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“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.

 

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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

 


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.


…did NOT walk into a bar…

No, really, that just seemed like the perfect line to open the story with, but sadly, it’s not true.

This story’s about Sister Johanna, who can best be described as a cross between a nurse and a nun with the Methodist Church in Germany, worked with my uncle (a pastor in that church) and lived with his family for many years. Yes, they had nuns, and for the most part, they were just what you’d expect a nun to be, the take-no-prisoners kind of attitude in disciplining students, kids, or you when you did something wrong, while at the same time loving you to pieces, and taking no prisoners when you were the victim of someone doing something wrong to you.

But Lord help you if you had any thoughts of sinning in the presence of a nun, and with my uncle and aunt having three boys, there was more than a handful of that going on as they were growing up.

One summer, Mom, my two sisters and I were visiting them in southern Germany where they lived, and Sister Johanna was there helping out like she always did.  That day we were all going to go visit the castle (Hohenzollern, about 20 km away which you should go visit if you can – it’s pretty cool) so it meant jamming Sister Johanna, Uncle Walter, Tante Gisela, my mom, my sisters,  three cousins and me into various cars to get there.

Everyone except my cousin Hanns-Martin and me made it into one of the cars and headed out before Sister Johanna was ready. That meant the two of us ended up in the back of her early 1960’s Renault Dauphine.  If you haven’t seen one, it’s a little French car that was a contemporary of the VW Bug, with a little 4 cylinder, 34 hp liquid cooled engine in the back.  I’d been working on cars at that time with my dad for several years to the point where I knew what the parts were, where they were, and what needed to be done to fix them.

…and unfix them.

– but I’m getting ahead of myself.

She sent us out to the car, both to get us out from under her feet and to have us ready to go, but as we got there my mechanical curiosity was piqued. The car was so small yet the air scoops on the side were like another uncle’s much bigger Mustang, and the radiator vents out the back seemed completely out of place. I’d never seen a car like this before and I wanted to peek under the hood to see what made it go, but we obediently climbed in and waited.

Just as we were wondering what was taking her so long, she came bustling out, and it was clear that staying out of her way was the safest thing to do.  By this time everyone else was well ahead of us, and she was already running late.

But that wasn’t all.

Unlike everyone else, she had to stop at the convent first to get something.

She fired up the engine, jammed the transmission into first, popped the clutch and floored it, heading toward the convent like – well, not quite like a bat out of hell, more like a winged marmoset out of purgatory.  She knew the little curving cobblestone streets in the town so well that she could take them faster than mere mortals.

And she did.

We had no idea how Nuns were supposed to drive, but Hanns-Martin and I had to claw at anything to keep from sliding around the back seat because there were no seatbelts.

We got up to the convent and she got out, running only as a nun can run, where she disappeared in the door.

Hanns-Martin and I looked at each other and we both realized if we wanted to see that engine now might be the one – and only – chance we had.  We jumped out, popped the hood, and saw this wonderful little four cylinder engine with a carburetor, a distributor – and Hey! A coil wire going from the coil to the distributor! I’d seen those before.

I had a flash of inspiration and said, “I can make it not start when she gets back! It won’t hurt it at all!”

See, remove the coil wire and the car won’t start because that’s the single spot all the electricity for the spark plugs goes through.  No coil wire, no running engine.  We both laughed as I disconnected it and put it in my pocket, shut the hood, and hopped back into the car, just in the nick of time.

She’d already been late starting from my uncle’s house, and she was even later now … plus she had two boys in the back who were clearly trying to keep from giggling about something.  She put the key in, hit the clutch, turned the key, the starter whirred, and those 34 horsepower from the engine were sound asleep.

She glared into the mirror as only a nun can.  “What did you two do?” (in our dialect: “Was hen ihr zwoi g’macht?”).

We tried – oh gosh how we tried to keep straight faces and lie to her, “Nothing… We did nothing…”

We were lying.

To a nun.

Who worked for my cousin’s dad (my uncle), who was a preacher.

That would have been a really good time for lightning to strike, but it didn’t, or my cousin and I would have been little crispy pieces of boy ash while Sister Johanna shook the cloud off and went on her way.

But there was no lightning, only Sister Johanna.

I’m not sure which was worse.

We jumped out, popped the hood, put the coil wire back, shut the hood, climbed in the back seat and I was telling her it was fixed right about the time she started it and kicked the 34 horses in the heinie…

They all woke up.

Right then.

The car was already in first gear and I hadn’t gotten the door all the way shut yet when she took off like – well, the door slammed as she hit the gas, and I swore I could see a bewildered marmoset stumbling around outside the window.

Remember, Sister Johanna was not used to being late.

She did not like being late.

At all.

And she drove those 5 inch wide bias ply tires as hard as they would go, screeching at every corner, Hanns-Martin and I again hanging on anything to keep from ending up in each other’s laps.

We commented on the screeching tires and her response, as she shifted into second and drifted through a hard left turn, was “It’s not my driving, it’s the hot pavement making them squeal.”

With the G-forces of that left turn smashing me up against Hanns-Martin, I wasn’t quite in a position to argue, but I could hardly agree with her.

We ended up getting to the castle safely and it is truly a wonderful place.  If you’re ever in southern Germany, I highly recommend it.

