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The Hot Seat
There are many fun things about traveling with our cat, Edgar Allan. He is such a character, he makes every trip a bit more interesting. I like the way he will roam around the car as he pleases, as if he owns the vehicle.
He’ll come from behind my seat and step around the headrest onto my shoulder. He’ll sit and look out the windshield for a bit, then climb down my chest to sit in my lap for awhile. He’ll meow at me, then I meow back to him, and he meows again. After our conversation, Edgar will head butt me; rubbing his face against mine, get his ears rubbed, then depart between the seats, returning to the back.
If he is going to see Melissa, he generally will come up front between our seats, crossing the center console, then into her lap. Melissa will bring out his food dish and let him eat while sitting in her lap.
Edgar is beginning to figure out the switches around the car and how they work. Occasionally, he will step on one, lowering a window on his own. We don’t like that and he doesn’t really like it either, especially if we’re driving on the highway. The rushing wind scares him a bit. June sure enjoys it and will take the opportunity to poke her nose out the opening into the wind.
I know one of these days he is going to step on the door lock button, locking us out of the car. I can envision that once he’s locked us out, he will look at us through the window saying, “I didn’t lock the doors - June must have done it.” But I am prepared as a Boy Scout for that day to come. Anytime Edgar is left in the car while I’m filling the tank with gas or cleaning the windshield, I always carry a spare key in my pocket.
There are always plenty of cushions and soft things in the back of the car for Edgar to lay on. He pretty much decides on the space he wants, and our dog June can have whatever space is left over.
If Edgar sprawls out too much, June will push him out of the way and take some of the space back. Sometimes, June will just lay on top of the cat, causing Edgar to meow. Inevitably, June will catch a scolding from Melissa. “June! Get off him. You know better! You’re too big to lay on Edgar.”
Edgar can be antagonistic, starting a scuff like a youngster who will provoke a sibling to draw a parental response. I think Edgar’s meows are often dramatic, like that little kid crying up a storm for attention when he’s not really hurt. Edgar will often chuckle a bit when June has been scolded.
Despite their occasional little spats, June and Edgar get along really well. They are travel buddies and good friends. We often catch June using Edgar as a pillow, and vise-versa.
Sometimes, after sitting on Melissa’s lap, Edgar will get up to go his way. Nonchalantly, when passing through the front seats, Edgar steps on the switch for the passenger seat warmer. A few moments later, Melissa will cry out, “Edgar Allan! Did you turn on my seat warmer?” Edgar ignores her, aloof to her troubled situation.
If we have beverages in the cup holders he will affectionately come to sit in your lap, facing the center of the car. As you stroke his soft black coat, he begins purring then will quietly start chewing on the straw in your drink. “No Edgar!” Melissa scolds him, then shoos him away to the back of the car.
Edgar seldom loses a contest. He will go to the back of the car and sit on top of a tote, looking up front and patiently waiting. Then Melissa calls out as her tushy is roasting, “Edgar Allan! You did that on purpose!” Of course he did. You took his straw away, you meanie!
I laugh when he turns on her seat warmer. He always turns it to the high setting, never low, then goes to wait for a response. It just never gets old.
The other day it was particularly hot outside. Edgar came up front to sit with Melissa and eat his food, then returned to the back with June. A few minutes later, Melissa called out, “Edgar Allan! You turned on my seat warmer after I was kind enough to feed you?”
I started laughing. As a matter of fact, I laughed harder than usual when he did it this time. Maybe it was because of Melissa’s response, or the way he completely ignored her again. Or maybe because he is so coy when he does it, or maybe...
Wait a minute. Why are my legs and backside getting so hot? They’re practically on fire. I cried out, “Edgar Allan! You’re not funny! You’re supposed to be one of the guys, you know, on MY team!”
Edgar sat on top of the plastic tote with his front paws curled under his chest. He closed his eyes to rest as he smiled over my discomfort. Melissa turned her head, looking out the passenger window. There was a suspect innocence about her and I think I heard her snickering under her breath.
