Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Haunting Image

Funny sometimes how easy it is to get your buttons pushed.

Walking my dogs the other day, I got slightly wigged, passing a yard with a Halloween chicken holding a human limb in its beak.

Chickens kinda weird me out, especially big ones. Like to eat ’em, but don’t care to mingle with live ones. Touched on this previously in a prompt called Squeamish Scouts.

I can thank my mom for this phobia. She put the fear of God into me about chickens when I was a toddler. My folks were tenant farmers in Fort Ransom, N.D., when I was born, and my mom kept a flock of chickens as egg-producers and occasional table fare. The birds would rush to her in the yard, and if I was with her she’d always scoop me up for fear the birds would peck me in the eyes.  She told me that story many times when I was growing up to explain my general uneasiness about handling birds.

My dad contributed to the mystique by saying Mom’s birds were like pets and a bit on the aggressive side. In my mind, my mother’s chickens were all monster-sized, as big as I was. Quick fuckers, too. Quicker and faster than I was. Never mind flying monkeys, these were winged nightmares with claws and bird brains tuned to only one station: peck-and-kill . . . peck-and-kill . . .  peck-and-kill.   The giant two-headed bird from “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” movie (1958) creeped me out worse than any snakes or spiders. All I could  do to sit through Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” too.

My Uncle Ole raised chickens in a big way and once took me into his bird barn that housed something like 600 birds in a single room.  Still haunted today by memories of the half-dozen birds in that room at the tail end of the pecking order.

Not so many years ago, a good friend  had a fighting cock as a pet, and no dog was ever a better watch guard than that feathered little fuck. He didn’t fly well, but he flew well enough to perch atop a swing set in the yard, and I swear that he laid for me every time I visited.  If he wasn’t on the swing set, he’d come a runnin’ when you drove up and try to peck your ankle as you stepped from the car.  I threatened to punt the little pecker into the next county on a number of occasions, by my pal always sided with his bird and made me behave.

Geese were also a bitch for me while growing up because I’d seen them chase people, bite them and beat them with their wings. Turkeys weren’t so bad, but peacocks always gave me the willies, and still do in stalking mode.  I don’t really mind birds so much any more. But let’s just say I’d be in the last in line to pet an emu or ostrich.

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Leaf Laughter

While raking leaves the other day, I time-traveled back more than 20 years to when my little girl used to keep me company in the yard and play in the leaf piles as they accumulated.

My daughter’s laughter ranks No. 1 in the archive of audio clips in my brain. Leaf laughter had bit of a squeal to it as she dug out from being buried alive. Or threw herself on a mounded pile and burrowed down to hide. She was hesitant at first, until I dove in for a demonstration. After that, there was no holding her back.  Could never bag the leaves or put them in the recycle bin until after she was played out and inside napping.

She was so tiny back then, she used to hide behind  a rhubarb plant in my backyard flower bed. Her mom outfitted her in cute clothes, but really it was the girl who made the outfits cute. Rubber boots. OshKosh pants or overalls. Jacket or sweater, both with hoods on them, or some kind of hat with animal ears pulled snug over blonde hair, blue eyes and sweet smiling lips from which came that glorious, precious, carefree laugh.

Back then, I had only the leaves from one pear tree to contend with.  I’ve since added a pair of birch trees on north side of my yard, tripling the area of the red, yellow and brown leaf carpet and rising up closer to the house to fill my rain gutters, too.  There’s now a small maple tree in the front yard as well, adding scarlet leaves to the boughs, berries and brown shakings that blow down off the three cedar trees grouped in the southeast corner of my place. The cedars offer great foliage for Christmas wreaths, but we’re in no hurry for that, with Halloween and Thanksgiving still to savor. The magnolia trees that my daughter and I planted in her youth on the south side of our yard retain most of their leaves but still shed year-round.

Fall also brings to mind the sound of the cannon they used to fire at Snohomish High football games after every touchdown. You could hear it all over town. That tradition started when I was in school and ended shortly after my daughter graduated when the cannon, apparently stuffed with an oversized charge,  blew up and injured one of the ROTC kids manning the gun.  Great fun while it lasted.  Football fortunes have seemingly been down ever since.

The grown girl doesn’t jump in my leaf piles anymore, but, unlike the cannon, I still hear her live laughter on a regular basis, and my fortunes are reassured.