Oh – one more thing – there’s actually a moral to this story, and it’s very simple:

Don’t lie to Nuns.

It can be habit forming…

😉

==========================

P.S.  Really, if you ever have any desire for fun travel, take a look at Southern Germany, in the state of Württemberg.

In fact, take a look at Yvonne’s site here – she’s been to the castles Hohenzollern and Lichtenstein, (where her photo looks like it was taken from the same spot I did a drawing from when I was there last) and other castles and has fun stories to tell about all of them.

Oh, and Württemberg is the home of everything from the Blue Danube, Fairytale Castles, Mercedes Benz & Porsche to – to many things you use every day (no really)

 


I’ve learned a few things in life, and every now and then I get upset with folks – go figure… I’m human.

And if I get upset, I’ve learned that the way to get my way is to stick to the facts, to be polite, but also be firm, and if I’m clearly right, I don’t take no for an answer.

But I’ve also learned that something that can be more fun than getting my way, is to write a nice note to someone – or their boss, and just let them know the story behind what they did for someone, and how that affected people.  In this case, we had a bit of an adventure with our car – and I sent the below note to the folks at Chevron, the brand sold at the one gas station up on top of Snoqualmie Pass.  I’ve edited it just a bit for readability and added some links so you can see where it all happened if you’re curious, but otherwise I’ve left it alone.  I also removed the actual email address I sent it to because I don’t want them getting spammed from here.

That said, join us in the retelling of an adventure we had back in 1997…

From:                                    Tom Roush

Sent:                                     Tuesday, July 15, 1997 1:17 PM

To:                                        <removed>

Subject:                                Re: Dale, at the Chevron on I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass, in Washington

Something pretty impressive happened a couple of weeks ago, and one of your employees was involved, so I thought I’d tell you a little story…

We were taking our daughter and a friend from our home in Seattle to a church camp near Yakima in our venerable 1982 Buick LeSabre Station Wagon (the Land Yacht edition).  It was the parent’s dream trip – kids way the heck in the back jabbering away, but quietly enough so as not to cause any problems, 6 year old munchkin belted securely in the front with us, quietly playing with some toys, luggage in the middle seat.  It was great.  Kind of like you’d expect to see in one of those old ads with the mother and the father and all the kids happily singing in the car while they’re driving down the road (on Chevron gas (little plug there)…

It was looking rosy.

Side note here:  Our car, as big as it is and as many systems as it has, does not have any gauges to tell you the condition of any of those systems.  Thus, instead of having a gauge warning you of potential problems, you have lights telling you of suddenly existing problems after the fact.

But then (dramatic music here) 5 miles from the summit, Michael (who had a beautiful view of the dashboard and the idiot lights thereon) saw this large red light come on with the word “TEMP” on it from his booster seat between his mom and me.  Being the brilliant little boy that he is, he recognized the situation and said, “It’s overheating!”

The message from the light was confirmed by steam blowing up from under the hood.

I pulled over.

We still had about 120 miles to go, much less get back home.

So, with somewhat limited options, we sat there, with a little waterfall on the right and traffic on the left, while the car cooled down…

I did the typical male thing of poking around under the hood.  I got some water from the waterfall to see how hot the engine really was and sprinkled it onto the coolest part (the intake manifold) where it instantly boiled off. Hmm… there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot I could do until the thing cooled down…

So my wife read the funnies in the car, the girls chatted, Michael read a Richard Scarry book.

It could have been better, but it could also have been much worse…

After some time, I started the car, the overheat light flickered out (and there was much rejoicing).

We got going, cranked up the heater to draw heat away from the engine, with the plans of just getting to the top of the pass where we could pull into the gas station to sit and let the car cool off someplace away from the traffic long enough to add some more water and/or antifreeze.

As the “West Summit, 1/2 mile” sign came into view, the overheat light came on again.

It was far more dangerous to pull over there than by the waterfall because the road curved right and the shoulder was almost nonexistent, so I kept going, very slowly, with the idea of just making it to the summit and pulling over at the Chevron station there.

We made it to the exit ramp just as the “check engine” light came on in addition to the overheat one. (Gad I hate those idiot lights!) …  The tension in the car – at least the front seat, was getting a little higher than normal, and Michael noticed it.  The following could not have been scripted any better for timing…

We’re pulling into the station…

Michael: “Well, one of two things can happen…. One, the engine could blow up -“

Cindy:    “Michael, the engine is NOT going to blow u-“

Car:      “BOOOM!!! “

Michael:  “WOW!… Cool!”

Steam shot up on all sides of the hood, between it and the fenders, it and the windshield, out through the radiator…

One does not make an entrance like that – anywhere – without attracting a bit of attention.

I got out, popped the hood, and after clearing the steam out so I could see, realized that most of our upper radiator hose was, well, gone.  Not even ductape could fix this one… (I also noticed that the top of the engine had been steam cleaned to the point where you could eat off it) I wiggled what remained of the hose around and realized my options were simple: “I need to get a radiator hose.” I’d figured I’d go into the store by the gas station, buy a hose, put it on the car, and walk out – well, drive out.

I figured wrong.

Our Buick has an upper radiator hose that was designed by – well, GM… One size on one end, another size on the other end, multiple curves in the middle that have to be…

Just.

So.

And nothing in the store fit.

At all.

I asked one of the ladies behind the counter if there was a car parts store nearby, to which she replied, “Which direction are you going?”

