Squirrels’ Nuts and Passwords

Squirrels are masters at hiding the nuts they collect for winter. By the same token, I am a master at hiding my passwords. Fully 90% of the nuts hidden by the furry little Einsteins are recovered. The squirrels operate by memory and smell when locating their caches. Fully 100% of my passwords remain unrecovered. The squirrels have me beat in both means of recovery.

It has been fully three years since I have been able to access my own site. “Write them down somewhere safe,” all my friends advise. I do. And they are definitely safe. No one can find them, except God, and Im sure even HE has slapped his forehead a few times as I tear through grocery receipts, current reading material, knitting magazines, paper towels and toilet paper tubes trying to locate the latest lost “nut!” Every single time I write down a password, I promise myself that I will, 1) remember the word because it’s so “unique,” and 2) remember where I squirreled it away! As far as any contest goes, the floofy tailed Einsteins are winning this “hide and seek” event!

It’s been about five years ago, now, that a friend, Paul G., helped me reset the password for this site. All was “OK,” until I had to move. Please don’t question how it happened….I’m not sure myself….but for some reason, the computer gremlins refused to allow me to open the site. A convoluted password chase followed, involving a Face Book friend in Pennsylvania who suggested a “backdoor” through which I might be able to “break in.” It worked. Don’t know how, nor why. It was a tedious route to take, but….it worked. Then, due to inactivity on my part for awhile, (OK….a long while!), the email that was my backdoor in was deactivated. I figured it was really no problem since I did know the password. It was cached away…..somewhere. It was a major problem. Damn site kept telling me the password AND email were wrong. SO…..I simply quit writing, hoping and praying I could find a way back in. I tried any number of ways, wishing I could speak to an actual person at WordPress.( That particular venue has, sadly, long been deactivated for many businesses and companies.) I even tried re-purchasing the domain, but the robots at the other end remained steadfast in telling me the site was already owned. “I KNOW,” I yelled at them on more than one occasion, “I own it!!” No satisfaction there. They didn’t listen, nor care. I gave up trying and figured I would just have to start completely over with a new site/domain, whatever it’s called.

BUT…….somewhere, in the way-out-there universe, my cries of utter frustration were heard by God, or King Squirrelnutkins, maybe both, and one day, I opened an old diary. There it was. Just looking at me. The golden nut……..my password! I held my breath as I typed it in, and the clouds parted!!! I’m back in!! I am now one with the squirrels; I found the nut cache! It’s only one nut to begin with, but it’s the most important one, and will, prayerfully, lead to the discovery of many more “nuts” related to writing! Yay for team Squirrel!!

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Message sent, received, answered.

~ Quora is an online question/answer forum where people request answers on a hugely varied range of subjects. Some of the questions are practical, philosophical, nonsensical, pornographic, or downright unintelligible. Recently, I responded to questions concerning spirits of animals, the Afterlife and Christian beliefs. From an academic standpoint, I basically know nothing, but more than one or two personal experiences have convinced me that we have another “home” beyond this planet on which we currently reside.

~One of the questions I chose to answer was, “What was said at a funeral that you will never forget?” My answer, originally published in May, I believe, of this year, follows:

~As a Christian, I have several “go to” verses in the Bible. My favorite is John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you…”

~My father passed in 2002. At the funeral home, I was introduced to the pastor, exchanging nothing more than names and receiving his condolences.

~ It is an unfortunate fact that my father, (actually, step-father), and I weren’t particularly close, but, at the same time I feared him, I respected him, and was saddened at his death.

~Alone, I went into the viewing room for one last farewell, and to tuck a card beneath his shoulder that I had written to him prior to his death, but, sadly, had not mailed in time for him to read it. As I stood there by the casket, I spoke softly to him, asking him to please let me know that he was OK, and at peace. Then, silently, I recited John 14:27, and left the room.

~At the gravesite, the pastor stood before us, Bible open, with a strange look on his face. Several seconds ticked past before he gave a shake of his head and paged through his Bible. As he stopped flipping the pages, he looked up and, with an odd twist to his lips, said, “My reading and sermon today were going to be from the book of Mark. However, I feel as if….no, I am compelled, ( his emphasis, not mine.),…” Here he gave another short, baffled shake of his head. “I am compelled to read from John.” With that, he began with, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you…” Message sent, received and answered. Thanks, Dad.

