Category Archives: Animals

White Pine Trees and Moms

What do White Pine Trees and Moms have to do with each other?  In honor of Mother’s Day coming up, I’d like to share a story I wrote a couple of years ago that will answer that question.

White Pines are beautiful trees! These aren’t Austrian Pines that you usually find along highways and everywhere in-between. While White Pines are also common, they are much more pleasing to the eye than Austrian Pines are. White Pines are used for construction, cabinetry, natural medicinal purposes and even Christmas trees.

So I got this White Pine sapling in kindergarten–my very own tree. I found myself looking forward to many years of watching it grow in front of my eyes. As I said before, it even went with us when we moved. Shortly after the tree was replanted, however, something peculiar began to occur. This took a while to notice, but the White Pine began to take on an odd growth pattern.

Enter Major.

Apparently, once settled upon our new property, Major felt it was his duty, his mission–nay, his life’s purpose bequeathed to him by God Himself–to hike his leg and pee on the north side of that tree. He was committed. He was focused. He wasn’t letting anyone or anything detract him from what he was called to do with his life in this new place. And he saw it through to his dying day.

As a result, we noticed as the tree grew that the north side of it was developing a significant stunting in its growth. I really thought during those first few years that I was going to have my very own Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. As it matured, though, it really began to fill out. Except for the north side of it.

To this day, you can drive by the old house in Bath and see a beautiful twenty-five foot White Pine tree in the front yard.  Still with a significantly stunted upper portion on its north side, the permanent marks of a dedicated and unrelenting Flat-Coated Retriever. I think Major wanted to leave a mark, something that would endure long after he was gone. And he did just that–literally.

Keep in mind that this is the same dog who bullied a couple of young kids in the winter and gave them ball-less head gear to wear. He would take his beloved “Babe” (the female) on romantic romps in the gravel pit next door and bring her back absolutely exhausted.  (Black fur on hot days in a gravel pit…..nice.)  He even took her on a nature walk, with us in tow, and frolicked on ahead of us with his sweetheart.  They no sooner disappeared and he brought her back absolutely covered with ground bees. All I remember at that point is Mom yelling at us to turn around and run the other way. Good advice, except that dogs run faster than humans do.

So my brother and I are beatin’ feet down the trail back to the car. We look behind us only to see a dog with yellow dots all over it trotting along behind us. I don’t remember if it was Major or Babe, but the distinct memory of seeing a black dog with a smile on its face–it’s tail almost wagging as it trots along after us–has never left me (seeing that smile….it had to be Major). Thing is, I don’t remember any dogs covered with bees catching up to my brother and I. Which means that Mom probably did what moms are known to do: She put herself in the line of fire for her kids. I do seem to remember that she had been stung a few times. Thanks, Mom.

But, regardless, he was a good dog (for the most part). And his “mark” on his life spent with us lives on….

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.

Rats In The Basement

At one point in our house in Bath, we had rats in the basement.  (Did your skin just crawl?  I just got a shiver up my spine thinking about it.)  As you probably know already, there are lots of memories I’ve already shared with you about that place.  But this is a new one that came to mind recently.

The basement of that house was unfinished.  The foundation was there, of course, along with a cement floor.  But the internal walls that kept the dirt at bay under the house only rose high enough to keep it there.  (This was an old house that had been added onto over the years and the basement showed this gradual increase in space.)  It actually provided for a wonderfully cool basement in the summer.

We didn’t give it much thought at the time, but apparently there was a family of rats next door in the neighbor’s barn.  They very rudely saw this as an opportunity to infiltrate our cool basement with the unfinished walls and make it their new home.  Unfinished walls made for excellent hiding places, so they took to it pretty quick.

I was the discoverer of these new tenants when I went down into the basement one day.  As I turned on the light in the main section of it, I saw the flick of a very large tail of something very large itself.  I could see that some behemoth of a creature on top of one of the unfinished walls had literally turned tail and scampered back into the shadows.  I immediately reported this incident to the powers-that-be (namely my Dad).  Then I waited anxiously to see what justice would be meted to these vile and uninvited guests.

