were safer roosting in the trees in the yard. We simply learned to find the laying nests as quickly as the hens cackled.

I remember those days when we would wake up to distant thunder. We knew it was time to get out the crayons and coloring books. There were no VCR's, no cable, no video games. We had crayons, coloring books, paper (if we were lucky) and board games. I loved the colors "Magenta" and "Aqua Marine" so I always tried to find pictures with flowers in them.

Sometimes my brother and I could entertain ourselves playing GI Joe's and Barbie but Barbie always ended up crying which meant I ended up crying, so many days I would opt for the crayons. The board games were no better. Our brother was an expert at just about anything with numbers - once again - me crying - coloring books.

At our house, all winter clothes were packed in boxes in the attic while summer clothes were brought down. This was a big deal for us. We got to try on last years' clothes and hoped the good stuff still fit us. I always seemed to lose my good stuff to my little sister but my victory was that she lost hers to our other little sister. Justice was served. We learned, however, to keep at least one long sleeved shirt and pair of long pants out during the summer just for those rainy days.

Since we were used to the heat, the rainy days and cooler temperatures actually brought a chill into the house. Even in the middle of July, that long sleeved shirt and those long pants felt great. If there was a storm with an accompanying breeze, the dampness would blow throughout the house increasing the chill. Hopefully, we had a pair of socks left out to cover our chilled feet with as well. Those were pretty neat days though when we didn't get flushed out the door to only come back to eat or use the restroom.

Some rainy days were the times our mother chose to take us to the Public Library. We were allowed three books each. It took us a good hour or more to pick out JUST the three books. My favorites were books written by Margarite Henry. During those times, she was published routinely and the librarian would save the new releases for me if she knew I was coming. My sister read "The Little House on the Prairie' series and our baby sister would get books that we could read to her that had pictures. That hour was sometimes difficult though because we liked to pick at one another and it was hard to stay quiet while telling each other to "stop it!" or when we were crying at what someone else did.

Reading was a great past time during those years. Television was a privilege and there were only two or three channels to watch. They mainly had soap operas and kids don't like that kind of stuff. So we read a lot. We had lawn chairs we could sit outside under the trees on the particularly hot days when the fans didn't accomplish their objectives and we could sit "under the covers" on those chilly rainy days as long as we were reading.

So, yesterday brought these memories to the front of my mind. The chill was in the air as the storms passed through. We opened the windows and embraced the dampness that normally air conditioning units remove. We sat outside and listened to the distant thunder until it was no longer safe. We talked about our memories of our childhood when stormy days were an all day event.

I no longer pack up my summer clothes in winter and winter clothes in summer. I have closet space and drawer space enough to support all seasons. I have central air to stabilize the temperatures and I have a television which seems to take the place of books all too often. It seems like we don't experience those all day events like when I was younger. Maybe that's global warming or maybe it's selective memory, but I sure did enjoy yesterday as the chill outside warmed me up inside with all these memories.

7/11/08

Brothers They Be

I have two puppies left - Spin and Slow Joe who we now call JoJo. They have both inherited their mom's lack of immunity to the demedec mange mite and are undergoing treatment. This condition haunted their mother until the day she died - contributing directly to the complications involved in her death. I had hoped they would not be haunted with it, but they are. However, their cases are not as extreme currently and the vet believes it to be treatable.

Out of PURE NECESSITY, I have had to "leash train" these two boys. I had not intended for them to ever leave the boundaries of the farm but this treatment is required. They are now in excess of 40 pounds and I simply can not carry them in to the vet office. Actually, I can but the 14 year old assistant he has can not handle them when they turn to jello and slip and slide through his arms. Thus the training began two weeks ago.

These two brothers have distinct personalities. Spin looks just like Diamond and he has her never ending desire to please others. If he is asked once to do something, the request never has to be re-issued. Punishment of Spin results in an all day pout where he ignores, hides and avoids all human contact. Fortunately, he very seldom needs punishment.

