A Bit of the River Rat

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If there is to be paddling involved, then yes, I will take a small, slow moving river with trees hanging over both sides, with sun streaming through the branches and the leaves turning the world a tropical green. Those kind of rivers are for paddling and drifting the morning away. They are for alligators and manatees, for fishing and watching the turtles tumble off the fallen trees that hang out over the water, for dragonflies alighting on the bow.

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I have little interest in the wide and mighty kind of river, though. Oh, they are interesting enough to see from time to time but I am of the opinion that the wider a river is, the less personality it has to share. Yes, they are all well and good for barges and tugboats but what do the massive rivers offer the wanderer, the explorer? Very little, I believe.

Yes, if paddling is involved, then I will take a river.

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But if there are no kayaks or paddles to be seen, then I will take a little creek for watching and listening to. The tumbling antics of the bubbles and leaves as they slide from rock to rock and stick to stick. Striking out on their own at times but mostly gathering in little pockets of foam where the current is blocked from pushing them down the stream. Creeks are also for listening, playing their own brand of music. Music that can draw you in, the tempo might be fast but the melody is still relaxing.

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If relaxing is not what you crave then creeks can also provide an endless source of exploration and if you are lucky, there will be plenty of rocks and logs to dance along on. Oh, a creek is completely different if you can travel along it from within instead of from beside, allowing you to be part of the blood within the vein, so to speak. To stand on a rock in the middle of the stream and watch the leaves float by and the fish drift by, that is a worthy way to spend a morning and if there be a rock big enough to sit upon, well that is twice as nice, now isn’t it?

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Creek or river, the water calls to some of us like a home we are forced to abandon on a regular basis. Maybe not where we were born but someplace almost as familiar and inviting. I’ve always wondered if the fact that we are made mostly of water has anything to do with that. In any case, I believe a bit of the river rat lives in quite a number of us if we will but spend a morning and give the idea some time to develop.

A Different Kind of Explosion

One of my earlier posts told about an explosion involving an old Sear’s truck that was loud but relatively harmless. Well, except for the exhaust system and who may have possibly hit the exhaust system but then we don’t know for sure that anybody actually hit it because I was directed by a fireman to keep moving. Okay, he was off duty and kind of complicit in the whole explosion thing but I was young and impressionable back then.

All of that leads me to something that happened just last night which involved quite a bit more clean up but was ultimately just as funny. And nothing was truly broken, exactly. Let me tell you the tale of A Different Kind of Explosion. (and no, there are no pictures)(not of the explosion anyway)

It all started two nights ago when Lori and I went to Texas Roadhouse because we had some money left on a gift card someone had been so nice to give us. (you know who you are but just as a little clue to everyone else, we still haven’t used the Krispie Kreme coupon that came with it)

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Usually, Texas Roadhouse has pretty good service and we’ve never had to wait long to get our food but apparently ordering catfish at a steakhouse must have thrown the whole kitchen into a tizzy because, although we got the fried pickles and our salads pretty quickly, it was going on 45 minutes for Lori’s steak and my catfish. I know it was the catfish’s fault because it was hotter than…..well, it was just really really hot and Lori’s steak was not. It was warm but certainly not hot.

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Lori wanted to go to Michael’s (what’s the chances of that happening) after supper, so we were kind of rushed and decided to take most of our main meal home in a box. Lori did something that she rarely does and complained to a manager. Usually, Lori will call for a manager so she can praise the wait person or say something positive  about the restaurant but their tardiness had messed with her plans to go to Michael’s, that is unforgivable.

 

Now she didn’t actually go off on anybody but she explained the problem to a manager and he was very nice, checked on the time the order was put in and decided it was not acceptable to have to wait that long for a steak and some catfish. Even if it was a steakhouse and somebody was silly enough to order catfish. (he didn’t say that but I just assumed) He was a good sport, we were a good sport and he comped us 50% off our meal. Usually, we don’t accept comps because we are really only trying to let the manager know there is a problem and not get free food but…..well, did I mention that Lori wanted to go to Michael’s?

