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The alarm went off at 6:45 on a beautiful summer morning. The air was cool, so I had the windows open rather than running the conditioner. I wanted to stay in bed to sleep longer but forced myself up for Nova Mae.
Our young dog, Nova Mae, slept by my side. I shook her gently, "Come on, Nova, we have to get up." She wanted to sleep longer, too. Finally, after a series of yawns and stretches, she lumbered off the bed and went to the door. When she came in from her morning walk in the yard, she followed me into the bathroom and sat by my feet while I got ready. I put on my T-shirt and began to feel uneasy, and I didn't know why.
"Dad, did you forget to put breakfast in my bowl," the young canine inquired?
"I didn't forget," I assured her, "we're going to eat later." Something just felt strange about the morning.
"Come on, baby girl," I said as I opened the sliding door on the van. Nova Mae eagerly jumped into the van, then hopped up into the driver seat. I walked around the van and opened my door. Nova sat, looking forward through the windshield as if she didn't see me there. "Move it, sister. You know the routine; I'm driving." She crossed over into the passenger's seat, and we set out for our destination. The conversation in the van was like talking to a young child.
Nova opened the conversation, "Why didn't we eat breakfast, Dad?"
"We'll eat after your appointment," I replied.
"What's an appointment," she asked.
"It's when you set a time to meet with someone," I explained.
"Who am I going to meet," Nova wondered?
"You have an appointment with Dr. Kylee today," I told her.
Nova was puzzled. "But we were just there a few weeks ago; why are we going again?"
"That was for your rabies shot," I explained. "Today, you're going to be spayed." So naturally, Nova had to ask what it meant to be spayed. "It means Dr. Kylee is going to discombobulate your baby maker."
Nova looked around the van, noticing that Edgar Allen, our cat, wasn't with us. "Why isn't Edgar going with us? He should get spayed, too." Nova said.
I chuckled. "Edgar is a boy. Boys don't get spayed."
"Why not," the dog wanted to know?
"Because boys don't have baby makers, only girls do." I was still feeling uneasy about the day, and this conversation wasn't helping.
Then Nova Mae asked, "Dad, where do puppies come from."
Nova wore me down with all of her questions, and I wasn't prepared to have 'the talk' with our little girl. As I turned into the driveway at the vet's clinic, I sighed with exasperation, "Nova, you're going to see Dr. Kylee to get treats, okay? You'll spend the day with her, and then she'll give you treats." Nova seemed content with that; she likes treats. But, I still had an uneasy feeling.
Inside the office, Ashton greeted us from behind the counter, then looked at our file. "Nova Mae is here for spaying and dewclaws?"
"No," I said, giving the receptionist two hard winks with my right eye. "She's just here for treats." We shared a good laugh about that, although Nova didn't understand why we were laughing.
I don't know why I had such an uneasy feeling. Nova's procedures were routine, and I had every confidence in the doctor and her staff. Still, I felt a light pressure on my throat, and my shoulders felt weird like they were being pushed back.
Ashton came through the side door to take Nova back for her surgery. "You can come back for her between three-thirty and four," she said, then escorted Nova away.
My wife called me around nine. "Have you heard from Kylee?"
"Not yet," I said, then explained, "I'm sure everything went fine. Kylee is probably busy, and besides, she would have called right away if anything went wrong. Sometimes not hearing from the doctor right away is a good thing." As I was hanging up the phone, I noticed I had missed a call from Thomas Veterinary Clinic.
My uneasiness intensified, and my T-shirt worked up on my neck, trying to choke me. I put my fingers inside my collar as if to loosen it and called the clinic. They put me on hold.
A moment later, Dr. Kylee came on the phone, "Hi Tom. I was just calling to let you know everything went fine with Nova's surgery. She's resting in recovery now, and you can come to get her after three-thirty." Whew! The doctor's report was comforting, but I still had the pressure around my neck and shoulders. I thought I might know what the uneasy feeling was.