Short of a confession from one of those two, I guess I’ll never know who turned on my seat warmer on that day. But one thing is for sure, Edgar makes traveling more fun and interesting. I just hope he’s not planning to keep drawing her into his shenanigans.
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The Opel Kadett
We pulled up in front of the house on Hegg Avenue, in Madison, Wisconsin. A man was mowing the front lawn. I walked up to him and asked, “Hi, would you mind if I took a picture of your house?” Caught off guard by such a strange request, he questioned, “What for?” “I used to live here, years ago.” I explained, “I too have mowed this lawn many times.” I continued, “There used to be a white board fence around this flower bed. I hated mowing around that.”
“So you lived here, eh?” He said, “Yes.” I went on, “Under your front porch is a fruit cellar, the concrete slab of the porch makes the ceiling.” He smiled, “Are you part of the big family that lived here?” “Yes, I am,” I started to tell him the layout of his home. He interrupted, “Would you like to come in and see the house?” I finally took a breath, “Yes, I really would.”
I introduced myself and Fred began to walk me down the driveway. “We’re getting ready for company, so it will have to be a fast tour.” He said. I met his wife and daughter who were also working, getting ready to host guests.
There is a parking area in front of the garage that kind of wraps around the house, leading to the backyard and back door. I stood and looked in the garage. The garage. Oh the memories I have of that special place!
It’s a square building with a medium pitched roof. Inside, to the left, is an open staircase that goes up to an attic. Most people would use that area for storage I suppose, but it was our secret clubhouse when I was little.
On the right front side there is a recess for the walk door. The roofline provides protection over this entry, an area that creates an alcove inside the garage. It was a good area for a work bench, or to store your lawn mower. It wouldn’t fit a full size car but when it was our garage, it’s where we parked my Opel. I loved that car.
It was a 1968, dark blue Opel Kadett, two door station wagon - a German import sold by Buick. It had a grey leather interior (actually it was vinyl, but calling it leather sounds more impressive) It was a four cylinder, four speed manual transmission. It had no bells or whistles. The front side windows went up and down by a hand crank, the backseat wing windows were also manual. It didn’t have air conditioning, so I went cruising down the roads with the window open and my arm resting on the door, while the wind blew through the car, keeping me cool.
There was no power steering or power brakes, but honestly, the Opel was so lightweight it didn’t need them. The only two options the car had were an A.M. radio and the luggage rack on top.
The Opel was actually my parents car; one they had purchased for the teenage kids in our family to drive and share. I told Dad I was saving my lawn mowing money and I would buy the car to be my own as soon as I had enough cash.
My brothers Peter and Danny drove the car and whenever I rode with them I paid close attention to the way they worked the pedals and the shifter. From there, I taught myself how to drive a clutch in that car. I got really good at it, too. I even learned how I could use the parking brake to keep the car from rolling backwards when taking off from a stop sign atop a steep hill. I loved that car!
Sometimes, I’d load the car with my younger brothers and sisters and take them for a ride; we’d go get ice cream, go to the beach, or to the store. One time I took them to the drive-in movies. I parked the car backwards. We lifted the back hatch, stretched out and ate popcorn and drank Kool-Aid that we brought from home, while we watched the show. It was fun.
I took that car everywhere. I drove it to Saint Louis, to visit the Arch; to New York City, to see the Empire State Building, then upstate to experience the majestic Niagara Falls. I went to Colorado to climb the Rocky Mountains and Arizona to gaze down into the Grand Canyon. I drove to California - to the Redwood Forest, then down to Disneyland. I went to Florida to Cape Canaveral where all the Apollo Rockets were launched. I visited the beaches and the new Disney World while I was there. I drove to Green Bay where I cheered on the Packers at Lambeau Field; they went on to shut out the Chicago Bears 21-0. I drove to Port Washington, Wisconsin, to watch the big ships come in off Lake Michigan and unload their coal at the power plant. I went fishing for Coho salmon, off the breakwater; I caught a few monsters! I put the backseat down, took a sleeping bag and a pillow and slept many nights in the back of that car.
