Tom’s sister Petra here, sharing a post written by glider pilot Greg Bahnsen, who gave Tom a taste of what heaven must be like. In the post below, Greg shares flying experiences that he had with Tom, who wrote about their adventures on this blog. You’ll find links to Tom’s posts embedded in Greg’s story. Tom’s best bud Gregh took these photos of Tom and Greg Bahnsen.

If you have a Tom story you want to share, please send it to me via this page


Blue sky with some stratocirrus was above that delightful fall day. Earlier I had had the fun and privilege of taking our then seventeen-year-old nephew on his first glider flight. We had released the tow plane at 4100’ above sea level, a bit above the peak of the back ridge to the east of Bergseth Field. The lift was disappointingly skimpy so we headed out over the plateau and I let him fly for a bit before having him head us back toward the ridge, seeking lift. Alas, none was to be found so I took over the controls and we soon landed. After we got out of the glider, a Schweizer SGS 2-33A, we chatted for a bit about his half-hour flight then he and his family departed.

Another Schweizer, a maroon and white SGS 1-26E, beckoned me from across the field. Soon I was going through the preflight checklist and preparing to take it up for a flight. Between tasks, I looked across the field to the entrance and saw a robin-egg blue, mid-sixties Saab enter and take a spot in the parking area.

The morning had slipped into afternoon far enough that my stomach began indicating that I should eat before flying again. Peanut butter and honey sandwich in hand I looked around to find our new guest(s). Once found, introductions were made and I began to know Tom Roush and his son, Michael. The Saab was the first order of business and I told him about a similar red one that belonged to a friend of mine. (I got to take her up in a glider when she was nearly 93, but that is another tale.) I was delighted to find out that Tom was arranging to take an introductory flight, but that he needed to get to an ATM to get some oval pictures of dead presidents to finalize the deal. If memory serves, I finished my lunch and relaxed. Soon they had returned and Tom, obvious excitement building, got into the 2-33A with instructor John Miller and took off.

While the tow plane took them into the blue, a friend helped me to get the little maroon and white ship staged and I boarded so as to be ready to fly when it returned. The wait was pleasantly short.

Soon I was aloft and heading toward the south ridge. I released the tow plane at an optimistic altitude and, as it was only my second flight in this glider, decided to check out its stall performance. I did a clearing turn away from the ridge and slowly pulled the stick back. Airspeed dropped and dropped until, at about 28 miles per hour, the buffeting began and was followed by a gentle break. Back to the ridge I went in search of lift. No such thing of any significance was to be found and soon I entered the pattern, landed and secured the glider.

The robin-egg blue Saab was not to be seen.


A few days later I opened an email that had a link to What Heaven Must Be Like, or a copy of the file, I don’t recall which. Tom’s enchantingly entertaining tale of his first glider flight verified my suspicion that we both craved being airborne. He was kind enough to share it with the members of Puget Sound Soaring Association as a “Thank you” for his experience.

Soon thereafter we met up on Facebook for frequent late-night chats—often postponing getting to bed when we should. Topics ranged from the current status of the Cortez (his name for his cancer) battle and the current phase of treatment or recovery to parental challenges to studying to become a glider pilot. One memorable evening we spent quite some time playing a word game. Alas, I don’t remember the name of it or the rules, but it involved taking a word and employing a different usage somewhat like punning. Family frequently entered the equation in various ways. We discovered we had many things in common and the conversation frequently returned to hoping that we could go flying together soon.

Naturally, health topics arose often and my wife and I added Tom and his family to our prayer lists and asked many of our friends to do likewise. The summer of 2011 brought a turn of events in my health status. I’ll spare the gritty details, but the short of it was that I had contracted colon cancer. As soon as I told Tom, he asked if it would be OK if he added my name to a number of prayer lists, too. I thanked him heartily. My surgeon ended up removing parts of me and all of the cancer was localized. I was so blessed to not have to have further treatment.

Nearly every year the Museum of Flight at Boeing field holds a Soaring Expo one weekend in March. I let Tom know that I would be helping to staff the PSSA booth for the first shift that Sunday morning. He was in an up phase between treatments and so he came down to the museum and we met for the second time, chatting as we strolled amongst the displays of gliders and other aircraft. As nearly always, a recurring theme was getting him up in the club’s newly acquired PW-6U.


Some years later Tom said that he would be able to come out after church on 5 October 2014. Another basically blue sky greeted me when I arrived at the field fairly early as there were aircraft to prepare for flight and people to share the tasks and visit. Afternoon was getting on when I grabbed my brown paper lunch bag from my car and headed for a seat in the shade. My peanut butter sandwich unwrapped, I glanced toward the gate and noticed a former police car enter the parking area with Tom at the wheel. I strolled over to greet him and invite him to join me on the sidelines as I finished my lunch and spliced new loops on the ends of some tow ropes.

Earlier that morning I had put my name on the list for a flight in the club’s PW-6U. Typically we follow the first-signed up, first to fly rule, so I checked the list and found that we should have our turn fairly soon.

Not long after I had finished dealing with all of the tow ropes that needed my attention, I could sense that Tom was dithering. On one hand, he was enjoying the chats and meeting some new people, the warm autumn sunshine, the peaceful surroundings interrupted occasionally by the tow plane pulling another glider into the air. But others were going up and we were waiting and we wanted to get in the air, too, and the sun was westering. A dragonfly made for some pleasant distractions now and again, but. . . . The sun got lower.

One thing I knew that Tom didn’t yet. Regulations for aircraft that do not have navigation lights state that such aircraft must be on the ground by sunset. I, too, was getting more anxious. We had been wishing, hoping and planning for this for quite some time and I was beginning to fear that we might not get to fly after all. That was not something that thrilled me.

I was about to intercede with the field manager, the person coordinating the operation for the day, when he said ours would be the next flight. Relieved, we went to the glider staging area and I gave Tom a concise briefing and helped him get situated in the front cockpit. Once I had completed our pre-takeoff checklist I had our wingman check the sky for traffic. Time was getting very short. He got sidetracked by someone asking him to help with some other task. The tow plane was running and ready and so were we. “Could you do that after you launch us, please?” I asked. Thankfully he returned to run our wingtip and we were soon heading toward the rapidly setting sun and into the evening sky.

The tow plane pilot turned toward the south, then continued his gentle bank toward Mt. Rainier. I could almost hear Tom’s breathing ease with being in the air at last. Fall beauty surrounded us. To the west, the sun was getting ever closer to the horizon with band of stratocirrus clouds decorating the sky above it. To the east, a full moon was making its way up the sky. Below us the landscape was dimming, but, scattered amongst the evergreens were pockets of colorful foliage.

When we got to release altitude, I briefed Tom on the procedure we would follow, then asked him to identify the yellow release handle and pull it. With a loud noise the tow rope was released and we did a gently climbing turn to the right. As the airspeed bled off, our passage through the air became almost silent as we began our descent through the totally calm sky.

We headed north, skirting the ridge, and Tom pointed his Nikon toward the sunset. To give him a better shot I lowered the left wing and added some right rudder to maintain our heading. That slightly dimming orb was getting closer to the horizon. I checked the altimeter and then the sun again. Better tuck the nose down a bit to increase our descent rate.

Check the sun position again. Oh, dear. Time to head toward the landing pattern. But we have a bunch of altitude that we need to get rid of in a big hurry. . . .

Gliders are built with devices to solve this problem. They are called spoilers or air brakes. Technically there is a difference in the way that they are made, but the result of using them is the same: increased drag and sink rate. I could use them, but I prefer a technique that I find more enjoyable.

“Tom, how do you feel about steep turns?”

“I don’t know. Try me!”

Instantly I roll the glider into a 60-degree right bank.

“Whee” comes from the front cockpit. I complete 810 degrees of descending spiral, level out at pattern altitude and heading and soon the rising moon is in front of us as we glide down the final approach to touch down as the sun eases below the horizon behind us.

