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Jack, the horse

5 Mar

Jack1
This is Jack.
Jack is 30 years old.
Do not say, “Poor Jack.”
Jack has a good  life.
Jack lives with Harold and Joyce in North Missouri.
Jack has an entire pasture to himself, not counting deer and turkeys.
No ones tells Jack what to do. No, sir.

Jack taught a slew of grand kids how to ride.
He was almost always patient with them.
Even a patient horse has his limits.
He’ll slow down when he damn well feels like it.

Jack has a barn to go in when he’s cold.
He is seldom cold.
Jack is no wimp.

Jack’s old buddy Harold feeds him grain every evening.
Neither one talks much.
They prefer it that way.
They have an unspoken understanding.

When someone from the city visits, Jack gets lots of sugar cubes.
Harold is not entirely pleased about this.
Chill, Old Man.
Jack has earned the right to eat junk food.

In the summer, Jack gets fed corn husks and carrots.
This pleases him.
Jack deserves to be spoiled a little.
Good horse, Jack. Good horse.

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The Case of the Sullied Samsonite

22 Jan

A snowflake was allegedly spotted 30 miles southeast of our city, so we’re on DEFCON 1 around here. Schools and a lot of business are closed. Since we humans no longer have to worry much about saber-toothed tigers or the Bubonic plague, I think we’re secretly excited about the dangers of puffy snow. But what do I know?

I stopped by the grocery store to get some yogurt for work this morning. I noticed the cheese section was wiped out. So was the toilet paper section. It would seem much of one would eliminate the need for much of the other, but again, what do I know?

Time to conjure warm memories.

ThermoSeveral years ago on a humid Saturday in late July: The air was so hot mosquitoes were spontaneously combusting in mid-flight. I did not want to go outside, but I had to. Those food scraps weren’t going to walk out to the compost pen by themselves. I’m a man, and that’s what men are for. No matter how hot it gets. No matter how much sweat may trickle down a man’s forehead into his eyes, he has to take the heat.

The compost pen is out by our garage near the back alley. It’s scary out there near the alley, because of things a man may see that he can’t un-see. Things like bugs and maybe a vicious squirrel or two. A man never knows.

I took the banana and apple peels out to the compost, the scalding ground burning the soles of my Nikes as I strode. When I arrived, I saw something against the back fence I did not expect to see and never want to see again. A man, no matter how tough he may be, never wants to see that. No, not that.

It was a grungy blue vinyl suitcase. Not a particularly large suitcase. Not very small either. Like something you’d take on a trip if you’re only going to stay over one night, but want to pack an extra change of clothes in case you go to the Spaghetti Factory for dinner and accidentally spill sauce on your chinos and you don’t want to wear your return-home pants two days in a row. Something about that size. But then, if you’re carrying around a suitcase that dirty, perhaps a little Prego on your khakis is not such a big issue.

I approached the mysterious blue suitcase with trepidation. I lifted it. It contained something a bit heavy. I don’t mean heavy in an emotional sense like a Nicholas Sparks novel about someone who falls in love the same day they learn they have a terminal illness, but heavy weight-wise. Its heft filled me with dread. I could imagine it contained a severed appendage, maybe a head, or stolen drugs. I could imagine nothing good. But a man, the kind of tough individual who takes table scraps to the compost pen on a 98-degree summer day, has to do what he has to do. I slowly unzipped the suitcase, my eyes all but closed as though that would make it easier to see what I was about to see. Oh, the humanity. I did not expect to see that.

The suitcase was packed solid with tubes of Colgate toothpaste. Not sample sizes. Not in boxes. Not half-used. Not Crest or Sensodyne. More suitcasemysterythan one hundred shiny tubes of Colgate.

I looked around and detected nothing but quiet. Even the squirrels had stopped chittering. I decided the smart option was to do nothing. I re-zipped the suitcase and left it where it was next to the back fence of our yard. I returned to the coolness of the house. I sat in the den as the 43rd rerun of a Lenny Briscoe Law & Order episode droned on the television. No more than fifteen minutes passed before I could no longer resist. Forget Lenny. I had my own mystery to solve. I had to go back out there, no matter the risk, no matter the danger, and open that suitcase one more time. Burning questions needed answers. What? Who? Why Colgate? Why not Oral-B?

I would not get my answers. The suitcase was gone.

Somewhere in the distance, a dog howled.

I have my theories about the suitcase and its owner, but what is your theory? If you think someone walking through the alley could have grabbed it, that’s possible. But it would have been hard to see over or through the back fence because of all the bushes. I gotta trim those.

 

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NOW: Never before seen iconic photographs

23 Oct

Dear Smithsonian American Art Museum,

You guys are doing a great job there, storing old stuff adults can drag their kids to see. But many young ones don’t care. Imagine the carbon dioxide generated from all the dramatic sighs. If you combine the CO2 buildup contributed by your young visitors with that of the bloviators on Capitol Hill, you could argue Washington D.C. is ground-zero for climate change.

