Saturday, February 25, 2012

"On the Road Less Traveled"

You might ask me what its like on the road less traveled. Or you could wonder if I'm really on it at all. Let me tell you about something that happened the other day and I'll let you make up your own mind.

Now, I'll admit that on the surface, I look pretty normal. As you know, normal in most things is a range, and I think I'd make it at least up to low normal. Although, in years past Mary used to say I looked exactly like the Cro-Magnon Man. I never figured out what could be the problem with this; I personally thought the Cro-Magnons were a good looking bunch. A little hairy maybe. She hasn't said anything recently, (I think she's given up) but an honest look in the mirror shows me that I'm looking more like the Neanderthal every day. Which, of course, is evolution in reverse. And I'm guessing there aren't very many of us left.

But I'm getting a little sidetracked. I need to tell you about the phone call I got several days ago. My cell phone rang. I answered. "Is this Merle?", the voice said. I said it was. "Hey," the voice said, "I've got two dead buffalo heads if you want them."

Now how many of YOU got a call like that several days ago? How many people in the WHOLE WORLD got a call like that, do you suppose? I might have been the only one. My point being that this is a less traveled road indeed.

Now before you mark me off as enjoying the macabre, let me explain. I just happen to like skulls. I'd like sometime to put up poles at the end of our driveway with a pole across the top like they do out west. Then I'd hang a sign in the middle saying "Cabin Creek" and have a couple skulls on either end for decoration.

You have to admit, there's no pretense in a skull. A skull will tell you no lies. You look most any skull deep into its empty eye sockets and it will almost speak to you. That skull was once part of a living, breathing creature. It may have had hopes and dreams just like you and I. (although I can't imagine a cow having either) And whatever those hopes and dreams were, they are now over and done; gone away along with the vapor that we call life.

So you see, a skull has a steadying effect on you. Causes you to think about numbering your days and applying them unto wisdom.

But back to the phone call. It was my brother-in-law who works at a butcher shop. A year or so ago I had seen a buffalo head at my daddy-in-laws place and I had told me bro-in-law if he ever comes on some that don't have a home to let me know.

I had a horse skull once. A neighbor had a horse that looked old enough to have fought with Napoleon. It finally died and he wondered if I could do something with it. I dragged it way off into the woods. Years later I remembered where it was and went back and got the skull. It was a neat thing because it was still in the bridle.(another good lesson; die in the harness) I hung it up on the board fence at the end of the lane in beside a rose bush. It added an extra nice touch.

But one day my horse skull went missing. I was most suspicious of Mary, so I questioned her first. Did she know anything? "Maybe", she said. "Let's just say it's resting peacefully," But that's all she would say. Maddening! Judge between my cantankerous wife and me and my horse skull!

After a year or so her conscious got the best of her and she told me the general area of where she had given it a big heave. I went and found it, but it was never quite the same again; I never could get the jawbones to hang nicely in the bridle after that. It's sitting outside my back door on a stump right now.

The skull I'd really like to have above our driveway entrance is still walking around in the neighbor's pasture. Neighbor Bob has two longhorn steers that are just his pets. Both have huge horns that are probably almost five feet wide. The oldest steer has gotten pretty skinny lately, and I'm thinking maybe I can offer to drag it off when it's days are over.

One year when we still lived on the dairy, we had a flower bed out by the road and I had added a few cow skulls for a nice effect. Sometime later Mary started noticing a guy we didn't know hanging around at the end of the lane. She began to get spooked. Does he plan to rob and murder us, maybe steal the children, or what?

Come to find out, it was the neighbor lady's son in for a visit. He was an aspiring artist and had studied about the famous artist Georgia O'Keefe who later in life became known for her paintings of stark desert landscapes, usually with a skull included.

And now, you've spent (and wasted) all this time feeling sorry for me with my weird ideas. And in the end I'm ending up being the most cultured of all, right up there with the likes of Georgia O'Keefe. I'll tell you, there are some mighty strange twists at times, on this, the road less traveled.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Farewell, Jack Old Friend"

A little over a month ago our long time neighbor Jack Poindexter died. We will certainly miss him down on Whitehall Road.

