Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Squirrel Hunting

It was late fall 1968 when my father decided I was old enough to go on my first squirrel hunting expedition with him.

I was a spindly thirteen-year-old.  All of 67 pounds and mostly knees and elbows.  The rifle we carried was an old 12-gauge shotgun that had been handed down through the family.  It had a crude hand carved "H" in the worn wooden stock, presumably for Hillenburg.

We drove over to Spine-Cob (an area also known as East Oolitic) and parked the truck at the top of the hill from Grandma's house where the railroad tracks crossed a narrow gravel road.  There was an old wooden sign that read "Murdock", but no one seemed to know what it meant.  I imagined it was the name of a long since abandoned railroad stop.

We took a right and walked down the tracks and around a bend.  It was here my Grandfather and his friends threw coal from the trains they had jumped earlier so their families would have coal to heat their homes during the Depression.  The spot still shimmered with fine black flakes of coal dust.

Just beyond the bend was a stretch where the barbed wire fence had a broken strand.  Tapping his pipe out, Dad carefully pulled the remaining strands apart so I could squeeze through.  Then he handed the rifle over to me and jumped the fence with ease. 

Once we crossed the small meadow leading over to the hickory grove we surveyed the area.  Nut "cuttings" littered the ground.  This was a good sign.

We situated ourselves in front of a huge tree where we could both sit comfortably with our backs against it with a full view of the rest of the grove.  There we sat silently waiting for a squirrel to appear.

It wasn't before long the motion of the leaves mesmerized me.  Dreamily hypnotized, my mind began to wander.

Suddenly, I felt my father jerk in excitement.  He slowly stretched out his arm and pointed toward the middle of a particularly bushy tree directly in front of us.  I leaned my head against his shoulder and looked up his arm but, try as I might, I couldn't locate the squirrel among all the movement of the leaves.

Sensing his impatience, I finally told him I had seen the squirrel even though I had no clue where it was.

To my surprise, he handed me the rifle!  It took all my strength to lift the gun in the general direction he had originally pointed.  The longer I held it there, hoping the squirrel would move so I could see it, the more the gun began to waver.   My father slid his finger under the barrel to steady it.

"Do you have him in you sights?" he whispered.

"Yep," I responded, still anxiously searching the tree.

"Now, don't pull the trigger...squeeze it gently."  His finger still was supporting the barrel.

The moment of truth had arrived.  Do I stop and tell him I don't see it and risk aggravating him or go ahead and shoot knowing that since it was my first time a miss would almost be expected?

I closed my left eye tightly and squeezed . . . KAPOW!

The rifle kicked against my shoulder, sailed completely over my head, and landed behind me.  I fell flat on my back from the impact.

My father kept his eye on the tree and watched as the unsuspecting squirrel hit the ground with a thud!

Incredible!  A perfect shot. 
No buckshot in the body.  It was dead instantly he said.  "Couldn't have done it better myself," he beamed.

It wasn't until my graduation from college, upon which my father presented me with my very own Marlin semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle as a graduation gift, that I finally told him the truth about that day.

© 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010


My first experience with entrepreneurship came when I was about thirteen years old.  Money was always thin.  My mother had picked up a side job delivering newspapers for the local Bedford Daily Times Mail, along with her regular job at RCA in Bloomington.  In the meantime my Father was trying to find a job that would make more money than being a mechanic for a Texaco gas station.  ("You can trust your car to the man who wears the star . . . ")

Kathie, my twin sister, and I became quite proficient at the nuances of folding newspapers so they would stay firmly folded while my Uncle Kenny flung them into boxes at a clip of 10-15 miles an hour.  I began to notice all the glass soda bottles laying along side the road.  It dawned on me that this was a virtually untapped gold mine.

The next day I tied a small basket on the handlebars of my stingray bike and took off down the road to find my fortune.  The initial harvest brought me a tidy refund at the Wray’s Grocery, a small mom and pop general store across the street.  I decided to save up this small change and a few weeks later I made my way to the toy section of the Woolworth store downtown and selected an affordable set of Revell miniature soldiers.

