Monday, November 28, 2011



The Carpool

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I was a stay-at-home Mom until my children were in school. When I heard that GTE Sylvania was hiring back in my old hometown of Emporium, I immediately applied for work to help out with the bills.

We only had two vehicles at the time: a red Renault Alliance and a yellow Chevy Luv pick-up truck.  Both were great on gas, but I was already paying my neighbor for child care before and after school, so I decided to look into carpooling. I put a notice on the bulletin board near the punch clock and got a reply. Three men in my neighborhood were already carpooling and said they would be glad to have me join them. That way, each of us would only have to drive one week per month.

Now, I was in my 30’s and these men were WELL into their 50’s. I am not sure how they felt about my driving, but each of them had their “quirks.” They always made me ride shotgun.

Fiorantino, the Italian man always smoked and drank coffee. He felt it was necessary to talk to me the whole 40-mile trip. His breath made my stomach churn so I soon learned to dowse myself with some strong perfume on those days!

Bob was the most “normal” of the three.  We both seemed to sense this and would connect visually through the rear-view mirror. The first time I rode with Bob, Thomas snored loudly from the back seat.  Then I noticed that he also snored when Fiorantio drove.  When he snored as I drove, I began to wonder if he ALWAYS snored.  I was about to find out.

It was a snowy morning when Thomas picked me up.  Bob and Fiorantino were already settled into the back seat, Bob leaning toward his window as Fiorantino was speaking to him.  Bob and I connected eyes and tried not to laugh.

We started out from Ridgway onto the long 2-lane highway that connected to St. Marys, about 15 miles away. The road was deserted at 5AM and it was still dark. The roadway was completely covered in snow and the only way to gauge where to drive was by guessing where the center of the roadway was and stay to the right. I looked up and noticed that Thomas’ eyes were closed.  I scanned the roadway ahead.  We seemed to be on our side, so I wasn’t too concerned until I saw something in the middle of our side…something lying on the road…something like a dead deer. 

As we approached, I saw that I was correct….a dead deer, probably frozen stiff, lay in our path.  I quickly looked in the mirror to see what Bob was thinking.  His eyebrows were furrowed and he looked at me in anticipation, as if to say, “See?  I told you he ALWAYS snored and slept, even when he drove.”

We hit the deer dead on going at about 45MPH in a VW station wagon.  We were airborne for what seemed forever after the initial impact, then landed the way an unseasoned pilot might drop a DC-10 onto the airport runway on his maiden flight. The “landing” startled Thomas and his eyes flew open and he asked, “What the hell was THAT???

“Oh, a dead deer.” I mumbled, tightening my seatbelt while peeking into the back seat where Bob tried so hard to stifle a laugh, he had tears in his eyes, or else he was scared to tears.

Thomas didn’t snore, nor did he close his eyes for the rest of the trip. I managed to carpool for the first month and a half, but decided to drive myself just as it was Thomas’ turn…..

Saturday, October 29, 2011

From Trash to Treasure

One reason I bought my home back in 1999was the “forest” bordering my back yard. For some reason, my property includes three city lots, all of them woods.

The interior of the house needs work and the yard needs work, but I find myself obsessed with the woodlands. Perhaps it’s because before moving to Hickory’s Kenworth neighborhood, I had lived in the mountains in rural Pennsylvania. There, if you take a step off your front porch, you can get right onto some cross-country skis. I can’t remember ever living inside city limits.

The obsession with my Hickory forest started one spring day as I was raking leaves from my yard into the woods. My rake uncovered something glass. I dug the glass out of the rich loamy leaf mold: a soda bottle, one of the oldies we used to turn in for a deposit.

As I retrieved it, I noticed several others in the same area; some with shades of light green, brown, or clear glass; some whole; others with their sharp shards poking up like menacing little swords…Brownie, Pepsi, Coke, Orange Crush, and Royal Crown.

They circled an ancient oak tree as if they were placed there by fairies to protect their domain. Alas, my lovely “forest” had been nothing more than a garbage dump in its previous life!

Worrying that my two precious cats might hurt their delicate paws on such deadly refuse, I began to gather every bottle or piece of glass I could find. I rinsed out the whole ones and put everything into the recycle bin. I thought of taking some of the older ones to an antique dealer, but felt I would probably be given next to nothing for them.

