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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

 

 

 

 

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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.

 


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: https://tomroush.net/2010/09/23/transmissions-from-God/)

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 carried) 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 the 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.


I wandered into the back yard the other day, unlatching the gate, realizing the post the latch was attached to was showing its wear and would need to be replaced soon.

I shut it gently – intending to just sit out there a bit, in the shade of the apple trees, as we’d had a busy summer, and I’d spent very little time out there, so I wanted to enjoy it a little bit while I had the chance.

The one thing those three apple trees, a Red Delicious, a Rome, and a Gravenstein, have in common is that they are apples, and that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.

The Red Delicious and Rome ripen in the fall, often in November, and they last forever if the bugs don’t get to them… While they’re still on the tree, they’ll just happily hang out, ripening slowly, for a month or more, and you’ve got all sorts of time to think about what you want to do with them. You could make apple crisp out of them, you could bake them, you could make cider… All sorts of stuff… You’ve got plenty of time to decide.

But the Gravenstein is different.

It ripens first.

In August.

It has a wonderfully crisp texture if you pick the apples at the right time.  However, it has taken me years to understand when that “right” time actually is, that time when it’s just a little tart, with enough zing to it to really make your mouth water and your jaw ache when you bite into it.

You see – as I mentioned, they ripen in August.

Every other year, actually.

What I didn’t mention is that the wonderfully crisp texture I was referring to is available at a specific time in August.

And that time is between 10:38 and 10:42 AM…

On the second Tuesday.

Of August.

Every other year.

What’s become a little annoying in all of this is that I’m often already occupied by something else between 10:38 and 10:42 AM…

On the second Tuesday.

Of August.

Every other year.

And once you get past that – usually around 10:43 AM, the apples start falling – like large, heavy, almost mushy hail.

And then the birds, squirrels, and the odd opossum, and whatever bugs are hungry, have a feast, and pretty soon those apples that once held such promise, are down on the ground, pecked by birds and worms and – well, anything but us.

It’s sunny this afternoon as I write this, and as I shut the gate behind me earlier, I realized, without having to look at the calendar, that we were well past the second Tuesday of August.

I got out the lawn rake and started raking them into a pile where the three trees overlapped so I could toss them into the compost, and this one apple just kind of caught my eye… I was kneeling on the ground, in the shade of the Rome tree, putting them all in a big metal pan, and this one apple stood out like it wanted the attention. It was bright and red, but had obviously been visited by a bird or two, and definitely a few bugs. It would not be a part of any apple crisp, or baked apples, or cider.

Apples

I took a picture of it and some of the other apples amidst the dry grass and the already crinkly leaves while in the shade of the Rome apple tree.

…and it got me thinking.

See, sometimes in life, like with those Rome apples, we’re given opportunities that last a long time… when options are many, and choices are plentiful, and you can make apple crisp, or baked apples, or cider for a long time.

But sometimes, life gives us Gravensteins… they’re absolutely stunning, but unless you’re ready to pick them when they’re ready – whether you’re ready or not, then you lose out on the opportunity.

And that opportunity may be rare, coming only on the second Tuesday.

Of August.

Every other year.

Between 10:38 and 10:42 AM.


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 Roush

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