People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Now You Know

*** This is my personal favorite of all the articles I wrote for the Roanoke Times (10/10/2006). It never ran. Wasn't considered "current." 


Did you know that in the seminal battle of the Civil War, Southwest Virginians were instrumental in bringing victory to the Confederacy?

As Southern troops were retreating from the battlefield of Manassas (1st Bull Run) on the afternoon of July 21, 1861, a colonel who would after the battle and for all time be remembered by the nickname he gained there – “Stonewall” – stood with his 1st Virginia Brigade and refused to yield. Among the troops he commanded that day and who made up the center of his line of infantry at the climactic moment of the conflict were boys from Grayson, Montgomery, Wythe, Carroll, Pulaski, Smyth, Floyd, Alleghany, and Giles Counties. At the order to charge, the volunteers from Southwest Virginia, as part of the 4th Virginia Infantry, and with the other troops of Stonewall Jackson’s brigade, moved forward and sent the Union soldiers into headlong retreat toward Washington. The first major battle of the Civil War was won, in large part, by soldiers from Southwest Virginia.

Did you know that Wytheville, Virginia can boast of having a Civil War legacy that no other town in America has?

The last two commanders of the famed Stonewall Brigade, Generals James A. Walker and William Terry, died there. The two settled in Wytheville after the war and are buried near one another in the town’s East End Cemetery.

Interestingly, General Terry sustained three wounds in the war but managed to survive, only to fall from his horse as he tried to cross a swollen Reed Creek and drown, 23 years after the war ended.

Did you know that the most famous cavalry commander in the Civil War was born in Patrick County?

James Ewell Brown Stuart, known more famously as Jeb, was born there in 1833. He spent several of his summers with two of his aunts who lived in Wytheville (their home, on Withers Street, is still there), and attended Emory and Henry College in Washington County before moving on to West Point – and the history books.

Did you know that, despite the average estimated age of a Civil War regimental drummer boy to be sixteen, Pulaski County’s Company C, 4th Virginia Infantry enlisted the services of a “mature adult.” Private David Scantlon, regimental drummer “boy,” was 57.

Did you know that on the field of battle known as Carnifex Ferry near Summersville, Virginia (now West Virginia), there is maintained but one grave of a Civil War soldier?

Granville Blevins of Grayson County, enlisted at the age of 20 in Company C, 45th Virginia Infantry in May of 1861. Just before the battle began, on September 9th of that year, he died of “fever” and was buried on the field. The battlefield is a state park today and Blevins’ grave – the only one in the park - is maintained by the park service.

Did you know that there is a tragic story of lost love and lives cut short to be found on two grave markers in the cemetery of the Old Glade Spring Presbyterian Church in Washington County?

William E. Jones was a young cavalry officer in 1852, when, having recently married and having received a new military assignment out west, he and his new bride were en route aboard a ship that sailed into a horrific storm. The ship sank and, although he survived, she was swept from his grasp to her death. The tragedy is said to have destroyed him. And to have brought about a change in attitude that subsequently earned Jones his Civil War nickname – “Grumble.”

In 1864, now-General Jones, CSA, led his army into the Battle of Piedmont, near present-day Waynesboro. There, on June 5, as he was rallying his troops, he was shot and killed. His body was returned to Washington County and he was buried in the Presbyterian cemetery. If you stop by the graveyard in Glade Spring today, you’ll find two markers, side-by-side, in the southern shadows of the church. One marker identifies the mortal remains of General William E. “Grumble” Jones and the other his wife of just a few months.

Did you know that Roanoke, Southwest Virginia’s largest city, played no part in the Civil War?

It didn’t exist. Originally known as Big Lick, the town of Roanoke wasn’t founded until 1882 and didn’t become a city until two years later, fully nineteen years after the Civil War came to an end.

Now you know.

On Those Demonic Voting Machines

The following article originally appeared in the Roanoke Times on Thursday, November 16, 2006
Is that your final vote?
By Jerry Fuhrman

Now I had heard and read a good deal about Democrats around the country being alarmed by the potential for chaos and mischief on Election Day as a result of our having decided to take their advice in 2000 and drop the butterfly ballot method of voting and switch to electronic voting machines. It's an odd thing, though, that I haven't heard a single whine since Election Day. Curious indeed.

Anyway, I showed up at the polls in Bland on Nov. 7 (make that poll; the metropolis of Bland has only one voting place, next to the IGA and across from the abandoned car repair shop) to do my civic duty, with list of candidates and issues in hand so as to not inadvertently vote for a candidate I hadn't intended to and regret it the rest of my life. (I think I accidentally voted for Bill Clinton in 1996; I blame myself for his failed presidency.)
When I entered the place, I encountered six people, several of whom were working the room, making sure I wasn't an illegal immigrant, and two elderly voters, one in each of the two booths. Appearing to be short in stature, I could just see tufts of snow-white hair jutting over the top of the partitions.
It took both of them, it seemed, an inordinately long time to cast their ballots, but I just accepted it as being a situation where these older folks were trying to deal with a new technology and needed to navigate carefully through it. In any case, the two finished about the same time and left, both with looks of frustration on their faces.
So it became my turn to vote. I walked around to the front of the booth, approached the machine and touched the blank screen to activate it. It immediately lit up. As it happened, there were two pages to be dealt with, the first having to do with the major issues and races involving Allen/Webb, Boucher/Carrico (I live in the 9th Congressional District), and two of the three Constitutional amendments.
After voting quickly for George Allen by touching my index finger to his name, I moved on to the congressional race. That portion of the ballot looked something like this, as best I can recall:


I pressed CARRICO. The screen immediately changed and the following message appeared:


I pushed YES. The screen went dark for a brief moment and then this came up:


.Somewhat startled, I hit NO. Then this flashed onto the screen:


Feeling a bit of exasperation setting in, I firmly pressed NO. Another message immediately appeared:


After letting out a growl, and peering over the top of the booth to see if I was being watched, I put my fist to NO. The machine reacted with a shudder and with this:


I was by now incredulous and, at the same time, enraged. With teeth clenched, I clawed the surface of the voting machine, raking my fingernails across the screen. I then stabbed NO. The CRT went black. A pause ...

I rocked backward, nearly losing my balance. I stared in disbelief. A swirl of disjointed thoughts and surreal images flashed through my mind. That night. The Crazy Horse. Booze. Lots of booze. Wild merrymaking. Feelings of fear and vulnerability came over me. I stood and gazed into the abyss.

So Rick Boucher beat Bill Carrico, handily, in the general election on Nov. 7. By a whopping 35 points as it turned out. And my marriage is safe. I think.