However, it is not only the under-21 set that finds your product a tad dull. I have identified the culprit: your failure to keep pace with the latest photographic trends. These trends provide a certain change in perspective.

Allow me to help. I have captured iconic scenes since before cameras were invented. Though I am not as famous as Ansel Adams or Diane Arbus, I have a certain contemporary sensibility that is lacking in their work. And in your exhibits.

My time has come.

When Dorothea Lange took the famous “Migrant Mother” photograph nearly 80 years ago in California, I was there. After Dottie snapped her pic, I jumped in to take a much better one. My photograph depicts the human effects of migration during the Depression, but includes a soupçon of egocentricity. Asking price: One selfie stick with aircraft-grade aluminum pole and built-in wired shutter.

DepressionSelfie

 

Joe Rosenthal’s 1945 Iwo Jima flag raising pic won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography. But do we know for certain Joe was actually there? Of course not, because he did not include himself in the photo. Major oversight coupled with outdated 20th century thinking. My photo is better, because it documents for posterity my bravery. Asking price: One authentic battle-used World War II helmet I’ll claim to have worn when I single-handedly captured an enemy platoon.

Iwoselfie

 

Because you’re in the picture business, I’m sure you’re envious regarding the purported Billy the Kid tintype that recently came to light. It’s the one experts say is worth five million dollars and is only the second known image of the infamous bandit. However, there is a third photo. I was playing croquet with a few of my pals down in New Mexico when Billy and his gang showed up and asked to join us. I said why not, but I wanted to snap a pic first. Or, as we said in those days, “take a tinny.” Billy didn’t see the harm in it and suggested I be in the frame, too, because otherwise what good would the photo be. Technically, this image does not include Billy, because the sun was quite harsh that day and I wore my big hat. I inadvertently obscured my new chum. Therefore, I offer this photo exclusively to the Smithsonian for half the value of the other one: Just 2.5 million dollars. Also, enough mirrors to cover every wall in my house. By the way, Billy couldn’t hit a croquet peg to save his life.

Billyselfie

 

 

If your interests run older and more colorful, no problem. As I mentioned, I have been at this game a long time. I was strolling through the streets of Milan in the late 1400s, stopping occasionally to paint selfies of myself in front of old buildings, when I came across a guy named Leo painting a restaurant scene on the wall of a cafeteria. I was not impressed, because the scene reminded me of most parties I attended in college. (12 guys to every female.) More important, Leo’s mural lacked an essence of self-absorption that is critical in any modern masterpiece. I re-painted his scene to make it more marketable. I learned later I failed to paint the guy who was picking up the tab for the meal, but that’s secondary to making sure  I was in the picture. Asking price: Photoshop lessons plus an even larger hat to contain my enormous head.

supperselfie2

 

 

Get with the times, Smithsonian. No photo can be any good if the taker is not also in the frame.

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Our dog: the gift that keeps on giving (on our bed)

26 Dec

The Smith family is precariously close to dispensing with all Christmas giving pretense and getting our own gifts. This year, we spent an inordinate amount of time sending photos to each other. We did this to make sure we gave exactly what the other person wanted.

Which shirt color do you like?

Take a closer picture. Is that sky blue or aqua?

Even then, the first words out of the giver’s mouth Christmas morning:

I kept the receipt, if you’re not happy with the shirt. The one you approved as your gift. The one I showed you before I wrapped it last night.

What happened to the days when we opened a pack of tighty whities? Sure we were disappointed. But we still said thank you to Aunt Mollie, as well as to the Bangladeshi ten-year-old who made them.

Enough with the charades. Next year, we Smiths will buy our own gifts, wrap them, put them under the tree. We’ll fake surprise when they open them.

71PMb6vD7xL._SL1500_Ooh! A supersized stick of Old Spice deodorant! How did I know exactly what I wanted?

That will save a lot of time and disappointment.

This year, I still tried for an element of surprise. Wife #1 had been talking about replacing the comforter on our bed. I don’t know why we needed to replace the current comforter. The bed is always covered with countless pillows that obscure it. I often wonder how much of my life has been spent taking off those useless pillows at night and returning them to the bed the next morning. Still, I am an attentive husband. Therefore, I suggested Daughter #1 give her mother a new comforter. (My wife and I don’t officially exchange presents, though I seem to get a lot of gifts from the dog.)

Instead of making it a surprise, however, D1 asked W1 all sorts of questions: Color preference? Design? Piping? Duvet? Shams? I thought we were just getting a bed cover.

During this questioning, W1 told D1 she would like to have a white comforter, but she worried that I would get it dirty.

What? I work indoors. I shower semi-regularly. The only time I sit on the comforter is when I put on my socks and shoes. I did not realize I was a walking dirt ball. But our dog? That’s another story.

You can read more about the mutt here, but my wife adores that dog. The feeling is mutual. The rest of us are only bit players in their love affair. Therefore, no surprise, the dog sleeps on the bed. Here’s the problem: The dog is not young. The dog is mildly incontinent. Once or twice a week, I will find tiny round balls of dried poop on the comforter. I assume these “gifts” come from the dog, because I don’t want to imagine the alternatives. So why isn’t W1 worried about the dog getting the comforter dirty?