We stopped opposite the glider trailer and I helped Tom extricate himself from the cockpit. I handed him his Nikon and he took several photos while I assisted with stowing the glider in its trailer.

With the dew wiped off of the wings, the glider was tucked into its trailer to await the next weekend. Tom said good-bye, the rest of the airfield and aircraft were secured and I drove home with the memories of a beautiful, satisfying—albeit quite short—flight.


Our Facebook chats continued and it wasn’t long before he shared a link to his view of our time together that day: The images he took richly embellish the record.

Time continued to go down the minute drain. Our evening chats interspersed our weeks with topics from cats to Saabs, CNC machines to SQL, food to music. And often aviation and looking forward to gliding again. Especially since neither of his flights involved any significant soaring. Both were essentially what we call “sled rides.” Once you release, it’s just a glide back to earth. More battles with Cortez ensued. None of them particularly pleasant. Some of them more successful than others. Tom rejoiced that my checkups continued to be clean.

One day shy of a year later the skies were once again blue. This is not always the case when one goes soaring, but it really was this day. Tom wasn’t sure if he could make it out to the field, but I went out anyway. Art and Jerry, two of my high school classmates, were in the area for our 45th reunion and I had offered to take them up for their first glider flights. With my name on the list, I puttered around, helping with the operation until my friends and their wives arrived. As we waited our turns, Tom called to see how things were as he was considering coming out. I told him that I thought there was a really good chance that I would be able to get him in the air, too. He said he should be out in a bit over an hour.

The flight activities were fairly relaxed that day. No one seemed in a big hurry—more interested in savoring the warm sunshine of the autumn day. While we visited, my turns moved up the list. Tom and his friend, another Greg, arrived shortly before it was my turn for the glider. The glider I would be flying was a Blanik L-13 AC. It isn’t as sleek as the PW-6U, nor is its performance as good, but it is fun to fly and has a certain charm all of its own.

We decided that Art would be the first, so I helped him get comfortable in the front seat of the glider, gave him a briefing of his surroundings, how to exit the cockpit, made sure his harness was secure, then I climbed into the back cockpit, completed the pre-takeoff checklist and we launched.

As we were towed aloft we went through a few hints of lift (minor bumps), so I had hopes of a flight somewhat more interesting than a sled ride. Once we were free of the tow plane, Art’s body language relaxed a bit and he started enjoying himself a little more. I told him that if we had had more lift, I would have offered to let him do some of the flying, but I was going to have to work to keep us up long enough to get a reasonable feel for what this gliding thing is all about.

Alas, the hints of lift were tormenters and soon we were forced to head back and rejoin the rest of the group on the ground. After Jerry took his place in the front seat, I performed the pre-takeoff checklist for his first glider flight and we were soon airborne.

Jerry’s time slot turned out to be the best for duration. We were able to milk the lift enough to remain airborne about 42 minutes. We had fun chatting as we descended, hugging the upwind side of the ridge to eke out all of the lift that we could. Soon we were entering the downwind leg of the pattern with pre-landing checklist finished. As we rolled to the end of the runway, Tom, with his friend, was patiently awaiting his turn.

Since this was Tom’s first time in this model of glider, I gave him a briefing, too, and helped him get situated in the cockpit. I could tell that he was in some discomfort, but that the prospects of getting in the air were going to take the edge off of that momentarily. Back into the rear cockpit, I went again. This time I had Tom do the checklist under my supervision and to my satisfaction. When all was ready, we had our wingman check for traffic in the area and, once given the all clear, we launched.

The tow phase of a flight can provide a good idea of how good the lift is going to be. In this case, I surmised that what I was feeling might get us a flight that was more than a strictly down-hill glide. As the sun was higher in the sky than on his previous flight, we didn’t have to race the sundown. Also, the terrain was brighter, the colors more engaging, the cockpit warmer.

Once we freed the tow plane, I immediately began searching for lift. Tom had brought his iPhone along this time instead of his Nikon and began shooting pictures while we enjoyed the autumn beauty and interspersed the wind noise with some conversation. (See this post for pictures and his side of the story.)

The lift was slightly better than nothing, but not all we desired. Soon we were rolling to the end of the runway, then stopped. In the quiet, we opened the canopy and got out.

Gliding is like lunch. There is no such thing as a free one and all of my friends were ready to do their parts. The FAA has regulations about this—and nearly everything else related to flying you can think of—and lots of things that would likely never cross your mind. With the rating that I hold, I am allowed to only charge up to a prorated amount of the flight costs. So, we got out the rate charts and did the math. Art and Jerry had brought amounts of cash that were easy to manage. Tom drew out a fifty-dollar bill from his wallet that had a story behind it (see the link above). He said he’d been saving it quite a while for such a flight. That was all fine and good—and made the day more special—but, with the other funds at hand, there was no way to make change for the $13 that I owed him. I said he could pay me later. That he didn’t want to do. I could send him a check. Hmm. A better idea came to mind. I offered to keep it as credit towards our next flight and he heartily agreed.

Greg and Tom soon left, winding their ways through the woods, down to the Enumclaw plateau and to their separate homes.

Art, Jerry, and their wives offered to take me to dinner, so we could do some more catching up and review the guys’ first glider flights. We chose a Thai restaurant for dinner, then went across the street to a delightful shop for ice cream. The next time they come around during flying weather at least one of the wives may decide to check out the relatively silent skies, too.


Cortez got cranky and raised his ugly head again. Sometimes our Facebook topics got rather technical and medical. I described a machine that hit Tom with needles of radiation as something that came out of the cantina on Mos Eisley. Gold buckshot. Biological/digestive reactions to being inundated with strange chemicals. The fatigue, the struggle to breathe, the fatigue, weight gain due to extreme water retention. The litany lengthened nearly every time we caught up with each other on Facebook. Frequently we would work in our hopeful dream to fly together again soon. “After all,” I’d remind him, “I still owe you money toward that next flight.”

Tom’s interest in my wellbeing—and that of my wife—was humbling. Even during his greatest suffering, he found the strength to ask about us and pray for us.

The treatment protocols changed and usually between bouts he would get a break to recoup and for evaluation of the relative effectiveness of the last trial. So, on another peaceful and beautiful (he managed to pick great days) afternoon, Tom brought his mother, Irmgard, out to see the field. I could see where Tom got some of his sense of humor and kindness from her. They shared some fresh Bartlett pears and conversation. The wistful look in Tom’s eyes was quite pronounced as the gliders would go by on the way to the staging areas, taking off, or in the air over our heads. I offered to take him up—after all, I owed him some money toward that end—if he felt up to it. But I also insisted that there was no pressure either way. It was all his choice. We conversed more as he ate a sandwich. Occasionally I would excuse myself to go launch a glider or do some other task. After enjoying the calm and fellowship with the folks around them and the warm lazy afternoon a while longer, Tom’s energy level was dropping. Since he needed to take his mom back to Roy, then drive to Seattle, he opted to share a good-bye hug and keep looking forward to another flight.


My wife maintains that my guardian angel is preparing a list of all of the great places to soar in the universe. I am so looking forward to sharing that list with Tom.

 

 

 


The summer I graduated from college, I had been taking a lot of photos and was trying to make it professionally by getting on with the Associated Press (AP) and/or United Press International (UPI). One day, the photo editor for Sports Northwest Magazine called (I’d been shooting for them that summer as well), and said that UPI had called. He said I should give them a call back, because they had an assignment for me. I’d been so used to hunting for photo assignments that I couldn’t believe that someone was actually calling me out of the blue.  I wondered if we were heading into ‘lucky break’ territory.

Well, it turned out it wasn’t UPI, though. It was some little newspaper out of Boston called the Christian Science Monitor, which I soon learned wasn’t so little after all, and getting a call from them wasn’t a bad feather in the cap of a 24-year-old.

