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

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

The Meanings of Christmas

You hear a lot of talk this time of year about the "true" meaning of Christmas. There are the faint voices of a family of the faithful who believe - and celebrate that belief - in putting Christ back in Christmas. The holiday is to most people, however, a time to spend money on gifts, to make money off the the spenders, and to wake up on Christmas morning and receive from the spenders that which they purchased. I really don't have a big problem with this. It may be lamentable but you can't make the non-believer believe.

But there is another side to the Christmas holiday; one you cannot fathom unless you have an ever-increasing number of years behind you. It is only with age that the melancholy side of the Christmas holiday grows profound; as more and more of those you love and had celebrated the holiday with in the past leave this earth and are no longer there to be with you to decorate the tree or to prepare the Christmas candy or string the Christmas popcorn - or to open gifts on Christmas morning. Ever again. Grandparents. Father. Friends.

The ever-growing list includes, as well, the names of loved ones who were never able to be there to celebrate even one Christmas with you but who you've kept close to your heart - if not in your conversations - and for whom you had a lifetime of plans that were cut short. A daughter.
I remember when I was very young, my grandmother would come over to our house to celebrate Christmas with my two brothers, sister, and me. The night before Santa came was a special night because she would help bake cookies and pies for the next day's feast. In the course of preparing the various foods for the Christmas dinner, she would take out a sifter and pour flour through it before using it to bake bread. It's funny how your memory holds on to tiny flashes of the past. It may have something to do with the fact that the sifter - and my grandmother - are fond memories. Cherished memories.

Life is like that flour sifter in a way. When you're young, you gather an abundance of people around you with whom you hope to celebrate. As you age, however, more and more of your loved ones pass - like flour through the sieve - and become ... cherished memories.

This is the melancholy side of Christmas. Along with the joy that I feel knowing that I'll be able to be with my wife, children and grandchildren on Christmas, I also long to celebrate - just one more time - with an ever-growing number of those from my past; those who are gone from this earth forever.

And I look forward to the day when we will all be together as a family once again and celebrate Christmas as we did so many years ago. Grandparents, Dad, Jeri. What a celebration it will be.

By Morton Bryan Wharton
I am thinking tonight in sadness
Of a Christmas of long ago,
When the air was filled with gladness,
And the earth was wrapped in snow;
When the stars like diamonds glistened
And the night was crisp and cold,
As I eagerly watched and listened
For the Santa Claus of old.
The forest was robbed of its treasures,
The house was a mass of green,
And I reveled in Christmas pleasures,
At the dawn of Aurora's sheen;
Some talked of the Savior's mission,
But I of my pretty toys;
Some knelt in devout petition -
I romped and played with the boys.
We went to the pond for skating,
To the stable to take a ride,
And we found new joys awaiting,
To whatever spot we hied;
But the climax of my story
Was that evening's fireworks show!
Went out in a blaze of glory -
That Christmas of long ago!
But in sadness I think of that Christmas,
For many then happy and gay
Have gone to the realm of silence
And sleep in their beds of clay;
The hands that filled kindly my stockings,
I shall grasp in this world no more,
But when at Heaven's portals I'm knocking
They'll open the beautiful door.
They will lead me in tenderness clinging,
And place me before the throne,
Where the choirs angelic are singing
And the heavenly gifts are strown,
And there in the realm of glory,
With my loved ones at my side,
I'll repeat the old Bethlehem story
And join in the Christmas tide.

May you and all your loved ones have a very Merry Christmas

* Originally published on December 12, 2004

A Man and His Tractor

I sometimes feel sorry for you city boys. You are destined to go through life unsatisfied. Even with your many accomplishments and all those degrees and awards, when "the role is finally called up yonder," you'll grudgingly admit that there was - your entire life - something missing. You can't define it because you've never seen it. You've never been able to verbalize it because it has always been ill-defined. Ethereal. But you know that there was something lacking in your life. An imbalance. A dark void in your being.

And I know what it is. You see, I am centered. Among the many triumphs that I can look back on now and take pride in, and along with the wonderful family that God has been kind enough to bestow upon me, and with the worldly wealth and good physical health with which I am truly blessed, there is one event that towers above all others, and that has made me the man that I am today.

I bought a tractor.

They say that in the days of the wild west there was a special bond that existed between a man and his horse. Well, I have no way of knowing whether that was true or not, but I can relate the fact that there is an attraction between me and my tractor that transcends time and space. Wherever I go, my tractor is near me - in spirit if not in reality. And I take care of it just as in those moments, after a heavy rain or snow, or when the grass in the pasture is knee-high, or when I've got some heavy lifting that needs to be done, and I call upon my tractor for help, it has always been there for me.

When we moved from Kentucky to the Detroit area in 1996, I left my beloved Ford 9N tractor behind, prompting my need for a new one when we got settled. After a short search, I came upon this Ferguson TEA20 in Ortonville, Michigan that the owner had fixed up and was attempting to sell. I say "fixed up" because it looked like it had been used as a battering ram over the years and was in pretty rough shape. I used the term "over the years" because the tractor was built in 1952. As any vintage tractor man can tell you, you are able to determine the age of your tractor from the serial number on the engine block (assuming the block has never been replaced), and thank God for the internet, there are sites from which you can find the year your tractor was built based on that number. The downside to owning this particular tractor was that it was built in Coventry, England for domestic (make that European) use. Which meant all the screws, nuts, bolts, etc. are metric (my guess is that the tractor was exported to Canada where they have no better sense than do the English when it comes to weights and measures). You can imagine how hard it is to come by parts here in the USA for a 52 year-old machine that was intended to be used in Europe.

But a bond was quickly formed. As my wife can attest, the only vehicle that I own that is never exposed to weather is my tractor. It has its own building at the entrance to my property and is never left out at night. Unlike my trucks, ATV, and car, the mechanics of which I make no great effort to understand, I know my tractor. I know carburetion. I know hydraulics. I know the charging system. I know the starting system. And I've learned - begrudgingly - the metric system. In the eight years that I've owned it, I've completely rewired it, I've repainted it, I've upgraded parts on it, and I've kept it in excellent working order. And I've found joy in the process. I remember the time when I wanted to mount a rear tail light on the tractor - the original one had disappeared at some point in time in the past - and so I did what any self-respecting vintage tractor man does, I went to Ebay. Low and behold, somebody who had no idea what it was that he was selling (fool!), had listed one for sale as a "car brake light." I recognized it immediately for what it was - a taillight for my 1952 Ferguson tractor. I gambled with an opening bid of $4.00, being fully prepared to go a lot higher, but nobody else seemed to be interested in an old light. Go figure. So It was mine.

Now my tractor can be ornery. The carburetor needs seasonal adjustments. I don't know why. And I think the oil pressure gauge is sometimes playing tricks on me. And it's crying out for a new leveling arm. But when I am in need, my tractor is always there for me. Plowing snow. Grading the driveway. Mowing pastures. Harrowing. Hauling.

So if you have an overwhelming feeling of angst or feel like you are drifting through life without purpose, take my advice. Go out and buy yourself a brand new 1952 Ferguson TEA20 (gasoline) tractor. Your world will never be the same. Your life will be complete.

* Originally published on September 20, 2004