When I introduced Spin to the collar and leash, he was excited. He saw new opportunities to play and spend time with me. It took exactly one circle around the house for him to figure out that, when attached to this thing, his best position was by my side. That's his favorite place anyway, so there was no issue. The other night as we were practicing, his collar slipped off his tiny head. Bulldogs have large muscled necks. Their necks sort of melt into their heads and then their noses protrude just a bit. Finding a collar to stay on that neck is impossible. Spin's collar routinely slips off over his ears. Instead of running or sitting down, he realized he should still be attached so he picked the collar up in his mouth and hung on while we kept walking. It was a hoot to see his antics. He was thrilled when I slipped it back over his head.

When I introduced Joe to the collar he was offended. Joe is like his father. His spirit is free and his will is his own. Were it not for his drive to protect what is his, he would just go his own way. However, we belong to him and it's his duty to protect. He even protects Spin from rogue cats on most occasions. To collar and leash Joe is a horrific insult to his being. So, every practice session for the last two weeks is a series of tugs and eventual give ins and then more tugs and give ins. The glare from his eyes is enough to send chills. It's obvious he's planning horrible futures for me and that collar! And to make matters worse, Spin LOVES to help me pull Joe along, always grabbing the leash and tugging it towards me. He knows Joe should enjoy it as much as him - if only he could convince him.

All the while during our practice, Brutus is watching and anxiously awaiting me to turn his boys loose. He has figured out these are his children and he does not like to see them being tugged about. Rocky is usually somewhere barking and snapping at their hills in his run by episodes.

So, this morning, we put our leash training through its first real trial. Spin was easily lead and loaded into the car. Joe was dragged and then hoisted into the car. Fortunately, I planned ahead and had an old housedress on over my clothes. Spin insisted on riding shotgun quickly placing himself into the front seat - happily riding by my side. Joe layed down and glared at me through the rear view mirror.

As we got out of the car, I once again had to hoist Joe out of the seat and spent a lot of energy and sweat dragging him through the door. Spin kept walking in and out and out and in as if to say "Joe - LOOK - you just do this!" Joe was not amused. We got to the counter and they sat on command - VICTORY. Then the receptionist came out and Spin literally squealed as if to say "Hey- I'm back - aren't you glad" He continued to whine - not an "I dread this" whine but a "I know the world loves me whine" to the point people were laughing. Everyone that laughed got his silly look of appreciation.

Joe sat there. He just sat there, glaring at me, the floor, the walls and everyone else. Poor Joe. I am not sure he will ever let us touch him again after the dipping. He's stronger and stronger willed than Spin. This day is not going to make him the least bit happy. He will never let me put the collar on him again.

It amazes me how these two puppies, from the day they were born have been completely different personalities. Where Spin was weak and struggling to just keep alive, Joe was lazy and unwilling to cooperate- even with the bottle feedings. For two weeks, I force fed him. Where Spin has an energy and desire to explore, Joe has a desire to guard and be left alone. Spin will cuddle and leave, Joe will sit in your lap all day long. They play together and we see them rewriting their unspoken rules every day. Joe tends to push and dominate, Spin is passive aggressive, simply laying down and quitting if things get too rough - at which point Joe normally just sits down on top of him but Spin doesn't care.

Nature amazes me. These are dogs - nothing more - just dogs. But these are also children I have raised in honor of their mother who I adored. I adore them as well and I adore watching them grow - from 1 ounce to 40 pounds in three months so far! It saddens me that they have inherited the one thing I have worked so hard to try to prevent - a condition that will cause them suffering to either recover from or endure. I had originally said I would not ask them as I asked their mother to endure something like this. Time has passed however and I have become attached. I have also realized these last few weeks, that they have a tremendous will to live and I don't have the right to take that away from them simply to avoid a little expense and guilt of my own.

