I broke my plow

Helmet

I broke my plow . . .

I remember hearing a snap and watching the plow blade on my Polaris ATV crash down.  The next thing I remember is my wife asking me what Eli’s middle name was.

We got a metric butt-load of snow here in Fairbanks this past week.  It was coming down so hard that I was plowing every several hours.  When we got home last Saturday night there was enough to plow and it was snowing hard enough that I didn’t think it was smart to wait for morning.  I started moving our cars around to get my ATV out of the garage.  I saw my helmet sitting the dog kennel.  I thought for a second then put it on.  That one move might have saved my life.

It took me about 45 minutes to clear the driveway and the parking area at the top of the drive.  I finished clearing an area in front of the garage and decided to try to clean up the road in front of our house.  I wanted to make sure that I didn’t leave any of our snow in a road that was already getting clogged.

I started down the steep hill that our driveway is on with my plow up.  The plow is held up by the cable on my ATV’s winch.  You operate the winch to raise and lower the blade.  At least that is how it normally works.  I took off down the hill much, much faster than the speed I use when I plow.  I was going about 15 miles per hour.  That’s when the hook on the end of the cable snapped off and the blade dropped suddenly.

Apparently a lot happened between flying over the handlebars of my ATV and getting the name  pop quiz from my wife.  I have no memory of removing the broken plow from my ATV or carrying it up the driveway to the garage.  This is remarkable because I can’t really carry the plow.  There is some evidence that I might have gone up and gotten my truck and put the plow in the back . . . that is frightening and I don’t really want to think about that.

After I placed our cars in their proper spaces I went upstairs and gave my wife the hook off of my winch cable.  I told her that I broke my plow.  I was soaking wet and told her that I woke up in the snow and my head hurt.  It didn’t take any further conversation for her to put me in the car and take me to the emergency room.

Concussed Curt was impressively tidy.  Besides properly parking the cars, he put the ATV away and placed the plow neatly behind it.  It seems that I got tired of the burned out lights in the garage and changed them.  When my wife asked me how I managed to change the bulbs I told her very matter-of-factly that “I reached them.”  After a few prompts I told her that I stood on a cooler to reach them.  I don’t remember asking Eli to bring me light bulbs,  the cooler-standing or our conversation.

On the way to the hospital I failed a pop quiz on my children’s middle names.  I also, apparently, assigned my grandson Carter status as my child.  When asked who my children were I said “Parker, Charlie, Eli and Carter.”  Well first it seems that I told my wife I broke my plow.  Then I gave her the four names.  I kind of remember the question about Eli’s middle name.  I remember not understanding what a middle name is.

My memory starts to fill in after I got to my treatment room in the ER.   On my way several people asked me what happened.  I am told that I told them that I broke my plow.  That seems to be the only way I could describe my experience.  I remember a parade of people that wanted to ask me questions.  I can barely remember the long list of medicines I take even when I haven’t been thrown to the ground on my head, so remembering the brand name, clinical name and dosage of my meds when all I can say about how I ended up on the gurney is “I broke my plow” is not so much doable.

It seemed everyone had a set of questions for me.  Even my wife kept asking questions.  Middle names, how many kids, what day is it, why do you do stupid shit like this during a freaking blizzard late at night?  I don’t blame her . . . she has to know what she has to work with.  The lady from admissions with insurance questions took one look at me, let me tell her about breaking my plow and said, “That’s too bad, dear, but I am going to talk to your wife for a little while.”  She understood.

For those of you who have never had a concussion, it is kind of like that feeling you get when you wake up quickly and you are still really groggy.  You aren’t sure where you are and you can’t put thoughts together.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know the answers to some questions; it is more like I didn’t understand the question.  I knew the meaning of the words but I couldn’t draw any context or relevance from them.  On top of all that, with a concussion, you have a killer headache.  If you you know me personally, then you know I have a really big head so a bad headache for me is kind of an all-encompassing thing.

In the week and a half since the accident I still have headaches and my back and neck are still sore.  I don’t shake things off like I used to.  I feel lucky in comparison to some people that we are close to.  Friends of our family have had post concussive systems for weeks or even months.  It is a process

After x-rays and a CT scan the doctors decided that besides a nasty concussion and some bumps and bruises, I would fine.  I didn’t feel fine.  Whatever fine is, I felt the opposite.  The doctor chatted with us for a few minutes.  Before he left he looked at me and said, “You might not be here if it wasn’t for your helmet”.  I disagreed.  I felt like I would very likely be in his hospital if I hadn’t put on my helmet.  I would just be in a different room under much different conditions.