That was the first spring. You know how you dig a garden and dispose of what you think to be all of the rocks? The following spring, others seemed to push up through the earth bigger and more plentiful. Each spring I was prospecting for more glass bottles.

About this time, I decided to make a special woodland retreat in my forest, so I began each winter to cut out all the little plants that creep and crawl everywhere in the South. I intended to reintroduce native woodland plants, so I chose another huge majestic oak and began to clear the area around it.

In a huge hole behind this oak, another tree had overturned during 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, leaving a crater, so I filled it with the brush I had been cutting out. I decided to rake this area. That’s when I hit the mother lode!

Bottles of every shape, size and color appeared before my eyes, whole and in shards again.

Moaning and groaning, I was on my way to get the recycle bin when it hit me. This area was so shaded, it would take years to get the woodland plants established, so why not clean these bottles and make a bottle garden? My daughter had collected bottles over the years and had suspended them from tree limbs and bushes in her yard in Tahoe.

As the circle around the oak began to take shape, I trimmed all the vegetation in a perimeter of four to five feet, leaving branches that would fit into the neck of each bottle.

Not only does it look intriguing, but the bottles are placed close enough together so when the wind blows, they actually clink, sounding like nymphs and fairies chattering their appreciation.

Yes, I know there are weeds in my front flower bed and winter pansies to be planted, but my bottles are catching the sunlight and gleaming and tinkling as winter turns to spring.

Like A Good Neighbor.....

We got Zeb when he was eight months old. He is a huge dog with a Irish Setter body and Black Lab coloring and a Lab face. Being a cat person, I was unsure how to train a dog.  I knew what I wanted the dog to do: heel, stay close to us, not require a leash, and never run off. A tall order for a time when The Dog Whisperer didn't exist yet, nor did the World-Wide-Web to search for solutions. Our training program consisted of allowing Zeb to be free in our huge acre of yard space, watch him carefully and verbally "encourage" him to stay within our perimeter. This usually lasted for at least half an hour. At that point, some strange smell, sound, or sight would lure him into a full sprint to explore whatever had caught his attention. My training strategy was to follow him until I could get close enough to grab his collar and beat him with his leash all the way back home.  I know, it's really horrible, and it didn't work, but I was doing it for his own good.  Our neighbor was threatening to shoot him on sight if he saw him in the woods chasing a deer.  Now, Zeb would never CATCH a deer, but he would chase ANYTHING that ran.

When we took Zeb for a walk, we usually had him on leash.  We lived out in the country.  We had one neighbor with a barn and several cows and calves. The rest of the neighbors had only dogs and cats. One clear crisp autumn afternoon, when Barry was at work and the kids were at school and the neighborhood was unusually quiet and empty, I decided to take Zeb on an off-leash walk. 

As we started down the driveway, Zeb followed me slowly as if to say, "Hey.  Where's the leash?  Are you sure you want me to come with you?" Then by the time I was at the bottom of the driveway, Zeb was suddenly ahead of me, sprinting down the road.

Our neighbor was in his fenced-in barnyard, feeding hay to his cows and calves.  It was a farm fence: 4 x 4 white posts about five feet high with two 1 x 6 white boards between.  Zeb easily ducked under the bottom board and startled the cows and calves.  The claves ran toward the road, ducked under the fence with Zeb at their heels.  The calves had trouble on the slick asphalt pavement and were slipping and sliding and Zeb was enjoying the chase!  Bob, the farmer, and I were screaming:  him to scare Zeb away and me to get control of him.  Somehow Zeb chased the calves back into the barnyard, the calves litterally doing a belly crawl back under the fence. Bob swung his rake at Zeb and he ran off ahead of me down the road.