As for those electronic voting machines, my message to you is this:


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Urinating On a CRJ700*

* This originally appeared on March 21, 2005.

Canada has given humankind, in all its history, only one gift. No, Shania Twain doesn't count. Had she stuck with country music, she'd qualify, but she decided to go off into popular music and soft porn videos. And we can't include the Toronto Maple Leafs because they have sucked since before I was born (and what does it say about a country that can't get the plural of the word "leaf" right?). Maple syrup might measure up but it's my understanding the Canucks stole the idea (and secret processing plan) from Vermont.
No. The only thing good ever to come out of Canada is the Bombardier CRJ700 Canadair Regional Jet Airliner. I have some considerable familiarity with commercial aircraft and I can attest to the fact that the Canadair jet is the smoothest, quietest aircraft in use today. There are a few Saabs that come close but no other plane compares to the CRJ700.
Yeah, it was built for midgets. When walking down the aisleway, one has to stoop. Make that crawl. And when you're seated, the knees are smashed against the seat in front of you (and that's in first class). And there is only enough overhead luggage space on the plane for one carry-on, the size of which cannot exceed a shoebox. But other than that, the CRJ700 is a traveler's dream.
Oh, then's there the bathroom. Or lavatory, as they prefer to call it (why I don't know; it must be one of those arcane FAA regulations).
I'm at cruising altitude. 29,000 feet. I have to use the john, er, lavatory. I stoop/crawl to the back of my Bombardier CRJ700 Canadair Regional Jet Airliner, where a flight attendant is stationed to ... pick her distressed passengers up from the floor when they finally claw their way to her, and to hand out the in-flight meal consisting of six miniature pretzels and three ounces of water - and to kick open the bi-fold door to the lavatory. Which she did for me, with an admonition to watch my head as I entered (she saw me stooped over as I made my way down the aisle so her warning was an indication to me that her other job was at Chicago's famed Second City comedy club).
I ducked my head and entered the lav (as us flyers have come to affectionately call the crapper). I was immediately met with a rather serious dilemma. In order to begin the process of relieving myself, I thought it proper to close the door behind me. Makes sense, right? Well, the Canadian who designed this aircraft was either a very tiny person or he/she also moonlighted at Chicago's famous Second City comedy club because there was no way that bi-fold door was going to close with my butt still protruding into the aisleway. This lav was so small, I would have had to stand on the tiny toilet seat - which is a subject in itself - in order to get the door closed behind me. You've heard of the Mile High Club, the membership of which consists of really odd people who have found it somehow enjoyable to have sex on a plane while in flight? Well, they need to have a Six Cubic Feet Club for people who can do the same in a space the size of the trunk of your Honda Civic.
Anyway I somehow managed, with herculean effort, to close the door. Now it's at this point that I'm going to lose you women reading this. You're not faced with the task of aiming. At 29,000 feet. In moderate turbulence. At a toilet bowl opening no larger than that of a 2 litre bottle of Coke. I often brag at how adept I am at hitting my target (I attribute it to my many years of practice). And even on most planes, I've become pretty darn good at avoiding peeing on the walls of the lav - with only the occasional mishap (I usually blame it on windsheer). But as good as I may be - on target all the time - there ain't nobody on God's earth can hit the tiny toilet - standing up in a stooped position - on the CRJ700.
The thought struck me - I'm about to embarrass myself (and probably violate some FAA/TSA/HSA regulation) so I'm going to sit down and do this the way you women (who we all know are smarter; this is just another example of that) would have approached this problem in the first place.
Great plan.
But in order to sit down, I had to turn around and drop my drawers. In this Bombardier CRJ700 Canadair Regional Jet Airliner lavatory. Obviously the Canadians have perfected some physical manipulation of the human body with which we Amercans are unfamiliar. There was no way I could make a turn in that half-phone booth sized bathroom.
I therefore decided to do it the old-fashioned way, and throw caution to the wind ... so to speak.
I'll bring this saga to a close with a word of warning. Next time you find yourself on a Bombardier CRJ700 Canadair Regional Jet Airliner and find yourself crawling into the lav, don't look too closely at the walls and mirror. Some things are better left unnoticed.
And sit back and enjoy your flight. It's still the greatest plane in the air today.
* Grammatically speaking, I've never peed on a plane. I have, however, peed into toilets in lavs on planes.
Click on image to enlarge
Photo courtesy of aerospace-technology.com

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Pembroke Public Library

* This originally appeared on June 5, 2005.

As the crow flies, Pembroke, Giles County, Virginia is about seven miles from West Virginia. If you've never been there, it's no surprise. Pembroke doesn't even get a dot on most maps, it's so small and so far removed from the world. And, like the rest of Appalachia, the people there make do ... because nobody is going to make do for them.

Pictured above is the Pembroke Public Library. I'd take you on a guided pictorial tour of the stacks inside but the library is closed on Fridays (I was there yesterday) and I wasn't able to get inside. My guess is the town is working with a rather tight budget. Can you tell?

I took this picture not to poke fun at my neighbors but to make two points that I think are worth making.

First, and most important, there is a public library in tiny Pembroke, Virginia. It may not look like much, but, by God, they've got a library for the inhabitants there.

A library connotes a desire on the part of (many?) locals to gain knowledge, which implies their collective desire to achieve. To prosper. To make for their children a life better than the one provided them by their ancestors. The American Dream.

This little library - in need of repair and another coat of white paint (how many layers of paint are lathered on those clapboards already?) - signifies to the local populace and to the outside world that Pembroke's young people are every bit as important as the offspring of the rich down in Palm Beach and those on the upper west side of Manhattan. The road to success may be a whole lot longer and more treacherous - figuratively and literally - (try driving Route 460 out of Pembroke through the mountains toward The Narrows in a driving snow storm) but the Pembroke Public Library is clear and convincing evidence that the road to success runs right through Giles County, Virginia.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that, in order for young people around here to succeed, they'll eventually need to pack their bags and move up north, like so many other area residents around here have done. There is little opportunity for them in Southwest Virginia and it's been decided by our political leadership that Giles and Wythe and Pulaski and Tazewell and Bland and Washington and Smyth Counties are to become nothing more than a
scenic tourist attraction and the natives to be entertainers made up in blackface, strumming banjos, and singing Old Black Joe for the tourists' amusement. Even Roanoke to the east offers little chance for success these days. (If you're going to click on this link, you'll need to scroll down to find Roanoke's ranking of 181st out of America's 200 largest metropolitan areas in terms of job creation and potential for economic growth, just ahead of Detroit.)

