Thursday, December 28, 2006

Our Little Lion

Stripes died this morning. Technically it was of kidney failure and anemia, but generally it was old age. He had had a good life, relatively, and was loved. He died in Laura's arms.

Stripes was the cat equivalent of a mutt. He had long hair that was grey with darker stripes (hence the name). When he was younger he had tufts of fur surrounding his head somewhat like a lion's mane. He was certainly the alpha male of our pride of cats for a long time. He had survived being hit by a car (hip fracture), an infected ear (it grew to the size of a plum), and a few upper respiratory infections. He was a mean young tom up until he got hurt (the hip fracture). Laura dedicated herself to taming him and he became hers. Even when he was outside, he would come when she called. Also, all of our other cats liked him. Some cats will bristle at others and we have had to keep a few separated - but ALL of them would curl up with him for a good grooming. Weird.

I called the vet yesterday morning and got the news that he was dying. I went during my lunch hour and took him home. Laura was home early from work (slow days during the holidays) and she spent the rest of the day with him saying goodbye. He managed go hang on until this morning when it was obvious that he was suffering. We took him in and put him to sleep. He is buried in the back yard in a little alcove between some bushes. My daughter wants to do something - flowers, a stone, something.

If you have a number of pets, you love them all - but there's always a special one. Stripes was the one.

Monday, December 25, 2006

and to all a good night.

We had a good, if quiet anniversary. We did a little last-minute Christmas shopping and then went to dinner. Our kids treated us to our favorite japanese steak house. I could bearly move afterwards. Throughout the day we took our time and I was able to make Laura laugh every now and then.

I find that I have taken to blogging somewhat. the mechanics are difficult for me, my punctuation and grammar skills are atrocious. But I have met some new friends and am learning about life from others' prospective. I am also learning a little about myself. The process of writing these posts forces me to think through what I'm writing about.

In any case, I have enjoyed meeting you all and wish for you happy holidays and a Merry Christmas.

P.S. no call from the vet (surprise!). No news is good news, right?

Friday, December 22, 2006

'Tis The Season.......

First I would like to thank each of you for the sentiments expressed regarding Stripes and Laura. It means a lot to me.

Stripes: according to today's blood work, his numbers are a little better. He's eaten some. They have him on some kind of an I.V. treatment. BUT - he will have to stay over the holiday weekend. They won't be open but have promised to call Sunday to let us know how he is. I took Laura to see him today. He was happy to see her. It was hard to leave him there. I am afraid that this is the beginning of the end for Stripes. They are being extremely careful not to say that he will recover his kidney function or to give us much hope for his future. Right now they are hinting that if he stabilizes he will require some kind of treatment from now on.

Laura got off of work early and I have started my holiday vacation so we were going to try shopping for the kids. But by the time we got up with the vet and got to visit Stripes no one wanted to shop. On top of that tomorrow is our 22nd wedding aniversary and neither of us are acting real exited about it. We aren't doing much special, just going out to dinner at a nice restaurant and maybe a movie. I hope I can bring Laura out of herself and that she can be happy for a little while. I'm gonna try.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Crap, Crap, Crap, Crap, Crap

My wife asked me to take her favorite cat Stripes to the vet this morning 'cause he doesn't want to eat. He's been losing weight recently and been sneezing more than normal. The vet just called and said that blood tests indicate his kidneys aren't working - which is why he isn't eating. He suggested a certain treatment, but didn't sound optimistic about it working.

Stripes is 10-12 years old. (maybe a little more). For a good while he was an unapproachable tom. He ruled the roost for a while and we still have several of his offspring. Several years ago he got an injury and my wife had to win him over so she could treat him. Ever since he's been her baby. He is completely domesticated - he comes to her when she calls him.

I don't know what I'm going to do if he dies. Laura just lost her mother. She doesn't want to celebrate Christmas - we don't have a tree up and haven't bought gifts yet. On top of that she's got the never-ending crud. This will devistate her.

I haven't called her yet, I am dreading it.

update: I called to check on Stripes a few minutes ago, but the vet was in surgery. He did send a brief message: he will do bloodwork tomorrow morning to check the indicators for kidney function. I am waiting to tell Laura when I get home. Thanks for your support. Keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


We interrupt this program for an important announcement:

It was pointed out to me that, far be it from an IT type to make a mistake, I had turned off comments on my recent posts. Now I am admitting to nothing, but comments have been turned back on.

