Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cleaning the Basement

Yesterday, I had my 9 year old son help me clean the basement - partly as punishment for putting play ahead of his responibilities, partly as an educational experience, and partly for bonding time with me. Of course he didn't want to do it and frequently would ask if we are almost done. He learned (I believe) that (1)responibilities do come before play, (2)never to piss dad off, (3)just because he has never done something does not mean he is unable to do it, and (4)that hard work does have its rewards. It reminded me of when I was his age and how much I hated it when my dad would volunteer me to help him clean the basement or garage. My dad was so nit-picky. "A place for everything and everything in its place" was one of his adages that I will always remember and live by. He was so neat and organized and fussy about every corner and every speck of dirt swept and organizing everything and making a "home" for it. He also would frequently say, "If you use something, put it back where you got it. Then you'll always know where to find it next time." The task would take an entire afternoon and spoil my time for fun and play.

Valuable Top-Secret Load

I did a lot of hitchhiking back in the 70's when I was much younger. It was the thing to do in those days. I remember hitchhiking west on I-80 and reached the I-80/I-76 split west of Ogallala, NE. about sunset. I jumped a nearby farm fence and hiked a ways back into the grassland to set up camp for the night. Got my little camp fire started when another hitchhiker showed up asking if he could share camp with me for the night. "Sure", I said. The rest of the night was uneventful. Small talk then into the sleeping bag to sleep. I woke up at sunrise the next morning - I'm guessing around 5:30-6:00. Packed up my gear and started hiking back towards the interstate when I saw a large military semi-truck with jeeps and personnel carriers in front and behind it and a helicopter flying overhead. To this day, I wonder what was so valuable/secret that it required that much protection and security.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Winters in North Dakota

I lived in Fargo, North Dakota for a number of years, some time back. I remember the brutal, non-forgiving winters where it seemed the snow fell sideways because the wind always blew so much. Four inches of snow looked to be 3 feet deep due to the blowing and drifting. I remember below zero temperatures for 30 days straight with windchills commonly dropping to 30-40 below zero. Layers upon layers of clothing is what it takes to survive this type of winter climate. Two pair of socks (no holes) plus a third pair of heavy woolen socks. Underwear, (no holes) long underwear bottoms and a good pair of jeans that don't fit too tight. Undershirt, t-shirt, long underwear top and a thick flannel shirt followed by a sweatshirt and warm winter jacket. For boots, quality insulated winter pacs were a necessity and gloves inside of mittens to keep my hands warm (as well as a second pair kept in a warm place to switch into when my hands got cold. A thick knitted stocking cap and scarf to protect my face from the biting wind. It would literally take me close to 30 minutes to prepare and dress myself for these North Dakota winters.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Snow Angels

I wrote this paper for a class in college. It relates a very true story in part of my life.