Jack grew up in neighboring Charlotte County near the community of Old Well. He said that Old Well was as far back in the middle of nowhere as you could get. If you went any further, he said, you would be coming out on somewhere else. He said he remembered when one of his uncles told him that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that he guessed Old Well would be next. He said it took awhile to realize his uncle was joking, because to them Old Well was a pretty important place.

Jack was an avid historian, philosopher and maker of walking sticks. God forbid if you called them "canes". Canes, he said, bring to mind feebleness and "decreption", whereas walking sticks speak of health and vitality. Mary still has several of the walking sticks he gave her over the years. Jack walked a lot himself, but never without his cowboy hat and his walking stick.

Somewhere a little before my time Jack bought land on "the Island". This would be Long Island, Virginia not in(horrors) New York. "The Island" consists of 300 to 400 acres of flat bottom land where the Staunton River splits in two, flows around and joins up again downstream.

At one time the "high ground" land in the local area had been so depleted that farmers couldn't raise corn there anymore. The only place you could count on a good corn crop was in river bottom land. So quite a few of the area farmers owned a piece of bottom land for that purpose even though their farm might have been some miles away. I looked up "the Island" on the county GIS map and it's still showing the land being divided up into plots of about ten acres apiece. The land on the west side of Long Island Road is divided up into 31 different plots.

About ten years or so before Jack begin to buy up these plots, the Soil Conservation people had begun to come around and were showing farmers if you grew a crop of Lespedeza one year, it would build up the soil enough that you could raise a corn crop the next. And it was a lot of trouble to travel those miles with your horse and wagon to pick your corn. So gradually the farmers quit using the bottom land and it began to grow back in brush and small trees. This is when Jack started to buy the individual plots and finally made it back into a big farm.

He built an attractive house on a small rise not too far from the big part of the river. I've seen the river flood to where the road is under water for a quarter mile and is lapping on the corner of the screened in porch, but as far as I know the water has never come into the house. But the river did take a terrible toll; Jack and Edith had a young daughter that drowned in the river. I never heard him mention anything about it and I never asked.

Jack had a big old steam tractor that he kept in working condition. One time when Dan Zehr was down on the Island chopping corn with his new John Deere 4020 they got into a discussion on which tractor could out pull the other one. So they hooked them up drawbar to drawbar. I'm sure the 4020 had more actual horsepower, but the steam tractor had a great advantage on the traction end of things. The 4020 just sat there and spun but wasn't able to move the steam tractor at all. Jack also had a tall waterwheel in his yard that he had gotten out of a grist mill somewhere.

When Jack was about 50, he sold the Island Farm, built a little house on a few acres on Whitehall Road, and retired. He took a lot of grief from people about how early he retired. He told me once that a man had asked him if he doesn't miss the farm. He said he told him, " If every morning when you got up somebody hit you over the head with something, would you miss it when they stopped?!"

Jack would often walk over and check out what we were up to at Long Island Lumber. He took a keen interest in son Myron's business and wanted it to be a success as much as we did. Some neighbors would have complained about the number of tractor trailers that come in and out of our little country road. Not Jack. He was delighted; it meant business was booming.

But one thing Jack would always warn us about. "When are you going to get a sawmill?" he'd ask." But let me warn you," he would say,"sawmills are addictive. You get started, you can't stop. You know, if you get on cocaine, there are places you can go to get help. But there's no place to go for sawmills!"

I remember well the day several years ago I stopped when I saw Jack out by his mailbox. I asked him if his heart was feeling strong because I had something to tell him. We were getting a sawmill! You should have heard him exclaim.

Back in the fall one day Jack walked by where I was seeding some grass close to the road. We hadn't seen as much of him the last year. He didn't get out when it was too hot or too cold. His heart was bothering him some. He had a spell just that morning and for awhile it didn't seem like his medicine was going to calm it down. "I'm glad I got to see you again,"he said. "For awhile this morning I didn't know if I was going to or not". I told him that I didn't know what it felt like to be in that situation. He looked me square in the eye and said "Well, I have".

We chatted for a little and then he said he had to go. I felt at a loss for words to fit the occasion. As I watched him walk away I felt like putting my hand on his shoulder. Felt like thanking him for being such a good neighbor all these years. For his interest and support. And maybe even telling him that I loved him.

