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Friday, December 27, 2013

First Christmas

Over the past couple weeks, we have been transforming our home into a winter wonderland. It is a “wonderland” if one has a lot of imagination, the ability to over-look chipped and faded “heirloom” ornaments along with the not-too-obvious burned out light bulbs here and there on the tree.
It is inevitable one stumbles upon those memories of Christmas' past. The ornaments our children made in kindergarten of flour and water, the “Baby's First Christmas” brass decorations designed to hold a photo of the little bundle of joy; both photo and ornament now faded. My mind wandered to those “first Christmases” so long ago. Our last baby's first Christmas was 33 years ago.

I was in danger of the mists of Time enveloping me while standing before the tree, arm frozen in mid placement of the geegaw.
A canine snuffle and snort saved me from taking a maudlin trip down Memory Lane, complete with old Bing Crosby tunes. I looked down to see Ike expelling a snoot full of Christmas box dust from his nose.
Ahh, yes...another First Christmas is at hand; Ike's.
We have not had puppies in our home for over a decade. As such, we have either forgotten, or deeply buried, those quaint little things that make puppy-hood so special. As my Lovely Bride and I are not all that old, I feel strongly we suppressed the memories. Psychologists refer to this as a “survival mechanism”.
There have been some memorable Christmases with dogs...
When first married, we had a white German Shepard named Eb, who adopted us one Sunday after church. There he was, prancing around the parking lot as the congregation was departing. When we got to the car, I opened the door for LB and our baby daughter. The dog hopped into the backseat, sat down, and awaited the ride home. We stopped at nearby farms asking if anyone was missing a dog. One fellow chuckled, shook his head, and said “Looks like you have a dog.”. So we did.
As our first Christmas came, we borrowed a friend's pick-up truck with which to haul our tree, which we would select and cut down. Upon returning home, Eb was delighted at the indoor plumbing we installed just for him. He took “watering the tree” to a whole new level. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a slightly damp, odoriferous package on Christmas morning.
Our little mixed breed, Becky, was under the impression the brightly wrapped boxes and such were for her personal use. She would delight in ripping the paper off, construct a little nest for herself, and take a nap in her handiwork.
Our Great Pyrenees, Tori, was quite memorable. We obtained her from a breeder during the “Belle and Sebastian” craze in the mid 1980's. “Belle” was a Pyrenees who had all manner of adventures with a little boy, “Sebastian”. Our son was enthralled with the show. Being the level-headed, calm, practical parents that we are, LB and I determined the only thing to do would be to obtain a Great Pyrenees puppy. I retrospect, all I can say is “Good Lord! What were we thinking?”
Tori (short for Victoria), was quite a handful. Literally. She was 11 weeks old when we picked her up, and weighed about 25 pounds. She didn’t stop growing until about 15 months of age and 130 pounds.
She was a good dog, in her own way. Of course, most of us loved her because she was our dog.

One indelible memory consists of our son, Gabe, wanting to take her for a walk in the snow. He was about 5 or 6 at the time.

Making certain Gabe was bundled up, we then handed him the lead, sending him outdoors with the admonition to “be careful”. When will parents ever learn to not utter those words?

We soon heard cries of “Tori! Tori! STOP!!” emanating from  outside. Assuming something had gone awry, we ran to the door. Flinging it open, we witnessed Tori galloping through the snow, the lead stretched behind her, and Gabe hanging on with both hands, being towed across the white landscape.

Dashing outside, we finally caught up with the pair when Tori stopped to sniff at a tree. Gabe was none the worse for wear, and was pretty game about the whole ordeal. We recently heard from his therapist who confirmed Gabe is making progress in dealing with this event.

However, back to Christmas.
When we married, I received some old Christmas ornaments which had been in my family for years. I could not recall a tree that did not have these same few ornaments upon it. Being extremely delicate, they were always handled with utmost care, hung where they couldn't be knocked from their branch. As peculiar as it now sounds, I actually looked forward to unwrapping these treasures from the past, nestled in their protecting layers of tissue paper.
Then, one day, while in the kitchen, I heard a strange sound coming from the living room. The strange sound was soon followed by Tori bounding into the kitchen, bleeding from her lips. Finding this to be somewhat unusual, I stooped to examine her mouth. There, between her cheek and gum, was a goodly amount of red, silver, gold, and green bits of glass.

Carefully removing this, and checking her tongue and so forth, I then swapped her mouth with a wet paper towel. Failing to see any large lacerations, I then swabbed the minor cuts as best I could; all while wrestling an 80 pound (at that time) puppy.
Completing the do-it-yourself veterinary care, I then checked the living room. There, in shards of glass scattered everywhere, were the remains of the beloved family ornaments. I didn't flip out; that would not have restored the items. I couldn't even be angry with the dog; she was just doing what dogs do.
I reflected while cleaning up the debris how capricious Life can be. These decorations had survived two World Wars, a Great Depression, upheavals and good times unscathed. However, they could not survive Victoria the dog.
Our first Bulldog, Tinkerbell, amazed us. When setting up our tree, somehow or another one of her chew toys fell into the water filled tree stand. She looked perplexed for a moment, then wandered off to seek out another toy. The toy was forgotten over the next couple of weeks. Or so we thought.

While we were removing the tree (an ordeal in its own right). Tinkerbell was lounging nearby. As soon as the tree was lifted from the stand, she dashed up, sniffed once, then retrieved her toy from the pine needle filled water! Proudly, she went upstairs to enjoy her long lost treasure.
Now, we have Ike.

Everything this year is new to him. Our tree is now smaller, and stands nicely on an end table. This offers a degree of protection from leg-lifting and ornament stealing. The delicate china Nativity scene is upon a desk, which negates any of the Wise Men becoming a chew toy. We no longer have to be concerned about antique ornaments being trashed, which is nice in its own way.

However, we have discovered some unique seasonal behaviors from him. Ike is NOT enthralled with musical decorations. We have a musical string of lights on the tree. The music plays, Ike freaks out. The more it plays, the more wound up he gets. He barks, he runs about, he tries to get at the tree. We now have a silent tree. This is better than dealing with a freaked-out dog.
We also have a musical decoration which consists of Santa Claus playing an up-right piano. Amongst the silver garland along the top of the piano, there are multicolored blinking lights. In order to hear a jaunty Christmas classic, one simply squeezes the jolly old elf's hand. In turn, Ike freaks out, begins to bark, run about, and tries to jump on our piano upon which the toy piano rests. . We shut off Santa; and all is quiet again. Until the Christmas clock in the kitchen chimes at the hour with a variety of Christmas carols. He seems to be getting used to this one, though. Do you happen to know if it is normal for dogs to have a facial twitch?
Ike has made another interesting discovery.

He has learned when he grabs the pretty red fabric hanging over the edge of the table, the sounds of things toppling over fills the room. He has noticed a corollary between the above action/effect and either LB or me, or both, dashing madly about. For some perverse reason, he finds this greatly entertaining.
Perhaps his greatest discovery and source of joy has been the lights and little wooden snowmen in front of our home. From the moment these were arranged in their place, he has delighted in tromping around on them every freaking time he goes outside!!
Good Heavens! After the 235th time of sniffing, hiking his leg, and nearly knocking over the bigger snowman, one would think he would realize nothing has changed! Yet, the day has not fully begun until he has watered the outdoor lights.