My initial reaction was, “Uh, I’m not right now…”

She understood, and told me there was a parts store in Cle-Elum to the east about 30 miles, and North Bend, to the west about 20 miles.

Hmmmm….

Then she realized that one of their employees lived in North Bend and was starting his shift soon, and, “Would you like us to call him? Maybe he can get the part for you…”

With visions of stranded travelers being taken advantage of by these folks, I agreed that they should call.  They handed me the phone once they got him, and he sounded very businesslike, asking specific enough questions for me to realize he knew precisely what he was talking about, and then hung up, telling me he’d be on his way in about 20 minutes, and to expect him up there in about 45.

It was with this “stranded traveler” feeling that I called the parts store myself to see what the part would cost, and was told it had a suggested price of around 18.00.

Knowing this, I had some idea of what to expect, and with nothing else to do, I spent my time playing with our son while my wife, our daughter, and her friend read their books and chatted in the car.

A little later, Dale came up with a large plastic bag with the exact hose in it that I needed.  I followed him into the store to pay for it, and he handed the receipt over to the folks behind the counter, they charged me the 18.00 plus tax.

I was stunned.

To top it off, they let me pay with a check (we don’t have credit cards) – and I was able to put the hose on the car, fill the radiator with water & antifreeze and go on my way.  We drove carefully, and had a slow, but safe and uneventful trip from there on out.

As it was, our six hour trip turned into a 12 hour trip, but as we drove, we saw other stranded motorists on the freeway, many with tow trucks already there, and realized that without Dale’s help, and without the willing cooperative attitude of the staff and management of the station, our trip would have been much longer, and much more “eventful”.

Whoever’s in charge of those folks, please recognize they are performing a valuable service, and are to be highly commended for what they do, for their honesty, their integrity, and their sheer humanity.

Sincerely,

Tom Roush

As a side note, as I walked out, there was another family stranded up there, their fan motor had burned out, and Dale, in the Chevron station, said he could get another motor for 150.00.  This was thought to be rather expensive, until the other stranded motorist found they go for more than 200.00.

Another small deed for him, another family whose life wasn’t turned upside down.

Sincerely,

Tom Roush

And I sent it off.   I never did hear back from them, but I’d hope someone from on high gave Dale and the team up there a pat on the back or something equally nice.  Come to think of it, I don’t know if Dale is still working up there, I mean, it’s been almost 20 years, but just in case he gets it – there’s a fellow in Seattle – and his family – who are still thankful for that deed of kindness he did those many years ago.

Take care, folks.  Be nice to each other.


Tom, Dad & Michael

Two fathers and two sons… A photo from Father’s Day, 1997

I’ve been pondering here for a little bit, and so I’ll just start this story out with the results of the pondering…

See, it (the pondering) got me thinking…

Father’s day’s tomorrow.

I find myself thinking back on and missing my own dad – how for many years he thought he was a failure – and yet, good came out of those things he thought he’d failed at.

See, some years back, I learned how hard it is to be a parent… How much dedication, love, understanding, and determination it takes to love your kids when you’re trying to understand them, and support them when your memories of the world you grew up in “When you were their age” simply do not mesh with the world they’re growing up in.

In being a parent, I’ve been told you can do it like your parents did, do it the opposite of the way they did, or do something new.

I’ve found that there are things we all want to change from our childhoods, but there are also things we want to keep, traditions we want to pass on, and so on, and I’m still learning which ones are which.

I found myself often wanting to give advice to my kids, but then, since this is Father’s day realized how much I’d wanted my dad to listen to me – just to listen, and realized that that was so much more important…

And so, I try to spend my time listening to my kids when they want to talk.

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, but all the time, it’s important.

So without writing much more (hah, it’s me… 😉  I’m gonna take you through a little guided tour of fatherhood, and my experiences with it… I just went through this blog – and found myself smiling, laughing, and tearing up just a bit at the stories I’d written over the last few years.  See, my Dad left us about 16 years ago.  He no longer lives with us on this earth, but lives with us in our memories… That transition, for those of you who’ve not gone through it, is astonishingly hard.  Cindy’s dad did the same thing a couple of years ago, and the transition for her, her family, and us, is ongoing.  I think that’s the little bit where you find yourself laughing at things they might have said, memories you might have shared, and then crying at the same time because you miss them and can’t share the story the memory brings forth with them.

So the stories are in the links below – each one with a little intro to what it’s about… They’re not in any particular order other than the order I pulled them out of the blog – so they’re kind of in reverse chronological order as they were published, but not much else, so you can skip around and read whichever story without missing anything.

That said, the stories, about being, or having, or losing, a dad:

…I realized early on that keeping a straight face when you’re being a dad is something that comes with time…  In this case, I had an adventure in plumbing, and can still hear the laughter of both kids as the problem I was dealing with became painfully obvious (like, it hit me in the face obvious).  It still makes me smile, and they got to laugh at their dad (with his permission).

I remember how much I wanted my own dad to listen to me when I was a kid and a young adult.  Those moments were few and far between, and as a result, so absolutely precious in my mind.  I had a chance to listen to my son once where I so very consciously put my mind on “record” because I knew the story he was about to tell was going to be fun.  It actually is the very first story on the blog.