But all that would have made it seem too much like a final meeting or something. Now I wish I would have. Because, as it turned out, that's what it was.

Farewell, Jack old friend.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Moderation in All Things"

Moderation is so important. This is an area where those super-disciplined people often miss the boat. They come up with the perfect schedule, diet, exercise plan, etc. and ever after it's like the law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be changed. 

We went to Charlottesville today for Mary's post-surgery check-up. (She's doing great, by the way) And I was feeling this strong urge towards moderation in all things. You know, I'm thinking, a salad every day, seven days a week may be overdoing a good thing. In fact I could be treading dangerously close to that trap that so many of those super-disciplined folks fall into.

 So while Mary ate lunch with a friend at Panera Bread I eased on over to Burger King and had myself a mushroom and swiss burger with fries,and you guessed it, a big old Dr. Pepper. Not a leafy green vegetable in sight. Man, did it ever go down good.  Oh, the simple joys of moderation!

And now I'm ready for my salad tomorrow.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Turning Over a New Leaf"

I'm sure you're saying my subject is so last month. A New Year's thing which after all is almost a month and a half in the past already. Well, for procrastinators like me, Feb. 11th is still within striking distance of the New Year. Actually I turned over some of these new leaves right around the first and I'm just now writing about them. I mean, I had to wait long enough to see if some of  these changes would actually stick.

Now, I've never been one to make New Year's resolutions. In fact I'm not sure I ever have. This year is probably the closest I've ever come to it. I always took very seriously the verse in the Bible that says something like it being better not to vow a vow, than to vow one and not to pay. I always was strong on holding to the better way of doing things.

And to be honest about it, real super-disciplined people make me kind of nervous. They have their lives all planned out just like clockwork. Then if something unexpected happens it's like throwing a wrench in the gears. Me and my kind, we expect the unexpected. The Super-D's can be slaves to their goals and schedules. Me and my kind, we're flexible. If the wind blows hard out of the west, we try to find something worthwhile to do going east. Plus we take time to enjoy listening to the birds and tucking in a lovely sunset.

Sometimes it's almost hilarious being around these people. I ought to know as I married one. Just a day or two before Mary's surgery she was bemoaning the fact to me that she didn't have everything done that she wanted to do before being laid up for awhile. I asked her (completely in jest) if there was a drawer somewhere that needed cleaning out yet. She said that actually the pencil and pen drawer was "on her list" and she hadn't got that done. I didn't know whether to laugh uproariously  or like the publican, beat on my chest and say "God be merciful to me."

All that aside, along about the middle of December I made the decision to make some changes in a few areas related to diet. One being not drinking so many sodas. Now my love affair with soft drinks goes back many years. It took very little in the way of a celebration to bring on the sodas and the ice cream and the chips. I mean something as simple as mowing the church grass was plenty good cause. Not to mention our big annual campout down on the bluff overlooking the swimming hole on Seneca creek. Back then they came in the 16 oz. glass bottles and we called them "drinks". Or in the local southern venacular "dranks". As in "Hits so hot taday ah thank ah maght stop by the stowa and geht mey a drank". We started calling them "sodas" after we started going to school with the blacks when the schools desegregated the year I went to the eight grade. Now yall yankees and midwesterners call it "pop", I realize, but we would never stoop to that level here in civilized country..

But I'm getting sidetracked...... A year or two ago I did decide to cut back and only have my Dr. Pepper on special occasions, let's say like lunch. But that still adds up to somewhere around one a day, depending on how many lunches you have. I do have a strong affinity to lunch and am quite a big fan of it. In fact, my one and only wise saying that is original with me mentions it. It goes like this, "When in doubt, eat lunch." It's been something that has served me well over my whole career.

And the chips. I've rarely met a chip that I didn't get along famously with. About the only ones I would bypass are maybe the salt and vinegar and the jalapeno flavored ones. So what I'm saying is that every day in my lunch I had my Dr. Pepper and my chips. And it was starting to bother me, this craving I had for Dr. Pepper and not to mention the empty calories.

