Huntington Beach, California ~ a small town in the USA

Huntington Beach Main Street 1950s

 

Day: April 1 1963 – Time: 1:00 PM – Place: 614 Huntington Ave

I remember my 6th birthday party. Birthday parties were not high on the agenda in our family so this one sticks out in my mind.
Not that we needed more, they stay special with just a few. Not like today where parents succumb to the pressure of giving their precious the bigger and better every year, elevating it to Super Bowl-isk status and beyond.

I remember my mother telling me I was getting a birthday party that year. I remember going over the list of classmates and selecting as many as I was allowed. My memory is that it was my whole 1st grade class.
My mother took care in putting things together to make it a real party for me. It was exciting to help her plan the event, but it was more like her telling me all the things we could do and I just said yes to everything! We went over the games to play, the prizes we would give away, the kind of cake I wanted, and the theme, it was to be an Indian theme.

So the invitations went out with great anticipation and that day (like Christmas) finally came!!
I was especially thinking of a girl I had a crush on since kindergarten, Bobby Osepian. I imagined finally getting her into my room alone and planting a movie style kiss on her wanton lips. The things I always wanted to say would be said and it was to be the beginning of the relationship with my future wife. I knew exactly what I wanted in life at 6 years old and Bobby was THE ONE! Bobby always wore clean pressed dresses and would have some kind of ribbon or color tie in her hair. She never made mistakes of any kind but was perfect as any woman of 6 years old should be and I was willing to wait. I was sure it would be like no time passing at all.
Bobby had a large nose, which for me at the time was one of the many things I was attracted to. Boobs were not something I was aware of at the time so maybe it was just primal instinct that caused me to desire her bodacious schnoz like it was a boob for a one-cup bra, I don’t really know. Looking back, she was Armenian too, and I believe she had the makings for large breasts that would go along with a large stocky body. She would be a muumuu, wearing girl too. I even imagine her bossing me around and once I gave her children I would be discarded as the real boob in the house. I would develop a drinking problem and go on long walks smoking cigarettes with my bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag tucked in my coat pocket.

But none of that happened, as Booby never came, even though she lived just 3 blocks away on the same street.
In fact only two kids came, two girls, two I didn’t know very well, Diane McIntre and Laurie Niel (Their names are written on the back of a photo).

I remember waiting for the cars to come and unload the kids out at the curb like it was the Oscars. But all the preparation, time and effort didn’t pay off and I think this is why people RSVP now days.
I kept going out to the street looking down the block for late arrivals. My mother finally got things started.
Somehow I sensed my mother feeling sad for me and I remember putting on a care-less face for her and plowing my way through it determined to make it a party. Though deep inside I must have felt sad because today, though I don’t own the sadness anymore, I empathize with that little boy’s disappointment as if he were someone else.

We played potato races across the living room floor, racing from one side to the other while trying to balance potatoes on the tops of our shoes. Then there was a relay while trying to keep a ping-pong ball from falling out of a teaspoon held in one hand. Of course we had Pin the Tail on the Donkey, a staple at birthday parties and another game that involved clothespins, but I can’t remember exactly what that was. That’s all I really remember of the games we played. We also had plenty of “extra” prizes to go around too. With plans made for a house full of kids, I imagine it didn’t last very long with so few attending.

The one photograph I have shows me smiling like I really meant it, the two girls and my brother Mark at the dining room table eating cake and ice cream.

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Because we didn’t get very many parties, it wasn’t something I could count on to try again the next year. In fact, I didn’t want to do a repeat of that anyway. It would be a long time before I risked being a pariah again.

The year before I was invited to the Chucko the Birthday Clown TV show for my 5th birthday. However, just a month before my birthday, they sent a postcard telling us that the show was canceled. I think it kicked the wind out of my mother too, because between that and my too quiet of a party, they were the last of the great birthday attempts she ever made.
1963 was the year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The Beatles would hit the scene the next year in their movie, A Hard Day’s Night and after that the Vietnam war would play primetime television until the war ended.

So, no Bobby to set my future sure, no guys to validate my fitting in to the social circle of dudes, just two girls and my brother who had to be there. I remember the girls being very sweet, and though no future friendships ever blossomed with them, I’m thankful they showed up, it was enough to call it a party….

 

P.S – My head is returning to the Ozarks

Published in: on February 10, 2014 at 2:08 pm  Comments (4)  

Letter in February 2013 ~ The Turning of Time is Daily Life

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I had an old friend who lived in California. He built houses for a living but was also a wood craftsman who built a shop full of musical instruments in his younger years. He was an incredible musician as well and was apart of the music industry in Los Angeles during the 1960’s. When I was still a teenager, I helped him deliver a harpsichord he made for a client who lived in the Hollywood Hills. We hauled it up what seemed to be more than two hundred steps or maybe it was two thousand. It was an all muscle job, trouble was I didn’t have any and my skinny legs quivered all the way up.

He once told me that the more you play a guitar the better it sounds because the sound waves change the resonance of the wood. He knew musicians who would put radios up to the hole of a new guitar and let it play nonstop 24/7 to season the instrument.

It makes me wonder about these old abandon houses that dot the landscape here. Houses once homes that stood for generations where voices and sounds have seasoned the walls. At one time they were someone’s dream, now looking sadly shipwrecked of grey and rust. Many of those broken out windows were the first worldview children had to shape their own dreams. Embedded in the walls are stories only those alive then and ghosts now could tell you. Whispers, laughter, prayers, dreams and tears, high moments, low moments, people who found their way and some who got lost and never did….

Winter has been mild as predicted. It has been uneventful other than getting two ticks in January after tromping around in the woods. That’s unheard of in the middle of winter and it makes me wonder what we could be in for this summer.

I have my seed starters planted, under the window and near the woodstove. I am convinced that this year’s garden will be better than the last and not as good as the next. I’m gaining on it!

