My wife has had many titles in her life, most assigned to her, and some engineered by her for her own reasons. “The Peanut Lady” comes to mind as an example: There are three rather large squirrels, several chipmunks, a flock of blue jays and at least one bold rabbit who haunt my back porch pretty much all year round. This is because several years ago my loving wife spotted a chipmunk scouring the landscape for something to eat, and she automatically tossed out some peanuts for him to “find”. She decided to buy more and feed him regularly, and of course the critter couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Soon there were more critters than food, and the whole thing grew into a regular relationship between my “peanut lady” and the wildlife of Willow Wood Village (where we live).
A similar phenomenon has emerged with cookies: When we first moved into our apartment, (it’s in a large complex of apartments with a whole staff of employees maintaining the property for the landlord) we naturally found small things to be corrected in our townhouse as we settled in. On one of these maintenance visits my wife offered some homemade cookies to the young fellow who was helping us. H e accepted, and raved over the taste of the cookies. shortly thereafter we discovered that crew members were jostling each other for a chance to service OUR place, in hopes of more goodies. And she was flattered enough to see that we usually had a few cookies around for the guys.
That winter she took a tray of cookies to the office girls when we paid our rent. Soon we were getting calls at home thanking us for the gift, and raving about the many kinds of cookies we’d brought them. I’m sure you can see what’s next. As my wife increased each year’s cookies contribution to the office people, with admonitions to share them with the maintenance crew, her reputation grew and grew. Until this year, when the young woman who first rented us our apartment spotted us coming in with trays held high she literally ran to the desk to greet us. When her co-workers frowned at her enthusiasm, we saw her mouth “Cookie Lady!” and they instantly beamed hellos at us.
Now all of this is fine. I’m secretly proud to be associated with the cookie lady of our complex, and although she won’t let me sample the wares as she makes the house smell like heaven every day for weeks, I understand what drives her. Fiest, she has come to honestly believe that Christmas and the general feeling of the season would actually suffer without her cookies. The people in the landlord’s employ really do anticipate her yearly gift, as do our kids and grandkids and their friends. (One young girl in South Carolina, when told my granddaughters’ Gram was comming to visit, asked excitedly: “COOKIE GRANDMA???”) Second, she is trying with all her heart to fend off the inevitable time when she can no longer put smiles on the faces of those she loves. I see her limp her way into the kitchen, muttering unprintable things on her way to take a tray out of the oven and replace it with another. The psoriatic arthritis, and diabetic neuropathy, and frankly years of use are beginning to take their toll on muscles and joints and nerve endings that just never seemed to care before.
Whether justified or self-deluded, she has come to believe that supplying peanuts to her “critters” and cookies to those around her is an almost sacred obligation, not a choice. “How can I disappoint the kids?” “Where will the chippies and squirrells eat?” “What kind of christmas will the office girls have if I don’t brighten their day?” These are things she actually asks herself. And I know in my heart that while none would die, or be emotionally scarred, if she was not able to provide, they really WOULD feel the loss in a substantial way. I love my cookie lady more than I know how to say. And I know it will break my heart as much as it will hers the day she can no longer bake the cookies and show her love.
I can remember my father sitting down at the desk in our home on E. 13th St. in Erie, back in the days when telephones were heavy, black, and had rotary dials, and writing out the Christmas cards for that year. The important things to remember here are that this was the only family related function he ever chose to engage in ( except, of course, the administering of punishments – which he relished entirely too much), and he did it only because some internal sense of propriety told him that only a card signed by the householder himself had any value or meaning. The irony, here, is that by the mid-fifties (uh…nineteen fifties) Christmas cards had become sort of the emojis of the communication of the time.
You see, hand written or typed letters were the equivalent of today’s emails. Anything the writer held to be of importance was committed to paper and sent off through the post to be delivered in meer days to the intended reader. They contained no advertisements and were generally considered to be important communications because the sender had invested 3 (and later 4 or 5) cents in postage to ensure his reader received the message.