I apologized profusely and sprinted down the road looking for Zeb.  I could see him about fifty yards ahead.  He would stop just long enough to make sure I was coming, then he would take off running and exploring again.  This went on for about an hour and I was getting worried because I had not seen Zeb lately.  Suddenly I heard howling like a pack of wolves and every hair on my head tingled with the eery sound.  I started to run, following the sound.  I was sure Zeb was being attacked by a pack of wolves or wild dogs!  As I rounded a bend in the road, I could see Zeb.  He seemed to be tethered beside a huge log.  It was him making all of that noise!  As I came closer, I saw it:  a huge trap on his front leg.  I had never seen a trap and had no idea how to release it.  I was able to get the trap loose from the log, but no matter how hard I grasped the edges, I could not remove it from Zeb's foot.  I tried to get him to walk slowly, but he yelped in pain with every step.  I knew we were at least two or three miles from the house.  I figured I would have to carry Zeb home.  I tried to pick him up.  He weighed at least sixty pounds.  I could manage to carry him about ten feet, then I had to put him down and the act of picking him up and setting him back down was as painful to him as having him walk.  I was sure his leg was broken and was terrified because I didn't know how to get him home safely.  I saw a patch of ferns with fallen leaves that made a soft safe bed.  I layed Zeb down and told him to "Stay!"  He lay still until I was out of sight, then he howled and limped after me.  I finally just sat down on the side of the road with his head in my lap and sobbed.

There had been no traffic on our back road since we started walking, but now I saw a truck coming up the road from the direction of our house.  I was so hysterical, I didn't even recognize the driver, but I flagged him down.  It was my next-door neighbor, the very same one who said he would shoot Zeb if he ever saw him running in the woods. George was out checking his trap lines. He took one look at the trap on Zeb's leg and sprang it with no trouble at all.  I expected Zeb's foot to fall off, but the crazy dog limped for a few steps, then took off running for home.  I was still trembling so George said he would drive me home.  By the time we got there, Zeb was in the driveway waiting. 

Both Zeb and I smelled funny and George said it was fox urine.  Great!  I took Zeb inside and we both took a shower in the basement.

Zeb is no longer with us.  And I am STILL not a dog person, but, dumb as he was, I loved that dog. If we were indoors at night and heard cats fighting, we could tell Zeb to go get Buckskin, our cat, who usually got the worst end of a cat fight. We had a dozen chickens that we let roam once in awhile.  When they started to leave our yard, we could tell Zeb to "Go get the chickens."  He would go round them up and herd them into the chicken yard. He even helped us dig the fence post holes for the chicken coop.  We would throw a rock into the hole and say "Zeb!  Get the chipmuink" and he would dig like crazy! He was never mean to any of us, even the cats, who taunted him mercilessly. He had a huge heart....but a tiny brain.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

School’s Out Tradition

       In a week, school will be out and I will make appointments for my two cats for their spring/summer check-ups.  This is a tradition that has continued for me since my children were in elementary school.  At the time, we lived in rural Pennsylvania and our vet was 30 miles away in another little hamlet.  We had two sibling cats, Calico and Buckskin, both about ten years old;  and Zeb, a huge Lab-Setter Mix who was about five years old. John was in 7th grade and Jill was in 3rd.  We would start out in the morning at about 10AM and make a day of it, the kids, the animals, and myself in our brown Plymouth Volare station wagon. John would stay in the back behind the seats with Zeb while Jill would keep the cats cozy in the back seat.  Our plan was to stop in St. Mary’s at McDonald’s for lunch after the vet ordeal.  This was a real treat because we didn’t have a McDonald’s in Emporium where we lived. Oh…one more detail…..Zeb had been given the left-over BBQ spare ribs from the night before.

          As we drove through St. Mary’s on the way to the vet, Zeb had his head out the window and people on the streets were pointing and staring because he is such a huge dog.  I was listening to NPR, not really paying attention to what was happening in the car, when I heard Jill scream, “EW!!!  Zeb farted!”  Sure enough, I could smell it!  Then I heard it….another dog fart, but this one sounded WET!!!  Jill screamed as the slimy dog poop exploded from Zeb’s behind and spattered onto her face, onto both cats, on the back of the seat, and down into the crack. We were about 10 minutes from the vet.  I stepped on the gas to hurry us along.  We had nothing to clean up the mess except a nearly empty box of Kleenex.

          When we arrived at the vets we were told we were early and would have to wait 20 minutes.  I asked if they could lend us some paper towels to clean up the car. As I was checking the animals in, the assistant asked me if I had remembered to bring a stool sample.  I replied, “No, but I can certainly scrape some off the seat in the car!”