It’s interesting how things that seem little and inconsequential turn out to be huge.  I put my helmet on.  I don’t always wear my helmet when I plow because normally I am going less than 4 or 5 miles per hour.  This time I put it on and it very likely saved my life.  The truth is that I put it on because it was snowing and I was trying to keep my hair dry.  I guess in the long run, the reason you do something smart is secondary.  I will take the result.

Did I mention that I broke my plow?

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Rookie Mistakes

Carter gave me about 3 milliseconds of warning before he made me pay for my rookie mistake.

I was getting some time with my grandson last evening.  He was happy and gooing and just basically enjoying himself.  I was holding him in front of me at eye level and having little kisses.  I moved him back and forth gently and announcing softly how I was about to get some Carter smoochies.  I lifted him a little and brought him down to me for a kiss..Then his eyes changed.  It was subtle but readily discernible to anybody who has been around babies.  I immediately closed my mouth.  About three milliseconds later, he unloaded the remainder of his dinner on my nose, mouth, chin and shirt.

Rookie mistakes.  I call them rookie mistakes because these are mistakes that I have made before out of inexperience.  They shouldn’t happen again . . . but they do.

I have been a father for 25 years and have helped raise or am helping three children.  I know better.  I made several mistakes that no veteran parent should make.  First, I was lulled into complacency because Carter had just spit up a huge amount on his dad.  He was much happier afterward and I figured he was either all better with the bad tummy or just empty.  Rookie mistake.  Never assume that an infant that has spit up can’t spit up again even if you are pretty sure that he or she has spit up a volume equal to the amount they just ate.  Infants are never empty.  They can store and or produce amazing amounts of cottage cheese.

Second I held an infant above my face who ate recently and spit up recently.  I should not have been surprised.  This ties into the above rule.  They are never empty.

Oh well.  No harm, no foul.  Just a quick clean up and a shirt change.  This wasn’t my first misstep with a child and I am sure that I will be able to report more in the future.  The vast majority of my child mistakes have been simple mental lapses that seem obvious later on.  when Charlie was a toddler I was changing his diaper and allowing him “naked” time.  He had a mild rash and I figured getting some air in that area would be beneficial.  I forgot the effect of fresh air and no diaper on a boy child.  Luckily I bent over to pick something up and the urine stream hit me in the back of the head instead of the face.  I was lulled into complacency by the fact that Charlie had a very wet diaper just moments earlier  I chose not to cover up the pee place and paid the price.  Like I said . . . they are never empty.

Sometimes you just outsmart yourself.  After one of our boys was circumcised the doctor told us t0 apply petroleum jelly to the wound so it wouldn’t stick to the diaper.  Made sense, but every time we touched the affected area with petroleum jelly he would howl in discomfort.  I had a great idea . . . I would just apply the petroleum jelly to his diaper.  That way it wouldn’t stick and we didn’t have to touch the ouchy part.  I was very pleased with myself until the baby peed for the first time.  It was the most monumental urine-based, outside-the-diaper event I have ever witnessed.  We changed him, I greased up another diaper and we moved on.  An hour or so later there was another Code Red Pee Problem.   As we changed him, my wife observed that the diaper was dry.  I looked at it.  Of course it was.  By spreading petroleum jelly on the inside of the diaper I had essentially made it water-proof.  Water-proof is pretty much the opposite of the ideal relationship between liquid and diaper that you are looking for.  Lesson learned.

Sometimes mistakes come from applying adult logic to a child or baby.  I was in a local grocery store with three-year-old Eli and my youngest brother, Ted, who was visiting.  As we walked the aisles Eli tossed his sippy cup on floor.  Ted bent over and handed it to Eli.  Eli smiled. took aim and bounced his sippy cup off of Uncle Ted’s glasses.  His glasses were on his face at the time.  There was a yelp of pain and a brief flash of irritation.  Ted laughed a little and rubbed his forehead.  “I can’t get mad,” he said.  “I did give it back to him.”

Ted assumed that he was helping Eli out when he gave him the sippy cup back.  He was, in actuality, reloading Eli.  He made his second shot count.  He looked slightly perplexed when he didn’t get his cup back.