So my decision was (and I mention this to Mary, seeing as she usually packs my lunch) to exchange the soda for grape juice and instead of the chips, eat a salad. I told her a week or two in advance, so she would be sure to have the stuff on hand when the first of the year came around. I don't think she really believed I would do it. What is it about these disciplined types; they seem to doubt that me and my type can actually take ahold on something when the time seems right??

So how's it going?? Great! I imagined several weeks of painful withdrawal. Now, I haven't gone so far as being a complete soda teetotaler. I still drink one on "special occasions", like eating out or a good pizza supper. But really it's going well. I did take notice that if you put enough dressing on the salad to make it slide nicely you get enough calories to almost make up for the chips that you did without. I've always been a ranch dressing man; it was the first dressing I ever tried. I liked it so I never tried anything else. Mary showed me that light catalina has about a third the calories of ranch so I've been using that.

Which brings me to my next problem. What am I to do with my newly developing catalina craving???

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Everyone should have to go thru surgery now and then. It helps you get a grasp on the things that are really important and matter most.
 I went thru surgery just several days ago. Although I wasn't the one that got wheeled off to the operating room. That would have been Mary, my wife of 35 years. I went thru surgery in the surgical waiting room, for the better part of the forenoon. She's, of course asleep the whole time; me, not so much.
It wasn't a life threatening operation. She had been diagnosed with a hyperactive parathyroid condition. Which I had told her was surprising in itself; I mean she's never acted hyper about anything before. (I say this tongue in cheek)
You have four parathyroid glands which when normal are the size of a grain of rice and control the level of calcium in the blood. When one of them goes haywire it drastically ups the calcium level it wants to put out, so much so that it will pull calcium out of the bones.If this goes on long enough it can prematurely bring on that disease old women have where their bones break so easily. (I know how to say the name of the disease perfectly well, I just can't seem to spell it) This extra calcium in the system can also cause all sorts of joint and muscle pain and fatigue, all of which Mary has suffered.
When a baby is developing these glands are in the chest, but they are supposed to migrate to the neck. In Mary's case they didn't get all the way migrated. I tell her that she grew so fast that she probably left them behind. The scans showed that her offending parathyroid was at least as low as the breastbone or a little lower. Which would make a huge difference in how big a deal surgery would be. If they couldn't get to it in the neck they would have to split the sternum similar to open heart surgery.
This was actually diagnosed six years ago but Mary couldn't stand the thought of the possibility of the more major surgery, so we just kept an eye on it until recently. She was feeling worse and was living on Ibuprofen. For curiosity's  sake she kept track for a sixteen day period and she had taken ninety Ibuprofen during that time.
Anyway, looking at the most recent scans gave the surgeon confidence (90% he said) he could get it thru the neck. So we decided to go ahead.
You're never ready when they wheel your loved one away. You wish you had held their hand a little longer and told them one last time you loved them.
And so I go down the waiting room. I guess that's why they call it that. Time goes by ever so slowly. There is a big screen in the room and you can find Mary's surgery number and follow the line which shows how far along they are in the surgery. I haven't eaten breakfast and I don't want to go to the cafeteria; I'm afraid I might miss a call from the doctor. (They are supposed to update you every two hours)
 The line on the screen seems to barely move. I try to wait at least ten minutes before looking again so I can see a little progress. Finally one time when I look it's showing  her out of the operating room and in recovery. Still it's a good while before the nurse calls for the "Yoder family" and I pick up the phone.
It's Dr. Shonka. He says the operation went well. They were able to get it done thru the neck. Mary is doing great and her parathyroid hormone level went right down to the normal level within 15 minutes of the offending gland being removed. (they check the level while the incision is still open; if the level is still too high there is more than one gland that has been causing the problem)
I am thrilled and feel  relief washing over me in waves. I feel like crying. I can't wait to go up to see her, but it's at least another hour until I get that call.
Finally it comes. She's in room 11 in the SAS recovery area. I can't find room 11. I see all the others. I was almost tempted to ask for directions but then around the corner I see it.
I touch her forehead and take her hand. I take a tissue and wipe where the tears are leaking out the sides of her eyes. I cry a little myself.
Like I said, everyone ought to go thru surgery once in awhile.