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“Dust in the Wind”

,~For the past three springs, I have been watching her carefully and diligently build her little nest in the eaves between the porch and garage. I think she’s just a wee, common, house sparrow, but she is bright, busy and tenacious. Her nests have all been meticulous bits of Nature’s architectural engineering and artistry; lovingly and tightly woven pieces of twigs, leaves, dog hair, and string, tucked away in a corner that should have been an ideal location. It wasn’t. For three springs, I have watched as each brilliant little creation has been ripped from its moorings by the shrieking Nevada zephyrs that rise from somewhere deep within the sands of the surrounding desert hills and canyons, to careen across the landscape, scouring and tearing anything on their chaotic journeys.

~My heart always breaks for this tiny, feathered creature. Her determination, patience and hard work go unrewarded……no home, no family. For such a short time, at least in human terms, this feathered, little busybody was resolute, focused and happy, presumably, in her pre-ordained labors, only to have everything swept away, to ride aloft on the whirlwinds of Nevada dust. What does she think, and where does she go after the loss of her home? Questions I am now asking for myself as I must, once again, pack up and move on, to ……..somewhere.

~The small house that I have been occupying for these past three years is being sold and the new owners do not want to maintain my tenancy, keeping it unoccupied for kids and grandkids when they come to visit. I had made this into my own small, cozy nest, one I had hoped to remain in for some years to come. However, again, I am one with the dust, swirled along with the winds of change that have catapulted me from home to home over the past ten years. I can only hope and pray that all that has happened, and is happening, becomes a blessing, as promised in so many Biblical passages.

~ I feel a certain kinship with that little bird…we had a home, now we don’t. We both labored alone to put our “nests” together. We are both, for a third time, borne away on the shoulders of winds we can’t control. I do, however, consider her to be, in a small way, luckier than I….she doesn’t have ten years of nesting material to haul away.

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Hurricanes’ Aftermath

“That was you!! We heard you! On the radio! This morning! We know it was you! Even Mrs. Turnbeaugh said it was you because you told her you did it!”

Seriously. Who expects teenagers to be up at 4:30 in the morning, listening to an “oldies” station?! The Bill and Bob Morning Show out of Reno was the source of probably half of Nevada learning of my “secret.” Thank God this was in the years before it was almost mandatory to take offense at anything that tickles one’s fancy, otherwise I would have most likely been out of a job!

There was no denying it. “Yes,” I sighed to the five grinning teens standing around my desk. “I did indeed do a flip off the cabin of a sailboat into Lahaina Harbor.” It was, at the moment of take-off, an Olympic worthy somersault. Until smackdown. Face first. Sobering, literally.

“Yeah, well, that’s not all of it, is it,” asked one student, leaning over my desk with a wicked Joker’s grin on his face. “You jumped off………NAKED! In front of HUNDREDS (not quite, but a lot!) of Japanese tourists on another boat! After you did a dance and waved at them!”

Jeez, kid……….JUST. SHUT. UP!

And those tourists all had cameras aimed straight at you!” another grinning gremlin chimed in.

I couldn’t deny any of it because I had called into the Bill and Bob show at 4:30 in the morning to reply to a question the DJs had posed to their listeners: What was the most memorable summer vacation you ever had? I answered. Stupid.

My friend and teaching colleague, MK, and I had been invited to Maui to work for the summer in a little gift shop, The Ladybug, while the owners travelled to the mainland to buy more inventory. Who could pass up such a deal: eight weeks in Hawaii, free condo with pool and ocean access, cars for personal use, a cute little Shih Tzu to cuddle, plus a paycheck! Vacation lottery!!

The Ladybug was a popular little shop, selling mostly brass knickknacks, as well as jewelry some clothes, etc….typical tourist fare. It’s location, under the huge Banyan tree right next to Lahaina Harbor, made it a popular stop for anyone cruising the main drag. We met many people, one of whom was a charismatic, seafaring adventurer, having piloted his sailboat from port Los Angeles all the way to Maui. Can’t recall his name, but he was a “salty dog,” with a huge personality, and it was he who introduced me to those devastating Hawaiian hurricanes while hosting a party of six aboard his boat. This Jolly Roger crew became my very enthusiastic cheer squad as the hurricanes made landfall in my brain.

