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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.

20130711_194610

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

Cheap clothing, pirates and Keynesian economics

20 Jun

I sifted through tons of email recently, and I realize a lot of the questions recur. Therefore, I’ll share my answers here should these same questions be causing you sleepless nights.

Dear Ron,

My teenage daughter drives me bonkers. She keeps using “Me” rather than “I” to start sentences. Just today, she said, “Me and Jill are going to Forever 21.” Arrgh! No matter how often I correct her, she still uses “Me.” I don’t know what to do.

Apoplectic Mom

 

Dear Apo-Mom,

You’re worried about grammar when your daughter shops at Forever 21? A part of her soul dies – plus a Bangladeshi textile worker or two – every time she transacts business at that store. (See also Abercrombie & Fitch.) Still, you asked a straightforward question, which deserves a feeble answer.

Your daughter is a pirate. This is the only way to explain such a sentence structure. The Pirate Speech Code of 1793, still in force today, requires its members to use “Me” at the front of at least half of all sentences. “Me” should be used liberally elsewhere in the sentence as well. Here’s a typical pirate statement:  “Me britches is a bit tight today, Matey. Methinks me should switch to Cobb salads before me thighs begin to look like tree trunks.”

If you’re still in doubt, it’s also well-known that pirates supplement their wardrobes at stores where the average customer age is thirteen and the employee age is sixteen.

To maintain your sanity, as well as your relationship with your daughter, try to show some solidarity. When the next Talk like a Pirate Day comes along, start a few sentences with “Me.” Better yet, do so while browsing the clearance table at Forever 21. It will bring the two of you closer together.

 OrangeButton

Dear Sir,

I gather from that last letter you do not take grammar seriously. I suppose you also have no qualms about ending a sentence in a preposition.

Grammar Cop

Dear Grammy,

I am so happy about that up which you have brought. Strict grammar is not something of which I would ever take lightly. There are no sentences of which I can think that would sound better if the preposition were at the end.  I would agree that high standards of grammar can be hard up with which to live. However, I am committed to meeting those standards upon which others have devoted their lives.

OrangeButton

Dear Mr. Smith

As a Neo-Keynesian, I have a real issue with Post-Keynesian economics vis-à-vis the concept of a full employment rate. I posit that if we adjust wages and enact more rigid price controls, full employment is possible. What do you think?

Not my real name

Dear NMRM,

Why yes, I would be happy to show you a picture of my lunch.
20130620_080252

 

That’s not what I asked about.

 

Look! A kitty!

Golden_Kitty


OrangeButton

Mr. Smith,

 Where do you see yourself in ten years?

 Human Resources Manager

Dear Human,

The same place I see myself now, in the bathroom, where the mirror is. I don’t want to put a mirror anyplace else. That would be more than I could take. I caught a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror at a clothing store recently. I was on my way to find the store manager to alert her to the disheveled old fart who looked a little suspicious, if not completely creepy. Then I realized it was me. It frightened me to think that’s what others around me see every day. (I am sorry to all of you.)  I don’t mind the mirror in the bathroom because it takes my eyes a little while to focus in the morning, and I can’t see myself clearly. I occasionally miss a spot or two when I shave, but I just tell my wife it’s a new look I’m trying.


OrangeButton

Dear Bad Person,

I am outraged by your earlier reference to Forever 21. I buy all my tanks and bustiers there. When they disintegrate a week later, I go back to get more. I would be lost without my favorite place to shop, plus I keep countless textile workers in Asia employed at five rupees a day. I demand an immediate apology. If not, I will see to your immediate firing from whatever job you hold, if it is even possible for the likes of you to be employed.

Outraged Forever 21 Fan

 

Dear F21F,

I am truly sorry that you’re outraged.

That’s not a real apology. I’m still outraged.

 

If you or anyone like you was in any way offended by my earlier comments, it was not my intention to offend. If my comments were misconstrued to be offensive, I apologize for that occurrence of misconstruing.  I hope my future comments will be judged on their own merit, on face value, and will not cause needless offense to certain individuals or groups who may be sensitive to such things.

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P.S. …. I just had a thought on which both post- and neo-Keynesians might agree: If we didn’t demand someone get fired every time we’re outraged/offended, perhaps that would solve the unemployment issue.