We slaughtered our steer Stew last month. He was happy all the way up and beyond the pulling of the trigger. He was in mid-blink when suddenly he stepped into greener pastures and warmer days.

I didn’t do the work myself like I did before I reached this age of bodily decrepitude. I hired it out to a local “Slaughter guy” so Stew would have a humane end.

Slaughter guy left the gut pile in the middle of our pasture for the wild life to clean up, birds by day and coyotes and bobcats by night. At first it looked like an alien life form growing out there as the stomach began to swell from the gases. Then the buzzards punched a hole in it and deflated it to get that methane buzz they like so well. That’s why they’re called buzzards; look it up on the internet, you’ll see.

Usually the buzzards leave the area in the fall by catching whirling thermal drafts, sailing in circles up and up until they reach the top and then sail south and catch another one miles away after they lose altitude. Yet there are always a few that draw the short straw and have to stay behind and work the winter shift.Image

Stew finished out just as I hoped and nothing like the first steer we raised here. Then I partnered up with an ole boy who listened to a steady diet of country music. He was from Chicago but since retiring he put on a cowboy hat and changed the dial on his radio. Since I worked in Hollywood a few times he didn’t think I knew much about this sort of thing even though I had a lot of exposure to animal husbandry when I did field slaughtering in my younger years, got a scar up my lower back to prove it. Well that first steer he and I did together didn’t turn out too well on country music so this time I raised it on rock-n-roll and it couldn’t have turned out bigger or better! It rocks to the bone!!

We have six roosters right now and they have recently learned to crow. Around 3:00 AM one of them starts crowing when it wakes up and sees our porch light on. But as soon as it turns toward the wall, it forgets what it was about to say and goes back to sleep. But when dawn actually arrives, they all start competing for airtime at only a couple hundred feet from our bedroom window. Then throughout the day those 6 roosters go after the 9 hens so there’s a lot of screams for help out there that I let go unanswered. I do notice that the roosters have favored one hen over others but I’m yet to figure out what they see in her…. breasts, thighs, drumsticks? Who knows?

I like living in an agricultural area. I like living far away from convenience.  Not having that instant gratification causes me to pause, think and appreciate “source”. Seeing tractors, cattle trucks and other farm implements while driving around gives me a comfortable feeling. A safe feeling like all is right with the world. I love the smells of earth, forests, rivers and lakes, the sounds of nature, too many to say. Growing a big garden and raising animals for food, breaks down the wall that normally separates people from their food source. I like watching my food grow from little seeds. I like digging up the earth and planting them in the ground, then the excitement of the season’s first sprouts coming up! By summer we don’t have enough counter space to hold all the produce and the quality is unbeatable!! It’s been good for the grandkids too. Growing up with all these things as normal teaches them a healthy perspective about the circle of life.

So here we are in the Land of Oz. It will be five years at the end of February. Time goes by quickly. Five years this home has heard so many things already, so many stories, so many friends sharing laughter. We have embedded ourselves into these walls and the continuing history of the Ozarks and too soon we will leave our whispers for others to wonder about.

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. 

Crowfoot ~ April 1890 ~ His last words

Published in: on February 9, 2013 at 9:20 pm  Comments (8)  

Back Home But The Grinch Stole Christmas 2012

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The Ozarks this fall, were more beautiful than folks who lived here all their lives could remember.
After a long hot summer of a second year drought, we were ready for cool weather, but just as the leaves began to change, my wife got a job in Florida, so in two weeks we were right back in summer.
That was in October and our stay took us all the way through November where we had Thanksgiving on a mild summer’s day. We watched the sunset over the Ozarks every night but we could only see the waters of the gulf. I am now back in the Land of Oz and am told that Christmas is just a couple weeks away.

My first morning back I awoke and went out to survey our property and check on the animals. The silence was not silent but peaceful, holy peaceful. I forgot. The forest never is still, there is always movement; it’s alive down to the smallest things you can’t see to things so preternatural you can only feel. The wind in the trees was not traffic, but the wind in the trees. Sometimes the trees are so loud it’s like God roaring out to get my attention and look up.
After living in Florida and going everywhere for the past two plus months on concrete, the feeling of uneven ground under my feet was something I never considered a joy before. I felt myself once again as a man on the face of the earth. The Ozarks – Oz is really in me now and other places I once called home before are distant in thought and conversation.

The chickens know no cold and the steer is fat and ready for slaughter. In a week the steer’s (Stew) life will end as the happiest cow on the planet to serve the needs of our hungry family. I have been feeding Stew so much sweet feed to fatten him up and keep him warm that I’m surprised he doesn’t show signs of diabetes. But he is happy and fed and I will miss him dancing and prancing up to me when I go out to visit him.

Today the snow flurries out my window and a fire dances in my woodstove. I can hear the new Neil Young album playing in the other room. In the next room my wife is painting a picture. I’m still amazed and grateful that we were transported to this place. I just can’t imagine that I could have ever made a decision this good. I give thanks.

I’m going to take a dark corner here and talk about Christmas so some of you might want to leave the room.

The world is a much different place since we first arrived here five years ago with the economic crash, wars for oil, and our own government whittling back our civil rights one by one. Who would have thought that Americana would take such a hit and turn upside down where good is called evil and evil is called good. Doubts and fears are still in many hearts as uncertain times stand in the wings with sword rattling.

Hope still remains the same in that death has no sting.
But that’s death and there’s still a lot of work to do here and change we must.

As long as neighbor’s still live in the illusion of separateness from one another whether in socioeconomics, philosophy or religion, the family of America remains weak. Sitting in ones own corner looking out for ones own interest does not create community. To take hold of your own hand and shake an agreement with yourself is like standing in the mirror thinking you have someone who will watch your back.
To change this one thing would change everything that’s wrong with America.
We are not separate from our neighbor and we must learn to love them as our own.