I am counting down the days until Twelfth Night.
Keep us in your prayers.

Friday, December 20, 2013


I was thinking about the Robertson's today.

No, it didn't involve any interviews, or anything such as that.

For some reason, I was thinking of the episode where Miss Kay was hanging laundry on the line.

I thought it odd, folks of their means not having a clothes dryer. Then, I thought perhaps Phil and Kay prefer the natural fragrance of sun-dried clothing to the artificial dryer sheet fragrances.

Of course, this got the wheels turning about the Clean Cotton, and Fresh Linen, and related air products on the market. Which in turn got me to reflecting upon the lack of backyard clothes lines in America today. By natural progression, it occurred to me about the only place one sees clothes lines is Ohio's Amish country.

And, of course, this led to wondering “What kind of scented candles do the Amish buy?”

Let's face it, the majority of fragrances have a rural, country, simple life theme. Amish don't need sun-dried linen, apple pie, summer meadow, fresh baked bread, nor new mown hay or leather. They have that all the time, day in and day out.

I then wondered if there is an Amish Bizarro world of scented candles.

Do the quaint little shops we tourists flock to on Saturdays have a dark, seedy back room restricted to “Amish Only”?

There, on display and for purchase, are such exotic fragrances as “Microwave Popcorn” and “Brand New Computer”. A big seller for use in barns is “Li'l GTO; Gas, Tires,Oil”. Do young couples hang the provocative scent of “Hot Tub with Chlorine” in their buggies? A huge mover with the more risque members of the community would be “Fire Engine Red Nail polish”.

While visions of Amish in disguise (how would that work? Fake beards ain't gonna fly) stumbled in my head, I then pondered upon scents that didn't make it past the focus groups.

There are some that need no thought, such as “Four Day Old Roadkill” and “Broken Septic Tank”. “Fishing Trawler in August” never got off the ground.

But.... what about the others? “Burnt Coffee in the Pot”, why don't we see that one? For some reason “Diesel Bus Exhaust” and “Chicken Coop” didn't make the cut. We will never see “Spoiled Potato” and “Stale Beer & Cigarettes” in the stores. Are you looking for “Model Airplane Glue”? Forget it. “Sour Milk” and “Car Sick Toddler” were destined to be losers.

Yet, there are some that aren't all that bad.... “Campfire” could have been a contender. “Hoppes No. 9” and “Gunsmoke” would be a huge hit with hunters and shooters.

“Freshly Caught Trout” could be a hit with the Orvis set. Couple this with “Split Cedar Creel”, and you have an instant success.

“Ham-n-Eggs” would be a good way to jump start your day. Another top seller would be “Mama's Spaghetti Sauce”. Paired with “Fresh Garlic Bread”, it could not be beat.

Then, there are the more quirky ones. Thinks like “Lit Coleman Lantern”, and “WD-40”, “Black Walnut Husks” would find a nice niche market.

For those who are a bit more edgy, there could be “Skunk” and “Wet Dog”.

Comfort scents of “Wool Blanket & Mothballs”, “Worn Baseball Glove”, “New Tennis Balls”, and “Family Bible” would find a following.

Of course, the ultimate fragrance would be “Old Barn”; an exquisitely balanced blend of horses, cattle, fresh hay, the sharp tang of gasoline, and the smooth undertones of tractor grease and oil, all bound together by the warm effects of weathered wood....Ahhhh.....

Yankee Candle, get your R&D group busy!!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

More Life with Ike

You may have noticed certain vocations and pastimes have their own vocabulary.
In the real estate trade, when a realtor describes a structure as having “great bones” typically this means the foundation and frame are reasonably sound. The plumbing, electrical, heating, walls, flooring and roof, however, will have to be replaced.
When you see “Chef’s Creation” on a menu, it does not necessarily mean Chef Francoise has whipped up a delight especially por vous.  More often than not, it means Hank, the short order cook, messed up the chicken Marsala. In an attempt to salvage something of the disaster, he dumped in too much Tabasco sauce.
I could go on and on about specialized terminology. A “reliable used car” means you can rely upon it to break down at the most inopportune times.
When the owner of a fishing resort says “They have been biting like crazy!”, it translates to a couple of guys caught a total of five fish last Saturday.
So it is with dog breeders.
On Monday, the 15th, Ike will be 8 months of age.  The cute, adorable, 11 pound animated Beanie-baby I first met in my Lovely Bride’s arms is now a gregarious, 50 pound and growing, perpetual motion machine.
The breeder from whom we obtained Ike would frequently say “He is the life of the party.” We would smile, nod our heads, and rejoice to be getting such a bright, happy, little guy.
Little did we know “life of the party” means:”Put on your runnin’ shoes, ‘cause you ain’t gonna be sittin’ around much.”
See, he is a very happy, healthy, inquisitive little guy. And, like the life of any party, he brings it with him. If there isn’t anything going on when he arrives someplace, he makes certain things are hopping soon. He could win Mr. Congeniality at any dog show, if there were such a thing. Sometimes I think he is part Golden, “Hi. Hi, Wanna be friends? Oh, HI! Wanna be my friend? Huh? Do ya? Do ya?”
And the things he has been learning!
Just recently he made the monumental, life-changing discovery that he can pee while standing on three feet! How he came to this realization, I don’t know. It was demonstrated to me one evening while taking him for a walk. He stopped by the bushes in front of our house, gave a tentative sniff, and proceeded to lift his leg on the string of lights I had just hung that very afternoon! He was so pleased with himself; he shared this skill by hiking his leg on a tree.
Any male readers, or the parents of a male child, will be able to relate with his delight at the absolute joy of being able to stand while relieving one’s self.  I recall christening things with wild abandon as a lad. The side of the barn, fence posts, rocks, trees; all were fair game. Even the neighbor boy when he had thoroughly….well… caused me to be rather upset with him.  The reason we do this is not so much a matter of needing to pee. It was (alright it is) more philosophical: I stand, I pee, and therefore I shall stand and pee.
I do want to clarify one small misconception that females have. I have heard it said males claim the whole world to be our toilet. Nothing can be further from the truth. Such an assertion is patently absurd, and an unearned stereotype. We do NOT think of the whole world as our toilet. That is ridiculous, and extremely gross. We do, however, think of the world as our urinal. Big difference, there, Sister. BIG difference.
Obviously, the basics of male hormones are trans-species. Ike has been so enthralled with his new found ability that a walk outdoors now takes approximately 40 minutes. He dashes about, little eyes aglow with glee, from tree to shrub to little wooden snowman decoration to a dormant thistle stalk extending above the snow to just about anything greater than three inches in height.  At times, I have been concerned he may collapse from dehydration.  I don’t think a camel prior to setting off across the desert carries as much water as he does.
Ike also discovered when he goes in the bathroom, and grabs that piece of paper hanging there in mid-air; he can soon have the entire room filled with paper. The more he pulls, the more it just seemingly descends from the heavens. He also discovered that dashing about the kitchen trailing the stuff in his wake is a really good way to get a rise out of LB.
For centuries, a common lament of dogs has been the lack of opposable thumbs which renders some tasks impossible. For example, they can’t twist the cap off a jar of pickles. They cannot hold a pen and make out a check to themselves. The biggest complaint has been the inability to open doors. Well….Ike, the Wonder Dog, has cracked that conundrum 
See, the other Saturday it was a very busy day. I can’t recall what the nature of the busy-ness was. Suffice it to say my Lovely Bride and I found ourselves going opposite directions at the same time. While preparing to leave, one of us closed the door to the pantry. However, it didn’t latch completely. This resulted in the door being ajar approximately an eighth of an inch.
Ike discovered the principle that a nearly closed door is as good as a wide opened door. By whatever means he had (nose, paws, pry-bar) he succeeded in opening the door all the way. What to his wondering eyes should appear, but a whisk broom made out of corn.
For the life of me, I don’t know what the attraction to the broom was; perhaps just because it was there. Upon my return home, the floor resembled that of a stable; covered in about an inch of straw. I soon found Ike, seated in his doggie bed, the stub of the broom in his teeth, surveying with satisfaction all which he had wrought.
Mimi just sat upon the couch, blinking in wonder at the scene.
He has learned to empty the contents of his toy bowl all over the floor. We have a large, stainless steel mixing bowl now employed as a repository for his bones, squeaky toys, chew toys, balls, and so on. Just the other day, while enjoying my predawn bowl of Cheerios, I kept hearing him rustling around in the toy bowl. This is not all that odd, except, he did not stop. Finally, after a prolonged period of silence, I looked up.  There was Ike, sitting amidst his treasure trove of toys spread around him. I merely shook my head, and continued to get ready for work.
Yes, he is a little bundle of love, a challenge and a joy.
Not much different from a two-legged child.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Old Friends

