Humphrey and The Trade

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When I was a kid I remember watching a short Disney cartoon that made an indelible impression on me. It showed a bear named Humphrey, who desperately wanted some fish. He swiped at the lake over and over, and all that he ended up with was a tiny minnow. As he held it above the water, sad that it was so tiny, a bigger fish jumped up and swallowed it whole.

At that point he had an epiphany.   He could hold the fish over the water and one by one collect the larger fish that jumped up to eat the minnow. Soon his arms were full of large fish. Just as he was about to walk away a fish bigger than all the others floated by. He dropped all of the other fish and pounced. Continue reading “Humphrey and The Trade”

Stealing the Sunrise

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In my first year of college, I pulled a lot of all-nighters—and not the wimpy ones where you go to sleep at 3 AM and then get a good 6 hours sleep before going to class. No, I mean staying up until the sun rose and then going to class without having slept at all. I did this because as a Political Science major I had a lot of reading to do. I have always been a good reader but a bit of a slow one, so that meant spending a lot of late hours reading, and chewing ice to stay awake.

I remember one night I finished my homework around 4:30 AM. My morning class was at 9, and I knew that 3 ½ hours sleep would end up only being worse than if I hadn’t slept at all. So, I made the decision to walk somewhere off campus and watch the sunrise. In my young man’s mind this was a good idea and I don’t know if I’d experienced a sunrise before. Continue reading “Stealing the Sunrise”

Aunt Grace

Schoolroom

The other day I read an article talking about how the teaching of cursive handwriting is being completely abandoned in school, mostly because computers have made it unimportant.  I disagree, but largely because I was taught cursive, and use it primarily in my handwriting.  I can’t imagine how printing could be anywhere close to as efficient as cursive when you have to use pen and paper.

I have never had beautiful handwriting, and I’ve never particularly enjoyed physical writing compared to typing on a keyboard.  Despite this fact, the story of my learning this skill  is an important one in my childhood.  It is a tale involving a discouraging 1st grade teacher, a converted home schoolhouse, and a really old woman. Continue reading “Aunt Grace”

Bicycle

Bicycle

The other day I was called by a single mom and asked to assemble her son’s shiny new bicycle. It was his birthday gift, and the task of building such a thing was a little beyond her comfort level or ability. Since I have known them both for quite some time, and because I have become somewhat of an expert on handyman-type stuff, I was the guy she called.

The project didn’t take me long at all, with my bag of tools and a glass of iced tea. And as I later stood and looked at the completed bike, I thought back about my own memories of my childhood BMX. Continue reading “Bicycle”

Ruby 5

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesRuby

This is the final installment of a multi-part story.  Please click on the article to view full, then click the series link in the area above in order to read the whole story.

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When I went off to college most of my interaction with Ruby stopped.  I was far away from her.  She loved my mom and was fulfilled in her inner-dog.  I would see her from time to time, and she was always as happy as a dog could be for us to visit.  She was also always eager to prove that she knew all of her old tricks.

She was never one to spend a lot of time outside and never one to wander away from home.  Some dogs are always trying to dig their way under the fence, or jump over it—but not Ruby.  She preferred a warm couch to the great outdoors.  This makes it very strange that she got out of the yard one day while I was away at college. Continue reading “Ruby 5”

Ruby 4

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This is part 4 of a multi-part story.  Please click on the article to view full, then click the series link in the area above in order to read the whole story.

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Ruby made it through her bout with the disease.  The virus took a lot out of her, but she survived, and she eventually returned to the same pup we’d known before.  There was no doubt that she loved us, in an emotional and committed way.  There was also no doubt that we loved her and would never give her away again.

As her strength returned, I decided that all of her innate talent should not go to waste.  I taught her commands in triplicate, English, German (which I was learning in high school), and hand signals.  She learned all of this effortlessly.  If I told her to stay, or held up my hand fingers up- palm facing her, she would stay for as long as I left her.  Sometimes something would happen and she’d forget, but not usually.  If I got distracted and left her there, sometimes I’d find her hours later asleep in the same spot. Continue reading “Ruby 4”

Ruby 3

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This is part 3 of a multi-part story.  Please click on the article to view full, then click the series link in the area above in order to read the whole story.

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Weeks later, one of the women called us and told my mom that they just couldn’t keep Ruby anymore.  She said that it was all just too much for them to handle.  I suspect that I’ll never quite know the truth of the matter.  Had my mom called them?  Had Ruby just refused to acclimate and accept them as a substitute family?  Had they just decided that a dog just wasn’t right for them?  In hindsight, I’m sure they were more cat people.  Or could it be that they knew something that they didn’t want to deal with?  I’ll never know. Continue reading “Ruby 3”

Ruby 2

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the seriesRuby

This is part 2 of a multi-part story.  Please click on the article to view full, then click the series link in the area above in order to read the whole story.