Ahhh, Youth. You sly, gamboling imp, full of both promise and deceit. You’re the reason so many people say, “Here, hold my beer, and watch this!” You’re the reason for emergency room visits. You’re the reason, along with the hurricanes, that I stripped off my bathing suit, climbed the ladder of the pilot house, flashed the peace sign….among other things!..danced, shouted and waved like a chattering monkey at a boat load of Japanese tourists, all with about six cameras each, shutters clicking madly in the direction of the wildly capering “gaijin,” who then obligingly performed a hairy butt flip into the clear, harbor waters.

The face plant and several gallons of sea water up my nose and down my throat were sufficient enough to bring about some semblance of, “what the hell am I doing?” I managed to flounder around the stern of the boat to grab the bottom step of the bobbing ladder, and after several attempts and many drunken, helpful hands pulling me up, I found myself back on deck. Can’t remember how I got back into my two piece. I do remember being of sound enough mind to refuse another hurricane. I’ve refused them ever since.

Of course, by the start of classes that day, my version of the old school hack, “what did you do on your summer vacation,” had made the rounds. I had to repeat it so many times, I thought, “Why don’t I just get on the school PA system and let the entire school population know that I got drunk on hurricanes, stripped, did a dance in front of God knows how many foreign tourists, forever sealing their conclusions that Americans are nuts, while they snapped hundreds of pretty explicit photos of my bare butt!” Thankfully, I didn’t have to make a trip to the principal’s office to explain my actions, nor did I ever. There were no future phone calls or conferences from outraged parents. Might have had something to do with us all being friends, anyway! That, and people were just way cooler “in the day!”

That was definitely a summer to file away, and pull from the memory banks on cold, wintry days, or when I struggle with the idea of putting on a bathing suit! And, it’s strange to think, that on the other side of the world, some old Japanese granny and grandpa might periodically pull out a dusty old photo album, sharing photos and memories with grandkids, possibly great-grandkids, of their Hawaiian vacation and the harbor “entertainment” they witnessed on a waning summer’s afternoon. Just wish I was still that skinny.

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Hawgs ‘n Dawgs

WAY back in the mid 70s, my father retired from the US Air Force and he and my mother moved to Christianstead, St. Croix in the US Virgen Islands, where he began flying for Antilles Airboats, a small, island hopping, commuter seaplane operation. Not far from the Antilles’ office, there was a small “mom and pop” operation that sold groceries and a few flavors of ice cream, the most popular being rum raisin. It was “to die for!” Creamy and definitely “rummy!” I never passed up a chance on my vacation visits to grab a huge cone filled to overflowing with that heady decadence of rum infused deliciousness.

After my parents relocated from the islands back to mainland USA, we all seemed to be on the same mission of finding a rum raisin ice cream that was equal to what we had experienced on the island. The search proved fruitless. Finally, it dawned on us all as to why we couldn’t find the same intensity of flavor; the island ice cream used real rum in their recipe! Therefore, nothing the ice cream parlors and grocery stores sold even hinted at the same level of flavor that the “mom and pop” variety provided! Rats.

~The Holy Grail of Rum Raisin~

One afternoon, many years after they had left the islands, I received a phone call from my mother, excitedly proclaiming to have “found just what we’ve been looking for in rum raisin ice cream!” My salivary glands kicked into overdrive!

“It’s a new brand,” said Mom. Naturally, I asked what in the heck it was, as I had tried just about every ice cream label I could lay my hands on in this tiresome quest for true rum raisin ice cream. “Wait a sec,” she says, “it has a funny name.”

Now, I must sidetrack here to say, that in spite of having lived decades out of her home state of Georgia, my mother retained her thick-as-cane syrup- Southern accent, and some of the utterances out of her mouth might cause a listener to perform the “puppy dog head tilt” in an effort to understand what they think they might have just heard. She also had a habit of interchanging words similar in spelling and pronunciation, but with completely different meanings. In true 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had written down these words, but one in particular comes to mind that had me, and several dinner guests in their home, rolling on the floor one night after she angrily proclaimed that the sentence some criminal had received was not nearly long enough.