          We washed ourselves off as well as we could.  I just remember that we were so covered in cat and dog hair and it was hot and I felt so filthy!  We packed the animals back into the car and headed home.  I decided to stop at McDonald’s anyway because the kids really deserved a treat!  John was concerned about leaving the animals in the car, so I parked in the shade and rolled down the windows a bit.  We enjoyed our lunch and I kept teasing John that I saw Zeb, Calico, or Buckskin running down the road. 

When we got to the car, I looked inside and exclaimed, “Oh no!  Not again!” but John thought I was teasing because I had tried to trick him inside McDonald’s.  Then he peeked inside.  Zeb had pooped again and he had walked in it and it was all over the front and back seat and even smeared onto the steeringwheel!  The cats were huddled together in the back end looking so disgusted at Zeb. 

We went back into McDonald’s and got some wet paper towels to clean up as much as we could.  It was a LONG smelly trip home!  We felt relieved when we could open the doors in our driveway and let the animals out.  We then tried to clean the car….again.

          Now, you would think this was the end of the story…but it isn’t.  That happened in May.  In July, we were packing the car for the trip to the beach.  My husband was trying to get the back seat belts to work properly, so he reached way down into the crack between the seats…..EEEEEWWWWWW!  Dry, crusty dog poop!


        We were camping at Parker Dam for the weekend and in the middle of the night, a terrible thunder storm raged with high winds and hail. It was pretty scary to endure in a tent, but we had managed.  As was our custom, we were making one last walk around the campground before we drove off for home.  Tree limbs were scattered everywhere and puddles were prolific, so John and Jill were splashing away.  Then Jill stopped and looked at a bird nest that had apparently fallen from a tree during the storm.  One baby bird was dead, seemingly drowned, but the other was chirping wildly.  As she gently stroked its soaked feathers, the bird seemed to relax.  I knew exactly what was coming next.  “Mom, can we take this bird home and keep it?”  I wasn’t prepared for my husband’s immediate reply.  “No.  We have two cats and a dog and it’s just going to die anyway without its mother.”

        She looked up at me with those pleading big blue eyes. “Please, Mom?”  So I interceded with Barry and told him that he was right and the bird probably wouldn’t live till morning, so what was the harm?  So, he relented and Jill picked up the limping, soaked creature and gently put it in her pouch in the front of her sweatshirt.

        In the back seat of the car, she cooed to it and gently stroked it until it fell asleep.  When we got home, I found a big cardboard box and John fashioned a screen top for it.  We put the bird in there and it immediately started chirping raucously.  It was obvious that it was hungry, but what do you feed a starving baby bird????  We took some of Zeb’s dry dog food and soaked it in water and made a paste of it.  Then we put some onto a spoon and offered it to the bird. At first, it didn’t know what to do.  Then Jill kind of scraped the food onto its beak and it began to eat voraciously!  Jill put the box in her bedroom and was up feeding the bird about every 2 hours, every time it demanded food!

This went on for about 2 weeks.  Then John decided that the bird was a boy and they named him Norman. They also decided to try and feed Norman some worms.  They dug a bunch of worms and held them up in front of Norman’s face.  By this time, he was able to actually grab food off the spoon when you presented it to him, so he let Jill put the whole worm into his mouth and he seemed to swallow it, but we could see the worm wiggling in his gullet under his chin and the worm would crawl back out of the corner of his mouth.

At this point, Jill decided to squish up the worms and give them to Norman on his spoon.  It worked!  He eventually gave up on the dog food and ate crushed worms.  Within another 2 weeks, he was able to eat the whole worms himself without Jill crushing them.

At this point, John and Jill decided Norman needed flying lessons.  We live on the side of a mountain….our back yard is a steep slope.  We have a metal wire extended from the side of our house all the way up to a pine tree at the edge of the woods.  This is Zeb’s dog run.  He was outside when Jill and John began tossing Norman up into the air.  John went up the slope and was tossing Norman up into the air and down to Jill, who was trying to catch him.  Zeb studied this for awhile and then I guess the “retriever” in him clicked and he caught the bird in his mouth the next time John threw him….you could just see his little bird feet sticking out of Zeb’s mouth.  The kids were terrified!  They ran to Zeb and pried open his mouth, but Norman was fine….just a little slimy with dog drool.