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A Life Well Played

When my friend and former high school football coach Keith Gilbertson Sr. died in February of 2011, I contacted the minister doing the funeral and gave him a copy of the classic Grantland Rice poem “Alumnus Football,” suggesting that he reflect on the verses and think of Gilby as the “wise old coach Experience” while preparing his homily.

Can’t say whether the reverend took my advice. He made no mention of Rice or the poem during the service, although he and others spoke in glowing terms of the great and modest man who coached at Snohomish High School for 61 years, including the last 30 as an unpaid volunteer.

Keith Gilbertson Sr. bust at Snohomish High School

“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against  your name, he writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”

from “Alumnus Football” by Grantland Rice

Since Gilby’s death, I’ve written and/or edited some two dozen articles about him in conjunction with a fund-raising effort to permanently endow an annual SHS memorial scholarship in his name.  Sadly, the campaign has yet to generate the groundswell of grass-roots support that we expected among from the thousands of students, athletes and teaching/coaching colleagues that Gilby touched over the years.

Next to Grantland Rice, I feel a bit like Edward Everett speaking for hours at Gettysburg before being upstaged by Lincoln’s brief and appropriate remarks deemed closer to the central idea of the occasion.

I’ve written that Coach Gilbertson lived what he always taught: Whatever you do, give it your best shot. But I don’t think I’ve conveyed the spiritual side of the wise old coach and mentor as well as Rice did nearly 100 years ago on Nov. 2, 1914, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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Welcome to the Fun House

My greyhound BB has a recently adopted sister named Jane, who since leaving the Greyhound Pets, Inc. kennel  has started publishing a blog (crackerjacjane.com) about off-track living.

Now BB wants to write a blog, too, and I told her, “Cut out eating poop in the yard, and we’ll talk about it.”

So I have that going for me while addressing other behavioral issues.

Having raised one daughter and six other adopted greyhounds,  all girls,  I thought I knew a few things about females (not all of which pertain to my wife, who remains a wild card).

Here’s BB’s mug shot from the GPI lineup. Her racing name was Bouncing Body.

My credo:  Spoil ’em but try to keep ’em in the yard. I had just three responses to my daughter as she was growing up:  Yes! Hell, yes! And, well . . . OK!  Then again, I worked nights, so my wife did most of the hardcore parenting. Thank goodness my wife was there to blow the whistle and throw an occasional penalty flag. Can’t be so lenient with BB or I might wind up with another Goth phase on my hands. BB already is black, and so are her lips and nails. We met halfway on a black collar with red  polka dots. No spikes or chains allowed, and we don’t use the muzzle for a fashion statement.

BB, age 3,  came to us as a special needs girl with traits in the doggy autism spectrum, including social deficits, communication difficulties, and stereotyped or repetitive behaviors.  She was useless as a racer and was farmed out for adoption with two of her sisters when they were just  one year old, about the time that most racers begin training.  Unlike most greyhounds, all three of the sisters were extremely timid with other dogs, combative with each other  and shied from any human contact. When I first brought her home, BB would  have nothing to do with anyone or my older dog Chatterbox and preferred the sanctuary of a dog crate in my living room.  I had to pull her from the crate to get her to go outside for turnouts, and when loose in the yard she’d pace the fence line incessantly and run from any human contact.

I think she knew her name. But come when you’d call? Not a chance. Unless you’re my wife, who could coax a nut from a squirrel. Squeak toys worked best to get BB’s attention and entice her back into the house.

We adopted BB because GPI needed to clear space for new dogs coming,  most other potential adopters prefer dogs they can at least touch, and my wife loves a greyhound challenge.

It’s taken several months, including three with BB living in the crate, but she’s made great strides in sociability.  My wife and I can pet her now, although BB remains easily spooked and skittish around other people, including my daughter and her boyfriend.  BB and Chatterbox get along just fine, and we now bring an occasional third dog into the mix by dog-sitting other greys.  BB and Chatterbox both prefer napping on our bed and both like to sleep with us at night, although we usually invoke the three-body, eight-leg rule in bed, unless there’s a thunderstorm or fireworks going off in the neighborhood.

Having Chatterbox in the house to speak dog and communicate telepathically has greatly aided BB’s adjustment. Still, the new dog is easily frightened by any strange noise or movement. My daughter equates BB’s existence to living in a carnival fun house, with a potential scary surprise lurking around every corner.  It’s a slow process with frequent tests of patience, but we’ve managed to gain trust. BB’s not much of a kisser, but nobody minds that because of the poop thing.