Mistakes are inevitable but mostly they are inconsequential.  Maybe there is some cleaning or clothes-changing involved and probably some laundry.  Those are all things that you were going to do anyway.  Most goofs indicate that you are trying to do something positive.  They aren’t something that you should spend too much time worrying about..  Trust me . . . your baby will let you know when you make a rookie mistake.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

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Holding My Grandson

I didn’t cry when I first held my grandson, Carter.  I thought I would.  Frankly I was surprised I didn’t.  As I have gotten older and come to grips with some things from the past I have become much more emotional.  Heck, I cry in the greeting card aisle reading Mothers’ Day Cards.  I just figured that there would be tears when my son Parker placed his baby son in my arms.

Don’t get me wrong . . . the feeling was profound.  This tiny little person with a shock of dark hair and giant baby hands came from my son and his wife.  I wasn’t sure exactly what I would feel when I first looked at him.  It was just right . . . and calm . . . and good.  But I didn’t cry the first time I held Carter.  That would come when I watched him with his mother and father.

My son is a father.  I get almost dizzy every time I have that thought.  I am not surprised that he is a father.  He told me almost 10 years ago that what he couldn’t wait to be a father.  He was 16 and I probably didn’t take that as well as I could have . . . there were raised eyebrows and stern looks.  I remember the hormone free-for-all that was my metabolism at 16 and I had no doubt what he wanted.  He smiled at me the way he has always smiled at me and explained that he watched me being a father to him and his brothers and he was looking forward to the day that he could be a dad.  I wasn’t convinced so much then.  I am convinced now.

Watching Parker with his son is pure emotion for me.  Watching his face light up when he walks into the house after work and sees his wife and son is pure magic.  Even at this young age Carter responds to his Daddy.  As I watch them together I get a profound feeling of time passing and of completed circles.  I feel something that is new and profoundly timeless simultaneously.  I am one in a long line of fathers that have watched their sons become fathers and it is a very good feeling.

Seeing my daughter-in-law with her child makes me smile.  I have known this woman since she was 14 years old.  I watched her transform from little girl to young woman to mother.  I can see that girl I met years ago in her eyes as she holds my grandson.  They are beautiful to watch as they eye-gaze and talk to each other.  I have a feeling that one of Carter’s favorite sounds will be of his mother saying his name.  I say his name and it is words . . . she says it and it sounds like lyrics and melody.  She has assumed this role seamlessly and naturally.

Time with my grandson is precious.  I hold him when I can, but mostly he sleeps.  That is his job right now.  I learned long ago not to wake up a baby that is sleeping.  So I sometimes I slip into his room and watch him or I watch him as his mother holds him.  And I smile.  He is perspective for me.  He completes a cycle that continues as soon as it is complete.  He will grow . . . he will have siblings (I am pretty sure about that).  They will grow and learn and bring joy to people’s lives.  Then they will have children and place them in their parents’ arms.

It is the way of things.  Time passes.  I don’t really feel old enough to be a grandfather, but I am not really sure how old you have to feel.  I feel old enough to be at this point in the cycle, but not old enough for it to stop.  I am in a unique position.  I have a grown son and a grandson, but I also have two younger sons.  They have their own journeys and their own cycles and their own stories.  It will be fun to watch those play out.   Someday, I expect them to place their children in my arms and I will have these feelings all over again.  But I don’t think I will cry.  That, apparently, comes later.

Thank you for reading and we will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

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Cold Snap

My dogs told me to eff off this morning.  I think my wife did as well . . . though she didn’t really mean it.  She just gets in a mood when it gets down to 44 degrees below zero.

My dogs got attitude because I made them go outside.  Both Abby, our pug mix, and Bone, our cranky old American Bulldog, decided that they would pass on going out this morning and would just poop in the house.  That’s not how it works.  Abby had to be physically carried to the door and placed outside.  Her eyes said it all as she went over the snow mound and did her business.

I wasn’t even done loading the Keurig before she was ready to come in.  She side-eyed me on her way in.  I called for Bone.  He just blinked and pretended to be in a coma.  He is good at coma.  I started to get grouchy myself as the cold seeped in through the open door.  I went to get Bone.  He is too big to carry, but not too big to drag.  He glared at me and got off the couch and made his way to the door.  He took two steps out the door and peed all over the deck.  Then he turned around, looked me right in the eye and dropped his doggy logs on the deck.  He wiggled a few times and walked back in.  With a vast amount of dignity he waddled to the couch and resumed his coma.

I made the coffee and went upstairs.  “Good Morning!” I said brightly.  I thought a little cheer might get some of the gloom off the morning.  A noise came from under the covers that vaguely sounded like “eff off”.  I was not surprised.  Out household really doesn’t do mornings.  “What?” I said.

