I walked among the buzzards at an estate sale today.
An estate sale is where a house filled with the relics of a life is picked over like road kill by vultures, tugging and pulling remnants of his memory off the skeleton and carting them off to cars.
Under marital duress, I joined the kettle of vultures who gathered well before the scheduled 9:30 a.m. viewing. Senior adults almost exclusively, none of whom needed anything being offered inside. All of us curious about what we’ll see, about how this man lived, what he’d considered important enough to collect, gather and keep through his final days.
Curious to see if anything in the house was a treasure his children didn’t know of, something we could “steal” for a few dollars and store in our own lockers for our children to offer in our future estate sale.
I chatted up other vultures, most of whom were in good humor, happy to spend a morning picking at the carcass of a deceased man none of us knew personally. We weren’t hungry, really. But if we found a morsel we’d happily chew on it.
And besides, in the cycle of nature – birth, life, death – weren’t we doing our part? Just like real vultures keep the highways clear of road kill carcasses?
I learned our guy was 95 and died after living in the house 30 years. His closets, cubbies and cupboards were filled as if he’d just stepped out for lunch, telling the house, “I’ll be right back.” But now, except for how the estate sale team had arranged and tagged everything, it stands as a cavernous crypt.
I wandered with the flock, poking, pecking and prodding. He loved Christmas music and books on history and architecture. His shirts were once expensive – but dammit, too large. The tools in his garage were well worn. His china cabinet held fine crystal too delicate for me even to want to examine.
It was the bathroom that arrested me. The sink counter was covered with personal care items that revealed an individual vanity, as would all of ours – how he cared for his teeth, his hair, his nails and skin.
Inside the tiled shower stood a collapsible walker, tight and forlorn against the wall. Available. Unused. The walker had wheels on the front two legs, so he could lift the back two legs and roll it along, dropping the back to the floor to rest or stand when he’d gotten to his destination in the house.
The walker – alone among all the mementos of a long life – stood in mute testimony to the infirmities at the end of a long life. And it moved me from carnivore to compassion. I left silently.
More than 150,000 people shuttle up crooked roads each year to White Top, VA, the apex of the Virginia Creeper Trail. From there, they ride rented bikes on a thrilling 17-mile descent beneath a forest canopy, cross a winding mountain stream over 47 trestles and bridges and arrive back to Damascus, VA.
I took my grandson, Colton, a few months shy of 11 years old, to ride the Creeper in September. But we weren’t going to shuttle to the top. We were going to ride up, then turn around and ride back down.
The Virginia Creeper follows the bed of a former railroad spur that carried a freight train uphill to White Top. Although the average grade is a manageable three percent, the heavy train creeped to the top, earning the nickname, Virginia Creeper. The trail is crushed gravel and cinders, rocky and often rutted from rainfall. The Appalachian Trail crosses it at one point, and riders are seldom out of sight or sound of a rushing stream.
Some adults suggested that surely I wasn’t going to make Colton ride UP the trail. “It’s 17 miles uphill,” they said. “He’s too young,” they said.
But his nickname is Wolf Cub, he climbs trees barefooted, he loves his bike and he loves a challenge. I knew that when he succeeded, the memory of his achievement would stick with him forever and verify in the future that yes, he can do more than people expect of him.
The generation of kids of which Colton is a part is not particularly resilient. Part of the reason is that when they say, “I can’t,” or even “I don’t want to,” hovering parents who want to spare their kids any stress too willingly say, “OK.” In so doing, they strip their kids of opportunities to prove to themselves just what they can achieve, to see a challenge and overcome it.
Of course, that means we have to be willing to risk failure – a risk from which parents wrongly strive to protect their kids. Consequently, when the kids run into their first real life problem where crying won’t summon a helicopter parent and they don’t get a participation ribbon, they can’t bounce back.
Yes, they might fall out of that tree, but successfully climbing it builds confidence, strength, resilience.
Like any 10-year-old, Colton ignored my admonition to ride slow and steady as we started up the hill. He punched it hard, pulled wheelies, jumped every rock and root, raced ahead, drifted back then raced ahead again. We stopped for pictures and he finished his water bottle and asked how far we’d come. “Three miles,” I said.