I’m asking myself this question as D1 and I stand in the linen section of a department store two days before Christmas. Time is wasting.

“Get the white comforter,” I say.20141226_074851

Christmas day: W1 loves the comforter. D1 launders it, along with its myriad accessories. She puts them on our bed that evening. She is a good daughter.

W1 and the dog sleep in the bed. I am allowed to sleep there, too. (I am but a guest in my bedroom.)

This morning, I discover a tiny ball of poop on the comforter. The dog has christened the bed. I don’t tell my wife, because what good would it do? She would look at me suspiciously, as though I were making it up to get the dog in trouble. Meanwhile, the dog would look at me with mild contempt.

But I know the truth, and so does Santa. That is why the dog received a lump of coal in her stocking Christmas morning. The jolly old elf and I know who has been naughty. It’s a an eight-pound ball of black fur.
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A River Adventure in Two Parts

30 Jun

CCF06242014_00000

April 1979

River Outfitter Guy
The Current River (or maybe Jacks Fork)
Somewhere south of Jeff City

Dude,

Awesome weekend!

Hey man, I don’t know if I stayed at your camp, but I’m pretty sure I stayed someplace. I was the dude wearing the Springsteen shirt, and I had a can of Busch in each hand. Party! Oh, and sorry about all the dents in the canoe. I’ll bet you can find that lost oar down near the AR border. Good thing oars float.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I lost my high school senior class ring in that place with all the weeds and trees. You know the place I’m talking about. It was already dark, and the buds and I were trying to find firewood so we wouldn’t have to pay for any. So yeah, I’d like to get that ring back if you come across it. Cost me close to $50, and it’s the second one I’ve lost. Most important ring I’ll ever own, right? It’s got green glass in the center, and the outside of it is real gold. I can’t afford to buy another one because I’m saving up for a pair of Bass Weejuns. They’re $50 easy, but the preppy girls love them. So, anyway, if you find the ring, mail it back to me here at college, dude.

Your pal,

Ron Smith

________________________________________

June 30, 2014

Riverview Ranch
Meramec River
Bourbon, Missouri

Dear Camp Proprietor,

Thank you for providing such a wonderful venue for this past weekend’s float trip and camping adventure. After my old college friends and I visit our respective chiropractors and physical therapists, I am confident we will look back fondly on our time with you. Mentioning our various pains is not intended as an indictment of the fine accommodations you provided for our campsite. It’s simply that we are used to sleeping on thick memory foam mattresses rather than the hard ground. I presume your part of Missouri recently experienced a rock storm, which left sharp stones strewn everywhere?  I don’t recall the terra firma being so… firma  in my younger days.

In addition to thanking you for the wonderful time, however, I write to request a favor. Perhaps you will come across my custom-fitted mandibular advancement device, which prevents snoring, and return it to me at your earliest convenience. My dear spouse makes me sleep on the couch when I don’t have it.

I don’t remember the last time I saw the mandibular device, but I can provide some clues. I recall distinctly having it on my person when my chum Mark Z. requested I freshen up his cup of chamomile tea. I also can picture clearly setting down the device between Skip’s hemorrhoid cushion and Mark K.’s hernia truss when we all went to the aid of  Bob, whose back had seized up as he was putting a log on the fire. I am confident I still had the anti-snoring device later in the evening, because I threatened to hurl it at Mark K. when he spilled warm milk all over my linen/cotton blend Ralph Lauren slacks. (I believe the spillage was intentional, as Mark K. had earlier questioned the appropriateness of Ralph Lauren pants at a river campsite when “everyone knows Nautica is de rigueur on the Meramec.”).

After that, my memory becomes a little fuzzy. We really let our hair down Saturday night (those of us who have it), staying up nearly until nine-thirty. But when the young ruffians in the campsite next to ours were still making noise after ten o’clock, we felt we had to take action. I suspect those rascals had been imbibing something stronger than Mountain Dew. Had they no consideration for others? We strode over to their campfire and gave them a sturdy tongue-lashing, the likes of which they will not soon forget. After that exciting interlude, which required us to rescue Skip from the clutches of two scalawags who were holding him upside down over their fire, it took me a few minutes to calm down. With all the excitement, which included extinguishing the fire in Skip’s hair, I don’t recall if I still had the anti-snoring device.

Should you come across a mandibular device, it will surely be mine. The two Marks, Skip and Bob have confirmed that they made it home safely with theirs.

Warmest Regards,

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Twenty or so reasons we should celebrate May Day

1 May

My mother and her friend, Wilma Jean, celebrated May Day. No, they did not march through Red Square in Moscow endorsing eighty hour-work weeks for little pay. They kept alive the ancient rite of Northern European pagans welcoming the coming of summer. And really, what smalltown Missouri girl in the forties didn’t love a good pagan ritual?