“They should have incinerated him for at least twenty years!” Uhhhhhh…”Mom, I think you mean ‘incarcerated?’ ”

“NO,” she shot back, “I mean incinerated…..jailed for much longer than a paltry twenty years!”

“I think,” I cautiously proceeded to say, “that a twenty minute incineration would take care of any lengthier jail sentence!’ She wanted to argue, but the laughter from the others at the table convinced her to go to the dictionary and look up both words. She conceded, begrudgingly, that we were all correct. Incarceration, not incineration!

~The Quest Continues to This Day~

Impatiently, I waited as she rustled around in her grocery bags. I really wanted to know what this ice cream brand was that was going to catapult me back years in time to summer days spent on white sand beaches caressed by clear, azure blue waves, enjoying rum raisin ice cream while lolling around in a lounge chair.

“Here,” she said, triumphantly over the phone. “It’s called ‘Hawgs ‘n Dawgs!”……… What? Phone away from ear, puppy dog head tilt activated. Had I heard that correctly?

“What was that, Mom?”…..Again, she gleefully pronounced, “Hawgs ‘n Dawgs! Ruthie, (a good friend of hers), says it’s delicious!”

“Hawgs ‘n Dawgs?!? Hawgs ‘n Dawgs?”I kept turning this “new” brand over in my mind. Never before had I seen it.

“Are you sure that’s the brand, Mom?” She was.

“How do you spell it,” I asked.

“Just a sec; let me get my glasses,” she replied.

Suspicion had been building in my mind, and it was confirmed when she spelled out, “H-a-a-g-e-n D-a-z-s…. Hawgs ‘n Dawgs.”

To this day, after so many years, I am still unable to look at Haagen Dazs ice cream and pronounce it any way other than “Hawgs ‘n Dawgs,” and no, as good as all Haagen Dazs flavors are, I have yet to find an equal to the island ice cream of my youth…..none that I have been able to locate, at any rate. If anyone has found something they think might be the ” rum raisin ice cream grail,” I am more than willing to give it a try. Just, please, give me the correct spelling….I can probably work out the pronunciation for myself.

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The Rainbow’s Hues

Poetry is hard work. I have tried my hand at it a few times with pretty much disastrous results. However, as I found myself trying to write about my precious dogs that have passed, the words percolating in my brain formed themselves into a poem, The Rainbow’s Hues. I was never going to publish this as I thought it kinda “schmaltzy,” but these past few months saw the passing of two of my precious pups.

The week before Christmas of 2020, an awful year in so many aspects, my heart was scoured and torn as I had to have my Borgi, (a Border Collie, Corgi cross), Bovi, put to sleep. He was a grumpy old thing, but I loved him, as I have loved all my dogs, cats and any number of other species that have shared my life. However they begin the rainbow journey, naturally or with the assistance of a vet, it is a painful ordeal for those of us who love them so much.

Chuchi, my one eyed, toothless, demonic little Chihuahua, went to sleep of his own accord at about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 5th, 2021. I happened to be in Denver airport at the time, so I wasn’t there to hold him as he stirred the rainbow colors with his little paws. My guilt would be overwhelming had my good friend, Tobie, not been with him to shepherd him on his way. She loves dogs as much as I, and I am sorry her heart had to bear the pain of his passing, but I am glad he had her to love him on over to the other side of the veil.

For my dogs, your dogs, ANY dogs, ANY animal that is making this ultimate journey, I send them back to the stardust from whence we all come with these words of love:

~The Rainbow’s hues ripple softly in your sweet, adoring eyes…As we both prepare ourselves for this most painful of goodbyes.

~Too soon this path we’ve travelled has sadly reached its end…Your new home, now, the Rainbow, my best, beloved friend.

~Can you hear the shatter of my heart? Oh, surely His angels do…Their tears mingle freely with mine, even as their arms welcome you.

~As you close your eyes, my precious one, paws stirring the colors so silently…Take with you my forever love…Your soft shroud for eternity.