The other day, we met two old friends.
My Lovely Bride was chatting with a gentleman following a Pearl Harbor ceremony. I slipped up to the table, re-introducing myself to the man. Soon, another elderly gentleman joined our small group.
It was during a brief lull in the conversation that one stated he and the other man have been friends since the second grade.  Always the historian, I soon discovered they had gone to a local parochial elementary school, then to the old high school in the center of a neighboring town.
I listened to their accounts of military service, the funny growing up antics. And….my thoughts wandered to my old friend Bill.
Bill and I met in first grade, at Mayfield Center School. I recalled seeing a “new kid” standing nervously in the doorway to the classroom.  As the desk beside me was un-occupied, I waved my hand, and shouted “Hey, kid! Here’s a seat!” The boy moved across the room and plopped into the hard wooden chair. We introduced ourselves, and a lifelong friendship began.
From that time on, until setting off to our respective colleges; we were pretty much inseparable. Bill didn’t live near us in Mayfield; his family lived in Mayfield Heights. But, to small boys, this was hardly an obstacle.
We would make elaborate plans to get together on Saturdays. We followed a strict protocol. We wouldn’t just say “Hey, let’s do something on Saturday.” That simply would not suffice  
Decorum dictated we phone one another during the week to ask the other over. This way, our parents would be hoodwinked into thinking this was a spur of the moment invitation. Decorum further dictated the one whose house was to be the battleground that weekend, would call the other. So structured was our ritual, the call had to be made AFTER the Flintstone’s program had ended, which was just prior to bedtime. I think that was Thursday evening, but don’t hold me to that.
Calling during the program was a major faux pas. By calling after, we could use the guise of discussing Fred and Barney’s most recent predicaments. Then, like a bolt out of the blue, the host would say “Hey, ask your Mom and Dad if you can come over on Saturday!”  How could any self-respecting parent turn down such a gracious invitation?
I have to  report, we did have an approximate 90% success rate.
Invariably, we would plan our rendezvous for early Saturday morning. This necessitated the visitor’s father getting out of bed early on his day off, making certain breakfast had been consumed, proper attire for the weather was being worn, and the accoutrement all small boys require was loaded in the car.
This entailed all the gear required to play Army. Since both our Dads were veterans, it seemed only logical that we spend our free day from school saving the world from fascism and tyranny. Into the car would go the toy rifles, pistols, the army-navy surplus store canteens, the web belts, on and on it went. My Dad always commented it took less time to equip his Sherman tank for battle than to load me up for a day at Bill’s.
Upon being dropped off by a bleary eyed father, the visitor would be greeted by two other bleary eyed parents. We could never understand why our families didn’t share in the excitement of two boys getting together to play Army all day in the yard.  Obviously, they never experienced the joy of seeing a sun-baked dirt clod mortar round explode in a cloud of dust against the side of a Nazi tank, formerly known as the garage.
As the shadows lengthened, a strange, almost beatific look would creep across our parent’s faces. It was only a matter of time before we associated this calm, glazed-eyed expression with the soon arrival of the visitor’s driver.  With thanks to the host parents, and apologies for spilling our milk for the 90th time, we trundled to the car and the debriefing of the day’s adventures.
As it is written, when I was a child, I thought as a child…now I have put aside childish ways. So Bill and I grew and matured.
(Don’t question LB on this though. I am sure the woman will just bore you with all manner of exaggerations about how I have NOT put aside childish ways. )
Playing Army progressed to venturing forth in the field and woodlands of Ohio, in search of game. Saturday mornings became journeys afield. The toy guns had been supplanted by shotguns, the Army surplus gear replaced with the latest hunting gear.
While we partook of many adventures, the most memorable took place on December 31st, 1970.  It was a typical early Winter day in Northern Ohio. A recent snowfall covered the fields and woodlots with about 4 inches of white. We worked the edges of woodlots, fields, and corn stubble, in search of ring-neck pheasants.  As the day wore on, there was a woodlot we had not worked.
Venturing into the trees, we paid scant attention to the sound of cracking ice beneath our boots, merely assuming there had been puddles of standing water.  When I stepped between two oak trees, suddenly the floor dropped out. Suddenly, I was up to my neck in frigid water. Bill was about 30 yards from me.
I yelled “Bill, get my gun!”, as my old Harrington and Richardson shotgun was bobbing away in an open spot of its own. Always one to please, he turned to help; and went in up to his hips. 
Being the ever resourceful one, I attempted to climb out using the old trick of spreading my weight across the ice. Someone had forgotten to clue the ice into its role, which was to remain solid and stable. It took a perverse delight in breaking away, plunging me repeatedly face forward into the freezing water.  
We then resorted to the traditional firing of three shots in rapid succession, and calling for help.
After what seemed an hour, two hunters arrived. Seeing our predicament, they employed the Time honored method of finding a long branch and pushing it toward me, then dragging my soggy self out of the water
Bill and I stood there, dripping and wondering what in the world had happened. We hunted that lot last fall, and there was no water there. We were informed that over the course of the Summer beavers had decided that flooding the woodlot was an excellent idea.
Being beavers, they set out to do what beavers do. Felling and maneuvering trees and shrubs, they dammed up a small stream; thereby creating a wonderful habitat for beavers, and a surprise for hapless hunters.   
We then set off for the car, which was approximately 30 miles away. By the time we reached the parking lot we were clad in icy suits of armor. With each step, our frozen pants would crackle, chunks of ice fell from our coats, and our teeth sounded like castanets playing a marimba.
Fumbling with the keys, I got my old Mercury Cougar started, the heater set on High. We stripped down to our frozen long-johns, tossing our gear in the back seat. Steam from thawing clothing was soon covering the windows as we set off for home.  
Our mantra was a simple one. While Bill clasped his arms about his torso, and I hunched over the steering wheel, one would exclaim, with a shuddering voice “So c-c-c-cold.” This in turn would be answered by the second exclaiming between chattering teeth, “So c-c-c-cold.” I said it was a simple mantra; not necessarily a meaningful mantra. It did, however, help to keep our minds off the fact various pieces of our anatomies were in imminent danger of freezing off.
The following fall of ’71 we set off to our respective colleges. I to Bluffton College in Western Ohio; Bill to The Citadel in South Carolina.
Marriages came, children came, and adult life came. Eventually my Lovely Bride and I returned to the home town area; Bill and Kathy settled in Eastern Virginia, in Metro D.C.
Just a couple weeks ago, Bill was back in Ohio. We got together at a local hangout, LB and a classmate from High School joining us.
As we clinked glasses across the table, I realized I was not looking in the face of a retired Army Colonel; I saw a mélange of images; an uncertain new kid in a classroom door; a gangly teen running cross-country, a friend who refused to leave a friend in need, a young groom beaming as his bride came down the church aisle, a proud new father.
I saw something immeasurable; a life-long friend.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Dad's Hammer