I’ve been asked, more than once, which story is my favorite – and it’s like asking parents which kid is their favorite… They’re all my favorites – for different reasons, but this one, “Hunting for Buried Treasure” keeps bubbling up to the top – because – well, you’ll have to read it… it’s not long, and any more would require a spoiler alert.

I remember how sometimes the dad I saw, (in his role as my dad) and the dad that was (an adult step-son), were two totally different people – I love this story for the sole reason that it showed a side of dad I didn’t know existed at the time, and it was a lot of fun to write.

This next one – just fair warning – it’s got a hankie warning on it for a reason… I think it was the story that started them.  It’s called ‘Letting go of the Saddle’ – and if you can imagine teaching your kid (or being taught by your dad) to ride a bike – there’s a moment, a very special moment, that happens.  It’s repeated throughout your life in different ways – and you’ll play different characters inside this story throughout your life, sometimes simultaneously.  A huge part of this story really felt like it wrote itself and I was just hanging on for the ride.  I remember the story changing about 2/3 of the way through, where my role in it changed – and I realized I was letting go of another saddle, but not one I was ready to let go of. It was a very hard story to write… I’ll leave it at that.

There’s the story, I’m sure you’ve heard, of The Prodigal Son.  I realized that for there to be a Prodigal Son, there had to be a Prodigal Father, this is the story of the Prodigal Father and me sharing the experience of waiting for our sons to come home.

Many years before I became a dad, I was a newspaper photographer, and had the privilege of watching someone else being a dad, and was able to capture the moment, and the very strong lesson, in a 500th of a second from across a parking lot.

I’ve realized that some stories take seconds to happen, but require months or years of pondering before they’re ready to be written.  This one was a little different.  It took years to happen, and a couple of hours to write.  It involved an F-4 Phantom, a cop, and – well, it made me smile then, and still makes me smile now.

One moment that I shared with my father in law was a simple one… a common occurrence in households around the world, but this one had something special in it.  And I miss the gentle soul who was my wife’s dad.

There was a moment, not quite 16 years ago as I write this, that a number of things collided into a storm I was not ready for.  A storm of fatherhood, childhood, memories, time machines, time moving forward, time standing still.  I remember feeling very much like a little boy in an adult body, and I wasn’t ready to be that much of an adult right then.  I remember this story for the cold, both physical and emotional, for the blowing oak leaves, the sound of Taps and a view I’d seen years before and never wanted to see again… If it’s not obvious yet, it has a hankie warning, just so you know.

And for a change of pace, you know the old saying, “Insanity is hereditary, you get it from your kids”? – Yeah, that’s true… There are other things you get from your kids.  In this case, we’ve actually got three generations involved in this story… My mom’s reaction to something I did, and my reaction as a dad to something my daughter did – and it was the same reaction…

And then – you realize your kids get older – and you realize that some of the lessons change, and some stay the same, and you realize that God gives you chances to both listen to your kids and to help them out.  In this case, again, a situation with my daughter – a couple decades after the above story, a gentle lesson from God, for me, as a dad, on how to be a dad… Occasionally God will present lessons with all the grace of a celestial sledge hammer… This time He used the celestial feather duster (which I appreciated very much)

Some years earlier – the family would go to Michigan for the summer to visit my wife’s side of the family, and in this case, I got to stay home and rat-sit. It was an adventure.

Then there’s the story of bathtime… and a little boy… and his dad.  Oh, and giggles… Can’t forget the giggles…

Some years after the above story, Michael and I had a mad, crushing need to leave town and go on a father-son adventure.  So we did.  We had a fun road trip that involved Mermaids, toast scramblers (the pre-war kind) and the Gates of Mordor…

I learned how important having a hand to hold is – and more importantly, being able to reach up to hold the hand of someone bigger than you..

And how sometimes, not only can you learn a lot from a two year old, but the wisdom that can come from a two year old can be – on multiple levels, completely unadulterated and pure. Oh, and it’s also fun.

And in this story from my dad – I learned a little about man’s inhumanity to man, and how dad learned about it – but also what he did, in his power, to try to combat it, with the realization that some things matter, but an awful lot of things that we think are important actually aren’t.

Another story from dad – this is a long one, but one of my favorites.  Started out as a single dusty sentence I remembered from dad, and after two years of research, I got a story out of it.  Still makes me smile.

Then comes Opa’s story – from WWI.  He’s mom’s dad – and if it weren’t for a piece of Russian shrapnel and some soldiers scavenging for potatoes, you might not be reading this story… Really.

Being a dad means doing a lot of things, and sometimes it means telling a sick munchkin a story.  In this case, I made up a story quite literally on the fly.  Here’s the story – and the ‘behind the scenes’ of telling it.

It’s about a boy…

And a dragon…

Named Fred.

On evenings when Cindy was off with our daughter, I’d often take Michael for drives, bicycle rides, walks, or combinations of all of them.  On one of these we saw something most peculiar in the sky, and I turned my brain on to ‘Record’, and didn’t blink.

Oh… My favorite… Springtime.  ‘Nuff Said… Go read it and smile.

And, a story about a boy and… and a borrowed dog named Pongo.  Pongo was a good dog, and even though he wasn’t ours, Michael got to ‘borrow’ him on his walk home from school.  We haven’t walked down that street in a very long time, in large part because as long as we don’t, in our minds Pongo will still be there.