My wife’s head appeared from the pile of Eli and pillows surround her.  Eli, our youngest, hasn’t been getting in our bed as much lately.  However, when the world is frozen he seeks warmth and finds his mommy.

“Good Morning,” she said with little enthusiasm.

Our mornings are spent mostly in denial.  We just aren’t morning people.  It gets worse in the winter.  It gets much worse when Mother Nature gets this twisted sense of humor and makes your back yard colder than the blast chiller contestants use on the  Food Network show “Chopped” to save their failed ice cream.

 

 

We usually take two cars to work, even though I work in her law firm, because we have different schedules and I try to get home before the boys get home from school.  This morning she left with the boys and dropped them at the bus stop.  I was just stepping out of the house when she called and told me she was coming back so we could ride together.  It is our mutual stance that harrowing and scary ordeals are best when shared.

Going outside at -44 is like going deep sea diving.  When I was an aircraft mechanic with the Air National Guard, we would put on heavy coveralls and gloves and headgear at these temperatures.  I always felt like one of those guys from the movie “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” as I plodded around in my winter gear at 40 below zero.

It’s a little different now.  I wore heavy fleece gear and my normal shoes this morning.  My wife was dressed similarly.  Driving to work in our truck was like taking a submersible deep in the ocean.  Things just seem different.  Visibility is cut down considerably by fog and haze.  We don’t wear heavy clothing but we keep it handy at these temperatures just in case we have to get out of our submersible unexpectedly.

The local media has made a really big deal out of this cold snap.  We are expecting this to last for several days before it warms up just enough to snow some more.  January has been a very “weathery” month for us.  We had a big dump of snow around the New Year and now it has gotten cold.  Words like ‘Legendary’ and ‘Epic’ have been thrown around.  I just call it January.  You see . . . I lived through the Winter of ’89.  I realize how much of a codger I just became by simply writing a sentence that used an apostrophe and a number to describe a point in time.  I get it.

The Winter of ’89 has achieved legend status.  It has been highly exaggerated and turned into much more of an event than it really was . . . but it was really, really cold.

I won’t look up the actual numbers but I remember almost a month of -30 with three weeks of -40 and several days of -50 with the accompanying ice fog and frozen pipes and dead cars.

Regardless of the official temperatures in the Winter of ’89, people who lived through it will tell different stories.  That is because of a rarely talked about phenomenon that can be found in our area and is prevalent in the winter.  I call it the ‘That’s Nothing!” phenomenon.  Briefly described it involves one person mentioning how cold it was at there house according to their thermometer.  Let’s say one person mentions that it was -34 at their house.  Somebody will invariably yell a version of ‘That’s Nothing!’ and announce that their thermometer said -37.  Somebody else will lower the number and somebody else will lower that number . . . you get what I am saying.  This phenomenon was wildly common during the winter of ’89.  Telephone apps and online weather sites have made this phenomena a bit less common, but I am sure that it still happens.

The thing about the Winter of ’89 was that we got through it.  Just like we will get through this cold snap.  We haven’t had a prolonged -40 episode, that I know of, in several years.  That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t get cold in Alaska.  Each year the temps drop into “Oh My God” range.  They just haven’t stayed there in awhile.

This cold snap will be a learning experience.  People who haven’t seen this before will learn how to drive, work and just live in it.  The learning curve will be steep, but doable.  Even those of us who have been here 30 years can learn something new.   Like just today I learned that doggy logs freeze to the deck instantly.  That is definitely information I can use.

Thanks for reading and sharing.   Happy New Year to all our friends.  I promise we will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

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Thankful . . .

Thirty-nine years ago today, November 23, my mother died suddenly.  Like this year, it was the day before Thanksgiving.  I was 14.  My brothers were 11 and 9.  I remember life going on around us as time stopped in its tracks for my family.  All around us people were running full stride into the Holidays . . . and we just couldn’t.  For many years I couldn’t or wouldn’t participate in a season that I felt turned its back on my family.  I wrote about the experience early in my blogging career.   Getting Happy About Thanksgiving . . . Again

Over the years, with the help and patience of some incredible  people, I am pretty much a Holiday nut . . . as much as I can be, anyway.  I still have my issues.  Even now I have this queasiness and unease about school Holiday festivities.  A chain of events that ended in my mom’s passing started the night before right after our school Holiday pageant.  It took me many years and a couple of therapists to tie all that together.  Understanding why I am uncomfortable at school events for my kids doesn’t make me any more comfortable at them, however.  It is good to know why I feel that way, but most people just assume I am a jerk about the subject.

