a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
Back to Blog
Dozens of people have sent me the same picture; it's a signboard that reads: "Say what you will about the south, but no one retires and moves north." It still humors me. Although I'm not a big fan of the heat associated with the south, that's not the most significant flaw I find in the message. I always have to tell these people, “I'm not retired; I'm just between jobs."
Admittedly, while between jobs, I did move to northern Minnesota, where I enjoy the cooler climate. We don't get sweltering temperatures in the summer, and I love the cold and snowy winters. But this type of winter is not for everyone, especially people who say they hate snow. I read a social media post that might help these poor misguided souls.
"If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow." That's profound. I wish I were the one who wrote that, but I'm not, so I will quote it as 'author unknown.'
I've always lived where five months of the year came with cold weather and snow; in a word, winter: Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and now Minnesota. I like snow and always have.
As a kid, we'd listen intensely to the radio station impatiently waiting for the morning disc jockey to speak those four glorious words: "School is canceled today." When he finally said it, we'd jump up and down celebrating. Cheers echoed through the house as the word spread, "There's no school today." It was as if our favorite team had just won the championship game in overtime against a detested rival.
With this news, some of my brothers and sisters went back to bed, while others scrambled to find boots, hats, scarves, gloves, and of course, extra socks.
Mom had a large wicker basket of mis-matched socks. If we didn't have snow boots, we'd put on two pairs of socks, then slip a plastic bread bag over our foot, followed by another sock, then the shoe. Even though our shoes would get wet, the plastic kept our feet dry so that we could stay outside longer.
When gloves or mittens weren't available, a pair (or two) of socks on your hands worked just as well.
There was a lot to be done on a snow day:
The neighborhood kids would gather and roll big snowballs to build snowmen and snow forts to take cover from fast-flying snow projectiles. We always started off with teams, but inevitably teammates would turn on one another, and it became a free-for-all. The walls of the snow fortress no longer offered protection as many snowballs came from a teammate within the same fort!
Snowball fights weren't my favorite thing to do because, frankly, I wasn't that good; it’s hard to throw a snowball with socks on your hands, but I still participated. Sooner or later, someone was going to get hit a little too hard. Then, tempers flared, and warm tears rolled down cold cheeks. Some of the kids stomped away angry to their houses, but always came back out.
Inside the house, we'd toss our wet clothes in the dryer. Boots and shoes made a thundering racket tumbling inside the drum! Socks, gloves, and hats were set on top of heat registers to dry, along with cold hands to be warmed. When our clothes were dry enough, we'd get dressed again and make our way to a nearby hill for snow sledding. Sleds with steel rails were only good when the snow was packed down.
To prepare the sledding site, we'd go screaming down the hill on a saucer or rolled up plastic sled; they were the fastest. School lunch trays that were "borrowed" from the cafeteria, were also great for sledding. A cookie sheet or a turkey roasting pan would work for the smaller kids - even a big piece of cardboard would do. As long as it was smooth on the bottom, it was a potential for sledding. Of course, the more we packed down the snowy hill, the faster the sleds went.
Albeit dangerous, bumper skiing was an exciting event where skiers soon learned the hazards of a dry patch on the road. Unfortunately, the sport resulted in headaches, not from hitting the pavement but crouching down behind a running car right next to the tailpipe. Just a couple of runs in this event always left me queasy and nauseous. Bumper skiing wasn't the only risky thing we did in the snow.
In Iowa, we would pull a saucer sled or an inner tube tied to a long rope behind Dad's red and grey Ford 8N tractor. On the tube, you'd hold on for dear life when the tractor picked up speed, then suddenly turned sharply. The sled whipped on the end of the rope, crossing perpendicular over the plowed rows of a snow-covered cornfield. Wiping out hurt, and much like bull riding, there was no stopping the tractor until the rider had been launched. I'm still amazed that we never broke any arms or legs doing this. Still, pulling sleds behind a tractor wasn't the most dangerous thing I did.
When I was fifteen years old, my older brother Gerard and I bought identical motorcycles at Jerry Smith's Cycle Ranch; – bright blue Kawasaki KZ400s, with a gold and black stripe. Mine sat in the garage (as far as Dad knew), waiting for me to turn sixteen to get my driver's license. My birthday is in November, so being one who loved the cold and snow anyway, as soon as I had my license, I rode the motorcycle all winter long.
One day, riding in fresh snow, I was stopped at a red light, heading south on Highway 63. A car was coming up behind me, and I knew it wasn't going to get stopped, so I tried to get moving. Unfortunately, the car slid into my rear tire, shooting me through the intersection like a rock coming out of a sling-shot. I shot right between two cars coming off the cross street. Woodland Avenue. Fortunately, I didn't get hurt.
The guy who hit me had a pipe-wrench and helped me pull my bent fender away from the rear tire so I could ride home. "You shouldn't be riding that thing in the snow!" He warned me.
I probably sounded like a smart-aleck teenager when I replied, "Would it have made a difference if I was in my car? You still would have hit me; you need to slow down." The man gave me a dirty look and his information, saying he would pay for the fender. I did partially heed his advice; "From now on, if it's snowing, I'll stay off the highway."
A week later, I rode my motorcycle in the snow heading south on North Court Street, which parallels Highway 63. A car was approaching the stop sign on Woodland Avenue. I could tell she wasn't going to get stopped, and oncoming traffic kept me from trying to swerve around her. The car slid through the stop sign; I hit the front left fender and flew over my handlebars, smacking my mirror with my knee! I bounced off her hood, then tumbled and skidded across the snow-covered street.
