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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 www.flyball.org, 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

Audience

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

Leaves

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”
her

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans


“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.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Apples and Pumpkins

The other day my Lovely Bride and I went apple picking. We are fortunate to have a small apple orchard near our home. The operators are a very nice couple who grow various varieties of trees simply because they enjoy it. We are not talking simply Red and Golden Delicious, or Jonathan or MacIntosh here. No siree. Here there are such unusual varieties as Arkansas Black, Virginia Gold, Lady Apple, and Wolf River. Also, there are the wonderful classics; Northern Spy, Empire, and Winesap.  And, (in our opinion)  the gem of the orchard; the Esopus Spitzenburg; believed to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple.  The Apple Patch offers a size, shape, taste, texture and color for everyone.
While my Lovely Bride and the orchard owner braved the mud to pick apples, I remained by the apple shed sharing with the owner’s wife tales of Lake County history, grandchildren and, of course; apples. 
Standing in the clear, cool November sunshine, I found myself transported back in time to a similar Fall day. I am a youngster, enthralled with the mission of finding the biggest pumpkin in a neighboring farmer’s display.
Mr. Rivers was an elderly gentleman, (he must have been in his mid-fifties) when I was a child.  Not only was he the local source for pumpkins, squash, apples, and such; he was also my school bus driver, as well as the custodian at my elementary school.
I have no memories of getting pumpkins and the associated Autumn accruements prior to Mr. Rivers’ place. He had a nice parcel of property along S.O.M. Center Road in Mayfield Village. Situated directly across from the Metropolitan Park (this was before the days of “Metroparks”), he was assured there would never be a housing development or service station to contend with. 
He was of average height, average build, pleasant round face, glasses, and the ever-present pipe clamped in his teeth.  He always exuded the fragrance of tobacco. Perched atop his head would be an old, battered, weather beaten fedora. He was  a favorite of the children at our school, Mr. Rivers was always quick with a smile or a kind word. He was everyone’s favorite uncle and grand-dad rolled into one.
Beginning with Spring thaw, he could be seen putt-putting about his fields on his old Fordson tractor, turning the rich Northern Ohio soil in preparation for this year’s plantings.  On humid Summer evenings there he would be, cultivating rows of young plants well into dusk, the dim yellow beams of the machine’s headlights casting a feeble glow amidst the newly raised dust.
As Summer progressed, we would travel the mile or so down the road to his roadside stand for sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, green-beans…and to cast an appraising gaze upon the Mother Lode; the pumpkin patch.
Hard, shiny green orbs nestled under the wide protecting leaves. We wanted to wander amongst the vines, but we knew such transgressions were strictly forbidden. Little feet could irreparably damage the tender plants, or squash an immature pumpkin. No one wanted to be accused of pumpkin-cide. We would stand at the edge of the patch; willing the tiny things to grow, and be quick about it.
Finally, the long awaited time would come. Our parents would ask “Who wants to pick out pumpkins?” a most rhetorical question if ever there were one.  Everyone, even my brother who is 9 years my senior, would pile into the car and down the two lane road we would go.
Somehow, Mr. Rivers’ modest little farm took on a carnival air during pumpkin season. Although we had visited him scores of times, Autumn was always magical. Perhaps it was the long shadows cast by the low angle sun in the shortened days. Maybe it was the bundles of corn shocks standing like sentries from Sleepy Hollow. It could have been the “skree-honk, skree-honk” of Canada geese settling into the pond within the park across from his home. Whatever it was, Pumpkin-time was special!