The other day, I undertook a small project. More like a minor task than a project.
The circumstances are detailed in the column entitled “The Picture”.
While perusing my woefully inadequate peg board of hand tools, I had a choice. I could use the newer, vibration absorbing, comfort handle hammer, or I could use the early 20th Century, vibration enhancing, we-don’tneed-no-comfort handle hammer that had been my Dad’s.
While reaching for the new tool, I thought; “Oh just use the old man’s hammer.”  As my fingers closed about the work worn, leather wrapped handle, I felt an immediate connectedness to my Father.
The mists of Time parted, and I saw him… saw us… working on our home in Mayfield Village.  Our parents purchased a handy-man house upon four acres of property shortly after I was born. The arrival of a third child rendered the post-War bungalow in a nearby town too small. 
And… following an American tradition…Dad wanted some land. He didn’t want to be crowded into a small suburban lot; he wanted room for his children to run free. Children running free was not only accepted, but was the norm in the middle of the last century.
The house needed some improvements, and remodeling. Dad was more than equal to the task. He added a spacious sunken family room behind the kitchen. He built a large stone fireplace from material gathered on our land. He added a full upper level to the former Cape Cod home. This yielded a large room I shared with my brother, Robert, and my sister Elaine had a room to herself. In between was a hallway large enough to hold dances or wedding receptions. It was a great play room, away from the main living area (clutter upstairs, thank you), and provided many happy rainy day hours of play.
To me, it seemed as if Dad was continually working on the house. Adding this, doing that, fixing the other thing; it was truly a labor of love for him.  I have vivid memories of Dad cutting lumber with his hand saw, the wood supported by a pair of old, paint-spattered, nicked wooden saw-horses.  The saw resides in a spot of honor on my tool board.
Next to him sawing, I see him hammering. Driving nails with 2 or 3 blows, never bending any, and whistling while he worked. Again and again, I would watch as the hammer rose and fell. The sound of the impact caused me to involuntarily blink. I was fascinated with the hammer, and what it was capable of doing.
For example, did you know hammers could fly?
Dad was a first generation Irish-American. My Grandfather emigrated from County Mayo, Ireland late in the 19th Century. As such, the bonds to the old country were strong in my Dad and his siblings. One of the stronger ties was a good old Irish temper.
When Dad would be working on a project and things didn’t go quite as he would have liked, one of the initial things to occur was the hammer would take a trip. With a burst of language I did not understand, yet would repeat, the tool sailed off into the yard, the field, the garden,  and one time through a window.
Dad’s hammer probably had as much flight time as an intercontinental airline pilot. 
As I became somewhat older, it became a self-appointed duty to retrieve the hammer. My mother encouraged this as well, since it provided Dad a chance to cool off out of the presence of little ears.
I was a precocious child (a fact my sister may dispute; but what does she know. She wasn’t the one walking around in my skin), and taught myself how to read prior to entering Kindergarten. There were no pre-schools in those days. Pre-school was staying home with Mom, and playing with your buddies.
I always loved books, loved words, and their usage. It was a short leap from having a story read to me, to being able to read it myself. Naturally, my parents were proud of their child, and would brag to family and friends about my ability to read.
However, one time this skill provided my Mother no end of merriment and my Dad no end of chagrin.
After one particularly hefty toss from the roof of the house, I set off to locate the errant tool. I finally located it under a blackberry bush, the metal shaft glinting in the sunlight. I picked it up, and started my return. I turned the hammer in my hand; and there it was. Something I thought was so apt, so prophetic; I could not wait to share it with Mom and Dad. There… engraved in the metal shaft of the hammer were two words. Two words which summarized the atmosphere surrounding one of Dad’s projects:          TRUE TEMPER.
Well… this must be a message from on high, just short of angelic beings filling the sky. I ran back to my parents, face aglow with this new revelation.  I shouted, as I handed him the tool. “Dad! Look! This hammer was made just for you!”
Puzzled, he examined the familiar item. My Mother peered over his shoulder. I kept saying “See it? See it?”  until finally, they admitted their eyes were blinded to this earth shaking news. I proudly pointed to the words, proclaiming “See??? The hammer has a true temper, too! Just like you!”
My Mother did not even try to conceal her amusement at this. She laughed, and laughed. She finally had to sit down on the back step, as she could barely stand, tears streaming down her face.
Dad, on the other hand, didn’t see the humor in this. In fact, I don’t recall him even so much as smiling. He did harrumph once or twice, and went back to his project, muttering something about kids shouldn’t be reading so young.
I also learned the hammer had several names.
One was “Ding-dang hammer”. Another was “blanketey-blank hammer”. Yet another was “ding-danging, blanketey-blanking hammer.” I did observe a correlation between the intensity of my father’s anger and the length of the hammer’s name.
And… perhaps one of the most memorable events with the hammer was turning the piano into kindling wood.
We had an old upright piano. Were it came from I have no idea. All I do know is my sister was to take lessons, and become a musical prodigy. The piano was painted an off-white color, with pastel pink trim on the legs, etc. In retrospect, it looked as if it may have formerly resided in a honky-tonk.  Our parents had a man come and tune the thing, and once a week, Elaine would go off for her piano lesson.
For some reason, they didn’t consult with Elaine about becoming the youngest pianist for the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra by age 16. While she went (somewhat unwillingly) to the lessons, she would not practice much during the week.
Elaine preferred to be outdoors riding her pony, exploring the woods, hanging with her girl friends; just about anything but practice the piano.
Oh, once in a while, she would sit down and coax some semi-musical sounds to emanate from the mysterious innards of the thing. These sessions had usually been precipitated by an argument which shook the very frame of the house.  The progress she was making was far below what our parent’s had determined to be reasonable. Personally, I thought she had a very good grasp of “Chopsticks”, and the
Ed Sullivan show was just around the corner.
Well…. After one particularly difficult week trying to get Elaine to practice the piano, our Dad had reached his boiling point. I recall him stating, to the effect: “By Jove, if you don’t desire to play the piano, they we will just have to get rid of it.” Or something like that, just add a few ding-dangs, blanketey-blanks and so on.
This was proclaimed immediately prior to Dad’s shoving the piano through (literally) the storm door leading to the flagstone patio he had carefully built. The instrument landed on the stones with a loud wooden bang, accompanied by an Eminor7th chord. Dad then headed toward the garage, to retrieve a sledgehammer, a saw, and the hammer.
With each epithet, a hammer would fall, or a saw blade would rasp. The sound of breaking piano wires could be heard pinging and popping deep within the box. Our Mother was saying “Bud! Bud! Stop it! You are making a scene!” to no avail.
Finally, when the final hammer blow sounded, the piano was no more. Just a jumbled up pile of garishly painted wood, and odds and ends of piano parts stood on the patio where the instrument had landed.
I remember that piano burned pretty good. The wood was dry and made excellent kindling. The larger pieces would hold a flame for some time. Elaine, Robert and I would be mesmerized as we watched the honky-tonk paint darken, form a huge bubble, and then explode with a little “poof” of flame. Dad seemed to enjoy those fires more than others, for some reason.
I hang Dad’s hammer on the peg board, a smile on my face. My hand lingers just a moment upon the worn leather; feeling the strength of his hands once again.  I look back, the old residing by the new, glistening in the faint light from the cellar window. Snapping off the light, I wipe a tear as I go back upstairs.