One time, a police officer pulled me over while I was driving the Opel. He asked for my driver’s license. When I told him I didn’t have one, he asked how far I was from home. “Not very far at all.” I told him. “Well, be careful driving home and get a driver’s license before you drive again. Okay?” I assured him I would do that, then drove home.
A few days later, he pulled me over again wanting to see my license. “I don’t have one yet.“ I told him. “Why not?” He wanted to know, “I told you to go get a driver’s license before driving again.” I explained, “When I went in to take the test, they told me I couldn’t get a license until I’m sixteen.” “How old are you?” He asked, I answered, “twelve, going on thirteen.” He smiled, “Oh, I see. Well, drive home carefully and avoid driving too much until you get a license.” He said, then got in his patrol car and went on his way.
Let me explain; a couple weeks before I started driving the Opel Kadett, one of my sisters was driving it. A little figure showed up on the dashboard, so she drove the car several miles home to tell my Dad, “A little red oil lamp came on the dashboard. What does that mean?” Dad was livid; she blew the engine in the car.
My brothers, Peter and Danny, pushed the Opel into the garage, tucking it into the alcove. They jacked it up and put the car on cement blocks where they were going to try to pull the engine to repair it.
For all the tens of thousands of miles I put on that Opel; the hours and hours I had driven it all around the country; all the places I had been - that car never physically left the garage.
I sat behind the wheel of the Opel for hours. I did all the shifting and ran the gas and the brakes. I learned to manage the heat and defrosters too. Sometimes, I made engine noises and sometimes I didn’t. I learned to program the pre-set buttons, and often sang along with my favorite songs that were playing on the radio - WISM or WMAD. I would put the sun visors down in the late afternoon, when heading west, just like I had seen my dad do.
Being up on blocks, the front wheels turned freely. I taught myself to parallel park; how to use turn signals, the emergency brake and everything, I even practiced how to get it running when the engine didn’t want to start on cold winter days.
I don’t remember if Peter and Danny ever rebuilt the engine or if Dad sold it with the bad motor. I just know one day I went to the garage and the little station wagon was gone. All that remained in its place were four cement blacks. I was sad about that.
Although only within my imagination, everything I’ve told you in this story is true. It all happened and it came back to me so very clearly while standing in that driveway on Hegg Avenue, some forty-five years later. It was still so real within my mind, I couldn’t see what Fred had in that alcove. I could only see the dark blue, ‘68 Opel Kadett, two door station wagon sitting up on blocks. A short kid with scruffy brown hair and glasses was behind the wheel, stretching his neck upward to see over the hood, driving the car and having a ball!
I fought off the tears that welled in my eyes and told Fred, “On the backside of the garage there is a narrow addition.” “Yes, the shed. It’s still there.” He said. I told him, “My dad had that addition built to store our boat in the winter. We had an old red and white 17’ Lone Star aluminum boat with a 50 horse power Mercury outboard motor...”
I began thinking of all the hours I maneuvered that boat on the water after the Opel Kadett was gone. In calm waters and rough seas, I fearlessly sailed all around the world without leaving a safe place we called, “the boat house,” behind the garage on Hegg Avenue.
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A Helping Hand
As soon as I pulled into the rest area in Wiggins, Colorado, I noticed a man on the far end of the truck and trailer parking area. He was changing a flat tire on his pop-up camper. His wife stood to the side to assist if needed.
Poor guy. Campers don’t come with jacks or lug nut wrenches, so, when dealing with a flat tire, one has to depend on the tools that came with their car. These tools are usually tucked under a cover in the back of a smaller sport utility vehicle. They are never easy to get to, especially for a man on vacation with his family.
The back hatch on the SUV was raised. There were sleeping bags, baskets of toys, coolers, pillows and blankets and suitcases sprawled about the ground, with some setting on the top corner of his camper. He had to unload everything to get to the jack.