A lesson I learned from my son, that he didn’t realize he was teaching me… out at Shi Shi beach.

I learned a number of lessons – about shoes, from my daughter – even though she didn’t realize she was teaching me.  We were walking to the bus stop, as fast as we could, because as always, we were running late.  Michael was tucked into my coat (really) and Lys was walking behind me, looking at my red shoes, and proudly watching her two feet, also clad in much smaller Red Converse High Tops, enter and leave her view with every step.  “Look, Papa, I’m two feet behind you!  Get it? Two.. Feet.. Behind you?”  I smiled, and sure enough, she was… Oh, and we caught the bus that day, and the next, and she – well, there’s more to the story – you can read the rest of it here.

Every now and then – you have a story that’s a lot like “Letting go of the Saddle” – only it’s even clearer… In this case, it was my Opa – and this story has a hankie warning.

And last, but not least, I’ve learned, just like being a mom, once a dad, always a dad… the seasons of life come and go, but you’re always dad, or pop, or papa, or daddy.  You hover around being a confidant and an authority figure, between teaching and learning yourself, between laughing with them and crying with them.

Sometimes you spend time on a swingset with your kids, sometimes you spend time in the car with them… Sometimes you agree with them, sometimes not…

But that’s part of life, right?

Oh, and one thing that’s constant…

You always love them.

Always.

 

 

 


Many years ago, there was a little girl who loved red converse high tops.

Then one day, she met a young man and decided that she and her mom would take him out for Pizza, because Mom and Tom rhymed.

And because he had high tops.

They spent a lot of time together, to the point where mom and Tom did more than rhyme, they got married, and the young man slowly started to understand how much the little girl loved the converse high tops.

He taught her how to ride a bicycle, with his high tops on.

Riding rings around Alyssa

Mom took the picture of Tom and Alyssa a few days after Mom & Tom got married.

And he did it wearing his shirt from Sam and Morris’s Market  in Seattle.  This young man, who married her mom (because, among other things, Mom and Tom rhyme), became her papa a few days before her mom took this photo.

One year he did something he’d never done.  He bought two pair of red Converse High Tops, one that was his size, and one that was smaller than any shoes he’d ever remembered buying, so that he and his little girl could both wear their red Converse High Tops and be buddies.

And they did…

Every few years, Papa wore his out…

And every year or so, his little girl would grow out of hers…

But they were loved.

And one day, the papa blinked.

And the little girl grew up.

And she became a young woman.

Years had gone by in the blink of an eye.

And she met a fine young man, who would become her husband.

And he remembered something she had said years earlier.

She had said she wanted to get married in Converse High Tops.

Red Converse High Tops.

And so, on her wedding day, there were fine clothes.

There were suits.

And ties.

And very, very nice dresses.

And there was definitely a wedding dress…

But in the wedding party, there was no leather on anyone’s feet.

You see, Papa had slowly understood how important this was, and had gotten three new pairs of high tops: a new pair for himself, and a new pair for the young man, and especially a new pair for the one who would always be his little girl.

And, as things like this go, that night, she got married to the love of her life.

Photos were taken.

Updates...

…and Facebook was updated.

And just as she had dreamed, she got married in a pair of Red Converse High Tops.

The Bride, her father, and her husband

The Bride, her father, and her husband.

And one day, some years later, while doing some cleaning, the papa found something he hadn’t seen in a long, long time…

A time machine…

And in it were two much smaller, and well-loved Converse.

IMG_8419

And the circle was complete.


I was going through some old photos awhile back from when I was in Sidney, Ohio, and my mind started wandering through the memories.

Going through this one set of negatives (yes, really, and they were black and white, too), I’d been shooting high school baseball – a tournament all the way down in Dayton, and the kids were out there playing, I had been by the field and had watched with everyone, as a storm came in.  While the game was going on, I could see the officials huddled off to one side trying to decide when or if to call the game.  They were paying close attention to the storm.

It turns out that thunderstorms in the Midwest are common, far more than they are here in the Pacific Northwest, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I did have the sense to climb down from the aluminum bleachers I was on as even I knew that lightning struck the highest object first. And, given that I’d been standing on the top bleacher, leaning against the rail at the back – yeah… it was time to come down where it was a little safer.

I’d just gotten to the ground and was standing near the first base line when I heard a loud “Tick” and looked out past the first baseman in time to see a lightning bolt blow a tree apart just past the right field fence.

It was close enough to other things that I could actually gauge the size of the bolt, at least 8 inches across, and the thunder was absolutely instant.

Needless to say, the game was cancelled.  Enough kids get killed by lightning every year that they take it pretty seriously in Ohio, so the kids were running in full tilt before the bits and pieces of the tree even hit the ground.  The parents hustled them to the cars when they got close, and then the rain came pouring down so fast the only thing missing was the Ark…

I got all my camera gear into the car, tossing it onto the passenger’s seat of my ’79 Ford Fairmont, and started the trip up Interstate 75 to the newspaper in Sidney where I’d process the film and get photos ready for the next day’s edition.

The rain, by now, was pretty brutal, and the lighting was constant, to the point where I got to wondering how bright it actually was, so while the traffic was stopped on the freeway, I rummaged around in the camera bag for my light meter that I used to adjust camera settings for Studio Strobe lights, and put it up on the dash.

