Tag Archives: family

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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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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$427.88 is burning a hole in my pocket

10 Jan

Many years ago, after my Grandma Brown died, a little cash remained from her estate. Mom distributed it to us grandchildren. My wife and I used our share to buy a cheap entertainment center, because nothing memorializes a deceased grandparent like pressed-wood furniture from K-Mart. Every time one of the kids rammed a Big Wheel into a corner of it, I smiled and thought of Grandma.

This week, I received a chance for a do-over of sorts. I came across a few U.S. savings bonds, which I had stashed in a safe. The discovery was like a super-charged version of finding dimes and nickels beneath couch cushions.  The savings bonds were gifts from the same side of the family, the Browns. “The Aunts,” as my mom called them, were Grandpa Brown’s three younger sisters. None of them had children, and two of them, Geneve and Imo, never married. Much of their affection, instead, trickled down to their nieces and nephews, even great nephews like me.

MZgrad

Aunt Geneve on my right and Aunt Imo on my left, along with Uncle Gilbert, Aunt Eloise and their granddaughters Laurel and Allison.

The aunts attended every significant event in my young life that can be mentioned in polite company, from graduations to my only wedding so far. When I was a freshman in college, Aunt Geneve paid $75 for a savings bond in my name. As I thought of ways to hit three keggers in one night, my great aunt pondered my more distant future.

The savings bond would mature in thirty years, nearly ten years after Aunt Geneve’s death. I learned about the money only then. The $75 she paid would be equivalent to about $280 today. That was not pocket change when considering she had three generations of nieces and nephews. (When my daughter was born 19 years ago, Aunt Geneve bought one for her, too.)  Aunt Imo did the same. She bought a savings bond for me in 1985, which will mature in a couple of years; I did not know about that one either until her death. They did not need me to know about their gift while they were still alive. That was not important to them.

After many years, I still feel loved by the aunts, and I feel their pride, too, even though I haven’t always deserved it. You know when you do something you’re not proud of and someone comes to mind that would be disappointed in you? That’s never happened to me. If it did, however, I would picture the aunts.

When my girls were born, I wanted to name one of them Geneve. I chickened out for fear of hurting the feelings of the other aunts, who were still alive. (Maybe it’s not too late. Perhaps my fifteen-year-old isn’t completely sold on her name, yet.) Gifts and keepsakes from the aunts, such as ornaments, painted pottery, and a small linen dresser, decorate our house. Those items help keep the aunts fresh in my mind.

Every time The Sound of Music comes on television, I tell anyone in the room that Aunt Geneve and Aunt Imo took my brother and me to see the movie at a theater in St. Joe. I remember that I did not want to see some stupid old musical with that damn Julie Andrews. I kept that thought to myself, however, and, ten minutes into the movie, I loved it. And I loved Aunt Geneve and Aunt Imo even more for taking us. Two old women and two teenage boys at the movies.

I also remember the blue and green striped tie the aunts bought me at JC Penney’s in St. Joe. I had visited them one last time following college and before moving across three states to start my career. Aunt Imo and Aunt Geneve, true to their Midwestern upbringing, were economical with words during that last visit. But I felt their love then. I still do.

I don’t know what Aunt Geneve thought I would be doing 30 years after she bought that savings bond. I don’t know what she would want me to use the money for today. However, I believe she would say, “It is your money, Ronnie. Do what you think is best.” I was not a perfect kid. Perhaps the aunts thought thirty years would be enough time for me to mature a bit.

While my maturity is still in question, the savings bond from Aunt Geneve matured more than five years ago. (If the IRS is reading this, I’ll pay the back taxes right away.) I cashed it yesterday for $427.88. I have tried to think of something appropriate to do with the money. We have a few needs at home. For example the clothes dryer takes about an hour to dry a pair of nylon socks. More selfishly, I did not get the noise cancelling head phones Santa promised. And one of those GoPro cameras would really make my week.

I have an idea, though. Aunt Geneve was an educator and a devout Baptist. She loved kids, and she has countless former elementary school and Sunday school students all over the country who I’m sure remember and admire her. It’s time to pass it on. Four hundred dollars and change is not much, not even enough to buy a clothes dryer. But it can do a bit of good. Small children who never knew Aunt Geneve can still benefit from her generosity. I believe they will feel a special, comforting presence they won’t know by name. That would be fine with Aunt Geneve.

Here’s to all the aunts, uncle and other saints who loved and supported us despite our warts and foibles.

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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. 

 

A Horse That’s Dead is Heavy as Lead

21 Sep

Habeas Equus

a short story

I’d previously thought dead weight meant lazy, because Dad had hung the words on Fossie when he forgot to trim the weeds around the elm stump out by the road. I learned better that day in the barn when the three of us couldn’t budge the dead mare from the stall floor — right where she had fallen like a one-ton bag of cement sometime the night before. The palomino hadn’t been much to look at when she was living, with bones poking against her skin like she was a sack of walnuts on four legs. But death had changed the old girl, made her seem bigger, too big for the three of us to yank her from her resting place.