It didn’t take my Dad long to come up with a plan.  He borrowed a “live trap” from his brother and set it up in the basement at night.  He then proceeded to catch these rats one by one and dispose of them each morning.  The first rat he caught was absolutely huge!  Then each one got smaller and smaller (I think there was a total of four).  How did he get rid of them?, I wondered.  Well, shortly after this all began, I noticed that a fifty-five gallon rain barrel had appeared outside on the back porch.  And it was filled to the brim with water.  Upon asking my Dad about this, I found out what was happening to the rats.

I could picture this scenario unfolding in my head:  My Dad goes down into the basement and sees that his nefarious efforts to catch a rat have been successful.  With suspenseful music playing in the background, he and the rat look at each other.  The rats shifty eyes lock with my Dad’s as they size each other up.  Dad picks up the trap and the music increases in intensity as he begins the rat’s walk of death.  The rat tries to throw itself into the sides of the trap to break free, but to no avail.  It then lashes out at the handle of the trap to bite Dad’s hand, but that doesn’t work either.  It screeches out in exasperation as Dad exits the back of the house to where the barrel of water is.  The rat sees that its end is near and cowers in a corner of the trap.  Dad sets the trap down and takes the top of the barrel off, exposing the water inside.  The music reaches a climax as he picks the trap up, opens the door and…..

I’ll spare you those details.  Dad drowned every one of those rats.  I hate animal cruelty, but when it comes to rats….well, let’s just say that I would have given that rat the same steely gaze that my Dad probably did.  After this, we all continued to live in Bath happily ever after.  Until we moved, that is.

A Near Miss

Many years ago, when I was working for that armored truck company I told you about, I had to be to work at five in the morning.  I was an hour away from my job, so I was on the road pretty early.  On one of those early mornings–sometime in late winter or early spring–I had an interesting encounter with…..well, let me tell you about it.

I used to take a backroad to the state route that took me into the “big city” where I worked.  I was tootin’ down that backroad that morning, cruisin’ it somewhere between 55-60 mph.  It had been raining all night and was at that point a cold drizzle.  As my headlights illuminated the road in front of me, I could see some odd movement in the road ahead.  Since it was dark out and everything was wet, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing.  But something was definitely there!

As I peered through my windshield and the drizzle outside, something tall and large moving in the middle of the road began to materialize out of the dark mist and drizzle about fifty yards in front of me.  I was stunned to realize that what I was looking at was a human dressed in an olive-green rain suit running down the middle of the road in the same direction I was going!  Just as stunning was the realization that if I didn’t act swiftly, I would likely be hitting this person dead-on with the grill of my car!

I remember all of this in extreme slow motion (the usual mental reaction in a stressful situation), although it all happened within a time period of about twenty seconds.  I hit the brakes and narrowly missed hitting him as I flew passed him on the road. (I screeched passed him on his right side.  He later told me that the car was so close to him as it passed that he could feel the air movement of the rear bumper as it passed inches away from his right calf.)  When I hit the brakes, I started to fish-tail to the left (another reason he felt the bumper so close to his right calf).  It also caused me to drift left across the center line into the on-coming lane once I had passed him (by God’s protective hand, no one was in that lane at the time).  Just as I began to get the car under control and thought “this may be all there is to this little episode”, I found out why this guy was running down the center of the road.  Just as I was gaining control of the car, I saw in my headlights two head of cattle trotting down the shoulder of the oncoming lane in the same direction I was going!  And that’s when the driver’s side of my car smacked into one of them, sending me into a slow, wet one-hundred-eighty-degree spin.