Okay, I’m spending way too much time on the lead in and I haven’t mentioned anything about an explosion yet.

So, we went home with steak and fish in their respective boxes, Lori actually still had time to breeze into Michael’s and buy something, so we were happy campers and/or crafters.

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I was a happy camper because it meant that I got to have catfish for breakfast the next morning and well, that just makes me happy. We decided to use Lori’s steak for an omelet for both of us for supper and all was right with the world. So far.

I made the omelet but as sometimes happens, it stuck just a little and it turned into scrambled eggs with steak in them. Hey, it happens to the best of us and besides, it still had all the same stuff in it. We were still unsuspectingly happy but we weren’t full. I should have gotten some stuff at the store to make that omelet a little more robust but I was too busy getting hurricane supplies and it ended up being a kind of weak omelet. It was good but there just wasn’t enough of it.

I knew this was going to happen and so I had already thought of the shaky pancake mix as a way to make us a sort of dessert that stayed right with the breakfast theme that the omelet had begun. I’m not sure if everybody knows what shaky pancake mix is so I will offer a short explanation because it is important to the tale but I still haven’t gotten to the explosion part yet.

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Shaky pancake mix is the pancake mix that comes in a little plastic container and all you have to do is add water and shake it to get pancake batter. (told you it would be quick) (man, this has gotten to be a long story)

As I knew would happen, we were not even close to full from the omelet so I mentioned the possibility of dessert and Lori and I hastily agreed that it should be sooner rather than later. I paused the show we were watching and headed for the kitchen.

Now let it be said that I have used shaky pancake mix hundreds of times over the years. I could prepare it with my eyes closed, and funny I should say that because………wait I’m getting this out of order. So, I measured the water into the little plastic container that held the magic powder that soon would be our most excellent dessert, screwed the top back on and started to shake it up.

I want to be clear about the fact that I haven’t used shaky pancake mix for some time but what could go wrong? Never ask that question. Never, no matter the circumstance.

I’m not sure if I used warm water instead of cold water or if I shook it extra hard or if I screwed the lid on way too tight. It remains, to this very day, today……..from last night……..a complete mystery.

A complete mystery why that shaky pancake container, just like all the other shaky pancake containers I had shook over the years, exploded.

Yup, this is finally the explosion part. And boy did it ever. I really didn’t see it coming or really see much directly after it happening because it filled both my eyes with that shaky pancake mix. I mean it closed them tight and there I stood in the middle of the kitchen unable to see, still holding the shaky pancake mix container in my hands, still tasting the taste of slightly crunchy, well-buttered pancakes in the mouth in my mind but something had gone irreversibly wrong.

There have been many times in Lori and my married life that I have been very happy that I did not live alone, this was most certainly one of them. I mean, I can handle most catastrophes that happen around the house but there I stood, in the middle of the kitchen, shaky pancake mix container in my hands and I was blind. Like completely blind.

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Opening my eyes only worsened the problem and, in case you were wondering, made my eyes sting that much more. One of the wonderous things about how God made our eyes are their ability to keep themselves clean. Now I believe that God is all knowing and all seeing but I’m not sure he ever thought about the possibility of the catastrophic incident that I now found myself part of because my eyes weren’t doing a thing to clean themselves out. Not a thing.

There I stood, wanting nothing more than a simple dessert of pancakes, shaky pancake mix container in my hands and my eyes completely useless. I calmly called Lori who was still in the living room. I know I called her calmly because she actually remarked about that later. The sight she was faced with as she calmly ambled into the kitchen caught her completely unaware because of how calmly I had called my beloved’s name. She was not prepared for what she saw.

I know she was not prepared because of the way she started laughing so abruptly. I’m not sure if I reasoned that out then or if I am just now coming to this conclusion but at this point in time I can assure you she was not ready for what she saw.

