Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Great Hog Pen Shootout: Part II

Most days at Uncle Caskie’s were hot. Other than hog butchering days and Thanksgiving all the other days I recall were hot, so hot that one Nehi orange drink or just one Frosty root beer or one Orange Crush were not enough to see you through the day.

A visit to Uncle Caskie’s and Aunt Clara’s was an outdoor day, a day of exploring cornfields and woods and rambling around the area, a day of wrestling in the hay; then there was that one particular day in which Wilson and I paired off against my cousin Jimmy and my brother Bill in a slingshot showdown. I don’t recall what started the shootout, it wasn’t as if the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated or Helen of Troy had been absconded with or that there were economic or territorial ambitions – maybe we were bored? Maybe slingshot target practice with trees and tin cans that couldn’t shoot back didn’t have quite the excitement of ducking a projectile launched from an opponent’s weapon or of shooting at a moving target? I’m certain that if we had press secretaries we would have produced moral justification for the shootout.

Perhaps this is why wars start? What’s the point of weapons development if you never get to try out the toys? Was it a “look”, an insult, or just plain orneriness that precipitated the event? The answer is shrouded in the mist of the past.

In retrospect it is probably well that we limited our weapons to slingshots and marbles and rocks (yes, we used marbles for projectiles as well as rocks – nice touch don’t you think?). I say it is well we did so because we were capable of planting high explosives. A case in point is the time when Uncle Caskie, Uncle Cleve, my Dad, and a couple of other men were sitting outside eating watermelon (I remember Uncle Cleve cutting and distributing the melon to us kids); the men were sitting on cinder blocks and Uncle Cleve’s cinderblock had the solid side turned up which meant the holes were facing outward.

We turned Uncle Cleve into a ballistic missile when we snuck up behind him and set off a cherry bomb inside the cinder block – NASA would have been proud of us. As my Dad taught us, “It was all in fun.”

Now you might think that there were repercussions once Uncle Cleve came back to earth but there weren’t. Maybe this is because he wasn’t burned up in reentry? Maybe he had been dozing prior to liftoff and wasn’t aware of exactly what happened? Maybe prior to the explosion he’d been dealing with a toothache and his trip into space made him forget his pain? Or it could have been respect that the boys were growing up with a spirit of innovation or even that we were demonstrating a predilection for rocketry – after all, just suppose we developed a method of sending men to the moon without spacecraft?

It could also have been a basic sense of equity and fair play on the part of Uncle Cleve, for while I don’t know about Uncle Caskie, Uncle Cleve and my Dad were known to play practical jokes.

So you see that while we did have access to heavy weaponry we didn’t use it in the Great Hog Pen Shootout; we limited ourselves to small arms.

To be continued…

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Great Hog Pen Shootout

I guess we all have childhood experiences etched in our memories, some may be of individual events, others may be of places. Uncle Caskie’s was always a favorite place, The Great Hog Pen Shootout was an event at Uncle Caskie’s and Aunt Clara’s.

Slingshots were the weapon of choice at Uncle Caskie’s; I know the thing about putting someone’s eye out, but the fact is that Wilson, his brother Jimmy, my brother Billy, and I used slingshots rather than paint-ball guns, which of course were nonexistent. There were few other weaponry choices; rifles were too dangerous I think you’d agree, as were crossbows and bows and arrows and dynamite, and besides we didn’t intend to be lethal. I guess we could have moved to the BB gun option, but slingshots were much less expensive and we didn’t want to run up the national debt. Also with BB guns you really could put your eye out.

There was an old country store just down the road from Uncle Caskie’s (this was at one of the three homes that I remember them living in – this was, I think, the second home). We’d collect pop bottles or ask our parents for money and walk down to the store to buy soft drinks and penny candy. In those days an empty soft drink bottle would get you 2 cents, unless it was a large bottle like Canada Dry Ginger Ale came in, then you would reap a windfall of 5 cents. 

We’d purchase Mary Janes, Squirrel Nuts, Pixy Sticks, Fireballs, and wax bottles with flavored colored water in them – all for a penny a piece. How things have changed. In those days you went to a nondescript country store for this kind of candy, today you’ve got to go to some boutique candy shop where you’ll pay a sight more than a penny a piece. Today a Mary Jane or a Squirrel Nut is a novelty, in those days they were the bread of life. In those days you could spend 5 cents and the proprietor talked to you and knew who you were; today you can spend $50.00 and then you need to get out of the way for the next customer and don’t bother with names.