I learned a powerful lesson on my journey.  It was hard to get to and hard to digest, but it changed things for me.  It required that I look around me and look at what I have and focus on the blessings in my life.  I had to appreciate what I have and not resent what I don’t have.  My family, my friends and the life that we have built is a wondrous thing.  At some point, again with the help of some incredible people, I realized that if anything in my past was changed I wouldn’t be the person that I am in the situation that I am in with the people that are around me.  When I look at where I am in my life right now I realize that I wouldn’t change a thing.  That realization changed everything for me.

I have a wonderful wife and three incredible kids.  I have everything I need and most of what I want.  I have an extended family that I love and admire.  I have accomplished quite a bit over the years and I am in a place now where I am happy and fulfilled.  A person can’t ask for much more than that.  So I am thankful.

Along the road I took from here to there I learned  other valuable lessons.  I don’t take the people I love for granted.  I tell my family I love them . . . often . . . like randomly or whenever I leave them.  Early in our relationship my wife told me that I didn’t have to tell her that so often . . . she felt like maybe it was becoming habit and that it was starting to lose some of the power it holds because I was saying so often.  My kids sometimes roll their eyes when I tell them for the fifth or sixth time in a given day that I love them.  That’s ok.  What I have learned is that you never know when the last time you see somebody will be.  I learned the hard way that you don’t know if a person will be there when you get back from work . . . or when you get home from school.  The last thing that my mom heard me say was “I love you.”  At one point that was all that got me through the night.  So I say I love you a lot.

It took me so long to get to where I am now because I felt like being happy was somehow being disloyal to my mother.  I felt that if I forgot the terrible wrong that that I believed was done to my family that somehow that meant that I loved her less or valued her less.  If my mom was here today she would not be happy with that line of reasoning.  I understand now that being happy in my life is what would make her the happiest.

I think my mom would be very pleased with her boys.  We are all devoted family men.  My younger brother has a wonderful wife, three gorgeous kids and two grandbabies.  My youngest brother is the “cool uncle” who spoils his nieces and nephews.  I have a beautiful family and there is a grandson for us on the way.

All of my mother’s sons have college degrees.  She would be happy about that.  My mother placed a great deal of value on education.  She understood what it meant.  That would make her very proud and frankly would surprise the hell out a lot of people who knew us in our teen years.  I think she would be very proud of where we all stand in our careers.  She didn’t bring any children into the world who were afraid of a days work.  That would make her happy as well.

She would be thankful for all of these things and many more that I haven’t mentioned.  If she would be thankful for them, then I should be too.  She would be proud of where we all are today . . . 39 years later . . . so it’s ok for me to be proud of it as well.

So this morning I complained about being required to go to Charlie and Eli’s respective Thanksgiving events.  It is hard to shake the feelings I have.  But I shake them because this isn’t about me.  It is about my family and it is about being thankful for what my road led me to.  Maybe that is the most important lesson I have learned.

Thank you for reading and sharing.  Our family wishes yours a very Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous start to your Holiday Season.  We will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

 

 

 

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Season’s Eatings

So the Holiday Season snuck right up on us, huh?  Its amazing that an entire season can go unnoticed until it is on us seeing as we are all adults and we own calendars . . . and we have known the months of the year since before kindergarten.

The Holiday Season really starts with Halloween these days.  Especially if you apply my personal definition of Holiday Season to the formula for deciding when the Holidays start.  I figure the first big eating holiday of the fall (winter if you live where I do) marks the start of the Holidays and these days that is Halloween.  I know it’s mostly candy at Halloween, but my boys are all about the candy.  So the Holidays have been here for awhile . . . which makes Thanksgiving sneaking up on me even more embarrassing.

For me the Holidays seem like one giant overeating experience . . . I don’t mean to over eat  . . . it just kind of happens.  Sometime in late October candy starts showing up and after that it starts smelling like pie and turkey . . . and it just happens.  Don’t get the wrong idea . . . I don’t break out the sweat pants and go grazing this time of year.  I just get myself into situations.  Like with pie for instance.

My wife makes one of the most wonderful pies I’ve ever tasted.  She is a master at making Buttermilk Pie.  Yes  . . . butter milk pie.  I can practically hear the noses turning up as I type this.  I know how you are reacting because I reacted similarly when my bride of less than a year announced she was going to take a crack at  this Southern delicacy.  I was wrong and so are you . . . try it . . . really.