It would have been so much simpler, and I certainly would have taken one for the team, if it had only exploded in my face but no, it was an equal opportunity explosion. We may still find pancake batter somewhere in our kitchen for quite some time to come. I know I was still finding dried shaky pancake mix batter in my hair hours later. It also complicated the whole rescue operation for Lori to transport me to the sink to wash out my eyes. A small amount of slipping and sliding were involved but absolutely no falling. Lori is pretty good at the rescue thing.

Things could be so much calmer in our house if only…………well…..nobody lived here? I don’t know but what I do know is that french toast is almost as good as shaky pancakes and there’s nothing to shake and absolutely nothing explodes.

Web Sites Are Such Fun

In switching my provider to GoDaddy.com, I seem to have lost most of the content of my original site. Not happy but have to do the best I can with what I have. So as time goes by, you will start to see some of my older posts slowly return to this site. You’ll also hopefully start to see some new posts.

Ever the optimist, half full kind of person I am, I see this cloud as having a bit of a silver lining. First and foremost, it declutters Traveler’s Tales, something I have needed to do for years. Second, it has refocused me to share only those things that are bits of me. Things I have written and pictures I have taken. All rules are made to be broken or bent at one time or another, you can read more about that in the new version of the About Page. There is good and bad in everything, that is true enough, but if I focus on the posts I might have lost and might not be able to recover, it would be too much like grieving and I’m not up for that.

Prayers for recovery of older posts though  are most appreciated.

The Explosion

Finding a job in the late seventies, when I first got out of high school, wasn’t difficult. Especially if you were looking for an unskilled minimum wage job. I had worked in restaurants since I was too young to work, but I wasn’t too hot on the restaurant business. I’d had my fill, you might say.

I went through a long list of jobs in a short span of time. I really didn’t see much sense in staying anyplace I didn’t like, jobs were everywhere and I usually had another one by the time I got home from quitting the one I started with in the morning. Looking back, that probably was not the ideal way to look at a career but then, I wasn’t looking for a career. I just needed a job.

Before long, I ended up working at a Sears store. It was coming up on Christmas time and they needed someone to assemble bicycles. We weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, so all but one of the bicycles I ever had as a kid were pieced and parted together. Plus, we were always trading parts back and forth, so this was a job I knew a little about and I put a lot of bicycles together that year.

I guess I did a good job, because, after Christmas, they offered me a job in the Display Department. That was great by me because you got to build things and decorate for all the different holidays. I loved it and I worked with good people. They were a quirky bunch but they were good people.

One of the things we did on a regular basis was to pile into a big old green box truck that had been retired at least once but because we were the display department and didn’t need it for much that was big and heavy, we inherited Big Green. It wasn’t the normal Sears green, although I’m sure it started out that way. But Big Green had seen better days and what paint wasn’t scraped off or covered with screwed on sheet metal, was certainly faded way past the normal Sears green.

The fact that we got the hand me down, mostly dead and dying Big Green, wasn’t lost on us and I must admit we probably did not treat that big old dinosaur with any of the respect it was due, if only for surviving as long as it had. It had been beaten and battered long before it ever made its way to the Display Department and we certainly saw no reason to change its fate at such a late date.

I had never driven a big box truck before. I’d driven cars and pickups since I was old enough to sit on my Dad’s lap and steer, but this big old monster was well beyond anything I had tackled before.

One of the people I worked with was a fireman named Gary that had probably spent way too long running into buildings that citizens were running out of. There was nothing especially wrong with Gary, he just had probably seen too much scary stuff and so he spent the time that he wasn’t fighting fires, being happy. He pretty much was either smiling or making other people smile. And then there were the practical jokes but they ran rampant in the Display Department anyway.

I was always up to get out of the store and ride to the warehouse where a lot of our supplies were stored. Gary felt about the same, so he and I were often the ones sent. Gary had driven fire trucks, so Big Green was nothing to him. He realized I never offered to drive and figured out I had never driven anything that big, so of course, he set out to change that.

It really wasn’t long until he had me weaving my way through Pinellas County traffic in Big Green like a rock star. Well, maybe not quite like a rock star but I never hit another car or caused any damage. Well, until the explosion.