I don't like trimming a dog's nails, and I knew Nova's needed attention. "Kylee, I forgot to ask if you could trim her claws while she was sedated." The doctor laughed; she knows I struggle with this.
"I took care of that for you," she assured. That should have brought me relief, but it didn't. Instead, the pressure lingered throughout the day, and I couldn't figure out why. The pressure wasn't intense, just annoying. Maybe I'd settle down and feel better when Nova was back with me.
I returned to the clinic a little before four. While Ashton explained the meds and care following Nova's procedure, I felt uneasy again. When she handed me my bill, I felt the pressure on my neck and shoulders. I didn't understand why; the bill was the exact amount they said it would be.
Once again, I attempted to loosen the tight collar around my neck with my index and middle finger. Then, for some reason, I pulled the collar forward to look inside my shirt. "Oh, my Lord," I exclaimed.
I told Ashton about the uneasy feeling I'd had all day, the pressure on my neck and shoulders, and how I felt like my collar was trying to choke me. I laughed nervously, feeling like a fool as I confessed, "I put my T-shirt on backward! No wonder the collar has been riding up my neck all day." We had a good laugh about that. It was even more awkward knowing that no one mentioned the pocket on my back all day. Surely someone had noticed!
Then they brought Nova out to me. I looked at her and acted shocked. "Nova, what happened to you," I asked with alarm.
Nova's eyes weren't big and bright as usual; they were glassy and not fully open. The poor dog looked pitiful, but I think all dogs look pitiful when wearing a lamp shade around their neck.
In addition to the transparent lampshade, Nova's front paws were wrapped with yellowish-green tape over the gauze to protect the incisions from her dewclaws. Then, a white band of tape was wrapped above; I suppose to keep the bandages secure. "You're not funny," she said, looking at me through the slits that were her eyes, but I played dumb. Finally, Nova leveled an accusation, "You knew what they were going to do when you brought me here."
"Nova, you were standing right here this morning when I told them you were just here for treats," I defended. "There must have been a little misunderstanding," I said as I gave the receptionist two obvious winks with my left eye. Then, I put my hand inside the funnel-shaped collar, giving Nova a rub on the head.
After a nice dinner, Nova Mae used her back leg to scratch vigorously at the lampshade around her head. "Dad, have you ever had an uneasy feeling where it seems like your collar is riding up on your neck, trying to choke you?"
"As a matter of fact, I have had that feeling, Nova," I answered. Then, to give her some relief, I scratched her neck under the base of the plastic cone. "Don't let it bother you, Nova Mae; that feeling will go away in about ten days."
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I was driving west on I-90 across North Dakota, headed for Boise, Idaho, a twenty-two-hour drive from my home on the north
shore. Driving has always been therapeutic for me as it gives me a lot of alone time and time to think. On this trip, I was thinking about two guys in my graduating class at school.
After moving to Iowa in the middle of my eighth-grade year – I was the "new kid" at Washington Junior High. That's where I met Brett and Bart Culver; twin brothers in my grade. They were always nice when I saw them, which was cool. Most students didn't pay attention to a new kid, but a few went out of their way to give me a hard time. I didn't like that at all.
Brett and Bart were always friendly to me, even though we didn't hang out together. I knew their dad was a minister, and they had a younger brother, Scott. The twins were tough as oxen. I'd bet if you could get them into a harness, they could easily pull an eight-bottom plow through a farm field. The two were not only strong,they were also fair.
Although they had been in their share of scraps, these two never picked on anyone. I never knew them to start trouble, but if you wanted to go the rounds, they never backed down either. A good clean fight seemed to be a sport to them.
I respected Brett and Bart for their upstanding values; it might also have been because they were strong. I, on the other hand, was not. While I was in junior high and senior high school, the word scrawny would best describe my build. I didn't grow up (physically) until after I graduated. Scrawny kids didn't go looking for trouble; we avoided it. Because of this, we often got picked on – today, the term is bullied.