So, brothers they be these two boys. They are as cherished in my life as their mother ever was and I wondered if I could EVER say that about another dog. What a blessing to have two of them to remind me that the one will always stay a sweet memory.

7/10/08

The War Begins

And the war was on....

Nineteen years ago, this November, I married my husband. We hadn't dated a lot - you know - it was love at first site. This marriage, as I have described before, has been a never ending process of growth, love and mutual respect.

I am a frugal person. My father made a really good living in the Space Industry when many people were struggling. However, he made sure we had a stay at home mom and, with five children, that wasn't always economically easy. One of the ways they managed was to teach us to enjoy simple things, nothing in excess and to count our blessings.

One of our family jokes evolves around the neon green Nikes with Neon Yellow stripes my Mother found one time on sale. They were so cheap we each got one pair and I think those of us who could be fitted got two pair. We wore those shoes until they wore out which was a VERY long time and we were dared to complain. I think my older brother's girlfriend attempted several times to dye his but it didn't make a lot of difference. In our house, we got one pair of tennis shoes - usually hi-tops that could only be worn on the basketball court, one pair of other athletic shoes if necessary, one pair of winter shoes and one pair of summer sandals. If it was summer, we spent a lot of time barefoot. If hand-me-downs fit, some of us did not get annual replacements that were new. That was life and life was good. We never really saw fit to complain except for the one green Nike incident. Even then, those shoes sure did feel good on one's feet!

As I grew to maturity, I adopted the shoe ritual and even reverted to wearing one pair year round if they were attractive and comfortable. I just didn't see the need for multiple pairs of shoes. I would buy a pair or two if they were on sale of comfortable "heels" for work and wear them year round. I always made sure to get some color like brown or black that would go with anything. I would wear these shoes until the heels wore down to the little metal tap and then a little longer until they became dangerously slick. Then, I would test it until the very last desperate minute when I actually slipped and fell and could no longer stay upright on those slick metal taps.

Dave and I had been married exactly three days when I finally realized that I had to replace the current pair of shoes. They had become so slick that even walking into the office was hazardous. One mistep on that thin tap against a tile floor and I found myself sliding into doors, walls and water fountains. These shoes were very comfortable but they were too worn to replace the taps; they had to go. So, I explained to Dave while on the phone at work one day that a trip to the mall was in order and shoes were priority.

When a woman shops and a man shops, they have two different objectives. I didn't know this because my Dad had left us years before. I always shopped for what I wanted and left - I don't like shopping - it's a simple necessity. Dave saw the opportunity however, to outfit his new wife in clothing she had not worn before and to show her a little about fashion.

We walked into the mall hand in hand - him making sure if I teetered on my disastrous shoes he could keep me upright. We headed for the first store - I believe Penneys and I headed directly to the shoe isle while he immediately got distracted in the lingerie department. He kept shaking his head and I thought he may have some sort of epilepsy when he finally said "do you not see that item over there - go try it on". The head shaking I have since learned is his way of pointing out what to look at. It was, of course, something a gal doesn't wear in public. I found it an interesting venture, having never noticed things like that and obliged him only in looking it over. Then, my attention turned back to the shoes as I slipped once again.

Men don't like being ignored and a woman on a mission doesn't like distraction. Negotiations began. If I would look at certain items and "oh, look at those nice blouses, they would look great on you at work, with that suit", he would then make sure I got a nice pair of shoes. The carrot in the front of the cart was shoes. I was game, he has good taste in clothes and it was entertaining to realize he was interested in how I dressed. I was game that is, until we entered into the fourth store, still not agreeing with what I wanted to buy because of care and washing compared to what he wanted me to purchase. And still...no new shoes. I was now walking around the mall in potentially life threatening attire and fuming at my new husband.

Dave and I had ONLY been married three days. I knew he had my best intentions at heart but he did not know I had a temper only matched by - I'm a red headed southern girl - I am not sure it CAN be matched - only contained. Not to mention the fact that he was intent on teaching me to shop in the "finer stores" as opposed to the discount stores I continually tried to steer us towards. I even saw the shoes I wanted through the window but was only promised to be allowed to return should he not find something better.

