Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Child Support"

When my Chi, "Ginger", had puppies she was a great mother.  Though she trusted my wife and I with her "kids", she would get up and follow us around if we picked up one of her pups.  She was gracious enough to try not showing  her anxiety as we held a pup, but you knew she was under some tension until they were returned to her care.
If Ginger thought the "runt" was not getting enough nursing she would shuffle the other pups around and make sure the smallest pup got equal time.  

After the pups opened their eyes and began wondering around she allowed them their freedom; the freedom to learn and explore on their own so that they might be better prepared for the world when it was time for them to go into it.  But when it was bedtime she would go around and round them all up and make sure they were all home safe for the night.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing I observed with her pup rearing was the way she would toughen her pups up.  Ginger delighted in roughhousing with each pup.  She would run and knock them over, chew on an ear a bit, mock growl and fight, then lick them on the head and send them on their way.  When she saw a pup that was not roughhousing, or appeared to be meek, she would knock them all over the floor, nudge them into playful confrontation, bark at them, and continue to do so until the pup was aroused enough to stand strong and fight for their own slice of respect and dignity.  
Her child rearing must have worked because we received so many complimentary comments from those who adopted the pups.  "So loving, so feisty, so full of life", they would all say of Ginger's children.

I've seen parents today who would do well to emulate what my Ginger instinctively did in raising her children.  Keep a close eye on them, allow them the freedom to explore the world, but make sure they are safe at home when evening comes.  Encourage them to stand up for themselves and fight for what they believe in.

And never be afraid to give a little tough love when the occasion calls for it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

America; Random Acts of Kindness


Having lived in several foreign countries, I think I can safely say that Americans are the kindest, most generous people on earth.  I don't care what community you're living in, you'll find unending random acts of kindness from complete strangers are expressed every hour of every day.  A little girl has her bike stolen?  As soon as word gets out that little girl will have a replacement bike by the next morning.  Millions of Americans this week will ship comfort items to our troops deployed overseas.  A million pints of blood will be donated to the blood bank.  Victims of natural disasters will find love and comfort in the form of relief aid, care packages and volunteers flooding into the area to clean it up.  This is the America that makes me most proud and instills a love for my countrymen that is beyond bounds.

Let me give you a little sample of a most recent act of kindness.  A local senior named George Bruck, known in his community as "the nicest guy in Surprise, Arizona", had bad luck befall him on Superbowl Sunday.  George, an 80 year old Korean War vet, owned a 1996 Ford Taurus with 150,000 miles on the odometer.  On Superbowl Sunday, George had driven to church, then to Bingo, then stopped at a gas station to buy a $2 dollar lottery ticket before heading home.  While he was in the store someone stole his car.  George admits leaving the keys in his car, "stupidly", he says, believing that no one would steal his 20 year old Ford Taurus on its last legs.  Or that anyone would want his penguin backpack.

Maybe the thief didn't know that George was the nicest guy in Surprise.  Maybe the thief didn't know that George needs that old car to take him to the VA hospital each week...and he would certainly need it to drive to the hospital next month when he undergoes an angiogram.

George lives in a small apartment with two chairs, a bed and little else.  He lives on his $1,000 dollars a month Social Security pension.  Like many seniors, his old car was his lifeline to get out of the house, to go to the doctor, to go to church, to visit friends.   

Fortunately George has a loving nephew over in Gilroy, California who started an Internet campaign to raise money to get George a replacement for his old car.  Then, as soon as the local newspapers got wind of the story they printed George's sad plight and, yes, America responded.  

Money started pouring into the "Uncle George" fund.  The story was released on February 12th, and the next day George began receiving stuffed penguins and offers of assistance.  Then, on February 14th a fella from Sanderson Ford, a local Ford dealership drove up in front of George's house.  They brought George a 2003 low mileage Mercury Sable and handed George the keys. 

Well, George, Korean Vet, lost it.  Not one who cries much, he said he just couldn't hold it in....he said "I grew up poor on the south side of Chicago and anything you got you worked...this was just too much..unbelievable.

Meantime, back in Gilroy, George's fund raising nephew has his phone ringing off the hook, with so many donations that he couldn't keep his cell phone battery charged.  Then, as soon as he learned that George's car had been replaced with the new one, he put the word out to donors, offering to return their donations.  

No one wanted their money back so the funds raised will be used to help pay some of George's medical bills and insurance and aid in George's other expenses.

I believe George has gained more than a new car and a little money...I think old George has gained new insight on American kindness...he's been given a glimpse into America's heart...and he likes what he sees.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ancient Valentines


I see her these days, walking amidst her orange trees, watering her flowers, hummingbirds flitting about the spray from the hose.  Or another time, walking gingerly out to take out the garbage.  Her appearances about the neighborhood are now so rare, when she does emerge from her little house it is an affirmation that she's still alive this month.

Her decline into old age has been swift.  It is her first winter without majestic Walter, the giant of a man, handyman, builder….Walter of the booming voice.  Walter, with the blackened nails, struck by the hammer too many times.   She was always the introvert, Walter the extrovert as he wandered the neighborhood greeting all with a hearty and hail good morning and perhaps relating once too often his history…the events of his life.  Walter, who saw all, but saw little for he was poorly sighted by diabetes by the time he reached his 75th year.