Gary had this trick he did that I thought was funny and would scare the snot out of the people around us in traffic. He would push in the clutch, shut off the ignition, pump the gas a few times, turn the ignition back on and then pop the clutch. The result was some, quite excellent, backfires. Excellent for us, terrifying for the surrounding drivers, but it woke them up and they were paying much better attention to their surroundings after we were done with them.

To be honest, I kind of looked up to Gary. I mean, he was a fireman, he was crazy, and he taught me how to drive this big old truck.

One day, I was driving and Gary was riding and he told me to make it backfire. I’m not sure if he had spotted an especially ripe target or he was just bored or both. Turns out, I wasn’t so hot at doing the whole backfire thing. I’m not sure exactly why, probably just didn’t have my timing down quite right but whatever the reason, I was not yet proficient.

I tried a couple times but I was having an especially bad day of it and Gary thought that was very funny. I was getting frustrated and probably a little embarrassed, but whichever got the best of me, I finally asked him, quite loudly, I’m sure, what in the …….heck, was I doing wrong? That just made him laugh more.

I quit trying and we rode on down the road. Then he looked at me and told me to make it backfire again. I told him I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I should have noticed that he wasn’t exactly laughing anymore, that he still had a big smile on his face and a kind of twinkle in his eye. I should have noticed those things, but I didn’t.

He said, “You’re just not pumping the gas enough.” I should have figured it out but, I was young and I had reached that perfect point of frustration that meant, I was going to show him I could backfire with the best of them. All those times I had tried and failed and he had laughed because I wasn’t coordinated enough to do what he could do without even half trying. I should have noticed that extra twinkle in his eye, but I didn’t.

I waited until we were headed down a little incline and I pushed in the clutch, turned off the ignition and pumped that gas pedal for all I was worth, turned the ignition back on and popped the clutch.

Now, I didn’t see any flames or even a flash but I did see the looks on the faces of the drivers around us in traffic. There were so many stark white faces that it was a little like an instantaneous snowstorm had come out of nowhere right in the middle of that hot summer day. Of course, I didn’t think all this then, I didn’t think about much of anything, directly after the explosion.

I know that the truck did not literally raise up off its wheels, I know that, I do, but it sure felt like it. I had popped the clutch and the noise that came from under Big Green was like no other backfire I had ever heard. I was proud, I was. Until I noticed the noises that came after the initial explosion. I say explosion because it was more than just a backfire, it was more than any backfire Gary had ever created. It was the kind of noise that seems to suck all the other noises right out of the air. Like a huge vacuum, like being in outer space, like sitting directly on top of an explosion.

The part I couldn’t figure out right away was all the other noises that happened after the explosion. There was bumping and scraping and grinding noises. And the most interesting part was that those noises, the ones after the explosion, weren’t stopping. They were continuing on, chasing us down the road like a…………..well, like an entire exhaust system from a big old mean nasty green Sears truck. And then there were no more noises, well except for the fact that the truck was quite a bit louder now than it had been before the explosion. I guess I hadn’t noticed up until then because of all the other noises and how your ears kind of feel like there’s too much air in them right after you’ve been way too close to an explosion.

That’s about when  I looked in the mirrors and noticed there were no cars behind us for quite a ways. At first I thought it was because we had scared them off, you know, with the explosion, but then I saw it, the entire exhaust system from a big old nasty green Sears truck laying across the lane quite a ways behind us, in fact just about the same distance as the first vehicle I could see behind us. I was never quite sure whether that first vehicle behind us had actually hit that entire exhaust system from a big old nasty green Sears truck, but I do know it stopped.

I looked over at Gary and he was doubled over in his seat holding his stomach, at first I thought he was injured, you know, from the explosion but then I realized he was laughing, but he wasn’t making any sound. Then I noticed the tears on his face. He saw me looking at him and I’m not sure what kind of look I had on my face, but it just made him laugh harder. I was concerned about the vehicle in the mirror and I asked Gary if we should stop or go back, but he just shook his head from side to side and laughed. His face was beet red, his eyes were bloodshot and I think the front of his pants might have been a little wet but he kept shaking his head from side to side, so I took that as a “no” and drove on.

