Point of No Return

“The point of no return” is often used to describe the moment in time when, upon reaching it, there is absolutely no way to stop or reverse what has been done.  Here is a true story that illustrates the importance of that moment.  It came from a seminar that I attended and involves the speaker’s dog…..

The person speaking had a family dog that totally and in every way loved its freedom to run outdoors.  They had a fenced-in back yard in a semi-rural suburb, but this dog always seemed to find a way over a certain part of the fence to its freedom beyond.  It always waited until the family left in their car and no one was around.  It would wander around the neighborhood, saying hi to all the other dogs and lesser life forms (also known as cats) and eventually come back around to its own house again.

This family realized that they had to do something to try to keep this dog within the limits of the back yard (which was a rather large one at that).  So they decided to get an invisible fence.  This is an electric fence that’s buried just below the surface of the yard.  The dog wears a special collar that picks up a signal the fence emits from below the ground.  This signal transfers into an electric shock that the dog feels around its neck.  The closer the dog gets to the fence, the stronger the signal that is received in the collar.

This might sound cruel at first, but there’s something important to understand about this.   When the dog’s collar first picks up the signal, the shock is light enough to just warn the dog that it’s getting too close to a boundary.  If the dog continues to walk closer to the fence, though, the shock becomes stronger until it’s just too much for the dog to take.  (Certainly not a point of no return, but probably in the ball park.)  This produces a nice brown streak across the yard as the dog suddenly repents of its actions and runs back from whence it came (besides the brown streak, you also see the dog).

Once the invisible fence was in and the dog had been trained on it for a while,  the family decided they would try leaving again and see what would happen.  They did so and came home to find their dog greeting them at the front of the house!  This happened quite a few times and became the unanswerable question.  Eventually, they came up with an idea to see how this dog was getting out of the back yard.

They made it very evident to the dog that they were leaving for a while.  Once they had driven out of sight of the house, however, they quickly circled back around and parked where the dog couldn’t see them, but they could see the dog in the back yard.  They were just in time to see the incredible actions of their family pet.

The dog was facing its favorite spot where it used to jump over the fence.  It backed up as far as it could and gave every indication that it was psyching itself up for something.  But what?  Suddenly, the dog started running towards the invisible fence!  As it got within shocking range, it started to yelp at the shocks it was getting on its neck.  But, incredibly, the dog ran even faster towards the fence!  It had reached the point of no return!  As the shocks became more intense, the yelps coming from the dog grew in volume to match.  But within seconds, the dog had crossed the buried fence and was free once again!

What can be learned from this dog’s actions?  Well, the dog wanted something bad enough that it was willing to endure whatever it had to to get it.  So what about you?  Is there something you want bad enough that you’re willing to cross the point of no return and endure whatever you need to to get it?  Your Big Dream?  A risk you might be scared to take?  A promotion at work and the unknowns of new territory that would bring?

If a dog is willing to cross the point of no return for its freedom to run around, what’s holding you back from what you really want to do?  Endure the pain, the discomfort and anything else that may arise.  It’ll be worth it in the end!

One more thing, in case you were wondering.  If memory serves me correctly, that family decided to put the old fence back up and may have used both as a deterrent to the dog’s escapades.

The Grape-Nuts Factor

Have you heard of a breakfast cereal called Grape-Nuts?  Ever eaten it?  Whether you have or not, there is a story about this cold cereal that will warm you right up!

As kids growing up, the majority of our breakfasts involved eating cold cereals (the unceremonious act of pouring cold milk over dried cereal).  Of these, we were rarely allowed the unspoken right that should be given to all children everywhere:  The right to consume “sugar cereals”. These consisted of cereals like Frosted Flakes, Honeycomb, Fruit Loops and Sugar Corn Pops. That, of course, meant that the “healthy cereals” like Cheerios, Mini-Wheats and Grape-Nuts were always in the cupboard.  Most people are familiar with Cheerios and Mini-Wheats but maybe not so much with Grape-Nuts.  Grape-Nuts is a wheat-and-barley cereal that is shaped into very small pieces that look like grape seeds and comes in a fairly small box.  A little goes a long way (something important to note for later).