And then I set it to wait for the next flash.

Which happened about 4 seconds later.

Which, when the light meter was set for ISO 400 film in the camera, registered an f/8.0 aperture.

Consistently.

Meaning if you set the lens to that aperture, the lightning would expose the film perfectly.

Every time.

Which tied in to what they used to say in Grad School: the best way to get a shot was “f/8 and be there” – Because f/8 stopped down the lens enough (think of the lens as squinting) to sharpen things up if you didn’t have the lens completely in focus, but didn’t ‘squint’ so hard that it darkened things to the point you couldn’t see them at all.

And the lightning gave you enough light to take the picture.

Without either of them, neither of them worked.

Hmmm…

f/8 and be there

Even if it’s in the middle of a storm.

Hmmmm…

I pondered some more, but my curiosity satisfied, I put the light meter back in the camera bag and concentrated on traffic, driving, and just plain seeing the taillights in front of me.  It was a pretty bad storm, honestly… Eventually I got back to the paper and developed the film in the darkroom and did indeed get something for the next day’s paper.

I’d have other experiences with lightning later on, at other newspapers, but it was during one moment that’s lost to time that I got to thinking about storms, and specifically thunderstorms, and the lessons they could teach us.

See, when I was little, we lived in Illinois, where the storms were similar to the ones in Ohio.

I knew other kids who were scared of storms, and like them, we’d all head into mom and dad’s bedroom when the thunder woke us up.

But mom didn’t feed the fear at all.  We went there because that bedroom had the best view of the storms, and since dad worked nights, mom would always invite us up onto the bed or over to the window and say, “Ooh, let’s look at the lightning!”

And we did – and we were fascinated with how clear and sharp everything was in that brilliant flash, and how the darker the storm got, the clearer we could see when the lightning hit.

And it got me thinking.

Last December here in Seattle, we lived up to our reputation for rain and got enough of it here in the lowlands in three weeks to overcome a summer’s worth of drought.  The mountains got eight feet of snow in one week.  In fact, there was enough rain out on the Olympic Peninsula to put out a forest fire that had been burning all summer.

It was… a lot of rain.

And the storms in life sometimes come softly – like that snow – you don’t realize it’s an issue until you can’t get out of your driveway, or walk down the street.

Sometimes they come faster – like those rain storms in December where there were days where we had an inch or two of rain a day, for a long time… The land couldn’t soak it up fast enough, and there were consequences, the flooding that happened right away, and landslides that happened later.

But some of those consequences could come almost instantly – with very little or no warning.  Like there would be if you were standing on the top of an aluminum set of bleachers and idly noticed clouds coming in a little faster than you were expecting.

I learned that sometimes, you can be out in the worst weather – and find yourself absolutely terrified by it – but then realize that the lightning in that dark storm gives you a clarity of vision that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

The lightning may be scary, but it’s also amazing in how it clears things up…

And…

…the lightning has struck before, and I – we – we learned from it that time.

Well, those times.

And of course, it all got me thinking some more…

See, I’m going through a storm myself as I write this – and it’s close.  It’s close enough to where the lightning and thunder happen at the same time – and it’s disorienting.

I don’t have the clarity that I’d like to have right now.

There are times when I am flummoxed at where God is during some of these storms. I’ve seen so many variations of answers in all of this that with the other things that have happened in my life  I’m never sure whether to be upset when the answer to a prayer I have isn’t the one I’m expecting…

…or the one I want…

But the answer…

It will come.

I just need to remember the lessons I learned many years ago looking out mom’s bedroom window, and the lessons I learned standing on top of a bunch of aluminum bleachers, and lessons we’ve learned more recently, going through our own storms…

…I guess another way to look at it is you can either be terrified of the lightning or you can let the lightning bring you wisdom and clarity.

Deal with what you can.

When you can.

With the information you have.

And the resources you have.

Hmmmm…

I guess you could add to that:

Don’t worry about the stuff you can’t deal with.  Just work with what you can…

Those of you who read the Bible might be familiar with this verse from Matthew 6:34 (NIV)

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Hmmm…

So very true.

So instead of focusing so much on the worries of tomorrow…

Be there today.

…instead of focusing on the regrets of yesterday…

Be there today.

It’s far easier to say it than it is to do it, but if you were a photographer,  that’s another way of saying “f/8 and be there

So… I guess the biggest thought in all of this is that I’m not so much waiting for the lightning as much as I’m searching for it.

And the clarity that comes from  a bright flash of lightning in a dark storm.

Take care, folks…

 


Questions from my son tend to add a little different perspective to the stories I’ve told him.

If you’ve been reading them long, you know that there’s a certain classification of stories involving “Stupid Things that Papa Did When He Was Little”.

They’re the kinds of stories that I can safely tell in the first person…

Past tense.

(think about that – it’s important)

So when my son asked, “So just how many fires did you actually set in the house when you were growing up?” – and I honestly had to think my way through them and keep track on my fingers, I knew I needed to write the stories down. So, just a recap of the times I almost burned the house down (note: some of these stories have been written, some are in the backlog)…

Let’s see… there’s:

  • the time the bed caught fire, (still need to write this one – it was an aluminum pilot’s bunk from the USS Ticonderoga… No, really.)
  • the time I lit the fire in the wood stove, with gasoline. (I don’t recommend this),
  • the time the candle holder caught fire (design issue anyone?) and set the set of Encyclopedias, the shelves they were on, on fire, and dripped flaming plastic onto the desk underneath them, setting it on fire as well, (Yup, need to write this one, too…)
  • the time I came very close to doing the Olympic Torch run through the house with a highway flare as I was trying to put out another fire.
  • …and of course there was the – well, let’s not give away the punchline, shall we?