Post cards, on the other hand, while being at once more personal and direct, were very much the modern day text messages we all send with an almost diuretic frequency. I remember being totally awed by a post card my mom received from a neighbor who was lucky enough to be vacationing in Washington D.C.! Imagine! The card was a picture or trees (cherry trees) in full bloom in front of a view of the Washington monument (Washington the President, I was told, not the City). I quick note of some of the sights they’d seen was written on the back, along with a personal “hi” to all of us. I remember being astounded that anyone having so great an experience would take the time to”dash off” a note to a friend in the middle of all that fun! Of course the unwritten “look at ME!” would not have been lost on my parents.
And if these quick, simple greetings, these “hellos” from far away were texts, the Christmas card could only serve as an emoji: a simple symbol of a commonly felt emotion or impression we’ve all felt and recognize. “I wish you the Joy and Warmth of the season”. “Merry Christmas from my home to yours”. “May you feel the Wonder of the Birth of Christ”. Etc. These trite sounding greetings seem canned and insincere, but they are actually direct reminder of the season, and actually quite sweet and effective if only you take them as intended. Where once my father ticked off the names of people who sent cards in return, scratching out any who did NOT send a card, we now (I hope) simply send cards to those who mean something to us. Personally. We send the a smile and a heartfelt blessing because we want to, and we want them to feel the same childlike delight and blessing that we feel in sending our christmas smiley face.
But when all is said and done, I must admit I miss the postcard days. Think how much more personal a Christmas post card would be, with it’s short private missive on the back and the Santa or Snowy scene or Mother and child on the front. It would be the same reminder, the same greeting, but it would also have that suggestion that I picked this for you because I was actually thinking of you in the middle of all this fun! I think that if they still made Christmas oriented post cards (and if the USPS actually humbled itself to deliver post cards) I would start using them again. (or, to be honest, I’d ask my wife to use them, since without a keyboard my handwriting is unreadable – even to me.)
Have a Happy and Blessed Christmas.
I have heard, of late, the most ridiculous reasons for celebrating Thanksgiving that have ever been proposed. One man in a grocery store said he was thankful for the chance to have a turkey dinner. This man was not impoverished, having a roast and some fresh fish in hid heaping cart. He just liked turkey. So what? I like stewed tomatoes, and I buy a small can when I want them.
Perhaps the most absurd comment I’ve heard was from an average, blue collar working man interviewed on television, who said he was thankful that Donald Trump, a president for “the people” had been elected. This 99%-er, who worked in a factory, was glad that his mid-5-figure income would be protected by a billionaire who saw him only as a source of income tax revenue to shield his 1%-er “welfare tax breaks” at the IRS. (Not that Clanton would have been better, spending his taxes faster but on different things.) My point is that nothing in this political year gives anyone anything to be thankful for.
As my friend Dudley says (dangerously close to apoplexy): We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t piss off every ally we ever had, or worse: start a war. No-one on either side of the aisle seem willing to admit that we put OURSELVES in this position – and not just Trump, but Clinton as well. Some choice we left ourselves.
There have also been comments from friends and strangers alike who were grateful for everything from the Cubs winning the series to Apple’s latest ridiculous gadget. And sadly, I suspect, a lot of them will sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner with family or friends or both, and over-eat to the point of discomfort without ever looking up. Without seeing the people around them and realizing that there is the only real blessing in their lives: the people they love and who love them in return. The people who actually share their joys and their plight; who laugh at their jokes and cry at. Sure, you can be thankful for events and material things in your life. You should be. But the love that supports you and the God who gives you ability to endure are the most meaningful things in life. And they are always there. The Donald Trumps and Hillary Clintons and turkey dinners and World Series will all fade with time, but our circle of love will always be there.
I had much more toe say here, but the only things WORTH saying are that I love you all, and I wish you a Happy and Meaningful Thanksgiving Day.