~So, gently now, my sweet, dear dog, one final, earthly kiss farewell…Fly swiftly on, my heart’s treasure ….To where all God’s children dwell.

~Until our souls again entwine….I’ll seek each Rainbow’s rise…Searching for those Heavenly hues, slowly fading from your eyes. ~

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National Emergencies and Flex Seal…

~The Visit~

Leslie, Georgia is not a hotbed of activity. Not much happens there. In fact, I’m willing to bet that people new to the state, unless they’ve driven up from Florida and have seen the small road signs pointing the way to this tiny hamlet, have no idea that it even exists, much less its precise location. The quiet of the countryside is broken only by trucks using its main drag as a short cut to Albany. Periodically, the “mosquito” plane drones overhead, doing battle with those buzzing demons that are very nearly the size of the plane trying to eradicate them. Unidentified insect sounds punctuate the wet green-ness; birds and gray squirrels fuss and quarrel in tall pecan trees, and an occasional spring rain adds to the symphony. This southwestern piece of Georgia is the very epitome of “tranquil.” One doesn’t envision a “national emergency” occurring here.

It has been twenty years since I was in Leslie, where my Aunt Margie, and late uncle, Curtis, have lived for eighty plus years, and raised their family, five of them, my cousins. It was way past time for a visit, so I dusted off the Nevada desert for a short trip to spend time with the only “blood” family I have remaining.

~ Yakkity-Yak ~

My aunt and I have the Irish gift for “blarney;” we can talk for hours about anything and nothing at all. We discuss food, houses, people, the state of the nation and the world. Nothing is off limits. Not too long ago, we were absolutely gobsmacked to realize we had talked on the phone for seven hours straight! “What,” my cousin, Cissy, asked her, “do you talk about for that length of time?!?” Neither my aunt nor I could answer that! So, our face to face visit resulted in some marathon conversations, beginning around eight in the morning and going non-stop til the next morning, generally finishing up around 3:00 a.m.!

A couple of nights before I was to return home, we sat in our respective chairs, chatting about everything and anyone, as usual. If we ran out of topics, we either recycled previous subjects, or made up new ones. Three-fifteen rolled around and we both made our way to bed. I was just about to tip over that sharp precipice dividing wakefulness and sleep, when there came a rattling of the doorknob and loud banging on the door and someone shouting. “Damn,” I thought, “the ghost is kicking it up tonight!” (That’s another story!)

~ Our National Emergency ~

I stumbled out of bed and opened the door to find my very distraught aunt, in her skivvies, waving her arms and shouting, “Hurry up! Hurry up! We have a national emergency out here!” Then she toddled quickly away, down the hall towards her room, where the tv was still on, and where , presumably, she had heard about the “emergency.” My mind, still bleary from almost sleep, thought,” WTH?!?! Have the Chinese finally decided to bomb us?!?” I immediately began thinking about evacuation plans; where to go? what to take? what about my dogs way back in Nevada? Has she alerted the rest of the family? Where is the first wave of attacks taking place? As all of this shot light speed quick through my head, I realized Margie had stopped in front of the laundry room door, very agitated, yelling, “Look! Look at this!” The Chinese are in the laundry room? Curious place to invade….

As full conciousness returned, I realized I was standing barefoot in a small lake of water that was slowly creeping towards the carpeted hallway, its origin a waterspout the size of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, geysering from the hose connection to the hot water heater. Water was cascading off the front of the freezer, and the dryer, which was effectively blocking my way to be able to reach the tank’s shut off valve on the far wall. “Don’t get electrocuted!” shouted Auntie. I didn’t realize the water was dangerously close to the electrical outlets and cords for the freezer, washer and dryer, and I was in the middle of it. The water was already lapping the hem of my pajama bottoms. If I stayed in place much longer, a Chinese invasion would be the least of my worries!

,One more stretch and I managed to reach the valve and twisted until the water was shut off…..mostly. There was one. damn. drip. I tried tightening the hose to tank connector, but to no avail, as the problem was a tear in the hose itself. BUT….in all of Auntie’s small arsenal of tools, there was duct tape and….Flex Seal!! “SAVED!” I shouted, wading back into the water. Plan was to spray the seal on the tear and wrap it with the tape for added security against further leaking. Ever seen those Flex Seal commercials, particularly the one where you can repair a fish tank, inside-out, underwater? Don’t endanger your fish.