It wasn’t long before the traffic was all around us again, almost as if nothing had happened at all. But I knew something had happened and Gary knew something had happened and I’m pretty sure that vehicle back there, that I could no longer see in the mirrors, knew something had happened.

We had returned some things to the warehouse and had been on our way back when the explosion happened. We coasted into the parking lot behind the Sears store and slowly got out and started for the loading dock. No one had seemed to notice how much louder the truck was. No one seemed to notice us at all. I felt a little let down for some reason but Gary hadn’t completely recovered, so I knew it had really happened. As we walked along he put his arm across my shoulders and said, “Nice backfire, kid.” I told him, “that was no backfire, that was an explosion!” He started up laughing again and headed for the restroom.

A Life That I Love

Our road is most likely similar to many other rural lime rock roads. Rutted and overgrown in places by grass and weeds, with low spots that collect the rain and high spots that shun it. A very ordinary lime rock road indeed. Dusty and bumpy, with overgrown shoulders.

Should I find it hard then, to explain why it would produce such comforting emotions in me, by simply making the turn down it at the end of a day at work? Or even on a day off, when I’ve been wandering, which is one of my favorite things to do, there is something that welcomes me as soon as I pass the mailboxes at the end. It is an embrace that begins at the corner and grows warmer and tighter the further down the road I come.

I guess it is obvious, I suppose, that it is the home at the end, that beckons and whispers in my ear, but there are so many pieces and parts that make this place a home. The familiar gate, the canine faces that appear and bark and whine, just within it, as if to sing a song of welcome to a lonely traveler’s heart. The paws that bounce off my legs, no matter how many times I have scolded them to stay down, that in fact are just a part of the song and dance that is hello. A bit of roguish misbehavior that has never quite been trained away, perhaps because I secretly love the act and what it means.

The ragged yard that is never quite evenly cut with random holes dug in the chase of some bug, unseen. The messy flower beds that never seem to grow exactly what is planted in exactly the way they were planned. Trees in need of trimming, weeds in need of pulling, shredded toys in need of discarding. Steps in need of sweeping, leading to a porch that always has an odd assortment of things that decidedly, do not belong on a porch but never seem to find their way back to where they do belong. A porch with a swing for sitting that never quite has enough open space to allow much sitting at all.

On those days when I am the last one home, sometimes if my timing is right, the door opens and the one who makes this old house in need of much, seem so abundant and so much like the best house around to be coming home to, smiles a “hello”. Not just a simple “hello”, though not flamboyant, but one that means so much more because not only is it spontaneous but because I know it is mirrored on my own face. Our smiles of greeting for each other are complete, they are not just a passing gesture of the mouth but a choreographed movement that engulfs the whole of our faces, from laughing eyes to the affectionate tilt of our heads.

Why should this messy, ill kept, dusty old house reach out to hug my soul so? Because it holds all that makes a life. The memories and mementos of time spent between best friends. The odd ticket stub or yard sale find that never quite found its place. The empty box saved for some long forgotten use that once held some long forgotten treasure. Dusty pictures on the dusty mantle of days gone by but fondly remembered. A perfect example of what makes a structure a shelter, a shelter an abode, a house a home.

The cross on the wall reminds me of how much I am blessed and how much I have been blessed. It represents the One that is greater than either or both of us. The One who made sure we met, in the most unlikely way. The One who pushed us back together when one or both of us were ready to call it quits. The One who blessed us with more than a love but a friendship and a camaraderie that rises above the romance of a young love to a kind of joining together that mere love or lust could never attain or sustain.

This rutted and overgrown lime rock road draws me back and welcomes me in because it leads to a life that I love, with all its trials and troubles. A house that is home and a heart that is true and ruthless in its love and friendship. A comforting hug, a hand in mine. A place where I will always matter, a soul that will always care for me. A dog in a window, steps that will always lift me back up, and a porch light that will always show me my way home.