This year’s election was an embarrassment to how ugly people can be. There were a lot of folks who turned their backs on family and friends over political differences. Lies and accusations were on the lips of those who allowed the media to think for them. Still, no one knows the truth, only what they’ve been told. The media on the left and the right fed their particular “in group” what they wanted to hear then those American’s reacted by turning on each other and undermining the very thing this country was built on, solidarity – We The People.

With this kind of behavior, hope for peace on earth, good will towards men is something only in a song because you still only love God as much as the one you love the least.

We are talking about Christmas here right?? Yes we are!

Published in: on December 20, 2012 at 7:16 pm  Comments (7)  

A Letter from the Ozarks? I thought he died.

August hit hard at the end of May and bypassed June completely so by July when it was suppose to be just starting to get hot, the grassy pastures were already brown and California crispy. The worst drought here in a long while, breaking record after record after record like that church group did to all those Beatle albums after John Lennon said something that ticked them off.

Fewer and fewer people are willing to say what’s normal and what’s not concerning seasonal weather. I think we’re all getting tired of hearing ourselves talk about what was. Besides, whose got the energy to talk when it’s this hot?  I’ve been told that the reason so many folks here speak in a slow drawl is because of the heat. If that’s so and we keep breaking records, it won’t be long before nobody will be able to understand anybody.

Whenever I hear a scientific alarmist on TV pitching “global warming/climate change” as something we need to throw money at, I see a desperate man begging for funding so he won’t lose his job. I can’t imagine the prehistoric man throwing spears at a glacier that formed in the mountain pass blocking his best passage to the other side. I’m pretty sure they just lived with it and found a different and perhaps better route. It seems that every other generation has stories about weather we don’t have today, more rain, more snow, longer winters, and dryer summers, whatever. Like the old guy who must have lived in an M.C. Escher drawing because he walked to school up hill in both directions trudging through three feet of snow!

When I was in high school in the early 70’s scientists had the data in front of them that suggested we were headed toward global cooling. No doubt the weather patterns are changing, yet they never stopped changing even from eons before the first people lived under the bluffs here. Not to worry, the weather is not going to take us out; there are so many other assorted flavors that can kill us. In fact, in as little as one hundred and twenty years from now, no one living today will even be here. So maybe it’s better not to get so taken up in “trendy” issues and instead look at the big picture; the mountain pass that glacier had blocked for so long is now finally clear!

So in the tradition of good story telling I plan on telling my great grandkids that back in my day it was so hot (How hot was it?) that it was common for people to spontaneously combust into flames while they were hoeing weeds in their garden. Children would go off to school never to return again. Later they would find little piles of ashes at the bus stop. I’m sure I can do better but that’s just my first draft.

Last week I went out to the coop to shut the chicken’s in for the night and found a Black Rat Snake in one of the nesting boxes with an egg half way in its mouth. I turned around and went back into the house for a bucket with a lid and by the time I returned, the egg was a couple inches down its neck past its head. I grabbed it by the head and felt that the egg was not yet crushed so I reached below the egg and started squeezing it back up towards its head. The reptile was a little stubborn and wouldn’t open its mouth but with continued pressure I convinced it to give me back my egg. It was covered with mucus slim but I got it back! I don’t like killing black snakes if I can help it  because they kill poisoness Copperhead Snakes and keep the mice population down. So I put him in the bucket and the next day took him a mile down the road to let him go. That snake sat in the bucket all night long so when I finally opened the lid it sprang out like a fake snake from a gag can and nearly hit me in the face. I was so surprised that I dropped the bucket and just about fell backwards. That snake took off in the weeds and pretty much had enough of me but ended up getting the last laugh. Hopefully from now on it will make an honest living eating mice and going midevil on Copperheads.

A couple nights ago around midnight racoons started flash mobbing my pear tree so I jumped out of bed, grabbed my flashlight, shotgun ( w/extra shells) and went after them. It was carnage!! The body count stacked up as I put the whole family out of business. Wildman wearing only flip-flops and a shotgun, VERY primal!!! At the end I felt like raising my gun in the air and letting out a war cry…. I didn’t though. I went back to bed scratching my bug bites. The next morning the buzzards were on it early doing the hazmat clean up. Buzzards are good birds and are very respectful of the living and extremly helpful in taking care of the dead. Nothing goes to waste, it’s the circle of life.

When you live in the city where things are in a sterile and protected environment, you can afford to develop romantic ideas about being one with nature. There you can frolic on established city hiking trails in nearby parks with binoculars and bird book in hand getting in touch with your inner Indian. There is no need to carry a sidearm because the dangerous animals have long ago been slaughtered and hauled away. But when you live in real nature the rules change. Here when you have farm animals, gardens and fruit trees you must add a new word to your vocabulary that sometimes overrides those poetic notions about flora and fauna. The word is vigilance. Without it, raccoons, bobcats, foxes, possums, snakes and even mountain lions, bears and more, you name it, will take and devour what you’ve worked hard to establish. You do what you can with fencing, live traps and dogs but sometimes you need to administer a bullet suppository to stop the aggressors. Every night there is a constant possibility and one must be vigilant, because that’s when the zombies come out!

We finally did get rain this week and with it the bug population exploded overnight. The bugs here are something I don’t think anybody moving from the western states ever gets use to. If it’s not the ticks and chiggers when walking around in the day it’s the bugs at night that really get the party going. Like I said, the zombies come out! At night while in bed with my reading lamp on, little bugs of every known variety cover the window looking for a way in while the bigger ones get a running start and bash into the windows and walls with such force it sounds like large hail assaulting the house. It only stops when I finally turn out the light. And God help you when you open a glass door at night with a well-lit interior. They come rushing in like it was black Friday at Walmart!

Mercy…. We came here to get away from it ALL but found that it’s ALL here.

If you get bored living out here then it’s your own fault.