        The feeding and training went on all summer long and eventually Norman was allowed to live outside in the pine tree beside the garage.  As soon as anyone went outside in the morning they would call his name and he would chirp back and fly to us.  He especially liked it when I hung my clothes out on the clothesline.  He would perch himself on top of the tee-post and chirp as I chatted to him. 

        As the summer progressed, we noticed that he had moved up to the tree line at the edge of the forest.  He would still answer us, but it was evident that his attention was elsewhere.  I knew it would only be a matter of time till he took off for warmer climates as the frost began to whiten the grass in the crisp September mornings.  Sure enough, one morning there was no reply.  He was gone.

        We were heart-broken, of course…and worried for his safety. We looked up some information on robins and found that they often return to where they had been raised.  It was a long winter…..but as soon as the first flickers and robins began to arrive in April, we were outside calling….”Norman!” 

And he did appear and answer us from the edge of the woods, but he had another bird with him.  We like to think he brought his girlfriend around to show us before they went off to make their nest. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to participate in this cycle of nature.  Norman, wherever you are, thank you!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My Apple Tree


By Wanda Logan


I had forgotten about the old tree and how she comforted me until, as an adult, I read aloud “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein to my children as they snuggled into their beds. Not having pre-read the story, tears were streaming down my face by the end of the book, but luckily, my children had fallen asleep before the emotion of the story overtook me.

I too had a tree. We lived in a little development against a mountain in north central Pennsylvania during my childhood.  I was the eldest.  My Mom had divorced and remarried and I had a younger half-sister.  We were free to roam the woods and hillsides near our home and often “borrowed” our Fathers’ tools to build ‘tree forts.’  There was a special place called “the wax mine” that was within walking distance.  It is told that during the war, explosives were stored there in wax bunkers.  We used to pack a lunch and take off for the woods and dig wax out of the old bunkers. I wonder now if it was dangerous?

On one of the expeditions to the wax mine, I wandered off by myself and came upon a lovely apple tree, all in bloom.  The lowest limb was rather close to the ground and seemed to beckon me to sit awhile, which I did.  As I gazed up into the tree, white blossoms floated down on me, set free by my movement.  I soon noticed that the limb had a crook and that I could settle back and lie down as if resting in a hammock, except that it rocked gently up and down instead of swinging back and forth, releasing more fragrant, snow-white petals. I quieted myself and heard the buzzing of the many bees above me, gathering nectar as they dusted themselves with the yellow pollen.  Off in the distance I heard another soothing sound: a brook, bubbling and chuckling along over smooth-edged rocks.  I found myself drawn to the sounds of the singing water so I moved to where the edge of the creek met the ground. It was covered in dark green fragrant moss so thick that when I stepped upon it, I felt as if I were floating on clouds. I immediately sat upon the moss, removed my shoes and put my feet into the clear, shining water. It was so cold, my legs ached all the way up to my knees, but as I began to enter the creek and explore, my body grew accustomed to the chilly water.

I felt as if I had discovered paradise on earth! When I reluctantly headed home as the sun was setting, I knew I would revisit my secret spot again and again.

Over the tumultuous years of my teens, I would escape to the apple tree, the green, fragrant moss, and singing water to avoid the wrath of my mother; to find that quiet place of inner piece; to tattoo the initials of my lover into the bark of the tree; and later to weep over lost love.

I recently revisited my old hometown and decided to go and look for my tree. A factory had been built near the place where the tree was located. Would I even be able to find the place?  I hiked around the perimeter of the factory grounds and found the path beside the creek that led to the wax mine and then on to my spot. I rounded the bunkers and looked to where the tree once stood. Amazingly, it was still there!  The limb I used to rest on was touching the ground and the tree itself looked like there wasn’t much life left. I softly approached my old friend who knew so many of my secrets and gently stroked her rough, dry, peeling bark. I felt like the character in “The Giving Tree.”  I leaned against the apple tree and whispered my thanks and gathered pieces of broken limbs on the ground to remember her. I gave thanks for  living in a time and place that allowed me to have this most precious experience of loving a tree; of lying in rich green, fragrant moss; of washing away my tears and fears in a bubbling brook.  Have you hugged a tree today?