The Picture

Yesterday, my Lovely Bride asked me to hang a picture in our living room.
Since it was Thanksgiving Day, I was somewhat taken aback at her request. Apparently, LB had a momentary lapse regarding dearly held, firmly entrenched holiday decorum.  It must have slipped her mind that as the man of the house, on such a momentous National Holiday, my primary activities are to sit around, watch TV, and inquire at fifteen minute intervals when dinner will be ready.
However, judging by the way in which her request was made; I decided to play along and hang the picture.
You may be asking “What is the big deal in that? It is only a picture.” If such is true of you, it is painfully obvious, dear reader; you have never hung a picture before.
It is not merely “hanging a picture”, goodness sakes, a trained chimpanzee can do that. In fact, I would not be surprised if one were to search YouTube for “Chimpanzee Hangs Picture”, if there were scores of videos.  Let me know what you find, I have other things to do. 
The act of hanging the picture is the culmination of a carefully planned, nay… choreographed is a better term… series of actions.
First, the one receiving the request must examine the frame for any design and/or manufacturing flaws which could create an immediate postponing of the project due to dire safety implications. This consumes approximately a quarter of an hour. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to carefully examine a picture frame while someone is interrupting your train of thought every two minutes? It is horrible.
Finding none, the “hangor”, in the proper vernacular of the trades, then examines the frame or “hangee” for the requisite hanging apparatus. Finding none, a quest for appropriate picture hanging wire begins. As this entails penetrating the nether regions of the basement, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the outset. However, LB soon realizes all the wailing and teeth gnashing will not expedite the process, and she retires to do whatever women do in the kitchen on Thanksgiving.
Finally, after an exploration rivaled only by the discovery of the headwaters of the Amazon River, the hangor discovers a small spool of reasonably heavy copper wire. By reasonably heavy, it will hold up a helium balloon without breaking; however a six pound picture is pushing the envelope. Realizing picture hanging goes beyond merely finding a wire, the hangor (for once) is proactive.
Rummaging in an old plastic tub, a nail is discovered. Poking around in the tool box reveals a pair of needle nosed pliers. These are valuable, for the hangor recalls the admonition of Ecclesiastes that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. He will simply weave a single strand into three. Also, the pliers are great for cutting the wire from the spool.
Finally, a tool is needed for affixing the nail to the wall. Usually, the hangor would opt for the back of a screwdriver handle, the flat side of a pair of pliers, even the handle of a pocketknife will work. However, this being a holiday, he feels a compulsion to “do it right”.  Glancing at the rack where the hammers are, he vacillates between the new, vibration dampening, ergonomically shaped grip hammer; or the old, work worn hammer which belonged to his father.  Grasping the old leather wrapped straight handle, he smiles inwardly; immediately feeling a connection to the past.
With the necessary things in tow, the hangor makes his way back to the living room. Without fanfare or ceremony, he places the tools nearby to begin.
Carefully guessing upon the exact length, give or take five inches, of wire necessary, he cuts it free from the spool. After several attempts at weaving the obstinate wire into a three strand cord, he decides to place the wire through the little triangular shaped whatchacallems in the back of the frame. Wrapping will be achieved with the excess after the fact, in order to reinforce the single strand. Several times, LB pops her head in the doorway, admonishing our craftsman to be certain the wire does NOT come above the top of the frame. He assures her that he is not an idiot, even a chimpanzee knows that.
Finished with affixing the wire to the frame, the hangor lifts the assembly by the wire to test the strength. DARN!!! How on Earth did he end up with about six inches of wire extending above the frame?!?
Not to be deterred, he places the picture on the work surface (aka the couch), to begin unwrapping the stiff, unyielding, stupid wire.  Carefully trimming an inch or three from the length, he begins again.  Testing the final version, he is relieved to see the wire is properly hidden by the picture.
Now, the culmination of his efforts; the placing of the nail and hangee are at hand.
Spotting a vacant former picture hanger hole he thanks Providence for making his job easier.
While just about to insert the point of the nail into the hole, LB enters the room to inquire about the picture placement.  With a flourish he indicates the pre-existent hole, expecting LB to rejoice at his good fortune, and pragmatism to use what is there.
LB looks at the hole, glances at the picture, and comes to an immediate conclusion.
It is too high, and the picture is too close to the thermostat. Why these are knock-out factors for the hole are beyond the hangor. However, he follows her advice of moving the picture a bit lower, and to the left.
With a couple sharp raps of the hammer, the nail is in place.
The hangor places the hangee upon said nail. Miraculously, it hangs level, and does not come crashing to the floor.
With the satisfaction of a job well done, he returns the tools to the basement, turning back only when LB states: “You forgot the wire.”