I was still living at home with my folks and sisters, and it had been a Saturday of yard work and gardening and just general cleanup. I’d gotten done with my part, and asked what else there was for me to do, and mom said, “Well, you could go in and make dinner. You can make the chicken.”

Dinner.

Chicken.

Gotcha.

So I looked all over for a chicken and the only one I could find was the one frozen solid.

In the freezer.

Understand, this was an industrial level freezer. The chicken was the same consistency as the granite used by the Canadian Olympic Curling team. I imagined sliding the chicken across the floor and frantically sweeping in front of it – but while the image made me smile, I decided against hurling – or curling – the chicken…

Chances were I’d break something with it.

Besides, dinner for a hungry family was more important.

Speaking of dinner, I had to figure out how to rapidly thaw this hunk of frozen fowl. Dad had spent $600.00 on a microwave oven back then (in the ‘70’s) and gotten a good one (a Sharp) that would eventually last over 40 years, looking brand new the whole time. I hefted the chicken, still in the closed plastic bag, onto the rotating glass plate and pushed the buttons for something like 40 minutes, then turned around to peel potatoes in the kitchen sink and get some vegetables ready for the pot.

I’d gotten maybe two potatoes peeled when I sniffed that something was not quite right.

I smelled the potato I was peeling.

It was fine.

The peeler?

It was fine.

My hands?

They smelled like… raw potatoes.

Besides, I’d washed my hands, and the chicken was frozen last time I touched – oh, the chicken – uh…

I looked up from the sink, then looked left and right, trying to remember where I’d put the chicken, and it was only when I turned around that I definitely knew something was wrong.

The chicken that I’d put in the microwave to defrost, you see…

…was on fire.

Wait.

What?

I jumped across the kitchen, hammered down on the lever to shut the microwave off, popped the door open, and grabbed the burning plastic bag the chicken was in and heaved it in the general direction of the sink. The flame made a weird flup flup flup flup flup sound (complete with Doppler effect, mind you) just before the chicken thunk-splushed into the sink, putting the fire out and splashing water and potato peels all over the place.

I turned the water I’d been peeling the potato under off so I could see the bag, and it turned out that the plastic bag had been tied shut with what was standard for the time, which was two little pieces of tape with a wire in the middle.

And the wire had gotten red hot, set the tape on fire, which set the plastic bag on fire, which then set – I can’t believe I’m writing this, but it had set the chicken’s butt on fire (which reminds me of yet another story about my friend Bill – but you can read that one later).

I trimmed the burned parts off, pulled what remained of the chicken out of the bag, and put it in a glass bowl with a lid and actually read the manual for “how to defrost a chicken in the microwave” and put it back in there for awhile longer.

I looked out the window, checked on the rest of the gang, knew I had some time, so peeled some apples and sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar and put them on the chicken once it was defrosted and out of the microwave, then wrapped everything in some bacon I found while I was looking for the chicken in the first place and put that in the regular oven.

While that was baking, I made some salad, boiled the potatoes, and in general, made a pretty decent dinner.

I rang the dinner bell for everyone, and pretty soon they came in.

I remember one of my sisters taking a whiff and wrinkling her nose a bit as everyone came through the door, smelling a little bit of everything that had happened in the last couple of hours.

“What’s that smell?”

And I gave the only answer I could possibly give.

“It’s, it’s the chicken.”

And… it was actually pretty good.


Okay, not physical running – but mental running & walking – keep reading, you’ll get it.

A couple of months ago, after having spent the better part of a week physically and mentally fighting off a cold, the weather was sunny enough to get out, so I went to Golden Gardens to get some Vitamin D and fresh air. I sat there in the car for a bit, not quite ready to go outside yet because it was cold and I’d been listening to a program on the radio, which was actually a fascinating story about language.

And in it, a fellow said a number of things, but the two that stood out had to do with how the brain develops mentally along with the development and understanding of language.  He said something about the inability to think without having language, and I differed with him greatly in my conclusion on that – not because I had reams of academic knowledge of it, but because I had personal experience in it.

And, this may come as no surprise, but I have a story about it.

The story was here, about 20 minutes in for several weeks – I wasn’t able to get to it just now, but that’s where it was.

https://www.wnyc.org/radio/#/ondemand/551046

I abandoned my idea of walking out in the sunshine and sat there, transfixed as this fellow talked about language, about communication, and then he hit a nerve in me (here’s the program about 20 minutes in – it’s when he talks about a controversial statement) – and I found myself rocketing back in the time machine – in a way that was different than all the others.

In my writings here, I’ve written nothing but true stories.

They’ve ranged in time from WWI, WWII, the Cold War, they’ve ranged from happy ones to sad ones, wise ones and silly ones, serious and and funny ones. I’ve written about my mom’s childhood, my own childhood, my children’s childhood, all the way up to the present.

I’ve joked with people that I write non-fiction because I’m not smart enough to write fiction, because fiction has to make sense.