As I was slowly spinning, I saw  I was heading for someone’s front yard and a telephone pole, complete with a guide-wire angling down and into the ground beside it.  (Hasn’t this been harrowing enough?  What’s going to happen next?  It’s like a movie plot unfolding or something.)  Since it had been raining so much, the dirt shoulder of the road was now a muddy mess, so I slid easily across the dirt shoulder and onto the grass of the front yard. (If it hadn’t been raining like it had and that had been a hard shoulder, I fully believe that would have caused my car to begin flipping as it hit the shoulder and the grass of the front yard.)  It is at this point that it occurred  to me that this car was an older convertible.  If I were to flip, I would have no protection whatsoever.  So as I’m literally along for the ride and am continuing to watch this all unfold, this was also the point that I decided we would never own another convertible again.

As I slid into the yard and the pole and guide-wire got closer, it began to be clearly evident that the car was going to just miss the pole and come to rest against the guide-wire just behind the passenger door.  It was just as if God had instructed my guardian angels to nestle that car right into that spot.  I sat there, staring at the telephone pole that was less than a foot in front of the passenger-side headlight.  The man I almost hit ran up to my car door to check on me.  Turns out that this was his front yard!  We were both pretty shaken up and extremely thankful that no one was hurt.  I got the impression later, however, that the cow that I hit may have been hurt pretty bad.  Never was able to find out….

God really came through that morning!  Just one more experience on this journey with Him that confirms His faithfulness to me and my family.


Two Deer And A Senior

Do you remember the M65 trash bag story I told you about that involved me and my best friend from high school?  That story is worth checking out, but to refresh your memory a bit, Rick and I go way back to middle school years.  I was usually the “straight man” while he was the comic, delivering various jokes, stories, goofs, pranks and the like which always resulted in laughter–if nowhere else but from Rick himself.  This, of course, brought laughter from those looking on anyway because he’s just got that kind of a laugh.  Ever known anyone like that?  It’s truly a gas!  (And sometimes that was also the reason he was laughing…..odors most foul.)  So with that little tidbit of background information, the following is something he shared with me when we caught up recently:

Rick has a large field behind his house that more or less separates his property from his Dad’s.  Sometime before hunting season, he and his son, Parker, built a deer blind for this season’s hunting escapades.  Here’s what it looks like:


Yes, you’re right, that’s him (apparently contemplating what took place in yonder field).  And yes, you’re right about that as well:  it is made almost exclusively out of old doors.  It’s rather ingenious, actually.  He made use of what he already had–these old doors came from an old barn behind his house–even cutting strategic openings into the doors to be able to shoot in any direction.  He and Parker have each gotten a deer from this blind, even sleeping all night in it to do so.  And, believe it or not, a high school senior actually had pictures taken with this blind!

That being said, this is where it gets…..interesting.

The deer that Rick shot, he gutted in the field to the left of the blind in the picture above.  To the right of the blind, his Dad keeps a trailer:

After gutting the deer, Rick got inspired with wisdom and grabbed his Dad’s trailer, bringing it over to where the deer was in the field and loading the deer into the trailer to avoid dragging it up to his property.  He then brought it into the old barn that he got the doors from to let it bleed out.  (To do so, he backed the trailer into the barn and hung the deer from a rafter that was over the trailer.  Then he put a bucket in the trailer underneath the deer to catch everything.  I won’t go into detail about what ended up being in that bucket, but suffice it to say that it was more than just blood.)  Once this was completed, he put the trailer back in the field where he had gotten it.

Shortly after this, his Dad needed the trailer to haul some Christmas decorations.  At one point while he had the trailer loaded with Christmas stuff, it was dark outside.  He needed to get something out of the trailer and with it being dark out, he just groped around in the trailer, trying to find whatever it was he was looking for.  His groping suddenly stopped, however, when he found his hand deep inside the bucket that Rick forgot to remove from the trailer.  I imagine Rick’s Dad completely forgot what he was even looking for, his focus totally absorbed with where his hand was at that moment.  It’s just my observation, but there probably should have been a second bucket to catch something else that was probably coming up as well.

Rick and his Dad share a similar personality, so I’m not surprised at all that apparently neither one saw that the bucket was still in the trailer, even during daylight.  Rick said that his Dad still isn’t laughing about it yet.  I wonder how long that will take…..

