April 13th, 2017
Despite the occasional nostalgic plea for “the good old days,” life in the rural heartland of America is pretty idyllic. I think that’s why I’m able to find humor in the minor foibles of life–my troubles are minor, and I know it. Most days my biggest problems, aside from raising a 63 year old, are pretty banal. When the wind blows hard (that happens often in Kansas), my satellite TV reception can be shaky. Sometimes the neighbor burns his field when I have clothes drying on the line. Like I said, pretty inconsequential stuff. However, the isolation from most of the world’s problems that makes life so peaceful and uncomplicated can lull you into complacency and inaction, both unflattering traits. I recently had a wake up call that made me re-examine my values, character, and most importantly, my courage.
John and I had some old friends over for supper who we hadn’t seen for a long time. We’ve known the couple for many years, and we saw them frequently when we were neighbors so we were both looking forward to an evening of reminiscing and catching up on the more recent events in their lives. And that’s exactly how the evening began. Unfortunately, during one of many stories told by the husband of the couple, he described an encounter with another man who he identified using the “N” word. I was so shocked by his nonchalant use of the term that I thought at first I must have misunderstood him. He only said it once, the story ended, and the conversation moved on to another topic, but I wasn’t listening. I kept playing back what he said in my head, and it became clear that my hearing had been correct. My thoughts were racing…”Nobody uses that word anymore”…”What was he thinking”…”I need to say something to him”…”How dare he?” And so I did nothing. The word hung in the air casting a pall on the rest of the evening.
Afterwards, John and I talked about the incident, and we both expressed feelings of guilt about not speaking up. The surprise we felt from his use of the word was no excuse. At any point in the evening, I could have easily said, “Could we just back the conversation up a minute. I have to let you know that your use of that word was offensive and inappropriate. That’s not acceptable language when you are in our company.” But I didn’t, and I have to own that. One thing I know for sure is that it will never happen again because I don’t like this feeling at all. I don’t like knowing that racism is alive and well in central Kansas and apparently so is cowardice.
May 5th, 2016
I know I’ve said it before, but John is a throwback to a bygone era. Life as a mountain man in the 1800s, whose only contact with civilization was an annual trip to town in the spring to sell his furs and purchase supplies, would have suited him perfectly. I don’t mean that he eschews all modern conveniences. He always has at least one low mileage vehicle in the garage, and when he’s in the house, chances are pretty good he’ll have his iPad in his hands, but in many cases he is old school all the way. A perfect example would be digging holes. Why would you rent a backhoe if you had a shovel and a spade? Holes are meant to be dug by hand. Backhoes are for wimps and sissies. Did you know there is a right way (and several wrong ways) to dig a hole? John enlightened me on the proper protocol for digging a hole shortly after we were married. As I recall, the result of his “lesson” was that he dug the hole by himself. You can accept my help, or you can tell me how the job needs to be done, but you can’t do both.
John has a fairly narrow skill set when it comes to things he’s good at, and just like the mountain men of old, those skills aren’t in high demand anymore, but he is an artist with a shovel and a spade. His holes aren’t just the absence of dirt, they are works of art with perfectly straight sides, flat bottoms, and dirt neatly piled on a skid for easy removal. That’s why he didn’t hesitate to start digging out the water line by hand when he suspected we had a leak at the adjoining property that has become our own version of “The Money Pit.” The part of the line that had the leak ran to a distant hydrant that was rarely used so his plan was to find where the line split and cap off the section of pipe that was leaking. That would require finding the “T” in the line so John started digging where he thought the line branched off from the water hydrant right by the house. Once he found the line that ran west of the house, he thought he knew approximately where it split so he began the excavation in earnest. Unfortunately, he was digging in the wrong direction. When darkness and exhaustion forced him to stop, he had a hole that was six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet deep. I asked him why he kept going when he didn’t find what he was looking for, and he said, “I kept thinking if I just went another foot, I would find where the line split.” I’m not sure where determination stops and blind stubbornness begins, but I think he was probably close to the line of demarcation.
The next day he decided that there had to be an easier solution. That’s when he noticed the pipe union fitting near the base of the hydrant. If he unscrewed the union and took those two pipes apart, he could turn the water on and know for sure if he was going in the wrong direction. Getting the pipe union apart was a bit of a challenge but nothing like the effort he expended digging a hole big enough to bury…well, let’s just say if I disappear after he reads this, that hole would be a good place to start looking. The water that gushed out proved that the connection was indeed in the opposite direction from where he had been digging so all he had to do was put a cap on the end of the pipe and fill up the hole. As he stood there contemplating his completely unnecessary effort he said, “No one in his right mind would dig a hole that big by hand these days.” After that comment, there was nothing left for me to say.
February 28th, 2016
One of the things I value most about our relationship is the perspective we are able to give one another. By that I mean we help each other see all sides of an issue, especially when our personal bias or world view makes it difficult to remain objective. Perspective, in my opinion, also involves gently nudging one another back toward the center if we start to drift too far afield. One of the primary areas where I have to help John keep perspective is in the division of labor. Work outside the house is divided pretty evenly between the two of us, but we struggle to maintain that same equity when it comes to chores inside the house. Our conversation one day this week is a perfect example of how important it is to keep things in perspective.