It was Walter, her sweetheart, who drove her from Minnesota to Arizona each year, at the first sign of a northern frost.  They came, these two snowbirds, seeming to leap from their car in the driveway as soon  as it came to a stop.  It was she who threw back the windows to air out the place, then brushed away the summer dust and threw a pot or two on the stove.  Walter would hammer down a few loose nails, the hammer cocked as he contemplated his next "project."  Last winter it was a breakfast bar to the kitchen and pastel borders for the shutters, the year before a potting house so that she might transfer her plantings without a strain on the back.  

Old friends, who had been walking by their door for days, anticipating the snowbird couple's return, would drop by for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie.  The evenings would be filled with supper and a bridge game after and a wave goodbye to old pals as they walked the few steps to their own house down the way.

But age creeps up on the good and the bad, and, last year, she and Walter would come back again, she behind the wheel last year.  As they exited their old car Walter needed the assistance of a walker to reach the front door….it would take him several minutes to do so.  

And so, the next morning, as I'm walking the dogs, I come upon Walter, fully a block away from his house, seemingly frozen in mid step as he clings to his walker.  He stares straight ahead, and as I reach him, I ask if he needs any help.  He says nothing, just shakes his head, continuing to stare down the street.  So, I walk on with the dogs, and just as I'm getting ready to turn the corner, I see Walter nudging his walker a few feet further down the walk.  

And, as the weeks progress, as I am heading out to the store, or to run an errand, there is Walter, now moving steadily down the street, still leaning on the walker, but moving light years faster than a few weeks back.  I surmise that old Walt has had a stroke over the summer, back in Minnesota, thus the long slow walks to overcome the weakness of limb and the fogginess of the mind.  Without being told I know that proud Walt will not allow her to help, or even walk with him, until he's able to keep up with her.

Finally, one evening, toward the end of winter, I am out in my front yard, watering my citrus trees.  My face breaks out in smile as Walt AND she come strolling by, sans walker,  walking strongly and steadily into an evening that promises spring is near.  Soon they will harvest the lemons and oranges and tangerines and pile them into the trunk of their old car, and head back to Minnesota for the summer.
And so they did.

So she has come back this year, brought home by a caring daughter, or niece, sadly, without Walter who could no longer walk his way through one more summer…Walter who now rests forever, hopefully in some family plot of dear ones who've passed in an earlier season.  

She seems even more fragile now..even more so than when, in earlier years, they walked hand in hand, she small and dainty and he, tall in stature and booming voice, with arms that swung a hammer true.
I was astounded when, at Christmas, she covered our neighborhood with invitations for coffee or tea and cookies on New Years Day!  For it was she who was always the introvert and he the "hail well met" fellow who knew all the neighbors.  Was she driven by loneliness to proffer invites in celebration of the new year?  Or was the spirit of old Walt whispering in her ear to get out and about…and along with her life?  I guess it doesn't matter either way.

Arizona has been kind to her this year; not a single night of frost to chill her fragile old bones…and the citrus trees are bountiful, and, come soon, some one will come for her and ferry her back for another Minnesota summer..and perhaps to lay roses on her loved one's grave.

It remains to be seen if she will return in the fall…or whether Walt calls her once again to his side…so that they may walk together again down the walks of forever.

Happy Valentine's Day to you all…and may you forever have a hand to hold as you walk through your long and lovely life.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Baseball; Born Again Every Spring


"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you"…Paul Simon.

Baseball spring training has already started.  The grass on the field is so green it nearly blinds you, the uniforms are pristine, as are the records, as everyone starts out 0-0.  The pitchers and catchers are running wind sprints down the first base line, bones creaking, muscles aching as they try to sluff off three months of dormancy.  

Baseball is born again.  Still a child's game, it appears each spring just as the first buds of the cherry blossoms emerge and turn upwards toward the spring warmth.  I am ancient but I am once again a boy of eight at the first seasonal crack of the bat.   I am again the lad with grass stained knees, Yogi Berra catcher's glove as I feel the first sting of my palm as my brother's pitches settle solidly in the fold of my glove.  My baseball idols are long gone; to the grave or in bone weary dotage.  

There was Joe DiMaggio, so graceful on a baseball field, so effortlessly did he hit and run and catch that you felt he ought to be wearing a tuxedo, an orchid in his lapel.  Or Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived, who was so intense you would have thought he despised that ball and the sixty feet, six inches it took to arrive at home plate.  Then there was Willie Mays, every boy's dream, for he played the game of baseball with the joy of an eight year old, and played it better than any man ever has.

As I look out on that emerald diamond the ghosts of Joe and Willie and Ted are out there, mixing it up with the players of "now".   They stand just over the shoulder of the kid from Triple A that's been invited to spring training.  They appreciate the raw talent of the kid two years out of high school who will hone his craft in Triple A, in a small ball park in Fresno or Billings or Visalia, who offer .25 cent hot dogs and dog races to get them to come to the park.  Like the buds of the cherry tree the good ones will blossom and you'll see them in the majors and say "I knew them when…."

So baseball is born again.  Bart Giamatti's sad refrain to its October demise dims with the first crack of the bat, with the smell of popcorn and hot dogs in the bleacher seats, with the scent of fresh green grass. And ancient "I" am once again catching the swift sure pitches of my brother, even as summer dusk dims our vision and we are lost even to the call to supper…for our hearts are full with the magic of a child's game that we will carry in our hearts forever.

Dedicated to my brother, John, who shares with me a brother love…and a love for a child's game, even now in extra innings.