The shameless truth of high school graduations

7 Jun

I am the father of a fresh high school graduate. If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend a commencement lately, do not panic. I will give you the experience now.

2:40 pm The commencement begins in twenty minutes here at Freedom Hall in Louisville. The crowd, a couple of thousand family members, is relatively low-key and quiet. It’s a lot like the crowds at University of Louisville Cardinal basketball games, which used to be played here.

A few people feel the basketball vibe and try to get the cheer “C-A-R-D-S” going. Instead, “CARDS” reminds dozens of parents they forgot to buy Hallmark cards for their graduates. Some hurry for the exit.

Even though we arrived twenty minutes early, we re are approximately 1.3 miles from the stage. I text Daughter #1 (D1) to let her know where we are sitting. I hear her phone beep in my wife’s purse next to me. Using my keen deductive skills, I determine my daughter will not receive my text. My wife looks at the message and ponders what our daughter is trying to tell us. We are not a very bright family.

IMG_0118

That’s my daughter, the one in white. There, in the next to last row.

3:00 pm The processional has started on time. This is a good sign. I’m trying to get a good photo of D1, but the lighting in the hall is weird. Everything looks a little blurry. Maybe it’s only my contacts. Since every third student is a slender Asian-looking girl with long brown hair, I may take a picture of the wrong graduate. Perhaps no one will know.

3:04 pm Six cops loiter near the back of the arena. They are prepared to quell any instance of  trouble. You know how a gaggle of math and science geeks can easily riot when they smell freshly-pressed diplomas.  Chaos worse than a calculator sale at Staples.

3:19 pm  It has taken nineteen minutes for all the students to process. My entire commencement didn’t last that long. This is going to be a long ceremony.  I order a sleeping cot online from Amazon. Even if I opt for free shipping, it should be here in plenty of time.

The graduates sit at the far end of the arena. The girls wear white gowns and the boys wear red.  They sit so that the red gowns form an “M” for Manual High School. Depending on where you sit, it could look like a “W” or a Sigma symbol. From where we sit, it looks like a melted peppermint.

I’m glad I wore a jacket. It’s a little cool in the hall. In case you didn’t know it, this—the Kentucky State Fairgrounds—has more air conditioned space than any other state fair. The State Fair Board promotes this fact every year at fair time because it sounds better than saying, “Sorry. We don’t have butter sculptures like the Iowa State Fair does. But we do have three chickens and a Holstein heifer.”

3:25 pm We obviously don’t talk about grades much at home because I have just learned D1 is a valedictorian. We have this in common because a valedictorian spoke to me once. I believe she said, “You rode the short bus, didn’t you?” This school has 113 valedictorians–all with perfect GPAs. There is one salutatorian. Slacker.

Since “valedictorian” literally means the person who gives the farewell speech, I guess we’ll hear 113 goodbye speeches. I hope Amazon delivers my cot soon.

3:31 pm School administrators and students make speeches generously peppered with quotes. Updike, Twain, Thoreau, Covey… By the end of this ceremony, I’ll be the only writer who hasn’t been quoted.  Unless… In the sage words of Ron D Smith, “Man, my butt is getting sore.”

3:47 pm It’s now time to hand out the diplomas. At least, they’re handing out diploma covers. There are no diplomas inside the cases. It’s a sham perpetuated every year at this time by the diploma industrial complex. They make you think you’re getting a diploma, but it’s only a letter saying final grades haven’t been entered, yet. The school also checks to see if the student owes anything. CNN should do an exposé.

Before the diploma covers are distributed, the class historian will make a short speech. She is telling all of us to shut up when our graduate’s name is announced. Seriously, she says. Don’t yell. This is a solemn event and the class doesn’t want all that noise. Families and friends are supposed to stand when their graduates are called. Seriously, the historian repeats, don’t yell. She is naive. These students haven’t listened to their parents for years. The tables will now be turned.

3:55 pm We’ve made it to last names that start with B. For the most part, the audience is respectful, with a few exceptions. Reaction pretty much falls along ethnic lines. The Hispanic families are most quiet, mainly because they’re not present. They are on their way to their second jobs. Because my family is mixed, we will have a combo reaction when D1’s name is called. Some of us will stand quietly, just proud that our graduate made it through high school. Others in our group will remain seated, too busy collating medical school brochures according to national rankings.