So it is that the children of Pembroke make their way to this library - one hopes - and learn. Learn to succeed. While on my journey over that way yesterday, I met a young man who was holding down a summer job, sweating in the noonday sun but not seeming to mind it. He's actually from a small town over on the West Virginia side and commutes to Pearisburg each day. He's a college student at West Virginia University way up in Morgantown. He had the demeanor of one who knows where he's headed. And its not back to southern West Virginia. He'll be moving on ... and moving up. Good luck to him.

My second point has less to do with the library itself and more to do with libraries in general and the state of technological advancement in the world today. Did you know that all the printed information currently being warehoused in the Library of Congress (10 terabytes) can be stored in Pembroke's tiny library? I guess in this regard, the people of Pembroke are ahead of their time. They knew it wasn't necessary to build a massive structure (pictured is the Library of Congress) to house hundreds of thousands of dead trees. They need only enough space to mount a Broadberry Data Systems 10 terabyte server and they're in business. How cool will it be when a resident of Pembroke can pull up to their library's drive-up window, order a copy of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, or a copy of the Budget of the United States Government, or today's edition of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, be handed a disposable CD, and drive off to work?

Life in these United States. Wonders to behold.

Click on library image to enlarge and appreciate.Posted by Hello Posted by Hello

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Roanoke's Finest

The alarm sounds. Conversation abruptly ceases. A scramble ensues. Controlled mayhem. Followed closely on by disciplined, practiced, unhesitating, focused preparation.

Preparing to do what they do best. What they're trained to do. What's expected of them. What they demand of themselves. Roanoke's finest.

Lives are at stake. In every case. On every run. Civilians' lives most importantly. Firefighters' lives always.

Not to mention exhaustion. Dehydration. The potential for smoke inhalation. Injury. Worse.

Every day.

It comes with the territory. It's all part of a firefighter's accepted job duties and responsibilities: Be prepared to save lives and in the attempt, be prepared to risk your own. While most of us complain if the company coffee maker is broken or the wastepaper basket wasn't emptied overnight, firefighters hope their oxygen masks don't fail them. We want our work environment to be comfortable, air conditioned, and brightly lit. Firefighters hope theirs doesn't include combustible materials or explosives or toxic chemicals. Projectiles. A good day for most of us is one in which the boss doesn't give us a whole lot to do. For a firefighter, it's being able to go home at the end of the day. To be able to spend time with the children. To look in their little eyes and resolve to never let them know of or to witness the horrific sights they've seen. The anguish. The grief. The heartbreak. The mangled bodies.

On this particular day, a fire erupted in a maintenance garage when a can full of gasoline ignited and set a bus on fire. When the fire department arrived, smoke was pouring from the windows and doors.

I've been witness to some building fires in the past. I remember one in particular, many years ago, that engulfed a faculty office building at the university I was attending. It was very cool. Exciting. Fun.

But I could stand at a distance with my classmates and watch the drama from afar. The smoke billowing up. The flames shooting through the roof.

I could stand by and take pictures of the raging inferno. Firefighters are trained to run into its midst. Selflessly. Without hesitation. Without regard to the many hazards in store. Lives deemed more important than their own - somehow - are at stake. They act.

I'm not sure I'm capable of such things. I doubt that most of us are. Sure, we all dream of performing an heroic act. Of saving a life. Of dragging the unconscious victim of that car wreck to safety. And of living to tell the tale on Larry King Live.

These guys risk everything every day. And Larry King pays no notice. But they do it anyway. With pride. Determination. It's a calling.

They deserve our everlasting and heartfelt thanks for being there and for protecting our loved ones - our children and grandchildren - from harm.

The firefighter, by the way, pictured above with axe in hand heading into the flames is my son, Jarrod Fuhrman, Station # 3, Roanoke Fire/EMS.

Photos courtesy of Lt. Rhett Fleitz, Roanoke Fire/EMS & Roanoke Firefighters
Click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On Veterans Day

(Originally published on November 11, 2011.)

This handsome young man, who - some say - bears a striking resemblance to his offspring, is being honored this day - Veterans Day - for his service to his country.

Harold Fuhrman, son of Heinrich and Ida Majeske Fuhrman, joined the United States army in 1942 and became one of the legenday "Screaming Eagles" of the renowned 101st Airborne Division - made famous in both the movie, "Saving Private Ryan," and in the HBO mini-series, "Band of Brothers." The 101st Airborne first saw combat action the night before D-Day, June 5, 1944, just hours before the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. The division parachuted and glided into Normandy - northern France - behind German lines with the purpose of disrupting Nazi communications and preventing counterattacks when the naval assault on the Normandy beaches began the next day.

According to military planners, because of the nature of the task before them - night attack, units scattered across the Normandy countryside, powerful German defenses in the immediate area, no support from the naval assault taskforce for at least a day or longer - it was expected that the division would suffer horrendous casualties in the assault. And it did. 1240 men were either killed or wounded in a matter of a few days and a considerable number went missing. Included on the list of missing in action, a dreadfully long list, was the name Harold Fuhrman.

That assault proved to be Harold's one and only combat experience. He was captured near Ste-Mere-Eglise, became officially a Prisoner of War, and spent the next year being transferred from one German prison camp to another, all the while losing weight as a result of poor dietary conditions, losing some teeth as a result of unsanitary living conditions (eventually he'd have them all removed), but never losing his American spirit.

Harold Fuhrman was liberated from a hellhole of a prison camp near Küstrin
, on the German border with Poland in April of 1945 by the Russian army and, after walking from eastern Germany to the Black Sea in the Crimea in order to find transportation home, Harold made his way back to the USA.

After the war ended, like millions of other veterans, Harold Fuhrman returned home and went back to work. He married Lorraine Riehle and eventually raised a fine family - three sons and a daughter.

He rarely spoke of his war experiences. But when he did, the accounts were startling, the details sobering. He once related the story of the death of a soldier near him and the odd sound that a bullet makes when it impacts the human skull. Like a rock thudding into a pool of water.

He also - once - revealed a scar near his knee that resulted from a wound that he sustained in battle, one for which he received no Bronze Star or Purple Heart. No handshake from the President of the United States. No interview with the news media. By the time he made his way back to his unit after being liberated, it had been long healed and - as was the norm in that era - it was a minor wound, one that didn't rise to the level warranting a medal. Those were indeed different times. As William Halsey said back then, "There are no extraordinary men ... just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with." Harold Fuhrman's wound was ordinary - in that extraordinary era - and he thought no more about it. Life went on.

Harold also told the story of his trek across southeast Europe after he was freed and of his having come upon a field where a battle had taken place sometime previously. The field was strewn with the decaying bodies of German soldiers left to decompose where they lay; the Russians had more important matters at hand than to take the time to bury their dead enemies. Harold stripped the winter coat from one of the corpses and moved on. Such were the times.