Turns out they were doing a story about Puget Sound, and all the wonderful things that the Sound (a rather large body of saltwater) was good for. They wanted to illustrate three aspects: industrial, military, and recreational.

Okay, I thought. That shouldn’t be too hard.

To start with, I went to Gasworks Park on Lake Union (freshwater, but connected to Puget Sound via canals and locks), and got photos of people with sea kayaks. Then, I called a sailboat place out at Shilshole Bay Marina and talked them into letting me borrow a couple of sailboats, (yes, a couple of sailboats) complete with crews.

We went out, sailed the two, and got some nice images under full sail and wispy clouds. It was nice. I was absolutely ecstatic until I found out later that there was a problem. A water drop had dried on the negative in the middle of that wonderful wispy sky, resulting in a dark outline that covered about a quarter of the sky in the image. Retouching the negative was out of the question, and though I tried to retouch the print, it was no good. The only way to use the shot would be so small that it would rival a postage stamp, and the folks I’d borrowed the boats from wouldn’t be available again until after the deadline was past. So, I had to move on to plan B.

My ultimate goal became to try to tell the story (industrial, military, and recreational) of Puget Sound in one photo, and I kept my eyes peeled for that kind of situation. I just needed two ships and a boat.

Thing is, as much fun as I had with that sailboat shot, and really wanted to roll with it, I couldn’t because of that water drop on the negative. That bad thing is what ended up making the entire shoot special. Plan B entailed getting industrial, military, and recreational vessels together, and involved finding out who would be in charge of those three types of ships. After some research, I ended up calling the Port of Seattle, talked to the harbormaster, and explained that I was doing a photo shoot for the Christian Science Monitor, and would it be okay if…

…actually, that’s just about how I started every introduction. It’s unbelievable how many doors that sentence or one like it opened up over the following years. I asked the harbormaster if I could get onto one of the ships, or the cranes, or something that would enable me to get some photos to tell that story.

He said, sure, not a problem, all I had to do was tell anyone on the ship that the harbormaster said it was okay, and I should be set.

It felt like I was talking to a man with the authority of God himself.  He had no questions about what I’d be doing, and no questions about whether anyone on any ship in his harbor would obey him.  “If anyone asks questions, tell them the harbormaster said it was okay, and they should let you go anywhere you need to go.”

“Anywhere?”

“Anywhere.”

Wow – this was the greenest of green lights I’d ever seen.

His word, clearly, was law.

He expected no questions.

From anyone.

I was cool with that.

So, I made it out to the first dock in the harbor, found a rather large container ship called the Manu Lani, and climbed on board, and like a kid in a candy store, started exploring. It was in the process of being unloaded, so I carefully wandered around the containers, trying to get into a position that would produce a decent shot. The image I had in my head was one that would have me at almost eye level to the top of the containers the cranes were unloading, looking over the top of them, with the Seattle skyline in the background, but that meant climbing up somewhere to get to that height. Eventually, just in front of the superstructure at the back of the ship, the one with the smokestack, I found a huge mast that I could climb, so I slung the camera bag as far over my shoulder as I could, flung the cameras over that, and started climbing.

This was a little easier said than done, because the mast was welded to multiple levels of deck, which were vibrating ever-so-slightly. You know how you can swing a baseball bat, and the tip of the bat moves way farther and way faster than the part in your hand? Same idea with this mast, only it started about 30 feet from the deck, and I was climbing about 20 feet higher than that.

As long as I kept moving, I was fine. I was facing the back of the ship, so all I saw in front of me was the smoke stack, and as I got to the top of it, I could suddenly hear the “foof, foof, foof” of the exhaust coming out of the stack and filling my ears. I took a quick look around to get my bearings, and realized things were going to get a little interesting. Though I’d stopped moving, it was obvious that the mast hadn’t. In fact, the mast, at that height, was actually moving more. The “foof, foof, foof” was being produced by an engine many feet below decks. Tons of spinning steel caused a surprising amount of ultra-low-frequency vibration, transmitting and amplifying all the way up the mast that I was hanging onto for dear life.

The camera bag and the cameras were swinging uncomfortably around at a frequency that was a bit off from that of the mast, which made them a little hard to hang on.

I’m glad I didn’t have to open and dig through the camera bag for a camera and lens – that would have made things a little more exciting than I’d planned on. I used the lens that I’d put on the Nikon F-3 (the 24/2.8) and the lens I had on the FM-2 (the 180/2.8) and got a couple of photos of the cranes and their operators from almost their level. It was an interesting view, but didn’t really tell much of the story I was trying to tell, so I did the best I could, trying to get shots of the cranes that very few people would have the opportunity to get and, if nothing else, at least proved I’d been there.

By this time, my movements and the shaking of the mast had swung the camera bag back and forth enough to tangle it up on the rungs a bit, so I decided to get down to deck level before things got a little more complicated. I untangled the camera from the rung and got down the mast to the superstructure as carefully and quickly as I could.

I stood there, leaning on the rail for a little bit, realizing and appreciating how much less it was moving, and realized that getting a little lower might actually help steady me bit more. So, I went down to the deck where the containers were. Now, being below the ones I’d been above before, it looked more like a canyon than anything else, and if you’ve ever been in a canyon, you’d imagine it to be fairly quiet. But it wasn’t. It seems a huge number of the containers were loaded with pineapples and needed refrigeration, so each had a small diesel-powered refrigeration unit mounted in one end.

Not only was it loud in those canyons, it was quite warm that morning, even in the shade.

I got a few photos, but again, none that helped me tell the story I was trying to tell. So, I headed forward through the maze, timing my dashes between the swinging containers above, which the crane operators deftly lifted off and settled onto waiting trucks below. With each dash, I worked my way a little closer to the front of the ship.

Eventually, I came to the back of another superstructure and turned right, getting into sunlight and air that smelled more like the tide and less like diesel exhaust. I was still looking for something that would tell the story I was being asked to illustrate, so I kept my eyes out for anything, and as I turned the various corners and walked around the superstructure, I found what was apparently the first mate’s cabin, tucked away behind some heavy sheet metal, out of the wind. There was a surprisingly big window into it, and as I walked by, my eyes were drawn away from the industrial white painted exterior of the ship and into the warm embrace of the first mate’s little cabin.

I made it one step further to discover, in the blink of an eye that, oh my.

He had company.

Who was wearing a necklace.

And a hairbrush.

She’d clearly just gotten out of the shower and saw me in the mirror. Her eyes got so wide that I figured right then might be a good time to head toward the back of the ship. I blinked and was gone, but not fast enough to avoid the first mate striding righteously out in his full white uniform.

“Can I help you, sir?”

(Now, where had I heard those words before?)

“Hi,” I said, sticking my hand out, figuring that acting more confident than I felt would be a good idea. “My name’s Tom Roush, I’m on assignment for the Christian Science Monitor, illustrating a story on shipping in Puget Sound. I was getting some photos of your ship, here, and was told that if anyone had any questions to have them talk to the harbormaster. He said I could be here.”

“Hmmm. Okay, well, okay then, as long as you’re not with the insurance company.  If you have any questions, let me know,” he said as he wiped a stray bit of shaving cream off his cheek.

I said I would, but I had no idea how I’d find him if I did have questions – and was completely willing to let that go.

I headed toward the back of the ship as casually as I could and wandered into a partially enclosed walkway in the back superstructure, looking out over the water toward the city and the Kingdome. I was down to my last roll of film, wondering if I had a story to tell yet, and then, the sound of an outboard motor drew my attention. I saw the picture I was looking for develop before my eyes. I already had the pleasure craft the Monitor was looking for, but there, with Seattle in the background, were the two ships I was missing: an industrial one, a Navy cruiser, and that little boat with the outboard, all coming together into one perfect image. I brought the F-3 with the 24/2.8 up and squeezed off five shots as it went through the scene, and of the five shots, the third is below.