4:07 pm  Ace thinks he will have to go on the run again. A mysterious guy with a Russian accent has come to this Podunk Arkansas town… That’s not part of the ceremony. It’s in the book I’m reading as the announcer reads off the F names.

4:11 pm We’ve made it the H’s. I’m having hunger pangs. Must have food. Where are the vendors like at the basketball games? How about some pretzels at least? They’re missing a big opportunity to make a killing. Note to self: Set up “side business” at next year’s graduations.

4:20 pm  Hmm. I’ve never noticed that mole before. Should I have it checked? I’ll do the lick test. Oh, it’s just a chocolate smudge. When did I have chocolate? Two days ago? What does a chocolate plant look like? Is it brown? I’ll Google that.

4:32 pm  D1 gets her diploma cover. I think it’s her anyway. She’s too far away to tell for sure. I’m proud of somebody up there, whoever it is.

4:55 pm  The graduates are beginning to recess. I tell D2 that, see, she’ll get to have recess in high school, too. In fact, it’s the last thing she’ll do. D2 scowls at me. She does not think I am funny. Just like her sister.

Time to go. Another school holds its ceremony immediately after ours. I sell my cot to the highest bidder.

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A letter to the naïve doofus I was at eighteen

23 May

On the anniversary of my high school graduation:

Dear Ronnie,

First of all, why are you still going by “Ronnie?”  Have you noticed your friends are called Tom, Rob and Rod? They switched from Tommy, Robbie and Rodney in fourth grade. Unless you’re planning a career in professional baseball or bluegrass music, “Ronnie” has to go. If you still hold out a sliver of hope for pro sports or music, here’s a reality check: Your career Little League batting average was .137 and you sound like a constipated capybara when you sing. So it’s off to college you go, and you better be “Ron” when you get there.

Speaking of college, you were wise to avoid the disco era. Well done.  I congratulate you on being one of only three people not to buy a Bee Gees album. Bee_Gees_154.jpgDon’t worry. You’ll hear about punk and new wave very soon. Hang in there during this period of disco balls and oxymoronic soft rock. But the album Rock and Roll Over by Kiss will not go over well on your dorm floor, especially played on an eight track tape deck.kiss Sorry, that’s just the way it is. You will encounter audiophiles for the first time who play their music on high-priced turntables and actual reel-to-reel tape decks.

Your first roommate will be heavy into Styx. Even typing that sentence so many years later leaves me a bit unsettled. Other than the single Lady, you are unfamiliar with the musical output of this band. Don’t worry. That will change. Your roommate loves progressive rock, and Styx helps him relax as he does his Trig homework. You will soon know every song on every Styx album. Sorry, but the seventh one will come out your freshman year.  Also, your roommate will inform you that Carry On Oh Wayward Son was not the best song on the Kansas album Leftoverture. In fact, he will let you know that it was the worst song on the album. You will silently nod and take his word for it, because you don’t know any of the other songs on the Kansas album. You will decide fairly soon your freshman year that progressive rock is not your thing. (Except for a few weeks when you date that girl who loves Rush and is obsessed with their drummer. You’ll be a prog rock fan then. Oh, yes you will.) You will stow your opinion on Emerson Lake and Palmer and similar groups until you get a new roommate your sophomore year. By then, Darkness on the Edge of Town will be your antidote. (You will have a lot of roommates, by the way. You may want to do a little soul searching on that.)

About your chosen major of journalism, which you have had your heart set on for years. Consider this: Your parents have taught you to mind your own business, and prying into other people’s affairs is just plain rude. That pretty much defines the role of a reporter, doesn’t it? Good luck with that. And when that fledgling news operation CNN posts openings for news writers at your journalism school, maybe you shouldn’t voice the opinion that a national news outfit on cable will never succeed.

You’ll turn eighteen in a few days. In addition to all those cards from aunts and uncles, you’ll receive one from that girl you have a crush on. Inexplicably, you’ll think she’s sending you a card just to be nice. You’re too stupid to realize she’s sending you a very clear message, almost literally. This will not dawn on you for about twenty-five years. Such ignorance will be a recurring theme in your young life. You are a fool. Sorry to be so blunt, but the evidence is overwhelming from where I now sit.