The lady jumped out of her car and came running to see if I was hurt. I got up from the pavement, trying to remove the snow that packed into my helmet and was freezing my cheek. "Are you okay," she asked, quite shaken herself. "I couldn't get stopped, and it just happened so fast, and…"
"I'm okay, just a little banged up," I said while brushing snow off my chest and pants. "Is my motorcycle okay," I asked while limping back to the other side of her car to check it out.
A police car pulled up with his lights on; Ron Tolle was the officer; I knew him. I had never been in an accident before, and his presence made me feel more at ease. "Is anyone hurt," he asked? "Tom, are you okay? Do you want me to call an ambulance?" I assured him I was okay.
Officer Tolle helped me lift the broken bike lying on its side, back up on its wheels, and put down the kickstand. The headlight was still on, but the motor wasn't running; I turned the key off, then assessed the damages. Ron walked around the bike with me. The front forks were bent and pushed inward to the frame, the left turn signal had broken off, and one mirror was knocked loose. "Did someone hit you from behind, too," he asked? "How did your back fender get smashed up?"
"That happened last week," I pointed down the street, "on the other end of Woodland Avenue. A car hit me from behind on the highway."
The officer shook his head, "You shouldn't be riding this thing in the snow!" He warned me. I turned the key on, pulled in the clutch, and pushed the button - the motor fired right up. Ron must have read my mind, "You can't ride this home Tom, I’ve already called a wrecker to tow it."
The tow truck arrived and Bill Carr got out. "Are you alright," he asked while putting on his gloves. I told him I was, then he said, "You shouldn't be riding this thing in the snow. Does your dad know you're riding a motorcycle in the snow?" I stood there quietly as he lifted my bike with his wench. He read the side of the gas tank, "Kawasaki. Do you want me to take it out to Jerry Smith's or drop it off at your folks' house?"
When Jerry Smith saw the motorcycle, in his soft, always gentle voice, he said, "You know Tom, you shouldn't be riding this on snowy roads; it's not the right type of bike for that."
With time, I got smarter, I still rode my motorcycle all winter, but when it was snowing, I drove my car instead. What a thrill it was (and still is) cutting cookies in a parking lot covered with fresh snow in my car.
A few things have changed as I got a little older and had a little more money: I prefer a snowblower over a shovel, I bought a six-foot toboggan, but I think I would still ride a sheet of cardboard down the hill. I have warm boots and gloves now, and my aim has improved - I like throwing snowballs at my wife, daughters, and grandkids.
I don't think that will ever change for me; I still love the cold and snow. With hot cocoa, and wood fires in the stove, winter isn't just a season – it's a special feeling.
It is true, "If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow." Author unknown.
Back to Blog
With Thanksgiving upon us, there's always plenty for which to be thankful. But, this year, I have a little more; some extraordinary things – things money cannot buy.
While helping my brother with a remodeling project in Missouri, I promised him an apple pie. We were busy working, but I finally baked the pie the night before I left for home. I returned to Missouri a few weeks late to help again. Dan dropped a subtle hint by placing ten Granny Smith apples on the counter for me to find when I arrived.
When I saw them, I said, "Good Lord, Danny! There are enough apples here to bake two pies."
Danny laughed and said, "I know." Unfortunately, Dan had to leave a day before me, and I didn't get around to making the pies; but I wouldn't let the apples go to waste either.
I made two apple pies thinking I would drive five hours farther south to Oklahoma City. I could visit several family members, give them each a slice of pie, then head home to Minnesota. I called my wife and told her my plans, "Will you save a slice of pie for me," she asked? I promised her I would.
Before leaving Missouri, I learned of a friend in Iowa who was having health issues. I started thinking about how many people in Iowa I'd promised to visit. The list was getting longer, and many of these people are getting up there in years. I changed plans again. I would take the pies to Ottumwa and visit several friends, leaving each with a slice of pie. I called my wife and told her of the new plan. "Okay," she said, "Will you still be able to save a slice of pie for me?" I assured her I would, then started driving north.
My first stop would be to visit my friend Dale; he's a resident in a memory care facility. I called his daughter Becky first to make sure it would be okay to stop and see him. Becky gave me some tips, "Tell him who you are, and don't get hurt if he doesn't remember you."
A staff member showed me to his room. I started to remove my face covering, "Hi Dale; it's Tom…" Dale interrupted me.
"Tom Palen, what the heck are you doing here?" It made me feel good that he knew me.
"I'm bringing you a slice of apple pie; what else would I be doing here?" We shared a good laugh about that. I honestly had planned to stay for only fifteen or twenty minutes, but an hour and a half later, we wrapped up our visit.
During that time, we shared a lot of old stories and some new ones. Dale told me about the day he met his wife, Joann. I couldn't understand what he was saying as far as where they were, but the gist of the story was more important. "I had seen her a couple of times before but didn't pay any attention to her. Then one day at a social, I noticed her standing across the lawn and thought she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen." I could see in Dale's eyes that he was reliving that day. "I was standing with some buddies and pointed her out. I told them, 'Boys, I'm going to marry that gal over there.' Anyway, I bought her lunch." I wasn't sure what he meant by that, but he kept talking, and I kept listening.
"When fall came, some things changed in the bus routes, anyway, I was riding the bus to school. The driver stopped to let some more kids on. When the door opened, the most beautiful girl in the world climbed the steps into the bus. I moved over and asked her if she'd like to share the seat with me. She sat down to my right side, and she's been in the right seat next to me ever since then.
