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He didn’t do anything wrong and he certainly didn’t deserve it. Our black cat, Edgar Allan, was sitting in the living room bay window, watching the birds outside at the feeder. The Black-Capped Chickadees and Nuthatches flutter about; sporadically flying from the trees to the feeder. They snatch a sunflower seed or two, then fly back to the tall pine trees where they’ll feast on their find. Edgar watched with intense interest; his head twitched about as he focused on different birds.
“Are you keeping an eye on those birds, Edgar?” I went to give him a gentle rub on the head. As the palm of my hand touched the tip of his ear – ZAP! Static shock.
Edgar jumped off the sill, shot across the living room and went tearing down the hallway. He must have disturbed our dog June, because she came running from the hall toward the living room. Edgar was still in frantic mode as he passed June, ran laps around the house, bouncing off walls and furniture, finally taking shelter in his crinkle-tunnel. His head appeared through the hole in the middle of the tube to spectate the scene of the incident from a safe distance. Between my spells of laughter, I tried to ask, “Are you okay, buddy?”
Edgar glared at me as if I’d shocked him on purpose. June shook her head, “Edgar, you’re so melodramatic. It was just a little spark.”
A bit later, when June approached me, I could tell what was on her mind. “Do you need to go potty, Bugs?” She’s very good at letting us know when she needs to go outside. June hasn’t had an accident in the house since she was a puppy, over nine years ago. “You’re a good girl, June Bug.” I praised her as I went to give her an affectionate rub on the head.
When June sees a hand coming toward her, she optimistically checks for an incoming treat. Right when her cold wet nose touched my hand, BANG! A big discharge of static electricity sparked between us. June wagged her tail and trotted for the front door, “That was a good one, Dad!”
A little after four, Melissa got home from work. She walked in the front door with her coat bundled tight, her purse over her shoulder, a lunch bag in one hand and an insulated coffee mug in the other. We greeted each other, “Hi, how was your day?” I asked as I went to give her a little kiss on the cheek, POW! A static spark popped between us. I laughed, claiming my kisses are electrifying; she didn’t see it that way. “I guess it’s time to get the humidifier out.” She agreed and walked to the kitchen.
In the basement I found the humidifier in its original, colorful, green and blue box. Carefully unpacking it, I set the appliance on the floor then put the original Styrofoam and plastic packaging back in the box. Neatly closing the flaps, I put the box back where I got it and carried the humidifier upstairs.
I like this humidifier. It’s a tower with removeable saddle tanks that release water as needed into a small reservoir at the base. It’s quiet and does very well adding moisture to the air, reducing the risk of static shock in our home.
I set the humidifier in the hallway, removed the tanks and took them to the kitchen sink to fill. I record when and where I buy things that should last for years; on the back side of each tank, I wrote, O’Hara Hardware 2-14-14. It was hard to believe this humidifier is in its sixth season of use.
I remember the day I bought it. I told Mike O’Hara I wanted a West Bend brand humidifier. He asked why that particular brand, so I gave him the only reason I could think of. “My parents always had West Bend humidifiers.”
Mom gave me her old West Bend humidifier. Inside the cabinet, a big plastic wheel with a black filter around the edge, sat on two pullies, one was motor driven to turn it like a Ferris wheel. The bottom of the wheel moved through the rectangular tub in the base, bringing water up for the fan to vaporize and humidify the house. Three square grates on top could be turned to deflect the air as desired.
I had to carry pitchers of water to the West Bend, inevitably sloshing some of the water on the floor and spilling more when trying to pour it into the slanted door that opened on the front. The pullies squeaked, the fan was loud and the thing just smelled bad. I suppose these are the reasons Mom bought a new one. But it still worked and a squirt of “water freshener” at each refill helped mask the musky odor. I used that West Bend for several years until the motor died.