Downhill riders rolled toward us in waves, disembarking from shuttle vans at the top. Some were stopped to enjoy the scenery and they applauded Colton when they saw him riding up. That pumped him up, but even a 10-year-old can’t live on compliments alone.
At 14 miles there’s a little store called Green Cove Station that once was the last depot on the original Creeper line. Now volunteers sell refreshments and souvenirs there to support rangers on Mount Rogers. A candy bar and Gatorade reinvigorated Colton, along with the news that we were just three miles from the end, and he took off again. By now, even I was starting to yearn for the top.
When we rounded the last turn and arrived at an anti-climactic flat spot with a shed and shelter, Colton flopped onto his back like he’d never straddle his saddle again. But, we needed to get back down and after securing photographic evidence of our achievement, we took off.
Two miles down, my back tire went BANG. Fifteen miles from the bottom, and of course, no spare in my seat bag – a huge oversight. I’m racking my brain trying to think of how to get off the mountain when Colton suggests Green Cove Station might have an inner tube.
I gave him some money and he took off down the hill, empowered with a mission. In the meantime, I’m racking my brain to think of what to do if there is no tube. But in due time, Colton, once too weary to go another minute, is riding back up the hill in triumph, wearing a smile and waving a tire pump like it was a Sioux warrior lance.
The store had a tube, I had tire tools, Colton thought to bring the pump and we were back on our way toward ice cream.
I asked Colton later if there was any point on the ride up when he considered quitting, just turning around and coasting back down the hill. “At 11 miles,” he said. His butt was sore because he didn’t wear his biking shorts, his water was gone and six more miles seemed an impossibly hard distance.
But he didn’t quit.
And when we faced a distinctly precarious position with a flat tire, 15 miles from our destination, it was Colton who suggested the Green Cove Station might have a tube and he could ride down there and find out. Not every person, let alone a 10-year-old, has the intuitive sense to conjure a solution, rather than be paralyzed by the problem.
Lots of people can be directed on how to fix a problem. Far fewer have the intuitive ability to imagine the solution even as they survey the circumstance.
If we hadn’t attempted the ride, and taken the risk, if it hadn’t been tough, if we hadn’t had a problem, Colton might not have learned about his reservoir of resilience for a long time.
Don’t be reckless, but for goodness sake, give your kids a chance to fail to prove to you and to themselves that they can be lions.
One of the fun TV shows of the previous decade was “Dirty Jobs,” in which host Mike Rowe identified some of the most unappealing, but essential, tasks in the country, and then – with the supervision of experts – did them.
Just a few of those jobs included animal rendering, artificial insemination, diaper cleaning, goose down plucking, mattress recycling and spider venom milking.
Growing up in farm country Wisconsin I was tasked with many dirty jobs: dairy barn gutter scooping, manure spreading, horse stall cleaning, pig feeding, garbage dumping, stone picking, chicken plucking, etc. But my dirtiest job ever was picking sweet corn for the local canning company.
I’d driven a large combine to harvest peas before, and that was dirty enough. Long tines on my combine scooping tangled vines into the massive drum on wheels behind me. Inside the drum was a slightly smaller drum made of nylon screens, which turned one direction. A wooden beam with paddles rotating quickly in the opposite direction beat the vines senseless.
The brutal action burst the pea pods and the fresh, round peas tossed about in the melee until they fell through the screens and onto a conveyer belt, on which they were carried up to a bucket, while the vine trash fell out the back end.
But nothing was dirtier than picking sweet corn.
A corn picker works like this: Metal “heads” alongside the tractor work like funnels to guide rows of tall standing corn stalks between two ribbed, solid steel rods that spin rapidly toward each other. The ribs interlock like gears so there is no space between them and they grab the tough stalks and yank them down through a narrow opening, where another band of steel – called a cutting bar – snaps off the cobs.
The cobs drop into an auger that funnels them up the elevator behind the tractor which drops them into a two-wheeled wagon. That wagon rises on hydraulic hoists so it can dump four tons of corn into a waiting truck. That’s 8,000 pounds of corn.