"She's still the prettiest woman I've ever seen, and she's the only woman I ever loved; she the only woman I could ever love." Dale looked around the room and got a little teary-eyed. "The hardest part of living here is going to bed at night without Joann by my side." Feeling the love and emotion in Dale's voice caused my eyes to well up also.
When I talked to Dale's daughter before the visit, I told her I would leave a slice of pie for her mom too. "You're leaving a piece of apple pie for mom, with my dad?" I asked her if that would be okay. "Mom will never get it," she said laughing, then suggested, "Why don't you take the piece to mom yourself." I hadn't seen Joann for at least a few years. So, I told Becky I would visit her mom, too.
Dale and I talked about many things during our visit; then, I told him I would visit Joann next; to take a slice of pie to her. "You could leave her pie here, and I'll give it to her when I see her." We shared a good laugh about that. "I'll bet she'll be happy to see you," Dale said to me, Then while giving me a very heartfelt hug. "You be sure to tell Joann that I love her."
"I will, Dale. I promise."
Joann greeted me at the door, welcoming me. "It's so good to see you; come in, sit down." She offered a glass of ice-cold water with mint. It was very refreshing. I honestly had planned to stay for only fifteen or twenty minutes but stayed for about two hours.
During that time, we shared some old stories and some new ones. I asked Joann where she had met Dale. "At a box social," she told me, "The girls would decorate boxes, then make a lunch to inside. The boys would buy a box, then get to eat lunch with the girl who made it. Dale bought my box lunch." It was fun listening to Joann, as she recalled that day. Then with strong suspicion, she said, "The boxes were supposed to be anonymous, but I think those boys had a way of finding out who made which box."
I told Joann what Dale had told me, "He was saying it was some sort of social, but I didn't understand what type, and I didn't want to interrupt his story." I told her that Dale said she was the only woman he ever loved or could ever love. "Dale said you were, and still are, the prettiest girl he'd ever seen. Joann started to blush a little.
"Did he really say that," she asked?
"Absolutely, word for word," I assured.
After a moment, I asked Joann, "What was it like when you had to make the decision to have Dale stay at the facility?"
At first, it seemed my question caught Joann off guard, then she began telling me the story and the reasons it was necessary, "It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and he was so angry about it; angry with me." As she spoke, I could see a distance in her eyes and hear the pain in her voice. "He's probably going to be mad at me for the rest of my life."
I thought about the way Dale hugged me before I left him that day and when he said, "You be sure to tell Joann that I love her." I needed to share more about my visit with Dale that day.
I placed my hand on top of Joann's and said, "Dale is not mad at you." The way she looked at me, I could tell she wanted to believe me but had doubts. "I want to share a story Dale told me today:"
"Palen, does God ever talk to you? I mean, talk to you in a way that makes things really plain to understand," Dale asked?
"Yes, He does – quite often," I answered.
Dale went on: "When God is talking to me, He sends one of those…I can't remember what you call them; they write things in the sky."
"Do you mean an airplane, like a sky-writer?" I offered.
"Yes, that's it, a sky-writer," Dale said, then continued, "When I first got here, I was mad. Mad at everybody, everything, and everyone. I asked Joann, 'Why the hell did you bring me out here?' I spent a lot of time being mad. Even though they treated me pretty well here, I was still mad. Then one day, I was lying in bed because I didn't feel like getting up. I knew I should get up, but I was mad, and I didn't want to." Dale went deeper into his story.
"As I laid in bed sulking, staring at the ceiling, that little airplane appeared and started writing: 'You belong here.' It might sound crazy, but I knew it was God talking to me; that's how He's always talked to me my whole life – with that sky-writer." Dale took a long pause.
"I was mad when I got here, at everyone – even Joann, but now I understand that it was selfish of me to think she could keep taking care of me alone at home. I should never have got mad at her; she was just doing what had to be done." Then Dale looked at me and said, "The hardest part of living here is going to bed at night without Joann by my side."
I asked Dale, "Have you told Joann that you're not mad anymore; have you told her about the message?"
"I don't know how," Dale replied.
"Well, that sounds like you're just being a stubborn German! You should tell her."
Dale broke the deep conversation, changing the mood in his usual style - with humor. "Well, I'm not staying here forever," he said, "I'm eighty-nine years old, and when I turn ninety, I'm breaking out of here and going home."
I laughed, "I'm with you, brother. Should I start looking for a get-away car?"
"Yes, and make it a fast one," Dale said. We shared a good laugh about that; then it was time for me to go.
Joann's eyes had well up. "He's not mad at you, Joann. He's more in love with you today than the day he saw you at the box social; he told me so. He's just not sure how to tell you. I feel like God wanted me to come to share that with you." We shared a few tears; then I had to go.
I left Joann with a slice of apple pie, "I was going to leave this with Dale, but Becky said you would never get it, so I wanted to deliver it personally." Joann agreed with Becky. We shared a good laugh about that, then said our farewells before I left to visit more friends.
I got in my van, smiling as I backed out of the driveway. I thought about our visit and thought I finally figured out why God redirected me from Oklahoma to Ottumwa.
I went to visit my friends Donna and Skip. Each visit was only supposed to be fifteen or twenty minutes, but I guess I talked more than I thought. It was getting late. I would have to wait until the next day to visit my friend Jerry.
I showed up at Jerry's house around three in the afternoon. I had planned to stay for only twenty minutes, but you know how that goes. I hadn't seen Jerry for about four or five years. He greeted me at the door, "Palen, you, old son-of-a-gun, how are you?"