I know you’re really excited to let your hair grow when you leave home, because your dad hates long hair and never allows it to cover your ears. You look forward to having cascading tresses, just like George Harrison.George If you have to, you’ll stay on campus during holidays just so your dad won’t make you cut it. Here’s the thing. The preppy era — with short hair — is arriving. You just don’t know it yet because you live in Eagleville, Missouri where “prep” refers to the process of warming a Guernsey’s udders before morning milking. Because you’ll become a preppy, don’t spend any more money on bell bottoms and polyester print shirts, Ronnie. You’ll just throw them away when you discover overpriced Lacoste shirts. lacosteYou’ll spend a lot of money just to have that little green alligator on your chest. And that denim jacket with the Woodstock patch on it? Unless you’re the bassist for The Grateful Dead, get rid of it.

You know how you say you won’t attend a high school reunion until you can come back in a Mercedes with a blonde on each arm? You will keep that promise, but maybe you should adjust the rules a bit. Maybe the car starts with an M? Instead of a Mercedes, perhaps you meant a Mazda. You’ll have one of those for awhile until someone rear ends it when your five-year-old daughter sits in the back seat. Don’t worry, she’ll be OK, but the car will be totaled. You’ll replace the Mazda with a Maxima. Maybe that’s the car you meant? You had a Malibu for awhile, too. In fact, you’ll own just about every M car but a Mercedes. And about those blondes. You’ll marry a Japanese-Filipino, and there’s not a lot of blonde hair in that gene pool. There’s still hope, though. At your fiftieth high school reunion, you could be escorted by two Norwegian home health aides named Stefan and Lars who keep your spare adult diapers for emergencies. Maybe one of them will drive a Mercedes.

Still, you’ll be lucky. You’ll fall in love a few times, and stay in love once. You won’t win any Father of the Year awards, but your kids will make you proud every day. You’ll never be rich or famous. But you won’t be infamous either, so there’s that. In all, life will turn out even better than you expected. I’m actually kind of excited for you.

 

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Thirty bits of advice about horses

3 May
Isabel & Gdad

My dad, daughter and Beezlebub’s Beast

Because it is the weekend of the Kentucky Derby, and because I live about ten minutes from Churchill Downs, I will share my vast expertise on horses.

First, my résumé:

My family had ponies as pets like other families had cats and dogs. Unlike a tall guy named Shorty, there was nothing ironic about the name of Mischief, our Shetland pony. She was Satan minus the cloven hooves. When I was six or seven, Mischief decided one afternoon to plop down without warning for a rest. Normally, I would not have denied her that privilege, except I was riding her at the time. Still in the saddle, my left leg was pinned beneath her. As I began to lose the feeling in that part of my body, I smacked Mischief’s neck and kicked her with my free leg. The beast would not budge. Buzzards had begun to circle by the time my brother came to rescue me.

After that, I decided I could find better ways to spend my time, and I was largely successful for several years in avoiding saddles and bridles. Then my grandfather, a horse nut, invited the family to join a saddle club. My dad and older brother loved horses and readily agreed. I wanted no part of it, preferring to spend my time in ways other than repeatedly riding a large malodorous animal in a figure eight formation. Plus, everyone had to wear matching turquoise shirts. Fat kids like me did not look good in that color. I didn’t look good in a cowboy hat either. Come to think of it, I didn’t look good in much of anything in those days. But my mother enticed me to give the saddle club a shot by promising to take me to our area’s only public swimming pool at the end of the summer. I did not like swimming any more than I liked horses. cx_milkshakeBut the pool’s snack bar had frozen MilkShake candy bars, which were impossible for a chubby kid to resist. Riding in the saddle club that summer had a coolness factor roughly on par with a crocheted toaster cover, but I survived. I have ridden horses several more times since, each time swearing it would be the last. I have kept my word now for more than ten years.

A few things I have learned:

  1. Horses are smart.
  2. They know they’re smarter than humans.
  3. But their willpower is weak.
  4. Even though they know you’re luring them with oats so you can halter them, they can’t resist.
  5. But they will hold a grudge (see galloping too close to a tree below).
  6. Horses know you don’t know what you’re doing.
  7. They know even before you get on them.
  8. Like when you improperly cinch the saddle.
  9. Or examine the bit and ask, “Where does this thing go?”
  10. When you grab the saddle horn, they say “Rookie! This will be fun.”
  11. They don’t actually say that, but they think it.
  12. Horses can’t talk, after all.
  13. They can smell fear.
  14. When they smell fear, they develop an urge to gallop.
  15. It’s much easier to take off in a full gallop if they rid themselves of you.
  16. If it seems they’re running dangerously close to a large tree, you are not mistaken.
  17. Their intent is to scrape you off their back.
  18. It’s best to jump/fall off before you reach the tree.
  19. It’s going to hurt either way.
  20. There’s  no cool way to fall off a horse.
  21. Forget what you’ve seen in cowboy movies.
  22. gra79-10intlIf you ride in a group, horses will talk about you with the other horses.
  23. They will not say nice things.
  24. Horses will hold their manure, waiting until the most embarrassing moment to release it.
  25. For example, when you trot by that cute girl you have a crush on in eighth grade.
  26. Or in the yard where you’ll have to mow later that day.
  27. If you want your horse to gallop, it will not.
  28. It will go as slowly as possible.
  29. Until you’re ready to turn back toward home, that is.
  30. Then the horse will run so fast it could out run a Derby champion.

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P.S., If you have a penchant for Norwegian literature that’s a little bit about horses and a lot about human relationships, read Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. It’s an aged man’s unsentimental look back at a turning point in his childhood.

The decision stunk, but the outcome wasn’t so bad

29 Apr

My younger daughter Sophia and I drove an hour or so east of our home yesterday to watch a college softball game in Lexington, Kentucky.  It was a good day. Sophia was chatty, and we had our usual conversations about the source of tofu and other deep topics. My mind wandered a lot to the distant past during our trip. My Alma Mater, Missouri, played Kentucky in that game. Lexington was the first place I lived after college.

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Roger Gafke, professor emeritus

When I graduated back in the Neanderthal days of 1981, I applied for a news reporter job at the ABC affiliate in Lexington. The TV news industry paid its young reporters in fame rather than fortune, and the offer was for barely more than minimum wage. I did a quick phone interview with the news director, who said the job was mine if I wanted it. I called my journalism school adviser Roger Gafke to ask what I should do.

“As your adviser, I advise you to keep looking,” Roger said. He didn’t like the sound of the opportunity. The money was too little, and the station seemed a little desperate. The station where I worked in college was the top-rated news operation in its market. The newsroom had just been expanded, the camera and editing equipment were new and plentiful, and the staff was comprised of dozens of  talented journalism students, many of whom would have careers at places like NBC, CNN and ESPN. Roger sensed I would be stepping into a much different situation.

“I will consider your advice,” I said.

I did not consider it. The Lexington job was the first I applied for, and I feared I would receive no other reporting offers. Ever. I imagined living at home and watching Andy Griffith reruns with my parents. I wanted a place of my own to watch Andy Griffith reruns.

My mother did not want me to live at home either, but she also did not want me to move far away.

“I read there’s an opening for a photographer at the newspaper in St. Joe,” she said.

News_ad

There was no such thing as a busy Bluegrass Sunday.

“I don’t think my TV reporting skills would get me a job as a print photographer,” I said.

“Then how about applying at the radio station in Bethany?”

I did not want to read noon livestock reports on the local FM station the rest of my life, so I packed my car and headed east.

Also yesterday, I made the deposit committing my older daughter Isabel to her college choice. That should have been a momentous occasion, but Isabel didn’t seem very excited about any of her college options. The university she selected is a good one. It’s  not too far away, and the scholarship award is generous. Unless Isabel goes nuts at the nearby Ikea store, she should still have money in her savings when she graduates. Because Isabel doesn’t seem excited, her mother and I feel some anxiety. We worry she won’t be happy with her decision. What if she doesn’t like the atmosphere? What if she doesn’t make lifelong friends like her mother and I did in school? What if she regrets everything?

After the softball game, I drove Sophia around Lexington for a bit. We passed the church where her mother and I were married. I pointed out the stained glass window that was familiar to her from our wedding picture. I tried to find the first apartment we lived in when we married, though I couldn’t remember where it was. Then we drove by the TV station on our way out of town.

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Timothy Shawn Patrick Doyle, one of the good guys who made WTVQ better

“It’s much different now,” I told Sophia. “The first time I came here, I thought I had made a huge mistake. The newsroom was small, the news vehicles were old, and the equipment was in terrible condition. The station was the laughingstock of Lexington.”

“So, did you make a mistake?” Sophia asked.

“Definitely,” I said, thinking how my career never really recovered.