We now resume the previously scheduled programming.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hilton Grocery

I was reading a blog post the other day that mentioned an old-fashioned country store. My grandaddy owned a country store, and portions of my younger years were spent there. Maybe I can paint a picture of it (as I have aboslutely no photos of it. I'll have to check with Mom to see if she does.)

It was situated at an intersection of a state road and two county roads on a gravel lot about 10 miles from town. Across the state road was the post office. (or post shack - it was tiny. My uncle ran it until it was closed.) The store was built of wood and had a front shelter where two gas pumps and a kerosene tank were located. You entered through the front screen door (with the Colonial Bread logo painted on it) or the side screen door - there was no air conditioning. I can still hear the slap of the screen doors closing. The wooden floor had worn where years of traffic had worn paths around the store. There were two windows across the front, one on either side of the front screen door behind one of which I would sometimes sit to watch for cars to pull up for gas. (I would race my brother to the pumps to see which of us got to pump the gas).

Just inside the front door in the left front corner were the drink coolers. When I first started going/working there there were no can drinks, you got either 8 or 10 ounce cokes (all soft drinks are coke in the South) and Pepsi had a 16 ounce-er. There was a crate beside one of the coolers to put your empties into. Along the left wall beyond the 2nd drink cooler was the milk cooler (with other dairy products, eggs, etc.) and then the gas heater with chairs around it - my grandmother used to sit by the fire during the winter and crochet (she taught me to crochet there) when there were no customers. This was where people would come to chat during all times of the year. There was almost always someone sitting there. Papa used to hitch one leg on the counter and talk with the current sitter(s). After the heater was the the wall phone (it was on a party line, so to make a call you picked up, listened to make sure folks weren't talking and dialed 4 digits for those on the same party line or 7 digits for town folks.). Next was the side entrance and finally a passageway to the back of the store.

Down the middle of the store from the front was a shelving display unit (bread on one side, odds and ends on the other) and at the end of the shelves was a place where bags of dog food as well as extra bales of sugar were stacked. (sugar came in 100 lb bales - 20 5lb bags or 10 10lb bags) (I used to sit at the top of the stack and pretend to be driving a stage coach.) After the sugar/dog food stacks was an aisleway in front of the meat cooler. Displayed in the cooler were souse meat, sausage meat, pork-chops, balogna, bacon, and a few sundries (now that I think on it, he didn't sell beef). The balogna, souse, and bacon were sliced to order. I can remember on weekday mornings when I would go with Papa to open the store I sliced a ton of balogna for lunch for the crews going to work on the nuclear plant being built nearby. They also bought a lot of potted meat and crackers, or vienna sausages. (both are uniquely southern comestables eaten on crackers with hot sauce). I would catch the bus from there to go to school.

On the right just inside the door was a passageway leading behind the right counters, first of which was the candy counter. Candy bars, bb's (they go together, right?) and a few candy-type items. Inside of a glass display case above the candy bars was where the penny candy was kept (some were 2-fer's). Next to the candy were 3 tall glass jars with heavy glass lids that held cookies. Behind the cookies was the cash register (that didn't work except for the cash drawer) and the hoop cheese cutter. The cutting of this cheese was reserved for Papa as he liked giving the customer ONE slice of cheese exactly the amount requested. The cutter had a flat round table on which the cheese wheel sat, it had a perpendicular handle that you pumped to and fro to move the cheese under the hinged cleaver used to cut the cheese (no jokes, please - this cheese cutting was a serious business!). Next to the hallowed cheese cutter was a brief expanse of counter, a passageway through, and then more counter at the end if which was the adding machine, complete with a handle to pull after each number entered. (I can still remember when it was upgraded to an electric model. Boy, were we in high cotton!) All behind these counters on the right were the shelves lining the wall from floor to ceiling where most of the groceries were. On these shelves also were cigarettes, loose-leaf tobacco (to roll your own) and snuff. (we sold a lot of snuff.) There were also the hanging displays of shoe strings, doan's liver/back/whathaveyou pills, plastic sunglasses, wallets, etc. A customer would come in, stand at the counter and would call out their order setting me or whoever else to fetch it. Their order was added up on the adding machine and bagged. Some folks were allowed to carry a "ticket" that was expected to be settled up at month-end. It was a big deal to me to be allowed to fill out the ticket.