Harold Fuhrman lived a long life. A good life. Though he was never recognized for his service to - or particularly for his sacrifice for - his country, he was proud of that which he'd been able to contribute. He never asked for recognition. He sought no medals. He considered his enlistment and substantial sacrifices as part of his duty to his country; the country that he held dear every day of his life - one for which he had tremendous gratitude, in which he had terrific pride.

Harold Fuhrman is dead now and buried in a lonely cemetery in rural Indiana. A military marker atop his grave simply reads, "Harold Fuhrman, 101st Airborne Div., WWII." It is as he would have wanted it. Simple. Unassuming. No embroidery. He served his country and that was that.

Even though he might have been embarrassed by it, his children decided to honor his service to the United States of America by placing a memorial - one tiny commemoration among thousands of similar remembrances - in the World War II Memorial at Fort Campbell, KY, home to the 101st Airborne Division. It is there for all the world to see and will be there for all time. Without his knowing it then, what he and his fellow soldiers did to preserve freedom for the entire western world has gone down in history. He and they are now honored by a thankful nation - and a respectful family - and will be forever.

Harold Fuhrman's children - Steve, Randy, Suellen, and Jerry - take time out to remember their father this Veterans Day.

- - - - - - 

I lifted this photo from a video that's now available on youtube that was released at the end of World War II by the British press. Included is a Nazi propaganda clip that, at about the 10 second mark, has brief footage of Allied prisoners captured on and around D-Day being marched through the streets of Paris, heading towards POW camps further inland.

The tall soldier at left (circled in red) is my father, Technical Sergeant Harold H. Fuhman, 101st Airborne Division. He appears to be among a group of Canadian, American, and British prisoners being led by armed German guards and officers.
He spent the remainder of the war in prison camps around Germany and was liberated by the Russians in January, 1945.

The video - from British Pathé press - found here -


- also shows French civilians spitting on, and slapping those same prisoners as they passed through the crowd. The same French civilians who cheered the American liberators just months later (...).

- - - - - 

This account of the prisoners' liberation by the Red Army comes from Sergeant Gordon B. Pack, USA, January 31, 1945: 

"Soon, long columns of prisoners were threading their way along the snow filled road. Some pushing, some pulling sleds; others wheelbarrows, wagons and so on to haul their blanket rolls and the few odds and ends they were able to hang on to. Apparently there weren't any definite place it seemed to go to.

We had been traveling I suppose to the best of my estimation some 40 to 50 minutes, with not a word being spoken along the whole column, when all at once, all hell seemed to break loose up ahead. We were nearing a small village, and there were hails of leaden death streamed towards us. Machine guns were chattering their deadly song, as rifles cracked and bullets whined all around. Soon, the heavy 'boom' of a big gun, then the bursting a shell. Soon another, then another, another. They were all landing in the midst of us. Right where that would do the most damage. Shouts and screams of pain and agony were wrenched from men's lips that were hit by shell fragments and bullets and couldn't get away. 

Words cannot explain the horror and the blood chilling sounds that filled the air. I, myself witnessed a scene I shan't forget. Panic soon had its way, and men began running every which way, skimming across the fields of snow trying to find cover. One minute, I saw a head on a man's shoulder, the next, there was no head. This man kept going 15-20 yards, then fell to the ground a bloody mass of torn flesh and bone. During the excitement someone yell out, 'For God's sake, men, keep down!' But that cry had been better if not uttered. It only seemed to prompt them on. Half of us did manage to stay down, while the rest scattered the fields lining each side of the road. Some were jumping in holes, ditches, sunken places in the ground, behind the few scattered trees that were available. And some were placing their blanket rolls in front of their body for the little protection they offered; which wasn't very much. 

During all of this someone yelled 'Ruskies! Which means 'Russians', the 'Ruskies' are here! Someone make a flag, waved a handkerchief to show them we are unarmed. This was done by a sergeant by the name of Herman Curley. We all called him Curley for short. As soon as he had it finished, he rose and started toward the Russians which were about 300 yards from us. We were still unrecognizable at that distance. Curley started but never got there. A rifle cracked and he slumped to the ground a pitiful sight still with the flag of surrender in his hand. (This brave act that no other man had attempted to do should by every last one of us be remembered. For to my opinion, it saved our lives though it very near cost him his.)" 

It is reported that five POW's were accidentally killed by the Russians that day.

- - - - - 

by A. Lawrence Vaincourt

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.
And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?
A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.
It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?
He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

Memorial photo coutesy of the 101st Airborne Division Assn.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Soldier's Story

Andrew Jackson Grayson was a miller by trade. He built and operated his place of business along Little Walker Creek here in Bland County, Virginia back before there was a Bland County. This area was sparsely settled and life was "hardscrabble," as it were. It is probably because his mill was frequented by all the farmers in the area who came to him to have their meager harvest ground into meal and he was, therefore, a familiar figure to everyone in the area, that when the Civil War broke out, Andrew Jackson Grayson was elected by the Confederacy's new recruits to the cause to be captain of the newly formed "Bland County Sharpshooters."

The victory at Fort Sumter had occurred only a month before and the South was a'risin '. All over the country the call went out for recruits to join the army and defend against northern aggression. Young men from the area packed what little they had and made the journey over the mountain to Wytheville, the only town in the area, and to Narrows in Giles County to enlist. When the company had enough recruits, its official designation became Company F, 45th Regiment, Virginia Volunteers. What an adventure it must have been for these boys, most of whom had probably never been far from home, to be given weapons and "accoutrements" (and an expansion of their vocabulary) and to find themselves on the parade ground in Wytheville learning how to conduct themselves in battle, and about "Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics." For the first time in their lives they were not only playing a part in something important, they were making history.

And then they went to war. Their first encounter with the enemy was on a hilltop in Nicholas County in what was about to become, as a result of the South having seceded, the state of West Virginia in a place called Carnifex Ferry. Here they learned the word retreat. For after inflicting serious casualties on the advancing northern force, the Confederate army under General John Floyd slipped away and moved south. There is no record of the company sustaining any casualties but here the company of Bland boys got their first experience with that which killed the greatest number of soldiers north and south - sickness and disease. Though the company of recruits wasn't there long, when they left Nicholas County, they left behind a freshly dug grave containing the mortal remains of their first fatality, a young man who succumbed to a nameless illness, who died, and was buried - alone and with but a stone to mark his grave.

Over the next four years the company of Bland boys saw war in far away locations in Tennessee, West Virginia, and finally in "the big show," in Virginia as a part of the Army of the Valley. They fought in many places that today don't even warrant mention in the history books. Places like Wolf Creek, White Sulfur Springs, Diamond Hill, Mossy Creek, and Talbot's Station. They also participated in many of the war's larger engagements at Winchester, Opequon Creek, Cloyd's Mountain, Monocacy, Fishers Hill, and Piedmont.