As I drove across I-90, I thought more about these two guys. Brett lived in Boise, which was my destination. Maybe we could get together to visit on my way through town.
I called to see if Brett could meet for dinner Thursday. "I'd love to meet up," he said, "but I'm out of town on a business trip until late Friday. How long will you be in town?" Unfortunately, early Friday morning, I had to be on the road home. We talked for a while, then Brett said, "I'm sorry it didn't work out. Make sure you call me next time you're going to be in town."
Over the next several months, I would pass through Boise a few times. Again, I called Brett, but he was traveling for work each time. So maybe it just wouldn't work for us to meet up.
Then one time, I was making a trip to Mc Call, Idaho. It was 120 miles from Brett's house, but I thought I'd check in. When I called, Brett said he would be home Friday night; I would get to Boise Saturday morning. So, finally, we were going to get together.
"Can I borrow your kitchen when I get there," I asked Brett? The question caught him off guard. "I want to bake a pie for you while I'm there."
"You don't have to do that, buddy," Brett said.
"I know I don't have to, but I want to do this," I told him. "What's your favorite kind of pie?"
"Well, if you insist, I’m not going to turn you down. I would love one of those cherry pies you're always writing about."
Brett and his wife Karen stood in the kitchen while I made the pie. We enjoyed catching up on where we'd been and what we've been doing since high school. Finally, I finished weaving the lattice top and put the pie in the oven. While the pie was baking, I leaned against the counter and told Brett a story:
In our senior year of high school, my dad's radio station sponsored a Lion's Club Donkey Basketball fundraiser. A big crowd gathered in the Evans Middle School gym. The people wanted to see the radio station disc-jockeys beat the Ottumwa Police Department's officers. I was skeptical of the outcome. Disc jockeys are known more for their ability to run off at the mouth than their athleticism.
At the event, Geoff B. approached me aggressively in the hallway outside the gym and wanted to fight. I tried to blow him off by telling him I would not fight anyone at the fundraiser my dad was sponsoring.
Brett asked, "What was the fight about."
"The same thing that causes all fist fights between high school boys; a girl, of course, and I don't even remember her name." We shared a good laugh about that.
Anyway, I wasn't going to fight Geoff. Not just because we were at an event Dad sponsored, but Geoff was also a lot taller than me and probably fifty pounds heavier. He would have killed me!
When I tried to walk away, two guys grabbed me, one on each arm, and drug me backwards up the staircase to a dark, secluded landing. Geoff and one other guy followed. Geoff said, "We're going to settle this right now." I told him again that I wasn't going to fight him and started to walk away. The third guy moved to block my escape. The other two guys grabbed me by the arms again, slamming me into the brick wall. Then they lifted me off my feet, holding me against the wall. I was scared to death.
Geoff punched me once in the gut, nearly knocking the wind out of me. They had me pinned to the wall, with my feet dangling off the floor. I tried to kick him away, but the next punch came faster and harder. Finally, hitting me in the chest, Geoff took the rest of my breath away. Yelling for help felt like a cowardly thing to do, but I was in trouble. I tried to call for help, but with no wind, no sound came out; besides, no one would have heard me over the noise from the gym.
The next punch Geoff threw was coming right for my face. I dodged my head to the left, and he punched the brick wall – hard. Geoff cussed, then threw another punch at my face; this time, I leaned my head to the right. He grazed my left cheekbone hard enough to leave me with a scrape and a shiner, but still, most of that punch landed on the bricks, too.
Geoff cussed some more, then landed two more direct hits to my stomach. I wasn't sure if I could keep from throwing up, but one thing was sure: I wouldn't let him see me cry, regardless of how scared I was.
Geoff stared at me with anger but an evil grin on his face; I could tell he was enjoying this. Meanwhile, I couldn't stop my shaking. I was sure he would punch me in the nose or the mouth. I wanted to close my eyes tightly and pretend this wasn't happening, but I didn't dare take my eyes off him. Moving my head to avoid getting hit was my only defense as his two thug buddies continued to hold me. Finally, I remember thinking, 'Maybe if he draws blood, he'll leave me alone. If I could just take one more punch.