I thought about days long ago when I was a kid. I would shuffle my feet along the carpeted floor. When I felt fully charged, I would sneak up on a sibling and touch their ear, or the back side of their neck. ZAPP0! I would laugh my fool head off, although I’ll admit, I didn’t think it was that funny when someone did it to me.
No matter who shocked whom first; whether it was incidental or intentional, a static shock battle ensued and soon several kids were shuffling feet over the floor. Sometimes I could rub my hands up and down the front of my sweater, gathering enough juice to pop someone. It was fun and extra cool when two kids, both fully charged, touched finger tips and got a double shock - you could actually see the spark!
Another fun static game involved balloons. I’d rub an inflated balloon against my head. When I pulled it away, my hair stood straight up, trying to cling to the balloon. The charged balloon would then magically stick to the ceiling or a wall. Soon brothers and sisters were competing for the balloon so they could try it, too.
Some of my older sisters (and brothers) were more particular about the appearance of their hair than the younger kids were. It was always fun to walk up to an older sister who had just brushed her long, straight hair, possibly preparing for a date. If you silently held the balloon a few inches from their head, it would draw their hair toward the balloon like a magnet, messing up their style. It was best to be a fast runner with a planned escape route when pulling this prank.
Every static event led to an imminent dispute; someone got zapped too hard, someone’s hair got wrecked, or someone popped someone else’s balloon. When the ruckus drew Dad’s attention, the game was over. “Knock it off before someone gets hurt.” Dad would walk over to the West Bend humidifier, open the door and look into an empty reservoir. “Who was supposed to fill the humidifier? This thing doesn’t work unless it has water in it.” Ah, the memories.
I told Mike O’Hara I was replacing the humidifier Mom gave me when she bought her new West Bend several years ago. Mike told me he sold Mom her new unit and it wasn’t a West Bend. He went on to explain the benefits of the Essick Air Humidifier. I was convinced, this was the unit for me.
I said I would need two; one for the main floor and one to put upstairs. Mike assured me that one would handle the entire house, but I was skeptical. How could one little humidifier, one fourth the size of my old West Bend, humidify the whole house? I bought two…and later gave one away as it only took one to do the job.
At the kitchen sink, I filled the tanks and carried them to the hallway without spilling a drop. I slid the tanks into the cradles, snapping them into place. Glug, glug, glug, went the water as it filled the reservoir below. Edgar came running into the hallway to investigate the mysterious noise.
When I pushed a button, the fan kicked on and the unit was running smooth and quiet as new. I told the curious cat, “This humidifier will help to save your ears from getting popped.” Edgar looked at me like I was an idiot for thinking he would understand.
June joined us in the hallway. I patted the humidifier, “June, this baby is going to keep your nose from getting popped this winter.” June looked a little sad. I think she likes getting those little shocks. I went on to say, “I can’t believe this humidifier is in its sixth season already.”
“Is that a lot, Dad?” June asked.
“Well, if the humidifier makes it to spring - and I have every reason to believe it will - it will have had as many successful seasons as Downton Abbey!” June and I shared a good laugh about that. Edgar Allan rolled his eyes and looked at us as if my joke was way beneath a cat’s sophisticated sense of humor. I reached down and touched Edgar on the tip of his ear. ZAP!
Edgar took off running down the hall toward the living room, bouncing off furniture and walls until he jumped up into the bay window to watch the birds outside. June and I laughed our fool heads off. “It will take a couple hours for this thing to work,” I told my trusty canine, “and besides, he deserved it – with his hoity toity attitude.” I turned off the light and left the humidifier running quietly in the hallway.
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I took exit 242 off I-80 into Mifflinville, Pennsylvania; a small town of 1,253 people, nestled between the highway and a bend along the Susquehanna River. The names of the town and river both seemed like they came from a Dr. Seuss book. This Mifflin person must have been important as there is a Mifflintown and Mifflinburg as well. In Mifflinville, I pulled into McDonald’s for coffee, to use their Wifi and write.