Who knows,  if BB gets past the poop eating and starts blogging, I might even soften up about the spiked collar.

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Witch Story

Karen Persdatter wasn’t as wicked as some folks thought. She had a reputation in the Dunderlandsdalen as a trollkjærring – literally a Norwegian troll woman, but more like a witch or sorceress in the English translation. They say she could throw a spell that would make your hair fall out, or perhaps make your cow give blood instead of milk. But she never did anything like that without a reason. Folks mostly just kept their distance.

Born in 1734 at Østerdal farm in Nordland near the head of Rana Fjord, Karen married Jon Larssa from nearby Vesterfjelt farm and they had several children, most of whom died young under mysterious circumstances that were never recorded in the parish archive, which at that time kept the whole family ostracized from the church. But there were two daughters, Ragnhild and Ane, who supposedly learned a few tricks from their mother.

No one knew where Karen picked up the witchcraft, because those who knew her as a girl saw nothing odd in her behavior. It was not until Karen was married and cartoon witchbegan losing children that folks who crossed her began suffering misfortune, although there was nothing to link any of that to Karen, except for her freely expressed contempt for anyone or anything connected to the church. That and an ugly redness that developed in one eye.

Jon Larssa froze to death on a hunting trip when Ragnhild and Ane were still young, but folks say Karen was able to provide for them from a slab of shoulder meat that hung in the shed and mystically restored itself whenever portions were cut out. They also kept some chickens, a milk goat and a few sheep, and along with a rocky garden patch, they managed to raise everything needed except the one thing Karen wanted most – grandchildren.

When both daughters came of age, Karen asked them which of the parish bachelors they fancied most, and she then mixed a special drink that made the two favored men fall in love with her daughters and marry them. Karen warned her daughters that the spell could be broken if they ever told the husbands how they’d been tricked. Years passed and both couples produced children before the two sisters one day argued over whose kids were cutest, and Ragnhild blurted out that Ane was so ugly she was lucky their mother had a magic potion to even get her a man.

Ane’s husband overheard the fight and instantly became so enraged over Karen’s trickery that he cut her down with an ax before killing everyone else in like manner. He then set fire to the house and perished himself by remaining inside.

Neighbors saw the flames and rushed over, but it was too late. The stock was dispersed, and someone even made off with the shoulder meat from the shed, but it was consumed in a matter of days, and that was the last that anyone thought about Karen and her brood.

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt based on four tarot cards: the Ace of Wands, the Sun, the Stars and the Four of Swords.  The story is loosely based on a  nineteenth century Norwegian folk tale told by Mikkel Mikkelsen Saghaug Tørrbekkmoen (1805 – 1894) to Rana researcher Ole Tobias Olsen. Karen, Jon and their daughters are real people from my family tree.  For more on Norwegian witches, check this link about the Vardø witch trials of 1662-63.)

Lisbeth Movin portrayed the historical Norwegian witch Anne Pedersdotter in the 1943 film “Day of Wrath.” Unrelated to my ancestor Karen Persdatter, Anne was burned at the stake in Bergen in 1590.

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Inner-Tube Baseball

Long before there were video games or paint-ball guns, my buddy Gale and I developed a game of our own called inner-tube baseball. It was an offshoot of Whiffle ball after our last plastic ball either caved in from overuse or got belted into the neighbor’s blackberries.

All you needed for inner-tube baseball was a wood bat and an inner tube like any of the ones we all used to float down the Pilchuck River in the summers of our youth. But the game was unique in that you could only play it in my backyard, because of the ground rules.

Muttsy was a pitcher’s best friend in inner-tube baseball, unless his chain on the drag wire cracked you in the head.

Pitching and hitting was  simple. You rolled the inner tube toward the batter, and he smacked it with the bat. Any tube rolling past the pitcher was a single. Past the pitcher in the air was a double. Past the pitcher and over my dog Muttsy’s elevated drag wire was a home run. The drag wire ran half the length of our backyard,  six to seven feet off the ground, between the garage and the catalpa tree,  just this side of the clothesline. The foul lines ran from home plate to the grape arbor in left field and from home to the corner of the chicken coop in right.  Home plate to the drag wire was maybe 25  feet. There were also two fielding hazards to consider: 1) a raised water spigot roughly 12 inches high in right-center, and 2) Muttsy getting excited by any passing person or animal and racing blindly across the field, pulling his chain along the drag wire and head-smacking anyone in the way.