In his kitchen, I opened the plastic grocery sack I was carrying. I handed Jerry a plate with a slice of apple pie. He sniffed the pie and smiled, "Oh boy," he said, "that is going to be a big part of my supper tonight. Do you have some time? Come in and sit down." I set the grocery sack on the counter and followed Jerry to the living room.
Jerry Strunk had operated Midwest Aviation at the Ottumwa Airport; MWA, pronounced mah-wah, by Jerry and all who were close. I got my instruction, training, and my pilot's license at MWA. Now eighty-two years old, Jerry was one of the best and highest time pilots I'd ever known. After logging tens of thousands of hours flying airplanes, Jerry told me, "I hung up my goggles and headphones when I turned eighty. I figured if flying airplanes hadn't killed me yet, I wasn't going to let it happen now." We shared a good laugh about that.
We shared stories and laughter; talked about the past and the future. For example, in the 1970s, Jerry brought the Navy, Blue Angels, and Airforce Thunderbirds to perform at airshows in a small town in Iowa – nobody thought that could happen. Jerry accomplished many great things and touched many lives in the world of aviation; still, it wasn't the most important thing in his life.
Jerry was most passionate when speaking about his wife, Jo Ellen. I remember calling him right after she had passed away; he was devastated and heartbroken. Time had passed, but time did not heal all wounds. Jerry was doing okay, but his loneliness without Jo Ellen was still very real. Jerry smiled, "She waiting for me, you know. The first thing I'm going to do is give her a big kiss, then take her for an airplane ride – just like the old days," he said with a sparkle in his eye.
I looked at the clock, "Good Lord, I've been here almost three hours," I said, "I've got to get going."
"What's the rush?" Jerry questioned.
"I'm going back to Silver Bay, Minnesota tonight. I've got almost nine hours of driving ahead of me."
Jerry shook his head, "That would be only a few hours in an airplane." We shared a good laugh about that. "It was really good to see you and spend some time catching up, Palen," Jerry said, then hugged me. "Feel free to come back again – as long as you bring a pie with you." We had another good laugh; then, I headed for my van.
I was on the road for forty-five minutes when I looked at the empty passenger seat next to me. I called Jerry, "Strunk, did I leave a white plastic grocery sack on your kitchen counter?"
Jerry walked to the kitchen, "Yeah, you did. What's in it? Anything dangerous?"
"It's the last slice of apple pie. I was supposed to take it home for my wife," I replied.
"Are you coming back for it," Jerry asked?
"No, I'm already past Pella. It looks like you get the last slice of apple pie."
"Well, it won't go to waste here," Jerry said, and we shared a good laugh about that.
I often think about that trip and how good it was to get back to visit some dear people, friends I'd been putting off going to see. I am grateful for these people who are a part of my life and that brief moment when God told me to go to Ottumwa, not Oklahoma.
You see, just ten weeks after that visit, my good friend Jerry Strunk passed away. Although I will obviously miss him, this is not a story of sadness; rather, it is a story of happiness and joy. I laugh as I envision Jerry carrying Jo Ellen in his arms, across the clouds to an airplane waiting on heavens ramp.
I am happy for those few hours, I had to visit Jerry one more time, and I am thrilled that Jerry got the last slice of apple pie.
I count this trip among my many blessings. I wish for you to know many blessings as well. Peace, my friends, and Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Back to Blog
It was just after three in the afternoon when I went to pick up the payroll. The accountant's office was just a few blocks down from the high school, so instead of trying to squeeze into heavy traffic on Fourth Street, I decided to take the back alley to go back to the radio station.
On the corner of the accountant's driveway and the alley, there's a vacant lot with a foundation in the hillside from an old garage or barn torn down years ago. The foundation's three walls are in disrepair, leaning outward, with gaps and spaces between the carved blocks of limestone. The cement floor is cracked and separated near the back wall; an opening that tapers to about four inches wide, with a hollow space under the floor, seems like a great place for small critters to dwell. Still, the structure was stable enough; tenants from a nearby apartment building used the space for parking. I've passed the ruins hundreds of times but never given them much attention until that day. Something moved and caught my eye. Rather than turning left toward the radio station, I turned right.
I smiled when a tiny kitten sprang up from the opening in the floor. Its orange tiger-striped coat stood out in contrast next to the grey concrete floor. The kitten ran, being chased by another small gray striped cat that soon pounced. The two rolled about the floor. One would get free, then spring back to re-engage. Soon a third gray kitten joined the fun, then a fourth. They entertained me, to say the least. I shifted my truck into park and walked toward the kittens. "Hey, you guys, what are you doing out here? Does your mom know where you are?"
The cats froze, skeptical of an intruder. The orange tiger-stripe was bravely curious and walked my way, brushing against my ankle. I bent over, giving him a welcome rub on the head, then spoke softly and started to pick him up. "How are you doing, little guy." When I began to lift him, his three siblings scurried, retreating to their shelter. The orange kitten jumped from my hand and sprinted off to join them. His sharp little claws left thin red scratch marks on my palm. I wanted to know more about the kittens; they seemed barely old enough to be away from their mother.
Getting down on my hands and knees, I peered into the opening on the floor. I could only briefly see the little orange cat; then, it ran back deeper into the hollow area. I walked down the slope to the face of the foundation wall and looked into an opening. In the daylight coming through the crack in the floor above, I could see the kittens playing with the mama cat in the back. "Hello, beautiful," I said, "Now I see where your babies get their stripes." She didn't growl at me but didn't take her eyes off me either.