Because the elevator would swing away from the wagon when we turned around at the end of the field, we’d have to shut it off until the wagon was directly behind us again when we completed the turn. Sometimes, we’d forget to turn the elevator back on, but the augers kept turning and would grind the corn that backed up into mush. We called that “creaming a batch.”
We harvested the corn at its prime, those hours the kernels are tender and sweet, and when fuzzy tassels at the top of the stalks are laden with pollen. These tassels sit atop the stalks, 7-8 feet above the ground, the same height as my head when I’m driving through the rows, jerking the stalks violently down through the rollers, shaking the pollen laden tassels over my head – all day long. This is July and August in Wisconsin, the weeks of heat and humidity.
So, the pollen is sticking to my sweaty skin, along with a colony of tiny bugs, no bigger than a speck of dirt, which bite like scorpions. If I was lucky enough to spot them before they bit, I’d just squish them in my shirt or pinch them between my fingers.
Sometimes, during a dry season, the corn cobs would be low on the stalk and we’d have to lower the picker head to capture them. But that put the rollers low enough to accidently wind tightly around weeds and grind to a halt.
That’s when I’d have to raise the heads and crawl on my back under them, dirt sliding under my collar, to slash at the weeds with my pocket knife, disentangling them from the rollers, while bugs crawled up my shirt and corn juice dripped in my eyes.
But hey, what wouldn’t you do for a buck eighty an hour?
The last thing we did each night before leaving the fields as darkness descended, was to pick our buckets full so at 6 a.m. the following morning, the trucks would have a ready load to cart to the canning factory.
So, each morning we’d dump our 8,000 pounds of corn into a truck, steam rising with the pungent scent of boiled corn left too long in the pot so the marketing men could advertise “fresh from the field to your table.”
A word of advice learned at the 6 a.m. classroom: never buy creamed corn.
This morning I saw the most beautiful fox ever. Larger than typical, with bright red fur, tail long and bushy, not matted by thorns. It looked fresh from a spa: fluffed, puffed, tufted, shampooed and blow dried. Eyes intense, intelligent, confident and controlled. Lithe, nimbly athletic, light of foot like a dancer.
And I wanted to kill it.
Coming back from her sunrise walk, my wife heard the terrorized shrieking of chickens in the open range pasture just behind the cottage where we stay on my son’s property. She stepped quickly to the pasture where she saw a fox with a chicken in its jaws. When she shouted and clapped, the fox sprinted away. The chicken didn’t.
As Sue Ellen told me what happened, she asked what to do with the carcass. “Make nuggets” seemed an inappropriate suggestion.
Before we could fully get our minds around what had just happened, we heard the terrified squawking again. I rushed to the door and this time I saw the fox…with another chicken in its mouth. I threw open the door and for an instant was shocked silent by the fox’s beauty.
But my anger at its audacity quickly overcame my admiration and I stepped out the door and shouted. It understood my threat and I was pleased to see it run away, leaping the fence as if the rails were a padded obstacle in tumbling class.
I grabbed my shotgun and followed the fox’s trail, knowing it would never show its head to me while I stumbled and tripped through its habitat. I felt better somehow, though, knowing I was “doing” something, at least dropping some “man scent” around so the fox would know who it was messin’ with.
The second chicken was still breathing, its legs twitching, eyes registering a resigned acceptance of fate. I dispatched it, then tossed it into the garden while I went to get a shovel.
My seven-year-old granddaughter watched wide eyed the entire proceedings, dressed in the “farmer girl” overalls we’d given her for an early Christmas present the day before.
Uncowed, she helped me dig a hole, her sudden awareness of the life cycle presenting her a sad, but not devastating new insight.
The life cycle as presented on a National Geographic special sees the fastest lion chasing down the slowest antelope, and it all seems natural and normal, almost pristine, except for the dust. Eating a hamburger never makes me think of the feed lot on which the donor was raised.
Yet, somehow, because we fed and cared for these chickens, tucked them in at night and gave them special treats from our vegetable shavings, it became a personal insult.
Yes, they’re free range and hawks circle constantly overhead. Yes, the fox has to eat and yes, the prey/predator cycle is natural. But, the fox invaded my space with impunity, looking at me as if I was an inconvenient interruption at his meal, like a waiter who informed him he had an urgent phone call and he had to leave the cordon bleu to cool.