Inside, there was a couple sitting at a table. I later learned their names were Frank and Kathy. She had finished her meal; he still had a few bites to go. Being the helper that I am, I tapped him on the shoulder and offered, “It looks like you’re slowing down a bit. If you need any help with those pancakes and sausage, I’m here for you brother.” He looked puzzled; I’m sure it’s not every day a stranger offers to help eat his meal. I continued, “I’m serious. I’ll even get my own fork and everything. I’m here to help; I’ve got your back friend.” At this point, he laughed, assuring me he had those cakes under control. I found a place to sit.
After writing for a few minutes, I decided to get a cone. The gal at the counter piled the ice cream extra high – I wasn’t complaining. At my table I began devouring the excessively tall tower of vanilla goodness. The man called over to me, “Hey buddy, do need any help with that? I’m here for you if you do.” We shared a good laugh about that. I told him I was doing just fine.
Seriously people, sharing pancakes with a stranger - when you each have a fork of your own - is one thing, but sharing an ice cream cone? I don’t think so, Frank.
It’s okay for a guy to share a cone with his child, wife or girlfriend – but never with a stranger. Still, I wanted to show my appreciation for Frank’s offer to help. I went to the counter and ordered another ice cream cone – this one was for Frank. The gal at the counter again provided a very generous portion of the creamy dessert.
When I turned around, Frank was walking away. I handed the cone to Kathy. She also looked a little confused. “Your husband offered to help with my ice cream cone, but that would be kind of gross. I thought he wanted some ice cream, so I bought him a cone of his own.” We shared a good laugh about that. She took the cone.
“Frank went to the restroom.” Kathy told me, “I’ll hold it until he gets back.” I returned to my seat.
Over the top of my computer screen, I observed Kathy holding the cone, eyeballing the ice cream. It was starting to melt a little, so she licked the drip away to keep the cone nice and neat. She looked toward the men’s room. With no sign of Frank in sight, she took a lick up the side of the cone, then another. Temptation overtook her and she took a full bite off the top. Soon she was enjoying Frank’s cone with shameless delight. Frank returned to the table, questioning, “What this?”
“Well,” Kathy said, wiping her mouth, “that man over there bought you an ice cream cone since you offered to help him with his.”
Frank looked at the cone, “He bought it for me? It’s half gone!”
Kathy said, “It was starting to drip, so I helped you out a little until you got back.”
Stunned. Frank repeated, “It’s half gone. Were you going to save some for me?”
Kathy replied, “It was a big cone. I helped you…a lot.” We shared a good laugh about that. She took another lick before handing the cone to Frank.
We ate our ice cream and had some good conversation. When we were done, we said our farewells and went our separate ways. I thought to myself how much better the world would be if more people were willing to help others – even a stranger. I offered to help Frank with his pancakes. Frank offered to help me with my cone. Kathy didn’t offer at all, she just jumped in and helped. It was a good day.
Next time I’m heading east on I-80 through Pennsylvania, I’ll stop at Mifflinville and explore the town a bit to see if I can meet some more nice people. Maybe I’ll find someone who needs a little help.
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The Rollaway Bed
Converting our van into a camper will be a lot of work, but it will be nice when it’s done and great for traveling around the country. I’ll need to add a bed, a refrigerator, sink, cookstove, furnace, air conditioner - everything. Normally when I start a project like this, I can visualize where everything needs to go and start building. Since space is limited in the van, this project will require more planning.
Being the biggest piece in the puzzle, I decided to start with the bed. Should it be in the front or the back? Most people run their bed across the back width of the van, but I am taller than the van is wide, so I want to position the bed lengthwise. I was having trouble envisioning it; getting a feel for how it would fit. I had an idea. I cut a large piece of cardboard, the actual size of the bed, and laid it on the van floor. Moving it to different places, I was still struggling to visualize the layout. June and I were taking a trip out east and we really needed to get on the road, but I had one more idea to try before leaving.