John had been outside most of the morning, but I didn’t have any idea what was on his agenda for the day. I had just started doing dishes when he came in, and from his appearance, it was pretty apparent he had been involved with some kind of machinery project. He immediately started telling me about changing the oil in the tractor and what a dirty, unpleasant job that was. He finished by saying, “It’s a dirty job, but obviously I’m the one who has to do it because I’m sure you wouldn’t trade places with me.” I replied, “Don’t be so hasty to write me off. I might be interested in that deal.” He looked at me in disbelief and said, “You’d really consider learning to change the oil in the tractor?” I responded, “How many times a year do you change the oil in the tractor because I do dishes every day?” He immediately started stuttering and backing up finally stammering, “I…I…I just meant for today, not permanently.” I said, “You sound like someone complaining about not having shoes to someone who doesn’t have any feet.” He looked at the floor for a moment and replied, “Point taken.” It’s all about your perspective, and I think I pulled him back to dead center that day.
January 14th, 2015
This morning John asked me to wash a load of laundry because he was out of winter socks. Some people might find it shocking that he is incapable of washing clothes himself, but that part of the statement didn’t faze me a bit. I have accepted the fact that he is domestically challenged and will probably never progress beyond doing an occasional load of dishes or an intermittent running of the vacuum cleaner. Women statistically outlive men so he has pretty good odds that he will never have to live independently anyway so it’s all good for now. The thing that surprised me was his claim that he was out of winter socks because I was pretty certain he wasn’t. I did a little investigating and quickly solved the mystery. It was just as I feared; we must have a ghost. (more…)
April 24th, 2014
I have a friend who is a nudist. I don’t mean the “run from the shower wrapped in a towel to get clean underwear from the dryer” kind of nudist. She is a “never wears clothes around the house unless company is coming” kind of nudist. Since we both live in the country in fairly isolated spots, she often expresses her surprise that I don’t embrace that lifestyle as well. I told her I tried it one time, but I made the mistake of going outside, and we didn’t see the dogs for three days. She thought I was kidding. I’m not a prude by any means, and I believe we are all beautiful in our own way, but some of us are definitely more beautiful than others, especially sans clothing. However, a recent experience taught me that sometimes your best option is baring it all. (more…)
October 30th, 2013
For almost six months, we were down to six dogs. In my opinion, six was still too many but better than the eight to ten dogs that usually call our place home. Even John had commented that the smaller pack size was more manageable. Did I detect a slight change in his attitude toward dogs? Then one day about two months ago, John asked me if I’d noticed anything unusual about Ruby, the female we kept from the unfortunate and unplanned mating between his coon dog, Nikki, and his bird dog, Jack. As Ruby ran across the yard, the image was almost more than I could comprehend. “How did she get pregnant?” I yelled. John said, “She dug a hole under the fence, and I found her in Razor’s pen one day, but it didn’t seem like anything had happened.” I wondered to myself (more…)
April 30th, 2013
For a couple to experience long-term success in marriage, it’s critical that they share similar values and goals about the important things in life. John and I are the quintessential example of how opposites can co-exist as long as their views on money, religion, child rearing, and sex are compatible. Of those four areas, money has been the biggest challenge for us, but we have worked through most of our issues and arrived at a mutually acceptable place. At least that’s where I thought we were until John retired. For the last two years, it has become increasingly obvious that we are not on the same page. (more…)
April 19th, 2013
As a miscreant youth, I was often admonished to “act your age.” I’m not sure I ever followed those instructions as a child or as an adult, and I often wonder when I will start to FEEL my age. Except for those occasions when I really over- exert myself and an old softball injury creates problems with my left knee, I can’t point to any differences between today and 30 years ago. I don’t take any medication, and as long as the activity doesn’t require a lot of flexibility, you can count me in. I have discussed this with several of my friends, and they share my feelings on the subject. I certainly don’t look the same, and I hope I have gained some wisdom and insight over the years that guide my actions, but I still FEEL exactly the same. Unless I roller skate. (more…)
March 22nd, 2013
There should be a rule against losing two lifelong companions in three weeks, but I’ve never been one to complain about the unfairness we inevitably encounter in life. Champ was born about six months before Sis so it wasn’t totally unexpected that their deaths would be in fairly close proximity, but two dogs in three weeks. Give me a break!!! Champ’s eventual demise was very gradual over the last two or three years with the last few weeks of his life taking a steeper decline. I was struggling tremendously with his end-of-life decision so I consulted some websites on pet euthanasia. All of them said I would know when the time was right, and I should delay my decision until I was sure. They gave a few examples of what might create a “right time” scenario, and Champ didn’t seem to fit any of them. I should have had more faith in him because he let me know without a doubt when he could no longer answer the bell, and he went out like a true Champion. (more…)
March 1st, 2013
The recent heavy snows took a toll at our house. The sore muscles from shoveling the driveway numerous times to remove the 18+ inches of snow we received from back to back storms pales in comparison to the pain caused by the loss of our almost 16 year companion, Sis. So if you don’t believe pets become a part of your family, you can stop reading now. If you don’t think a devoted pet deserves a eulogy, this post isn’t for you. If you don’t think animals can teach people valuable lessons, just move along because there’s nothing to see here. If you think I can make this story humorous, you have more confidence in my writing skills than I do!
John had a couple of hunting dogs before Sis came along. He had an extremely athletic Brittany spaniel with an amazing nose for birds whose hyperactivity forced John to learn all about electronic training collars just to gain a small measure of control. He also had a German shorthair who couldn’t begin to find as many birds as the Brittany when they were hunting, but his unmitigated devotion to John was nothing short of amazing.
Lesson learned: Even extremely willful creatures can be taught, but you must first get their attention, and determination and sacrifice can overcome a lack of natural talent.