This little game went on about an hour or so. Then, we went to a store that had a ramp entrance. This ramp was probably designed for moving in and out of racks and freight, etc. or maybe for handicapped people, but it was covered in the same wonderfully brilliant and shiney tile as the rest of the mall. This entrance was on the second floor of the mall with a beautiful balcony view of the first floor just a few feet away. People were coming and going. We were leaving once again with no merchandise and in a slight argument at this point over WHY we were even shopping. He was stubbornly explaining to me the value of high dollar clothing and I was beginning to simply tune him out. That's when I hit the ramp.

I don't exactly remember all the details after that. When a red head loses her temper things become a blur, people get hurt, words get said and the world stops spinning! Maybe it's not the red head - maybe it's just me. I hit that ramp and not one but BOTH feet began sliding downwards faster than I could keep up. As my feet began heading out from under me, my lover caught me and proudly said "I gotcha, you don't need to worry!' Yes America - he thought he was a hero! This man who had refused to let me replace these weapons of terror when he had the opportunity ACTUALLY thought he had done me a favor catching me before I splattered all over the place. Woe be to him!

As I am told, and like I said I do not remember the incident clearly, the scene that followed as my temper literally exploded - a temper this innocent human being never knew existed - things became very animated. I do recall taking off one shoe and with all my might throwing it across the mall. I am small and that was a great distance so it only made it halfway across the opening over the first floor and dropped down. I remember his expression. It was one of those "oh no" and "how can I stop this" looks. That wasn't enough. The second evil shoe was still in my presence. I very easily kicked that thing off my foot and it followed the first shoe - making almost the exact same orbit. Then I turned around to him - by now shaking from anger and frustration - with my hands balled in fists by my sides and said through clenched teeth "IF YOU WANT TO BUY ME SOMETHING T O N I G H T, BUY ME SOME D*@&e SHOES!"

That was it! The storm had passed. It was over and he stood there looking very much like Elmer Fudd does when the rabbit once again wins. His brain was playing reel after reel after reel of rewind tape. People were pretending they didn't see me. Old women were grinning while their husbands grabbed them to rush them away. Young girls were passing that look they give when they want a man to know that if he had given them a chance, he would not have had to deal with that. His lower lip seemed permanently glued to his chest and I suddenly realized I could not exactly remember the last few seconds.

It was at this point in the drama that I realized that I TOO did not know the potential of the person I married. Would he match me word for word - toss for toss? This was HIS fault however and I was prepared, carefully examining mentally my arsenal of words and accusations that may be needed. My buttons had been pushed to the ON position and I would not readily turn them off!

He calmly collected himself - perhaps from shock maybe hunger or maybe his sudden desperate craving for a beer - and calmly walked me to a nearby bench. I sat there as he went around the balcony, down the stairs, found the first shoe, found the second shoe, came back up the stairs and back to me. I was not sure exactly why he bothered to retrieve the shoes because he didn't ask me to put them back on but walked me barefooted to the car, stopped at McDonald's and then quietly drove me home.

All that evening and into the next morning, he did not mention this event. I wondered if it truly was just a fantasy and if I had actually said "it's o.k., your a hero" instead of what I THOUGHT I remembered. We rode together to work the next day like we always do, me wearing an alternate pair of shoes that I normally wore for the house and I didn't bother to mention that, once again, I was in miserable shoes. We just rode.

When he picked me up at lunch ...in the floor...were two pair of the most beautiful shoes I have ever seen. He had matched the size by the older pair. He had even returned to the mall to get the ones I saw through the discount window. As I looked at the shoes and then looked at him he simply said "let's not talk about this!" but I later learned he had discussed it with his female supervisor who offered to give him the morning off to "do the right thing". I understand she laughed for several hours.