Here’s how May Day worked:

  1. Pick wildflowers.
  2. Make a paper basket.
  3. Place flowers in the basket.
  4. Throw in some candy if available.
  5. Place the May baskets on the porches of neighbors.
  6. Knock on the door.
  7. Run like hell.

Number seven was very important. According to tradition, you would have to exchange kisses with the person answering the door if they caught you. This would seem to limit the houses where you would leave baskets. For example, you might skip the house of the track star with exceedingly bad halitosis.

download (1)“This was before pesticides,” Mom said, meaning there was a greater inventory of wildflowers back in the day. “We would fill the baskets with Sweet Williams and Gentlemen’s Breeches.”

This brings to mind two questions. First, why isn’t there a bluegrass band named Gentlemen’s Breeches? Second, why don’t we all celebrate May Day?

Reasons we should:

  1. May Day is about giving.
  2. It’s like Halloween Opposite Day
  3. If you’re lucky, you’ll return home after delivering baskets to find one left for you.
  4. Still, giving is much more fun.
  5. It’s also a good way to get exercise.
  6. As long as you don’t pull a hammy running away.
  7. It’s a way to kick off warm weather that does not require a weed eater.
  8. May Day involves the entire family.
  9. That four-year-old ain’t gonna drive himself to every house.
  10. He’s not going to make the baskets either.
  11. And he’ll quickly get bored picking flowers.
  12. Still, think of the memories he’ll make.
  13. Delivering May Day baskets requires sneakiness.
  14. The anonymity of it means you don’t have to worry about matching the quality of the other person’s gift.
  15. It’s cheap.
  16. Everything can be made with materials on hand.
  17. We need another good holiday.
  18. Hallmark needs to fill the gap between Easter and Mother’s Day.
  19. Chances are extremely slim you would be shot by a homeowner.
  20. Chances are also low that you would be attacked by a pit bull.
  21. Chances of being shot by a pit bull with an assault rifle are just short of nil.
  22. A pit bull might appreciate a good May basket, if you throw in a Milkbone.
  23. Upwards of three percent of the population does not suffer from wildflower allergies.

Mom passed on the May Day tradition to her children. I loved it. When it was just my older brother and me, we lived in Iowa surrounded by Andersons, Hendersons, Sigmunds and other farmers with Scandinavian sounding names. Many of them would have been familiar with May Day. Some of them may have danced around a maypole or two in their younger days. Finding May baskets on their porches wasn’t so strange. The May baskets we made were actually paper cones made from wrapping paper. It took a lot of flowers to fill the cones, so we filled them with popcorn, mixing in a few dandelions and violets. That’s right, we gave away our weeds. We made up for that by adding butterscotch and peppermint candy. download

When I was five, we moved to a small town in northwest Missouri. May Day came around, and we delivered May baskets again. That’s what everyone did on May 1, right?

A year later we moved to another small town. (I think Dad shot a man in Reno, and we were trying to stay ahead of the Law.) May 1 arrived. We delivered May baskets. So what if no one had brought May baskets to our house? That wasn’t the point. We loved giving and sneaking.

Two years later, we moved again. Hooray! It’s May Day again! By this time, I was a few weeks away from my ninth birthday. Jeff, my brother, was about to turn ten. We were on the cusp of getting too old for May Day, but not quite. Our younger sister was four—old enough now to enjoy the wonder of May Day. We now lived close to our grandparents. We would deliver baskets to them and to our neighbors. My brother also left a basket on the doorstep of a girl he was sweet on. “La la la la la, life is grand. Everybody loves May Day!”

No, they didn’t. Maybe they would have, it they had known about it. But they didn’t.

What in God’s good name are those strange Smith kids doing? Leaving popcorn and weeds on people’s porches?  Wrapped up in old Christmas wrapping paper, no less. Their garbage can must be full. They haven’t got the sense of a garden slug. Boy, I knew they were odd ducks the day they moved here. This proves it. Bunch of loonies.

That year was the last year we celebrated May Day. But I miss it, and I want to bring it back.

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A major award: How I won a poodle with turquoise rump fluff

20 Sep

leglamp12I know how the father in A Christmas Story felt when he won the Leg Lamp. I, too, have won awards. My glory days are behind me, but I used to be pretty lucky at drawings. When I was a kid, the hardware store in my hometown had prize drawings at Christmas. (The store also sold toys; I got my first new bike there.) One Christmas, I won a ping pong set, which would have been a much bigger deal if my family had a ping pong table or any space to put one. We tried to use the dining room table, which did not go over well. Still, the paddles had many other inventive, if not abusive, uses. Ask Julie, my sister.

I was on a roll in those days. Around the same time I won the ping pong set, I also won a major award during a family trip.

My family took summer vacations in which all six of us would spend a week together on an excursion to the Rockies or some other great American destination. We considered a trip successful if it did not result in threats of infanticide. We traveled in a pickup with a camper on top. Six people in a camper little bigger than a tomato can. Oh, the fun we had. I still have bruises from fights my brother and I engaged in while riding in the loft above the truck cab. My parents warned us before we left home that they would turn around and go home at the first sign of fighting. And if we thought they were kidding, just try them. Yes, we would see who was laughing then. And we better wipe that smirk off our face, Mister, if we didn’t want it wiped for us.