I sent the Christian Science Monitor the copies they wanted. They made me smile. In fact, they made them smile.

The photos told them the story they wanted told.

They just didn’t tell them the whole story.

And – strangely – it got me thinking.  Since then, many times in life I’ve had situations where whatever Plan A was suddenly came crashing down – and a Plan B had to be pulled out of thin air and made to work.  Understand, that doesn’t make it easy, or simple or anything like that – in fact, I still get frustrated like anyone else does. But then I remember this photo shoot, and the other adventures that have happened over the years and get really curious to see what’s in store.

A Japan Lines freighter on the left, the USS Bunker Hill on the right if my research is correct, and a small pleasure craft, taken from the Matson container ship, the Manu Lani, at the Port of Seattle with the Kingdome in the background

I’d occasionally see the Manu Lani in port as she ran the Seattle-Honolulu-Pacific route for a number of years after that – eventually, as I was able to research, she ran into engine trouble and a fire a bit over 400 miles southeast of Tokyo.

She was later sent to China where she was scrapped, and another ship was built to take her place, but with her name.

You can click here for more details and a larger view of the ship. There, you’ll see on the left, the superstructure that contained the first mate and his guest, and on the right, the mast I was on, just left of the smoke stack.


Many years ago, I went to SPU, a liberal arts college in Seattle that’s affiliated with the Free Methodist church, which was socially conservative enough to forbid dancing.

Dances (large groups of people gyrating in a dark room with lots of loud music playing) were not allowed.

Strangely, “functions” (large groups of people gyrating in a dark room with lots of loud music playing) were.

Sort of.

As long as they were off campus.

And the school didn’t “officially” know about them.

But the school let people form bands (as long as no one danced to the music) and, at one point, it held a contest. At the time, the mission of the school was to turn us into “Christian Scholar Servants.” So, a few of us, who happened to like a particular style of music that involved sand, sea, and surfboards, came up with a musical group called the “Christian Scholar Surfers.”

There were several people in the group: Larry and Dave were at the core, and there were others who came and went as they were available. Dave was the lead and used his dorm room curtain rod as a microphone, Larry played keyboards, which were two electric typewriters on ironing boards, and I played bass – which was either a hockey or a lacrosse stick.

Oh – wait – I said it was a musical group.

The music, you see, came from huge speakers that were way, way louder than we could ever be, and they were fed by a cassette player playing, in this case, a song called “Motor Mania” by a group called Roman Holiday. Larry, all six feet eight of him, did that deep, deep bass at the beginning, then Dave and I came in. We practiced and practiced, and frankly, we got so good at it that it was hard to believe that Larry’s voice and keyboards weren’t making the music, or that my hockey stick, Dave’s curtain rod, and our voices weren’t making the actual notes. Timing was pretty critical at some points, and – well, here, have a listen while you’re reading the rest of the story.

One day, when we were out of school, Dave called Larry and told him there was a lip sync contest at a place called Chevy’s in Beaverton, Oregon. Did we want to come down for it?

We’d never heard of Chevy’s, but Dave explained that it was a ‘50s style diner where the food was free a couple of hours a night, but you had to pay for drinks.

Wait.

Free food?

We were so there.

Larry and I didn’t need much convincing. We packed up our stuff, drove down to Dave’s place, rehearsed a bit, piled into Larry’s car, and then went to Chevy’s.

We got everything ready, and they told us we’d be on the schedule around 8:00 or so.

It turned out that they made their money on alcohol, which none of us drank (even though Larry’s folks owned a bar), so we had water or soda, listened to ‘50s music, and just hung out.

It was a fun place to go, and for us, my gosh, it was cheap. We went to the free buffet, got some pretty decent food, ordered cokes, and listened to fun music.

I’d been in a car accident some weeks earlier, injured my back pretty bad, and had to wear a TENS unit to numb the pain to a bearable level, so even though there was a dance floor there, and people were on it, we all knew I wouldn’t be dancing.

One of the more entertaining aspects of the evening was a group of what appeared to be aerobics instructors from a local gym. They were celebrating something with what later amounted to at least 11 bottles of champagne – to the point where, even as far away from them as we were sitting, we could actually smell it. They were laughing, joking, drinking, and in general, really having a good time.

I had never seen more than one bottle of champagne consumed, but they had the table loaded like they were ordering them by the case.

Now, remember the bit about how these folks made money?

Right.

Alcohol.

And as long as they were serving it, and people were buying, they had no reason to hurry the schedule along – so 8:00 (or so) came and went.

In fact, so did 9:00 (or so).

By about 9:45, they were well into cleaning up the free buffet, and things changed a bit, because while the quantity of food was diminishing, the quantity of alcohol being served to the table over by the wall just kept increasing. It was by far the noisiest table, and by this time, you could actually feel the heat they were putting off warming up the whole place.  In fact, my glasses were slipping off my nose, and as I was reaching up to straighten them and clean a smudge off a bit, someone grabbed my arm.

My glasses cartoonishly hung in the air for a split second before clattering to the table.

I was spun out of the chair only to find my hand attached, rather firmly, to the hand of one of the aerobics instructors.

About the time I caught my balance, we were on the dance floor, and they had some very danceable ‘50s music playing just about as loud as it really needed to be played.

I looked around for help, saw blurry outlines of Larry and Dave holding up my glasses and frantically looking for me everywhere but the dance floor. Because, with my back still hurting as bad as it was, the last place I’d be would have been…

…where I was.

With limited options, I did the only thing that made sense. I cranked the TENS unit up as high as it would go until my back literally quivered, and I danced.

Three dances.

With an attractive, yet totally drunken aerobics instructor.

It was fun.

After three songs, the music stopped, and we headed back to our tables.

I collapsed into my chair, picked up my glasses, and put them on to see Larry and Dave’s faces swim into focus, their eyes as big as the little plates the buffet food was on, their jaws struggling to get off the table and at least meet their faces halfway.

All Dave could get out was, “She… you…how?” While Larry sounded like an idling outboard, “But… but… but.”

And so, I had to explain what had happened, all the while wishing I could do a “Spinal Tap” on the TENS unit and turn it up to 11. Eventually, they believed me (by this time, my shoulder was starting to hurt because she’d yanked my arm so hard), and then they both wondered if we’d actually be able to do our set. My part involved very little more than making that hockey stick look like a bass guitar, so I was good. Sure enough, at 11:00, after a lot of buildup, they called us to the stage, where Larry, Dave and I, three college students from Seattle and the Portland area, managed to knock the socks off a crowd of people enjoying music, including a few drunk aerobics instructors who wouldn’t remember a bit of it the next day.

We, on the other hand, can remember every minor detail of this epic adventure, since the strongest thing in our drinks were the bubbles in our Cokes.

Oh, the money in our hands? $75. $25 for each of us: We came in second.

Dave, Larry & Tom, of the Christian Scholar Surfers with our winnings

 

 

 

 


“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

That was one of the things drilled into my dad’s head by his mom when he was younger, so one of the first things that dad did when he got older and married mom was use that mentality on a house.  Over the years, the house had additions built next to it, over it, and extended out from it, and one of those things needed for a growing family was a septic tank.

With shovels, sweat, muscles, chains and pipe, the septic tank was installed, and as the years went by, it did its job as it was supposed to do, silently, until one day, 30+ years later – the drain field the tank emptied into, simply collapsed.  Now any of you who have septic tanks know that when the drain field collapses, you instantly have a crappy problem, and ours collapsed when I was about 19.  After some discussion, a lot of troubleshooting, and just in general trying to figure stuff out, we came up with a short term and a long term plan:

Short term: keep the tank empty enough so the house didn’t smell like – well, stink…

Long term: put in a new drain field – right under the garden where my Opa (mom’s dad who was living with us) had just harvested several years’ worth of rocks (our garden’s most prolific crop).