With each encounter, the Bland Sharpshooters counted more dead. Upon leaving each encampment, Company F, 45th Virginia Volunteers left behind sick, wounded, and dying youth. For four years the boys from Bland County endured unspeakable hardship and privation. They lacked proper clothing in winter, were denied proper nutrition throughout, and often went days without food of any kind at all. In most of their encounters with the enemy, they were outnumbered by an army much better equipped and armed.

But they endured. In the end, the company of Bland boys didn't go through the formal surrender ceremony that one reads about in history books or sees in famous paintings. When notified of Lee's surrender at Appomattox, the regiment simply disbanded - and what remained of the Bland Sharpshooters went home.

Andrew Jackson Grayson enlisted in Company F on May 31, 1861 and became the company's captain shortly thereafter. When the company disbanded, "Captain Jack" was still the commander of the Sharpshooters. One wonders what history he made. In a war that saw so much attrition, it was not unusual for a private soldier to find himself being chosen for the rank of an officer and, as superior officers were killed off or died or went home maimed or broken, to be promoted again. And yet Andrew Grayson was Captain of Company F for all four years of the war. 

One wants to think that it was his decision to stay with "his boys" and that he chose not to take on greater rank. It could be though that his performance was recognized as being adequate enough to supervise the company but he was not considered capable of taking on greater responsibility. Or, as was the case with many officers in both armies, he may have been sick and in hospital too often to be considered for promotion. Or it is possible that Capt. Grayson and the 45th were, as was the case with many of the mountain regiments, inclined to be a bit too "independent" and could be counted on to fight like devils when called upon, but were impossible to control otherwise. 

We'll never know. As for me, I prefer to think he simply and honorably wanted to fulfill his obligation to "his Bland boys" and remained with Company F throughout. Even with all the diaries, memoirs, and regimental histories that were written about the period, nobody took the time to chronicle the life of Andrew Jackson Grayson. All we know is that when the war ended, he dismissed the troops and went back to his mill along Little Walker Creek.

There is one story, though, that is told in these parts about Captain Jack and his mill. In July 1863, while Capt. Grayson was "down the valley" fighting Yankees (and incidentally while Robert E Lee was retreating from a tiny town in Pennsylvania by the name of Gettysburg), a Union army was moving through Bland County on its way to burn the train station and railroad bridge in Wytheville. As became the norm in this horrific conflict, the Union troops wreaked destruction on the local economy and Confederate war-making capability as it moved south by burning barns and any manufactory along its route that could be used for making war material. This happened to include grain mills in that they often provided corn meal to the Southern army.

In this instance, though, luck was on Andrew Grayson's side. When the Union army came upon his mill and Yankee soldiers were about to set it afire, the Union commander ordered the soldiers to cease. As it turns out, he was a miller too and, despite the animosities and hostilities that had grown between the two sides, he decided to spare Grayson's property.

There exist remnants of Grayson's mill and dam along the creek today. Though Captain Jack Grayson's home is long gone. I can look out my window - and often do - at his homestead and think about Andrew Jackson Grayson and the boys of '61. What they went through. What part of history they wrote. What memories they had and shared in reunions in later years when they got together in town and reminisced about the war years. 

I have seen only one photograph of Captain Grayson. It was taken at a reunion of Bland veterans some time in the late in the 19th century. It was an assemblage of about fifteen elderly men, gray, bearded and bowed. There in the center of the group was Captain Jack. Try as I might to get a good look at him and to try to gain an understanding of his person, the photo was too unclear and was taken from too far away. He was just a small figure among small figures on a big hillside. I can only guess that their conversations about great battles and many triumphs were tinged with profound sadness - for most of the Bland boys who marched off to war in 1861 never returned. As was customary, many perished without even a marker to identify their remains. They vanished.

Captain Andrew Jackson Grayson was, in that sense, luckier. On a hillock that gently rises above Little Walker Creek that would have been a short walk for him from his home, on land that now includes my home, there is a solitary grave in a grass pasture overlooking his mill. There Captain Jack - miller, warrior, citizen - rests.

* Originally published on August 11, 2004

Friday, July 26, 2013

Kaid Becomes a Man

Two-year-old Kaid Fuhrman climbed up to my tree house this evening and, in the course of things, decided to relieve himself. He dropped his drawers and peed on the countryside below. Kaid is now a man. It brought tears to my eyes. Today peeing out of the tree house, tomorrow telling lies to some large-breasted woman in a smoke-filled honky-tonk. How quickly they grow up.

* Originally published on August 12, 2004.

Chaos and the Morning Feeding

"For the love of God. Make them stop!" Terror set in as I tried to escape the churning mass of feline savagery. There have been few moments in my long life when I felt that I was in great danger but this was one of them. A feeling of impending doom swept over me and caused me to retreat to the corner of the kitchen - until I felt the microwave countertop against my back and I realized that my escape route was cut off. It was at this point that I cried out for God's mercy and for the Bland County Rescue Squad to save me from what was assuredly certain death.

It was cat feeding time at the Fuhrman house.

I know. You think of them as fuzzy, cuddly, purring little darlings curled up in front of the fireplace. Step into my kitchen at 6:05 in the morning and you'll step back with a bloody stump where your foot was attached only a moment before. These little monsters have a schedule and, by damn, you'd better adhere to it or there's all hell to pay.

It's all my wife's fault. Paula thinks she is doing the world a favor by bringing stray cats into the home and providing for them in a manner that all the children of Sub-Saharan Africa would envy. She doesn't just feed them and wipe their tiny butts (OK. I'm exaggerating a bit).
She has a schedule.

And they know it.

I should probably take the time to introduce the individuals who have turned our loving, nurturing home into San Diego Zoo East. I'm not sure I know all their names and Paula, being the sinister person that she is, sometimes sneaks new cats into the pile without telling me. If it weren't for the fact that I can now recognize each individual shriek they emit, starting at 5:55am, I wouldn't be able to tell one from another. That plus the fact that each has a discernable butt (I learned the hard way. If the shriek didn't work at 5:55, they do this odd butt rub in my face at about 6:00). 

But the ones I know of are named Tigger (Yes, I know. And the names only get worse), Lucky, Phobie, Mosby, Wheezer, Pippin, and Frodo (you'll never guess where those last two names came from; they were recommended by my daughter, another human hating cat loving she-devil who only brings cats home so as to bring torment to my poor son-in-law). If she were reading this, Paula would criticize me for misspellings. Fine. And for forgetting some cats. (No. I'll save the discussion regarding the BARN CATS for another day.)