We have a rollaway bed in the basement. I put it in the van. It gave me a good perspective of the space the actual bed will take up. Since the rollaway bed was already in the van, I decided to take it with us on our trip. I threw in some bedding and June and I headed out.
By the next night, we were somewhere in Pennsylvania. I was tired and pulled into a rest area. I crawled into the rollaway bed and pulled up the covers, tucking them under my chin. It was cold; I shivered under the covers, “I sure wish I had the furnace installed.” I said, then asked June, “Bugs, are you warm enough?” She came to the side of the bed. Her ears felt cold when I petted her head. I invited her to snuggle with me on the bed, opposed to sleeping on her own bed on the cold floor. She gladly obliged and we slept warm and snug through the night. Early the next morning a dispute arose in the van.
I got up and ran to the restroom. When I came back, my dog - man’s best friend - had burrowed herself under the covers in my bed, even using my pillows! I told her to move but she wouldn’t budge so I went ahead and fixed breakfast. When I looked at June, so cozy on the rollaway bed, I began to reminisce.
Growing up, we had a rollaway bed. My brothers and sisters and I positioned it lengthwise in front of the television, opened it, then crawl under blankets. We laid in a line, on our stomachs across the width of the mattress. Leaning on our elbows with our chins propped up on the palms of our hands and our fingers cupping our cheeks, we watched cartoons (in black and white) on a Saturday morning. If the kid on one end pulled the covers their way, the kid on the other end would complain, “Come on, you’re hogging all the covers.” It was best to find a spot in the middle.
Anyone who got up from the bed for any reason, would find their spot taken, upon return. An argument was imminent:
“You’re in my spot.”
“You didn’t call place-backs”
“Yes, I did.”
“No, you didn’t”
“Yes, I did, so and so heard me.”
The controversy interupted our cartoon viewing. Eventually the other siblings became the jury, determining who was right and who was wrong. The kid losing the dispute often got up, protesting, “It’s not fair. Nobody likes me!” then stomped off mad. When the victorious one wiggled back onto the bed, complaints would come from both ends, “Come on! You’re pulling the covers off me.”
When the cartoons were over, we were going to put the bed away. Inevitably one kid would lay in the middle refusing to get up - so we folded the bed up - with them in it. Once they wiggled out the end, we opened the bed and took turns laying in the middle, like a hotdog in a bun. The other kids brought the ends up fastening the metal latches. We were all skinny kids and I don’t think anyone ever got stuck in the hotdog bun.
One time, three of us stood on the mattress while the other kids folded the ends up like a taco shell, securing the latches on each side. The two ends of the bed folded together at the top were tighter than being in the bottom like a hotdog. We were stuck and couldn’t get out.
I tried to lift the latch on my side, but it was too tight. I sucked my stomach in as much as I could. I attempted to pull the two ends of the bed closer together, releasing the pressure on the latch, but couldn’t do it one-handed. I used two hands so the kid in the middle could reach around me to unlatch the bed, but their arms were too short. We were stuck. The kids outside were laughing, while we struggled. We all made quite a commotion – enough so to wake Dad.
Dad walked into the living room in his robe. “I’m trying to sleep. What’s going on here?” he demanded to know. Quickly assessing the situation, he came to our rescue, lifting the latch and setting us free. He lectured, “This is a bed, not a toy. If you guys can’t use it right, then just leave it alone.” Silence fell on the room.
As soon as he returned to his bedroom, closing the door behind him, a whispering dispute ensued as to who was the one making enough noise to wake up Dad.
Reflecting fondly on those days as a kid, I smiled and looked at June on the rollaway bed inside our van. I wondered, if I were to fold the bed up with June Bug in it, like a hotdog in a bun, could she get out? I chuckled at the very idea of it. She looked at me and warned, “Don’t even think about it, mister!”
I shivered with chills while scooping another spoonful of Cheerios into my mouth. June rested, all warm and cozy in my bed, under my covers and on my pillows, while I stood in the cold van eating my breakfast. I should have called place-backs.