~ Why Deputy Fife’s Gun Was Never Loaded~

My plan was to stop the leak just for a second, long enough to hit it with a good shot of the seal. Two things went wrong immediately: 1) the leak refused to stop for the necessary second, and 2) in my haste to get the sealant sprayed on the break, I didn’t look at the direction in which the nozzle was turned…right at me. If you have ever seen the Andy Griffith show, you will understand why Andy never allowed Barney to load his gun with the one bullet Barney had stashed in his shirt pocket. I was Deputy Barney Fife with a loaded can of sealant.

My t-shirt is no longer wearable, and everywhere I propped my arm for support, it looked as if a mastodon from the La Brea tarpits had left its massive footprint. That included on top of the dryer, as well as on the top of the water heater as I reached across it, struggling to force the valve closed. My second shot with the seal coated several hangers swinging under some cabinets. The cabinets didn’t escape unscathed, either. Neither did the wall behind the water heater. By the time I was finished trying to implement my “plan” to seal the leak quickly, pretty near everything in the laundry room was sealed, except the drip and Margie. Spraying the sealant directly on the tear didn’t work as the liquid dripping just washed it away, right on to several terry face cloths that had been pressed into service to try and mop up some of the water. The second half of my plan didn’t work any better than the first, the water just bubbling up under the tape and dribbling out each end. Returning from throwing on a house coat, Margie said, “Outside! We have to turn it off from the street!”

~ “Not a Creature Was Stirring…” ~

SO…..at 4a.m., two white haired, senior citizens were fumbling around outside in the dark, barefoot, in pajamas, trying to locate the main water shut off valve, digging and pulling grass and dirt until we located the steel plate covering the valve. The weak beam from Margie’s little flashlight disturbed, right off the bat, a spider the size of my big toe. I have said many times, it’s a darn good thing I am NOT a hysterical woman, otherwise that water would NEVER have been turned off. But, with a little more scuffling and muttering, I located the main valve and twisted it to the off position. That spider never moved in all the commotion. Nothing else moved, either! Not a car, truck, no dogs barking, no yowling, prowling cats, no lights from nearby neighbors’ houses turned on. An army could have invaded, totally unhindered. I had expected someone to at least send a police cruiser down the street to check out our dawn antics on the sidewalk. (To be fair, though, Leslie, Georgia is nowhere near the size of Mayberry, so perhaps there wasn’t a deputy to call!) Unnoticed, we trooped back inside to find the water completely off. However, that wasn’t the end of it. Sealant was still plastered everywhere…mostly on me! My aunt and I sat for about an hour and a half, peeling and scrubbing the goopy, black stuff off my hands and arms, clear up to my elbows. My fingernails remained “sealed” for several days. The flex hadn’t stopped the drip, but parts of me would have remained relatively dry in a rainstorm.

~Do Not Disturb, Please~

Around 5:30 a.m., Margie and I staggered off to our respective beds. As I closed my door, I spoke to the resident ghost, telling him I was not in the mood for knocks, slamming doors and banging washing machine lids, and, that if I heard him at all, he was going to find himself an active participant in our “national emergency,” shrouded for all eternity in a coat of Flex Seal. He stayed quiet, not only for what remained of that night, but for the rest of my visit. Flex Seal…..didn’t shut off the leak, but it shut up a ghost.

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It’s Always the Quiet Ones…”

Proverbs 21:23…”Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” (New International Version)

There are a couple of more like proverbs that caution against “open mouth A, insert foot B.” I can taste my foot in both English and Spanish.

In the first few years of my teaching career, I taught Spanish. In one of my classes, there was a young lady who was, without a doubt, one of the sweetest, gentlest, kindest people I have ever known. She was a credit to the single, Christian mother who was raising her. I can see her even now, after nearly 40 years; her angelic face with its shy smile, soft brown, curling hair and her almost old fashioned clothing; she was the epitome of a “proper young lady.” And smart. She was an “A” student. And well liked. She got along with all the different “cliques” and groups that make up a student body, from the snooty to the street smart. Even her name, Eve, denoted a certain “throw back” to an almost forgotten era of sweet politeness. Teachers loved her. The kind of student that made you happy to teach. She was quiet spoken, helpful to her peers, invariably cheerful. I ruined it.