Forgiveness

Eph 4:31   Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Eph 4:32   Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

As time drifts along, it becomes apparent that changes happen when I’m not looking. Things that seemed so foreign not so very long ago, seem so common place now.

I like to think of myself as a pretty forgiving kind of guy. I’m usually pretty good at understanding when mistakes are made and of course, it helps when there’s an apology but in reality, true apologies are rare and I’ve learned that if the only way I’m going to forgive someone is through their apology, then I’m kind of missing the point.

I know that sounds like I get wronged a lot, but that’s not true. I do have a soft heart with most people, so I do get my feelings hurt on occasion but probably not much more than anyone else.

There have always been certain people though, that I’ve held on to grudges against. Not a lot of them but some. They’ve usually been the ones that have done things that were completely out of my control. Especially when they’ve done things that hurt people I cared about. I think those things are hard things to forgive.

I have noticed though that the more I realize some of the things that I’ve done in my life, those things I’m not especially proud of, the things that have hurt other people, the more of those I remember, the easier it has become for me to forgive others.

There’s nothing like watching memories of your own behavior to get you to reexamine the behavior of others.

You Can Learn So Much In a Year

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Ronald B. Wendell

6/7/1934 – 4/10/2014

I’ve learned a lot in the last year. I’ve learned that disagreements don’t mean much. I’ve learned that pride will rob you blind. I’ve learned that when people are still alive, it’s much easier to remember the bad times and after they die, it’s much easier to remember the good.

I’ve learned that all those sappy things that people say about making sure you let people know how you feel about them, are true. I’ve learned that it is much easier to let some people know how you feel about them than it is others. I’ve learned that those people that are the hardest to show how you feel about them, are probably the ones that need to know the most.

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Maybe the thing that I have learned the most in the last year is that no matter how you get along with someone, no matter what you choose to remember about them, they weren’t just that person that you remember. I’ve learned that what you remember about a person is filtered greatly by the level of difficulty you had in understanding that person. It is filtered by the difference between you and them, and sometimes, by the ways that you were alike.

Maybe the toughest thing I’ve learned in the last year is that sometimes the more strained your relationship was with them, the harder it is to deal with them being gone.

The story that I think will always be my favorite about my Dad, was the year that Lori and I needed to replace a section of roof on the back of our house. Lori and I figured that we could do it, we can be pretty handy. I’m not sure how my Dad found out about the upcoming project but he did. As soon as he did, he wanted to know all about it but mostly, when we were going to do it because he was going to be there to help.

I can’t remember the exact year or exactly how old my Dad was at the time but he was beyond the age that he should be ripping off an old rotten wood roof and putting on a new tin one over a set of cement stairs. I assured him that Lori and I would take our time and be able to get it done but he wasn’t having any of that. He wanted to know when we were going to do it and what time we wanted him to show up. As much as I tried to dissuade him and as much as I tried to not let him know when it was going to happen, he found out and because we wouldn’t give him an exact time we were going to start, he just told me that he would see me in the morning. In case you didn’t know my Dad, it could be impossible to change his mind, once he had made it up.

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My Dad was on blood thinners for a number of years before he died and he had already fallen off his own roof because he didn’t see the need to ask someone else to come clean the leaves and branches off of it. The thought of having my Dad climbing around on partially rotten beams that hung over cement stairs scared the crud out of me. But it became apparent that this was one of those times that it didn’t matter what anyone said, he had made his mind up and he was going to be there.

When the morning came, he and my Mom showed up first thing and he was probably the first one up the ladder. The rest of the story is pretty anticlimactic, thank you, Jesus. He climbed around that day as easily as I did and probably out-worked me in the end. We got the old roof off and the new one on and nobody fell onto the cement stairs below. At the end of the day I hugged him and thanked him and he walked away like it was nothing.