It was a sad morning, but only a prelude.
Worse, we came home after dark that night and I went out to check on the chickens, to make sure they had put themselves up in the coop, where safety lay behind a closed door. I looked inside and there was not a single chicken in the coop.
With a sickening dread, I cast my light over the field and the beam fell on multiple carcasses, each with the head and neck gone. The goats huddled in their own shed, witness to the horror. I followed my flashlight beam around the pasture, accounting for all the chickens but one.
I found her in the far corner, shaken and shivering. She didn’t protest a bit when I picked her up and put her in the coop, behind closed doors. I don’t know what killed the chickens and I don’t know how this one survived.
Pardon me for a moment, while I pull the hook out of my cheek. Ahhh, there.
The tractor had no good place to store my cold drink cup and I forgot about it sitting on the floorboard while I brush hogged the pasture last week. Suddenly I heard a clunk behind me that rang an octave lower than the screech of hitting a stone hidden in the thick, tangled mass of long grass. And, it was an octave higher than when I ran the mower over a concealed limb deposited in the same tangle by the floods of Hurricane Ida.
I looked back quickly to see a gray metal mass skittering across the mowed grass, having been kicked out by one or more of the nine blades spinning beneath the mower deck. My cup. Drat.
My wife has for the past year been making what she calls fauxbucha – a homemade kombucha…which for her is a vinegar, cayenne, honey and ginger drink that does wonders for our digestive systems and cures a host of ailments: among them constipation, fungus, the national debt and likely the heartbreak of psoriasis.
I drink at least one glass of it a day – over ice from my cold drink cup – which is now a mangled tangle of cheap Chinese metal laying in the field.
I’m prone to make myself suffer the consequences of my stupidity, so I wasn’t going to rush out and replace the cup. But Sue Ellen knew I wouldn’t be as faithful in consuming her magic elixir if I didn’t have a cup to take with me. So, the hunt.
We drove to the Walmarts, where she had purchased the original doomed chalice. But, we could not find an exact Walmart brand replacement. Instead, there was a similar Coleman cup for twice the price, or, a Walmart brand cup with a different lid.
You might not think the lid makes much of a difference. But, the patriarch of our family is prone to spills and the cup I lost had a magnetic, snap closure over the opening where the drink came out. This one just had a hole. It cost less than the original, but…the lid had just a hole. A juggle or jostle would splatter the drink over my jeans, or Sunday-go-to-meetin’ shirt.
About to give up, Sue Ellen spotted a display of snap close lids…made specifically for the cup I wanted – the very lid the original cup had featured. Now sold separately, for just $2.74. In what world would a product’s favored feature be removed and then offered as an option at additional expense? Oh, yeah, in the American marketing world.
I knew I was had. I felt like a fish eying a dangling worm, knowing a hook lurked inside, but too hungry to care. I resented my hunger. I resented the marketing ploy to put undesirable lids on the cup and then charge extra for the lid I wanted.
But, I mentally added the $6.94 for the cup with the unacceptable lid, and the $2.74 for the lid that would make the cup acceptable, and found the $9.68 total still to be six dollars less than any other option and I bit the hook.
Confession up front: before my 50th high school class reunion in June I looked over my year book to reacquaint myself with the names – and cherubic faces – of those from my class who might appear.
Having delivered our graduates’ speech as valedictorian of our 53-member class five decades earlier, I was asked to “say a few words” on this very convivial night, decades past the gateway to a dream that seemed to open to us in 1971. We’re also decades past having to color our palette of life, careers, marriages, successes or failures in hues that confirmed that we’d “made it.”
So, I talked about “making it,” and memories.
Members of our class were born in 1952 or 1953. I mentioned notable characters born in those years, including Vladimir Putin, Patrick Swayze, Liam Neeson, George Strait, Floyd Mayweather, Mr. T and Roseanne Barr, Hulk Hogan, Cyndi Lauper, Pierce Brosnan and Tim Allen.