I had empathy for the poor guy, as I have been in his shoes many times before. Trailer tires always seem to be a challenge to change because inevitably something doesn’t fit or isn’t quite right. They are especially trying on such a hot day, as it had been, but at least he had some relief from the higher temperatures earlier in the day.
It had been a long, hot drive across Nebraska. Mid-day temperatures had been in the mid to upper nineties with high humidity. It was the kind of day where stepping out of an air conditioned car, or building, was like entering a blast furnace. The sun beat down on me from above. It was hot on my arms, head, shoulders and anywhere else it touched. My t-shirt felt like it just came out of a hot dryer, which might feel good in the winter, but today it was just miserable. Sweltering heat rose from the asphalt to greet me, making it hard to breathe.
By the time we reached Colorado, rain showers came and went and the sun was making its way to the lower western sky. The precipitation was welcome. Not only does the state desperately need the rain, but the storm front dropped the temperatures between ten and fifteen degrees, bringing welcome relief from the oven-like conditions.
I parked alongside a semi. Although a bit cooler, it was still in the 80’s. I would leave the car running with the air conditioner on for June and Edgar. The shadow cast from his rig would keep the hot sun off my car while I visited the men’s room.
The driver was working on his truck with several side compartments open. I greeted him, “It’s a hot one today, isn’t it?” He sighed and said, “Too hot.” as he continued digging though his tool box. I looked up at his cab and saw his dog looking down at me.
The driver’s dog hadn’t noticed June sitting in our car and she hadn’t seen him yet, either. I didn’t want them barking at each other so I got back in the car and backed up far enough where the two dogs would not have sight of one another. The driver, with a curious look on his face, watched as I backed up.
When I got out of the car, I smiled and explained, “It wasn’t anything you said. I didn’t want my dog barking at your dog; I moved back so they wouldn’t see each other.” He was a friendly man. “Thank you for that, “ He said, adding, “My dog will bark at anything and the last thing I want right now is to hear him barking.”
After our break and taking June and Edgar for a walk, I started to drive away. Melissa suggested we should go ahead and make sandwiches before getting back on the road. I parked again, this time closer to the man who was still working on his tire. I fixed our meal from the cooler in the back of the car and handed the plates to Melissa. Then, I went over to see if the man needed any help.
“Can I help you with anything?” I asked the man. He had removed two of the five lug nuts with his socket wrench by hitting the ratchet wrench handle with the backside of his hatchet. “The nuts are really tight, they don’t want to come off.” He said. “I’ve been working on these two for quite a while.
He held his hand up showing me his skinned up knuckles and scraped backside of his hand. “The handle is too short, I keep slipping off the wrench. My hand has about had it.” He said, then asked, “You wouldn’t happen to have any kind of a breaker bar, would you?” “I’m sorry, I don’t.” I said, “but there is a truck driver over there working on his rig. You might go ask, he might have something.”
The man thanked me, then walked over toward the truck. He was a well built, muscular younger man, well capable of changing a tire, he just didn’t have the right tool. I felt bad driving away, but there was really nothing I could do to further help him.
Next to the rest area was a truck stop. I noticed a couple guys working in the parking lot and quickly turned the wheel to pull in.
One man was a bit husky, taller with short hair. The other was about my height, thin with long hair tied back. Both men were dirty with black dust stuck to their skin, shirt and pants. The two men were patching spots in the asphalt. I said hello then asked, “Would you have a breaker bar I could borrow?” The guy with the long hair immediately set down his shovel and said, “Let’s see what I’ve got.’
He jumped up into the open box of an orange Chevy crew cab truck and began digging through tools, holding up a large pry bar. “Will this work?” He asked. “No, I need a pipe to slip over the end of a ratchet.” I explained why I needed it, then asked, “You wouldn’t happen to have a four-way wrench would you?” “I sure do.” He said and jumped from the back of the truck.
He dug through more tools in the backseat of his truck, then came up with the wrench I was looking for. “You have no idea how much I appreciate this.” I told him, then assured him I would be back shortly with his wrench.