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I remember a story that my Dad told me a number of times through the years. He told me that early on in my Mom and his marriage, they were moving from one place to another. The place they were moving out of was upstairs and he had lined up a number of friends that all promised to come and help them move. The morning of the move though, nobody showed up. He told me that it was a hard day moving, that there were some things that were heavy enough that the only way he could get them down the stairs was to put straps around them and basically tie them to his back.

It’s funny but for someone who had a hard time talking about his feelings in a calm and cool way, he calmly told me that it wasn’t the actual work that he would never forget but the fact that for whatever reason, nobody that had promised him they would be there, ever showed up.

Even though we never asked and even though we tried everything we could to keep him off our roof, I think the reason he wouldn’t take no for an answer was because of that time probably a half a century before when nobody showed up to help.

Did you know, you can learn an awful lot in a year?

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One of My First Loves

Anybody that knows me, knows that Lori is the love of my life. We were truly meant to be together, in fact, we really didn’t have a whole lot of choice, but that’s a different post.

One of my very first loves though, was writing. There is just something about putting words down on a page, or a screen, that people read and get something out of. I’ve just never found anything else that feels the same way. Photography comes close but it isn’t the same.

I guess part of why writing feels the way it does to me is because I’ve never been able to write much that didn’t have bits and pieces of me in it, even when I tried to keep them out. The funny thing is that I don’t necessarily notice it at the time. It’s when I’ve finished and read back through that I realize that I’ve left more on the page than I intended. I guess that’s just the nature of the beast, all these words have to come from somewhere.

Probably one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written was originally written for a column in the Williston Pioneer. I set out to write about an older gentleman who was very important to me and actually helped form the way I looked at the world. I lamented that, because I was so young, I couldn’t really remember exactly what we talked about or even how his voice sounded. I thought it was strange that I could know that he had made such a difference in my life and then not really remember exactly what he did to accomplish that.

I’ve thought about it over the years and a couple things have become clear. Whatever it was that Mr. Thomas said to me while we walked up to the post office every morning, it stuck. Though I’ve wandered away from writing many times, I always come back. I always realize that there is a part of me that isn’t quite realized any other way. Maybe that was what he did for me, he pointed my compass in this particular direction and whenever I need to get my bearings, I get that compass out and the words start to stream out. I’m always a little rusty when I first come back but that’s okay because that’s part of the process. Unlike a real compass that comes around instantly, mine always takes a few swings before it finds true North.

So, in talking about one of my first true loves, I guess what I’m doing is telling Mr. Thomas that I’m back. I might not always write the same sort of things that he did, he was a historian, but I can’t help but hope that some of these words belong to him and I’m just borrowing them to keep them, and maybe him, alive.

Wooden Rose Express

Shivering she backed as far into the palmettos as she could, her heavy coat keeping the sharp branches from gouging her skin. It was luck that she had grabbed her coat on the way out of the house, she didn’t even remember that she was carrying it in her hand until she made it out into the palmettos towards the train tracks.

It wasn’t especially cold, even though it was January. This part of Florida did get cold but it was mostly hit or miss. Sweating, she thought for a moment that she wished it was a little colder, hiding in the bushes with the coat on, after running from her uncle’s house. She soon forgot the temperature as she thought back to what she’d seen.

The flashes of light from all the guns being fired made her think of the 4th of July. It seemed as though the whole night was being lit up. The noise was deafening and the smell of burnt gunpowder stung her nose and throat. Her ears still ringing and her mouth tasting bitter.

Gussie had been asleep on her aunt’s couch, where she had been staying to help with the house and children, while her aunt was sick. Gussie lived in nearby Gainesville with her parents and six brothers and sisters. Her aunt had sent for her when she had gotten down with the chills.

Sound asleep, until the night exploded, she hit the floor running and scrambling, not even knowing where she was running to or from. Then she remembered the children but as she stopped in the hall to run upstairs, she remembered that her uncle and a couple of neighbors had moved her aunt and the children across town to the doctor’s house earlier in the day. Now her cousins were all sick too, so everyone but her uncle and she were quarantined at Dr. Ross’s house.