Sometimes we made it fifty miles into a trip before my brother Jeff and I started whaling on each other. Julie encouraged it because she knew we otherwise would turn our attention to her. My younger brother Robert got to ride up front with Mom and Dad. We still hate him for it. The parents never made good on their threat to turn back, but Dad, who never drank, slowed the truck to a crawl in front of a few liquor stores. He also parked in front of a gun store once and wept quietly, but we don’t bring that up at family reunions.

Dreamer

A artist’s rendering of a Dreamer with “happy” campers.

We had a Dreamer camper that we bought in Des Moines. It replaced another Dreamer camper we had that was even smaller. In true seventies style, the interior of the new one was all turquoise Formica and blond plywood. The year we got the new camper, we took it to Bowling Green, Kentucky for a Dreamer convention, which is just as exciting as it sounds—a bunch of people with Dreamer campers either coveting or turning up their noses at other Dreamer campers.

We stayed at the campground connected to Beech Bend, which was an amusement park of questionable repute. (I’m sure it’s much better now.) Besides talking about all things Dreamer, campers (the human kind) were entertained by so-so comedians and bad country music acts which made the one-hour trip north from Nashville. I was more of a Jackson 5 aficionado in those days, so the music was not to my tastes. The best part was at night when we went to the amusement park where I became a bit of a Skee Ball pro. That’s also where I saw my first drunk vomiter, and it was impressive.  A couple of guys walked along the midway and one of them hurled without breaking stride, like it was something he did every night. Perhaps it was.

Beech Bend, a classy place if ever there was one, also had a drag strip.  Every day, the convention organizers made announcements and put on little shows there. They also held drawings for special prizes like game tickets at the amusement park, a meal at Sizzlers and such. I wanted those amusement park tickets to feed my growing Skee Ball addiction. One day, out of hundreds of Dreamerites, my name was called. As I made my way down the aisle, I sensed the envy of everyone in the crowd. What had I won? Perhaps a free hamburger at McDonalds, a new GI Joe or a nifty set of Hot Wheels cars? If I wasn’t so lucky to get something for myself, it could be something my parents could use, such as a set of barbecue tongs and mitts. I descended amid the noisy applause of my fellow campers, and I could sense the heat of Jeff’s eyes drilling hate holes in my back. I always won things, he said, while he never did. He hadn’t gotten over my winning the ping pong set.

When I made it down to the bottom of the grandstands, the announcer presented my prize: a huge stuffed animal—a white and turquoise poodle. Dow chemists had yet to perfect fake fur that was soft to the touch. This faux canine had all the cuddliness of forty grit sandpaper. And it was ugly. Ugly and girly. No twelve-year-old boy, not even a Jackson 5 fan, should be seen in public with a fru fru stuffed poodle with turquoise ears and rump fluff. What if a photographer from the Bowling Green newspaper had been there to document the handoff?  Missouri boy accepts gift meant for a girl, the caption would say. I wanted to say “no thanks” and return to my seat. But this was, after all, something I had won. One did not turn down something that had been won fair and square, even a stuffed poodle. I accepted my prize and climbed the steps to my seat as the crowd again applauded. This time, however, their applause was meek, and perhaps a bit uncomfortable.

My parents looked embarrassed. Jeff smirked. I was too ashamed to be seen holding the white and turquoise monstrosity any longer, so I handed the dog to seven-year-old Julie. Oh, the delight in her eyes. Her older brother had finally given her a large, beautiful stuffed animal (made of questionable material that may or may not have been toxic to human touch). He really did care, she thought. This was proof of a benevolent God.

No. As soon as we returned to the camper, I took back the dog. “I just gave it to you to hold for awhile,” I said. Julie cried. Jeff smirked more. My parents had bigger issues to deal with than who should possess an ugly stuffed poodle. I didn’t care. I had won the thing, and I was going to keep it.

Yellowpoodle

It was MUCH worse than this.

And I did, for awhile, in the room I shared with my two brothers. Eventually, though, I came to my senses and gave it to Julie permanently. Perhaps my conscience overpowered my immaturity. Or maybe I realized how stupid the dog looked in my bedroom next to football items. If a stuffed poodle with turquoise ears and rump fluff sounds like something you’d like, I’m sure it’s still out there somewhere. Its material certainly was not biodegradable. I don’t think it would burn either. If it did, the fumes would kill you.

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P.S. Buy some books, will ya? I got a kid in college.

 

Simple Ways to Pass Time in the Country

9 Aug

In the city, we have many entertainment options, such as whether to watch Real Annoying and Vacuous Housewives of Hoboken or spend thirty minutes with Honey Boo Boo. On really good days, we may go to Target and Home Depot. We have Krispy Kreme and White Castle. We are cultured. Still, entertainment decisions in rural America are more complex than you may imagine, such as what type of food product to shoot from a small cannon. More on that in a bit. First, here’s a short list of my activities during a recent visit to the folks in northwest Missouri.