The country store was a good place to pick up a slingshot along with your penny candy and Nehi orange drink. I don’t recall any warnings on the slingshot from the Consumer Product Safety people and I don’t recall any age limits on their purchase. Since the slingshots were sold without ammunition perhaps the manufacturers assumed we’d use pretend rocks? No harm in pretend projectiles.

To be continued…

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Why Adam needs Eve

I’m a tea man myself; oh sure I might have a mug of java at the office but my early morning routine is to brew a pot of tea. Occasionally on weekends I’ll make French Press coffee just to get wild and crazy, but usually it’s tea.

This morning as Vickie was fixing breakfast I decided that French Press was a good idea. Just as Vickie was putting the food on the table I went over to the French Press to depress the plunger – it wouldn’t move. I pressed it again…still no movement. I figured maybe it would help if I just lifted the lip a wee bit and then pushed down on the plunger…have you ever seen Old Faithful erupt? Better yet, what about Mount Vesuvius? Volcanic ash (make that coffee grounds) came out of that carafe along with piping hot coffee and engulfed the counter, the wall, the canister set, the crock on the counter with kitchen utensils, the window and windowsill, and my right hand and arm. Whooo-eeee!!! My my my – what did I do?!!!

The good news, the really good news, is that the dogs were outside and Vickie was on the other side of the kitchen.

“Go sit down and let’s have breakfast and I’ll clean up,” she said.

“No, I’ll clean.”

“No,” she said, "let’s have breakfast and I’ll clean up.”

After taking a few wipes of the countertop and the windowsill to make some attempt at amends I sat down and we had breakfast.

When it comes to messes Vickie and I have a pretty good thing going, if I make a mess she cleans it up and if she makes a mess I clean it up. I guess we both figure that the one who made the mess is so stressed that the least the other can do is to have the other go chill and then take care of the mess. We still talk about the time when she dropped a huge bowl of pasta sauce – I rang up the credits on that clean up – it was almost like cleaning up after the Exxon Valdez.

A bit later in the day I decided I wanted to go back to the Zuck Homestead and move some raised beds over to our new garden – yes I knew we’d had rain and snow for a few straight days, yes I knew the ground might be muddy – but hey, yesterday it didn’t rain so things were probably ok at the garden. Did I mention that Eve said this wasn’t a good idea? But look, I have few days off, it’s too dark to work outside by the time I get off and I need to get this stuff done.

So I drove our little Ford Ranger pickup over to the garden. I tried backing into the garden to get close to the raised beds…the wheels started spinning. Oh, oh, not good. I managed to pull out of the garden, got out of the truck, and inspected the ground surrounding the garden. After a thorough inspection I decided that I could drive around the back of the garden and approach the raised beds from another direction.

Things were looking pretty good as I drove around one side of the garden, made the turn up the back of the garden, and then wheeled the truck and prepared to backup alongside the raised beds…the wheels started spinning…oh, oh, not good. But hey, I had extricated myself from the front of the garden, I could do it again. As I engaged in that old time truck’n rock and roll to propel the truck out of the rut there wasn’t much rock’n or roll’n but there sure was a lot of spin’n.

Ok, I can do this, I can get out of here. I put some branches and brush beneath the wheels – here we go!!! Nope, nothing…this is not looking good.

I called Vickie, “It’s me. I’m stuck in the garden and I just wanted to make sure you were still in the house in case I have to call you back to come and get me. I wanted to make sure you weren’t outside doing yard work. I’m sure I can get out, I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

More brush under the wheels. More attempts at rock n’ roll…more spinning – the muffler was getting closer to the ground; oh, oh, not good.

I called Vickie back, “Can you please come and get me?”

After she arrived and inspected the situation and we were walking back to her car I headed to the driver’s side for the trip home. “Oh no,” she said, “I’ll drive.”

“You don’t trust my driving today?”

“No I don’t. You just sit in the passenger’s seat and when you get home find somewhere to sit and don’t move the rest of the day.”

Figuring that I should be thankful that she even came to get me I went along with the program. Tomorrow David will get his tractor and pull the truck out of the mud.

Well – that’s how my day went.

Now you know one of the many reasons Adam needs Eve.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cousin Wilson

Last Sunday Vickie and I drove to Fredericksburg and had lunch with my cousin Wilson and his wife Sharon – it had been around forty years since I’d seen Wilson. As I thought about our meeting I confess to wondering what we’d talk about, after all forty years is a long time. I needn’t have worried, the time flew by and I could have stayed at the restaurant well into the evening.

Wilson and I connected because his sister-in-law, his brother Doug’s wife, was doing some genealogical research and got a “hit” on her father-in-law (Wilson’s dad) in an article I had posted on a website. She contacted me via email.