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Name Tag

The other day, I saw an old, forgotten name tag atop the desk in our living room. Two simple words, still the memories they carry are complex, numerous, and bittersweet. In a slightly tattered, bent plastic pin-on tag holder they said it all: DOG ROADIE.
With the suddenness of a spring thaw swollen creek, the memories came back.
We had a very special Bulldog once. Her name was Lilly. We had her mother, Daisy, and Lil was from her first litter of pups.  Lilly was a red brindle with white markings, a very pretty little girl. Contrary to conventional wisdom regarding Bulldogs, Lilly was smart.  My Lovely Bride began to show Lilly in conformation (aka “breed shows”) in hopes of obtaining a Champion title on her.
However, as she matured (Lilly, not LB), it slowly dawned on us she didn’t posses the attributes breed judges favored. She was slender of build (for a Bully), muscular, and her top line didn’t have the desired swayed back appearance favored at the time.
We began to train for performance events. Obedience, Agility, and Flyball ( visit, for details regarding this activity). Being intelligent,  and desiring to please LB, she excelled at all three. In fact, at the time she was running Flyball, Lilly was one of only six Bulldogs in North America (USA and Canada) participating.
Lilly earned multiple titles in all, as well as became a Therapy Dog.
However, one does not earn titles by staying at home or simply attending classes.
One must travel to dog shows. Over and over, seemingly without end, one packs up the SUV, confirms the correct registration for that day’s event are in hand, and sets out. Sounds easy, neat, and hassle-free, doesn’t it?
It is…unless you are the Dog Roadie.
There is no sleeping in for a Dog Roadie; not on the day of a show. Out of bed and semi-functional before the sun rises, the Roadie tends to dogs needs. Walking, feeding, watering, and walking again are just the beginning. 
Next we find the Roadie cleaning out the extraneous stuff from the cargo area, referred to as “the way back” of the vehicle. Old magazines, clothes destined for Goodwill, forgotten and now moldy fruit all qualify as extraneous.
Having restored a sense of order to the way back, our erstwhile Roadie begins to pack. In goes the “easy carry” collapsible crate. The crate folds down to a load approximately 36” by 48” by 6” thick. However the folding does not diminish the approximate weight of 35 pounds.
This may not seem like much until one takes into consideration the fact there are no carrying handles, so one has to grasp the metal wires which make up the crate. One then stands the crate on one of the long edges. Firmly grasping the wire side again, one lifts the crate off the ground. Being approximately 3 feet wide, this necessitates a lifting position which places one’s elbows just slightly below one’s chin. One now realizes the venue is approximately a quarter mile from where the vehicle is parked. With a firm set to the jaw, a steely eyed gaze, and whistling the theme from Bridge Overthe River Kwai, one sets off.
Within 200 yards, the jaw is slackening, the eyes take on a look of concern, and one is no longer whistling.  Another 200 yards, and the jaw is drooping, the eyes now have a look of panic, and wheezing as replaced whistling. The Funeral Dirge now plays in one’s head.
The final 100 yards are a blur; one foot is gamely placed before the other as our roadie hopes the loud gasping breathes hold the buzzards at bay until the crate is set up.
After a bit, our roadie has recovered sufficiently to return to the parking lot to retrieve the folding chairs, the dog’s water, the dog’s food, and the dog’s toys. After this trek, another journey across the wasteland finds our hero approaching the set-up with half the food, beverages, and reading material for the humans. It seems the rest is on the kitchen table at home; wondering where their kin have gone to.
At the end of the day, our Roadie gets to do it all over again, in reverse order. Finally, LB arrives with Lilly. They become situated in the vehicle, and the Roadie collapses, dreading the arrival at home.
It dawned on me as to why the nametag was on the desk.
Ike had his first breed show yesterday. He had to be in the ring at 8 AM. The venue was  approximately an hour from home.
Our Roadie crawled out of a warm bed, lying beside his LB, to face the cold at 5. Being a “short half day show”, the crate remained at home. Treats, water, etc were loaded up. Off we went, heading southward to the show arena.
As it turned out Ike took First Place and Best of Breed, Puppy for Bulldogs. We were rather happy about this, his first show, and a blue ribbon.
Then, a friend reminded us he competes when all Best of Breed puppies from all seven groups are judged for Best in Group. Well, that can’t be too bad, we thought. We then were told that takes place at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon. We learned this about 9:30in the morning!
LB, Ike and I made the best of things. She has a favorite little Mom and Pop restaurant in the Akron area we visited for brunch. Ike napped in the way back. We found the bureau of motor vehicles office so I could renew the tags on my Jeep.  Ike napped in the way back. We wandered around the show, visiting the vendors. Ike napped. Before we knew it, the clock read 12:30!!
Eventually, the time came. After a seemingly un-ending parade of other puppies, Ike’s group, Non-Sporting Group, took the ring.
Typically, the AKC lumps dogs into similar groups; Sporting dogs, Working dogs, Terriers, and so forth. Everything makes perfect sense, until the Non-Sporting Group. This is the catch-all, don’t-know-where else-to stick-‘em group. It is made up of such disparate breeds as the Poodle, the Chow-Chow, the Keeshond, the Bichon Frise, and… the Bulldog. This is not the complete listing; it is representative of the wide variety of size, shape, and personality of dogs within this group.
 How on earth can one compare a Bulldog and Bichon Frise? This is like comparing a Jeep CJ to a Renault. The results were a bad news/good news scenario. The Bad News: Ike didn’t take Best in Group. The Good News: we didn’t have to hang around for the Best In Show, Puppy.
We arrived home approximately 12 hours after we departed. Admittedly, we did encounter that wonderful weather phenomena unique to the Great Lakes; a Lake Effect snow storm on the way home.
As the vehicle backs into the drive, our Roadie rouses himself. Braving the North winds, he begins to unload the odds and ends of things acquired during the day. He is thankful the crate remained at home. Closing the rear hatch, he hopes there is no errant fruit to be re-discovered in the penicillin stage.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Sometime back, Cheryl (our mentor, sounding-board, technical advisor, and over all go-to person) showed me something really interesting.

Get your minds out of the gutter.

We were discussing the internal mechanisms of the blog site. She asked me to log-in as I usually do. Then, she directed me to this little button called "stats". As this was during baseball season, I was expecting an automatic update of both the National and American League standings. With trembling hand, I left-clicked on the mouse, not knowing what to expect.

There before me  was displayed the number of views each column has had. The Internet Service Providers were listed. Most fascinating, the country of origin was also displayed!

Well, well, well....I had no idea the international impact this site has! And, I ain't just talking Canada, either. (Canada is ranked #2, right behind the USA. Go figure.)

 I was astounded to see regular followers in Western Europe (France, the UK, the Netherlands), Central Europe (Poland, Germany, Austria), and Eastern Europe (Russia, the Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus). Asia was represented by readers in China and Taiwan. India has followers. South America was represented by Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, and Venezuela). Israel is the sole Middle Eastern nation represented.

Instantly, I formed an image of a harried Parisian arriving home,  fresh baguette and bottle of wine in hand. With a sigh, he flops down before the computer. A few keystrokes and couple of clicks later, the cares of 21st Century French life are forgotten as the accounts of a somewhat out-of-touch American unfold. "Mon Dieu, Brigette!" he exclaims. "This American, he is funny, no?"