Now you would think that the stampede - and I do not exaggerate - don't be in their path - that runs from our bed to the kitchen at 6:05 would ease up AFTER A FEW YEARS once the little bundles of burning love come to realize that breakfast will be served on time - just as it is every other freaking day of every year. But no. They gallop. You'd also think, based on their velocity and over-all-obstacles trajectory, that they are starved for sustenance. Please. It's just that the TUBS of Kibbles and Bits and Kit and Kaboodle that are filled throughout the day are only cat meal. At 6:05am it's MEAT. See how the bloody stump comes in to the story? They want MEAT. They'll accept any one of your appendages.

There was a point in time not long ago that Paula decided to go to Louisville to see her mother and sisters. She was going to be away - I swear - for a few days. The storage capacity on my Compaq computer is 80 gigobytes. All books ever written could be stored on 80 gigs. By the time she was done composing my instructions (I prefer to call it a treatise) on the proper-feeding-and-care-of-my-cats-while-I'm-gone, the hard-drive was exhausted. Leo Tolstoy would have been in awe of this document. NASA scientists who wrote the instructions on how to build Apollo IX would have bowed before her out of respect for her detail and clarity.

You see, you don't just feed the cats. You can't just slop meat into a bowl. Each cat has a personality and, more importantly, a disposition. Some, like Phobie, will wait impatiently. Others (Lucky!) will climb your leg to get to their MEAT. So the instructions outline the proper method of positioning the seven bowls (You didn't think they would actually eat from the same container!), and correspondingly, positioning their little writhing bodies (Why try? That's my question. Trying to set a cat in a special position is like trying to organize popping popcorn) before the first spoonful of MEAT is dished out. The instructions also define carefully the order in which each cat is fed. Lucky and Wheezer go first and...on down the line.

It all sounds so reasonable. Me? I scooped out the first glop of MEAT, set it in front of Lucky, and as quickly as lightning there were six faces in the bowl (Phobie always keeps her distance. She says, "I'm not getting in the middle of that."). I grabbed a cat, tossed him toward what is designated as being his bowl (trying to follow my instructions like a good husband) only to find that same cat leap back in the middle of the swarming mass before I could turn around. Then I had a dilemma. Each cat is supposed to get an equal amount of MEAT in the morning. At this point, I couldn't see the bowl. I couldn't tell if the MEAT I tossed toward it ever even made it into the bowl. I certainly didn't know who ate it. All I knew was that I could hear this loud hummmmmm emanating from the heap. Somebody got it because the purr was unmistakeable. That's a good sign, I thought. At least one of her cats won't have starved to death before Paula returns (She tells me that they will truly starve if they have to survive on only six pounds of Kit and Kaboodle each day.). The one saving grace, I found, was that if you can get a small amount of MEAT in each stomach, this teeming gang of hell's spawn calms down enough to organize the group and to get each cat to work from their assigned station.

Then the real problem arose. My instructions called for me to dish out a half can of MEAT to seven cats. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. It was gone in less than a minute. But I still had the other half of the can (officially designated to go to the BARN CATS - another set of instructions) but Paula wasn't there and I was desperate. So I tossed the other half at the them, thinking - like a beanbrain - that this would placate them. It did - for just one more minute. Then their little bowls were empty. And they turned on me.

I have a dog. I could beat her with a stick and she would look at me and say, "Thank you, sir. May I have another?" Dogs can be trained. Dogs are civilized. Cats only allow you to coexist so that you are there to provide MEAT - and to clean up their frequent cat-urps.

So now I found myself out of MEAT and backed up against the microwave countertop. If I hadn't whistled for the dog, I can only imagine what would have happened next. Oh, dogs have one other attribute. They hate cats. Beezer - short for Beelzabub the Hound From Hell - came bounding into the kitchen in response. What those cats did to poor Beezer next was the kind of thing you see in your nightmares. But no matter. The distraction gave me the time to make my exit. Beezer was expendable. And if she took down a few cats with her, well, that would be okay too.

That was the one thing I was counting on as Paula's car pulled up outside. I figured if I couldn't keep track of the army of felines in my house, maybe she couldn't either.

Fat chance.

* Originally published on August 9, 2004

Thursday, July 25, 2013

They Own the Night

You're driving along a winding gravel road. The road itself undulates through a seemingly endless countryside. Your headlights scan skyward and then plunge toward the ground as your car crests atop one rise and begins its descent into the next valley. Except for the headlights, and the trees, weeds, and rocks illuminated by them, you see ... nothing. A landscape devoid of any distinction. Total uninterrupted darkness. You hear the crunching sound of tires on gravel - only. Nothing else. The darkness and accompanying stillness are reminders. You know you are alone.

The only exception can be seen far off in the distance. You almost have to know where to look because the pinpoint of light is so faint as to be illusory; the more you try to fix your gaze on it, the more your eyes convince you that it is not really there. In part that is because the tiny beacon emanates from high upon a mountain three miles away and is the only sign of human habitation in a wall of blackness. On a moonlit night, the faint silhouette of the moutain itself - my mountain - can be discerned with some effort. On most nights though, when the evening mists form and the clouds take their sleep around the summit, nothing save the tiny glow from the porch light can be seen - for miles.

My porch light. My home.

To say that Paula and I live in isolation is no exaggeration. On a sunny day you can stand on our front deck and look down upon a vista that is right out of a JMW Turner landscape. Far off in the distance you can see the village of Bland with its distinctive Lutheran church steeple and nearby courthouse tower. Around and beyond the cluster of dwellings and small businesses, you see rolling pasture lands, punctuated with frequent woodlands and meandering ravines. Further away, you see an imposing Brushy Mountain. Directly behind our house rises our mountain, completely forested, uninhabited, since the beginning of time undisturbed. The Jefferson National Forest. Save for a few neighbors down below, we live alone.

Except for a host of other creatures. If we cohabit during the day, they own the night. Paula was walking next to the stream that flows down the mountain and across our property the other day when she noticed something unusual laying on the bank. It was a claw. A large, curved, grayish brownish claw. At first, when she brought it to the house and showed it to me, I thought it had come from a bobcat. Although rarely seen in the area, I had spotted one last winter, when the snow was its deepest high in the mountains. He - or she - had come down to my neighbor's farm looking for food, I expect. I watched it trot across a snow-covered pasture, its long, sleek silhouette unmistakable against the pure white background. It was there and then it slipped into the woods; gone.