I returned to the rest area, pulling up alongside the man’s camper. He hadn’t made any more progress on the three remaining lug nuts.
I smiled, walking toward him, holding up the four-way wrench and told him, “I really wanted to help you out, but didn’t have the tools. When I saw your pregnant wife standing here and your little kid sitting in the car - man that was a clincher. I knew I had to help.” “Hey!” He said with a full grin. “Where did you get that?”
I handed him the wrench. He had been struggling with that tire for over an hour and clearly wasn’t going to get the lug nuts off with the tools he had. Within a minute, using the right wrench, he had the remaining nuts off the wheel.
We chatted while he finished changing the tire - Melissa kept his wife company. I learned his name was Brandon; a firefighter from Eerie, Colorado. He, along with his wife and daughter, had been camping at Lake McConaughy in Nebraska. “We’re still 70 miles from home.” He said, “I don’t know what I would have done without this wrench. I can’t thank you enough! ”
Brandon told his wife, “We have to get one of these four-way wrenches to keep in the camper when we get home.” She held up her phone, “I already put it on the list.” Brandon tightened the lug nuts and took the trailer off the jack. He checked each nut again, then handed me the wrench. We said our farewells. Brandon started repacking his car, and we drove back to the truck stop.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you letting me use this wrench.” I said, setting the wrench on his tailgate. The long haired man said, “No problem man. Don’t worry about it.” The guy with the short hair said, “You don’t have to thank us - you’re going to get a bill in the mail.” We all shared a good laugh about that.
I drove away feeling really good. I’ve helped a lot of people in my time, but this was more special - probably because Brandon was a firefighter. Firefighters put out fires. But far more often than putting out fires, they are putting out helping hands. At accidents, medical calls, disasters of every kind; in our schools, communities and neighborhoods; in their local towns and towns far away - on or off the clock, a firefighter always has a helping hand.
It felt pretty darn good to return a helping hand.
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Reading how hot it is around the country, for relief I let my mind wander to cooler days of yore. At a cafe in a small town in the mountains of Idaho, some older gentlemen were having coffee on a snowy morning.
Their conversation ranged vastly. From fishing in the spring, shoveling snow, what they had for dinner last night, to overhauling a lawn mower engine. Apparently old Don has had the same mower since the sixties, and keeps rebuilding it. “Ya can’t buy mowers like that anymore. “ He stated with authority. “The new ones have too many plastic pieces and they fall apart.” Another man chimed in, “Why are you talking about lawn mowers? It’s snowing out there, man! Do you know anything about snow blowers?”
The first man shook his head, “I don’t need a snowblower, I’ve got a good shovel.” Another man laughed, “Is that the same shovel you bought in the sixties?” They all had a good laugh about that.
They told jokes. spoke of fun things, and serious topics too. The conversation turned to frozen pizza; which brand was the best. “What do you want on your Tombstone?” One man joked. That led to conversation about how they wanted to be remembered when they’re gone - what they wanted people to say about them. It was fun listening, to say the least.
On my way out, I commented to the group, that I found their conversation to be quite interesting especially the last part. One man asked me, “What would you like to hear people say about you when you’re gone?”
I rubbed my chin, thought for a moment, then answered. “I guess I’d like to hear the undertaker tell his assistant, ‘Tom pulled a lot of pranks in his time. You better check for a pulse one more time before embalming him!’”
We all shared a hearty laugh. I offered salutations for a good day, then headed to the counter to pay for my breakfast. At the register, I asked the waitress to put their coffees on my tab. “What about their donuts?” She asked. “I’ll get those as well.” I answered.
Outside, I stretched my arms out like wings on an airplane and turned a full circle taking in the beauty of the mountains all around me. I tilted my head back, pointing my nose upward toward the snowy sky and did another turn.
Snow flakes fell, and melted on my face, cooling my cheeks. I managed to catch a few on my tongue as well. They were delicious! Taking a deep breath of fresh air, I gave thanks for the beautiful day, and for the men inside who entertained me during breakfast. “Life is good.” I said, then got in my car and drove away.