Some of the stories were written with years of research corroborating a half-remembered story from childhood, and some were just a snippet of life that happened as I was paying attention, and I wrote it down.

And then there’s this one.

This story is the very first I could write in the first person because it… because everything that happened before this story is pretty much lost.

Because before this story happened – I didn’t have the one thing I’m using right now, and that is language.

So I’m going to use some of the language I’ve learned since this story happened to tell you a little story about a time when I didn’t have any language to tell stories with..

My first memory is from when I was in an oxygen tent overnight in the hospital for bronchitis.

The one moment I have burned in my memory is mom and dad coming to visit me or get me and the joy I had knowing they’d come for me. I don’t have words associated with it, just joy, and just for that moment.

I remember the color of mom’s dress, the color of dad’s uniform as they stood in the doorway in the far left corner, the color of the tiles on the walls in the room, the faint smell of the rubbing alcohol and ether that was always present. And I remember the light coming in from high on the right. I remember a large counter kind of a thing, strangely in the middle of the room, and the doctor standing kind of in silhouette off to the right in front of the windows.

The memory stayed with me, and over the years I kept asking my parents about it until we finally figured out where it was, but far more importantly to me, when it was.

And it turns out the only thing that fit was that hospital visit.

When I was six months old.

Yup…

That’s me, and my sister.

A little older than that memory, but a little younger than the next one.

And it’s hard for me to understand, looking at that photo, that kids – babies – of that age can actually comprehend stuff and have thoughts and feelings and ponderings and not just react to instincts and impulses…

But I was one of them once, and I still have the memories..

I have a few other memories of that time – all of them raising more questions in me than they answer. The next one I have very clearly is of our first trip to Germany. Dad had orders to go to one place, and for the first part of the trip, we were on the same plane. I was on mom’s lap and remember looking across the aisle at him, and how proud I was of him in his uniform, with the sergeant’s stripes on the sleeve..

…and while mom remembers the flight as me having a tremendous earache and crying, I remember one moment of it being very quiet, and in that moment, as I turned to look forward, I had this thought:

“I wonder what’s going to happen to me in life?”

In English.

Understand there is significance of this, because dad spoke English and mom spoke German, and as kids, we were learning English and German at the same time.

And I remember having this thought.

In English.

The question asked has been partially answered by roughly half a century of – well – life, but the answer is not as revealing as the question that still baffles me.

How would I, being 18 months or so old at that time, know that I had life ahead of me?

If I knew life was ahead of me, that meant I had a sense of time, and my place in it.

If I knew that there was something, some things before me, what are the faded memories of those that were behind me?

How would, how could I know that things would happen?

There was a sense of understanding that the future existed long before you’d think a kid would be even capable of having thoughts like this.

Come to think of it – what about being proud of my dad? It wasn’t any other emotion… I was proud of my dad. But how could I explain that one? How could I, at 18 months, explain the sense of happiness in someone else’s accomplishments or achievements? Just trying to explain that would also mean that I could be aware of the opposite, someone else’s failings. Pride in their accomplishments would be happiness that those accomplishments, and not the failings, happened.

The more I thought about it – the more baffling it became.

And the questions kept coming: Who was I directing this question to? Or was it just me thinking to myself?

How did I know that there were options as far as what might actually happen that hadn’t happened yet?

Why did this thought come to me, fully formed, in English and not German?

I couldn’t talk verbally at the time, but I could clearly think.

I remember when we got to Germany – and when our uncle picked us up from the airport in his blue Volvo (I remember because of the bar speedometer I saw years later in my sister’s Volvo) . But it’s that little boy up there in that photo who remembers these things, not just the adult writing it down. It makes me wonder about memory, about the things we do remember, and what it takes to actually remember them.

And I realized that one could have thought, or thoughts, without language, but maybe what the person in the radio program was trying to say was that one couldn’t express those thoughts very well without words. And yet, I remember once, years later – having a fascinating idea that literally came to me in a flash: again, fully formed, poof, there it was. It took hours to explain it. And it makes me wonder how language can allow us to express the thoughts we have without language and communicate them. But at the same time, it feels tremendously slow and inadequate sometimes. There are times when words – well, when words are not adequate, and, going back much earlier, when words simply didn’t exist.

I remember very clearly, at about the time of that photo up there – actually it was likely earlier, being able to communicate with other kids my age.

Before we were able to use language.

I remember just… knowing not just what I was thinking and feeling, but what they were thinking and feeling, and we were able to let each other know that.

Without words.

Please understand, I have no idea how this worked. And I can’t tell you what, if any, language we were using. I just know that it did work. I also know that as I learned to use both English and German, my ability to communicate with other kids like that faded, and I remember the ability to do it like one remembers a long lost, half-forgotten treasure, and much as I wanted to, still not quite being sure how it worked.

All this is from within about a year of that photo up there.

And that question about, “I wonder what’s going to happen to me in life” – that one still pops up now and then… the philosophical areas one could explore with that, the nature of ‘self’ and the whole ‘nature/nurture’ discussion – where we’re a product of both our nature – (genetics and the like) and the way we were brought up (nurture)… I wonder about that because there was far more nature than nurture at that time, but these thoughts, these ponderings, seem to me to be right at the border of nature and nurture.

And I still ponder…

And I still have questions…

Tom Roush

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