There would be not only friends from school, church, and the neighboring homes. There would be the Police Chief and his family. The Fire Chief would show up. Sometimes the policeman on patrol would pull the old Plymouth Interceptor over and thump some pumpkins in search of the right ones for his family. 
And the other people! Families from the next county over would be there! Kids we hadn’t seen since last Fall would exchange shy smiles with us. New parents would stop by, showing off their babies to Mr. and Mrs. Rivers.
The men would discuss local politics, high-school football teams, and the prospect of “the inner-state” coming through town. The ladies would exchange pie recipes, gossip about who was doing what to whom, and wondering if that “new highway” was coming through town.
There, under the multi-colored canopy of leaves, the problems of the world (well, maybe the Village) would be solved, the proper advice would be given, and most importantly; the Ultimate Pumpkin would be selected.
My journey through my memory took me to the time when my family moved from Mayfield Village shortly after my Mother passed away. Dad couldn’t be in the house she had left us in. We moved to Lyndhurst.
Even still, every fall, we would drive out to Mr. Rivers’ for our pumpkin. Oddly, my Step-Mom and her children had also gotten their pumpkins from Mr. Rivers! I was astounded to learn his reputation spread two towns to the west of Mayfield!
While he would always exclaim at my growth, to me he was ageless. The years had no effect upon him. Oh sure, he was a little thicker than a few years ago, and his round face had a couple more wrinkles from being in the sun and weather all the time. Other than that, he was the same.
Eventually, I went off to college. Still, every fall would find me stopping at Mr. Rivers’ to get our pumpkins. By this time, the task had been relegated to me, the youngest; and hence the sole child at home still.
In the Spring of 1973, I took Cindy to be my Lovely Bride; a position she has held ever since. Still, when we would return back to Eastern Ohio to visit, we would stop by Mr. Rivers to get at least a baby pumpkin for our daughters Char and Shannon.
Time passed, we moved back to within ten miles of where we each had grown up. And… each fall, Mr. Rivers marveled at how big our children had become.
He was moving a bit more slowly, his eyeglasses were a bit thicker now, and he sported a hearing aid in one ear; yet he was pretty much the same as I always remembered him.
Our children blessed us with grandchildren; and yes, they also got pumpkins at Mr. Rivers. Three generations, four if counting my parents, had all delighted in wandering through the leaves, feeling the sharp edge of an Autumn breeze as it carried the “skree-honk, skree-honk” of Canada geese from the pond across the way, while selecting the Perfect Pumpkin.
Then, one year it happened.
The fields had not been tilled. The timeless roadside tables were not set up along the now four-lane roadway. No baskets of apples lined the driveway.
An era had closed.
Mr. Rivers’ house is no longer there. The fields are now a community park and state-of-the art swimming pool, splash zone, play-ground, and picnic pavilion. The far edge of his former property, where it abutted Howard Schultz’ land, hosts the baseball diamonds.
On warm summer days, the laughter of children as they swim, splash, run and consume hotdogs and popsicles can be heard spreading over the land. To the west, one can make out the arrow-straight Inter-state highway, 10 lanes of humanity zipping north, south, and then east or west behind the tree line.
The “skree-honk” of geese can be heard as flocks wing overhead on their way to the now enlarged pond beside the Nature Education Center in the Metropark.
And…. If one looks in just the right direction, at just the right time, they just may see a man of average height and average build, wearing a beat up fedora, and a warm smile around the stem of a pipe clamped in his teeth.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