Buttermilk Pie is made from buttermilk and other ingredients that form a custard like filling when baked.  It is similar to Chess Pie, but Chess Pie is apparently made with cornmeal while Buttermilk Pie uses flour.  My wife’s family uses the names interchangeably and I don’t think anybody really cares.  The result is a tangy, sweet cream pie that transports you to a place where, as my six-year-old Eli would put it,  Rainbow Barfing Unicorns romp and play.  It is that good.

My first experience with Buttermilk Pie was almost my last.  My wife made her first Buttermilk Pie attempt before Thanksgiving in the first house we bought together.  She poured a suspiciously loose liquid into prepared pie shells . . . don’t judge the pie shells . . . we were busy . . . and placed them in the oven.  The smells coming from our oven were glorious and the resulting pies were gorgeous.  However,upon inspection we realized I forgot to remove the wax paper from under one of the pie shells before baking it.  Even though she was careful, the result of my wife’s attempt at removing the paper resulted in a mess of broken pie crust and custard.  Warm, crisp pie crust . . . with warm soft filling . . . all sitting in an appetizing array.  My wife suggested I try a piece of crust with filling on it.  The first bite transported me to the land of the gastronomically challenged unicorns I mentioned before.  It immediately became my favorite pie.  I tried another small piece of filling-covered crusty goodness then pushed it away . . . it was far to rich to eat much more.  Well, maybe just one more piece.

My wife went downstairs to do something and I went about my business.  Occasionally I would sample a small piece of yumminess.  I would pass by and sometimes grab a piece of crust.  Not too much you understand . . . just a taste here and there.

After about an hour or so my stomach started bothering me.  Oh no . . . I cursed my luck.  This close to Thanksgiving and I was coming down with a stomach virus.  I stretched uncomfortably and let out small burp.

“What was that noise?” my wife called from downstairs.  I blinked.  There was no way she could have heard that little burp.  My stomach was really starting to hurt.  My breath was coming in shallow gasps.  This virus was moving fast.

“Nothing, Honey,” I called out as cheerfully as the bubbling in my stomach would allow.

“It didn’t sound like nothing,” my wife answered.

I was feeling just this side of awful and I needed to lie down.  Hopefully this ninja-like stomach virus would pass before the real feasting began.  I settled down on the sofa and a wave of nausea washed over me.  My stomach rolled.  Inside a small creature had formed and was poking my stomach walls and laughing.  I swallowed hard and tried to relax.

I could hear my wife moving around downstairs.  I needed her to come tend to me.  The creature in my stomach poked really hard . . . hard enough to grab my gall bladder and twist.  I let out a pained exhale and waited for the creature to find my spleen.

“What’s wrong with you?” my wife asked as she came up the stairs.  “You don’t look so good.”

“I don’t know,” I gasped as the creature slapped my liver.  “I was fine then I got really nauseous.” I said.  “I think maybe I have a stomach bug.”

My wife came to the couch and felt my forehead.  She ran her hands through my hair and smiled, then went to the kitchen. “I’m sorry you don’t feel well honey, I hope you are bet- – – WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PIE?”

I winced at the tone and volume she used.  “We broke it when we were getting the wax paper out, remember?”

“Let me rephrase,” she said.  “Where did the pie go?”

My wife is an attorney and she loves to ask questions.  I was way too ill to answer these right now.  “How am I supposed to know?”

“Did you eat it?”

Seriously?  How could she think that I would eat an entire pie?  Preposterous.  “Of course not . . . how could I eat an entire pie?”

“You tell me,” she demanded.

“What makes you think I would eat an entire pie?”

Suddenly there was a pie plate with the remains of Buttermilk Pie in it.   Small pieces of crust remained stuck to the pie pan with the last remaining smears of filling.  My stomach rolled as the creature did cartwheels.  “The fact that there is no pie left and you are laying on the couch with a very noisy stomach are my first clues.””

Hmmmm . . . The evidence was pretty damning.  I had no recollection of eating a whole broken pie, but I did have many memories of having bites of a broken pie.  The creature kicked me in the pancreas and I swallowed hard.  The thought of Buttermilk Pie, or any type of food, seemed to make the creature angry.  I did not want the creature to be angry anymore.

My wife looked down at me with a look that was part pity, part irritation and part disbelief.  “Seriously?  The whole pie?” she said.  “No wonder your stomach hurts.”  The creature was angry again.

She turned and walked into the kitchen muttering something about pies and common sense and somebody having something coming to him.  I didn’t catch all of it, the creature was pulling on a lung at that point.