We remember these politicians and entertainers because in our minds and in our culture, they “made it.” They are rich and famous, at the top of their respective fields. Say their names and people know who you are talking about.
“Did we make it?” I asked. “Are we making it?”
I was pleased to hear an immediate “Darned right,” from Jerry, our star athlete who was an all-conference football player in college and who has concluded his career in insurance, primarily among farmers in two counties.
No matter what we think “making it” means, I know we all have a different perspective on that than we did 50 years ago – or even 20 years ago. Success? Riches? Fame? Security? Family? Love? Inventions?
Except for seven months, I’ve never lived closer than 600 miles from either my parents or my in-laws. My quest to “make it” took me from state to state. I’ve lived twice in Texas, twice in Oklahoma, twice in Colorado, in Tennessee and now North Carolina. My daughter was six when we moved to North Carolina and North Carolina was her fourth state to live in.
I came home annually to visit – and as long as my dad lived, Rio was always “home.” For the longest time, I thought “making it” meant anything away from Rio, population 788. My dad always told me Rio’s population stayed at 788 because any time a young woman had a baby, an older man left town.
Looking across the room I saw vibrant senior adults, many of whom never left the area, and all of whom have “made it.” They stayed, invested themselves, coached the local teams, served on the school board, nurtured the children of other families, and offered their voices of wisdom among their peers. They’ve been important to many lives.
Reunions are the fertile soil in which the seeds of memory planted much earlier blossom and flower. We harvested those blooms at our 50th.
We remember moments, rather than days, as philosopher Cesare Pavese said. We all have memories of high school. Some we share, others are unique because none of us lived the same life. And the best part of those remembered moments are the people we shared them with.
Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner said, “When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me.”
And we want to be known. And remembered. Someone has said you die twice: first, when your heart stops and you’re buried. The second time you die is the last time someone says your name… whether it’s a year, a decade, or a century.
So, I named the seven members of our class who are with us no longer. They remain alive in our memories.
Then we had fun recalling not only the names of our teachers, but some of their idiosyncrasies: the teacher/coaches who helped athletes with grades; the biology professor we called Bernard the Monk because of his curly bowl haircut and demeanor; the English teacher who the girls always felt was peeking up their skirts.
Gas was only 33 cents a gallon at Bleigh’s service station during high school. I’d drive across town to the Farmer’s Union Co-op if it was 32 cents there. Of course, “across town” was less than a mile, with one stop sign.
Janis Joplin was singing “Me and Bobby McGee” and “The French Connection” competed with “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Dirty Harry” for your $1.50 movie admission.
Living in the south now, I told the class every region has its rednecks, but southerners are special. You know you’re a redneck in the south when you take your dog for a walk and you both use the same tree. Or, when grandma’s wish list includes ammo. Or when you think “The Nutcracker” is something you do off the high dive.
One anomaly I noticed was that not a single person in the room was bald. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, male pattern baldness at some level affects more than 50 percent of all men. It stands to reason that someone would be bereft of hair.
Perhaps humorist Garrison Keillor’s observation of his little hometown of Lake Wobegon – the model of which easily could be Rio, WI – is right. There, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
For all of you who are having reunions and special functions, blessings on every classmate and friend who has “made it” this far. May you have many more years to be a positive influence in your children – who always need their parents – and their children, who more desperately need the positive influence of grandparents now than ever before.
These are the people of our lives, thrust together by time and circumstance, calling up the memories created by moments together. I’m grateful for them.
My grandkids are of the age where they want to know the cost of everything.“How much did you pay for that, Papa?”They’re making a few bucks and are probably calculating subconsciously how many weeds they’d have to pull to earn enough to buy whatever “that” is.
If we go out to eat, they scan the menu for cost – not that they buy low to save me some money, but they like to know how much Papa is willing to pay to feed them!
“Can I have sprinkles, and whipped cream, and two scoops?” says the clan when not considering the cost of their ice cream treat!
My youngest local grandchild, CJ, suggested this week that I could buy two Tesla automobiles. “My parents say they could afford one, and you have more money than they do, so you could buy two.”
CJ and his siblings are in a stage where they want at least one of everything they see. Whether it’s a car, truck, gun, bicycle, house, shoes, computer, camera, watch, lawn mower or the crumbs from a chocolate chip cookie left on the counter, they declare “I want that.”