As I continued peering through the opening, my eyes adjusted, allowing me to get a better look at the mother cat. She was thin, looked tired and hungry, and had plenty of battle scars on her face. "I'll go get you something to eat," I said, "wait here."
A man came out from the yellow house adjacent to the empty lot. He saw me looking into the hole. "What are you doing," he asked with a gruff tone of voice.
"There's a mother cat in here with four kittens." I explained, "She wouldn't happen to belong to you, would she?" He adamantly assured me it was not his cat. "She looks hungry," I said, "I'm going to get her something to eat."
The man shook his head. "She's a stray, and she's mean. She fights with other cats all the time. I wish someone would get rid of her."
"Well, I'm going to try to help her. If nothing else, maybe I could get her to the animal shelter."
The man shook his head, "You would be best to leave that cat alone," he advised, then went back inside his house.
I drove to the radio station, not far away. Some company promoting a new cat food had sent us sample packages of their product to give away on the air. I grabbed a couple of the foil pouches and a long-handled cooking spoon from the drawer in the breakroom.
My daughter Delaney was at the radio station. "Do you want to come to help me," I asked? Delaney was hesitant to answer. This question usually led to being roped into working on some project of which she wanted no part. "I'm going to rescue a mother cat with four kittens," I explained.
She responded with excitement, "Heck ya, I'll go with you!" Being a big cat lover, Delaney was thrilled with the prospect of seeing some kittens. On the way to my truck, I grabbed an empty box. My daughter, Annie, also rode along with us.
At the foundation, I put a few pieces of food on the spoon, lowering it through the crack in the floor. The grey tiger-striped kitten came and took them immediately. I scattered a few more on the concrete floor, attempting to lure her out into the open. The kitten came right out, and I handed it to Delaney, who snuggled it with enthusiasm.
One by one, I lured the other three kittens from the cave, handing each to Delaney. With their sharp little claws, they started climbing on her shirt, up her arms, and onto her shoulder. Delaney was the playground to the four active kittens. I had her put them inside the truck. We sprinkled food in the box, and all four cats began wolfing down the nuggets; they were starving. Annie sat with them while Delaney and I went for the mother cat.
The older, street-wise feline wanted nothing to do with the dry cat food; I moved on to plan B.
There was a drive-in restaurant just two blocks away. I gave Delaney a few dollars and my truck keys. "Go to Sonic, and buy a cooked hamburger patty, no bun or cheese, just a cooked burger. I should be able to get the mama cat to come out for that." Meanwhile, I kept talking to mama.
Delaney returned. "What took you so long," I asked? "Sonic is only two blocks away."
Delany presented the bait wrapped in sandwich paper. "It was kind of a weird request, Dad. I had to explain what we were doing." I broke off two small pieces of meat, placed them on the spoon, and reached inside the opening on the foundation wall. The mother cat approached cautiously and ate them both. I offered another piece on the spoon, which she eagerly took. It was time to up my game, so to speak.
I offered the next morsel of meat on my open hand; the mama cat took it. After hand feeding her another piece, I slowly took my hand to give her a rub on the chin. She pushed her cheek into my hand, then let me rub her ear. While I was massaging her, the mother cat turned her head so that I could rub the other ear too. Feeling I had now earned her trust, I tried to coax her out, but she retreated back farther into the hole. The burger wasn't working; it was time to move on to plan C.
"Delaney, go to the truck and bring out the loudest kitten." We would use her crying baby to lure the mother cat. Surely, she would come out and tend to her baby. I had Delaney set the kitten in the grass, about ten feet or so in front of the wall. The mother watched her young with great concern but stayed well inside her safe harbor, out of my reach. It was time to move on to plan D.
I moved to the top, on the concrete floor. I had Delaney place the loud kitten right next to the wall. The mother cat would have to lean out to see the crying offspring. When she did, I would grab her from above, lifting her by the nape of her neck – just like she carries her babies. In one quick sweeping motion, I would rescue the mama cat, reuniting her with her litter, and everyone would live happily ever after – right? It seemed to be my best idea yet, and it worked!
Delaney positioned the meowing kitten. The mother cat peeked out from the opening to locate her young. I reached down to grab the mama cat's nape – but something went horribly wrong.
At the last second, the cat looked up, seeing me. I was already in motion and couldn't stop. The plan did not include an option to retreat. Rather than grabbing the nape, when the cat turned, I inadvertently grabbed around her neck. The cat simultaneously sank her teeth, with a death grip, into my pinky finger.
As I pulled her from the opening, the angry cat dug her left front claws into the back of my left hand, bringing her other front paw up to secure my right. Then, in a split second, she dug her rear claws into my left and right forearms. I quickly stood upright on the concrete floor. There was a lot of hissing, cursing, and growling going on.
Delaney pleaded, "Let her go, Dad!"
"I don't think you understand," I confessed, "It's not me who has her – it is her who has me!" It was a serious situation that called for immediate action. How would I free myself from this cat without her shredding my limbs?
I got on my hands and knees, placing the cat between my knees. I called Delaney to assist me. "Put your hand behind her paw on her right leg, and push her foot forward, so she can't tear my flesh." We did the same with the left hind leg, and I held the cat's back end firmly with my knees. Delaney did the same with the two front paws. "Now, I need you to get that kitchen spoon."
My daughter protested, "I'm not going to club the cat!"