Somewhere in Moscow, an up and coming comedian furtively scans his i-phone before stepping onto the stage. A smile, reflecting his relief, spreads across his face. With renewed confidence, he approaches the microphone, as the packed house awaits another episode from "his American friend". It warms my heart to know I am providing gainful employment to someone unknown to me.

I see a hip young couple in their apartment overlooking the city of Rio, Brazilian jazz in the background, awaiting my column. Somewhere in Beijing, a college student relaxes while reading of America. I see people around the globe anxiously logging onto the site; awaiting their dose of humor, insight, and observation.

The ISPs are fascinating. Of course, Internet Explorer is the big cheese, followed by Chrome and Firefox. Yet, there are some I have never heard of; Silk, Phantom JS, Safari, Safari Mobile, and others. Most people access the site via a tablet or smartphone (60% Apple, 40% Android). The traditional PC falls in line behind these two devices.

Articles about dogs are a big hit. The columns about growing up in the 1950s and 60s are a close second. The more introspective columns have a high readership. Oddly, the all time most read column has been "There were two fires in Willoughby"

Most readers will be happy to see "Leaves"; it involves Ike and is also introspective.

What is to be gleaned from all this? I am uncertain. Perhaps, it is simply this: there are a lot of people around the World who just want to get away from day-to-day life, have a chuckle, shed a tear, and take in the view from the hill today. Or not.

(NOTE:  Cheryl, if this traffic is nothing more than  unsavory, underworld types nefariously phishing for electronic information, keep it to yourself. Let me enjoy my rose-colored  perspective. JEH)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Something unusual happened the other day. No, a meteor didn’t land in the front yard. Ed McMahan has yet to show up with that huge check made out to me.  In fact, nothing real note worthy occurred at all; yet something unusual happened.
While walking Ike, I actually started to laugh out loud. I know, I know. Dog walking rarely borders on hilarity. Enjoyable at most times, sometimes approaching amusing; very rarely does one burst out in laughter.
See, it was a beautiful Indian Summer day. For the nit-pickers, yes, it was an Indian Summer day, as it arrived after the first frost, as well as first snow fall. It was one of those perfect Autumn days only found in the Midwest. The sky was a nearly too-perfect blue, the temperature hovered near 75 degrees, the trees were an artist pallet of color.
We were atop a hill overlooking the river which flows past our home. Every once in a while, a hearty on-shore breeze would sweep up the river, climb the hill, and be lost. As these gusts of wind transported a significant number of leaves, Ike was captivated.
Being a 7 month old puppy, he has never experienced leaves blowing in the wind before. Standing with his ears erect, he would dart, and jump, and pounce on these animated objects as they swirled past. Occasionally, he would manage to catch one. While holding it down with his forefeet, he would sample it with his teeth. 
He was totally content with his treasure….until another blast of wind came off Lake Erie, bearing more objects to be desired. He would jump to his feet, snapping at leaves while running to the limit of his lead.  Empty pawed, he would return to his former treasure, only to find it, too, was gone. He would sniff around, ears upright, searching for the prize. Alas, the leaf had been borne away with the wind.
Seeing his antics created no loss of amusement for me. I must have looked the fool; standing on the hill, attached to a dog, laughing like a… well, I don’t know what. He just looked so funny!  I could see people driving past on the boulevard smiling as they watched us. Certainly, they saw the humor in the moment. 
Eventually, I became bored with laughing at a puppy chasing leaves. The concerns of the day crept around the tree line; sneaked up the hillside; dropped from the overarching tree branches to fill my head with “things I gotta do”.  We returned home, me encouraging Ike to cease and desist with leaf chasing and get in the door.
Two days later, it was chilly. Wind whipped rain swept across the yard. We didn’t go to the hill, as years of walking dogs during inclement weather as taught me to avoid that open area. The wind whistles upstream, then slams into the hill, mounting skyward with gale forces. Ike is not really thrilled with rain, and he really can’t understand this whole concept of snow. However, while outdoors, a gust of wind carried a small handful of leaves across our path. Suddenly, the wind and rain were inconsequential. He was chasing leaves on a sunny, warm November afternoon again. 
For some reason, I didn’t find this display of boundless energy and enthusiasm quite as amusing as previously. Ice-water trickling down the back of my neck does that to me.  In fact, I think my initial response was “Are you kidding me? You are going to stand out here, getting soaked, to chase leaves?”
Finally, I was able to get Ike to the door, but not without his gamely attempting to snatch a leaf from the walkway just before entering our home.
Today, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, thinking about Ike and leaves. I stifled a giggle so as not to awaken my Lovely Bride. It is pretty funny, whether in the sun or chill rain; a little dog trying to catch swirling leaves.
How many leaves do we chase, I wondered. How many people have dropped everything in order to chase after something unattainable? How many have turned back, to find their original treasure gone?
Deep in thought, I drifted off to sleep comforted by the sound of wind-borne leaves rattling on the window pane, to dream of a little white dog, happily grabbing leaves carried by a soft, warm breeze.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

First Dogs

Today, a friend of mine was sharing  heartbreak of the apparent imminent demise of a beloved dog.
When people know you are a “dog-person”, they frequently share their concerns, joys, and frustrations with you. Which is fine.  You are somewhat of a canine oriented  Obi Wan Kenobi.

Our conversation got me to thinking about all the dogs who have padded their way through Lovely Bride’s and my lives. This in turn got me thinking about that unique creature; “the first dog.”

During the course of a lifetime, you will probably own a dog.  It is safe to assume if you had more than one dog, you have therefore possessed your “first dog”.

Within the realm of logic, higher math, and marriage statistics, this would be correct. Within the realm of dog ownership, such an assumption is utterly and patently false. In the mysterious dog universe, the laws of logic and reason cease to exist.

As we shall see, there are many “firsts”….

Recall your childhood and that lumbering, slobbering four-legged terror that cohabitated your parent’s home with you?  You may be tempted to refer to the beast as “your first dog”.  HA!  Nothing can be further from the truth! This creature, (selected by your parents with the intention of being “your dog”) was no more “yours” than are Prince Charles’s polo ponies. Unless you happen to be Prince Charles in which case the polo ponies are yours.

But I digress.

The dog viewed you with a rather aloof, “don’t-bother-me-kid” attitude. From the
canine’s point of view, Mom and Dad were the true pack-leaders. The dog was next on the
organization chart. You, dear reader, were a lower ranking, smelly, obnoxious, noisy pack mate. As a result of this philosophy, the arrogant, stuck-up animal pretty much completely ignored you.

As time passes, you find yourself gazing out the window, beholding the beauty of Creation.
You muse:  “Gee, I’d like to get a hunting dog.”, or “a sled dog”, or “a conformation dog”
or “ a semi-intelligent dog”. You carefully consider all the options. Do you rescue a dog?
Do you contact breeders?  Make a visit to the local shelter? 