What’s in a Word?”

Proverbs 17:22…”A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

As with many languages, Spanish incorporates some symbols that are absolutely necessary. Besides the accent marks, there are “umlauts” (the two dots above certain letters) and the “squiggle,” ~. It’s academic name is a “tilde (TEEL-day).” This little mark changes the pronunciation of an “n” from “n” to “nyah,” as the sound of the “ny” combo in canyon and Enya. It’s not an option to use or not use. It changes the meaning of some words; i. e….años means “years,” whereas anos means anuses. Couldn’t help myself….I always had to giggle when I pointed this mistake out to kids who thought they had written, “I am 15 years old, (Yo tengo quince anos…I have 15 anuses), as opposed to, “yo tengo quince años,” (I am/have 15 years) Just a bit of a difference.

At the beginning of many classes, I would have short, informal “quizzes,” perhaps a minute to five minutes in length, just to find any “holes” that needed filling in. One day, I wrote the different pronunciation symbols on the board, along with one or two other fillers. I asked for volunteers to supply the answers. Everything went along smoothly until we arrived at the “tilde.” Immediately I told them the answer absolutely was NOT a “squiggle.” I waited as they whispered and grimaced, scratching their heads. A hand shot up, and an excited smile lit up her face….Eve, ready to answer. I had expected no less from her.

To this day, I can see the scene as clearly as if it had occurred last week. Eve sitting at the back of the class, center row, flanked by two other girls. Her hand was waving slightly, her face beaming, as she said in a quietly excited voice, “Oh, I know! I know!” I said, “Eve, you’re on!” She sat up a bit straighter, took in a breath and looking around at her classmates, she proudly pronounced, “It’s a dildo!” Seriously, this was a girl who had never uttered a questionable word or phrase in her life. The other kids were looking to me, wide eyed, and trying to figure out my next move. (This, as I said, was at least forty years ago, when students still had some respect for classroom decorum!) Honestly, I did not mean to do what I did. I collapsed over my desk, howling with laughter. The entire class followed suit, laughing uproariously, and looking at poor, baffled Eve. She, in turn, was looking questioningly at me, at everyone, completely innocent as to what she had just said. The girl sitting to her left leaned over and whispered to her, letting her know exactly what she had said to cause such chaos.

The look on her dear face haunts me. Her cheeks were fire engine red, her eyes brimmed with tears, and she looked shamefully down at her desk. I tried to play it off for what it was, just a wonderfully funny, innocent mix-up of words, something anyone could have done, and I told her she was very brave for taking a shot at it. She was having none of it. She said not one other word the entire class, and when the bell finally rang, she left, never acknowledging me in any way. I thought I would talk to her in a couple of days, explaining that it really was OK to have made such an honest slip of the tongue, and that I, nor anyone else in that room, certainly was not laughing at her. Didn’t work. The poor girl never answered another question in my class, and, at the semester break, she checked out. I would see her around the school periodically, but we didn’t speak. I can only believe that she somehow saw that word choice as a reflection on her character. My howling like a demented hyena was definitely in character for me…it’s that “mouth” and “tongue” problem I have. But, truly, I never meant to “crush the spirit” in her, and I have, in my prayers, asked for her forgiveness for giving her “dried bones.” I sincerely hope that she has gone on to have an incredibly fabulous life, full of love and prosperity, and that, because of my insensitivity, she hasn’t become a pole dancer.

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So, to supplement my retiree’s income, I substitute teach from time to time. Luckily, I can be a bit picky in choosing the jobs I want to take, and I only sub at the local school. I NEVER sub in kindergarten, (you have to be a special kind of crazy to tackle THAT job!), and steering clear of elementary kids in general. They’re a bit like spider monkeys on crack. Although, monkeys would be easier, I think.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to sub in the high school art class. This is generally a pretty laid back gig…..all the high school students have their individual projects to work on, so all I have to do is relay to them any particular instructions the teacher has left for them, and they usually just get down to work, with a couple of “ne’er do wells” always testing the waters of my resoluteness in keeping them on task. So, I figured, “easy day.” Wrong. I didn’t realize I was going to have fifth graders in the afternoon. Their teacher brings them over from the elementary school building, then leaves them. I was unprepared for what happened when she left.  Incorrigible spider monkeys on crack……….with paint. That’s all that needs to be said.