The Dog Poo Yard

As much as that lightning was enlightening, I can’t help but feel that the highlight of my mowing experience was the infamous yard with the dog poo.

The first yard we had to mow every Friday morning was “The Dog Poo Yard”. This place consisted of an open front yard with a back yard that was completely fenced in with a six-foot tall wooden fence painted red. It was the back yard that no one among us wanted to set foot in. The home owner had at least three very large dogs that were allowed to roam free in the back yard.  They would leave mountains of smelly nastiness anywhere they wanted to and then the home owner would do absolutely nothing about picking up those rank piles of poo before we were to mow there.  (This memory is so distinct that, even though this occurred 16+ years ago, I could take you down the exact street to the exact house and show you the exact back yard where this dastardly deed was done.)

So every Friday, our experience there would go something like this:  We leave the shop with the foreboding feeling that we are embarking upon a doomed expedition.  As we drive to The Dog Poo Yard, we reflect upon the life we’ve had….fond memories of loved ones and good times with friends.  A question floats across my conscious brain:  What’s the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life so far?  Was it really that bad compared to this?

We arrive at the house and park in the driveway.  We just sit there for a minute or two, gearing up for the inevitable and watching the wisps of green and yellow vapors from the dog poo piles wafting up and over the back yard fence.  Then one of us says, “Well, I guess we should get this over with.”  We all heave a heavy sigh and exit the truck.  We get the two big mowers, weed whip and blower ready, taking as much time as possible to avoid being the first casualty of the dog poo mine field awaiting us.  A period of time is spent with “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to determine who will be on the big mower in the back yard.

This, of course, means that the guy on the mower doing the front yard takes as much time as possible–including mowing at a much slower speed–to make sure that every blade of grass is cut exactly right (after all, it is the front yard and everyone sees the front yard, right?).  On the opposite extreme, the guy mowing the back yard is in a quandary:  Do I mow at the fastest speed to get this over with (knowing that this means I can’t see the poo piles coming at me until it’s too late)?  Or do I mow slower to avoid stepping in the poo piles (risking olfactory overload and a complete mental shutdown)?  No matter who lost the Rock, Paper, Scissors game, we were all very adept at “The Dog Poo Dance”.  This consisted of the mower operator moving his feet any way he needed to in order to avoid stepping in the freshly mowed-over piles of dog poo (think of fancy breakdancing footwork and you’ll get the right picture of dog poo dancing).  If he was feeling particularly daring, he did the Dog Poo Dance at the fastest speed on the mower.

If no third person was with us, the first one done with mowing got on the weed whip.  This was almost worse than mowing, because sometimes those poo piles were very close to the edges of the yard where the weed whip needed to trim grass.  This meant that, as hard as the guy on the weep whip tried to avoid it, the weed whip line would make contact with the dog poo, whipping dog poo everywhere (including the shoes, socks and legs of the weed whip operator).

The safest job for that yard was getting on the leaf blower.  All that consisted of was walking around the yard (in as many pre-designated dog-poo-free places as possible) and blowing cut grass around.  Of course, it was a good idea not to blow pieces of dog poo on anyone that might be close by….but we won’t talk about that.

Once the yard is completed and everything is loaded back up on the truck and trailer, we all stand around the truck, assessing the outcome of our venture.  The smell is still hanging in the air, mostly due to the fact that we’re standing next to the dog poo remains that are mashed into the mower tires as well as what is probably on the bottom of our boots.  With watering eyes and no signs of permanent injury, we all look at each other with smiles on our faces, triumphant in knowing that we once again overcame and conquered The Dog Poo Yard.

The Bottle-Rocket Launcher

A family that Cindy’s family and ours were friends with when I was growing up had an English Springer spaniel named Cinnamon.  We had one at the same time named Nutmeg.  She had some issues, though, namely the fact that she was hit by a car, so for a while, we were dogless.    In the meantime, this family moved to South Carolina and eventually bred Cinnamon.  They contacted my Dad and told him that we could have one of the puppies if we drove down to get it!  My Dad was ecstatic, to say the least.  So I rode shotgun with my Dad from Michigan down to South Carolina to get Max (the English Springer that I told you about in a previous tale).  And thus begins my story….