Finally you make your choice. You take the plunge. You get a dog. Sometimes, in a weak moment, you may decide to get a hunting, sled-pulling, breed ring, agility dog… all in the same dog!  The difficult part is finding a really good bird dog that can also run in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Since you picked her out, brought her home, convinced your spouse you would care for her, this is your “first dog”. Congratulations!  You now get to feed, groom, walk, drive to the vet, pay the vet, and clean up after her.

Why do you do this? Is it to fulfill the deep-seated need to nurture? Is it the innate human desire to bond with another creature? The answer is quite simple:   Mom and Dad are not around to do this all for you!

This dog must certainly be “Dog Number 2”, correct?  Wrong! 

This is your first, pure-bred-with-a lineage-going-back-to-Moses- kennel-club-registered-sire-and-dam with-an-alphabet-before-and-behind-their-names-CH-CD-UDX-LlD-PhD-dog.  The cost of this dog is roughly the equivalent of a year’s tuition at a really good Ivy League university. And you co-own the critter!

This is the puppy you cradle in your arms, feeling that indescribably soft fur against your chin and cheeks. You deeply inhale that sweet, primal puppy aroma. This is the dog who nuzzles under your earlobe communicating with that little puppy “murf-murf” sound which captivates your heart.

This is a little life, totally dependent upon you to care for. You are only beginning to realize the treasures you are about to reap in return.

This is the dog that truly tests the fabric of your marriage. The dog who blissfully shreds your wife’s carefully, lovingly, expensively preserved wedding gown. The gown she envisioned seeing a grand-daughter walking  down the aisle in one day.

 This is the dog who gleefully transforms the geranium bed into its private latrine. This is the dog whom you  permit to sleep in bed with you. Under the covers, in fact.

Regardless of the day you have had, the mess you may have made of your life, this is the dog who enthusiastically welcomes you home, tail thumping and eyes agleam with delight at your return. This is the same dog who is content to lie by your side for hours as you simply sit, asking only a gentle caress of the head or ear.

This dog will introduce you to the exciting, rewarding, and eminently just world of dog shows and trials. As this topic is far too broad (and painful) the writer will address it later. Much much later;  probably never.

This first dog will drive you to second-mortgage the farm. Everything you use is specialized, made to exacting standards for your dog’s particular needs. Is it bath time? Forget the family shampoo. This dog’s coat only responds to shampoo that costs more per ounce than crude oil.

Dinner time?  Leave the tried and true kibble at the pet supply store. This dog’s delicate system must have free-range chicken, sautéed with organically grown parsley, lightly savored with basil. Remember all this when the canine drags home some four day old road-kill, rolls in it and finally devouring it under the  back deck.  This takes place just before depositing the partially digested mess on the living room floor.

This is the same dog that dashed into traffic to protect your wayward toddler, risking his own life to protect your little one. On a cold, wintry morning, this dog will awaken you to a frigid house, the furnace having malfunctioned, while potentially deadly gas seeped into the home.

When you are not feeling well, this dog will gingerly lie down beside you, resting her chin gently upon your arm. Deep in those eyes you see all the trust, the love, and the limitless bond that exists between humans and our four-legged sidekicks.

Over time, there will be other, all noteworthy first dogs.

There will be that first dog you go a-field with. There will be that first obviously abandoned dog; frightened emaciated, and dehydrated, you take in.
At some time may come the first dog you responsibly breed.  You stay by her side throughout the night, slurping coffee, as her little bundles of fur and love enter the world. The wonder of those little lives is forever captivating, forever engraved upon your memory.

You experience the heart-leaping joy of earning “Champion” on your first dog. Although the scent of dried liver treats never leaves your clothing, it is all worth it when the judge indicates that final “First” to your dog. This thrill is only surpassed by the memory of that very first blue ribbon earned in a long ago Puppy class.

There will be that first, and hopefully last, dog someone else chooses for you. The human/canine bond is such a complex relationship; the adjustment period to a “surprise” dog is not unlike a blind date. Eventually, it all works out.

Inevitably, there comes  that first dog you must mercifully put down. The heaviness of your heart; the searing tears upon your cheeks; the warmth of the soft coat you have nuzzled so many times as you linger over a final caress;  the soul-wrenching  sense of ultimate betrayal as you look into those beautiful, loving eyes for the last time…thankfully, this never becomes easy. If it ever does, we are to be most pitied.

Eventually comes that “first last dog”, the puppy you obtain in your dotage. This is a vain attempt of re-claiming long gone youth, being in the presence of new life. This dog will watch by your side as you grow slow of step, dim of sight, and dull of hearing. This dog will be the one your children or grandchildren take into their home when you enter Golden Acres Care Center.

As you can see, we never have a second, third, or subsequent dog. Only a long, wonderful line of “firsts”

Monday, November 11, 2013


“Thank you, Veterans.”
Three small words which, on the surface, seem so insignificant.
Yet...the full measure of their meaning is incalculable.
There is a little inactive cemetery not far from my office. In fact, it is a good 3-wood shot from our church. Very, very few people know of the these final resting places as they drive past on the U.S. Highway. Still, there it is.
Tucked away, beneath the spreading branches of a tree and other brush, is an old, weathered marker.
This in and of itself is not unusual in old abandoned cemeteries. However, this simple stone is significant, for it marks the final resting place of an original American Veteran.
Beneath the sod of Ohio, far from his native New England, lie the remains of an American Revolutionary War vet. A man, not unlike so many others, who set his livelihood and personal aspirations aside to respond to the fledgling nation's call. We will never know what compelled this young man to take up arms against the English Crown. Was it a burning desire for self-governance?
Did he have a deep-seated disregard for monarchies? Was it purely economics, or did he yield to peer pressure?
What we do know is he joined his fortune, his abilities, and his future with so many others in ensure Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness not only for himself, but generations yet to come.
I watched as the Autumn leaves skittered about his headstone, now leaning rather precariously due to ravages of wind, rain, frost and time. Such an ignoble end for one who gave so much for so many he would never know.
Interestingly, the grave of his Grandson, a Civil War Veteran, lies approximately 50 feet to the south.
One man laid the foundation for our nation, the other sought to mend the rift within that foundation.
These two sites are representative of all the members of the American Armed Forces. They answered when called, performed their task admirably, and the fortunate ones returned to Life when it was all over. Sadly, others have returned, and continue to return, to a world in which they no longer fit. Unseen horrors, unheard voices, incomprehensible anxieties create deep-seated, unimaginable wounds. While unseen, these wounds are as real and painful as any caused by shot and shell.
It is today, a date proclaimed as an end to “the war to end all wars” we remember those who served, those who fell, and those still wounded. We pay puny homage to those who have protected us, preserved our liberties, and those who yet do so.
Interestingly enough, I do not know any Veterans who are boastful or full of swagger for having served. When thanked for their sacrifice; invariably they are humble, almost embarrassed and at a loss for words.

I know this may seem hollow. However, it is meant with the deepest of feelings:

Thank you all.

May God continue to bless you.

And, may God bless America.