Published in: on July 13, 2012 at 10:43 am  Comments (15)  

Christmas 2011

Canadian Geese honk and fly a wavering line across the cold sky. Walking this morning after last nights rain was chilly, fresh, quiet and reflective. Trees still dripping and Red Cardinals dodging in thickets. Summer’s done and my legs are white again.

We’ve already had a taste of bitter cold but after a few days of thrashing, it pulled back and turned towards fall again kindly preparing us for the near future. Last spring poured and flooded every low lying bridge and more. Summer baked hot and scorched the ground of all moisture. Only fall brought back the rapture of nature’s joy. Autumn’s color was beyond anything either of us had ever seen. Colors that rivaled pictures we’ve seen of Vermont and the Smokey Mountains, it was like living in the whole rack of postcards.

Our kids found a place 35 minutes away in Mountain Home, Arkansas and moved at the tail end of summer. They only lack the bevy of friends they had while in California but good friends take time to gather and in time they’re new walls will hear the laughter and layered conversations the old ones once did.

I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned but one of the first questions you’re asked when you move here is, “Have you found a church yet?” with the follow up to your honest answer, “Well, we’d sure like to invite you to our church this Sunday then”. I enjoyed the simplicity in their evangelism; they assume you’re a Christian like there is no other belief, very black and white. You either believe in the Son of God or you don’t believe in anything other than beer and fishing. However I had to start telling people I did indeed have a church just to stop all the invites. It was easier than trying to explain that whether in the pew or in the pulpit, I don’t see Jesus rushing to get out the door for all these meetings. I can see Him dropping by once in a while so that’s what I do and hope I catch the same day He’s there.

Down at the convenience store where they cook up good food and piles of it, you’ll find a lot of people who came from somewhere else. A whole people group who came here for a better life, much like the people who came here over 100 years ago, but a whole lot easier.  And like those before them, their very presence is reshaping the community. When my wife and I first arrived here our motto was that we didn’t come to change things, we came to be changed. However, now that we’ve been here a while I see how naïve that was, you can’t deny your personal history. Everywhere you go you bring yourself and where you’ve been with you and it’s bound to have and affect along the way, can’t help it. But isn’t that how its always been in this great mixing bowl? America is always in flux and has never stood still from the moment we got our land-legs back. The winds blow the sands from the coast and lay them across the Rockies. Soil from the north swirls down rivers to become our bottomland, mixing and turning.

Today folks born and raised here can’t understand how people could move all the way across the country leaving family and friends behind for a new life. It’s funny hearing that sort of disbelief coming from people whose ancestors did just that. The good people who first put ax to tree here were all about change and ended up breathing their last breath for it. Though today their offspring wouldn’t think of launching out from their comfort zone to settle a new life elsewhere.  They’re just “inhabitants” now and the pioneer spirit that allowed their birth to take place here is sadly gone. In general the locals are not happy with “Fureigners” moving in. One reason being they see it as threatening to change the slow way of life here. Like most small town people they tighten into cliques and draw an invisible line….with a Mayberry smile. Yet they don’t realize how much the outside world has already influenced them and quickened their pace. Like everyone else they’ve enlisted change by purchasing convenience with things like cell phones, GPS, high speed internet, satellite TV, microwave ovens and comfy cars etc. In many cases not much different than people in the city just more trees out their windows.

One thing we can all learn from one another is that we are all the same. Our history is really the same too, we all more or less came from pioneer stock. Some live closer to family in graveyards than others but everybody has family in graveyards. Our best things are not our history but what we bring to the table today. Friendships that are true are beyond golden measure. Everybody across this planet is kin and our grandfather’s name is Adam. To understand that is the beginning of peace on earth good will towards men. God has not failed to do that job; we just haven’t participated in changing our minds to facilitate the plan that was laid out before the invention of time. I may be applying too simplistic solution to a more complex problem here but I think if people got a little more acquainted with the Jesus they want others to come to their church and meet, it might just cure a lot of agitation.

Merry Christmas and Good will towards men.

Published in: on December 17, 2011 at 11:58 am  Comments (9)  

The last half of Spring and the first half of Summer

 

 

I’ve let too much time pass since I last wrote with so many things that have gone under the bridge without a note attached. Irretrievable slices of life, choice entries tossed in the garbage and hauled away on trash day. 

I’ll just have to pick up where I left off.  Let’s see, where was I?  Oh yeah, life!

 After spring rains flooded the rivers and lakes, the clouds parted and summer dropped in like a sweaty boot tossed from the top bunk. The rains kept most of us out of our gardens to plant so we have a lot of late gardens that came in struggling against the heat.

The heat and humidity has been so oppressive that it feels like slavery while working outside then house arrest once inside. Not much gets done if you don’t get out early so often not much gets done.

With the heat came a six long weeks of drought and the grass dried to a soft brown crunch. Then one morning it rained one and a half inches and the following day everything began greening up. A week later some more rain and “The next thing ya know ole Jed’s a millionaire” and I got a lawn way over due for attention. I went out to roll up the hose to get it out of the way for cutting but the grass clung tight to it as nature was already reclaim her territory. If all mankind sat down for a short length we would be back to Eden in no time.

With the two minutes of spring we did have we were able to make our yearly pilgrimage to the blueberry farm up in Dora for our supply of three gallons of berries. But with the grandkids living here for the time being, they eat and poop them out so fast I’m thinking eight or nine gallons would have been a better cache.

We get out early to pick blueberries to beat the fast rising mercury. We grab our buckets, spray down for chiggers then wander among rows and rows of thick six-foot tall bushes picking one handful for the mouth for every two that go in the bucket. We each have a one gallon bucket which can take nearly an hour and a half to fill if you take the time to find the plump berries. Conversations bounce back and forth across the rows with other pickers and you become fast friends with these disembodied voices maybe only glimpsing a hand or an eyeball. Every now and then I like to yell, “Snake” as a Public Service Announcement.