To their great credit, their parents, Erin and Benji, don’t fend off the wish whines by saying, “We can’t afford it.” That’s the handy, but shallow, phrase I employed when my kids leaned over the same deep well of wishing.
The truth is, then as now, we could afford some of the shiny baubles the kids see and agitate for, but we’re not going to buy them for a variety of reasons. Primarily, we know the sparkling object that captures their attention today will be fish wrap tomorrow. They don’t need it. It’s not a priority, even if we could afford it. It’s not healthy, or good for you.
I used “We can’t afford it” because it was simple, and even a kid can understand it. It quickly ended most begging and whining. But, I realize now, it also ended rational discussion about needs versus wants, cost versus value. And, it left the impression on their young minds that we were poor.
But Erin, a school teacher, and Benji, a fireman, don’t blow off their kids’ accumulation fantasies like that. For some things, they agree and say, “That would be nice, but it’s not in the budget now.”
Or, “We could afford to get that, but it’s not a priority. We have other things that are more important.” They know that today’s “gotta have it now” item will have a new identity tomorrow.
I remember when I learned my dad made the astounding figure of $250 a week. It was the mid-1960s and I was with him after hours at the local Farmer’s Union Cooperative, where he managed the store. Trying to comprehend the magnitude of that dramatic weekly windfall made me wonder why I always felt we lived marginally.
“That’s $50 a DAY,” I exclaimed. “What in the world do you do with all that money?”
While I remember that moment clearly, I also remember it as a rare instance in which dad appeared upset. He didn’t yell, but his jaw was set as he realized for the first time I had no clue about money and the cost of living.
Rather than explain in detail why $250 a week, with four kids at home, really wasn’t that much money, he mumbled something about my failure to understand currently, “But you’ll learn.”
With seven grandchildren – like the computer network in the Terminator movie – becoming “self-aware,” I’m having plenty of opportunity to rationalize just how much to share about the cost of things, how much to help them fund their own little projects, how easy or hard to make it on them to achieve their goals of saving for “this” or “that.”
Ultimately though, my primary role is not to help them understand the cost of things, but to support their parents in guiding them to understand their value. Some things that carry a great cost, have little value. Some things available for small cost have great value.
All future is uncertain and I don’t “worry” about what it holds. I know that any child who learns the value of things will have no problem in bearing their cost.
I was first exposed to Pickleball, four years ago when I stood in line at a local school to vote. Through windows into the gymnasium, I saw some old folks whacking a plastic ball over a net using an oversized ping pong paddle.
I asked someone what those white-haired men and women were doing, and was told they were playing Pickleball. Odd name. Fun game.
Pickleball, which advocates claim is America’s fastest growing sport, is like a ping pong game in which you get to run on the table! Given the rate of Pickleball court construction, and tennis court conversions, they may be right.
It’s played on a downsized tennis court, the same as that for badminton, and the ball is like your childhood whiffle ball. The paddle is hard, solid plastic, double the size of a ping pong paddle.
Last winter on vacation in Florida, my buddy and I watched Pickleballers and agreed it looked like fun, even if not quite as athletic an endeavor as we considered appropriate for us. We agreed we’d continue to play singles tennis until age 70, then doubles tennis until age 80, and then, well…Pickleball.
In preparation for our January vacation this year, I bought a couple cans of tennis balls, packed my rackets, and threw in a Pickleball paddle in case we wanted to piddle around with that.
My tennis rackets were never unpacked and we played Pickleball two hours a day. What a blast!
While the game is a blast, my buddy and I discovered the Pickleball community is the best part of the game. Just novices, we grabbed our paddles and were walking toward a court to figure out the game together when we saw a bunch of players already on another court. We simply asked if we could join them and they welcomed us immediately.
If you have any eye-hand coordination and are athletic at all, particularly if you’ve played tennis, you can pick up Pickleball quickly, which is one of its attractions. And the characteristics of the game and equipment are a skills equalizer. We played with folks a decade older and 30 years younger.