It is hot today. Thoughts and good memories of wintertime might help cool you down and bring a smile to your face. It worked for me.
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With the Fourth of July, come the big fireworks displays. Rockets launched into the air, bursting into big colorful shapes, often times stacked on top of one another. They fall toward the ground like rain, drawing ooo’s and awes, until they dissipate. Another rocket shoots through their path, into the sky to continue the show. Loud thunderous booms add to the excitement, celebrating the freedom of our great country.
While some will buy additional fireworks to set off in addition to the public displays,, my life seems to be filled with natural fireworks all year round.
For example: We bought a vintage Alaskan, pickup camper in Washington. We’re still looking for an old truck to carry it, so we had to trailer it back to Minnesota. On the way home, we opted to spend the night in the camper, rather than a motel.
Melissa, June and I were trying to get to sleep while Edgar insisted on exploring every square inch of the new camper - in the dark. Toward our feet is a wide horizontal window with an old roller shade for privacy. Edgar got behind the shade. Backlit by street lights, he was a silhouette behind a screen, pacing back and forth like an alley cat walking the top rail of a wooden fence during a full moon. It was hilarious; the show he was putting on.
I’ve no idea how he did it, but he managed to snap the shade, releasing it. The shade retracted at a high rate of speed, back up on the roller with a couple extra spins at the end! ZIIING- WHAP-WHAP-WHAP!!! It scared the bejeebers outta that cat, and he took off running!
Have you ever seen a cat run a quarter mile...full speed...inside an eight-by-seven-foot box? It’s a hard cross between comedy and danger. The best you can do is to cover your head with your arms, and pray that you don’t wet yourself laughing during the ruckus. (Fellas, tightly crossing your legs or rolling onto your stomach is strongly advised.) What a nut! After this outburst he spent the majority of the night under the bed.
In the morning I took June for a walk down the Centennial Trail, a paved recreational path just outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It’s was a beautiful morn; cool fresh air, sunshine and tall mountains in every direction I looked. A six-foot high chain link fence separates the trail from houses in the area.
June on her leash, saw a chipmunk ahead and took off after it. The retractable leash whirred as she pulled out the entire fifteen feet! She was as close as I’ve ever seen to catching that little booger. Two feet beyond the end of June’s reach, the critter jumped through the fence. June nearly jerked my arm out of its socket, then continued tugging, pulling me over far enough so she could reach the fence.
Safely on the other side of the fence, the chipmunk turned and gave June a piece of his mind. June barked back - an argument between the two ensued. The furry little critter charged back at June, jumping toward June’s face. I wasn’t sure if he actually came through the the fence until I pulled June back toward me. With all four feet clinging to the wires, an inch from my dogs face, the chattering and subsequent barking continued.
I yelled, “June! Leave it!” And pulled back on her leash. “Have you lost your cotton-picking mind?” I asked. “If that chipmunk latches on to your nose, you’re going to get hurt! You might even lose and eye!”
June returned to my side. The chipmunk momentarily retreated, then charged though the fence at June! June took off running away from the crazed rodent. The leash whizzed as she ran. Reaching the end of the line, she nearly pulled me off my feet. I stomped my feet at the chipmunk and yelled, “Get outta here!” The chipmunk turned back and ran to the top of the fence. He jumped to a tree branch and continued chattering at us. I yelled back, “Go home ya little five-inch terrorist!” He disappeared into the leaves and branches..
I tried to regain composure while looking around to find the dooty-bag I dropped during the mayhem. That’s when I noticed the two bicyclists, wearing black spandex trimmed with lime green and orange accents. They sat atop their seats, each with one foot on the ground. Apparently they had watched the whole thing.
The rider on the right adjusted his black plastic helmet and said, “Lucky chipmunk!” I bent over, picking up my dark green plastic sack, then stood up and said, “Lucky dog!” We all shared a good laugh. I walked off to the west with June, they pedaled away to the east.
I don’t need extra fireworks? Real life offers the best fireworks displays, happening around us every day!