I suppose I’ll be asked to prove to someone that I haven’t “lost it” in my old age, but I really don’t mean that title in the way it sounds. I simply like the name: Badger’s Drift. It’s the kind of thing that has always interested me. Words, names, places that appear to paint a brief picture in themselves, and strike a chord in the ear and the head when we hear them. Like “Land’s End”. Both the place and the Corporate name create an instant picture when you hear them, and it stays forever linked to the geographic locale and the Clothing Brand every time it is repeated.
Well, “Badger’s Drift” does that for me. It was the creation of Caroline Graham, who wrote the mystery series about a fictitious county in England called Midsomer (itself a fascinating play on the expected: Mid-Summer). The badger, of course, is quite a common if reclusive creature in England, though not found in NW Pennsylvania, where I live. A “drift” is a common term in England for a slower-moving section of a stream, usually meaning the surface area of the water over a deeper portion of the stream or river. It is where fly fishermen often cast their flies to let them “drift” over the deep pools to lure the fish. And author Graham put the two together to create Badger’s Drift, the fictional community in which more than one of her mysteries take place. I invariably picture a rather ill-mannered, furry creature sitting on the bank of a stream, ready to attack any unsuspecting human who wanders into his territory.
I once had occasion to travel through a real life town called East Fallowfield, in Pennsylvania. It was a small but normal-looking place, which belied the somewhat dismal sounding “Fallowfield”, which would suggest an unplanted, barren field of weeds and ruts waiting for a crop that will never materialize. Badger’s Drift, at least, has a kind of uncommon, almost adventurous appeal to it. But there is also the danger of confusing the appeal of the name with the settings of the stories: The novels have been adapted for television by the BBC, and are aired under the title “Midsomer Murders” . The settings are idyllic, with English manor houses, elaborate thatched-roof cottages, and quaint country inns aplenty.
I suppose the ultimate pictorial name would be J.K.Rowling’s “Hogwarts School” for budding young sorcerers. But saying I came from Hogwarts would simply sound silly, where “I live in Badger’s Drift” sounds bizzare yet plausible enough to actually be true. My own home town of Erie, Pa. may remotely suggest to some a connection with the Great Lake of the same name (which of course it has), but just think of how much better it would sound if we changed the name to Erie Canal, Pa. That immediately provides a boost from the ordinary to the vaguely romantic and adventurous days of the bustling canal traffic. True, the canal never actually passed through Erie, but it came very close, and could lend a tug at the ear and a distant memory of something special.
Well, perhaps not(sigh). But I still wish I lived in Badger’s Drift. Now that’s a name.
I have an opinion about guns, as does, I really believe everyone who will ever read this post. But in order for my opinion to make any sense to anybody I will have to include a rather long and detailed personal history and explanation before I actually state it:
When I was a boy, maybe 12 or 13 years old, several uncles and relatives took pity on me and included me in their annual hunting rituals. I had already proven my abilities in handling guns safely while visiting an uncle who lived in central Pennsylvania. He taught me to shoot, including safe handling of firearms and the loading, cleaning and general maintenance of them. My local uncles, then, imposed on my father to take me to a course of hunting lessons given at a local gun club. I did fine.
I was then included is hunting trips both locally and at a camp owned by one of their number. I was taught to first respect the animal hunted, and to make sure of my target and my ability to make the shot before I ever fired the gun (a shotgun for small game like rabbits and pheasants, and a rifle for larger animals like deer). And I was taught that “respecting the animal” meant first that you never take the shot if you believe you will only injure the creature and not actually kill it, Also, it means that you never shoot what you don’t intend to eat, and that you will use (eat) whatever you kill.
To these people, (men to whom I owe a large debt of gratitude and honor for their efforts in my behalf) the skill of the hunter is the paramount part of the hunt. To make a “clean, accurate, single kill shot” is always the ultimate goal and all in their circle were and are judged solely on their performance of this task.