BTW: This is the same blueberry farm that Daniel Woodrell mentions in his book, Winter’s Bone.

The 10 widows remarried a rooster our neighbors gave us. Seems he was one of three they had and he was getting beat up in the chicken coop locker room and had to stand by and watch while the other roosters danced with all the hens. Now he has the whole place to himself and when he first arrived he was knocking over furniture trying to get to the hens. I named him Elvis because of his exploits and the fact that his comb lies over to one side but mostly because of the way he thrusts his hips.

I sometimes get so busy and wrapped tight in my thoughts with all I have to get done around here that I forget and have to stop in my tracks before I look up and remember where we live. My neighbor down the road turned seventy-seven this year and his kids took him on a zip line in Branson to celebrate. He got so excited about it that he came home and built his own right in his front yard. Another neighbor who is eighty-eight and was born and raised here will still stop and back up his pickup to check out a spotted fawn lying in the grass or will go silent in conversation to watch the squirrels playing in the trees. When he plants a garden he won’t plant two or three mounds of cantaloupe, he plants seventeen mounds! 88 years old! I am fortunate to have these living examples of life in my life. They help me remember important things and encourage me to walk a little further.

The world has gotten a bit scarier since I last wrote and a lot of speculation as to what could come of all this. But in a world where we all die in the end anyway, most things that take place in the middle shouldn’t be rattling us.

Plant some sunflowers in your garden and water them until they become bigger than you are, then look up into their sunny faces.

Go pick blueberries, hug your kids, ride a bike, watch the squirrels play or go stand by the waters edge and say a prayer; important things that can’t be taken away. It’s up to us to live our own lives and not let fear block our sunlight. Remember, this is your one big chance to live. You were born on purpose for such a time as this!

Take Care

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 10:56 am  Comments (4)  

February’s Boring

February smells of earth awakening. The fragrance of wet leaves, decaying wood, and fresh turned soil comes out with the warming sun. In the evening, dogs in the neighborhood are beginning to show bravado by barking at every snapping twig. In winter, they’re not so motivated to remove their noses from their bellies and uncurl off the front porch rug unless it’s the possibility of being invited indoors. These are some of the signs that spring is about to open up a few windows and let some fresh air in.

There is not much happening in February; it’s the month that is the pause before all else begins. It is the clock ticking waiting for the guests to arrive. Yet soon we will lose our view across the Ozarks when the leaves fill out the trees and draw the curtain closed. Soon the Redbuds will appear and the Dogwoods will follow over lapping them. Soon fishing season will begin, guys will finally be out of the house and their wives will be glad to be rid of them. Soon the Daffodils will bloom in spots just off the road revealing where a homestead once stood. I always wonder who she was that did the planting. I don’t know why but I always think of the person as female. I automatically like them too because anyone who thinks it important enough to spend time planting flowers has got to be a mind one can reason with. The grass is showing signs of green that will then be backed by green bushes that will be backed by green trees that will be backed by blue sky.

The sun hangs in the sky close to 7PM now and I’ve got my tomato and pepper seed starters going in little trays with onions and Jerusalem artichokes already in the ground. My wife’s helping me more this year and her lettuces and snap peas are beginning to come up. I finally pulled those tall weeds that came up towards the end of the hot summer when I lost my wind for gardening and felt like superman with a piece of kryptonite in his pocket.
Now that the soil in the main plot has been tilled and raked smooth I imagine myself as a painter before a blank canvas. I’m read up on last years mistakes and am ready to launch into the garden with new hope that the folks from the Garden and Gun magazine will happen to drive by and slam on their brakes just to see what I have going on. I’m shrinking down my garden space in half again from last year and the year before and still trying to find the balance of how much square footage my body can handle. With my wife helping me more this year we may just have a garden that has defined pathways like those in the gardening shows on TV.

Our daughter and her husband along with our 2 grandchildren escaped California and have moved in with us for a time until they find the perfect place of their own. The sounds in the house are familiar from when my wife and I were young parents and once again I walk through the house stepping on Cheerios in the morning and cold peas at night. I believe there are enough Cheerio crumbs produced in a week that I could wheelbarrow them out and use them as landfill to level the erosion in my yard. We have sudden screams and drama breaking out several times a day over things like fallen blocks or food not being cut just the right way. Our granddaughter is of the Tivo generation so she doesn’t understand what commercials are, she thinks her show just decided to end in midstream…. more drama. Bill Cosby once said, “Before my wife and I had children, we were intellectuals”. So even though I suspect that cartoons with my morning coffee will bring on dementia and though by the end of the day my wife and I flop into bed sometimes too exhausted to say goodnight, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the easel blocking the back French-doors with scattered crayons and piles of toys everywhere to step on. Because along with all those things is a little voice saying my name, “Papa”. There are giggles and good mornings and soft-spoken night nights. There are questions and conversations in broken gibberish with mispronounced words. At the front door there are tiny shoes parked next to big ones with miniature coats hanging on the hooks. There are colorful books lying around with extra thick pages telling stories of a world filled with talking animals, candy flowers and happy endings. The times that ended too soon with our last child shutting the door and leaving home are back but for a moment and I want to soak it in and not let the photographs fade this time.

A year has passed since I first started my blog and it’s the anniversary of our 3rd year here. Life changed dramatically for us when we came here and soon after the world also changed for everyone in a fearsome way. 

There have been times when it was difficult to write about simple things in the face of such dark clouds. Some have even accused me of painting my stories with too many bright colors and leaving out the black and grays. But even in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, there are flowers that bloom along the road and there is the fresh smell of sheets and shirts on a sunny clothesline.  Sometimes we need to be reminded that those things are still here to bring us back from the shadows and drive away the sorrows of the world.