Beyond the adding machine on the right was where the meat counter that ran across the back of the store met the right-side counter. Under the counter at this corner was where the cash box was kept - with a pistol on top. NOT TO BE MESSED WITH. Across the back of the store behind the meat counter was more floor to ceiling shelves. In the middle was a band saw to cut hams into slices, pork loins into chops and chickens in half. I was rarely allowed to do this, but I was always allowed to clean it. ugh.

Behind the store was a old burnham van body (off of the chassis) used for storage (sugar bales that didn't fit in the center, cattle feed and salt licks) and the outhouse. Yep - an outhouse. Although we were modern in that we kept toilet paper in it. During the summer Papa would send me home in his truck to get the tractor to bush hog behind the van body/outhouse to help keep the snakes and vermin away.

I would most often ride the bus down to the store after school and work there until closing at 6:00 PM. Sometimes during the spring and summer he would take me to the house, get out the tractor and start me plowing the field and then leave me to it while he went back to the store. (Papa also farmed corn and peanuts). Sometimes during the summer if I didn't go with him to open the store I would sleep in and then walk the railroad tracks the few miles to the store. Occasionally he would get up an order for someone and ask me to take his truck to deliver it - down a miriad of dirt roads that I knew by heart. Other summer days I would play with my brother and sister on his farm, frequently getting out his hunting jeep to ride around through the woods. Across the state highway beside the post office was a railroad siding. The train would stop there most days after switching and the crew would come over to get a coke & crackers. (I would go over and put coins under the engine's wheels to flatten them.) Empty boxcars would be left there for the papermill. Mr. Y.T. would come from town to clean them out. I would help him (in mid-summer heat) because he would let me drive his truck.

Papa's store is gone now, as is he. There are times I miss the hell out of him - and his store. In retrospect it was idyllic. Excepting those few years living with Papa (and Mama, and Mama & Papa Smith (great-grandparents) and my great-aunts & uncles, cousins, etc. etc. etc.) I was a city boy. My grandaddy was one of seven children all of which (but the one killed in WWII) lived within a few miles of each other. So living with him put me slap in the middle of a huge family. Despite spending most of my life moving from city to city I most often identify with these country roots - much more so than the years spent in suburbia. They are the clearest and most cherished memories I have of growing up.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Goin' to the movies

We were watching slides the evening after the funeral. Every so often one of my sisters-in-law would yell at the screen "look who's goin' to the movies!" and the other sisters would laugh. After hearing this two or three times I noticed that this was shouted out whenever someone in the slide was digging their underwear out of their nether regions. Afterwards my wife and I were talking and I asked her what was up with that. She told me that whenever her father would see one of them doing that he would ask, "Are you going to the movies?" There would be a puzzled look or a "no" and he would follow up with "Then why are you picking your seat?".

I wonder if my kids will remember the lessons I've tried to teach them. I didn't have this in my arsenal.

They do, however, remember about pulling my finger.....

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ellen Mae Woodford

Ellen Mae Woodford was born on October 28th, 1927. She had a difficult childhood, not only because she was raised during the depression, but also because she was from a broken home. I still don't know a lot of the details, but I do know that it fell on her to raise her younger siblings and that her sister Bev lived with her for some time after Ellen married.

I guess that the one thing that was discussed this past week was that she believed in family. In a big way. All told, she had 8 kids of her own (one of which was premature and did not survive beyond a few days).

She is survived by all but 2 of the eight children. They came in 2 batches with almost 10 years in between. There were 7 girls and one boy.

Some would say though that all of the kids in the neighborhood were hers too. She babysat for local families and ran the daycare at several churches. I'm sure you've all met someone who was great with kids, who could get them to behave and someone that they would listen to when all else failed. That was my mother-in-law.

I met Ellen in December 1984 3 days before I married her long-haired daughter. Before the day was out, she knew about my siblings, my parents, their siblings and parents; as well as how and where I was raised, etc. Her appetite for family history was voracious - and she remembered it all. If I mentioned someone was ill, the next time we talked (maybe months later) she would ask specifically about that person, their illness, etc. Her memory was amazing.