"Just get the spoon," I snapped. While I held the cat, I had Delaney press the thin round shaft of the handle between my finger and the cat's lower jaw. The cat reaffirmed her biting hold, allowing Delaney to slip the steel shaft inside the feline's mouth and across her bottom jaw. "Now, push her jaw down to her chest, and I'll be able to get my finger out of her mouth without her taking a chunk of flesh."
Once freed of the cat's grip, I held her legs tightly, pressing the cat to the ground. "Get in the bed of the truck, Delaney. I have no idea what this cat's going to do when I let her go."
With Delany in a safe position, and Annie in the cab of the truck, I held the cat's body, then in a single motion, I released the pressure on my legs and lunged the cat away from me. The feral cat ran off so fast; I didn't even see where she went.
My arms were throbbing with pain, keeping rhythm with my racing pulse. "All in all, it's not too bad, considering what that cat could have done to me!" I stood up and examined my wounds and realized this Tomcat was no match for that alley cat!
This particular part of town is overrun with feral cats, so we decided to take the kittens with us. We would find good homes for them. I dropped the girls and kittens off at the house while I went to seek medical attention.
This turned out to be the beginning of a long-running health care relationship with Cynthia at the new Get Well Clinic.
The nurse practitioner walked into the exam room, seeming like she already knew me. But, admittedly, she did look familiar. "Your younger brother used to date my daughter."
With a nervous shakiness, I laughed the way Shaggy did when he and Scooby-Doo met the bad guy. Then, I muttered under my breath, "Why should I be nervous?" I hoped my younger brother and the daughter parted on good terms. I had already tangled with the scorned mother of four kittens today; I wasn't sure I could handle another.
Cynthia directed me to a sink, "First, you need to wash your hands." I rinsed my hands carefully, keeping the water out of the open wounds. I reached for a paper towel and started to walk away. Cynthia led me back to the sink, "With soap this time."
Imaging the burning sting, I protested, "With Soap? Are you crazy?"
Cynthia turned on the water, "Am I crazy," she repeated my question, "I'm not the one who was trying to catch a feral cat. Here's the Soap right here."
In time, my hand healed after a round of antibiotics. Unfortunately, I never did catch the mama cat. However, I would see the mother cat sometimes when I would get the payroll. We soon found good homes for all the kittens, including the little grey cat Delaney named Bella.
Back to Blog
Not long ago, I mentioned in a social media post that I still carry a flip phone. A friend commented that I needed to upgrade my device. I replied, "I did. I replaced it with a new flip phone a year or so ago."
The friend left a sad face emoji on my reply and wrote, "I am sad because of how much you miss out on by not having a smartphone." Honestly, the last thing I need in my life is one more access to the internet; I have more than enough already.
One evening, Melissa was on her smartphone while I was on my tablet. We were both doing some online shopping. While we were out of town, two small cube-shaped boxes, almost the same size, arrived in the mail. The first box was addressed to Melissa, the other to me. She was still out of town, so I opened her package (at her request) to ensure the item inside wasn't damaged. It wasn’t.
Melissa ordered a cute little knick-knack; I ordered some macho stuff - parts for my motorcycle.
The knick-knack came packed in white Styrofoam peanuts - the macho motorcycle parts were shipped with pink peanuts. Hmm.
I didn't want to dump the peanuts on the counter because they make such a mess, so I ran my hand through my box to make sure I found all the small parts. Unfortunately, the pink peanuts were full of static, and I couldn't get them to stop clinging to my black shirt, my arm, and my hand; I even had one on my face. Every time I picked one from my shirt or shook one loose from my hand, another would jump from the box and grab onto me - there was one on my flannel pajama pants, too.
Thinking it was something to eat, my dog June sniffed the peanut on my leg, which then stuck to her nose. June reached up with her front right foot to knock it off her snout, and the peanut stuck to her paw. So, she used her other paw to remove the peanut, and it stuck to her left foot. So, she ate it!
"No, June! You can't eat those," I said as I pulled it out of her mouth. The peanut stuck to my hand, and I'm not sure if it was adhering by static or dog slobber.
Our cat Edgar Allan looked on observing our difficulties with sadistic glee. However, June and I had the last laugh as Edgar trotted off to the living room, unaware that a pink peanut was clinging to the black fur on his back. (It must be time to get the humidifier out for the winter.)
I used a piece of paper towel to remove the pink peanut from my hand, then tossed it in the trash - but there are two more on my pajama pants. There was no static in the white peanuts. Where is the justice?
I suppose I could have avoided this whole situation if I had a smartphone. I could have spent my time surfing the net and waited for Melissa to get home to open the packages – but then I would have missed out on a morning filled with comedic fun in the kitchen.
Yesterday, I was lying on the couch – surfing the internet on my tablet. "This is stupid," I said out loud, "A brain-dead, total waste of my time." I got up, leaving the device behind on the cushion before I ended up ordering more stuff that I didn't need – but it seemed like a good deal.
Melissa was still out of town, so I went for a ride on my motorcycle. Part of my ride included stopping at a Subway sandwich shop.
When I walked inside, I looked over the dining room. There was a family of four, a family of three, and one couple; a total of nine people sitting at three tables. They were all on their smartphones – not talking to each other and not paying attention to anything but that tiny screen in front of them.
I got in line behind a family of five ordering sandwiches. Since I didn't have a smartphone to kill time while waiting; I watched the family instead.
The mom looked exhausted as she went over the order. She counted sandwiches, cookies, bags of chips, and drink cups.