Pickleball has its own set of quirky rules and score keeping but the players patiently guided us through some initial games. I’ll not get into “the kitchen.”
In this community, bad shots are rarely criticized, or even commented upon, unless it’s, “That’s the right idea,” or “Good try,” or “Darn wind.” Good shots are complimented – by both partner and opponent – and if you manage to hit one, you’ll feel like a million bucks.
After a rally of 10-12 quick shots, both sides appreciate the “good point” whether they won or lost it. As one player said, “No one remembers who won the last game.” Players switch partners and play another game. Suddenly you’re playing against a person you just played with, and it’s all good.
If you’re waiting for your turn on the court, you volunteer to gather up the balls lining the fence that are out of play.
The “poc, poc, poc” of a plastic ball caroming off a solid, composite paddle is a different sound from the “thunk” of a tennis ball off a strung racket. The Pickleball ball doesn’t bounce as much, which gives you an extra step to get to it. A windy day makes it even more interesting, as the ball is light, and it provides everyone a built-in excuse for a shot that flies awry.
Like the promoters say, the game is fun, fast and friendly. Leagues pop up everywhere and I’ll bet you have at least one in your community. If not, just wander by the once-seldom-used tennis courts and listen for the “poc, poc, poc” of a whiffle ball. Hang on the fence looking like a hungry child and you’re almost guaranteed to be welcomed in to play
Would that all life’s interactions could be so pleasant.
I grew up in Wisconsin, which to many, means i shoveled snow through April. It wasn’t that bad, as typically by April the spring sun cleared the roads and driveways, without benefit of shovels.
I live in the mid-south now but still keep track of the Wisconsin weather because it feeds my smug, self-congratulatory perception that i was smart enough to move away. In fact, I spend a couple of the coldest months in Florida, where my emotions waver between guilt that i’m more concerned with sunburn than frostbite, and joy that i’m at the beach with sand between my toes, instead of in Wisconsin with snow up my nose.
Not really, there’s no wavering. I’m glad to be at the beach, especially when previewing next week’s weather at my hometown. Yes, next week it is predicted to be 17 degrees BELOW zero. If you go out in that cold, which you shouldn’t, your nose hairs will freeze solid and break off when you feel your face to see if your nose is still there. Any colder and your nose itself would break off.
The last time I was in Wisconsin for Christmas, it was 13 degrees below zero — which is WHY that’s the last time i was home for Christmas. We traveled there from Oklahoma with three little kids, who couldn’t wait to get outside and play in the snow. We spent 30 minutes wrapping them up tighter than cellophane around last night’s lutefisk.
We pushed them out the door and barely got it closed behind them when they were back, whimpering to be let in.
But, the native Scandahoovians in Wisconsin are a hardy lot and they cope with the frigid temps by changing their greeting from “Ya think it’ll rain before the hay is in?” to “Cold enough fer ya?” When it gets that cold, some of them close their windows.
Growing up there, I once endured a week of minus-50 degree windchill. Dad’s job at the time was to deliver gasoline and home heating fuel to houses and farms in a four-county area. The cold snap burned fuel faster than normal, so people were running out way ahead of schedule. Dad burned the midnight oil all week and was exhausted every night.
Starting his truck in the mornings was an adventure, and critical for the people running out of heat. He kept the truck in good shape so the engine actually cranked, but the screeching and howling it made to turn over played like the soundtrack of a Stephen King horror flick when the cats fell into the industrial fan.
At least with temperatures like that, it’s too cold to snow. The moisture evaporates before it hits the ground. You’ve heard of “freeze dried” goods? Before we had an electric dryer, we’d use that method for our bedding.
I’d shovel a path through the snow to mom’s clothesline so she could hang the sheets. Later, she’d carry the sheets into the house, handling them like a section of sheetrock.. She’d set them against a wall, and after a few minutes in the warm house, they’d wilt into a cotton puddle, all dry and smelling fresh.
Some winters had less cold and more snow. When snowplows filled ditches to the brim, massive snow blowers would spray the snow higher and higher until in some places, the mounds were high enough to create snow tunnels.
This made driving quite dangerous, as traffic signs were covered and we couldn’t see to the left and right. Locals knew to approach intersections very cautiously, in case those unfamiliar with the roads were out on them when they should have been home shoveling their sidewalks.