–          Shucked sweet corn.

–          Got mistaken for younger brother Robert six times.

–          Made plans for local bank heist knowing Robert would be blamed.

175–          Went for run on gravel road.

–          Got chased by wet, burr-laden dog during run.  

–          Made peace with dog.

–          Yelled “Stay!” fourteen times as dog followed me 2.5 miles back to parents’ house.

–          Put dog in dad’s truck and returned it to its home.

–          Drove out to prairie to look for bison.

097–          Spotted what were either bison or large brown cows.

–          Argued with 84-year-old father about why he didn’t tell me when he needed help around the place.

–          Put wheel on hay baler.

–          Directed dad as he backed hay baler into shed.

–          Helped dad get baler in cockeyed position so that it was stuck halfway in shed.

–          Hooked log chain to second tractor to pull baler free.

–          Promised dad I would not help him anymore.

–          Went for another run.

–          Took different route to avoid dog.

–          Surprised to find dog waiting in yard of different house.

–          Realized I had dropped off dog at wrong house the first time.

–          Yelled at dog as it followed me back to parents’ house.

181–          Put dog in dad’s truck again and returned to its correct home, maybe.

–          Told dog I would see her next time I was in the area.

–          Met uncle for breakfast at Square Deal cafe.

–          Offered to pay.

–          Paid $8.62 for both of us.

–          Bragged to everyone that I only paid $8.62 for two breakfasts.

–          Drove an hour west to have lunch with older brother Jeff, who was renovating space for a new GameStop.

–          Remained patient as Jeff ran around like chicken with head cut off.

–          Had lunch with Jeff at grocery store.

–          Texted everyone I knew that I was having lunch at a grocery store.

–          Made smart comment about how of course Jeff forgot wallet as he always does.

–          Wondered how many wallets Jeff had lost in his life.

–          Paid for lunch.

–          Visited apiary.

–         Rode with nieces as they four-wheeled around their grandparents’ property.  183

–          Nearly soiled boxers during ride.

–         Played cutthroat croquet.

–         Suspected mother of cheating during croquet.

–         Shot potato gun.

About that tuber weapon: A childhood neighbor and friend of Robert (I’ll call him Bruce for this story) recently married. He and his wife received a potato gun from her father. Because what else would a loving father give his daughter and her new spouse?

Potato guns require three items. 1) a potato (are you writing this down?)  2) a fuel source such as Aquanet and 2) a means of ignition to spark the Aquanet. Bruce says the potato gun can shoot a hole through a ¼’ sheet of plywood from twenty or thirty yards. I will take his word for it. Bruce prefers russets. I have no idea how Reds or Yukon Golds would perform. I would imagine certain types of sweet potatoes could put a big hurt on a target. If you want to fire buckshot, try frozen tater tots. I do not recommend hash browns.

Potato_Gun

When my brothers and sister gathered at my parents’ house with their families, Bruce texted to say he was dropping by.

Did I want him to bring the tater gun?

Is a bear Catholic?

A little explanation about my parents: The last I checked, they were alive. But they already have a burial plot. And a tombstone with their names on it. Perhaps they don’t trust their children to properly memorialize them, so they have memorialized themselves. The cemetery is across the road from their house. The graveyard’s newest section was formerly a hay field on their property. Their gravestone sits in this new section, no more than 200 feet from their front door. My parents can step outside every morning to see their grave site. Beats watching a repeat of Sportscenter, I guess.

Tater_map

Two hundred feet is also well within range of a well-manufactured potato gun. And a gravestone with “Harold Dee Smith” and “Joyce Elaine Smith” etched on it (death dates TBD) makes a pretty tempting target. I’m not saying I shot at the grave stone, because I’m the good son. However, some of the bad seeds in the family did. Julie, my sister, took the first shot, because she has no moral center. But she overshot the marker by a good fifty feet. Even the third generation took aim at Granddad and Grandma’s stone. No one hit the mark, but a few taters landed within a few yards. Let me stress again that I did not endorse or otherwise encourage this activity. And if anyone says otherwise, I’d like to see the footage of it.  IMG950224

You may think there is something inherently disrespectful about shooting potatoes at the grave stone of one’s parents. You are mistaken. Dad watched and laughed. Also, it’s tradition to plant flowers around grave stones. Who is to say one method of planting is better than another? Why does a shovel have to be involved? Why only flowers? My mother is partial to peonies. The grave sites of many of my ancestors are surrounded by these flowers. In coming years, it may not be peonies that grow around my parents’ grave site, but there will be plants. And as we enjoy a few baked potatoes, we’ll toast my mom and dad.

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P.S. My happy running buddy. 

 

Try my patented method of lawn equipment repair (in 50 easy steps)

13 Jul

Introducing the Ron Smith method of lawn repair™

When Daughter #2 mowed the back yard several weeks ago, the rear left wheel fell off the push mower.  It was irreparable. This allowed me to put my patented lawn equipment repair system into practice. Should you find yourself in similar circumstances, I invite you to try this efficient approach.