This family had a son named Jeff who was a year younger than I was. By this time, we were both entering the high school years of our youth, not quite able to drive on our own, yet feeling that urge to experience some sort of independence that sooner or later inevitably befalls every teenager–especially teenage boys.  So we did the best we could do at the time:  we ventured out into his suburban neighborhood armed with his bottle rocket launcher and a mess of bottle rockets.  Ok, it was more like he dragged me out there with him as his accomplice to whatever mayhem and malice aforethought he was contriving in that fourteen-year-old brain of his.  I was a quiet, obedient kid and that didn’t change as I grew up.  So this was really taking me out of my comfort zone.  And what made it worse was knowing that once I lost sight of his house, I had no idea where we would be or how to get back if I had to break away and make a run for it (yes, I had a distinct feeling that I would eventually be doing that, any specific reasons for it unknown in that moment, except for the aforementioned  contraband that we both had in our possession).  I had no choice but to stick to him like glue if I ever wanted to see the comfort and safety of the only thing that was familiar to me:  his house, where I knew both our Dads were preparing some amazing steaks that I couldn’t wait to eat.

As we were jogging down the street and began darting between houses, Jeff asking for a bottle rocket and me handing him his first load of ammo as we were doing so, I began to think that our Dads may be picking us up from a local jail cell before this was all over.  What would I say??  “That’s not mine.”  Or, “I don’t know how that fire that burned down five houses got started.”  Or, “Dogs howling and barking all over the neighborhood?”  (I begin to break down, sobbing uncontrollably) “It was him, officer!  I was coerced and forced into this against my will!  He made me hand him those bottle rockets!  I…I….(Oh, no!)  Hi Dad….”

So there I was, trailing Jeff as we jogged down back alleys and became one with the dark that was the night around us (actually, it was a well-lit neighborhood with plenty of street lights, but that’s what it felt like).  At different times we would stop and take up position.  I would hand Jeff a bottle rocket, he would put it in the launcher, light it and tap the rocket down into the launcher.  We would wait an eternal two or three seconds as the fuse burned and we eventually heard a  FWOOP! sound that told us the bottle rocket had left the launcher like a missile cut loose in the water to leave its mark on an unsuspecting target with no way to stop it.   We got this routine down so well that muscle memory took over and we began launching bottle rockets from a full run.  Somewhere along the way, though, one of Jeff’s neighborhood buddies joined us and took over my role (a position I very willingly gave up), so now all I could do was make sure I hid and ran and kept up with the other two.

We made our way to the lit-up tennis courts (yes, this neighborhood had tennis courts) and Jeff proceeded to ask for another bottle rocket.   These tennis courts were nestled in the bottom of an earth bowl, surrounded by trees on three sides (which is where we were hiding out).  I watched his buddy hand him a bottle rocket with shaking hands.  As I got my hands calmed down, I watched as Jeff placed it in the launcher and lighted it.  FWOOP!  We watched as it arced itself over the middle of the tennis courts, an increasingly loud whistle giving way to a very loud BANG!!.  Foul language wafted upwards from the courts as the unsuspecting victims looked up into the sky, wondering what atrocity had just befallen them from the sky above.  Jeff launched another one.  FWOOP!  BANG!!  Now at least one of those unsuspecting victims had turned rogue and was walking in our direction very fast.  We turned tail and ran like the wind for a block or two.  We started to see vehicles driving around more frequently.  They’re on to us.  They’re hunting us like dogs.  We were “on the lam”, fleeing like the criminals we were!