When I first moved to the south, mom told me, “You’ll miss the snow.” I asked her to send me a picture.
It was Oct. 13, 1975 and I had two calls to make from my two-room apartment in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The first, was to Bob Carver in Colorado Springs. His time zone was an hour earlier than mine, but if I woke him up, I didn’t care.
“Bob, this is Norman Jameson.”
“I’m calling for your blessing because I want to marry your daughter.”
That’s not as odd a question as it might seem. Bob had four beautiful daughters. I had grown quite close to the eldest, Sue Ellen, when we both were volunteers at a Baptist mission in Espanola, NM a year earlier. But then we went our separate ways, me to Oklahoma Baptist University to finish a college career interrupted by the Army. Sue Ellen back home to live and work. Our contact was infrequent.
In the meantime, Bob’s second daughter, Leslie, had come to OBU as a student, more in pursuit of my roommate, Loren, than of a degree. But, she was there, and Sue Ellen wasn’t and Bob hadn’t yet learned of the sudden, unexpected reunion that I had with Sue Ellen the Columbus Day weekend she came to “visit Leslie.”
So, when he asked, “Which one?” the question was legit. For all he knew, Leslie and I were dating. But, my answer was, “Sue Ellen.”
“Do you love her?”
“Ok then.” I think he was anxious to get back to sleep.
My second call was to Sue Ellen. I asked her over the phone to marry me and she agreed. We saw each other at Thanksgiving in Colorado. We married at Christmas in New Mexico. In that two months, Sue Ellen basically did all the planning and sewed her dress and her bridesmaids’ dresses.
Army buddies from Texas and New Jersey stood up with me. My parents from Wisconsin met Sue Ellen for the first time when they came to the wedding. I don’t think mom fully believed I was getting married until she met Sue Ellen. Once she did, mom would have disowned and dismembered me if I had been fool enough to let her go again.
That was 45 years ago. December 27. Between semesters at OBU. Sue Ellen worked at a local bank to cover groceries and our $65 a month apartment rent. I edited the college paper and paid tuition with the GI Bill.
A year later, she loaded the U-Haul while I made my senior marketing presentation to a local bank, then we drove into the night to Colorado Springs where I had an outside hope of landing a reporter’s job at the Gazette-Telegraph.
We’ve made a lot of interstate moves for work ever since, each one supposedly improving our lot, moving from the newspaper to Nashville, TN where I started a career working mostly for Baptist entities. From Nashville to Texas for seminary, traveling now with two little ones. I didn’t know until we arrived in separate vehicles that Sue Ellen had cried all the way to Texas.
Seminary was the most difficult time of our marriage. Working fulltime and going to school full-time. Leaving for the library at night with my son tugging at my leg. Discovering we had different goals for when we were finished.
One afternoon while agonizing in the combination porch-guest room-laundry room-study of our tiny rent house I cried out to the Lord for clarity of purpose and future. I heard clearly as if God had texted directly to my brain, “Stay in religious journalism.” Within 48 hours the editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger showed up out of the blue and asked me to join his staff. I could finish my seminary degree by extension classes at my alma mater, OBU.
So, it was back to Oklahoma before the fundamentalist effluvium seeped into that state convention and made it untenable for anyone who possessed a contrary thought. We “told” God not to present a professional opportunity that He didn’t want me to take, because I was grabbing the first one that would carry me out of Oklahoma.
Then Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina called, and we crossed the Mississippi with three children. Our daughter was six and North Carolina was her fourth state. We figured to stay two or three years and make our way back west. That was 33 years ago.
We’re in our fourth North Carolina city, or sixth North Carolina house and am retired from my seventh North Carolina job.
I say all that to say Happy 45th Anniversary to the bride of my youth who has followed me, encouraged me, supported me, bore our children and taught them how to live, provided incredibly valuable insight and wisdom, sacrificed her own dreams for those of her family and laughed with me to keep me from crying. She’s been a rock, always trusting in the hand of God on our lives, and in me. She makes me a better man.
And she no longer answers her phone to an unidentified caller.