  1. Curse aloud at the news the mower is broken.
  2. Wonder if it is possible to continue mowing with only three wheels.
  3. Decide it is not feasible and instruct D2 to finish “mowing” lawn with weed trimmer.
  4. Withhold judgment when lawn, following aforementioned weed trimming, looks like it has been strafed by a Grumman Hellcat.
  5. Order replacement wheel online. (Some repair technicians may be tempted to examine broken part before finding replacement. This is known in equipment repair trade as “cutting corners.”)  Wheel
  6. Because delivery charges are more than replacement part, order additional parts as well, “just to have around.”
  7. Note that it costs several dollars extra to have replacement wheel shipped within one business day.
  8. Opt for regular delivery, which is nine to fourteen days.
  9. Fail to notice that promise is to ship part in nine to fourteen days, rather than to deliver in said time frame.
  10. Sit back and watch grass grow to record heights as it rains every day.
  11. Host major family event at house.
  12. Call Search & Rescue when two relatives are lost for hours in backyard jungle.
  13. Rejoice when new wheel arrives sixteen days after order placed.
  14. Realize you did not think to confirm that push ring that keeps wheel on axle would be included with order.  Pushring
  15. Determine 92-cent push ring is not included.
  16. Confirm that push ring is not one of parts ordered “just to have around.”
  17. Look at lawnmower closely for first time.
  18. Realize other rear wheel is about to fall off, too, which also is not one of parts ordered “just to have around.”
  19. Excoriate self with epithets.
  20. Drop by Home Depot next day to find something that might work as push ring. (Note: Under no circumstances measure wheel axle first as this also would be considered “cutting corners.”)
  21. Buy two sizes of locking washers because they kind of look like push rings.
  22. Try each locking washer on wheel to confirm neither fits.
  23. Say aloud to no one, “Of course they don’t fit.”
  24. Say other things you can’t repeat in polite company.
  25. Briefly consider amount of duct tape necessary to keep wheel on.
  26. Fail again to measure wheel axle for appropriate size.
  27. Drop by Home Depot again.
  28. Buy two more items that look somewhat like push rings.
  29. Try both items on wheel and determine they do not fit.
  30. Conclude it might be good idea to measure wheel axle this time.
  31. Make special trip to Lowe’s to avoid embarrassment of being recognized by Home Depot workers.
  32. Buy every size of lock cap in store.
  33. Determine that one of locks caps fits the wheel axle.
  34. Do little dance of joy.
  35. Take two more days to get in “right frame of mind” before tackling yard, which looks like Amazon rainforest.
  36. Begin to mow lawn.
  37. Amazon-amazon-rainforest-33125135-1600-1200Determine wheel works fine, but other rear wheel is wobbly, and, worse, mower is now stalling.
  38. Curse the sky.
  39. Remember parts ordered “just in case.”
  40. Remove motor housing.
  41. Find nothing obviously wrong.20130622_142225
  42. Install all just-in-case parts anyway.
  43. Try again and get same results.
  44. Cry.
  45. Pout.
  46. Peruse condo ads in real estate section.
  47. Desperately hope mower just needed some air, and begin to mow with motor housing off so motor can “breathe.”
  48. Observe lawnmower die.
  49. Get brilliant idea.
  50. Make trip to neighborhood hardware store for one final part.

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P.S. If you think that’s good advice, try this book of wisdom.

Fourth of July in the Fireworks Capital of the World

4 Jul

Poorboys2We have a soggy Independence Day in Louisville, which will make the Old Fashioned 4th brought to you by Cialas and Propecia a   little damp. I don’t mind if I have to skip the fun. Independence Day in Eagleville, Missouri (fireworks capital of the world, yessiree) set a high standard.shelton

Here’s how a typical Fourth went:

8:00

Ignore fatherly suggestion to arise as the day is already half over.

Explain to father that it’s a holiday, for God’s sake.

Listen to father admonish you for taking the Lord’s name in vain in the house, dammit.

8:15

You have not arisen, so father arrives with a cold cup of water to pour on your face.

Call father all sorts of names, though under your breath, because he is a large man who could squash you like a bug.

Listen to him explain how the grass won’t mow itself.

Express opinion that it would be pretty cool if it would.

Listen to father say for hundredth time that work is something to take pride in.

8:30

Stumble into kitchen where mother is already preparing the homemade ice cream mixture for that evening.

Ask why not just buy ice cream at the store, because it tastes better anyway.

Mother expresses opinion in so many words that you are spoiled and she can’t figure out where she went wrong.

You have a stinging retort, but keep it yourself. Though mother is smaller than you, she could squash you like a bug.

Mother asks you and your brothers if bedroom is clean.

Ask her definition of “clean.”

She does not find this amusing and slams a sauce pan on the stove. It is a sturdy Paul Revere saucepan, and it has been slammed many times before.

You scowl, and she tells you to quit looking at her like she’s an ogre.

Mother warns there will be an inspection of the room later that day.