But when I got to looking at it, I recognized that the claw had probably come from a bear. There are quite a few black bears in the forest above; so many that there is a hunting season established to keep the population down. One of them had come down to scavenge along the stream, perhaps. How the claw came to be there? Noone will ever know. Living in the wild, we witness considerable carnage. Red-tailed hawks and kestrils killing and eating doves and finches, insects eating other insects. The bear may have met up with a bobcat and the bobcat walked away from their confrontation. Last Spring, just after the snow thawed, I found along the same stream a rather fresh scattering of bones of a small fawn, probably caught and killed and eaten by coyotes. Out here you learn to read bones. Species. Age. Their fate sometimes.

It's the coyotes that signal to humans on warm summer nights that we are not in control, if only for a matter of hours. You never see them. But you can hear them howl. And there are times late at night when you can pick up what sounds like a pack of coyotes playing with one another, seemingly yipping and racing around in the blackness on the edge of dark pastures below. Occasionally you also hear screams. Primal last breath cries of anguish. Rabbits sometimes. Squirrels. You didn't know that rabbits can scream? It is more of a shrill squeal. Very brief. And then the interminable silence of the night closes in again.

Coyotes are not the only creatures that hunt around our house at night. I've heard, and on a few occasions have seen, owls swoosh by overhead; huge birds of prey. And there are many foxes, grays and reds. And bats out to get their fill of insects. Racoons. Possums. Mice. Bobcats. And there are the many creatures that move about in absolute silence, move about for the same purpose - sustenance. Snakes of assorted colors and sizes, many of which I stumble upon during daylight hours when they are resting from the previous night's hunt. And feral cats.

Once, several years ago, Paula and I were in the house, it was late at night, when we heard what sounded like a scream - almost human - from not far away. Only one short, loud cry that eminated from some creature that was confronting impending doom, and then silence again. Somewhere out there in the darkness. We looked at each other and we realized that I needed to go out and investigate. All I was wearing at the time were my shorts and tee shirt, it was Summer as I recall, and there was a heavy mist coming down outside. So I donned my "safety orange" jacket, grabbed a flashlight and my trusty baseball bat and went out to find the source of the...sound.

I walked the perimeter of our yard, found nothing, and decided to explore the woods behind the house. Knowing that there was a clearing deep in the forest, and deciding that the quickest and easiest way to get back to it was to traverse the edge of the cornfield that abutted the treeline. I headed in that direction. The only sounds I heard by now were those of millions of tiny droplets of mist collecting on the tree leaves, forming larger drops, falling down to leaves below, and raining down to the ground. Visibility by now was poor. The fog had rapidly obscured my vision of the house and I was unable to see anything beyond corn stalks and trees.

As I began trudging along the muddy furrow between the corn rows, shining my light on the path ahead, listening for sounds coming from the woods, a feeling came over me. A feeling of foreboding like I had never experienced before in my entire life. Something was watching me. Not someone. Some thing. I had this overpowering sense of consternation take hold. As I moved now, I tried to shine the flashlight in all directions, particularly behind me. I knew that, whatever it was, it was going to attack from behind. The thought went through my mind, "Stop it. You've been watching too many slasher movies." But the sensation did not go away. And the memory came to me of the bobcat tracks that I had seen in the snow the previous winter within yards of this spot. Large paw prints the size of my fist. It was not an agreeable thought. I knew that I needed to focus.

And I needed to get out of there.

So I turned back. Reentering the yard outside the house where I had the porchlight on to illuminate the surrounding area, I felt safe enough to turn and peer into the mist to see what it was that had been hunting me. But there was only silence, save for the dripping sound of mist plummeting from nearby leaves. And my line of sight ended at the edge of the forest, where the mist and darkness took over. I don't know what it was that I came close to confronting that night. But I learned a valuable lesson from it. During the day, my presence is tolerated.

They own the night.

Slipping the Surly Bonds

While I'm on the subject of flying, I wanted to mention the experience I had at 35,000 feet above the earth last night. Our plane had taken off from Greensboro, headed toward Atlanta. The sun had set by the time we had reached altitude but the western horizon was still aglow. The skies were clear except for a slight haze barely detectable off in the distance. It was a wondrous sight. One you can only find when you're soaring high above the earth.

A poem came to mind that I had seen displayed many years ago at the air force museum in Dayton, Ohio. It is entitled, "High Flight," and was made famous by President Reagan in a speech to a grieving nation after the Challenger disaster in 1986.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. 
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
The author, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a pilot, was killed - at the age of 19 - during World War II.

* Originally published on September 1, 2004

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I wrote a few weeks ago about the bond that exists between a man and his tractor. I likened the relationship to that which existed between a cowboy and his horse back in the days of the wild west. In my effort to wax poetic about my beloved farm machinery, I failed to mention another bond that exists - that between a man and his dog. In this case, my little sidekick, Beazer. She came to us via the local dog pound probably 14 years ago as best Paula and I can remember. And she has been at my side - in spirit if not in body - every day for those many years. Until today.

I buried Beazer this evening.

Beazer is short for Beelzabub, the hound from hell. She was built like a pit bull - only she was smaller - and had the look of a bird dog. She was mostly black with a few white splotches and a white tip on her tail. We called her pedigree "All American Shorthair," which means, translated, that she was a mix of about every breed imaginable. She got her name because of her attitude toward strangers and her obstinacy. She had a particular hatred for the UPS man, and, in her younger years, I had to pull her away from him many times. Beazer didn't care for the vultures that soared past our windows here on the mountain either. Or the raccoons. Or possums. Or stray cats, chipmunks, squirrels...

Beazer and I had a special relationship. I can't explain why. I was always tougher on her than either my wife or my daughter ever were. And Paula often accused me of ignoring her when Beazer came looking for some attention. But Beazer always came. If a number of us entered the house together, after having been away for a period of time, here Beazer would come to greet us. She had this annoying, ear-splitting yelp, yelp, yelp when she came up to people she knew - well, perhaps not so annoying anymore. But she would always come looking for me. She would work her way through the crowd, even as others were calling out to her, to greet me first. Only then did she devote time to the others.

And there was another bond that Beazer and I had, although I'll not be able to explain it. She and I could go up the mountain together and, as dogs often do, she would disappear into the forest. I would lose track of her but keep on going. It was fascinating that, no matter in which direction I went, she would always find me. She was always there with me. When I sat here at my computer, she would come in and lay on the carpet next to me. If I moved into the living room, she would get up and move with me.

There came a point several months ago when Beazer was no longer able to make it up the mountain. She got too feeble. Truth be known, I quit going up the mountain too. As you could imagine, it was because I couldn't leave ol' Beaz behind, knowing how much she enjoyed the adventure and knowing that she knew where I would have been heading. She always knew. And I couldn't disappoint her. Her health began to fail recently, and we knew the end was coming.