There was no baserunning in inner-tube baseball.  Every swing was either a hit or an out. Any tube snagged in the air was an out, whether it cleared the drag wire or not, and anything smothered before getting past the pitcher was also an out. Two tubes hit foul or any tube that happened to strike Muttsy, fair or foul, also constituted an out.

And, as a carryover from plastic baseball, you had to announce who you were before every at-bat:  Mantle . . . Mays . . . Maris . . .  Yastrzemski . . . Frank or Brooks Robinson  . . .  Clemente . . .  Kaline . . .  Aaron . . . Alou (any of the three) . . .  Frank Howard . . . Boog Powell . . . Tony Oliva.  Gale favored the Giants and the Orioles, while I liked the Yankees and Twins. Gale’s dad once duck-hunted with Harmon Killebrew, so that made him a dual favorite in my yard.

It was mostly a game of strength, as you had to hit it well to clear the drag wire. Anything popped up was  caught, so you had to hit liners or launch like Willie McCovey. Grounders down either line had a chance to get through, but anything  up the middle on the ground was an easy out.

Being stronger, Gale had the upper hand from the start. Then my big brother Skip waded in to challenge the winner and he dominated.

“Way to go, dumbass,” he taunted me, “inventing a game that you can’t beat anyone at!”

That eventually spelled the end for inner-tube baseball. That and the drag wire getting broken or pulled down so many times that it no longer functioned as a measuring rod or a dog restraint.

Still, it was fun while it lasted. Even if I never beat anyone.

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Gator Baiter

It was a probably a bad idea in the first place for Ned “Buck” Tyler to flip off the impatient biker  trying to get around his shiny Airstream trailer with the “Buckeye Buck” banner on the gravel road leading from Gator Lake in central Florida.

The finger from the Ohio State football junkie went up in answer to the biker’s shaking fist as the speeding motorcycle approached the diver’s side window of Ned’s scarlet and gray Suburban, en route to the OSU-Florida game in Gainesville after an overnight stop to buy booze, sex and some alligator meat. Ned didn’t actually intend to run the biker off the road, but he lost control a bit on the loose gravelGator face with only one hand on the wheel and drifted over enough to push the biker onto the soft shoulder and subsequently off the road and into a swamp water bath.

“Whoa, sorry there, pal,” Tyler uttered, although not sorry enough to stop, or even slow down. “That’s what you get for messin’ with the Buck.”

Buck Tyler always had an inflated image of himself ever since playing sousaphone in the OSU matching band and, more than once, getting to dot the “i” in the band’s script OHIO halftime maneuver. An insufferable Buckeye booster ever since, he bought the Airstream to supply home luxury at every OSU road football game he could get to, pulling into tailgate areas on Friday afternoons and usually staying until they threw him out on Sunday night or Monday morning.

He hit Gainesville right on schedule and made himself at home, cranking up the OSU fight song to play incessantly and setting up Lois, his bodacious Buckeye mannequin cheerleader with the nicest pompoms you ever saw, outside the trailer door. He then started to grill gator steaks, drink heavily and swap barbs with all the Florida fans within shouting distance, promising everyone a sound thrashing on game day.

The Gator baiting went on past midnight, when a drunken Buck finally retired for the night, unaware of the swamp-stinky figure that strolled into the tailgate area looking for the Airstream with the Buckeye Buck banner. Next morning,  when security was called to determine what had happened, funny how nobody had seen or heard anything.

They found the Suburban inoperable from a half-rotten gator snout stuffed into the tailpipe. Lois lay headless, armless and topless, wearing only a pair of men’s UF swim trunks with a cucumber stuffed inside the front, while her head, arms, cheer suit and pompoms smoldered nearby next to a half-can of kerosene.

There was a gaping hole in the back of the trailer, where someone appeared to have cut through with a chain saw, but there was no sign of Buckeye Buck.

“Hmmm,” the security chief muttered as he surveyed the damages. “Fella must’ve gone a little overboard with his partying last night. Gonna have to write him up for that open fire!”

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt containing the following elements: an Airstream trailer with back ripped off, a sousaphone, a rotten alligator snout, a half-can of kerosene and a headless, armless female mannequin in men’s swim trunks.)

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