Wonder aloud what difference it makes as only relatives are coming tonight for the cookout, and none will venture upstairs.

9:30

After a very long and leisurely breakfast consisting of two bowls of corn flakes with enough sugar to sweeten three Cokes, you and Jeff begin to mow the lawn.

It is a large lawn that can take more than an hour to mow if done correctly. It will take you about twenty minutes.

Father appears to make his usual pronouncement that if something is worth doing right, it’s worth doing right the first time.

Roll your eyes.

Hurry to finish mowing the lawn so you can mow the “ball field.” Your backyard abuts the school track, and you have adopted the track as your play area.

After mowing the yard, use the mowers, on their lowest settings, to cut base paths in the grass. This job takes half the day because you want the field to be as pretty as Wrigley Field.

4:00

Father is in a good mood and gives twenty dollars to buy fireworks. This is the first time you’ve been allowed to buy the family fireworks without parental supervision. You have already bought a lot of Black Cat firecrackers and smoke bombs, but this is different. The entire success of the family cookout is at stake. The Huttons, who run a gas station and tire store, set up a large fireworks tent at the interstate exit every year.

Twenty dollars will buy a ton of fireworks, though twice that much would be better should some purchases be duds. There is a science to buying fireworks. First, you want to have enough money to buy the grand finale, the big doozy that will blow away all the others. You have already learned from experience that this is not necessarily the largest firework for sale. Still, the largest ones are quite tempting. Selecting fireworks is always a gamble. Some of the smaller, cone-shaped fireworks can be monumental for their size. Sometimes, though, they’re a disappointment. Choose carefully and buy fireworks in the order they will be set off. Sparklers are first.

5:00

Return home with a paper sack filled with explosives.

Father expects you to help churn the ice cream. The family has an electric ice cream maker, but he insists the hand-cranked ice cream tastes better. He is, of course, crazy.

Your sweat generated while churning the ice creams helps salt the ice.

Father is never satisfied with the ice cream. It always needs a few more turns, a little more ice, a dab more salt.

Mom has made chocolate and peach ice cream mixes.

Do not try the peach ice cream, because you are philosophically opposed to ruining ice cream with fruit.

Later, the adults at the cookout will go on and on about how wonderful the peach ice cream is. Worry that next year your mother will make only fruit-flavored ice cream.

6:00

Guests arrive. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

It’s time for baseball.

You don’t have enough players to form decent teams, but years of improvising have made it possible to play.

Fifty feet down the left field line is a cow pasture. Anything hit over that fence is an out.

Anything hit over the outfielder’s head is an out.

Anything hit hard is an out.

You have to use ghost runners because there will only be three people on each side.

You will expend more energy playing baseball than you did mowing the lawn and churning the ice cream.

You will not notice the irony.

7:00

Now that everyone who played baseball is dripping with sweat, it’s time to eat.

The deviled eggs don’t last long.

Skip the slaw and the potato salad, opting instead for a plate full of potato chips with a dab of baked beans and a hot dog.

Make that three hot dogs.

8:15

Time for fireworks.

The small kids are handed the sparklers, which signals to the adults that the serious stuff is about to begin.

Everyone watches the little kids twirl their sparklers, hoping they’ll tire of it quickly.

The sparklers create excitement for about three seconds before even the little kids grow bored with them.

Every child is admonished for the fourteenth time by every adult not to drop the sparkler wires on the grass.

There was that one kid in that one town who carelessly dropped his sparkler wire. A couple of days later, when his dad was mowing the lawn, the blade shot the sparkler wire right into the kid’s gut. He died on the spot. We don’t want that to happen to us, do we?

8:30

 Father is not ready to let you set off the fireworks yet. That is his job. He takes it seriously. He also takes it literally.

After the sparklers and before the roman candles, he instructs you to find an empty sixteen ounce pop bottle for the bottle rockets.

Also, bring out a two by two section of plywood as the launching platform.

Father sets off a few bottle rockets.

You wish you could help. You would tie together the fuses of several rockets and set them off at once. With luck, some would come toward the crowd. That would add some excitement.

The roman candles are predictably unpredictable. Some have the full complement of eight bursts, some fewer. One splutters and falls on its side, sending a feeble fireball toward the crowd sitting in lawn chairs.

As the show moves up the line to bigger and better fireworks, the crowd oohs and aahs at appropriate spots, just like they do with the same fireworks every year. Everyone jokes again about the propeller firework that Uncle Royce lighted one year that went straight for mother’s leg. It never gets any less funny, though mother doesn’t laugh as much about it as she used to.

8:40

The grand finale.

The rocket you spent thirty percent of your fireworks money on is lighted. Will it be a dud or a beauty? It’s somewhere in between, not much to look at, but noisy enough to scare any dogs or cats that are already cowering in some dark corner wondering why the apocalypse comes every year at the same time.

9:00

Everyone heads home. Tomorrow, you’ll have to pick up the trash from the spent fireworks. But tonight, you’ll go to bed sleeping in the dried sweat of your day.

Happy birthday, America.

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