In the coming year I plan to write using some black and grays but not too much and not unless I can follow it with color. So a slight change but not too much.

I apologize for getting this letter out a month late but having children in the house again is a real mind bender and I could swear that the sun sets just moments after it rises. With a full house I may not get these letters out once a month for a while, but hey, I may even surprise myself.

Many of you have been long time friends who started receiving these letters 3 years ago as direct emails others came along since I started this blog last year. Either way I want to thank every one of you for taking the time to read my ramblings and even passing them on.

May the road rise up to meet you and the wind always be at your back to give you good gas mileage.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 8:26 pm  Comments (9)  

The Moon of Strong Cold

Grey skies dominated the canopy of this heavenly abyss while piling up dreary on the doorstep. Storms came in here and there causing temperatures to go up and down like a manic-depressive off their medication. Getting to the end of January is about the time when you want to throw those sleigh bells ching ching chingaling in to the trash compactor. But just before thoughts of suicide enter the mind, the sun comes out to a bursting blue sky grander than any cathedral built by man. We did enjoy a t-shirt day of 70 degrees just a few days before the Great Plains storm of 2011. Actually it was a storm everywhere else and we rode the edge of it just dodging the bullet and getting only a dusting where just 20 minutes north the sawmill had to close down for the week.

I split the month in two and spent some time down in Yuma Arizona. It was nice to straddle both worlds for a couple weeks, warm and dry vs. cold and wet. When leaving Branson airport for Yuma and while our plane was taxiing out to take off, the ground crew stood together along the edge of the runway and waved goodbye to all of us on the plane, and then kept on waving until we could no longer see them. Just like the Beverly Hillbillies did at the end of their show when they would come out their front door and stand there waving until the director came back from the bathroom to yell, “cut”! Kind of strange to see but we felt compelled to spontaneously wave back like children would and I suppose we are.

So while snow was falling in the Ozarks I walked in the desert in short sleeves but by the next week I was back wearing my insulated coveralls shielding me from death.

Although winter really does have it’s beauty and I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy the green of spring and summer without it….I think. In the winter you can tromp through the woods without any thought of ticks or snakes. There is so much exploring to do that just can’t be done in the summer. Because the trees are stripped of their leaves you can see for miles and down in hollows to get a good lay of the land.

While I was away in Arizona my neighbor said he went by my place and saw a Bald Eagle perched in a tree at my front gate. When walking in the cold it’s easy to hunch over and sort of fold up with elbows tucked into your sides like wings and your shoulders rising up to meet your ears. It takes mindful determination to unfold, take your eyes off the ground and look up. There is so much going on above us and we can miss it by turning in. When I was young and immortal I used to walk around in the winter with my jacket open to the full expression of winter. But getting older, cold has more of an association with pain and I have to struggle a little more to keep the “wonder of it all” going. 

My chickens don’t seem to be bothered by the cold. They’re in and out of their coop and walk around like it’s the sunny side of the street.  When I close the chicken coop door at night it’s still wickedly cold inside yet come morning they hop off their perch happy as an idiot with a piece of string. I read that chickens can stand cold temperatures down to –30 but eggs sure can’t. I have to check for eggs a bit more diligently during days that stay below freezing otherwise they’ll freeze and crack.

I haven’t seen any coyotes for a while and looking in the snow around the coop there’s been no sign of visitors. My neighbor was recently walking the meadow on his 80 acres and told me that he saw several coyote tracks in the snow that intersected with deer tracks. He then could see where the deer was taken down by the coyotes, but then the tracks showed the deer got back up again with drops of blood and coyote tracks in pursuit. They took the deer down again with evidence of scattered snow, commotion and more blood. But the deer rose again and took off in the woods with the coyotes snapping at its hindquarters. My neighbor tracked it as far as he could before the snow melted on that side of the hill and he could no longer find the trail. The scene could have gone for a long way before the non-Disney ending occurred. Tragic though fascinating, the violence and cruelty of being eaten alive along side the beauty of nature that raw and wild. Like I’ve said before, if you’re bored here, then you depend too much on TV to fill in the blanks.

Flying back from Arizona I was wondering if the short reprieve of warm weather was going to dampen my zeal toward living here. Even after stepping out of the airport door to the parking lot and the cold hit my face like a brick wall, I continued to wonder. But on the way home we stopped for groceries at a little market in a town where a lot of Amish live. When I entered the store, an old Amish couple was at the counter making a purchase. The old man looked up at me with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye then gave me a nod. The snow seemed to melt right there and the warmth was like no other. It’s good to be home.

Published in: on February 12, 2011 at 1:45 pm  Comments (8)  

December 2010

December is red, white and evergreen. Winter still new and welcoming.

So far the weather here has been what some say is typical of the Ozarks. However, the end of the month proved otherwise when 8 twisters set foot in Missouri on the 31st and took a few people away who thought they were going to a New Years party that night.

Yet life is nothing but sudden changes of plans and there is nothing certain but change. I had a hard time with change in my younger years, which led to my many bouts with melancholy. I would have thought now that I’m older I would have an even harder time with melancholy. I have more things to reflect on and many more goodbyes in the wake of my boat. But I’m learning to be a little more at ease with letting go because there just isn’t a whole lot of room for the past to be taking up residence in the present. The future remains a mystery and most of us write more fiction about it than we’re even aware of. I’ve gotten better at that too, fiction is not my genre and I spend less time worrying about what might or might not be. Not that I don’t put any thoughts about what’s to come, I just use a pencil now instead of ink.

The eleven widows are still putting out 6 to 9 eggs a day. They squawk at being confined to a much smaller pen and don’t understand how it protects them from danger. But I’m not about to let them learn on their own because they wouldn’t get it until they were firmly in the jaws of a coyote being hauled off to a den somewhere in the woods. And those left behind that watched the grizzly scene wouldn’t see there was a lesson to be learned anyway. All in all the widows are doing fine. They squawk and get upset when I’m not out there feeding them on time and there’s one hen that comes in the hen house every time I’m gathering eggs and accuses me of thievery and makes a big fuss. But even when her rooster was alive, there wasn’t anything any of them could do about it, I kidnap there young and eat them.