We found ourselves inbetween apartment complexes, looking down a swath of backyard fifty feet wide and fifty yards long.  We all looked at each other and we all knew what the other was thinking.  Me:  No!  You wouldn’t….you really want to, don’t you…..but….  Jeff (and his buddy):  This is perfect!  How can I pass this up?!  Give it to me! (in Jeff’s buddy’s case, Give it to him!).  When Jeff launched that rocket, the whistle it made ricocheted off the backsides of the apartment complexes, making it five times as loud as it normally was.  As a result, the BANG! we normally heard from a bottle rocket was more like a BOOM! from a cannon.

We all  turned and fled the scene, me going the direction I was pretty sure was Jeff’s house and didn’t care if I was right or not, and Jeff pleading with me to go with him and his buddy as they headed off in another direction.  He saw I was done, though, so he acquiesced and walked with me back to his house.

I was emotionally exhausted.  Spent.  Ready to turn in for the night (or at least turn myself in).

I’ll tell you this:  There’s nothing like a hard night’s running from justice and the long arm of the law to really appreciate a good steak.

Chicken Little

Remember that house in Bath that I told you about?  After we moved there, my parents apparently thought it was a great idea to have our own chickens.  Fresh eggs and fresh meat when they got old enough and big enough.  Ok.  But then my brother and I found ourselves unwillingly and unwittingly elected and appointed as assistants to some pretty disgusting stuff.

Let’s start with the obvious.  To a couple of kids who had lived their extensively long and productive six and eight years in a city suburb, moving out to the country where we were able to have chickens was a new adventure!  What glorious and unknown excitement awaited us?  That excitement was to start in an old chicken coop that was on our property (probably the reason for the sudden realization on my parents’ part that we could have chickens of our own now….yay).  It was pretty big for its age.  My Dad put in the two-by-fours and chicken wire needed inside the old chicken coop to keep the chickens where we wanted them to stay, along with homemade roosting and nesting places to give it a homey, lived-in appearance.  They fell right in and made it very homey by pooping all over and making a distinctly odorous mess for my brother and I to clean up.  Oh, the fun!  Especially on hot and humid days when we had to help clean it all out.  Sure, the manure on the garden made for absolutely huge vegetables, but that smell….makes me feel like gagging just thinking about it.

There were a couple of roosters that hated my brother and I–mostly my brother.  When these two roosters were alive, we were the ones sent in to the hornet’s nest of a chicken coop to get the eggs each morning.  You could cut the stress level in that little building with a dull axe.  So we did!  It only took my brother coming back from the chicken coop in tears, talon marks on his arms or legs (or both), for my parents to see that we had a hierarchy issue and that one or both of these feathered bullies was going to be put in his place.

Thus commenced one of quite a few festivals over the years at our place.  People came from miles around to witness the execution of such a fowl and evil creature.  Bets were made for the distance covered by a headless feathered body running around the yard and fresh donuts from one of many concession stands were devoured as people told jokes and laughed at the court jesters goofing around on the gallows that were built next to the chicken coop.

All fell silent as the chicken–a black bag over its head–was led out of the chicken coop on a wagon slowly drawn by two pigs.  It knew its time had come, yet nary a tear escaped either eye of this merciless beast as it looked cruelly about at the bystanders–especially the children.  Little six- and eight-year-olds cowered behind their mothers as the chicken was led to the chopping block on the gallows.  My Dad, wearing a black hood with eye slits in it, stood at the ready with his dull axe in his hands (this rooster deserved no mercy).  Then, as its head was placed between the two nails on the chopping block and its neck was drawn tight–it was just like him try to pull something like this–he looked up at my Dad with great big puppy-dog eyes, just as sad as could be!  Which on a chicken looks pretty weird and grotesque, so my Dad promptly ended its life then and there.  After just a second or two of shocked silence, the crowd whooped and hollered, a “wave” broke out at one end of the crowd and  swelled to the other side as the school band belted out Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” song.  A parade commenced and the first “Miss Beheaded Queen of Bath” was named.  The Superintendent of Bath officially named it “Exoneration Day” for the whole community–even so far as to establish a “no school” policy for that day so that all children could celebrate their freedom from feathered tyranny.