Uncle Caskie’s family was my favorite Withers family. They lived in Northern Virginia and we lived in Maryland, and when our parents told us that we were going to visit them it was always great news. My visits to them are some of my best childhood memories. Looking back after writing the preceding sentence I realize that after the fifth grade those day trips stopped and that I seldom saw them from that point on; it was shortly after I started the fifth grade that my parents split up and my Dad disappeared for a period of time. After he returned to the area I saw Caskie’s family from time-to-time, but not often.

The fact that Caskie’s family was my favorite family is not necessarily a knock on my Dad’s other brothers and sisters (he had four sisters and three brothers who lived to adulthood), Caskie’s children were closer to my two brothers and me in age than the other families. Caskie lived in Loudon County, Virginia when it was still country and not gentrified countryside, there were hogs and chickens and cows and outhouses in Loudon County then, I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find an outhouse in Loudon County today.

My memories include playing in hay stacked in a barn; a barn-raising with friends and family pitching in; butchering hogs; exploring nearby woods and climbing trees; inspecting Wilson’s tree house; and my favorite memory of all – the great hog pen shootout.

To be continued…

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Squirrel Feeder

The squirrels at our new home aren’t using the squirrel feeder; unlike the squirrels during our time on the Zuck Homestead these squirrels aren’t the least bit interested in the corn. They actually by-pass the corn on their way up and down the tree that holds the feeder.

The reason is that our home is surrounded by oak and hickory trees and for the past few months there has been a carpet of nuts on the ground, so the squirrels are eating and storing the food that is natural to them – supplemental corn is not only not required, it is not wanted.

This is like Christians and the Gospel, when the Gospel is taught, and I mean the whole Gospel not just initial salvation, the Gospel feeds and satisfies us and meets our every need; we should not be surprised at this for Jesus Christ is the Gospel: He is our wisdom and sanctification and redemption; He is that water and bread that does more that satisfy us – He fills us.

It would be unnatural for the squirrels at our home to suddenly abandon the acorns and hickory nuts for the corn we’ve placed in the feeder; it would be unnatural for them to abandon their natural food for something that does not naturally grow on this land. And yet Christians abandon their natural source of sustenance, Jesus Christ and His Word, for unnatural substitutes – we prefer to frequent feeders than to eat from the Tree of Life.  

I confess that my sensitivity to this has developed over the years; on the one hand I’m dismayed at this sensitivity and on the other hand I’m thankful for it. I’m dismayed because I regret the years that I did not fully appreciate the issue, the years that I had left my first love for texts out of contexts, for the pragmatic, for the expedient, for the therapeutic, for the popular, for the political, for the need-centered rather than the Christ-centered. Of course I’m thankful that a passion for Jesus has been reawakened in me as never before. I find that being in the 4th Quarter of life makes it easier to cut to the chase and discard the extraneous. It also forces me to not be so nuanced and to get to the point – though I do enjoy nuance.

For the squirrels to prefer the feeder to the abundance surrounding them would be like the Woman at the Well continuing to carry her bucket about seeking water after the Fountain of Life came to live within her. 

Do we hear the voice of the Father, “This is My beloved Son, hear Him”?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Warm Fire, Conversation, and a Book

Our recent move from the Zuck homestead to our new home has me reflecting back on our time with David and Sally. That first winter was especially special because of its evenings.

After dinner David and Sally often walked over to our home and the four of us sat in the family room with a lively wood fire in the fireplace, coffee and dessert, and enjoyed an evening of conversation, laughter and reading aloud to each other. Our reading material might be Flannery O’Connor one night, a Dorothy L. Sayers short story the next, or an excerpt from C.S. Lewis on another night. We gave each other permission to doze, though we discouraged falling off the furniture in one’s sleep – it tended to frighten the dogs.

We reminisced about years gone by, about friends now buried and those still with us, about growing up in the environs of Drew University (David’s parents were professors there), or in Luther, IA, a farming community of 150 people (Vickie), or in Kensington, MD (both Sally and me, though we didn’t know each other).

On most nights we laughed, on some nights we laughed so hard we cried. As an evening came to a close David would crank up his manually-powered flashlight and David, Sally, and Wallace (a rat terrier) would negotiate the two-minute walk home. I went to bed those nights in the warmth of friendship, joyfulness, and intellectual stimulation.

What a shame our lives don’t have more of those evenings. I envy past generations who created their own entertainment, who valued conversation, who delighted in friends and company. We may know more “data” today and our economic standard of living may be greater but I don’t think we are any wiser or more human than those gone before us – in many respects we are less on both counts.

That was a sweet winter indeed, that first winter on the Zuck homestead.