Then I thought about the good friends I made, the wonderful person I married, the girl sitting next to me, and the other one back home preparing to graduate from high school.  None of which I would have without that poor decision long ago.

“Actually, no,” I said. “Things turned out quite well.”

The finish line

16 Apr

boston-marathon-finish-450x320-298x168Just to cross the finish line upright in a marathon, you’ll train forty or fifty miles a week. You’ll do one or two training runs of twenty miles or more. You’ll train in ice storms and stifling humidity. You’ll run with sore knees and twisted ankles.

You’ll do it all for the race’s last two-tenths of a mile. Even if you have to walk part of the race, and even if your calves cramp so bad that you can barely put one leg in front of the other, you will run past the finish line. You’ll do it even though you’re dehydrated, and the sweat on your eyebrows has formed into salt crystals, and even though your nipples bleed because you did not remember to apply friction protection. You’ll run like it is the first mile of the race instead of the last few steps.

You’ll do it for yourself, sure. But you’ll also do it for all those people at the finish line on the other side of the barricades. You don’t know them, but they cheer for you. Many of them have come because their loved runs are running. But not all of them. Many in the crowd come to the finish line because they understand the effort ordinary humans put into that extraordinary event. They know the runners are not incredible athletes, but people just like them. They see the equality of a marathon. They know that people who could not win a one hundred meter dash, hit a baseball far, or throw a touchdown, can do this.

The fastest runner in the world, and the slowest, will run the same distance, the same hills, and cross the same finish line. You get to hear the cheers from the same strangers who applauded the winner. Volunteers will welcome you with energy drinks and silver thermal blankets. They’ll hang a medal around your neck and congratulate you for your accomplishment the same as if you set a world record.  They will mean it, too. You will thank them for their kindness. You will be glad you finished strong for all those strangers.

When you cross the finish line, passing the cheering crowd and volunteers, you may cry a little. Because you did it. Because all those weeks and hundreds of miles of training are over. You’ll cry because it was worth it after all, and because you want to do it again. For those cheers at the finish line.

The happiest place in the world, a fable

30 Mar

The happiest land is the world is one none of us can easily reach. It’s tucked away in a hidden valley in a faraway part of the world that does not appear on any map.

By happenstance, a hiker entered this remote place on his way to climb one of the highest mountains in that part of the world. He did not know it was the happiest land. The hiker, though still young, had traipsed across four continents. He had thrown a stone off the Great Wall, bathed in an ice-cold river in Patagonia, and watched antelope drink from a calm pool at sunset in Namibia. He still had much left to see and experience. He wanted to write a great novel, learn the paint, fall in love, and have his name etched in a monument at the end of his days. But he had only one lifetime in which to achieve it all, and he worried that he couldn’t achieve all that he wanted. Therefore, the man lived in constant anxiety, as he hurried from one experience to the next.

When he first entered the happiest land, he found nothing outwardly interesting about it. Its mountains were no more majestic than others he had seen. The streams were no clearer, the flowers no more colorful, and the animals no bigger or faster.DSC07710

As he found it rather dull, the hiker chose to spend no more time than necessary in this small land. After asking directions, he took the shortest path possible that lead toward the mountain he intended to climb. Along the way, all the natives treated the visitor warmly. This was nothing new to the man. He had traveled through many hospitable places. However, the people in this land seemed even happier and more relaxed than he had previously experienced. This made him uneasy. He was not used to such calmness.

The stranger also noticed that some people wore white t-shirts with calendar dates printed in black. Some dates were many years in the future; others were close at hand. He assumed the shirts were the current fashion in this land, but he did not want to reveal his ignorance about their meaning. Still, he decided to buy one as a souvenir. He entered the next shop he came to and asked where he could purchase a white shirt like the ones he had seen others wearing.

The store clerk was pleasant, but firm. “I’m sorry, sir. You cannot buy those shirts. They are a gift when a person reaches a certain age.”

The clerk suggested other apparel — plenty of well-made shirts in beautiful colors were available — but they did not interest the hiker. He left the store frustrated.

Near the far end of his trek through the land, the hiker met a middle-aged woman along the path. Just as all the others he encountered that day, the woman had a look of almost otherworldly contentedness. By this time, the visitor had become annoyed at the serenity he saw in all the people he met. He stopped the woman as she passed him.