Say, are you familiar with Dr. Seuss’s book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”?  Vaguely familiar to me.  Yeah, none of the above really happened.  Well, no, there was a nasty rooster (or two).  And we did have us a beheading one morning shortly after my brother showed the cruelty of at least one of those idiot birds.  But the rejoicing that day was rather subdued, shared only between my brother and I.


The M65-28 Formula Trash Bag

Juniors in high school.  English class.  Project assigned to pairs of students (naturally, my best friend–Rick–and I paired up).  What’s the project?  To write a commercial that incorporates six things:  Humor, symbols, ecologically safe, statistics, happy family appeal and a special offer.

Now before I get into this, you need to know some things about my best friend from high school and myself.  We buddied up in 6th grade and almost instantly “clicked”.  Jesus was important to both of us, even at that age (that,I’m sure, was a big part of the instant bond we both felt).  Besides that, though, we were like Abbott and Costello–one of us the serious one (me) and the other the goofy one (Rick).  Put us together and it was quite the mix–me usually making a sarcastic remark with my dry sense of humor to Rick’s hilarious antics.  Not to mention his laugh!  He was known throughout our whole class for his laugh.  And not the weird kind that makes you do a double-take to the question in your mind of “Who just made that sound?”  Nope, just a great unique laugh that would always make you start laughing just hearing it.  Ever known someone like that?  When you do, you never forget it.  We lost contact for a few years, but around 13 years ago, my Mom got his contact information and we reconnected.  We’ve been in contact ever since–and nothing has changed.  We’re still that way, much to our wives’ and kids’……..enjoyment.

So the stage is now set for our commercial for English class.  I have always been one to have difficulty coming up with an idea, but once one is given, I can run with it and add to it.  Leave it to Rick to come up with this one.  So here, from my high school archives and for your reading pleasure, is the actual script, word-for-word, of our commercial for the M65-28 Formula Trash Bag (Rick was the man holding the torn trash bag and I was the Salesman):

(Scene:  A man is standing with a torn trash bag in his hands, trash scattered all around his feet.)

Man:  (In a dopy voice) “I thought dogs is supposed to be man’s best friend….”

(Salesman walks up to man with trash bag.)

Salesman:  (In a 30-second commercial “but-wait-that’s-not-all” announcer’s voice and holding the sign below)


“Don’t blame your dog; the fault is of the bag!  You should be using the M65-28 Forumula Trash Bag.”  (Man’s face first shows immense interest and then repulsion at the smell in the air; at the same time, salesman puts on a white face mask and continues talking.)  “This bag is not an everyday trash bag.  It has a unique smell that would not only keep your dog away, but also rats, cats, bats, maggots and other rodents that would make your trash all…..messy.”

Man:  (Holding his nose) “But does it work??”

Salesman:  “Shut up, you’re interrupting me.  Studies have shown that eleven out of ten regular human beings, just like you, have tried the M65-28 Formula Trash Bag and found it successful in keeping trash in and dogs, rats, cats, bats, maggots and other rodents out.”

Man:  (Still holding nose and now wiping away tears from his eyes) “Will the M65-28 Formula Trash Bag hinder the environment around me?”

Salesman: (With slight, vacant look on his face) “Uh….no, no, not at all, my dear friend!”  (Pats man on back.)  “The birds will still be around–but who cares!  Our objective is to keep the dogs away.  Don’t worry about the environment; it’ll be fine without….it’ll be fine!  And with this trash bag, your whole family can take out the trash to the road together without the fear of dogs, rats, cats, bats, maggots and other rodents hindering you.”