So I don’t mean to over eat.  It’s kind of like when you decide you want a potato chip or a pretzel and you get out the bag.  Then after a while you can see the bottom of the bag and you don’t know what happened to your chips or pretzels.  Sometimes that happens.  And sometimes it happens with pie.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

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Veterans Day

With all the hoopla surrounding the Presidential Election Veterans Day kind of sneaked up on us.  Here is a past post from Veterans Day that I really enjoyed.  Thank you to all of men and women who served and serve in the military.  Your service is appreciated.

I am a veteran.  Of this I am fiercely proud.  I didn’t walk around in my uniform for 25 years constantly thinking about how I was providing security for my nation and  its citizens.  To me, it was my chosen profession; a path not everybody takes.  I was, and am, proud that what I did had meaning and importance and relevance.  When I joined the Air Force, the military was not necessarily considered the best route to take for a young person.  It was a different time.  In 1982 we were less than 10 years removed from the Vietnam War and the mixed national emotions and divisiveness that it spawned.  A lot of us joined for financial and fiscal reasons . . . but some of us stayed because we loved what we were doing and what it meant.

My father was a veteran as well.  Air Force . . . same as me.  My relationship with my Dad was . . . let’s say complicated.  We went years with little contact.  There were reasons.  They will stay between me and him for now, but they were real.  The Air Force and our service was something we shared and something that should have been common ground for us, but that never happened.  We were never able to establish ourselves as fellow veterans.  I understood what it meant to serve, but I don’t think I understood what it meant to be a veteran.  It took an old man in a khaki windbreaker to help me understand what being a veteran means.

I was preparing to deploy to Guam with my Air National Guard unit in late January 2002 when my brother called and told me that Dad had a stroke.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  My colleagues were literally pushing my airplane out of the hangar for launch.  I was an aircraft mechanic assigned as a crew chief on one of the aircraft taking us to Guam.  I was talking to Dad on the phone in our break room as they pushed the plane out.  He urged me to go “do what you’ve got to do”.  He assured me that he was fine.  I picked up my flight bag and got on my plane.  A week after we set up operations in Guam, I was on a night shift and decided to call my son, Parker, to say good morning before he went to school.  His mom answered the phone.  “Oh my God,” she said.  “I can’t believe you called.  I just got off the phone with your aunt.”  She hesitated.  “Your Dad had another stroke. It doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.”

The rest of the next week happened in a blur.  I told my Flight Chief, who happened to be a close friend.  He found me an open phone in a quiet spot.  I made phone calls and started making arrangements.  My brothers were en route to Ohio where Dad lived.  My youngest brother is a registered nurse and he gave it to me straight.  Dad wasn’t going to get any better.  We agreed that they wouldn’t wait for me to get there to turn off life support. Later that same morning I was on a civilian flight through Tokyo to Seattle.  At SEATAC I called my brother and learned that Dad was gone.  I decided to go home to Fairbanks before heading to North Carolina for the funeral.

I got to North Carolina two days later.  The funeral was well-attended and just what Dad would have wanted.  On a display table near his urn was an American flag folded into a display case and Dad’s service ribbons.  Among them was his Vietnam Service Ribbon and campaign stars.  I looked at them for a long time.  Toward the end of the ceremony, my brothers made a point of giving me the American flag in the triangular display case.  “We figured that you would like to have this,” my brother told me.  He smiled at me.  “It seems appropriate.”

I left a few days later and took my Dad’s flag with me.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but the lady at the airline counter said there would be no problem taking it as a carry on.  I got on the flight from Greensboro to Chicago with no problem.  At O’Hare, I had to get my bags and check in for my flight to Alaska at the counter.  Again, the lady at the counter urged me to carry the flag on the airplane.  I took my flag and headed for the security checkpoint.  This was just a few months after the September 11th attacks and airport security was still in a state of flux, especially in big hubs like O’Hare.  Airport personnel were still manning the security points and armed National Guardsmen were providing security.

I approached the checkpoint and put all my belongings on the x-ray machine conveyor belt.  An elderly man in a khaki windbreaker and a blue hat that proclaimed he was a World War II veteran in gold letters was in line in front of me with his wife.  The hat listed the Division he was assigned to.  I am not sure I remember correctly, but think it was the 9th Infantry Division.  He looked at the flag on the conveyor and then looked at me.  His sharp grey eyes softened a bit behind his thick glasses.

“Where did you get the flag, son?”  His voice was clear and direct, yet compassionate.  He knew where I got it.

“From my father’s funeral,” I said.  He smiled at me.

“I figured.  I am very sorry.”  He exhaled deeply and looked at me again, like he was doing math.  “Korea?  Vietnam?”