It was SEVERAL years before we saw the humor in this event. It was just the beginning of a long series of events where he tested me to see how far before the dam broke and I learned to let the dam break a little sooner and with a little less overflow each time. We worked it out and have learned to laugh at the story. We now both try to remember more fully the expressions on the other faces and I wonder if one day when I am old I may see some young lady tossing shoes over the balcony while he rushes me away. I am quite sure he won't want me telling her she did the right thing!

7/9/08

Today!

It's turning out to be one of those days.

We were awakened at 5:00 to the glorious catterwalling of a stray cat taking on at least two of my cats and one dog. This cat has been here before. He's satan's feline equal and he has become very good at victimizing our cats and dogs. I got up and walked outside which normally results in his retreat, but he decided to take one last swipe at poor Spin before leaving. Spin didn't quit crying for at least ten minutes. Brutus and Jo kept looking at him and me as if to plead to stop the embarrassing charade and they finally just left us there. Spin was bleeding and I was trying in my blindness since I had not yet put in my contacts to identify and stop the bleeding.

This morning after I shut and secured the front gate, I realized that I was standing on the inside and my car was on the outside. I had two options - climb the gate or re-open. I actually re-opened it instead of climbing it which is something I would not normally do. Finally - I got to come to work!

Work has been fine today. The usual stuff, the usual mistakes, the usual stories I have to make up to convince everyone I am great.

Lunch was o.k. - I had a turkey subway sandwhich because my pants are telling me that I am getting fat. I have never in my life had to worry about weight gain until this last year. Now I worry with it daily - mainly because I refuse to replace my "retro-80s" wardrobe my daughter insists I have. I do believe that one day the 80's styles will be back in. Until then, I am just a dork. So, I ate my sandwich and my low-fat chips and I came back to discover that the Sit n Sip had Chicken Alfredo. The ONLY THING better than Jamie's Chicken Alfredo is his Shrimp and Pasta Alfredo! I logged back in and edited this because that's a lie! Jamie's Spaghetti is also GREAT and should be a daily special but Jamie doesn't love me enough to do that. Actually it should be a daily special and half price to those who would eat it everyday unless there was another pasta option that had alfredo with it. Then again, Jamie's onion rings have outdone those at Sonic. His hamburgers are terrific too if you are a hamburger person and his lunch/breakfast specials rate on up there as well. SEE - this really does explain why I am fat! I have always loved to eat and been blessed with a metabolism that allowed me to pretty much anything I wanted to. These days, if I think about eating I can feel the buttons screaming on my clothes. And I think about eating pretty much most of the time, especially if it is something Jamie may cook. My husband does too but he's learned to be very afraid of telling me how much better Jamie's dishes are than mine, so he quietly thinks about it. When I am told I have a short time to live, I intend to take Jamie hostage and force him to cook for me 24 hours a day. I will go down one happy fat woman! I no longer think about food - I obsess! Oh and one must never forget the old fashioned southern style banana puddin'. Jamie makes the best..I mean ...my mom makes the best (Jamie...she can't see inside the parenthesis so I can tell you here I said that in case she reads this).

So, I have missed the one specialty I have to beg to get but hey, maybe I won't be so fat - NOT! I may call in a few minutes and see if there were any leftovers. Perhaps I can beg my way back into his good graces. Perhaps he knows I was innocent of not checking the menu after a morning of backwards gate lockings and dogs getting b..h slapped before dawn.

The day isn't a total loss. I still have the afternoon to re-align my whatever it is you re-align and pray for good tidings. Who knows, maybe the lottery guys will show up and tell me I have just won! I am told that my simple life is actually just a really boring life! How can that be when one spends their days imagining delightful recipes and fending of rogue cats! Hopefully when I get home tonight and shut the gate, I will find myself on the right side this time. If not, I will climb over it instead of re-opening it this time - one last chance at rebellion.