If you’ve been with me any length of time, you’ve already become familiar with Rick.  If you haven’t, you really should.  It would be worth your time and laughter to do so.  He was my best friend in high school and we are still in contact after all these years.  Why am I suddenly telling you about him instead of cereal?  Well…..

As you may know from previous stories, our family cabin is on Carp Lake in northern Michigan.  (If you haven’t been able to visit northern Michigan, you really need to go!  It’s absolutely beautiful up there.)  We usually went up to the cabin twice during the summer months.  Now, it just so happens that it was these family trips to the cabin that provided a special privilege:  My brother and I were each allowed to pick out our very own box of whatever sugar cereal we wanted.  It was like Christmas in July!  We’d spend the whole time Mom was shopping in the grocery store picking out which two cereals we were going to pillage.  And never did we pick out the same one!  No sir, we knew better than that.  If we each got a different one, we both knew that we were guaranteed at least one bowl of each other’s cereal to be able to “taste test” and enjoy our spoils together.

Well, it was on one of these trips to the cabin that I was able to bring Rick with us.  We shared our treasured cereals with him, but Mom had also brought along the healthy choices.  On this trip, that meant Grape-Nuts and Cheerios.  My brother and I weren’t touching either one, but Rick had never had Grape-Nuts before.  On one particular morning, he decided to try them.

(You should know that the go-to bowls for cereal at the cabin were these old porcelain bowls that were deep enough to house a generous amount of whatever you poured into them.  You should also know that it was an unspoken rule in our household that whatever you serve yourself, you eat.)

My Dad was sitting in the cabin’s kitchen with us as Rick began to pour himself a big bowl of these cute little nuggets of goodness.  We all watched as Rick filled his bowl well over half-way with Grape-Nuts.  The more he poured, the bigger my eyes got.  Then Dad spoke up and told him that he wouldn’t need that much cereal and really ought to pour some back into the box.  There was a great camaraderie between Rick and my Dad.  But that didn’t stop Rick from insisting that he was fine and could easily polish off this bowl of Grape-Nuts.  My Dad then made sure that Rick was aware of our “You pour/You eat” policy and promptly bet him that he couldn’t finish the bowl.  And so it begins…..

My brother and I ate our sugared treasures as we watched Rick dig into his bowl of Grape-Nuts spoonful after spoonful.  As he did so, he would have to periodically pour more milk into the cereal.  He was discovering that those little nuggets of goodness had soaked up all the milk and were expanding into larger pebbles of sogginess.  It was like they were multiplying.  He wasn’t making any headway at all.  In the meantime, we had all finished our breakfasts and were now contentedly sitting back and enjoying the scene that was playing out before us.

Eventually, Rick looked at the soggy brown nastiness that still remained in his bowl.  He heaved a heavy sigh as he leaned back in his chair, his belly pooched out like a pregnant cow.  His eyes were glazed over as he slurred through his speech that he couldn’t handle anymore Grape-Nuts.  Dad had won the bet!  I don’t remember what he had bet Rick–whatever it was, though, it was quickly forgotten in the “aftermirth” of watching Rick suffer through the rest of the day with a bloated belly and enough gas to light up the Carp Lake community for the next two years.

That Christmas, Dad found Rick a very touching gift.  You know those huge family-sized boxes of Cheerios at the store?  Sam’s Club had boxes of Grape-Nuts for sale that were only slightly smaller than that.   Dad bought one just for Rick to call his own.  I don’t know that Rick saw the same thoughtfulness in the gift that Dad did.  I know he didn’t the following Christmas when I got him the same gift.

Some people just don’t appreciate meaningful things….