Just as Geoff cocked his fist, two people came up on the landing. "What's going on here, men," one of them asked with an authoritative tone of voice?
Geoff was startled by the voice and turned to see who it was. "Just teaching Palen a lesson; teaching him to mind his own business," he said.
When Geoff turned away, I also glanced over to see it was. Oh, my Lord. It's Brett and Bart Culver.
Their presence didn't relieve me because I wasn't sure if they were friends of Geoff until Bart said, "Well, boys, four against one doesn't seem very fair, but four against three sounds okay." When he said this, I immediately looked to the steps expecting to see their younger brother Scott. However, when Scott didn't appear, it occurred to me that I was the third person in the trio.
Being one of the three only raised my anxiety again. I wasn't big enough to take any one of my assailants. Suddenly, I realized that Bart spoke metaphorically when he said, "four against three." They certainly did not need my help.
With a grin and a glimmer in his eye, Brett looked as if he was ready to have some fun. He raised his arms and clenched his fists, taking a stance, ready to fight. "Well, come on, boys. Let's get it on," he said, dancing a couple of steps forward. Finally, I felt relieved. I knew that I had just been saved the moment he spoke those words!
The thug guarding the stairs turned and ran down the steps like a chicken. The two holding me up against the wall, still with my feet off the ground, immediately turned me loose and fled to save their skin in a consistent cowardly fashion. As soon as they released their grip, I dropped maybe four or five inches. I had to focus on keeping my knees from buckling and falling all the way down on the floor.
I remember looking at Geoff. With his hands held open, he slowly backed away from the twins, pleading, "Come, Brett; Bart. This doesn't involve you." The three exchanged words, but no punches; I don't know what they said; I was trying to compose myself and hide my embarrassment.
Geoff disappeared down the steps. Bart asked, "Are you all right, Palen." I told them I was okay.
"They aren't going to bother anymore," Brett assured. Then the duo sailed down the steps taking them two at a time, like Batman and Robin, after saving the day. "They don't even have capes," I muttered while following somberly. Finally, Brett and Bart turned and disappeared into the crowded gym.
The audience was cheering as one of our guys finally made a basket from his mule. Through the double doors, I saw the scoreboard on the far end of the basketball court. The police were beating the pants off our DJs. Dad looked my way from behind the scorekeeper's table; I was hoping he couldn't see the raspberry under my eye. I walked through the front door of the school building and out to my car. I just wanted to go home.
I finished telling my story while the pie was in the oven. "I don't remember any of that, Tom," Brett said, not surprising me.
I've discovered that bullies seldom remember their actions as the years' pass, but the bullied never forget. As for people like Brett and Bart, that night may not stand out in their memory because doing the right thing was normal to them, but I felt they were heroic.
I moved the pie from the oven to a cooling rack. The piping hot steam filled the air with its sweet amaretto fragrance. "Let this cool a few hours before you cut it," I said.
Brett handed me a very cool camouflage bucket hat he got while serving in the US Army, "I want you to have this," he said. I felt honored to accept his gift, so I put it on my head, and we stood together. While Karen took our photo, I was on my tippy-toes to ensure I was taller than Brett. We shared a good laugh about that; then I told my friends I had to get going.
"You're not staying to share the pie with us," Brett questioned?
"The pie is for you, Brett," I replied.
Brett pointed out the obvious, "You sure drove a long way just to make a pie."
"I never did thank you or Bart on that night at Evans," I explained, "And, you're right. One hundred nineteen miles out of my way would be a long way just to make a pie. But, to finally tell a friend in person, 'Thank you for saving my butt when I was in deep trouble,' even if I was almost forty years late - well, that makes the 120th mile well worth the drive.
With the pie cooling on the counter, we said our farewells. I asked Brett, "Can you send a slice of that pie to Bart, and please, tell him I said, 'Thank you!'"