“Vietnam,” I answered.  “Nha Trang 65-66.”

He put his hand on my back.  “He’s one us, son,”  he told me.  “I have seen a lot of those over the years.  He’s with friends now.”  He hugged me.

“Walter, why are hugging this young man?,” his wife said behind him.  He turned to his wife and explained that I recently lost my father who was a veteran.  She hugged me too.  It was their turn to go through the checkpoint.    I followed and was patted down.  I moved to pick up my belongings.  There was a problem.

“Is this yours?”  A man in a maroon sports coat was holding my flag box.  I nodded.  “Could you open this up, please?  We have to look in it.”

I wasn’t sure how to react.  Open my flag display?  “I didn’t have to open it in Greensboro.”

“Well, we aren’t in Greensboro,” he said.  I didn’t like the tone or implications.  “We have to look in every closed container.”

“Can I just take the back off of it?  Then you can look in it.”  I was getting a little panicky.  Opening that flag case seemed a whole lot like opening my father’s casket.  I know that sounds weird, but I really didn’t want to unfold the flag.

“That flag basically came off of his father’s casket and you want him to unfold it to see if there is a bomb in it?”  My quick take on Walter was that he didn’t talk around a point.

The man in the sport coat looked around.  “We have to look in any closed container,” he repeated.  A crowd gathered behind me and the commotion got the attention of two armed National Guardsman who were providing security.  The made their way over.

“That just doesn’t seem right to me,” Walter said.  “You can’t just go digging through a man’s funeral flag.”  Somebody behind him agreed.

The man started to undo the fasteners on the back of the display case.  Somebody else objected.  He looked at one of the soldiers.  “Can you open this and unfold it please?”

The soldier looked at him.  “No,” he replied.  “If your x-ray machine didn’t find anything, then there isn’t anything.  I knew the soldier’s opinion didn’t matter much, the two were in different chains of command.  However, I appreciated the support.

I looked at the man at the security checkpoint.  My hands were shaking when I took the case from him and worked each fastener.  I gently took the flag out and showed it to the man.  He reached over and opened each fold, causing it to open completely in my hands.  I looked at him as he searched through the flag.  He saw me looking at him.  “I really am very sorry,” he said.  I nodded.  He was just doing his job.  These were troubled times.

I took my bags and my flag and case and moved through the line.  Walter and his wife were waiting for me.  My throat hurt and my eyes burned.  “Give it to me,” he said.

I handed him the flag.  he draped it over his arm and turned to the soldier who had followed me.  They each took an end of the flag and stretched it between them.  The other soldier snapped to attention and presented arms with his rifle.  Walter and the soldier folded the flag in half lengthwise and then again.  Then Walter began deftly folding the flag in a perfect triangle.  Behind me people were standing straighter.  Hats were removed and hands were placed over hearts.  Walter finished the series of triangular folds with a field of blue covered with white stars on the top.  He carefully adjusted the creases and then took the flag and held it to he chest.  The years had melted off of him and he seemed to stand straighter and taller.  His grey eyes kept their gleam and direct gaze as he approached me with the flag.  He placed the flag back in the container.  He looked me in the eyes again.  “I present this flag on behalf of a grateful nation  . . . ” I didn’t cry much when my Dad died . . . until then.

Walter and his wife group hugged me just like nobody was watching.  I tried to thank him.  “Don’t mention it son . . . that wasn’t the first time I’ve done that.”  His face went a little dark and sad . . . like he was remembering.  Then he smiled again.  His wife placed an arm around his waist.  She smiled at me and reminded Walter they had a flight to get to.  We hugged again and went toward our separate gates.  I shook hands with the soldiers and went to find a bar.

I had a lot of time to think while I waited for my flight.  I knew what it meant to serve in an active capacity, but I didn’t know anything about being a veteran until that moment.  It would take some thinking, but I was getting it.  Being a veteran is a common thread of dedication and service that binds generations together.  Walter didn’t know anything about my father except that for a time in his life he served his country.  I could have told Walter all about the issues my father and I had, but it wouldn’t have kept him from folding his flag.  Walter knew all he needed to know about my Dad.  I get that now.

Today that refolded flag is displayed in its case next to a similarly displayed flag.  The other one was my wife’s father’s funeral flag.  He served in the Navy JAG Corps in the early 1970s.  Walter didn’t know anything about my wife’s father, but I am sure it wouldn’t have mattered.  He would have folded my father-in-law’s flag too.  It’s part of being a veteran.

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served our country.  Your dedication and service is appreciated.  We will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

 

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