You get so comfortable living out here with so much privacy that indoor plumbing is something that is used only in the middle of the night like a chamber pot or in the morning when a guy needs a quiet place to sit and read. The rest of the time it’s where ever you are and whenever you want. I prefer my back deck where the view is breathtaking and inspirational but once in a while I’ll step out the front door too. The other morning I stepped out on my front porch all blurry eyed from just waking up and when I was finished and my eyes started to focus and I noticed a neighbor walking by on the road out front. But being a Midwesterner I can trust that she politely turned her head away and forgave me right then and there even though she knew in her heart I was a disgusting person. Then again it’s winter, she probably couldn’t see anything anyway.

In the summer a neighbor up the road often jumps out of bed buck-naked and into his rubber mud boots to run out and feed his horse. Because of the way the gravel road curves right before his house, he can’t always hear a car coming until it’s too late. He’s been caught a few times in a full Monty run by his sweet elderly neighbors on their way to church. They never have said anything to him about it but that’s how polite people can be here.

Because of the kindness of people here you really don’t notice much change in folks around Christmas time than any other time. In California they go from road rage and indifference to opening the door for you and actually saying hello. They do wish the Christmas spirit would stay all year but I believe it takes more than wishes. The New Year is fast approaching and things don’t look a whole lot better than the last. Changing the world begins in our own hearts, the problems we face are more than just about money. The harder it gets in the world, the more compassion we need to have. The survival of our humanity demands it. It is the only weapon we hold.

I’m not one for making New Years resolutions and beginning the first week of the year in failure. But I am thinking of changing a few things this coming year like writing more and spending more time nurturing the passion to do so. Writing is my lifeline and without it, I would easily slip off the radar into hermit-hood and never be heard from again. So I hope I do well with that and I hope whatever you decide to make better in your life, you will succeed also.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

May God Bless us all.

Stay warm

Published in: on January 7, 2011 at 11:04 pm  Comments (2)  

November

Fall hung on into the beginning of November with pockets of color giving pleasant surprises here and there while driving the roads. Overhead the Canadian Geese flew south in V formation and could clearly be heard honking in uneven chorus. Down at the creek and river the Bald Eagles returned in numbers to hunt the waters. You don’t have to sit too long before one will glide by while on patrol.

Now at the end of the month the trees are stripped bare of leaves giving us back our westerly view of the Ozarks and filtering our sunsets with lacey light. What we see now will remain until spring.

Tragedy struck when a pack of coyotes came in broad daylight and ate 3 hens and my rooster leaving behind 11 widows who can’t even unclog a sink. They now have to live the rest of their day’s celibate and lonely in a much smaller pen topped with netting. The coyotes here look more like small silvery wolves and not the scraggly brown breed we had in the high desert of California. They don’t just trot down the road in the open here either but are like ghosts that appear and disappear in a moment. And now that they have a taste for an easy meal at my place, I’m aware that they are just in the shadows waiting for a weak spot to open up.

My Walmart education taught me well in careful preparation and tactics for deer hunting. It paid off this year with deer season opening for me and lasting only 20 minutes when a deer stepped out in front of me 60 feet away allowing me to get a head shot and a good kosher bleed without damaging the meat from the impact of the bullet. A headshot also keeps the deer from taking off in a wounded run and getting adrenaline rushing through the meat. Going for the head is not what anyone does around here but is something I learned from field and farm butchering I did years ago. So a nice humane kill that will restock our freezer back to worry free capacity felt like a job well done.

After skinning and dressing the animal to hang and cure for 2 days in the barn, I was then in the shower and dressed in time to be down at the firehouse early for the annual hunters breakfast.

Most of the guys drug themselves in wearing their camo and hunter orange, bone tired from getting up so early and others compounded their weariness from a late night around a bonfire at deer camp. The rest of the guys (and a few girls) were still sitting in there tree stands somewhere in the woods.

Regardless of whether you’ve lived here all your life or you’re a newbie like me, the hunt levels the playing field and gives a common bond around the table. I now understand the excitement that the Indians had for retelling their hunting experiences. Today we take pictures then they drew on rocks.

Thanksgiving holidays finished the month. Yet for us, it was not a stand out event because since we’ve arrived here, we have never stopped being thankful. Living here has never gotten to be old or mundane. Just today I stopped my stride from the barn to the chicken coop and took a moment of gratitude to the Creator for bringing us here and making it all possible. We are just ordinary people that received this extraordinary gift. All our lives we scratched to make a living just to keep our heads above water and if it wasn’t for the preternatural events that brought us here our lives would have remained the same and perhaps in these economic times, worse.

So to God we are thankful always and to God we will trust our future always. I know I have not imagined this God into being because this God is beyond anything I could ever imagine.

May our hearts be forever filled with Thanksgiving.

Published in: on December 10, 2010 at 6:20 pm  Comments (2)  

October

Most of my life I have thought of autumn as synonymous with melancholy and the sadness of good things coming to an end. This summer was grand but it’s over and the leaves that provided so much shade from the hot summer sun drift to the earth to become yesterday.

I can easily indulge myself in reflective sadness and write sullen poetry. But before I could let out a saccharin sigh, all the BBQs we attended morphed into bonfires and instead of the lights going out, someone turned up the music and put more food on the table.

It seems that fall in all its glory is not a time of turning inward, saying farewell and writing poems about the shifting autumn sunlight setting low through my windowpane and the muted color of fall leaves reminding me of aged color photographs. Instead October’s a time to celebrate a brand new season and renew gratitude for where we all live. Never at any time or any place in our lives have we been so rich with this many great friends.