The Invisible Egg

It’s that time of year when many people color an egg or two for Easter.  Well, I remember one Easter in particular that had a very elusive egg that no one could find.

Easter every year was always held at Grandma & Grandpa’s house.  The whole family would gather and enjoy some great food and an inevitable game of progressive rummy with the adults.  Everything from ham to mashed potatoes to succotash was there, including homemade pies and Schwann’s ice cream for dessert.  (There are apparently very few people who like succotash in this world; my grandma and myself were two of them.)  It was a time us kids always knew we’d be seeing all of the cousins.  Well, I have a cousin named Erik who is about four years older than I am.  This particular year, Erik helped Grandma color eggs for all of us younger kids to find.  Most of those eggs were brightly colored and relatively easy to locate.  But one particular egg Erik decided to do something special with.

My grandma had a small plant terrarium in her living room (similar to the picture above but with taller plants in it).  It had a variety of colors in both the gravel and the plants that it contained.  Erik decided that he needed to color a camouflaged egg to blend in with the plants and gravel in the terrarium.  Us younger cousins were told that if we found this “camo egg” we would get a significant cash reward.  If memory serves me correctly, $10  was the reward and he himself was fronting the cash for it.  I think he thought the chances of us finding it were virtually impossible, especially with no hints being given to us.   So a $10 bill was a tantalizing carrot to dangle in front of us.  As I recall, us older cousins had him a little worried about his money though.

I would love to be able to tell you that I found it!  But I didn’t.  I would love to be able to tell you that anyone found it.  But we never did.  Not even the adults were able to locate it.  Eventually, when the adults had long grown tired of watching us kids desperately trying to find this elusive egg,  Erik had to show us where it was.  When we saw it, we all agreed:  This is an absolutely ugly egg, and no wonder we couldn’t find it!  It was painted to perfectly blend in with the plants in the terrarium and it did its job well.  I really wish I had seen it!  To see a reward of that caliber go unclaimed was a heinous act on Erik’s part.

In our household, the focus of Easter is the death and resurrection of Jesus (the empty tomb is still an historical event that non-Christian historians still cannot accurately explain away).  Even though colored eggs and such aren’t what Easter is really all about, it has certainly made for some interesting memories.

Happy Easter!

Big Brother Syndrome

If you read last week’s story, you probably thought that my uncle had fallen victim to “Big Brother Syndrome”.  Indeed, I later learned that a near-miss lynching wasn’t the only story to be told.

My Dad apparently had an attraction to baseball bats as a kid.  He often told a story of accidentally hitting a dog upside the head as he was practicing his swinging.  He would laugh hysterically as he recalled the dog walking off in what looked like a drunken stupor, occasionally shaking its head as it wandered away.  (Dad wasn’t a cruel person by any means; some things just strike you funny, no matter how demented they may be.)

Dad raised the bar, though, when he ended up doing the same thing to my uncle (the cattle rustler from previous adventures).  Only this time, he knocked the receiver of his swing unconscious.  They were at my great-grandfather’s house at the time and he was a doctor.  This, of course, saved a trip to the hospital.  They took Uncle Jim inside until he came to and then, amazingly, he went back outside to play with his brothers again.

Now, you can look at my uncle’s actions in two ways:  One, that he’s a glutton for punishment; and two, as a victim of Big Brother Syndrome, he chose to defy the odds and walk back out to face that insipid foe.  That would have definitely been a slap in the face to that enemy of all younger siblings.

As you probably already know, I am a big brother myself.  As such, I have a couple of Big Brother Syndrome stories myself.  The first one involved a plaster-of-Paris paintable statue of Spock from the Star Trek series. Both my brother and I received one (for Christmas, I believe).  I accidentally broke mine in a relatively short period of time.  It didn’t take long for Big Brother Syndrome to kick in at that point.  When it did, I took my brother’s statue in hand and insisted that it was mine.  When he began to whine and complain about it, I simply told him, “Well if I can’t have it, you can’t either!”  I then threw it to the bedroom floor where it shattered into countless pieces.  I probably got spanked for that, although I have since forced any recollection of this unreasonable reaction to my behavior from my memory.