One of the kids shuffled through bags of chips on the rack while Dad told the lady behind the counter what he wanted on his sandwich. The other two children were fussing a bit, clinging to Mom's leg like Styrofoam peanuts; they were asking questions. "Just a minute, I'll be right with you," she said patiently to the kids. It was a little chaotic, but Mom held it together.
When Dad finished ordering, he turned around, straightened the chip bags, rounded up the kids, and corralled them to a table. He gently settled them down, asked them questions, and must have told some jokes because the kids were all laughing with him. I love watching dads interact with their kids in such a fun way. All the while, I sensed Mom's moment of relief while she waited on their meal.
When Mom was getting ready to pay, I said, "Excuse me." I inserted my card into the machine, saying, "It's my treat tonight." She thanked me, then carried her tray to the table. Dad helped hand out sandwiches and drinks and was still having a good time with the kids.
When I was heading for the dining room with my tray, the dad gave me a warm smile and stood up. "Thank you for buying our dinner. We appreciate it, but I'm curious, why did you do that?"
I smiled back saying, "Thank you for being a good dad. I enjoyed watching you interact with your kids. They sure seem to love their daddy. Besides, I didn't get you anything for Father's Day – so this is it." We shared a good laugh about that. He thanked me again, and I went to find a table.
I chose a seat in the corner; I like to watch people. Everyone was still on their smartphones – not one of them paid any attention to people at their table, let alone notice the family at the counter. They didn't see the parents working as a team with their kids. They missed out on the feeling of joy, love, and togetherness that radiated from the family of five.
Except for the conversation and laughter coming from the parents and their three kids, the whole restaurant was so quiet I could hear co-workers talking in the kitchen.
I ate my sandwich and thought about the friend who commented on my social media post a while back. She wrote, "I am sad because of how much you miss out on by not having a smartphone."
I smiled, recalling my response: I left a sad emoji on her comment, saying, "I too am sad because of how much you miss out on because you have a smartphone." Today was a perfect example.
I'm not suggesting anyone should trade their smartphone for a flip phone - I use a smartphone quite often myself. I don't have Siri or Alexa; I just say, "Honey, can you look up..." And just like that, I have what I need to know.
I'm just saying there's a much bigger picture happening all around me - much larger than what can be seen on a limited screen, and I don’t want to miss out on it. Who knows, there might be one around you, too.
Back to Blog
Some days at work are easy and very productive, while others are tough. It's when difficult days come in a series, workloads begin to back up - and that's never good in any situation. Such is true for everyone, no matter what business you're in - even for our pets.
Our dog June starts each morning the same. I tell her at the front door, "Potty and then June food." She has her routine down pat – just like any person going to work. First, June enthusiastically trots down the steps into the yard – sniffing the air to assure no wild animals had been in her space overnight. Then, after going potty, she charges back up the steps, ready for breakfast, and to start her day of jumping, running, playing catch, and of course, plenty of nap time. Sometimes June goes "out-out," to her office, feeling she has more business to complete first thing in the morning.
After going potty one morning, June paused. Then, with a stressed expression, she looked up at me on the front porch to let me know she wasn't ready to come inside. "Go out out, June Bug," I said, waving toward the far side of the yard. That's her office, so to speak.
June meandered farther out into the yard, choosing just the right spot for a "morning business meeting." Despite her good efforts, no business was accomplished. So, she moved on, seeking a new location. She sniffed the lawn, turned several circles, then hunkered down to go to work. Still nothing. She repositioned herself, then moved to yet another spot and tried again. Nothing.
Finally returning to the front porch, June looked at me as if this was my fault. "Don't give me that look," I said. "I've been telling you that you need to drink more water." June nudged my leg as if to push me to the side while she went through the front door. I followed her to the kitchen, continuing to lecture her the way my dad did when I didn't heed his advice, and things went awry. I could tell she wasn't listening to me any more than I listened to my dad when he preached at me.
I set a fresh bowl of cool water on the kitchen floor, encouraging her, "Have some." She meagerly wetted her tongue, then waited for the entrée. I poured a cup of food in her bowl, "I'm telling you, you need to drink more water, June," then I went to feed Edgar, the cat.
When I returned to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup, June was gone, but her food was less than half-eaten. In the living room, I found June lounging on the warm brown leather. Normally I would tell her to get off the couch, but sensing something was wrong, I rubbed her head to see if she was feverish. "Are you feeling okay, Bugs?" Her ears perked up. She jumped from the cushion and retrieved her orange stuffed moose. She seemed fine, so I scolded her, "You know you're not supposed to be on the couch." June just wagged her tail while waiting for me to throw the moose.
She seemed to be acting and feeling okay, but June could not perform her regular duties for two consecutive days, and that's not like her. On June's third day of going through the motions, but without results, I reported to the board of directors – I called the veterinarian.
I told the vet everything that had been happening and not happening. Dr. Kylee asked many questions: has June been lethargic, any changes in exercise or sleep patterns, did June get into anything she should not have, has she been around any new or strange dogs? Have you changed her diet? Is she eating well and drinking plenty of water?
The only thing I had to report was a change from regular to senior diet dog food. That happened over a month ago, and everything had been fine until the last couple of days. Then, I explained, "June usually cleans up her bowl, then sniffs around the kitchen floor looking for something to eat, as if she's starving. But the last couple of days, she'll eat less than half of her meal, then nibble on it throughout the day. That's not like June."
"Is she drinking plenty of water," Kylee asked?
"She drinks some, but I don't think near enough. So I'm always telling her she needs to drink more water."