Before long I had everything from World War II British paratroopers and German hand-grenade throwers to farm animals, Cowboys and Indians, Civil War blue and gray infantrymen, and the usual sprinkling of pedestrians.  Unfortunately most of these were buried in “avalanches” which occurred in the dirt hill behind our house.

Christmas was the high point of the year.  I never expected to receive what I truly wanted.  Most of the toys were too expensive for our family budget.  But I do remember one particular year when I awoke to find an F-16 fighter jet complete with parachuting pilot.  I was beside myself with joy as I pressed the lever to eject the small pilot into the ceiling.

For my birthday one summer my Father, whose best friend also worked at a Texaco filling station, brought home an operational Texaco tanker.  I couldn't wait to try it out in the bathtub that night.  But the bathtub was too small to get the full effect, so the following day I took it down to a small pond in a neighbor's backyard.  All the kids in the neighborhood showed up for its maiden voyage.  The air was electric with anticipation.  I engaged the motor and set it off into the muddy water.  About half way across it suddenly stopped.  Panic set in.  We tried to fish it out with sticks, but all the frantic activity sank the poor thing and I never saw it again.

My usual toys were those I made myself.  A carefully selected stick could easily be turned into a pistol or rifle with the help of one of my Mother's kitchen knives, and I was constantly creating communities for my miniatures out of tiny sticks and old paper milk cartons.

But my favorite "toy" was a pencil.  A pencil and a pad of paper could take me wherever I wanted to go.  Underground military installations, spaceships to other planets, battlefields, high finance, even presidential politics.

I would spend hours dreaming up good guys, bad guys, and everything in between.  I wore holes in the paper with my eraser modifying my characters.  A mustache here, a goatee there, a full beard, back to clean-shaven, then balding, even toupees.  I documented the entire process from cradle to grave.  I gave them names, personality, and even children.

I would stay with a set of drawings until they became totally tattered and then, out of necessity, I would start a new sheet.  When that happened it was like losing an old friend.

I carefully guarded my drawings.  I was afraid it was too weird and someone would laugh at me.  Before I began a new drawing I thoroughly destroyed the old.  It wasn't until much later that I discovered my twin sister was doing the exact same thing.

Somewhere along the line my Mother realized the importance of providing uninterrupted private time for my sister and me.  We shared a room and seldom had that luxury.  It became the "law" that whenever it was one of our turns to be in the bedroom that one was NOT to be disturbed.  You had an hour.  You used it wisely.

In the security of this arrangement I was able to let myself go with endless possibilities of my imagination.  Every character provided me with a harmless way to try on an identity.  Good or bad.  I came to respect the ones of integrity and honor and took those qualities as ones I wanted for myself.

My Mother used our interest in drawing the way other parents use a favorite toy or some other method of child occupation.  There was never a time we attended church without our drawing supplies.

One day I decided to draw the Pastor with his shirt off.  I suppose that would have been okay except for the fact I penciled in his navel.  My Mother threw a fit about that.  For a long time I thought a navel was somehow obscene.  It certainly didn't do anything for me.  It wasn't until Life Drawing class in college that I dared to attempt it again.

Another Sunday my sister, Kathie, and I had begun giggling about our drawings during a sermon.  Before long we had crossed that imaginary line between controllable laughter and involuntary hysterics.  Mom quickly dragged us out of the Sanctuary and proceeded to search for an open room, but every door she came to was locked.  We finally arrived at the Boiler Room.  It was open. 

After a solid paddling and a brief lecture on the proper reverence to display at church, we returned to the Sanctuary to resume our attendance.

As we came back through the door the entire congregation turned in their seats to look.  It was as if someone had just played "Here Comes the Bride".  They were smiling and talking to each other in whispers.  It was not until after the service that my Mother was informed that the heating ducts had acted as a perfect amplifier of her efforts to make us better behaved children.

© 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

3:32 am

My dog Razzle wakes up in the middle of the night and goes outside on the porch, where she has a bed, and curls up with her nose in her tail in the cool air.

(I wake up I the middle of the night and rummage and ruminate and find myself analyzing all of life's difficulties.)

Razzle closes her eyes and gives a sigh.

(I wonder where my life is going and if I'm doing what I should be doing, living where I should be living - - - the list goes on and on.)