All of this brings me to my first point. If any hunter (man or woman, using rifle, shotgun, musket or bow) deliberately cripples or maims an animal to slow it down for a later attempt, he is NO SPORTSMAN and has no right to be in the woods injuring animals. There is no question of this, it is simply a fact. And this also means there is no possible justification on earth to take to the woods with an AR-15 or AK47 automatic assault rifle. You make a skilled, clean shot, you do not lay out a curtain of lead to try to bring down your prey. (And I know this discussion may confuse some readers, but any true sportsman or woman knows full well what I mean.)
I should state here that I was assigned to a branch of Naval Intelligence (I’ll wait ’til you stop laughing) and also served briefly as a police officer between semesters in college. I have had very good handgun training, and am especially sensitive to the uses and misuses of handguns. I own a small’ nicely concealable 9mm handgun, and am licensed to carry it.
All of this leads me to where I intended to go in the beginning. After all the years of hunting with my family I gave up hunting some 40 years ago. I did so because I paid attention to the grouping and behavior of small herds of animals and realized that not only do they stay in rather loosely defined familial groups, but I have seen several instances of one animal (usually a deer) actually draw attention away from their group in an apparent attempt to protect it. And also because I lost my taste for wild game as I grew older and refused to kill a creature just to kill it, and give away the meat it provided.
I still own the handgun because there are daily reminders that dangerous people continue to raise havoc in the streets, and at 70 years of age I no longer feel adequate to defending my wife and myself in an emergency. But with all of this said, I would lay down my weapon in a heartbeat if I thought life would be safe without it. I would sell the shotgun and rifle and handgun and leave them to younger, wiser people.
But the dangers are real. This past week a distraught teen shot and killed a 6-year old child on a school playground. There were shots fired in my home town this week. And the next pressure-cooker bomb may be triggered anywhere. So I will retain my guns, praying as always that I am never forced to use one, ever again. I’m not glad of that fact, but I must own it.
OK. I have a lot to say, but I can’t. I spent the best part of my youth being told: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” That lesson , of course, was usually intended to re-enforce the opinion of the advisor, but I find it has come from the past to block my attempts to write my post for this month. I usually write about the things that have occurred to me in the days before I begin, but the last few weeks have provided only things I probably shouldn’t put down for any or all to see.
First and foremost there have been medical problems to deal with that are not mine to discuss. They’re my family’s, but not mine. They provided much concern and nervousness, and a few awkward (for me) adjustments that I should have taken in stride but couldn’t. Seems I’m not the cheerful, supportive “can do” guy I once was. I struggled with the logistics involved in helping where independent family had always emphatically NOT needed help. Suddenly, help is not only needed but relied upon, and I’m just not used to anticipating the needs and wants of others. I try, but like my favored Cleveland Browns, failure seems to have become a way of life. I constantly have to ask when the next appointment or treatment or medication will be due, and usually forget anyway. I’m getting a little better at preparing meals, but my limits mean the menu is limited and probably getting boring.
But there have been other concerns as well: There’s the political atmosphere surrounding us now. It’s hard to bite my tongue that hard, but I don’t think yet another opinion would appeal to anyone (least of all to me) so all I can do is try to ignore all the grand pronouncements and endless analyses, and continue to urge people to learn Canadian, no matter WHO wins the race.
There have been bereaved relatives whose loss is private and need not be mentioned here. The challenge of how to help in their grief is a problem that talking (writing) won’t ease. There has been the heartache of a friendship betrayed that has in many ways complicated all these other things, but, again, not my place to describe or detail openly.
And I’ve spent entirely too much time watching the woman I love above all else be in pain, and that is messing with my head. I get angry at odd things; I forget what I’m doing when I see the flinch cross her face; I even catch myself ignoring or dismissing others whom I love because I don’t want to drop the ball in another area.
So I had better not write about any of these things because I really don’t have anything nice to say about them.