Gussie wondered about her uncle but was sure he hadn’t been back to the house since earlier. She had been waiting for him so she could cook supper when she fell asleep on the couch. Now she kneeled, huddled up in the palmettos. She didn’t know exactly what was happening but she knew it wasn’t good.

She had no idea how long she’d been in the woods but she knew the sweat was gone and she was shivering. She had cooled down from her run and the night had turned colder or maybe it was fear that made her shake.

Gussie held her breath for a moment, she thought she had heard something. She hated the woods but she knew she needed to stay hidden, at least until daylight when she could sneak back up by the house and try to figure out what exactly was happening.

There it was again, just a slight rustle. She jumped and almost screamed out when Mrs. Woods, her aunt’s neighbor appeared directly in front of her. Even though she now knew what she heard wasn’t going to hurt her, the fear and the unknown finally got to her and she began to silently sob. The woman reached out and pulled the young girl into her and let her cry for a few minutes. Then she took her by the shoulders and held her out away from her.

“Gussie, stop crying now, girl.” Mrs. Woods tried to sooth her. “Hush, baby, listen to me. We have to get over to the train tracks where we can wave the train down. Come on, baby, walk.”

“Mrs. Woods, ma’am, what’s happening?” Gussie could feel her knees try to give out but she took hold of Mrs. Wood’s arm and steadied herself. “Where is everybody? Why was everybody shooting?”

“Girl, keep walking, we have to hurry. Don’t worry about what’s behind us, we have to worry about getting on that train.” She hurried the young girl on towards the tracks.

Then Gussie was too scared to ask any more questions. She was afraid she didn’t want to know the answers. She let herself be pushed and dragged through the dark until they reached the tracks.

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She could see the top of the rails shine in the light of the full moon. She wondered why they were getting on the train here in the woods but she was confused and turned all around, left with only the energy to cling to the older woman and stare down the tracks.

Gussie started when she felt the ground vibrate and all at once she was aware of the train approaching slowly like a ghost in the night. There were no lanterns lit on the engine.

She and Mrs. Woods backed away from the tracks as the engine lumbered slowly past. Then there were strong hands clamped onto her arms and a whisper in her ear, telling her to not make a sound. Though the voice was familiar but she couldn’t quite place it. She felt lifted up and passed to another pair of hands up in the train. Then she was pushed back away from the open doors against a wall of people. Nobody moved and nobody spoke.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she started to make out the shapes of the faces that she knew from around town. They all stood silently staring towards the doors as more and more people were helped or hoisted up into the boxcar.

Then there were fewer people getting on and then there were no more. The train began to pick up speed and those around Gussie started to settle themselves down onto the floor. She knew that in a little less than two hours, they would be in Gainesville, if there were no more stops. And that night, there were no more stops.

Jackie’s Ride

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Jackie can feel the low rumble beneath him. The breeze blowing in gently through the open windows. He is perched on the edge of the back seat, reaching up through between the bucket seats. His right hand clamped firmly on the shifter. James punches the gas a couple times making the rumble faster and louder. Jackie knows that he has to hit all the gears perfectly. He sits waiting for James to push the clutch in.

The clutch goes in, Jackie slams into first gear just in time for James to pop the clutch. He feels the rear wheels break loose as James starts to feather the gas to gain grip. Then the RPMs are screaming and the clutch goes in, second gear and this time the rear wheels just chirp but Jackie gets pushed back from the acceleration, he has to plant his feet against the front of the back seat. RPMs getting high again, in goes the clutch, third gear, no chirp, just power. The speed is pushing him back further and further but still he holds on. One more gear. Clutch, he catches fourth gear and a nine-year old’s fragile grip breaks free and he flops back against the rear seat.

Jackie knows the drill, sit up, seat belt on. The air from the open windows is howling all around him, and he’s watching the trees as they fly by. The thumping of his heart eases and starts to slow. Nothing left to do but wait until the next stop, then it’ll start all over. Just waiting for the next rush. Left with the smile so big that it hurts his face, he feels right with the world. He belongs.
(The names have been changed to protect the………well, you know.)