“But that’s not all!  With the purchase of the handy M65-28 Formula Trash Bag, you can receive a nuclear waste dump in your own back yard!!” (Man has look of utter shock and disbelief, which the Salesman sees as a look of someone getting the “deal of the century”.  This just spurs the Salesman on….)  “Yes, we’ll give you everything you need to start your nuclear waste dump–which is not harmful to the environment–from your M65-28 Formula Trash Bag to your official M65-28 Formula Trash Bag Gas Mask!” (Hands man his own gas mask.  Man can barely see well enough to grab it out of the Salesman’s hand and put it on, taking huge gulps of air once he does.)  “And, if you respond within 2 days, we’ll send you ten barrels of nuclear waste free!  Just send the M65-28 Formula Trash Bag coupon which is enclosed in the trash bag box, along with $19.95  and $50.00 shipping and handling to:


Visa or MasterCard accepted.  Send for your dump today!!

Almost Back

Well I’m almost back to the main trail, but since I’m not quite there, I thought I would share a recent story that took place not far from where I currently am right now:

You’ve heard about Major already. Quite a character. But so was an English Springer we had whose name was Max (not the English Springer from the camping story–this is well after that incident).

We got Max somewhere around my Freshman/Sophomore years of high school. My Dad and I drove down to South Carolina where a family friend had bred his English Springer and had a puppy for us to get. I held him in my lap all the way back up to Michigan. We grew quite attached on that drive back. So how does such a cute, submissive little puppy grow into….Max?

The older Max got, the more stubborn he became. We lived in the country (as you already know), so when he had to go outside, we just let him out the door and came back to let him in around 10 minutes later. And that’s where his stubbornness really showed. Especially in the winter! I’d be standing there in my pajamas, holding the door open for him to come in, my extremities turning white from frostbite, and he’d just stand there looking at me, suddenly unable to comprehend the English language. And if I started out the door after him, he’d just romp out into the yard a little further and turn around to see what I’m going to do about what he just did. Since I could no longer feel my fingers or toes anyway, I would sometimes try to coax him in with a treat….or a stern voice….or sobbing….fact is, he came in when he was good and ready to and as far as he was concerned, I wasn’t about to change that.

I must say, though, that I thoroughly enjoyed a game he liked to play in the house with my younger brother. We’d be wrestling (this got Max riled up sufficiently) which would inevitably end up with my brother pinned to the living room floor, arms defenseless at his sides, while I poked my finger through the gap between his neck and the carpet. This got Max’s attention fast, which always resulted in a slobbery effort on Max’s part to get that wiggling finger, no matter how much tickling and barking he had to do at my brother’s neck, regardless of which direction my brother would turn his head. It was a fun time! Until my brother got to be big enough and tall enough that I couldn’t pin him to the living room floor anymore. Ruined everything at that point…

But my fondest memory of Max is at the family cabin at Paradise Lake. We were up with my Aunt & Uncle’s family, all of us (but Max) down by the beach. The cabins on that stretch of the lake are up on a bluff that overlooks that beautiful place. It requires a pretty long staircase for most of those cabins for a way to get down to the shoreline. But what dog likes to take steps when he can launch himself down the hill with no barrier between him and the water?

So my brother goes up to the cabin for something and calls down to my Dad, asking if Max can come down. We all turn around to watch as my Dad gives the ok, because we all know Max’s aversion to the staircase. (Watching a dog barreling down a hillside, barely able to control his speed as he jets toward the water, is always worth watching.) Well this time, there were more of us sprawled out along the beachfront than he was used to. His normal line of trajectory was suddenly compromised, but it was too late to change it. The point of impact of least resistance was going to be a 10-inch gap between my lawn chair and the one next to me that my Uncle was in. The realization of all of this is flashing acrossed Max’s face as he nears the bottom of the hill at full speed. As he realizes his predicament, his eyes get real big, and then they become mere slits as he readies and commits himself to that gap between our chairs (all this happening in a matter of seconds). He was a white and brown streak as he flew right between our lawn chairs, the lake suddenly becoming his parachute as he hits the water in an explosion of spray. He’s frolicking around in the water, grateful to still be alive, a huge smile on his face as he laps at the water. Quite a few moments passed before anyone could say anything because it took that long to catch a breath from all of us laughing so hard.

Many years have come and gone since then, but we all still remember the day that Max went through the “eye of the needle” and lived to tell about it.