“At this rate, we’ll be here all day and into tomorrow,” Dad said. Those were the first words he’d spoken since the horse had turned up dead. Dad never cared much for shooting the breeze, and he was extra quiet that day. Out of breath from tugging at the horse, my father looked like he might keel over, leaving me and Fossie to deal with both him and the horse. Dad wasn’t exactly light as a feather, so I doubted we could budge him either.

Dad leaned against the barn wall, pulled a wadded handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped sweat beads from his brow. His shoulders drooped like they were being forced down by the weight of his jowly head. He had added a few pounds in middle age, which wouldn’t help us to get the dead horse any closer to the barn door.

I was busy pouting, more or less on general principle, and had nothing to say on the matter of the horse or anything else. I just wanted to get the thing over with so I could retreat from the lung-sucking heat of the barn. I couldn’t see how chattering away was going to get that done. But Fossie, older than me by three years, hardly ever shut up. He leaned against the wall next to Dad with his arms folded and asked, “How much you think she weighs?”

Dad grunted. “At least a pound more’n we can handle, it would appear.”

“I bet we’d get her out quick if we had another set of hands,” Fossie said.

“You keep an extra pair in your pocket?” The Old Man was well-past frustrated with the status of his equine property, a problem he hadn’t counted on the day he was supposed to be off the place he rented.

“I bet Cloyd’d help out if we asked,” Fossie said. I could have choked him right then if my hands had been big enough to wrap around his thick neck. Only someone as stupid as my brother would bring up Cloyd Farris the day before Dad headed to prison.

If you’re interested in reading the rest of Habeas Equus (about five pages), go to Smashwords and use this coupon code to download it for free: AR73P

Burying Aunt Imo

18 Jul

 We buried Aunt Imo on the last day of August when Northwest Missouri was suffering through another year of drought. Grass had turned the color of dank wheat from the lack of water, and trees had begun to shed their prematurely-dying leaves. A cold front pushed through, leaving the day overcast, cool and breezy. It all tricked the mind into thinking fall had arrived, though blistering 100-degree weather had been the norm only weeks earlier. Showers would arrive the following day, bringing a little relief to the crusty ground, though too late to do much good for the crops. Rain was always a fickle visitor.

A small group gathered under the funeral home’s canvas tent as the preacher from First Baptist Church in St. Joe said a few last words over the casket. Uncle Donald and Aunt Eva were now the only surviving children of my great grandparents, Hadley and Sadie Brown. The family of eight was now down to two.

Aunt Imo had so disliked anyone knowing her age that it was not printed in her obituary. But her birth date had been chiseled on the headstone she shared with Aunt Geneve, her sister, who had died a few years earlier. It seemed funny that Aunt Imo had finally allowed her age on the one thing that would outlast everyone present.

After the graveside service, Robert made the long drive home to his family, including Zane Hadley and Sadie May, who were named to honor ancestors who died even before their father was born. The rest of the family— Aunt Imo’s cousins, nephews and nieces—would gather for lunch in Cameron, about thirty minutes south toward Kansas City. First, however, we lingered in the graveyard. It was a mile or so west of Jameson, surrounded by fields and pastures and across the road from the site of the old Grand River Baptist church, where the Brown family had worshipped nearly a century earlier. This ground was the Alpha and Omega of Hadley and Sadie’s family.

Lots of names on gravestones were recognizable, mentioned over meals at family reunions many years past. A few times, I could put a name to a face. Great, Great Aunt Scynthia’s grave was near the western edge of the cemetery; she had lived in an apartment in Columbia, and had cooked dinner for me a few times when I attended college there. Another great, great aunt, Mildred, was nearby, too. She had been full of energy even after a stroke left her bedridden.

Aunt Eva wanted to stroll a bit through the cemetery. Now in her 90s, she had recently moved into a nursing home with Uncle Clarence. She couldn’t maneuver the gravel drive through the cemetery by herself, so Carl, the son of her brother Gilbert, took one arm and I took the other. As we walked along the path, she mentioned people whom I had never known or did not remember, though the names were familiar:

 Croy, MacNeely, Feurt… Aunt Eva smiled wanly at the markers, as if wondering how 90 years had passed so quickly.

As we crept along, the newest generation of nephews and nieces, including my daughters, ran from one end of the burial ground to the other. Living 600 miles apart, the cousins were thrilled to see each other. They didn’t mind that they played among the dead—their ancestors. I wondered if they would be drawn to visit this cemetery when they were older. Seeing Aunt Imo’s name, would they remember her face?

The kids spotted the grave of Aunt Sophie. “Look, Sophia,” they said. “There’s your name.” Sophia was impressed. The kids leaped over headstones, indifferent to the graves they walked over. Aunt Eva didn’t seem to mind either, and no one else mattered.

P.S. Get more of my writing, including free short stories, at Smashwords.