I don’t remember when I started tracking the years from birthday to birthday, but I was still a teen when it happened. I was born at the end of August, on what often seemed to be the hottest day of the year (I’ve never liked the 90+degrees and 99% humidity of August’s last gasps) and always envisioned it as the bottom of a pit that the calendar would slowly raise me out of and cool me off. I should never have fallen into this infernal trap, since it’s led me to see the world from a kind of skewed position that never corrects itself.
My year begins on a glorious note: The days get cooler right away, and herald the wonderful fall to come. The first day of school is blessedly softened by the first weekend of football. Cheerleaders dance, guys take dates to the games and dreams of glory fill the cool night air. Soon the leaves begin to change and pumpkins are artfully carved in anticipation of All Hallows Eve, when spirits are thought to be loosed on the land for a night before the feast of All Saints drives them back. (Ah! Such lighthearted fun.)
And soon enough “The Holidays” begin in earnest: Thanksgiving, although secular in origin, sets the seasonal tone by giving thanks to the Creator (in Christian life, at least) for the gifts of the harvest and hearth. Oh, we seem never to run out of turkeys to slaughter to celebrate the season; but even for those for whom a cold turkey sandwich on black Friday doesn’t bring shivers of joy, the turkeys’ demise has become part of the splendor of the event and who am I to argue? And by now the Christmas decorations have been carefully placed everywhere (some for months) and a strange thing begins to happen: My favorite phenomenon of the year starts to take hold all over the world: People begins wishing each other well.
Now, I don’t mean to sound naive, but after the first tired, hesitant “Merry Xmases” you hear, they seem to become “Merry Christmasses” after time, and eventually you know in your heart that every one of them is sincerely directed and spoken with true meaning and well wishes. By Christmas Day we are all genuinely convinced that at least our nearest and dearest are actually hoping for good things for us, now and through the coming year. I love this feeling, and look forward to it more than any one thing in life.
A week later the official new year begins, and we all have hopes for the future. And here is the let-down: By the beginning of February all those well-wishing friends are ignoring or avoiding us. They’re busy trying to figure out how to cheat on their taxes this year, or how to “get one over” on us and make a buck in the process. The snow is piling up outdoors, and people who’ve lived up north all their lives are offended and almost surprised by the potholes, bad driving decisions, and general stupidity of their fellow men. It’s like none of this has ever happened before. And of course, a “Happy New Year” or even “I wish you all the best” would be greeted by a quick remark or a punch in the eye.
This is the setting into which we usher the Christian season of lent, a forty-day-long bout of guilt and depression in which we acknowledge the torture and death of Jesus, largely because of our own wicked and sinful behavior. By Easter, when He is supposed to be celebrated for having delivered us from the punishments we so richly deserve, we are too deeply depressed and guilty to do much more than slink away to lick our wounded egos.
With the advancement of spring there is a slight reprieve. The rains seem to wash some of the gray from the land, and we begin to enjoy things again. Golf, boating, swimming, even just walking come back into our daily routines, But for me it just means the end is near. The heat will engulf everything, the oppressively muggy lakeside air will resist even a slight breeze, and a long dry summer punctuated by fireworks and gunfire will inevitably lead me to the end of my year and the beginning of another. There ought to be a better yardstick to mark the passing of a year in this life.
It seems funny that I should feel compelled to comment on the 4th of July – Independence Day – because everybody I know is aware of exactly what it means: Separation from England; becoming a completely new country; apart from ownership or control by any other entity; answerable for our actions and responsible only to ourselves for the course and conduct of our business. That’s what we were declaring those 240 years ago. We all get it.
But that’s not the end of it. For example, we celebrated the 4th early, yesterday, with a close and much-loved couple that we seldom get to spend time with because of the distance we live from each other. In a much broader vein, our country is in constant contact with allies like England, Japan, Israel, and countless others. We also keep close ties with not-so-close countries such as China, Russia, Syria, etc. We are independent but not closed-off from others. We celebrate our independence, and sometimes make foolish claims of total separation from the others on our world, but in reality we can do almost nothing independently of the rest of the world.