I was asked back the next week, same high school class. The art teacher was fully aware of what had taken place previously with the fifth graders, so she was quick to tell me that I wouldn’t have that class today, but the fourth graders would be coming in. However, I was NOT to be fooled again, so when the teacher brought the class to the art room, I was ready for the monkey show! Before they were able to set foot in the classroom, I said, “Line up, drop your backpacks out here and do NOT enter that room until I say so, and NOT.ONE.WORD!”  They walked into the room and I told them,” Don’t get your work and materials until I say so, and when you do, NOT. ONE. WORD!  OK…..This side, get your work, your paint and brushes, then sit down, and NOT. ONE WORD!” These instructions were given three different times, the kids following them quietly each time I barked them out. After my last command, one little boy raised his hand and asked me, “Were you in the military?”  My dad had been Air Force for thirty-six years so I figured that qualified me. “Yes!” I snapped, surveying the rest of the class with my stink eye, daring them to say anything. Then, one little girl stood up, approached me timidly, and said, “Thank you for your service.” Then, very solemnly, she SALUTED ME!! OK…..admittedly, I felt like a heel,  BUT…….there was NOT.ONE.WORD!!!!

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Kittens….(Tumbling Toms, cont’d)

It is a typical, no frills, no character, 1950s, ranch “style” house, perched on a bump  flanked to the northwest by alfalfa fields,  expansive doorways opening up into inhospitable, rocky, cave pocked, desert foothills.

Under the house is a crawlspace that runs the entire length of the house, divided halfway by a “basement” of sorts, where the hot water heater, furnace and electrical boxes reside. The space itself isn’t large, maybe 10′ by 10′, but it’s deep, probably 8′ down some stairs that are accessed by a trapdoor which is located in a bedroom closet. Open the hatch, turn on the light, step down two steps to a small, wooden platform. Standing on this solid platform, one can look left, towards the small, open, outside entrance to the crawlspace….the gateway all 5,000 feral cats used to come in out of the weather, whatever it may be. From the basement steps to this outside opening, there might be 100′ feet of dirt, filled with a man-made spider web of criss-crossed air ducts, floor joists and supports, wiring, and, at times………..cats, especially momma cats and their kittens. (Yes, I know…..spay and neuter, but I was one person vs. 800 female cats. I did what I could.) Turning right, there are five steps off the platform to the basement floor. The crawlspace proper continues on to the other end of the house, low, cramped, dark and dusty. Cat heaven…protected from the elements and predators……..almost.

Knitting as furiously as the demented Madame Defarge, I was at first unaware of the commotion taking place in the crawlspace. When I did surface from my yarn induced hypnosis, I realized the racket directly below my feet rivaled the noise made by a mountain rock slide.  Getting on my knees and pressing my face to the air ducts in the living room floor, I began screaming as loudly as possible, “DAMN CATS, SETTLE THE **** DOWN!” Silence….for about five seconds. Then, with renewed fury, the yowling, howling, thumping, banging, scratching, hissing and ripping (the air ducts!) began anew. This time, the uproar tumbled from one end of the crawlspace to the other. I further added to this manic commotion by snatching up a broom and following the raging, underground river of chaos, banging with the broom handle and jumping up and down on the floor at various intervals, hoping that the din I was making would put unbridled fear in their kitty hearts and bring all the pandemonium to a halt. It worked! Just for good measure, I walked the length of the house a couple of more times, intermittently thumping the floor with the broom handle and yelling down the vents. I waited, apprehensively, for a few minutes, praying that the toms who were causing the trouble were gone, or at least subdued into silence by my terrifying display of feline prowess!

Several more minutes passed with nary a peep from the subterranean cat house. I went back to my knitting, pleased I had handled that problem so effectively.  Two days of peace followed, my knitting was progressing nicely, and then………….the kittens started mewling. (to be continued)

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