TIME....

It dawned on me this morning, no pun intended.
Tonight we “fall back”.  Oh sure, the HR department at work put up the little reminders a week ago. Yeah, the church bulletin has been going on about it for the past 2 or so weeks. I think I heard the guy on the radio mention it once or twice.
But, hey, I’m a guy.  Sometimes, it takes us a bit longer than average to get the message. While my Lovely Bride and I were having breakfast, she mentioned helping a friend of ours distribute his campaign literature tonight. Without thinking, I blurted out “Wow… you get an extra hour to lit drop tonight.”
We stared at one another in stunned silence. She, because I actually remembered the time change, and I because I was suddenly seized with the technological enormity of it all.
See, years ago, before the microchip, GPS and (not-so) smart phones, the semi-annual ritual of changing the clocks on Time Change Sunday (actually Saturday night) was fairly easy and straight forward. The pendulum driven clocks were a breeze in the Spring. One would open the glass cover, or unlock the glass fronted door on the grandfather clocks, and gently advance the minute hand. As the big hand would circumnavigate the face of the clock, the little hand would follow as if by magic! When one reached the desired Daylight Savings Time, one stopped moving the minute hand, closed the door, and it was done.
Returning to Standard Time in the Fall was even more simple. One opened the door as before, or reached around behind if an old mantle clock, and stopped the pendulum in mid swing.  The clock was now stopped. After an hour, one returned to the clock, gave the pendulum a gentle shove, and the clock now read the desired time. The only major glitch would be if one forgot to return at the end of an hour. This was easily remedied by advancing the hands as above until the correct time was showing.
Likewise, wall clocks were very simple to change. The most difficult part was lining up the little hook thing on the back of the clock properly with the picture hanger or nail upon which it hung. Changing time was a snap! Each of the clocks would have a little knob protruding from the center of the plastic covering the face of the clock. One would grasp the little knob, and turn the minute hand either forward or backward until the desired time was reached. This same principle applied to the clock built into every stove/oven that did not require wood to use.  Simple, easy, no hassle; life then went on.
Over time, wall clocks cut the cord, and became battery powered. This advancement was a boon to those who were either disturbed by the appearance of ugly, clashing power cords running down and across their walls, or the unreasonable constraints imposed by limiting to just where on the wall one could place a clock.
Setting the time was fairly simple. One would have to remove the clock, turn it over, blow the dust off the back, and look upon a little electric motor. This would be humming along powered by a battery of various size and voltage. This was done by the clock manufacturers to ensure the American consumer would have a stock of batteries of all shapes, sizes and colors. For a bit of added whimsy, it would be discovered none of the batteries on hand would fit any of the clocks. 
This would typically result in the adult male (quaintly referred to as “Dad”) questioning the parental background of the so-and-so who designed the blanketey-blank clock as he hopped in the family conveyance to drive to the local hardware store, only to discover some other canine offspring bought the last of the batteries.
While Dad was expressing his displeasure to the store owner, the adult female (referred to as “Mom”) would be explaining as best as possible what Dad was talking about, and that children don’t ever use such words.  Her guidance is proven to be of little effect the next day upon leaving church, when her youngest greets  the Minister with “ Hi, old blanketey-blank”  Upon returning home, the youngster would make the discovery that as well as floating, Ivory soap tastes really, really awful.
Assuming all went well and the proper batteries were on hand setting the clock was still fairly easy. On the side of the little motor driving the hands would be a little round disc. One would hold the clock in one hand, take the little disc in their finger tips, and while gazing at the clock face, move the hands according to whether springing ahead or falling back. Back on the wall the clock would go.
Wrist watches were so easy…each watch had a little round thing protruding from the side of the case. This is called the crown. To set the time, one would grasp the crown with the fingernails of the index finger and opposing thumb, pull gently until the crown clicked into the unlocked position. By turning the crown, which turned the stem, the hands could be set with ease. This technology was embraced by travelers who would frequently have to cross time zones during the course of a work-week.
Now, along comes our present day world.  I have been wracking my brain, trying to remember where I put the instructions for my wrist watch. I used them in the spring to set the device to Daylight Savings Time; but the Lord knows where I put the booklet. Someplace where “I will be sure to find it”, I am certain. I hope I find it, because I don’t want to spend the next several months mentally subtracting an hour each time I look at the time. I suppose the up-side is I would not be late for anything….just obnoxiously, annoyingly early all the time.
Our wall clocks are a marvel unto themselves. Not only do they display the time, we have three which make a variety of sounds at the top of each hour. Two clocks in the kitchen emit bird calls, and the one upstairs is “Sounds of Nature” These range from the crashing of ocean surf, the gentle music of a rainfall, to nighttime insects. All this is very entertaining. EXCEPT, when it is time change time!
Recalling the electric clock mentioned above, the procedure is basically the same with the exception one must remove the batteries, move the hands to a pre-set obscure time, do 3 back-flips, recite the Gettysburg Address, insert the batteries, and VOILA! The clock is set.  One either undergoes this ritual, or the time shown and the bird sounds will never match! Do you have any idea how disturbing it is when the Tufted Titmouse sings at the time the Belted Kingfisher should be singing? Most unsettling, to be sure.
Setting the clocks in the vehicles is somewhat challenging also. Well, at least in Lovely Bride’s car. In my low-tech Jeep, there is are two little indents on the face of the radio, marked H and M. To change the setting of the Hour or Minutes, all one needs to do is stick something pointed in the little indent and press. There are a myriad of tools which can be used; ballpoint pens, straightened paper clips, toothpicks, tips of knife blades. On LB’s SUV though, I have to drag the 15 pound manual out of the glove-box, flip through a zillion pages of extraneous stuff (how to drive in the snow… fascinating), until I stumble on the 3 lines devoted to changing the clock on the radio, or “time display” to be proper. After translating the instructions from Pre-Columbian Mayan into English, I am able to set the time. I hope.
The good news is, once I have completed my tasks, stretched my cerebral capacity to its limit and then some; I will not have to undertake this task until, once again… I spring ahead. 
Whose bright idea was this, anyhow???