And I guess that suggests the point of all this: We’ve been subjected to endless months of political nonsense trying to whittle down a large and amazingly varied field of candidates for the presidency of this country. And it would be sad enough if that was the end / object of the circus. But it’s NOT. We are about to elect a new leader of the majority of the “free” world (by our standards), and our choice will effect the entire world for 4 years or more. And with the laughable choices we.ve left ourselves, I can see no other option than to spend the next four years – or longer – apologizing to the world for our silly misunderstanding of the word “Independence”.
“Independence” does not mean isolation; or the freedom to conduct ourselves or our affairs with total disregard for their consequences on anyone else. It implies a maturity and dedication to our country that takes responsibility for ourselves as a nation and includes the care and wellbeing of those we hold dear. Just as we delighted in sharing our meal and warm feelings with friends and family yesterday, this country’s independence means it will embrace and hold close those countries in this world that assist and support us, as well as those who might be swayed by example to join with us in the conduct of our daily lives. (God this sounds “preachy”!) How truly sad that we now face the virtual certainty of failing in our obligations to OURSELVES first, and to the rest of the world by virtue of the simple fact of our independent place in it.
In my working life, (now seemingly done, although I still apply and still get ignored) I’ve worked at many jobs: most moderately well, some crashing failures. But it seems that even at the best jobs, the ones I liked the most and performed very well at, it’s the failures – the near misses in conduct, performance, or execution that stand out in memory.
My most recent job was delivering prescriptions for the local Rite Aid stores until they contracted an outside company to sublet and administer the delivery program, company-wide. I really enjoyed this job, even though it was plagued by unusual dangers that made it a bit stressful: There was the extreme poverty of the neighborhoods I delivered to each day; the constant traffic snarls and suicidal drivers navigating narrow streets; the weekly (or more often) shootings and gang rivalries common to my areas of service; and, in some cases, the shaky nature of my customers – like the man who was so high he couldn’t figure out how to sign the receipt while holding a crack pipe in his writing hand. You get the picture.
But the thing that comes to mind most often when I think about the delivery job was a very old , very sick and broken lady whom I’ll call Abby for now, since she hasn’t given me permission to use her real name. I first delivered to Abby’s home about a year before my job was terminated, and thereafter at least once or twice each week.
On that first day it was Abby’s caregiver who answered the door. I entered, and at first didn’t see my client in the corner chair where she would prove to be every time I visited. As the young woman signed my receipt I heard a sound from the back corner: It sounded like “hah” – like “hat” without the “t”. I looked up and the sound was repeated, “Hah!” like some nonspecific vocalizations I had heard from several other non-communicating customers before. This one was al little quieter, and less like an eruption of energy than others, but basically still a vocalization of some sort. I looked up again and tried to nod an acknowledgement that I knew she was there, and I noticed the caregiver and a young boy on the floor by the TV were both looking at me rather tentatively. To see if I’d ask “the question”? To see if I was going to react negatively as others might have before me? I stiffened a little and tried my best not to offend people who obviously had more on their plates than I.
Then I thanked the young lady who’d signed the paper and turned to leave when I heard the other vocalization: ” Bah!” she said. “Bah!” And it finally clicked. Here I was trying to be professional and not overreact to the spasmodic vocalizations of a very old woman in a corner and she was just being civil to the stranger is her home: She was saying”Hi!” to the new fat guy (and later “‘Bye!”) And I had looked at her like a dunce and not understood. I quickly waved over my shoulder and said “‘Bye!” as I almost ran out the door. From that day on I always tried to look into her corner first thing in the door, and always I was met with a low, gravelly “Hah!”.
I saw in the paper that Abby passed away a couple of weeks ago. I had wanted to write about her before, but felt she deserved more respect that to be written about without her permission, and I’d been unable to find a way to explain to her why and what I wanted to write. Now that she’s gone, I think she might understand.