I was given the task of handling the short term plan – and that involved borrowing my Grampa’s 1934 Ford tractor (it shows up in a few of these stories), hooking up an old Army surplus trailer with about a 1000 gallon tank and a vacuum pump to it, and emptying the tank as often as needed so mom could do laundry, people could take showers – you know, the usual stuff you use water for in a house.  You just don’t normally think about how much of it you use, and how getting rid of it manually can actually be a bit of a chore.

The way it worked was like this:

  1. Drive up to Grampa’s.
  2. Get the tractor, hook it up to the trailer.
  3. Hook up the PTO (Power Take-off) from the tractor to the vacuum pump on the trailer.
  4. Bring tractor and trailer down to mom and dad’s.
  5. Hook up one end of a 4 inch hose to the tank (looks like the stiff hoses that come out of fire engines),
  6. Drop the other end into the septic tank, being sure not to back up so close as to collapse it and make problems worse.
  7. Open the valve on the back of the tank.
  8. Gently engage the vacuum pump with the PTO until the squeaky ‘Hoo Hee Hoo Hee’ sounded more like a ‘Chuff Chuff Chuff Chuff’ and then got quiet as it sucked the air out of the tank.
  9. Wait until the liquid level in a very thick glass tube attached to the tank showed it was filling, or if that wasn’t readable, there was some kind of change in pitch that told me when the tank was full (like maybe something other than air being blasted out of the pump (note: staying upstream of the pump was a lesson I only needed to learn once)

And then once the tank was full, I’d close everything up, put the hose back on the rack on the trailer, put the lid back on the septic tank so no one would fall in, and very carefully drive the tractor up to my Grampa’s where he and dad had agreed I could dump it in the back field where his black angus cows grazed (they were smart enough not to graze where I was dumping).

The trip up was a little over half a mile, and the only brakes on the tractor were on the back wheels, the tires of which were partly filled with water for traction.  Changing directions for any reason was something that had to be planned out far in advance, because the several thousand pounds of liquid in the tank tended to slosh about a bit – and when it sloshed forward, it put a lot of weight on the tractor behind the rear wheels (this made steering interesting as there was very little weight on the front wheels as a result).  Then again, if it sloshed back too hard, it changed the weight distribution so that the little tractor/trailer combination wanted to jackknife, which, given the cargo, just wasn’t something I wanted to have to deal with.

The catch on all of this was the hill just before the gate to the cow pasture I was supposed to dump everything into.  I had to follow the driveway and make a left turn up over this hill where the barn was, I’d stop before climbing the hill and downshift into first so that I didn’t have to deal with sloshing liquid or tipped over trailers, and slowly climb up over the hill in first gear, using a wide open throttle and all 34 of the horses the little tractor had, only to use a fully closed throttle and all the compression the engine had to slow and stop it at the bottom of the hill before getting to the gate I had to open to get into the cow pasture.

Understand, the tractor had no parking brake.  It had a transmission with 12 speeds forward and 3 in reverse.  Each rear wheel was independently braked – so it had two brake pedals, one for each wheel.

Oh, I mentioned the steering: It was loose.  You could swing the steering wheel 30 degrees to either side before it really took effect, so you had that to contend with on the front wheels with that fun brake on the back wheels.

Of the brakes in the back, the left one was the stronger one, which meant that if you hit them both equally, you were turning left, whether you wanted to or not, and if you did that, then the ‘cargo’ would start sloshing both side to side and front to back, so you had to plan for this happening, as well as stopping it from happening in the first place.

So if you wanted to stop in a straight line, you’d hit both brakes, favoring the weak (right) one, and simultaneously slewing the wheel at least, but likely more than 30 degrees to the right, to counter the dragging left brake shoe.  You’d stop, in roughly a straight line, you’d just be going kind of sideways as you did it.

So – you getting this so far? Driving this thing wasn’t quite like hopping in a car and just taking off, you had to pay attention to it.

All of it.

Oh – the paying attention…

The tractor didn’t have a gas pedal.   It had a throttle lever, so you put it in gear at idle, gently let up on the clutch with your left foot until it caught, then slowly worked through the gears at a little higher than idle until you got to 4th (or 12th, if you were counting that way), and then opened the throttle with your right hand so it’d get up to whatever speed you were planning on travelling at (usually not much more than 15 mph).

But this, if nothing else, is where it got interesting.

See, the tires on the trailer weren’t particularly balanced for speed, so they’d create their own harmonic as they turned, causing the trailer to bounce a bit, which then created a secondary harmonic of the liquid inside the trailer, which sloshed to the beat of its own drummer.  The liquid in the tractor tires didn’t really play into it – but the combination of the tires on the trailer, the liquid in the trailer, and how it was connected to the tractor all dramatically limited any speed I could safely drive the tractor.  So for this load, on this road, somewhere between 10 and 12 mph was pretty much my limit, and all of these things had to be taken into consideration every time I emptied the septic tank.

And we learned that that needed to happen every day.

Because of that, I got to the point where I got pretty good at driving the tractor and trailer empty – could back it (and the trailer) up at an absolutely amazing speed to the point where I’d put it in 3rd Reverse, open the throttle, and let out the clutch, making lightning quick steering corrections as I backed the whole thing up at about 10 mph across our lawn.  I even got to the point where I could anticipate the left rear wheel locking up, so countered for that in the steering before I stopped everything.

Really – I got good at this – as I had to do it, like I said, every day until the new drain field could be put in – and that took as long as we had to wait for the drain field installer guy to get us on his schedule.

So it became a daily routine for me.  I’d drive my 1965 Saab 95 with the 3 cylinder, two stroke engine up to Grampa’s, hook up the tractor and trailer, bring it down to mom and dad’s, back it in, suck the septic tank dry (at the time, it really needed it daily), go back up to Grampa’s, empty it out in the back field, clean it off, put it back in the shed, hop in the car (assuming I hadn’t created a reason to wash myself off and keep the car from smelling), and then drive the car home and it’d all be done.  Usually this’d take an hour or so in the afternoon and life was good.  This was the summer after high school, and while it was fun driving a tractor and doing ‘manly’ stuff, frankly you wanted to get this job done quickly as – well – staying upwind of the load was quite preferable.

Now my grandma, we called her ‘Danny’ – an abbreviation of her maiden name, had grown up in the upper Midwest, and every now and then, her brother would come from back east during the summer to visit for a week or two.  I don’t recall them ever doing anything extravagant, just spending honest, quality time with each other, sitting on the patio in the afternoon breeze, catching up on old times, watching as the sunset lit up Mount Rainier with the lovely pink color that it did at that time of year.  I didn’t know these relatives very well, as they were a couple of generations and many states removed from me, but they were awfully nice folks, and one day after I’d put the tractor away and hadn’t left yet, Grampa called me over to the patio where they were relaxing.

He and Danny were sitting there with her brother Don and his wife Sharlyn, enjoying the afternoon, chatting, with the usual pitcher of iced tea on a little table, and he mentioned how wonderful the temperature was, 74 degrees.  Just warm enough in the shade so that if you had a breeze, it’d be perfect.

Which was when I noticed that the gentle breeze we did have, had changed.

Right then.­­

And because of that breeze changing, we were suddenly downwind of everything I’d so wanted to stay upwind of.

Grampa had had a message he wanted to give me, one that I’d just unwittingly gotten, and he hadn’t said a word.

And, as usual, it got me thinking.

In fact, it got me thinking a lot more than any load of crap should.

