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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

Scents


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.