The other story has to do with tube socks.  Do you know what those are?  In case you need a visual, here’s what they look like:

Both my brother and I wore them all the time when we were growing up.  They’re athletic socks that are so long that they completely cover the calf and stop just short of the knee.  Well, my brother had just gotten some new ones.  I did not.  (Can you see the Big Brother Syndrome coming?)  A week–maybe two–went by and after Mom had done laundry one day, his new socks were out in the open.  As I had them in hand (a recurring condition for Big Brother Syndrome), he saw me with them and began complaining again.  My logic?  “They fit me, so they must be mine.”

My brother still reminds me of this incident to this day.  Maybe I should buy him a pair of tube socks as a peace-offering….

Lynching A Brother

The definition of “lynching” is as follows: “To put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.” Now, you’re probably wondering where this is going. Let me tell you a story….

As an innocent older brother myself, I distinctly remember my Grandmother telling us this story about my Dad.   He was the oldest of three boys and a sister.  Way back in the day–long before there were any electronics for kids to consume their time with–kids played outside.  As you can imagine, in the summer this was done all the time.  Mothers pushed their kids outdoors as soon as it was deemed necessary for the mother’s well-being, which was immediately following breakfast.

Before it was politically incorrect to call a game “Cowboys and Indians”, kids played Cowboys and Indians.  Like it is today with our current themes, this was very popular among kids due to the content of movies and TV shows of that era.  So as a result, my Dad would play this with his two younger brothers, Jim (the middle one) and Tom (the youngest).  Now, as a child growing up, I never heard of any major conflict between the three of them as children.  So I have to assume that they had typical sibling relationships and conflicts, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Maybe that changed after this little incident.

As it came about, my grandmother was in the kitchen doing the dishes one morning.  She thought about checking up on the three boys, so she glanced up and out the kitchen window that was above the sink.  As she did so, she froze in mid-wipe of a dish at what was unfolding before her.

The three of them had thought it a great idea to play Cowboys and Indians again.  Someone (my Uncle Jim) had apparently been caught rustling cattle and was being sentenced by the local sheriff (my Dad).  What part Uncle Tom was playing at this particular moment is unclear to me.  Maybe he was playing the part of a bailiff, considering what my grandmother was witnessing through the window.

At any rate, the evil cattle rustler had been sentenced to a lynching by the local sheriff.  This lynching was scheduled to commence immediately following the court proceedings, which had wrapped up rather swiftly from what Grandma could tell.  All three of them were standing under a sturdy tree in the front yard.  The sheriff had grabbed the bailiff’s tricycle and had the rustler standing on the seat of it.  He had a rope around a tree branch above the rustler’s head and had it looped around the rustler’s scrawny neck (all rustlers have scrawny necks).  The bailiff was holding the other end of the rope so that it was as taught as a guitar string.  The sheriff slowly made his way around to the back of the tricycle.  It was obviously clear to my grandmother what the “sheriff” was getting ready to do.

Like the climax of any good lynching movie scene, Grandma did everything and more to try to beat that moment of imminent doom.  She was nothing but a blur of frenzied motion as she flew from the kitchen to the front yard to intervene in this most heinous situation.  She cleared the front door as my Dad’s leg was raised to kick the tricycle out from underneath the rustler’s feet.  She screamed out, “ROBERT, DON’T YOU DARE!!!”  This caused the sheriff to pause long enough for her to change trajectories and grab the other end of the rope from the bailiff.

If we had been able to witness this unfold before us, I imagine my grandmother’s antics to save this rustler would have put any western-action-movie-actress to shame.  Swiftly and justly, she meted out justice to all involved and left nary a trace of blood to show for her actions.

She did any mother proud!