See, it turned out that both my dad and his dad had agreed on what I’d do with the daily load.  I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I also hadn’t been told that they’d have company that day or I’d have dumped it someplace else, that would have been easy enough to do.  I couldn’t see how any of this was my fault, even though it seemed like Grampa wanted me to think about it that way – but what I did get out of it was that you could be assigned a task – and someone could do exactly what they had been told to do, but there would be unforeseen circumstances that no one had ever thought of that could come into play, and the guy driving the tractor would be the one with fingers pointed at him in spite of the fact he was doing what he’d been told.  I didn’t like that particular lesson – but I paid attention to the wisdom in it, because lessons like it would come into play years later in ways I couldn’t imagine right then.

There were other lessons to be learned in all of this – not the least of which was how easy it was to let something like a trailer you couldn’t let go of, full of four tons of… liquid… get out of control.

The trailer could push you forward, pull you sideways, or roll you over.  I mean it took so much concentration to steer that loose collection of 40 year old metal parts into a cohesive unit, that any slip, any miscalculation, could have effectively had the tail wagging the dog – and I would have been buried – or drowned – under 1000 gallons of… of crap.

And that got me thinking even more…

And I think that’s where it all started boiling down for me.

We’re all living life, dragging our own little trailers full of crap around. And we’re all doing our best to stay in control, but often, that little trailer you yourself are pulling back there tries to take over. Sometimes it tries to take over because of decisions you made yourself, sometimes it’s because of decisions others made for you, whether you wanted those decisions made or not, but all of what happens to you is the result of your reaction to those decisions – and that’s a toughie.

It taught me right there that driving along, whether in life or pulling 1,000 gallons of… stuff, you may have to spend your life making constant course corrections because of something someone did through no fault of your own (like a brake that’s pulling you to one side), or you may spend your life making constant course corrections because of some mistake you yourself made (like not tightening up the steering).  And so you have to compensate.  Hard stuff to admit sometimes.  You end up spending that time making many small but fast course corrections early enough to keep from having to make huge course corrections later.  It will take practice.  It will take determination, it will take planning ahead, and it will take what eventually becomes skill, and when you get to the point of needing it, you’ll be able to roar your tractor backwards, simultaneously hit the clutch, both brakes, brace yourself for the hard pull to the left, steer hard to the right to compensate, slap the transmission out of gear, run the throttle down to idle as it stops – and essentially do the life equivalent of power sliding a tractor backwards over a septic tank instead of falling into one.

And you’ll be fine.

Take care out there, folks.

 


I was taking my friend Beth out for a camera lesson a few years ago and we ended up at Sunset Hill Park in Seattle, and this image just happened in front of us.  The light was pretty nice, the boat looked like it was trying to head to the bright spot there, so I set the exposure so it’d show what I wanted to show, and then took the picture.

And it got me thinking…

You know the old story about the fellow wandering down the street at night and sees another fellow on his hands and knees looking for something under a streetlight? The conversation goes something like this…

“What are you looking for?”

“My wallet.”

So they both start looking for awhile and neither finds anything.

Eventually the second fellow says, “So where’d you actually lose the thing? did you lose it here?”

“Oh no, I lost it over there…” (pointing to a dark section of the street)

“You… Lost… it… over there??? – then why are you searching over here?”

“Well… the light’s better here…”

And so… when I saw this image… I found myself thinking about light – and about where we should be looking for things…

And it got me thinking, as it often does, of the flip side of that story… What if there *were* light over there?

See, sometimes we might be in a spot where everything seems to be okay…

And then, sometimes, just sometimes, the Heavens will open up, and God will say, “Hey, Look over there… I have something for you… I’ll light the way – you take the first step…”

And that’s what I thought when I took this photo…

(they say a picture’s worth 1000 words, in this case, it’s around 300)

Here’s the picture – enjoy…

                            Sometimes you have to go to the bright spots…


I’ve had a number of Saabs over the years, and one of the things that surprises me is that they’re a lot like potato chips.

You can’t have just one.

Why?

Well, there’s the fact that the company that made them doesn’t really exist anymore, and so getting parts for them can be a challenge.  So you have a spare where you can get parts from.

Understand, this is something that can turn from a hobby into an obsession, and there are stories of people who’ve collected hundreds of the things.

But I came across a realization awhile back.

So, in order, my Saabs went like this:

1966 Saab Sport (the one dad bought in Illinois in about 1970)

1965 Saab 95 ($531.26) That’s the one in the back in the photo below.

1967 Saab 96 ($300.00)

1968 Saab 96 Deluxe V4 ($100.00)

1968 Saab 96 Deluxe V4 (Free, I just had to come and get it)

1965 Saab 96 (This is the one in this story, it was free, and was delivered to me)

1968 Saab 96 Deluxe V4 (This one cost some money, and was made 6 cars after the one I had to go pick up, for free.

The three 1968 ones are a story in and of themselves here)

…and one lonely 1972 Saab 95 that came as a parts car and departed in pieces.

Two 1965 Saabs. The Model 96 here in the story is in front, the Model 95 is in the back.

So you can see, there were a few Saabs running around, and to say they were in my blood would be an understatement.  Over time, I moved on, and some of the Saabs didn’t, and just sat there.

That became a problem, and it became obvious that that the question, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” doesn’t just apply to things financially, it applies to time as well.  See, each of these cars had its own quirks, personalities, and so on, but each car also required time on weekends to maintain, to pay attention to, in ways that modern cars simply don’t ask for.

And so the long transition from keeping something physically to keeping something in my memory started.  See, the 1965 Saab 96, the one that was free (in the photo above), was starting to cost, both in time and in money. My dream was to restore it and in the end, it’d look and sound a lot like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3W2OeizGzw but being honest with myself, there was no way I was going to be able to have the combination of time and money to get that particular car both roadworthy and restored the way I wanted it to be restored.  Understand, it would have been fun to see it, smell it, and to hear that “massive” 46 cubic inch 3 cylinder two stroke engine make the sound of Stihl chainsaw crossed with a Sherman tank, but it had to be stripped down to bare metal for all that to happen, and hard as it was to admit, there were other things more pressing in my life, and just like you have to prune a tree to help it grow, there are times you have to get rid of things to either help you grow or allow you to grow.

So it went.

The valuable parts were removed, and the moth-eaten woolen seat covers and rusted-through fenders were left. Someone came and took the rest of it away for scrap, paying a small amount of money for it.

I took that money, folded it up, and put it in a hidden pocket in the wallet I’d made in the 4th grade (and still carry) and kept it there, for many years.

I vowed I would spend it on something worthwhile, and so, one Sunday afternoon some time back, I was able to do just that.

My friend Greg and I met at the quiet, grass airfield near Enumclaw, and I discovered, given that this was October, that there is a wonderfully different way to see the fall colors I’d seen on the trip there, in a way you don’t ordinarily see them, and that was from a sailplane.

The plane this time was a Blanik, and the flight was higher than I’d flown before, and it was a little longer than I’d flown before.  My other friend, also named Greg, was doing the piloting from the back, and this time I didn’t touch the controls, I was able to simply enjoy the view, which I needed.

Mount Rainier out the left side of the Blanik

We flew along the ridge and got a little lift from the updrafts, and got just a touch more altitude from them.  I learned, just by watching how Greg flew, that up to a point, the closer you got to the ridge, the stronger the updraft would be, so we flew quite a bit closer to the side of a mountain than you might ordinarily fly.  Because Greg knew what he was doing, flying close like that was safe.   After some exploring of the sky near the ridge, the altimeter needle had wound down to where it was time to land…

You could almost reach out and touch the cliff

I’d wanted to share what it was like in ways I couldn’t before, so I held the camera up as we were on the approach, and made a little video of our approach and landing, including majestic Mount Rainier in the distance.  You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWwJ7sIRroc

We got out, and sat at the picnic table there at the field, and I fished out that money that had been hiding in my wallet for those years, and amidst the paperwork, the sectionals, and the air traffic control tower (the radio) gave it to Greg for the cost of the flight.