I woke up that mid-November morning to discover Mother Nature had crept in over night and covered this small Upper Michigan hamlet with its first blanket of velvet white snow. I crawled from the sleeper of my big Peterbilt truck and fired up the diesel engine, breaking the silence of this sleeping community. The bright warm sun and clear blue skies made for an idyllic morning as I meandered through the narrow streets to the lumber yard where I was to deliver my semi load of lumber. Nearing my destination, I noticed the beautiful morning also had a playful effect on a young father and his two small children. As I drove by their home, I watched as the three of them frolicked in the snow, laughing and giggling while making snow angels. That very moment spurred a favorite memory of mine from years ago when two grown men were lying in the middle of a desolate highway late one night, making snow angels in the unplowed snow. As I drove on down the street, my mind wandered back, letting those colorful memories from long ago dance through my head.
I remember being in Columbia Falls, Montana early that morning picking up a load of plywood for Ohio. It was early November and the cool, crisp air was sneaking into the mountain regions, teasing people with the idea of a long, cold winter. In the distance, I could see where a blanket of snow was laid down upon the mountain tops as though they were preparing to retire for a long winters sleep. The sixteen bundles of plywood were considered a “gravy load” in truckers talk. They loaded fast and easy and once I had the tarps on to protect them from the weather, they looked like one big, black, package sitting on my trailer.
The drive down highway 83 and across interstate 90 was non-eventful. Though I had driven this route many times before, I never grew tired of admiring the beauty. Big Sky Country is what Montana is known for, and it’s obvious why. The crystal blue skies seemed to go forever, highlighting the distant purple mountains behind the golden fields of wheat. The shadows from dusk were beginning to settle in by the time I reached my favorite truck stop just outside Billings. I opted to lay down for a couple hours sleep before beginning the six hours drive to Rapid City, South Dakota.
It was eleven o’clock when I woke up that night. After filling my coffee thermos and making a few scribbles in my logbook, I headed out onto the quiet, lonesome interstate. An hour later I turned off the interstate onto highway 212, a well known, but seldom traveled shortcut to Rapid City. It was a narrow, desolate stretch of highway that cut through two Indian reservations and Custer National Forest. After passing through the sleeping town of Lame Deer, I began the climb up a short but steep mountain grade. It was then that I first noticed the tiny pellets of sleet ticking against my windshield. Thinking little of it, I grabbed a lower gear and tromped the big caterpillar engine to keep my momentum going. As I powered up the mountain, the pellets of sleet became flakes of snow that began to stick and pile up on the road surface. Weighing nearly 79,000 pounds, I was confident my truck could make it to the top without losing traction if I could keep my momentum going. As I rounded a small curve, I was surprised to see another semi sitting half on the road and half on the shoulder with its four-way flashers going. Instinctively, I took my foot off the accelerator and grabbed for my C.B. radio, hollering to the driver if he was alright or needed help. I knew this deserted highway offered little in the way of help should someone become stranded. Hearing no response, I grabbed a lower gear and stepped onto the accelerator, and eased my way around him, but it was too late. My momentum was gone and my tires spun, bringing me to a stop in a near jack-knife position in front of the other truck.
Mildly cursing the event, I turned on my four-way emergency flashers and jumped out of the cab. By then, the other driver was walking up alongside my trailer to greet me. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember he was from Texas and had been driving truck barely six months. “That figures,” I thought to myself, “a young, greenhorn flatlander in the snowy mountains for the first time in his life”. Assessing the situation, we decided our only option was to sit and wait for a sand truck and hope one would happen by before morning. We stood in front of my truck making small talk about hometowns and how many weeks it’s been since we’ve been home and where our loads were coming from and going to. Snowflakes as big as truck tires (or so it seemed) were gently floating down from the dark empty night, covering our heads and shoulders like a light blanket of wispy cotton. Aside from the purring of my diesel cat engine, the air was warm and quiet. If I had shut my engine off, we would surely have heard the snowflakes as they landed on the ground.
During a lull in our conversation, I jokingly suggested we make snow angels to pass the time. The puzzled look on this young man’s face told me he had no idea what I was talking about. “Snow angels?” he asked. Without blinking an eye, I lay down in the fresh fallen snow and gently waved my arms and legs in the customary back-and-forth motion. Carefully standing, the glow from my headlights through the giant snowflakes magically revealed a celestial form. The wide-eyed amazed look on this young man’s face told me there was still a spark of child in him. Needing to test his own creativity, he moved to a pure spot on the road and crudely laid back and mimicked my technique. His first attempt was a little rough so, without saying a word, he moved to a fresh spot and made a second angel. Not to be outdone, I plopped down beside him and made another snow angel of my own. We didn’t hear the snowplow over our giggling and laughing until its headlights came over the top of the hill and revealed seven new angels on the highway and two snow-covered truck drivers romping about like children.
The plow driver had a grin from ear to ear as he stopped and jumped from the cab of his truck looking over our works of art. “You guys been here long?” he snickered. Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed his shovel from its rack and gingerly shoveled sand from the back of his truck to the area around my tires. Then he drove back to the other stranded truck and repeated the task, climbed back into his truck and disappeared into the night. Saying our good-byes, we climbed into our trucks and were on our way into the lonesome night.
I hadn’t yet driven a mile when it occurred to me what had just taken place. The art of making snow angels is an age-old tradition that those of us from the northern states take for granted. I remember making snow angels when I was still a toddler, as the perfect way to greet the first snow of the winter season. It was also a perfect way to get mothers and fathers to forget their grown-up worries and cares long enough to giggle and laugh like children. Many of my friendships with neighborhood and school children began with making snow angels. Now, forty-some years later, I found myself adding one more snow angel friend to my list.

Friday, March 4, 2011

ABC Bubblegum

I remember being around 6-7 years old and over at my friend, Scott's, house playing. As we stepped out the door to the garage, I spied a piece of chewed bubblegum on the ground. I picked it up, brushed the dirt off it and plucked it into my mouth. MMMMM. Still had a little bubblegum flavor too.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Almost Busted

I remember when I was 19, I lived in Ft. Worth TX. for a winter. I hitch-hiked to Alabama to spend Christmas with my parents who were visiting my grandparents for the holidays. I then hitch-hiked to Lebanon, MO. to spend New years Eve with an old friend I hadn't seen for a while.I remember being dropped off near a small all-night diner/truck stop in the wee hours of the morning in Little Rock, AR. Just as the waitress brought my food, 2 state patrolmen came in, looked around, then came to my table and asked me to come with them outside. I asked if I could eat my meal first but they said, "now!" I went outside with them and they proceeded to pat me down (for weapons I presumed) then put me in the back of their patrol car. As it came to be, a man fitting my description had just robbed a taxi at gunpoint. They radioed in for more information and learned the gunman was missing several front teeth. When I heard this, I opened my mouth and wiggled my teeth saying, "my teeth don't come out. They're real." When the officers saw that, they let me out of the car and released me. Man, talk about an awkward feeling when I went back in the diner to eat my meal with everyone staring at me. I simply said, "Wrong guy".

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Movies

I remember being around 8 or 9 years old and going downtown to the theater with my brothers and sisters and neighborhood friends to see a movie. Back in those days, 50 cents would by our ticket plus popcorn and pop (or candy). I remember once, on a dare, going to the stage and touching the movie screen while the movie was playing to see what it felt like.