She rarely met a stranger. During a trip overseas to see us, she met a lady on the airplane that she had not seen since, but corresponded with for years afterward. When I was working swings and mids she would often get up early and walk on-base to get breakfast and would sit down with people (especially those with babies) and introduce herself and ask about them. For months after she left people would ask after my mother-in-law. Lee Greenwood came to Crete to put on a USO show while she was visiting us there. After the show MIL somehow managed to walk up and introduce herself to him and chatted for a few minutes. She didn't know who he was as she didn't listen to the radio and the only kind of music she professed any interest in was gospel, but she frequently mentioned in later years that she liked him and enjoyed the show. (I was in bed sleeping off a mid-shift at the time. She did this on her own.)

Her trip to visit us was an amazing thing unto itself. Ellen was a homemaker whose only income was her babysitting. But somehow she saved her money and made a trip to Crete to visit us after my daughter was born. She had made earlier trips to England and California, all by herself and all with her babysitting money. She did not have a driver's license as she was afraid to and had to be driven everywhere she went. My wife tells me that the only reason her dad bought her a car when she turned 16 was so that he could make her take Ellen everywhere she wanted to go relieving him of the chore.

Now I don't want to imply that she was a saint. I have mentioned elsewhere that I have had to mediate between my wife and my mother-in-law. Her magic with kids didn't always work with her own kids. Most of her kids have had some emotional problems of some sort and I believe that she did too. She also would often criticize the grandchild in her sight and praise the ones out of sight. (so, sometimes our kids were pariahs and sometimes they were saints!) Also, for many years if my wife complained about me to her mother, her mother would ask my wife what had she done wrong. My wife used to complain bitterly that she wished her mother would take her side in an argument instead of mine.

No one is perfect. I think that it is a mistake to deify someone after they pass away. You love someone despite their failings, knowing it takes all parts to make the whole. The wholeness of spirit that was Ellen lives on in each of us that knew her, and will continue to do so as long as we remember her. The following is quoted from the guestbook on Ellen's obituary in the Kansas City Star:

My family first met Ellen 3 years ago when we moved in next door to the Woodford's. At that time, our little girl was just turning 2 years old. We threw her a big birthday bash in our front yard and Ellen, who was joyfully being pushed over by Woody in her wheelchair, brought over a Fisher Price picnic basket full of magic markers to celebrate her birthday. Lauren was thrilled! To this day, she still talks about it and plays with the picnic basket nearly every day. Through the years, Lauren always got excited when we would see Ellen sitting outside on a pretty day and she would run up to her side and just gobble up the complements that Ellen would give her, telling her how pretty and smart she was. Most recently, Lauren and I dropped by to see Ellen when she came home from the hospital and Lauren didn't really know what to think of Ellen in her hospital bed. She asked me a lot of questions about why she was in bed and why she didn't talk to her like she use to. I did my best to explain to her about the stroke that Ellen had endured. Well, two days ago, after hearing of Ellen's passing, I had to find a way to tell Lauren the sad news. I decided just to tell her that Ellen had gone to heaven. Lauren's eye's lit up and she said, "Great, I'm so glad that she doesn't have to lay down anymore and that God gave her back her voice again!"

My wife broke down and cried for the first time since her mother died after having read that. So did her other sisters to whom she was reading it.

Ellen died on Monday, December 4th at 1:30 PM central. It has to be some comfort knowing she is no longer suffering and that (if you so believe) she is now where she can once more ask you about your kids and tell you about hers.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

now we'll gather at the river...

I am hot and awake at 3 in the morning. I am hot because my wife insists that unless the room is 80 degrees it is cold. (This comes from a woman who just a few years ago would go out in 30 degree weather with short-sleeves on. I think the change must be a-happenin'. I digress). All the way up here she would jack the heater up and down, up and down. I had to take my sweater off and ride in my t-shirt. All I needed was a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve and a hound dog in the back to complete the picture. I am awake because we spent 15 hours on the road and even after 3 hours I can still feel it.

Here is Kansas City, icy and snowy. Here is where my in-laws live. Here is because my mother-in-law passed away yesterday afternoon. Some would say she lost the battle at last. I would prefer to think she finally won one.

I will be in the midst of family, making arrangements, buying a winter coat, listening to everyone tell their favorite stories as one does at a time like this. And as sometimes happens I will be escorting her to her final resting place for I have been honored to be asked to be a pall bearer.

I will try to absorb and maybe relate some of this sometime soon. I am not talented in that way and I don't have the words now anyway. I am tired and sad and....happy that she is no longer trapped in her failed body. I am not a religious person, but I know she was to her core. So I choose to think that she is where her belief promised her she would be. I take comfort in that.