There’s always paperwork

And in that moment, it got me thinking…

You see, I’d really, really wanted that Saab I had to run, but it had been sitting there for quite a number of years, and it was clear there was no way I would restore it.  The moths had eaten at the woolen seat covers, and the rust was definitely making inroads on the rest of the car.

Like my uncle once said, anything you have, when it is first a part of your life, will give to you, whether it’s happiness, health, money, whatever.  But at some time, this thing that you have will start to take those things away.  If it’s a thing, it will wear out, or it will require more maintenance than you have time for, or it will cost money to store, or restore… At some point, this thing that once gave you joy will start costing.  It will cost time, it will cost money, or both…  You will find yourself thinking about it and trying to figure out how to keep it functional.

Where it gets challenging is knowing when to quit.  When to realize that you will not get anything out of your relationship with this object other than memories of what could have been, but never will be, that is the challenge, and that is the time to give it up.  To let it go.

And so, when it came time to let go of that 1965 Saab I’d wanted to restore, it was with some sadness, but also with an understanding that the options were narrowing, and it needed to go.

And I traded something that moths and rust were destroying for a treasure in the heavens…

Wait – where had I heard that before?  Oh – it turns out that the reason this was hitting me so hard wasn’t because it was a new lesson – it was an old one – taught by a fellow sitting on the side of a mountain, written down by his friend named Levi, and in chapter 6 was a very short verse, part of which said simply this:

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt…”

…and so – without knowing it, and not exactly as Levi intended – I realized that in some small way – I’d done just that.


Spoiler Alert: There’s a potentially gross photo at the bottom of this story, but everyone ends up living happily ever after.

K, ready?

Here goes…

Many years ago – where I grew up, Garter Snakes were pretty common, and one time, as I was cleaning up the tools one day behind the garage my dad and I were building, I heard a rather strange noise rustling in the grass.

I looked around and saw a familiar, though large, garter snake, but there was something a bit different about this one, and I stepped down off the scaffolding and took a closer look.

What I saw made me look quickly at the fading light, run inside, grab the camera, and get a photo before I did what needed to be done next.

See, the snake was stuck… and in a bit of a bind.

And the newt (or salamander, or whatever it is there) was also stuck… and in a bit of a bind…

And neither of them was giving up.

The newt was, in its last act of defiance, not going to die, plain and simple.

So I put the camera down, and pulled the dazed newt out of the snake’s mouth, being careful to not injure either of them more than they were already were – well – worse for wear…

The newt for its part, spent awhile catching its breath.

The snake spent that time eyeing its former dinner and working the kinks out of its jaw.

After some time, they both took a look at each other and each slithered their own way back to their burrow, or nest, or whatever it called home.

And it got me thinking…

There are times when we’re the snake – and we’re just doing what we do, and we get stuck, and can’t figure out how to get out of the situation we’ve gotten ourselves into.

And there are times when we’re the newt – and we’re just minding our own business and find ourselves being eaten alive and have no idea how to get out of the situation, but giving up without a heck of a fight isn’t even an option.

And then there are times – when you’ve got the rare privilege of being able to be in a position to help someone – or more than some “one” – get out of the situation they’re in – and by your position, your experience, your perspective, whatever it is – you’re able to help one – or all of the characters in our little story – the newt and the snake – go on and live happy lives – and without you – without that friend with perspective, with wisdom, with understanding, and with patience – they might just not be here today.

Think about that a bit.

So – for those of you who’ve been the newt, or the snake, or the big guy with the camera he tried to keep from getting newt slime on, allow me to thank you on behalf of newt and snake.

Oh, understand – this is not fiction – this is a true story – the photo below is my proof – but it’s also an allegory – in which many of you reading this may have played one of those parts at some point in someone’s life.

Keep doing that – because somehow – somewhere, you might find yourself smiling when you hear that newt be able to say, because of you, “I got better…”

Take care out there, folks – and don’t forget to take care of each other.

Oh – and here’s the picture…

Snake and Newt

Snake and Newt


Hey all,

I was out in the back yard some time ago and I noticed the Burley bicycle trailer (something like this) cowering from the weather underneath the little tree house I’d made for Michael years ago.  He and I used to go all over the place with that thing… We found that we could pop the wheels off, fold it up and put it in the trunk, then pop the bike on the back of the car, then go someplace fun and go for a long bike ride without having to actually ride *there* to do the ride… It made for a lot more fun (and energy) during the ride itself.

One time, we went to the zoo, just riding from the house – it wasn’t far, but it was up a pretty steep hill – and it seemed a lot harder to get there that time.  He was fine, but I found out that I’d accidentally left our daughter’s french horn in the ‘trunk’ of the trailer behind Michael.  Turns out dragging random brass musical instruments around behind you slows you down when you’re going uphill.  We begged the person at the gate to store it for us while we were at the zoo that day with the animals, and I made sure not to go too fast down the hills on the way home.

Other than the zoo, we went so many places with that bike and trailer…. to the Ballard Locks for picnics, to playgrounds for him to meet people and play, to Discovery Park to ride the trails and pick blackberries.

Michael picking some of the blackberries

Michael picking some of the blackberriesa

We always had a tall flag on the trailer with a little spinning wind sock on it, and it would flutter in the breeze as we went down the road or the trails.  Because that made us stand out a bit, one time a lady saw us in the morning on our way to the playground, and in the afternoon out at Discovery Park (a few miles apart) – and stopped me, wondering, “Do you take him EVERYWHERE in that thing?”

I had to answer both yes and no, and explained how I did ride the bike everywhere, but sometimes used the car to get to ‘everywhere’.  She seemed to appreciate that.

The time that stands out the most is one time when Cindy and Alyssa were out of town… I’m not exactly sure where, but I had no car to get to church in, and so Michael and I decided we’d go to church – well, me to church and him to Sunday School, and we did it on the bike.

From our house, it’s about a mile and a half down hill – which is fun and fast, and then it’s the Burke Gilman trail, which is flat, then we cross the Fremont Bridge (lowest drawbridge in the US, and therefore the busiest).  Then it was up a gentle hill (Florentia Street) for a bit, and then left up a very steep hill (First Avenue) to go on a bicycle, much less a bicycle pulling a trailer with a little boy in it (wisely, we left the French horn at home this time)

What was interesting is that it was so steep that I was in first gear, and each time I pedaled, the front wheel would pop off the ground just a little, so clearly I couldn’t steer with the wheel off the ground, but when the wheel wasn’t on the ground was the only time I had power.  I got going slower and slower until I was making S-turns up the road – going from side to side to build up a little speed, then u-turning up the hill and doing it over again, until I got to an entrance to a parking lot where First Avenue was level.

At that point I was huffing and puffing, and just rode in circles on that level bit of ground for a bit to catch my breath, only to hear a small voice behind me say, “Papa! You Made it!”

I’d completely missed the fact that he was sitting back there watching me.

I’d completely missed the fact that I was being an example to him, just by doing what I was doing.

As hard as I was working, as much as I was struggling to keep us moving – I was unaware that little eyes were on me.

I completely lost whatever lesson there was at church and realized the lesson was right there…

And of course, it got me thinking.

How many times does that happen to us?

How many times are people watching us, silently cheering us on?

And how many times would we keep going just that one extra step if we knew that?

So I’m going to put this out there for you, because there have been times where I’ve been the one cheering people on privately, but there have been other times when I’ve been the one quietly, no, silently cheering someone on…

Without actually telling them.

I’d be quietly watching, hoping for them to succeed in whatever battle they’re fighting.

And I’d want them to win.

I want them to climb that mountain.

I want them to find the balance between powering when they need to move forward, and steering when they need to change direction.

I. Want. Them. To. Win.

So… for me – for you… respond to this.  It can be at the end of this blog, but it doesn’t have to be.  But respond to that someone you’re quietly cheering on, and put in it a note about someone you’re cheering on and why… Doesn’t have to include their name – in fact, it’d be better if you didn’t here… That’d protect their privacy, which would be good, because so many of these battles, climbs, challenges are so private – and then share this with them to actually let them know what you mean.