There is something to the quality of people that are here. Just because they may live a half a mile or more from their neighbor doesn’t mean they’re antisocial, on the contrary, they are more engaging than most. We know more of our neighbors that are several miles around us now than we ever did of those who lived right next door and across the street from us in California.

Getting together is part of the culture here, from those that have always been here to those who who’ve come later. People here are open and not afraid to walk up and say hello. Like how one neighbor described to us of a time he went to a BBQ and some one he never met walked up to him ready to shake hands and said, “I’m fixin to tell yu who I am!”.

At night while crossing the bridge down at the river I’ll often see a gigging party along the bank all outfitted with a generator, lights, stove to cook up their evenings catch that they’ll enjoy while sitting by a roaring fire. More fires, more camaraderie, whether deer camp, fish camp whatever, just pile up some wood there and lighter up!

I finally met up with some moonshine like I knew I would, 190 proof of no upscale taste.  I will dispel the myth that moonshine smokes when you pop the cork, it does not, neither does it burn like acid going down but the taste is why you throw it back and don’t sip it. It’s not nasty tasting, it’s just something you don’t want to savor long, like I said, you throw it back. I had 2 ½ shots and felt pretty “durn” smooth shortly thereafter. 2 more shots and I’m sure I would have created more regrets in my life that I simply don’t need anymore of. We had a good time but I’m one who really doesn’t need any alcohol or drugs to untie the knot to allow me to get up and dance and act like a fool, I can do that just fine on my own. But, I needed to try it just to see and say so.

Since I planted my tomatoes in containers this last year, I was able to pull the best one into the garage at night in hope of having fresh tomatoes into December or until I fail to bring it in one night.

 The rest of my garden is a sad and ghostly lot with dead corn stalks leaning on one another, vines withered and brown still wrapped on their poles and tomatoes all bent forward pulling on the twine holding them to the fence like dead men that were executed by a firing squad. When we get enough rain to soften the ground I’ll go in with a pitchfork and dig up the potatoes and yams buried somewhere in that graveyard.

Our walnut tree is loaded with nuts this year and with the winds of October, the walnuts have already started to lose their grip and come raining down. When one falls it hits another that hits another and so on until a ½ bushel comes cascading down giving a steady drum roll on the ground. Throw in a few chickens to the mix and you’ll understand how the story of Chicken Little was created. Chickens are such drama queens that come unglued at the slightest note. Have a nut fall on their noggins and indeed the sky is falling.

Our chickens have been producing at 100% capacity, 14 eggs from 14 hens a day. For what we don’t eat, we sell or trade. One neighbor we trade homemade bread for eggs, another for the use of their trash bin and she also takes the rest into town for us to sell at the Senior Center which helps pay the feed bill.

The bug tally this year was 2 tick bites and several ankles full on chiggers. I still think tick bites are worse than chiggers but most don’t agree. If you’re curious you’ll need to come on out next summer and see for yourself but I’m sure the experience is not something that will inspire poetry.

Fall is and always will be my favorite time of year and now with this new page in our lives turned there have been new reasons added. And though we’ve come to a place we’ve never been before, these new definitions fit like we were born and raised here. Yet in a way we were, after all, we are Americans too.

Published in: on November 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm  Comments (8)  

September I Remember

September is a transition month; it is both the end and the beginning. With a summer so strong and vigorous I thought for sure this time it would overcome the cold when winter came knocking. But then September arrived and summer began to surrender and drop to its knees. Autumn enters stage right and summer exits stage left, for a brief moment they both meet, shake hands and part.

The hummingbirds have begun migrating though they hardly finished their feeder hanging off the end of the porch. The fireflies are long gone and won’t appear again until next April or May. But the most telling sign of fall coming on is the great migration of good ol’ boys from the fishing aisle to the hunting aisle at the local Walmart. When I have questions about either hunting or fishing I can always find my answer on one of those aisles. Wait around long enough and one of those boys will come ambling up. When I ask if they know much about hunting or fishing and they say, “Not much, what’s your question?”, I know I have found my guru. It’s that mid-western modesty that holds them back from stepping up to the podium as an expert. But that’s what you find in these aisles and they’re always glad to help. Though I’ve learned a lot from these guys, I think I’ll always assume the position of a student until the end of my days, you get more willing teachers when you present yourself teachable. 

The harvest moon found us with a few friends on an evening float down the river. We put in about 9:30 and finished around midnight. The evening was warm enough to enjoy the frogs croaking while the moonlight danced on the water. That was a first for all of us and we agreed that moonlit floats would be added to our list of things to do next summer.

My daughter and I went digging for ginseng a couple weeks ago and pulled in a fair amount. There were Pawpaw trees in the same area too so we were able to add their fruit to our growing pile. Pawpaw fruit is shaped like an egg and is about the same size, give or take. It smells tropical and tastes tropical with the consistency of a banana. It’s so good I’m surprised not see it in the grocery stores.

I finally did get one last watermelon out of the garden and I also planted some lettuce, spinach and broccoli for the cooler days and nights. My peppers and tomatoes are the last hold outs still putting out their fruit as they quietly await death from the first freeze soon to come. I feel like a hospice worker checking in on them daily, fluffing their pillows, making sure they’re comfortable and wondering when that fateful day will arrive.

As I packed up my summer clothes in the box that held my winter, I put aside a pair of shorts for that one very warm day that maybe just maybe will appear one last time. I had nice tan legs this year and I’ve learned that the easiest way to make skinny legs look good is to give them a great tan. It sure beats hours in the gym.

Before we closed the door to summer we went to one last summer BBQ at the end of the month. The gentleman giving the mealtime prayer didn’t end with the standard and formal “amen” but instead he simply said, “I’ll talk to you later”. That’s pretty much how I feel about summer too.  

Published in: on October 7, 2010 at 10:15 am  Comments (3)