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Ruby quickly became an indispensable part of the family.  She would crawl on top of my back and fall asleep as I lied on the carpet watching TV each night. She would also wake up shortly before I would and start scratching at my door to get in.  My mom would usually get to her before that and would lift her onto my bed.  Ruby would wake me up by repeatedly licking my face.

When she grew big enough, she would jump onto my bed herself and wake me up in the same manner.  Or, she’d just jump repeatedly at the side of the bed making a whining noise until I noticed her.  This mostly happened when I was lying too close to the edge for her to get up there. Continue reading “Ruby 2”

Ruby 1

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the seriesRuby

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When I was about 8 years old I spent all of the paper-route money that I’d saved up on a red wiener-dog puppy.  We named the dachshund Cassie, and she quickly became part of the family.  She was everything a wiener-dog is.  She was loyal and strong-willed, loud, and heat-seeking.  She would wake up every morning at about 7:30, just 5 minutes before the pool equipment came on, begging to be let outside.  She would then spend the next hour chasing the automatic sweeper around the pool barking.  The neighbors must have hated us and we’d tell her to shut up, but she didn’t care.  It was her game, but truly she did despise that thing.  But this little essay isn’t about Cassie. Continue reading “Ruby 1”

Squeegees and Lyrebirds

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I have a wide, white squeegee* in my shower.  Occasionally, although not often enough for me to avoid feeling guilty, I will remember to use this squeegee to get the water off of my shower tiles after bathing.  I suppose that this is intended to keep the shower clean and mildew free, but that isn’t really why I have the squeegee at all.

My grandfather had a similar squeegee in his shower when I was a kid.  The shower was small, but had large mint green tiles.  Nothing else matched that color in the bathroom.  I always wondered if he had the shower done all in green as some secret surprise in an otherwise bland earth-toned bathroom.  People would use the restroom and never know the wonderful secret that lurked hidden behind that frosted glass door.  But I suppose in reality, the shower had always been that color and was just not updated some time before my birth when the bathroom had been remodeled.

I remember when I was a child, old enough to not only take baths but still young enough to be instructed on shower basics, my Granddad told me the importance of the squeegee, and showed me how to use it.  He used meticulously placed downward strokes, with even pressure through the whole motion with the care that my grandfather used in almost everything he did.  It made that beautiful shhthwhack sound that every squeegee makes.  It is a pleasing sound, maybe just to me, but I suspect everyone likes it.

That is why I always have had one in my shower, I suppose.  All because my little brain tape recorder was fed the instruction that after a shower the tile must be dried, and that every shower must contain a squeegee.  When I am in a hotel I often feel a little bit robbed when I don’t see one in the shower.  I don’t know why.  It is obviously the maid’s job to clean it, and that is far more often than anyone’s home shower would get any such attention at all.

I got to thinking about this kind of thing recently while visiting a really odd church on some anonymous Sunday morning.  Some of the people were friendly enough, but the service had a lot of weird things that nobody explained.  They weren’t weird in a cultish way, but in some cultural expressions that they didn’t bother explaining.  It was like celebrating Christmas with a family other than your own, and at dinner they serve Hot Pockets.  Even though it seems really odd, but you feel too shy to ask.

Anyway, during the church service I saw a mid-twenties aged man in the front row.  He had one son with him, probably about 5 years old.  The man got down on his knees in worship and his son knelt quickly down next to him.  The man raised one hand in worship then two, and the son followed suit each time.  The child kept his head pointed toward his dad the whole time so that he wouldn’t miss even some small motion.

He was learning how to worship, and some day 30 years from now, he’ll be in the front row of the church on his knees and he won’t know why, other than that this is the best way to worship God.  It will be stuck in his little recorder, part of his functional DNA, and he also won’t understand why some other dude only worships in the back bobbing his head.

There is this bird in Australia called the Lyrebird.  It is different than the birds that congregate outside my window and wake me up in the morning.  Each spring morning I hear the chip-chirp-cheeee of the Warblers repeatedly until I either submit to the headache or wake up and shower.  But that is the only song that they know.  They do it repeatedly throughout their lives.  They are programmed to sing that.

But the Lyrebird doesn’t do things that way.  He takes the sounds of other birds in his forest and repeats them, weaving them all into his own little song.  He mimics them perfectly.  If he hears a chain saw or a camera, he does those sounds too.  You’d swear it was the real thing.  All these sounds put together into a song.  It is the life of the forest in one medley-remix.  The camera and chainsaw aren’t that melodious by themselves, but the Lyrebird makes it melodious.

I hope I’m kind of like that Lyrebird.  When I swim I think about the time as a child that my dad explained to me how sound travels faster in water than in air.  When I cook I repeat actions I learned long ago from my mom and grandma.  And there is a squeegee in my shower.  I want to believe it is my beautiful song with my own spin on the melody.  I don’t want to be just a Warbler, repeating the same thing endlessly.  I think we are pretty inventive as people, but in a beautiful way, we’re often just repeating the forest sounds of our youth. -Ryan

*I have recently discovered that “squeegee” is a very fun word to spell
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