I think this will be the last time I ever think of Beazer in her final years. From this point on, I'm going to remember her when she was young and in perfect health. When she could easily outrun me. When she ran in the yard in circles as I pretended to try to catch her. How she loved the attention. That I guess, when you come down to it, is what cements the bond between a man and his dog. I appreciated her companionship; she craved my attention. I am struggling with that thought as I write this.

It's easy at this point to say something like, "Well, life goes on." But that doesn't quite work for me tonight. A part of my life is - forever - buried on Big Walker Mountain.

* Originally published on July 18, 2004

Twistin' To Toby's Toe-Tappin' Tunes

Paula and I were doing a little Texas two-step the other day with our twin two-year-old grandchildren, Jayla and Kaid. They were having a blast swayin' to the poundin' sound of Toby Keith and his Easy Money Band playing "I love this bar." I'd like to think they were laughing hysterically out of sheer delight but it may have had more to do with seeing their "Jeramps" mixing a few country moves with some disco that Travolta and I perfected a number of years ago. But they did have great fun. To the point where they wouldn't let me quit. So we danced until I was finally completely out of breath.

I had thought for a moment that we should have gotten out the video camera and recorded the moment. But then that age-old adage came back to me and I decided that maybe it was best if we didn't. "White boys can't dance."

"We got winners, we got losers/chain smokers and boozers/And we got yuppies, we got bikers/We got thirsty hitchhikers/And the girls next door dress up like movie stars/Hmm, hmm, hmm, I love this bar."

* Originally published on September 13, 2004

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Paula Declares War

It takes a lot to get Paula angry. Since our children grew up and moved on, she rarely has need of raising her voice - except at me of course, when I step out of line. With the exception of the occasional fist-wave at semi drivers who decide they are going to seize her space on I-77 while she occupies it, she is very even-tempered. Meak. Docile. Centered.

But you don't want to provoke her. You've heard expressions about the Biblical wrath of God? Well, Paula learned from the Master.

And now she's mad.

You see, it has to do with these three dogs. And Paula's effort to save the world's cat population. It began several months ago when Paula was driving by an abandoned house on the turnpike leading to our home. There on and about the sagging porch, scurrying in all directions, were several tiny furry newborn kittens. I will agree that they were cute. Way too cute. The saving grace from my perspective was that they were just old enough to know their station in life, for they were also feral kittens. We couldn't get near them without their running under the old house. To me, this was a good thing. We already warehouse ten formerly abandoned cats (make that formerly abandoned former kittens). We sure don't need more.

I remember the last time we went through this. I was leaving for work early one morning and was racing along the gravel turnpike, heading for Bland and the highway that was going to take me into the world. The road crosses Little Walker Creek below our house and there, just as I came to the bridge, something on the side of the road caught my eye. I looked over and saw a little gray kitten. Its funny, looking back to that day, the only image I maintain of that first glimpse was of a mouth full of teeth. For this little kitten was about as forlorn as one of God's creatures could be. It had obviously been abandoned by one of God's lesser creatures, probably someone who had driven there from the city and tossed him from the car. I have this vivid memory of his teeth probably because this kitten was so upset, his mouth was so wide-open, it was the only part of him that I could see.

But I've learned how to deal with situations like this over the years. If I were to stop and pick up the animal, it would immediately become a permanent member of the family. A burgeoning family. So I did what I trained myself to do. I drove faster. And left the little screaming kitten in my rear-view mirror.

But then that little angel that one occasionally finds sitting on one's shoulder appeared and said, "You know you can't do this."

"Oh yes I can," says I.

"No. What would Paula say?"

Damn angel.

So I grabbed my cellphone and called Paula. I told her about the tiny gray kitten at the bridge and hung up. There was a day when I would have said something like, "Now, if you think we are going to keep this animal, I will pack my bags and ... whatever ... " I went to work knowing that a new addition had come to the Fuhrman family.

Something odd about that kitten though. When I got home later in the day, I immediately noticed that it had gained a couple of pounds. I know Paula can work magic with animals but even she couldn't grow a cat that much in a matter of hours. Something was wrong.

Then it came to me. This wasn't the kitten I'd seen at the bridge. Even though Paula said she found him right where I had told her to look, the one I saw was a good bit smaller than this one. And it came to me that if this isn't the one I saw earlier, the one I saw had to be...

So we got in the car and drove to the bridge. No sooner did we stop the car and get out than out of the weeds came the frightened kitten, teeth bared, mouth wide, as if crying, "Help me. Help me."

So we ended the day with two additions to the burgeoning Fuhrman household. Say hello to Frodo and Pippin.

Getting back to this other batch of kittens, Paula decided that if she couldn't bring this brood home, she would feed the cats there at the abandoned house. So every day she would take a bowl of Kibbles and Bits or Bitsy Bibbles or whatever that crap is called, along with a jug of water to the house and leave both there for these wild kittens.

And then a neighbor's dogs got wise to the fact that there was food at the abandoned house. Dogs apparently like Kibbley Diddley too. So they began showing up as soon as Paula left and ate all the cat food.

Paula was peeved. So she took the bowl of food and the other containing the water and slid them under the sagging porch. Problem solved? No. Dogs, she found out, can crawl under the porch as easily as Paula can. They continued to eat the cat food.

Paula was mad. So she decided to confront the neighbor. Now in matters like this, I take the Rodney King approach to life. That being, "Can't we all just get along?" Or in this case, I looked at Paula and said, "What, are you nuts? Those dogs may not belong under the abandoned house but your butt doesn't belong there either. You can't very well tell a neighbor - one we don't even know - that he is to keep his animals off your - er, make that - off someone else's property."

So Paula changed tactics. She decided to perform a bit of urban renewal on that old house. Or a facelift, if you will. A remodel. She decided to prevent the dogs from getting to the food by propping boards against the sides of the porch to keep the dogs from crawling underneath. And by wedging other boards under the porch supports. After a number of architectural changes, she seems to be satisfied with her latest design. Call it Gothic Pile of Boards Against Collapsing Porch.

But for now it seems to be working. Paula shows up and feeds the cats. The whole time she's there, the dogs are watching from a distance with a look in their eyes like, "Just you wait. You think you've outsmarted us but we will find a way..."

And Paula stands guard. She feeds the kittens and waits in her car. Watching. "Damn dogs."

And she called me today (I'm in northern West Virginia) and told me that when she went to feed the kittens their meat today (I said to myself, meat? What's this about meat?), she said two of the kittens came out and ate at her feet. She was full of rapture. Bliss.

And I said, "If you think you are going to bring these animals into my home, I'll pack my bags and ... "

Oh for the love of God.

* Originally published on November 9, 2004