But be bold and let them know.

You have no idea how much a little bit of encouragement can mean to them in their battle.

Take care, God bless, and thanks.

Tom

 


Many years ago, when I was growing up, my uncle had this arsenal of weapons that we’d occasionally go out and use to shoot at helpless creatures.

The helpless creature of choice we had at the time was – well, a herd of unruly AMF bowling pins from Michigan that occasionally needed to be kept in line, and while other people might shoot at tin cans that would fall over, we’d set up these old bowling pins on a log, shoot at them, and if you hit them ju-u-u-u-st right, they’d explode.

This was cool.

I learned a lot in those days about shooting things.  I learned about gun safety – for example, when shooting a 9 mm semi-automatic, it is a really good idea to hold it with your right hand, and then cup your right hand and the gun in your left.

It makes for steadier aim.

It makes for a better target grouping.

But most importantly, it keeps your left thumb from crossing over your right thumb when shooting.

Why is that important?

Well, your left thumb isn’t supposed to be crossed over like that because when shooting a semi-automatic pistol, the recoil of a bullet firing pushes the slide back, ejecting the just fired shell casing (the thing that held the gunpowder) out the side as it goes, and loading a fresh bullet/casing as a spring inside pushes it back forward.

It is good to learn things like this before pulling the trigger.

Why?

Well…

I remember holding the gun very carefully, I thought…

I remember looking exceptionally cool, I thought…

And I remember aiming, and pulling the trigger very carefully, I thought…

And I remember the sound of the gun going off, along with a tremendous amount of pain as that slide shot back through the first knuckle of my left thumb.

I still have a scar on that knuckle where the slide cut through it.

Now, being guys, especially guys out in the country, our first aid was, well, basic, and limited.  There was the typical male expression of care and concern, along the lines of “Hey Hey HEY! No bleeding on the gun, it makes them rusty.”  And someone produced something vaguely resembling a wadded up paper towel, or a sleeve, or something, and we wrapped the thumb so it would stop bleeding, and so the guns wouldn’t rust.

After we’d finished firing the handguns, we got out the rifles and really started going at the bowling pins, and I have to say that a .223 projectile, when it hits a bowling pin and goes through that outer coat of white laminate and hits the inner core of hardwood, really makes it clear that you’ve hit something.  A .223 is what’s fired by what most of us know as an M-16, the military version of the civilian AR-15.  Phenomenal amounts of powder, itty bitty hunk-o-lead.  It means that the bullet goes out so fast that the bowling pins – well, they fell over, and like I said earlier, if you hit them just right, they exploded.  If you didn’t hit just right, they’d spin a bit, or wobble, but one thing was absolutely certain: if they got hit by the .223 bullets, they were going down.

==

Fast forward about 30 years or so… I was down visiting my mom with my son and found a large box in the garage, labeled AMF, from Muskegon Michigan – and found it was full of old bowling pins.

I was stunned.

These were obviously descendants of the bowling pins we’d been shooting at when I was a teenager.

And I looked at my son… the descendant of the one who’d been shooting at the bowling pins when he’d been a teenager…

And the more I thought about it, the more it just seemed like a neat thing to do – go out to the same old log and shoot at those bowling pins again with my son, and I thought that maybe I’d use my old .22 and my dad’s .22 rifle and pistol, and we’d go see if we could again attempt to control that burgeoning bowling pin population down there.

So we got the rifles that had been stored, unfired for a long time,

…and got the pistol, that had been stored, unfired, for a long time,

…and found some ammo that had been stored, unfired, for a long time…

In fact, as we thought back, that ammo had likely been sitting on the same shelf since the time my dad had bought it.  Come to think of it, it’s entirely possible that the ammunition was as old as my son firing it was.  We didn’t know that fresh ammo was a good thing at the time – it had just been sitting there on that shelf, I mean, that’s where ammo was, right?

(your line: “ri-i-i-ght….”)

So we went up and set up the bowling pins in roughly the same place we’d set them up many years before, but the log we’d put them on earlier had rotted away.  This time we set them up in front of a large pile of dirt and ash, made sure things were clear, and then carefully took turns shooting at them.

I noticed a couple of things right off.

  1. Shooting at bowling pins with a .22 instead of a .223 doesn’t make them explode, it irritates them.
  2. Irritated bowling pins are dangerous.

And it wasn’t quite as satisfying to hit them with the .22 – they didn’t explode – even after quite a bit of firing.  They just wobbled a bit, like Weebles.  We think that shooting at them like this must have just irritated them, because at one point we had just one standing, and I fired at it, and heard this wriiiinnnnnnnnnggggg sound way, way off to the right just like the ricochets you hear in old westerns…

Hmmm… Bowling pins shoot back?

In fact, that was most interesting – we hadn’t ever heard of that in real life before.

I could just imagine the headline… “Man gets into gunfight, with bowling pin.”

“…and loses…”

No, that clearly wouldn’t do.

But later, we realized that this must have been the shot that took the bowling pins from irritated to angry, and, just like the people shooting that day were related to the people who had shot 30 years earlier – it was obvious the bowling pins were related, too…

And as my son, who looked a lot like me at that age, took the next shot – we could almost hear the one bowling pin we’d been shooting at, furious now, say quietly, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die…” – and the bullet that had just been fired out of the rifle came ricocheting back, not hitting anything, but coming closer than anyone would ever want to admit, close enough to make us decide it was time to put the guns away for the day.

We looked closer at the bowling pin.  It was apparent that it had been hit a number of glancing blows on the sides by other bowling pins, but very clearly had been hit by bullets twice, right up at the top.

The .22 bullets with their little bit of powder and little bit of lead, instead of going through the plastic laminate like the .223 bullets had done with a little more lead, and a lot more powder, simply flattened out and bounced back.  The most distinct marks, not even dents, but marks, that the bowling pin had were those right there at the top, not even ½ of an inch apart, and they looked eerily just like little gray eyes, staring back at us.

We learned several valuable lessons that day.

  1. Never shoot at armed bowling pins
  2. If anything you’re shooting at starts shooting back – it’s a good idea to bug your butt out of there.
  3. And last but not least, regardless of whether the bowling pins look like they’re armed, if you hear them even whisper anything about Inigo Montoya, leave them alone.

This visit to the time machine was hard.

A number of years ago, just after our son was born, my parents came to visit and see the new member of the family.  My dad wanted to see what we’d made.  My wife handed our son to me, and as I put my dad’s grandson into his arms, I could feel how he’d held me when I was that age.  I could sense the love, the care, the overwhelming urge to  protect this little bundle of life with every fiber of his being – and see he knew that he would not be able to do that, all while he struggled, in that moment, to understand the balance of holding on and letting go.

And then – as if to put that to rest, just as that thought crossed dad’s mind, my son reached up and held onto dad’s finger, the one that still had the scar from the table saw incident a few years earlier.

Michael holding Dad's hand

Michael holding Dad’s hand

And dad loved it, and let his grandson hold his finger at the beginning of his life, long before he taught him what pulling it did (and the giggles that followed)

And my memories flashed on another image tacked up on the scuffed walls of the time machine.

It was a similar situation, 9 years later – as I stood at my dad’s hospital bed, and saw my son again holding my father’s hand…

Dad holding Michael's hand

Dad holding Michael’s hand

Well, actually – they were holding each others hands.  In this case, my dad held onto his grandson’s hand one last time.

And I’m glad he had those 9 years – though that last year was so hard.

Tomorrow it’ll have been 16 years that he’s been gone, living on in our memories, in our laughter, in our tears.

And… and I still miss him…

Take care, folks – oh – just a reminder – love the folks you’ve got while you’ve got them.

Tom Roush

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