The doctor had several suggestions; temporarily switching to wet food, mixing in some extra water and vegetable oil. She said to give June some pumpkin, too. June loves carrots, so I knew pumpkin would be a hit with her. Kylee offered another suggestion in case these things didn't do the trick. "You want me to do WHAT?"
Kylee repeated her question, "Are you comfortable giving June an enema?"
"June and I are really close friends," I said, "but she doesn't even like me trimming her toenails; I don't know how this is going to work – or what even to use." Dr. Kylee gave me some instructions and helpful tips – at least they sounded helpful, but I would have to wait and see. I would try the easy suggestions first.
I had to run into Duluth for some things; I would get the necessary equipment then – just in case.
I called a pharmacy on my way into town, "I have kind of an odd situation; I hope you can help me." I briefed the pharmacist of the situation. "I need a syringe that will hold about 10 ml." He explained that all his syringes were much smaller for administering insulin and told me what quantities came in different packages. "I only need one, and I can't use a syringe with a needle," I told him. (I was wondering if I had his full attention.)
He was puzzled, "Why don't you want a needle?"
Now I was confused; we were not on the same page. "You can't have a needle on it to give an enema!" There was a very awkward pause.
He questioned, "You're going to give yourself an enema with a syringe."
I was aghast! "Heck, NO!" I blurted out, "It's not for me! It's for my dog; that's why I prefaced this by saying, 'the vet said.' Vet, as in veterinarian, as in my dog's doctor!"
Finally understanding one another, we both roared with laughter. Then the pharmacist offered, "I have 10 ml syringes for administering oral medication. They don't have needles on them. Do you think that would work?"
I jested, "It's for the other end, will an oral syringe work." We shared another good laugh about that.
Unfortunately, by the time I got to the store, that pharmacist was off duty. So I had to explain the whole situation again – only this time I didn't say vet; I used the complete word, veterinarian - every time. Finally, I got the syringe and headed home.
The next day, June had still not done the deed. Operation enema was eminent. I mixed the solution but couldn't find the syringe. Dang! You might say June "dodged the bullet."
I ran into town to see if the Silver Bay pharmacy would have a syringe. It was Saturday afternoon, and they were closed. So, I went to my aunt Di's house; maybe she would have one. She didn't. It was time to think like MacGyver; there had to be another way.
A light bulb lit up over my head. "Maybe I could use a mucus extractor." I had lost Di. "A baby booger sucker," I said, "you know, one of those little blue suction bulbs with the stem. You put it in a baby's nose to get the boogies out when they're too young to blow." Di said she didn't have one, so I resumed thinking.
"A turkey baster! Of course! That should work," I said with glee, "It has a smooth tip and holds plenty of volume." Di agreed; it might just do the trick. Since I don't own one, naturally, I asked, "Do you have a turkey baster I could borrow?"
With an expression as serious as death itself, Di gave me a stern look, "You are not using my turkey baster." I guess it was a bit much to ask.
I stopped at Julie's True-Value Hardware on the way home. They always have helpful solutions if they know what you're trying to accomplish, so I explained my dilemma once again. Finally, after many good laughs, I left with a brand-new turkey baster.
I mixed the warm water with a bit of dish soap at home, just like the doctor suggested. Then, I summoned my dog and my wife to the front yard. "Why do I have to be there?" Melissa wanted to know.
"This was no time to debate. Come on."
In the yard, Melissa held June's collar while whispering sweet things in her ear. I gave June a scratch on the rump, just above her tail. Then, speaking soft and gentle, I said, "Okay, June Bug, this is going to be a little awkward for both of us, but you have to trust me – it will help you." I lifted her tail, slowly doing what I had to do.
Some soapy water made its way in, but the unsuspecting canine quickly stepped forward, protecting her territory and disrupting the operation. From the front end, Melissa reported, "June's eyes got as big as silver dollars, and she has violated look on her face."
I was trying to stifle my laughter, "She has to have more," I said.
Melissa hugged June more firmly and resumed gently talking to her. I reloaded the assault device and again assured my trusty dog that this was for her own good. Then I did what I had to do. A good bit more of the magical elixir went where it was supposed to, but June had had enough of this nonsense. She clinched up tightly - the bulb on the turkey baster burst sending tiny bubbles floating into the air, and soapy water showered my arm, jeans, and shirt. Although it was clean water, it still felt gross.
June escaped Melissa's grip and shot across the yard like a rocket. Apologizing for what I had done, I called June back, but she kept her distance while threatening to report us to the ASPCA.
Eventually, June came back to me. Now the question was whether to let her in the house or not. The process seemed to be ineffective, so I let her come inside.
A very short time later, June stood at the door, speaking soft and low, "Oof, oof, oof." Then a little louder, "Woof." I hurried over to open the door. "Go out out, Bugs," I said, waving toward the far side of the yard.
June ran down the steps and out to the yard – her office. After making only one fast circle, she directly called the business meeting to order, and much business was conducted.
A much happier dog trotted back to the front steps and onto the porch. I congratulated June, "Awesome job Bugsy. Now wasn't it worth a little awkwardness?" I continued, "You probably wouldn't have had this problem if you'd just drink more water like I keep telling you."
June nudged my leg, pushing me to the side, then went through the front door as if nothing had ever happened. "What time is dinner," she wanted to know.
I followed June to the kitchen and began giving her the talk, as my dad would with me when his advice proved correct. I could tell she wasn't listening to me any more than I listened to my dad when he preached at me. "Some days at the office are going to be tougher than others," I told her, "Still, everything always seems to work out in the end. But I'm telling you, June, you need to drink more water."