Razzle flips her ear and sprawls on her bed with her feet dangling over the edges.

(There is nothing that can be done at this hour except think about what it would be like to rest and feel okay about everything.)

As Razzle lays fast asleep.

© 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Importance of Words

Words are important whether they are words we think, say, or hear.  Words express ideas, hopes, dreams, and our state of mind.  They have a power few of us realize, because they affect everything and everyone around us.

When you understand the power of words you come to understand the importance of what you say and how those very words create your world.  Words said in love bring love.  Words said in hate bring hate.  They communicate who you are and effect how other people respond to you.

Who do you want to be?  What kind of world do you want to live in?  How do you want to be treated?  The quality and nature of your character is shown by what you say and do.  Thoughts are expressed in words, and actions are responses to those words.  Your words are interpreted by those who hear them and they respond as well.

The human gift of words is what makes us unique co-creators in what happens in our world.  Take this simple conversation:

“Good morning!” you say.

“If you say so,” says another.

Your intention was to extend something good.  The other person who responded thinks otherwise.  Their words convey something less positive.  You invariably walk away feeling less positive.  The person may have been trying to be “cute”, but in reality it is a reflection of how they view the world, because there is truth in every lie - even in jest.

In the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths it is believed that in the beginning God said, “Let there be light”.  Light is very powerful.  It gives sight.  Because of light we see all the things that are in this world.  Everyone has experienced waking up in the middle of the night with something pressing on their mind.  When it is dark the world can indeed seem quite small.

When God said those words LIGHT HAPPENED.  Individuals have the same ability to bring light or darkness by the words they say.  We can heal or we can kill with our words.  They are that powerful.  They affect our thoughts and actions.  The challenge then is to walk in that awareness.  It is a choice we make.  And make no mistake – it is a conscious choice.

If the words just aren’t in us then we need to change, but that change isn’t easy.  It requires a fundamental rethinking of who we are, what we care about, and what we believe.

In the meantime it’s important to speak and act in a positive life affirming way, because our words have the ability to create the life we live.  Over time those words will turn into actions and we will become the people we are and hope to be.

This simple act will change the world!

© 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Notes from Saint Thomas - Early Morning on the Beach

Whatever it is you have for me to do – let me do it.

Help me find my way.  So many directions – so many suggestions.  Where does the soul lead?  What does the “Still Small Voice” say?  “This is the way, walk in it – whether you turn to the right or the left.”

Share joy, teach excitement, show light, be peace.

“There shall be beautiful words flow from thee my child and they shall minister life unto many – for I have chosen it and it is good.”

In the meantime – who, what, where, when, how?

Bring me to the Peace that passes all understanding.  Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit unto me.  Let kindness be my religion.

What can be – what will be – what has always been.  Life lived in joy – in expectation – in hope of the reconciliation of all things.  In the transformation of the heart of man into the likeness of the living, vibrant God.  What could possibly be more important?

Not what you do, but who you are!  A human being, not just a human doing.  Living in the ultimate purpose – love.

All things will pass away – all that remains is Love.  All of life is sacred, all of life connected, all returning to the One Source, all created in the Image of God whom having not seen we still love and are ultimately drawn to, because there is nothing else remaining so real or true.

Share joy, teach excitement, show light, be peace.

Be the hands and feet of God’s limitless love and understanding.

Do not fail to do the only thing you can do – to be yourself.

God will make the way – God I believe, help my unbelief.

© 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


My mother based our childhood discipline on reason as well as traditional spanking and wove them together into a tapestry, which provided us with a way of thinking about our actions if not before hand at least in perfect 20/20 “hind” sight.

As we grew older carefully constructed lectures prevailed.  Originally they were parable in form.  The infamous "Fran and Nan" stories where a description of each character was provided along with a specific incident after which the following question was posed, "And who do you think loved her mother the most?"  Fran was a spiteful mean child whereas Nan was loving and kind.  (Probably the reason no child of ours will ever be named Fran in any way shape or form.)  We knew to answer, "Nan, mom."   And then the ultimate question and the reason for the story, "And which one are you?” to which the answer was equally as obvious, "Fran, mom."