“Everyone I have seen here appears to have such inner peace,” the hiker said. “Frankly, it’s starting to get on my nerves. It’s as though you think you have all the time in the world. Trust me, you don’t.”

The woman shrugged.  “We have enough time.”

“I don’t know how you could. Look at me. I have no responsibilities, I travel all around the world. and yet I still feel like life it too short.”

“I imagine you have been to many wonderful places,” the woman said. She pointed to a large rock just off the path.  “Why don’t we rest for a bit while you share some of your stories?”

“I wish I had the time,” the hiker said. “But I have a mountain to climb.”

“Why must you climb it now? Is this your last day?”

“My last day?”

“I have seen other people like you. Not a lot, but a few. They hurry on the last day of their life like they are in a race.”

“It’s not my last day, I assure you,” the hiker said. “I’m still a young man, and I have a lot more to do in life. Besides, how would I know if it were my last day?”

The woman sat on the rock to rest. She rubbed the calves of her legs, which were much weaker than when she was a young woman. “We all know our last day in this land,” she said. “For some of us, that day is quite close. For others, the day is well in the future.”

“How can you know the day you’ll die?”

The woman shrugged. “We just do. We are born knowing.”

“That explains the shirts I saw,” the hiker said. “You must be miserable to be cursed with that knowledge. What if the time of your death is soon? There is so much to do and see.”

“For most of us, it’s comforting to know when we will die,” the woman said. “It liberates us to live. We can experience life with calmness, because we already know how it will end. Instead of worrying about it, we focus on what happens each minute of this life.”

“You sound like you believe in a life after this one,” the hiker said. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t be so calm about it.”

“I do believe in a life after this one,” the woman said. “But that’s not for me worry about. I know for certain that I have been given this life. No matter how long it is, I make the most of it. That doesn’t mean I have to climb every mountain, though we have many beautiful ones here. It doesn’t mean I have to read every poem ever written, though we have wonderful poets among us. It means I must cherish the life I have.”

The woman stood again, ready to continue down the path.”You seem to be in a hurry to reach that mountain,” she said. “What is the point? If you knew you were dying tomorrow, would you want to be there? Or would you be somewhere else more important to you?”

“But I don’t know when my last day will come,” the hiker said. “What should I do?”

“The same as all of us here,” the woman said. “Love, of course. Love who you are, where you are and those around you.”

“I guess you have already figured out where you’ll be on your last day?” the hiker asked.

“In a place very special to me,” the woman said. “With people I love. I’m going there now.”

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From the other side of death

26 Mar

An excerpt from The Savior of Turk.

After I died, I figured I’d possess a clear memory of my whole life, from the day I popped out of my mama’s belly till they put a sheet over my head at the hospital. In eternity, I had in mind that I’d go back and forth over everything that happened to me like I was playing a movie, re-watching the nice parts and fast forwarding through the others until I about wore out the tape. But chunks of my life are fuzzier than others. Whole pieces got lost somewhere, things you’d think I’d remember. I recall but a few of the kids’ birthdays. Just a handful of Christmas mornings made the cut, and those memories are like looking through a window smeared with Vaseline.

BeachOther recollections are as clear to me as if they happened a minute ago, in vivid Technicolor. But they’re not necessarily the kind of memories you’d think would have stuck. Like the time our daughter Kimmie — I reckon she was around two because it was before Karl came along — got her fingers slammed in the door of our car as she was getting out. I hadn’t been paying close enough attention, and I took for granted that she was clear of the door when I shut it. She bawled bloody murder for close to half an hour. We’d crossed up to Iowa to spend a Sunday afternoon at a state park where there was a little sandy beach, and we had just parked the car when it happened.

For the occasion, Polly had bought Kimmie a purple swimsuit with a little yellow frilly thing around the waist that made it look like a tutu. Kimmie wore it to bed the night before. She was so hopped up about going to the beach that she liked to have never got to sleep. Then I had to go and ruin it by slamming her fingers in the door. Her right pointer and middle fingers swelled up like hot dogs. We had some ice from the cooler to help the swelling, but it didn’t make her feel any better. She sat next to her mom on a beach towel and whimpered the whole afternoon. Never got in the water. I didn’t either. I felt so bad and wished I could have done something to make it right.

I don’t know why a memory like that would be so clear to me, but I guess I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.

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