These Fran and Nan stories always resembled the incidents for which we were being disciplined.  It amazed me that these two girls could possibly have been through the exact same situations as we. 
And situations we had!

In the late 60's my parents purchased a camper that nested into the bed of the truck and extended out over the top of the cab.  It came complete with stove, oven, refrigerator, and closets with ample storage space for food, clothing, and camping supplies.  The couch/dining table combination sat four comfortably and could made into a bed at night where my parents could sleep.  A wooden sliding door partitioned the top bed off from the rest of the living space.  Kathie and I could lie up there and look out over the road as we went on our family excursions.  The only thing it lacked was a toilet.

Our first adventure in our new camper was a weekend trip to Shakamak State Park, 60 miles away.  Close enough for a weekend trip, but far enough away to acquire a true "trip experience.”  Shakamak (Kickapoo Indian for “river of the long fish”) sounded so fascinating.  There were two lakes, a swimming beach complete with diving tower, and a saddle barn!

That Friday evening we loaded up the camper.  Kathie and I took our positions looking out the window above the truck cab and off we went.  Dad decided to stop on the way at a hardware store in Oolitic to pick up a few necessities on the way.  It was the stores Grand Opening.  "Free Pepsi" the sign beckoned.

"I bet Mom would like one of those," I said to Kathie in a rare moment of Nan-likeness.  "I'm going to get her one."  Kathie decided she wanted one as well.  The store was full of people.  I wove my way around, past Dad, over to the Pepsi (which was of the fountain variety), and waited to be served.  When I got my two over filled cups I headed back to the camper, Kathie close behind.  I was about ten feet out the door when I saw the back end of the camper as it was leaving the parking lot.  I yelled, but they couldn't hear me.

"What are we going to do?" Kathie asked.

I thought for a few minutes.

"Well, we're not far from Aunt Marie and Uncle Harvey's," I said.  "Let's walk to their house."  It was only a half a mile walk up the hill.

This would have been an excellent solution to our predicament had they been home.  We sat on the porch and waited.  The sun started to go down.

"When do you think they'll realize we're gone?" Kathie asked.

"I don't know, " I said.  "Let's walk down to Mawmaw's before it gets dark."  (Mawmaw was our father’s mother.)

Mawmaw Hillenburg's was a three-mile walk down a steep road, across a wooden bridge at Salt Creek, through the flats, and over into "Spine Cob" (also known as East Oolitic).

I was relieved to see the light on in her living room.  Imagine her surprise when she answered the door and saw her two young grand daughters standing alone, unaccompanied by their parents.

“Where’s your folks?” she asked.

“They left us,” we answered.

"Well then, I guess you’d better come in,” she said.  We went into the details over glasses of “Big Red” cream soda and a bag of store bought cookies.

On the other end, my parents weren't aware of our absence until they arrived at Shakamak later that night.  After parking at the campsite they entered the camper.  Their initial thought was that we had fallen asleep, but when mom opened the sliding wooden doors she realized we weren’t there!  They began going back over the trip in their minds.  They had stopped several times to ask for directions because of construction detours.  What if we had gotten out in a strange place?  How would they find us?  They jumped back in the truck and retraced their steps.

In the meantime, grandma began calling our house every half an hour or so.  Late that night she was able to reach them and explained what had happened.  By now we were fast asleep from hours of looking at old family photographs as Grandma carefully explained each person in detail.
They picked us up the following morning.

"How did you feel when you watched the camper pulling away?" mom asked?

"Well, " I said, "I drank one Pepsi . . . and then I drank the other."

"But, how did you feel?" she repeated.

"I felt, why waste a perfectly good Pepsi?"

I wasn't the type of kid to be frightened by such situations.  The World was a friendly place to me.  Things had a way of working out in the end.

That Saturday afternoon we were sitting in the front yard laughing about the events of previous night.

"Too bad we have to waste a perfectly good weekend," Dad said.  We all agreed.  Within the hour we had packed everything back in the camper and were on our way to Shakamak again as if nothing had happened.

This episode did serve one purpose.  Not long after, Dad installed a telephone hook up between the truck cab and camper.  Whenever we stopped some place they would "ring us up" to make sure we were there in the back before leaving.

© 2010